With their book UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens, Donald R. Prothero and Tim Callahan not only refute false claims and misguided beliefs about supposed encounters with the extraterrestrial and paranormal, but more importantly they also arm readers with the tools they will need to fairly evaluate any extraordinary claim they come across. It is for this achievement—an accessible, enriching, and genuinely fun introduction to scientific skepticism—that Prothero and Callahan are awarded the 2017 Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens collects several notable instances of alleged alien contact, evidence of extraterrestrial spacecraft, and the shadowy means by which these events have been covered up. Prothero, a geologist and paleontologist, and Callahan, an artist and animator, unpack the elements of each case. With an approach that is conversational and sympathetic to the believer, the authors show why the evidence is never sufficiently extraordinary to justify the extraordinary claim.
“Critical thinking and science have proven to be the most consistent and effective methods of distinguishing reality from illusion,” write the authors, who go on to show how several factors, including our often-deceptive senses and a sensationalistic culture, make us so susceptible to believe in that which is demonstrably false.
“As skeptics and science advocates, we can attempt to debunk outrageous and extraordinary claims until we’re blue in the face, but that’s almost never enough to change someone’s mind,” said Barry Karr, executive director of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. “What Prothero and Callahan show so clearly in this book is that we can inoculate ourselves from falling for hoaxes and submitting to fear and wishful thinking by learning the skills of critical thinking—by thinking like a scientist.”
And thinking like a scientist doesn’t require any advanced degrees or laboratory work. “What makes someone a scientist is not a white coat or lab equipment,” write Prothero and Callahan, “but rather how he or she asks questions about nature and what thought processes he or she employs to solve problems.”
The Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking is bestowed by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publisher of Skeptical Inquirer magazine and a program of the Center for Inquiry. Prothero and Callahan will receive the prize at the CSICon convention taking place October 18–21, 2018, in Las Vegas, which will also feature speakers such as Stephen Fry, Steven Pinker, James Randi, Richard Dawkins, and many more. See CSIConference.org for more information.
The Balles Prize is a $2,500 award given to the creator of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science. The prize was established by Robert P. Balles, a practicing Christian, along with the Robert P. Balles Endowed Memorial Fund, a permanent endowment fund for the benefit of CSI. The winner of the 2016 Balles Prize was Maria Konnikova for her book The Confidence Game.