The Skeptic’s Toolbox - August 7-10, 2014 - Eugene, OR

person with glasses looking upward

Using Model Cases to Deal with Dubious Claims

Effective skeptical thinking relies, in part, on applying knowledge of previous cases to cope with current problems.

An adequate skeptic’s toolbox requires a stock of exemplary cases, each of which provides important lessons for dealing with dubious claims. These model cases must be correctly analyzed and their import should be clear.

Cases that have been badly evaluated or misunderstood can muddle your approach to new claims.

Our plan is to have teams of participants apply lessons derived from classic and model cases discussed by the faculty to other cases that bear some similarity to one or more of these models.

Faculty Contributions

James Alcock: Three Model Cases of Pseudoscience
N-Rays, Cold Fusion, Schmidt’s PK research.

Lindsay Beyerstein: Models of Journalistic Misinformation and Hoaxes
Not so long ago, we got our news about the world from our local newspaper and from three broadcast networks. Now we have been catapulted into an age of 24/7 newscasts, social media, podcasts, tweets, etc. This abundance of information, whatever its advantages, has exacerbated the spread of misinformation about such matters as climate change, vaccination, health and medical issues, science, etc. It has affected every aspect of our lives. Analysis of some classic cases from the past may provide some models for coping with the current flood of misinformation.

Harriet Hall: Lessons from Some Classic Medical Cases
An assortment of medical cases, each pointing to a useful lesson.

Ray Hyman: Two Model Cases: One Positive and One Negative
Oskar Pfungst’s investigation of Clever Hans (a positive case) applied to the case of Lady Wonder.
Russel Targ’s remote viewing experiment with Pat Price (a negative case)

Loren Pankratz: Going Back to the Ancient Greek Oracles for Lessons on Coping with Dubious Claims
How an eighteenth century French scientist used the Oracle as a negative example for coping with the belief in witchcraft of his day.

Where Is the Event?

University of Oregon Living Learning Center
1475 East 15th Avenue, Eugene, Oregon 97403

map of University of Oregon Living Learning Center

Registration: Living Learning Center Performance Hall

Workshop Sessions: Living Learning Center Performance Hall

Accommodations: Living Learning Center Residence Hall

Meals: Carson Cafeteria (except Saturday dinner, which is at the Living Learning Center Performance Hall).

For a campus map, visit


Ray Hyman

Ray Hyman
Professor emeritus of psychology, University of Oregon, CSI fellow. Ray is the creator of the Skeptic’s Toolbox and the developer of the workshop syllabus. At a 2003 conference, he received CSI’s highest honor with the In Praise of Reason award. To read more about Ray, please visit the transcript of James Alcock’s presentation speech, which appeared in the March/April 2004 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.

James Alcock

James Alcock
Professor of psychology, York University Toronto, Ontario; CSI fellow.

Loren Pankratz

Loren Pankratz
Forensic psychologist, Oregon Health Sciences, University of Oregon; CSI fellow.

Harriet Hall, MD

Harriet Hall, MD
Retired family physician and flight surgeon. Writer on the subjects of quackery, pseudoscience, critical thinking, and alternative medicine, Dr. Hall is also known as The SkepDoc from her regular column in Skeptic magazine. She is a contributing editor to both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer magazines, an editor of the Science-Based Medicine blog, and an advisor to Quackwatch. Her website is

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein
Lindsay Beyerstein is an investigative journalist in Brooklyn, New York. Her reporting has appeared in Slate, The Columbia Journalism Review, Newsweek, Al Jazeera America, The New Republic, and other publications. Her photography has appeared The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times' City Blog, and other outlets. She is the co-host of Point of Inquiry, a radio show and podcast produced by the Center for Inquiry. She is the lead writer at the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to honoring excellence in socially conscious journalism.


Thursday, August 7

Registration and Meet and Greet
LLC Performance Hall

Introduction and Overview
Ray Hyman

Going Back to the Ancient Greek Oracles for Lessons on Coping with Dubious Claims
Loren Pankratz

Friday, August 8

Two Model Cases: One Positive and One Negative
Ray Hyman

Teams will assemble and begin work.

Lessons from Some Classical Medical Cases
Harriet Hall

Teams work on assignments.

Three Model Cases of Pseudoscience
James Alcock

Saturday, August 9

Models of Journalistic Misinformation and Hoaxes
Lindsay Beyerstein

10:45am —12:00pm
Teams continue assignments.

Plenary Session
Faculty & Participants

Teams work on assignments.

Dinner in LLC Performance Hall
“In the Trenches” Award
Magic: Jay Frasier, Ron Friedland, Ray Hyman

Sunday, August 10

Teams make their reports.


University of Oregon is making rooms available in Living Learning Center Residence Hall. Room and board includes Thursday dinner; Friday breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Saturday breakfast, lunch; and Sunday breakfast and lunch. All meals except Saturday dinner will be held in the Carson cafeteria. Saturday dinner in the LLC Performance Hall.

Cafeteria Hours:
Breakfast: 7:00–9:30 am
Lunch: 11:00–2:00 pm
Dinner: 5:00–7:00 pm