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The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions Paperback – August 15, 2003

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 446 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471272426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471272427
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


* “…offers a remarkable range of information that puts to the test the best arguments of true believers…” (Short Book Reviews, Vol.24, No.3, December 2004)

“… I found myself engrossed in the information due to its vast collection of interesting entries…” (M2 Best Books, 22 March 2004)

""...Use this book as protection against attacks by New Agers, alternative therapists and others who have chosen to abandon reason..."" (The Times, 25 October 2003)

""...Carroll is always interested in why such beliefs occur and points generously t further literature..."" (The Guardian, 18 October 2003)

""...Anyone wanting an informed opinion with which to smack down an argumentative pal should start here..."" (Dorset Echo, 25 October 2003)

""...A treat to savour...first reaction is pleasurable incredulity and occasional hilarity... an amazing assembly, elegantly written and level-headed...likely to be used so often it is a pity it is a softback book..."" (New Scientist)

""...No reasonable, logic-based library will be without a copy!"" (Good Book Guide, March 2004)

From the Back Cover

A wealth of evidence for doubters and disbelievers

"Whether it’s the latest shark cartilage scam, or some new ‘repressed memory’ idiocy that besets you, I suggest you carry a copy of this dictionary at all times, or at least have it within reach as first aid for psychic attacks. We need all the help we can get."
–James Randi, President, James Randi Educational Foundation,

"From alternative medicine, aliens, and psychics to the farthest shores of science and beyond, Robert Carroll presents a fascinating look at some of humanity’s most strange and wonderful ideas. Refreshing and witty, both believers and unbelievers will find this compendium complete and captivating. Buy this book and feed your head!"
–Clifford Pickover, author of The Stars of Heaven and Dreaming the Future

"A refreshing compendium of clear thinking, a welcome and potent antidote to the reams of books on the supernatural and pseudoscientific."
–John Allen Paulos, author of Innumeracy and A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper

"This book covers an amazing range of topics and can protect many people from being scammed."
–Stephen Barrett, M.D.,

Featuring close to 400 definitions, arguments, and essays on topics ranging from acupuncture to zombies, The Skeptic’s Dictionary is a lively, commonsense trove of detailed information on all things supernatural, occult, paranormal, and pseudoscientific. It covers such categories as alternative medicine; cryptozoology; extraterrestrials and UFOs; frauds and hoaxes; junk science; logic and perception; New Age energy; and the psychic. For the open-minded seeker, the soft or hardened skeptic, and the believing doubter, this book offers a remarkable range of information that puts to the test the best arguments of true believers.

Customer Reviews

Let me make myself clear.
Paul Camp
The two stars are for: 1) Some laughs; 2) An engaging list of topics; 3) Occasional lucidity.
This is one of the mechanisms of deception wich is explained in the Skeptic's Dictionary.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

