5 Best Skeptic Articles Published in Skeptical Print in 2009

‘Tis the time of year for lazy journalists and blog writers, such as myself, to effortlessly spit out an article that merely contains a list. Not much thought or research is needed, which works well at this time of year since nobody wants to work while on vacation (that’s why it’s called a vacation). This year I decided that my list will be my 5 favourite articles published in the two major North American dead tree skeptic publications (Skeptic Magazine and Skeptical Inquirer).

If this seems like an odd list to compile (why exclude online articles? Or articles in other science magazines?), it’s because in all honesty, compiling this list was just an excuse for me to go back through all the skeptical magazines that I neglected to read over the year. Like many of you, I buy these magazines because I like the cool covers (especially the ones drawn by Canada’s Daniel Loxton). But for some reason, I never got a chance to read all the articles (maybe it’s because most are too long to read in one sitting while on the throne).

Why only 5? Well, I needed an arbitrary number, and 5 was the smallest arbitrary number I could think of.

There were of course many many more awesome articles published in these two fine magazines over the past year, but due to the unfortunate fact that there were more than 5 of them, they could not be included in this list. But rest assured, most of them were great, and you should read all of them (after you read these 5). If you hate me and my stupid list because I didn’t include your favourite article from 2009, then please share it in the comments (provide a URL if the article is also online).

The authors of the top 5 articles do not win any award other than the warm fuzzy feeling one gets from impressing some random guy on the internet. (That’s nothing to scoff at, it’s what drives the entire “cute cat“ video industry on youtube)

Enough with the babbling, here’s my personal list of the 5 best skeptical articles published in a skeptical magazine for 2009:

5) UFOlogy 2009: A Six Decade Perspective by Robert Sheaffer (Skeptical Inquirer Vol. 33 #1)
In this seven, yes seven, page article Shaeffer covers nearly the entirety of the past, present, and future of one of my favourite pseudosciences: UFOlogy. If you’re new to the field of flying saucers and alien abductions, you should go here first.

4) Fooled by Ponzi (and Madoff) by Stephen Greenspan (Skeptic Magazine Vol 14 #4)
(Yes, the online article’s date is 2008, but the print version came out in 2009)
This article made the list just for the sheer irony. Madoff ripped off a lot of people, most of the victims were pretty smart. But only one of his victims wrote a book about gullibility! This victim writes about his experience with being scammed by Madoff, and why people far for these schemes.

3) What Do Skeptics Need to Explain? by Dale Beyerstein (Skeptical Inquirer Vol 33 #2)
(Sorry no online version available)
I enjoy a good philosophical skeptical debate from time to time. In this article, Beyerstein argues that it’s not good enough for a skeptic to just invoke Ray Hyman’s Categorical Imperative (don’t try to explain something until you are sure there is something to be explained) . Skeptic’s can’t just say “Bullshit!” and walk away, we need to say “Bullshit! because…“. In cases where a phenomenon doesn’t exist, but people believe it does, skeptics should try to explain why the belief persists. In other words: In skepticism there is always something to be explained, even when a phenomenon doesn’t exist.

2) The Placebo Effect by Harriet Hall (Skeptical Magazine Vol 15 #1)
Dr. Harriet Hall is one of the best critics of CAM (complementary/alternative medicine) out there. A big part of CAM is the placebo effect. The placebo effect is extremely complex and confusing. Hall does an impeccable job of presenting all the varying theories about what the placebo effect is, how it might work, and the ethical dilemmas it brings.

1) The Shocking Secret of Thetis Lake by Daniel Loxton (Skeptic Magazine vol 15 #2, Junior Skeptic #35)
(Sorry, there’s no online version and the print version is sold out! But if you hurry fast, it might still be on your local newsstand! Go!)
Between you and me, the little insert at the back of every Skeptic Magazine called “Junior Skeptic” is my favourite part of the magazine. I know, I know, it’s for kids. So what? Loxton covers each issue’s topic with a style and depth that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults alike. At first you might simply dismiss this article because the topic seems so ho-hum, it’s yet another lake monster (albeit one that looks like the creature from the black lagoon). But Loxton is no ordinary skeptical writer, he digs deep when he researches his topics. He gives us the background on the monster, which is pretty ordinary. But then he goes all history detective and finds in 37 year old microfilm evidence that a monster movie played on local TV a few days before the only eye witness reports of the monster occurred. If he stopped there, that would have been enough. But no, he finds the last remaining eye witness and gets a “shocking” confession. What was it? Read it for yourself! No spoilers here!

Sure, professional investigators like Joe Nickell and Ben Radford do crazy stuff like this, but to do research like this for an insert aimed at kids? If only I had Junior Skeptic when I was a kid :-/

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  • Jonathan Abrams

    Jonathan Abrams is the latest founder and president of the Ottawa Skeptics. He organizes local events, makes media appearances as the token skeptic, and is one of the website maintainers. He is the host of the skepticism podcast The Reality Check. When he’s not thinking about science and skepticism, he’s working as a computer engineer, playing pinball, or doing the dishes.