First Annual REALL Student Essay Contest

Instructions and Contest Rules

The purpose of this essay contest is to encourage high school students to think critically about some of the fantastic claims we see in the media. We are bombarded with incredible stories about crashed UFOs, ghosts, wondrous medical treatments and other extraordinary phenomena. To fight this tendency to accept notions based upon flimsy data, we are offering a $250 cash prize for the best 1,500 to 3,000 word essay in one of the following areas:

  1. An evaluation of a paranormal belief in an event or phenomenon that apparently doesn't follow the laws of nature as we presently understand them, and is not demonstrable under controlled laboratory conditions. Some examples include ESP, ghosts, astrology, levitation, and psychic predictions.

  2. An evaluation of a controversial or pseudoscientific claim, such as cold fusion, facilitated communication, subliminal advertising, homeopathy, therapeutic touch, psychic healing or repressed memories.

  3. An experiment to test a paranormal or pseudoscientific claim, such as those mentioned above. These lists are not all-inclusive.

Matters of faith or religion, not claimed to be upheld by scientific evidence, are excluded.

Essays should be submitted by March 31, 2000, to the address below.

REALL's annual essay contest is open to high school students in Central Illinois. Immediate family members of the REALL Board or REALL's Essay Contest Committee are not eligible to enter. All entries will be judged by a panel chosen by REALL's Essay Contest Committee. The decision of the judges is final.

Essays will not be returned. Authors retain the copyright to their essays, however by entering they grant REALL the right to use or reprint their essay in newsletters or on the Web.

Organizing and Preparing Your Essay

Once you have chosen a suitable topic for investigation, your first step should be to gather as many credible references as possible. Essays should typically include at least four or five such references. Information obtained from the Internet should be used with caution as it may be unreliable and unsupported by any data whatsoever. However, some Web sources can direct you to appropriate journals and books that provide solid references. See the list in the Appendix for some possible Web starting points.

Other sources of skeptical reference are Skeptic Magazine and the Skeptical Inquirer, which are available at many local libraries and bookstores. Another potential source of references is your teacher.

After you have gathered your reference material, you should start your essay by defining your topic, stating what claims have been made about it and referencing the source of the claim.

Next you should organize your material to describe what solid facts have been established concerning your topic. If you are planning to conduct an experiment, this would be a good time to discuss the design and controls with your teacher.

Finally, you should draw your own conclusions based on the facts you have discovered. Note that we do not want standard book reports. We want informed opinions, backed up by the facts.

A frequently asked question is: Do we have to state our topic was a hoax even if our research leads us to believe otherwise?

To answer this question, consider that many of these phenomena may not involve purposeful hoaxes. For example, someone who thinks a weather balloon is a UFO is just mistaken, not deceptive.

Second, we are the Rational Examination Association of Lincoln Land, an organization that encourages critical thinking. Naturally, we are going to look more favorably upon an essay that clearly demonstrates an understanding of the scientific method rather than one which concludes, "Well, everybody believes it and there's no proof against it so it must be true."

As to the written format of your essay, we want a clear, consistent font, either typed or printed.

Remember to submit your registration by December 31, 1999, and your essay by March 31, 2000, to the address listed below and enjoy good thinking.

REALL Student Essay Contest
P.O. Box 20302
Springfield, IL 62708

Registration Information:

Student Name: ______________________________________________
Student Home Address: ______________________________________
City, State, Zip Code: _____________________________________
High School: _______________________________________________
Sponsoring Teacher: ________________________________________

Appendix: Some Possible Web Starting Points

The following web sites may contain information relevant to topics for this essay contest, and may be able to point students to print references associated with these areas. REALL does not necessarily endorse everything on these sites.

The Skeptic's Dictionary

Rational Examination Association
of Lincoln Land

Skeptic News

Committee for the Scientific Investigation
of Claims of the Paranormal

Skeptics Society


James Randi Educational Foundation

Australian Skeptics

Jim Lippard's Skeptical Information Links


Valid HTML 4.01! Valid CSS!