Skeptics & Debunkers

C. P. Snow

The Two Cultures

Science Wars

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge

2/15 3/15 4/15 5/15 6/15 7/15 8/15 9/15 10/15 11/15 12/15 13/15 14/15 15/15 

Charles Fort

The Book of the Damned

2/12 3/12 4/12 5/12 6/12 7/12 8/12 9/12 10/12 11/12 12/12

Jacques Vallée

2/4 3/4 4/4

Robert Anton Wilson

The New Inquisition

Rupert Sheldrake

Richard Dawkins comes to call

He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. […] “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

“This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”, I replied. “Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?”

He produced no evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment. He assumed that people want to believe in “the paranormal” because of wishful thinking.

We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.

The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.

Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I’m don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked. “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about.” The camera stopped.

George P. Hansen

Magicians Who Endorsed Psychic Phenomena

CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview

CSICOP to CSI: the Stigma of the Paranormal

Has CSICOP Lost the Thirty Years’ War?
Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5, Pt. 6

Marcello Truzzi





Closeminded Science


Parapsychology, Anomalies, Science, Skepticism, and CSICOP

Parapsychology, [Marcello] Truzzi contends as a sociologist, is more tough-minded than many other academic fields, yet paradoxically, it remains a fringe subject.  “Parapsychologists really want to play the game by the proper statistical rules,” he expounds. “They’re very staid. They thought they could convince these sceptics but the sceptics keep raising the goalposts. It’s ironic, because real psychic researchers are very committed to doing real science, more than a lot of people in science are. Yet they get rejected, while we can be slipshod in psychology and sociology and economics and get away with it. We’re not painted as the witchdoctors, but they are.”  Jonathon Margolis in Uri Geller: Magician or Mystic?
“. . . members of the scientific community often judge the parapsychological claims without firsthand knowledge of the experimental evidence. Very few of the scientific critics have examined even one of the many experimental reports on psychic phenomena. Even fewer, if any, have examined the bulk of the parapsychological literature…. Consequently, parapsychologists have justification for their complaint that the scientific community is dismissing their claims without a fair hearing. . . .” Ray Hyman

 “I call them scoffers, not skeptics,” says Marcello Truzzi, director of the Center of Scientific Anomalies Research at Eastern Michigan University.

Truzzi, who studies what he calls protoscience, was a founding member of the world’s oldest and most respected skeptic society, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). But Truzzi says he withdrew after growing disillusioned with the group’s research methods.

“They tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion,” he asserts. “Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them.”

Truzzi says that some of the CSICOP researchers set the bar of proof outrageously high when it comes to the study of the paranormal. “When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts,” he says. “Then, if the experiment is reputable, they say it’s a mere anomaly.”  Tanya Barrientos in  The Paranormal? Pshaw!

“The most ardent skeptics enjoy their skepticism as long as it does not encroach upon their most cherished beliefs. Then incredulity flies out the window. . . . It is easy, even fun to challenge others’ beliefs, when we are smug in our certainty about our own. But when ours are challenged, it takes great patience and ego strength to listen with an unjaundiced ear.” Michael Shermer in A Skeptical Manifesto
“. . . the same scientific mind-set that thrives on high precision and critical thinking is also extremely adept at forming clever rationalizations that get in the way of progress. In extreme cases, these rationalizations have prevented psi research from taking place at all. Ironically, the very same skeptics who have attempted to block psi research through the use of rhetoric and ridicule have also been responsible for perpetuating the many popular myths associated with psychic phenomena. If serious scientists are prevented from investigating claims of psi out of fear for their reputations, then who is left to conduct these investigations? Extreme skeptics? No, because the fact is that most extremists do not conduct research, they specialize in criticism. Extreme believers? No, because they are usually not interested in conducting rigorous scientific studies. Dean Radin in The Conscious Universe, p. 206-207
“There are three broad approaches to anomaly studies. . . . The second common approach is what critics usually call the debunkers’ approach. This is the main attitude of the orthodox scientific community towards anomaly claims. It is characterized by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). “Whatever is claimed is nothing but … something else.” Seemingly anomalous phenomena are denied first and sometimes investigated only second. Like the Fortean the debunker is not concerned with the full explanation. Whereas the Fortean types don’t want explanations, the debunkers don’t need them as they believe they have already them.”  Marcello Truzzi in Reflections on the Reception of Unconventional Claims in Science
“Despite years of attempts to study paranormal phenomena, there’s been a scientific iron curtain raised against serious research on these experiences.” Andrew Greeley in The “Impossible”:  It’s Happening
“In 1819, Ernst Chladni reflected back on his struggles for the recognition of meteorites. While the Enlightenment, the 18th century intellectual movement that examined accepted doctrines of the time, had brought certain benefits, he felt it also brought with it certain intellectual problems. Now scientists ‘thought it necessary to throw away or reject as error anything that did not conform to a self-constructed model.’ The very success of scientific experiment and theory had led to a misplaced confidence that what was real was already within the circle of science. What was outside, therefore, what did not conform to scientists’ theories, could be dismissed by invoking scientific authority and by ignoring or ridiculing observations not supported by it.”  Ron Westrum in The Blind Eye of Science
“New data and discordant, anomalous, or bizarre experiences or facts can destroy the best explanations. Thus we cannot say with absolute confidence that the data and theories of parapsychology must be false because they contradict the existing body of physical [scientific] theory.” Paul Kurtz in The Transcendental Temptation

Just Wondering

Just Wondering

Posted on May 6th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Child Marmalade

“The Committee for Surrealist Investigation of Claims of the Normal (CSICON) is featured in the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, who claims American directorship of the committee.