171 of 192 people found the following review helpful By Rory Coker on August 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
Let's get the quibble out of the way first. I don't like the
words "skeptic" and "dictionary" in the title (the "the" is
ok!). The tone is not skeptical, it is simply fact-oriented.
And the book is in encylopedia format, not dictionary format.
Now as to content. The author is a professor of philosophy, and
he tends to discuss the various topics from the standpoint
of logical and factual consistency, rather than from a scientific
standpoint. Since the topics under discussion generally have
no scientific aspects whatsoever, despite their pretenses, this
is hardly a defect. Entries tend to be a bit brief and terse,
as might be expected since most of the material appeared first
on the author's very useful website. I teach a course in
pseudoscience, and it covers a very, very wide range of topics
in this nearly bottomless field. I found accurate entries
on almost every one of those topics here, with very few
Discussion of medical quackery is always problematical in a book
of this kind, because of the tendency of quacks to sue authors,
not on the issue of false claims about the quack, but rather
on the narrow legal issue of "restraint of trade"--- in other
words, factual discussion of quacks and alternative healers
makes it harder for those quacks and alternative healers to find
paying suckers, or so their lawyers claim. But the author has
managed to discuss many common forms of quackery, and a number
of prominent quacks, nonetheless. More power to him and to
his publisher.
I don't know of another book exactly like this, with the same
broad sweep of content. I recommend it highly to anyone who is
interested in the facts, if any, behind some of the most
familiar myths of our time.
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126 of 148 people found the following review helpful By James Arvo on September 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
Robert Carroll has compiled an impressive collection of short articles defining and explaining ideas that warrant careful critical examination; that is, ideas deserving a thorough going over by a thoroughgoing skeptic. Carroll pulls no punches in his criticism of whacky cultish ideas, yet he does not brazenly skewer all sacred cows. Rather, he sets out to expose a wide range of ideas to the light of healthy skepticism, exposing blatant charades for what they are, explicating ideas that are often misconstrued or irrationally rejected, and casting doubt where doubt is due. I believe he largely succeeds in these endeavors.
The book is organized like a dictionary with an alphabetical listing of various words that Carroll sets out to explore in depth. I think the book is better described as an encyclopedia, however, because of the length and style of the articles, which are not terse definitions, but mini-essays. Here is a sampling of the "A" words to give you an idea of the range of topics that Carroll addresses: acupuncture, agnosticism, alien abductions, ancient astronauts, angel therapy, anthroposophy, argument from design, argument to ignorance, aromatherapy, astral projection, astrology, atheism, automatic writing, and avatar. (This is roughly one third of the entries under "A"). Even within this short list there are some whacky ideas (angel therapy and alien abductions), some borderline ideas (acupuncture and anthroposophy), and some words that are simply in want of a careful definition (agnosticism, atheism, and avatar). Carroll deals with them all rather even-handedly, at least from the perspective of a naturalistic worldview.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan S. on January 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
First off, this book is not impartial. It is opinionated, and honest about its intentions. Carroll declares, right off the bat, he is a hardened skeptic writing for a general audience. He isn't trying to appeal to devotees of the groups he sets out to rebuke, and he isn't trying to be objective or academic. Carroll gives occasional credit where credit's due to topics such as chiropractics, which are on the fence in terms of scientific merit and not over it, but most of the articles are curt. He aims to either provide ammunition to the already skeptical, or tilt an undecided person a notch more towards skepticism.

Provided you buy this understanding its honest intentions, and not expecting total objectivity or gentleness, you will find Skeptics Dictionary an informative and very readable book. Carroll's occasional touches of wit and humor combined with tight, quality writing make it a pleasing read. The articles are just long enough to give a good general overview of a subject, yet short enough to cover a tremendous range of topics. And Carroll helpfully provides references for further reading. The examination of a questionable belief may come from historical, logical or scientific angles, or a combination. The criticisms can be a bit repetitive ("ad hoc hypothesis" and "cold reading" accusations repeatedly stated), but only because most gurus are repetitive in their promises and rhetoric.

Carroll's skeptical eye is cast over topics as diverse as: alternative/quack medicine, alien-related intrigue, pseudoscience, new age mysticism, classical occultism, known political and spiritual hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and motivational pedagogues. He also explains underlying concepts relevant to all these fields, such as confirmation bias and communal reinforcement.
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More About the Author

Robert Todd Carroll (b. 1945) has always been interested in weird things, mysteries, stories of miracles and psychics and how beliefs in strange things conflict with logic and science. His favorite pasttime is thinking about why people believe in psychics, alien abductions, astrology, and hundreds of other things that conflict with what the science tells us. He taught Critical Thinking for more than thirty years and still enjoys investigating the biases, fallacies, and illusions that make being rational difficult. Since 1994, he's been posting articles on weird things and critical thinking at The website is called The Skeptic's Dictionary and has more than 700 entries, plus essays, book reviews, and more.

He taught philosophy for many years at a northern California community college. His first book (1975) was about the philosophy of an Anglican bishop who challenged the new empiricism as expressed by John Locke. Later, he wrote the text book "Becoming a Critical Thinker" (2003, 2nd ed. 2005) and a book named after his website: "The Skeptic's Dictionary" (Wiley, 2003).

In 2011, the James Randi Educational Foundation published his e-book "Unnatural Acts: Critical Thinking, Science, and Skepticism Exposed!" In 2012, the paperback of "Unnatural Acts" came out. "Mysteries and Science" came about at the urging of his wife and grandchildren for a critical thinking/science book about weird things aimed at a younger audience. In 2013, he published "The Critical Thinker's Dictionary: Biases, Fallacies, and Illusions and what you can do about them."