A skeptic is a person who doesn't want to believe, but wants to know.
Unfortunately, our mind and our senses do not always show us the cold hard facts of reality, but usually try to interpret things without even letting us know, sometimes trying to make sense of things that really don't have any. Did you ever notice that the phone always rings when you're in the shower? Did you ever take an aspirine for your headache and feel better five minutes later? Aspirin doesn't even get to your head that fast.
Therefore, if we really want to know, we always have to be aware that we may just be deceiving ourselves, have to question what we think we know and have to let others question our results. Skepticism and critical thinking are the very essence of science.
If somebody tells you he can prove that UFOs don't exist, or that telepathic communication doesn't work or that mobile telephones are not harmful, be very careful. (Even if something doesn't exist, proving its nonexistence is generally impossible - try to prove the nonexistence of the invisible unicorn in my cellar...) If somebody tells you he can prove that UFOs do exist, or that telepathic communication does work or that mobile telephones are harmful, be even more careful. (If these effects did exist, that should be possible to prove, but so far all the evidence presented has turned out to be more than questionable.)
There is a number of organizations and other sources that look into questionable, paranormal claims, try to test them and give information about what can confidently be considered nonsense:
In Germany, the Gesellschaft zur Wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP) , which is the main skeptical organization in Germany and issues the Skeptiker magazine, of which I was one of the editors for several years.
Thanks to the tremendous work of Stefan Kirsch, the GWUP is now also running a very successful skeptical blog.. Another blog on skepticism and physics I can highly recommend, although it is not directly involved with the GWUP, is Florian Freistetter's Astrodicticum simplex.
In America, and basically active worldwide, there are CSI, the Skeptics Society and the James Randy educational foundation.
A worldwide list of skeptical organizations can be found online. For quick reference on individual issues (What is psychic surgery? How do I avoid the Texan sharpshooter fallacy? ...) consult the Skepdic's Dictionary.
If you like good humor in German, Dr. Eckart von Hirschhausen makes some wonderfully intelligent fun of homoeopathy, urine treatment, astrology and the medical profession in his program "Sprechstunde", and in the new program "Sprechstunde 2005 forte". Both are available on audio CD at his homepage www.hirschhausen.com
My fields of interest within the skeptics' organization:
- Public relations and the Skeptiker magazine
- Paraphysics and the abuse of physics terms in esoterics
- "Free energy" machines
- Biophotons (do you recognize the difference between
- www.biophotonik.de and www.biophotonik.org?)
Plocher and other "energized" or "informed" materials
- Alternative Medicine
- Psychological Reception of Parasciences
- UFO investigations, if weather phenomena or aviation are involved
- Fun: Did you know about the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide?
- Annoyed about the comeback of creationism? Join the pastafarians
Downloads (all in German, MS-Office format):
Some general ideas on skepticism and its consequences mostly in the medical field, Manuscript for a talk I gave at Round Table 18 in Wiesbaden (thanks to Christoph Bördlein from whom I stole some of the ideas): "Skeptizismus und kritisches Denken".
My presentation at the 2006 skeptics' conference in Essen: "Chemtrails - zwischen Meteorologie und Verschwörungstheorie"
My presentation at the 2004 skeptics conference in Würzburg (May 23, 2004) on free energy machines and the business around them: "Freie-Energie-Maschinen"
My presentation at the 2003 skeptics conference in Darmstadt: "Tachyonen, Felder, Freie Energie: Wie die Esoterik die Begriffe der Wissenschaft missbraucht"
An essay I wrote recently on a detail mentioned in the above conference talk: What tachyons really are and how people try to make money out of a word nobody understands. "Schnelles Geld mit schnellen Teilchen - oder ohne?
Also on tachyons, a brief e-mail interview with a journalist who contacted me wanting to know my thoughts about "tachyonized" glass pearls: "Wie ein Physiker Tachyonen-Produkte sieht"
And now to something completely different: My reply to an e-mail question about the importance of natural compared to man-made radioactivity, "Logisches und Unlogisches zur natürlichen Radioaktivität".