According to Wilson, it was founded by Irishman Timothy F.X. Finnegan, who wrote, “The normal consists of a null set which nobody and nothing really fits.” The committee claims that there is no such thing as “normal”, and there are no existing “normal” people (i.e., people existing in the average). For example, no one has 2.3 children.

The Board of the College of Patapsychology, Wilson writes, offered one million Irish pounds to anyone who can produce “a normal sunset, an average Beethoven sonata, an ordinary Playmate of the Month, or any thing or event in space-time that qualifies as normal, average or ordinary.”

The committee’s name is a parody of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, and the million-pound challenge a parody of the prize offered by James Randi for evidence of paranormal abilities.”
“In Wilson’s account, CSICON began with a conversation Finnegan heard in a pub between two men named O’Brian and Nolan. They were discussing the strange weather. Another man named Sean Murphy interjected, “Ah, Jaysus. I’ve never seen a boogerin’ normal day. And I never met a fookin’ average man neither.”

This inspired Finnegan, and the next day he wrote a two-page outline on a new science he dubbed patapsychology. The paper began with the sentence, “The average Canadian has one testicle, just like Adolf Hitler-or, more precisely, the average Canadian has 0.96 testicles, an even sadder plight than Hitler’s, if the average Anything actually existed.””

“‘Pataphysics, a term coined by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873 – 1907), is a philosophy dedicated to studying what lies beyond the realm of metaphysics. It is a parody of the theory and methods of modern science and is often expressed in nonsensical language. A practitioner of ‘pataphysics is a ‘pataphysician or a ‘pataphysicist.”

Patapsychology is the philosophy that there is no such thing as ‘normal’. Its name is derived from parapsychology as a catch-all for paranormal studies, but it is not limited to purely psychological phenomena.

The term first appeared in the writings of Robert Anton Wilson, who credited it to Timothy F.X. Finnegan, founder of CSICON.”

Critical Paranoia may be considered one of Surrealism’s contributions to modern artistic thinking and interpretation. I would argue that Surrealism is more of a method and means of thought than it is en entity to be understood. Critical Paranoia should then be considered a primary exercise in attaining the, ‘pinnacled depths of that which is Surreal.’ ”


“The term pseudoskepticism (or pseudo-skepticism) denotes thinking that appears to be skeptical but is not. The term is most commonly encountered in the form popularised by Marcello Truzzi, through his Journal of Scientific Exploration, where he defined pseudoskeptics as those who take “the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves ‘skeptics'”[1] [2].”

  • The tendency to deny, rather than doubt [4]
  • Double standards in the application of criticism [5]
  • The making of judgments without full inquiry [6]
  • Tendency to discredit, rather than investigate [7]
  • Use of ridicule or ad hominem attacks in lieu of arguments[8]
  • Pejorative labeling of proponents as ‘promoters’, ‘pseudoscientists’ or practitioners of ‘pathological science.’[9]
  • Presenting insufficient evidence or proof [10]
  • Assuming criticism requires no burden of proof [11]
  • Making unsubstantiated counter-claims [12]
  • Counter-claims based on plausibility rather than empirical evidence [13]
  • Suggesting that unconvincing evidence is grounds for dismissing it [14]


skepticism vs. zeteticism

“This is why I prefer to call myself a zetetic (as did the late sociologist Marcello Truzzi) rather than a skeptic, perhaps especially because the term skeptical is being abused by organizations such as SI.

Here is how I see the difference: given paranormal claim A, there are three categories of people with regard to the claim.

True believers will accept A regardless of any evidence against it.
“Skeptics” like Shermer believe their job is to debunk or disprove it a priori because it cannot “possibly” be true.

The Zetetic, as Truzzi noted, neither accepts A uncritically nor assumes a priori that A cannot be, but simply keeps gathering the evidence which leans toward one possibility or the other.

Furthermore, the true zetetic is as SKEPTICAL of establishment science and claims as he is alternative views. It does not mean the establishment can’t be right, but it doesn’t mean that it must be, either.

As I view it, Forteans are Zetetics – not Skeptics or True Believers. And that is why I call myself both. And hate being labeled a True Believer, since, as John Keel declared, Belief is the Enemy. Or, as Robert Anton Wilson put it, Convictions Create Convicts.”


