Consumer Reports Chief Research Scientist Visited the Society of Skeptics

Blair Academy was pleased to welcome James H. Dickerson, PhD, who spoke to students, faculty and staff during a virtual Society of Skeptics lecture on September 29 at 7 p.m. His presentation, “Using Science for Good,” centered around his work at Consumer Reports and the use of scientific findings to drive marketplaces changes to improve products. To watch his full presentation, please click below:

Dr. Dickerson is the first chief scientific officer for Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that works with consumers to create a fairer, safer and more transparent world. He received a BA in physics from Amherst College in 1994 and earned his PhD in condensed matter physics from Stony Brook University in 2002. In 2019, Dr. Dickerson was named a Fellow of the American Physical Society for his longstanding contributions to physics diversity through mentoring and outreach, as well as his leadership to assure quality science continues to underpin all Consumer Reports product evaluations. Dr. Dickerson served on the Committee on Minorities of the American Physical Society for four years and acted as its chair in 2007.

Dr. Dickerson’s presentation gave attendees a look into the scientific research process for products used every day. He explained that we expect that the products we use will be safe when they hit the market, but that is not always the case. Through his work at Consumer Reports, he is committed to revealing the truth, raising the bar for safety and fairness, and empowering consumers with trusted information. He noted that attendees saw how to use science for good, applying its findings for diverse audiences with the goal of driving marketplace change that benefits everyone.

“My presentation allowed insight into why science-backed reviews are necessary for all products,” Dr. Dickerson said. “I attempted to address the skepticism that many have about ratings or reviews of consumer products and how our process is different. Consumer Reports undertakes a robust scientific review process that is far superior to user reviews seen on a multitude of sites, which are largely subjective rather than objective.”

Dr. Dickerson hoped attendees of all ages saw the plethora of potential career paths that one can take if one is interested in science, engineering, public policy, law or a multitude of other traditional career trajectories.

“My career has largely involved different elements of science communication, be it working as a high school teacher, a tenured college professor, an assistant director of a government nanoscience laboratory, or in my current position as chief scientific officer,” he said. “Speaking with students versus adults has relatively little difference, as everyone is a consumer of products, goods and services. I am sure each attendee took away useful information they can use in the future, and I enjoyed the discussion surrounding my presentation.”

The History of Skeptics

The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.

The program, which is funded in part by The Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.

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