An inexpensive skeptical tool everyone should have

Much of what we talk about here is relatively new stuff like REST APIs, geotargeting and so on. But some skeptical tools have been around for quite some time. This is just a quick post to sell you on a tool that dates from 1976. It is now priced so low that there is no excuse for you not to have it in your toolbox.

There’s much excitement in skepticism these days, in part because Internet technologies have enabled an influx of new people who are enthusiastic and want to be involved. But as Barbara Drescher lamented over the weekend, many enthusiastic folks who have jumped into skepticism have not yet had time to fully familiarize themselves with the years of work that has gone on since the creation of CSICOP in the mid-1970s. As a new skeptic, how do you catch up with 40+ years of work?

Well, CSI (as CSICOP renamed itself a few years ago) has made it super easy. As publishers of Skeptical Inquirer, they’ve been one of the main chroniclers of skepticism since the very beginning. Like most magazine publishers, they’ve had a digital archive of back issues available for over five years from their web site.

However, up until a few weeks ago it was a $150 product. That price might have given many skeptics pause. Especially younger skeptics who are used to getting everything for free online.

But that has changed! Now the Skeptical Inquirer DVD or CD is only $25. That’s really an incredible price for 29 years of investigations, research and more. I picked up a copy myself.

The collection provides every issue of Skeptical Inquirer from the first 29 years, in the form of Adobe PDF files. You get 169 files in about 1.5 Gigabytes (1.63 billion bytes), including a pre-built keyword index. Most folks easily have room to copy the entire archive to their computer for instant use.

Most personal computers these days ship with software to read these files built-in, whether it be Adobe’s own Reader or some alternative such as the Preview program that ships on Mac OSX. So making use of this archive is as simple as copying the files to your computer and double-clicking.

If you use Adobe’s software for these files, a keyword index is pre-built on the disk for you. Or you can rely on the system search utility (such as Apple’s Spotlight) that is built in to your computer – most such software automatically knows how to index PDFs. I copied the files to my Mac laptop, and within a few minutes I could hit Command-Spacebar and search for skeptic topics in back issues in seconds, even when the Internet is unavailable.

I highly recommend any serious skeptic get this disk and make use of it on a regular basis. Just in the first couple days of using it, I was able to correct a date in a Wikipedia article about a lake monster and add a footnote to another article about a scientist. And that was just while browsing around. I’ve already found several new items to add to Skeptic History, and I expect to find many more.

So bust out your credit card, and order a copy in the CSI Online Store. You’ll be a better informed skeptic with this in your toolbox.

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About Tim Farley
Focused on online misinformation, Tim Farley is a software engineer, computer security expert and scientific skeptic who created the site What's The Harm. He is a Past Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

6 Responses to An inexpensive skeptical tool everyone should have

  1. eyeonicr says:

    Twenty. Five. Dollars. Am I reading this right? Wow… I shall have to then!

  2. sgerbic says:

    I saw these at TAM9 but had no idea how cheap they were going for. Should have picked it up. Would make editing Wikipedia a lot easier.

    BTW I just added an edit to Nicholas Spanos‎’s page. Never heard of him before. Added him to the American Skeptic category so other people can read about him and improve his page.

  3. farquhj says:

    Bought this the other day with the hope that I could read them on my Kindle. The pdf viewer does not give me any zoom capability, so I guess I need to convert it to the Kindle format. Any help on how to?

  4. Pingback: Content Roundup: August 2011 « Skeptical Software Tools

  5. Is it possible to pay to download this? 1.5GB shouldn’t take too long, and would save me time and money for posting to the UK.

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