Pyrrhonism, or Pyrrhonian skepticism, was a school of skepticism founded by Aenesidemus in the first century BC and recorded by Sextus Empiricus in the late 2nd century or early 3rd century AD. It was named after Pyrrho, a philosopher who lived from c. 360 to c. 270 BC, although the relationship between the philosophy of the school and of the historical figure is murky. Pyrrhonism has become influential during the past few centuries when the modern scientific worldview was born.

Whereas ‘academic’ skepticism, with as its most famous adherent Carneades, claims that “Nothing can be known, not even this”, Pyrrhonian skeptics withhold any assent with regard to non-evident propositions and remain in a state of perpetual inquiry. According to them, even the statement that nothing can be known is dogmatic.

For example, Pyrrhonians might assert that a lack of proof cannot constitute disproof, and that a lack of belief is vastly different from a state of active disbelief. Rather than disbelieving in God, psychic powers, etc. for instance, based on the lack of evidence of such things, Pyrrhonians recognize that we cannot be certain that new evidence won’t turn up in the future, and so they intentionally remain tentative and continue their inquiry. Pyrrhonians also question accepted knowledge, and view dogmatism as a disease of the mind.

A brief period in western history is referred to by philosophers as the Pyrrhonic Crisis, during the birth of modernity. In Feudal society absolute truth was provided by divine authority. However, as this fell from legitimacy, there was a brief lag before the enlightenment produced the nation-state and science as the new sources of absolute truth. Relativist views similar to those held in Pyrrhonism were popular among thinkers of the time.

Pyrrhonian skepticism is similar to the form of skepticism called Zeteticism promoted by Marcello Truzzi.”

150Truzzi founded the skeptical journal Explorations and was invited to be a founding member of the skeptic organization CSICOP. Truzzi’s journal became the official journal of CSICOP and was renamed The Zetetic, still under his editorship. About a year later, he left CSICOP after receiving a vote of no confidence from the group’s Executive Council. Truzzi wanted to include pro-paranormal people in the organization and pro-paranormal research in the journal, but CSICOP felt that there were already enough organizations and journals dedicated to the paranormal. Kendrick Frazier became the editor of CSICOP’s journal and the name was changed to Skeptical Inquirer.

After leaving CSICOP, Truzzi started another journal, the Zetetic Scholar.[2] He promoted the term zeteticism as an alternative to skepticism, because the term skepticism, he thought, was being usurped by what he termed “pseudoskeptics“. A zetetic is a “skeptical seeker.” The term’s origins lie in the word for the followers of the skeptic Pyrrho in ancient Greece and was used by flat-earthers in the 19th century. Truzzi’s form of skepticism was pyrrhonism, as opposed to the Academic tradition founded by Plato, which is followed by most scientific skeptics.[3]

Charles Fort in 1920. Charles Fort in 1920.
Some skeptics and critics have frequently called Fort credulous and naïve, a charge his supporters deny strongly. Over and over again in his writing, Fort rams home a few basic points that were decades ahead of mainstream scientific acceptance, and that are frequently forgotten in discussions of the history and philosophy of science:

  • Fort often notes that the boundaries between science and pseudoscience are ‘fuzzy’: the boundary lines are not very well defined, and they might change over time.
  • Fort also points out that whereas facts are objective, how facts are interpreted depends on who is doing the interpreting and in what context.
  • Fort insisted that there is a strong sociological influence on what is considered ‘acceptable’ or ‘damned’ (see strong program in the sociology of scientific knowledge).
  • Though he never used the term “magical thinking“, Fort offered many arguments and observations that are similar to the concept: he argued that most (if not all) people (including scientists) are at least occasionally guilty of irrational and “non scientific” thinking.
  • Fort points out the problem of underdetermination: that the same data can sometimes be explained by more than one theory.
  • Similarly, writer John Michell notes that “Fort gave several humorous instances of the same experiment yielding two different results, each one gratifying the experimenter.”[6] Fort noted that if controlled experiments – a pillar of the scientific method – could produce such widely varying results depending on who conducted them, then the scientific method itself might be open to doubt, or at least to a degree of scrutiny rarely brought to bear. Since Fort’s death, scientists have recognized the “experimenter effect“, the tendency for experiments to tend to validate given preconceptions. Robert Rosenthal has conducted pioneering research on this and related subjects

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about 9 hours later

Domi333 said

Surrealism is great…
Pataphysics borders on absurdity but we realise that nothing is ‘normal’ surrealists found the abnormal to be closer to reality than reality…

Would people actually bother with James Randi? I guess by parodying him we realise that ‘normality’ becomes the stuff of fools…whether we find the supernatural or not.

Do you know about Dada? about artaud’s theory of cruelty?

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 18 hours later

Marmalade said

I’m only vaguely familiar with Dada and Artaud.  What do you think of them?

3 days later

Domi333 said

Artaud was big in Absurdist theatre…but he considered it more realistic…
dada was this huge reactionary movement after and during WW1…i guess surrealism was a softer version of dada, many of the dadaists moved onto surrealism…
through these two styles, we see the ideal of ‘dreams as a gateway to the subconscious'(freud)…the other thing i learnt was that WW1 was a culmination of the supposedly rational thinking which led upto the first war…so by being irrational, they were moving away from war…