Home > Investigating Skeptics > A Who's Who of Media Skeptics
Skeptics or Dogmatists?
Susan Blackmore Ph.D.
a CSICOP Fellow, was awarded the CSICOP Distinguished Skeptic Award in 1991, and is one of Britain's best-known media skeptics. She started her career by doing research in parapsychology, but has announced on several occasions that she has left the field of parapsychology to devote herself to the study of memes, as proposed by the evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins. Despite her repeated departures from the field, she keeps reappearing, and her recent research into belief in the paranormal has been funded by the Perrott-Warrick Fund, a Cambridge-based endowment for promoting psychical research. She has written several books, including Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the Body Experiences. She has herself had an out-of-the-body experience, but explains her own experience and those of others as an illusion caused by anoxia in the brain, despite denials by experts. She combines her skeptical beliefs with the practice of Zen Buddhism. She used to teach at the University of the West of England in Bristol, but left in October 2001 to pursue a freelance career in the media. Her controversial bestseller The Meme Machine. was published in 1999. Her most recent book is Consciousness - An Introduction
Book Review by Guy Saunders
Research of the Skeptics Blackmore's own research on psi
Rick Berger's critical examination of Susan Blackmore's research on
Greg Stone's critical review of Blackmore's book Dying to Live
Web site: Susan Blackmore
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Richard Dawkins Ph.D.
a CSICOP Fellow, was the winner of the CSICOP “In Praise Of Reason” Award in 1992. He is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, and a strong supporter of the skeptical conjurer James Randi.
Dawkins is a talented writer with a great gift for metaphor, and is best known for his books on evolutionary theory and in particular for his theory of the selfish gene. Some have compared him to T.H. Huxley, who was known as “Darwin’s bulldog” for his active defence of Darwinism; others call him “Darwin’s pitbull” for his aggressive and uncompromising propagation of materialistic view of evolution. He has also been described as a scientific fundamentalist and a born-again Darwinian. He is one of the most zealous opponents of religion in Britain and strives for its eradication. In his acceptance speech for his 1996 "Humanist of the Year" award, he said, "I think a case can be made that faith is one of the world's great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate." He is uncompromising in his attitude towards those with whom he disagrees. At a literary festival in Oxford, he was the only featured author not to sign the promotional poster because it also bore the name of Uri Geller. “‘I’m not joking’, said Dawkins sharply, “I will not sign on the same piece of paper’” (The Guardian, Dec. 8, 1998).
He refuses to take part in debates with advocates of "intelligent design" in evolution. "The question of who would 'win' such a debate is not at issue. Winning is not what these people realistically aspire to. The coup they seek is simply the recognition of being able to share a platform with a real scientist in the first place. This will suggest to innocent bystanders that there is something that is genuinely worth debating, on something like equal terms" (A Devil's Chaplain, 2003, section 5.5). More seriously, he sometimes succeeds in censoring publication of views with which he disagrees. In March 1995, the Times Higher Educational Supplement commissioned a critique of Neo-Darwinism by the writer Richard Milton Richard Milton's article . Dawkins contacted the editor and lobbied against the publication of the article, which he had not seen. "She caved in to this unscientific bullying and suppressed the piece” (Fortean Times, April 2002). He habitually dismisses psychic phenomena as illusory, for example: “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it are fakes and charlatans” (Sunday Mirror, Feb 8, 1998). Nevertheless, Dawkins concedes that an interest in the subject could have a positive side: “The popularity of the paranormal, oddly enough, might even be grounds for encouragement. I think that the appetite for mystery, the enthusiasm for that which we don’t understand, are healthy and to be fostered. It’s the same appetite which drives the best of true science, and it’s an appetite which true science is best qualified to satisfy.” (1996 BBC Dimbleby Lecture).
His bestselling book The God Delusion was published in 2006, and he has now become the world's most prominent atheist. Together with the materialist philosopher Daniel Dennett, he is a leader of the "bright" movement, trying to rebrand atheists as brights.. But this campaign has met with little success, perhaps because it seems arrogant to imply that people who are not atheists are dim. In 2006, Dawkins presented a highly polemical series on Channel 4 televison in Britain against religion, called 'The Root of All Evil?' In a sequel broadcast by the same TV channel in 2007, he launched an all-out attack on psychic phenomena and alternative medicine called 'Enemies of Reason'. He is often criticized for his dogmatism, and Robert Winston has said that he "brings science into disrepute".
On this website... Richard Dawkins comes to call
An Ungodly Row: Richard Dawkins sues his disciple... Article in The Independent October 2010
Web site: RichardDawkins.net
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David Deutsch Ph.D.
works at the Centre for Quantum Computation at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford University. In the autumn of 2001, he denounced a fellow quantum physicist, Brian Josephson, for suggesting that quantum physics might lead to an explanation of "processes still not understood within conventional science such as telepathy". Deutsch asserted: "It is utter rubbish. Telepathy simply does not exist." ( The Observer, Sept 30, 2001.) Josephson, a Nobel laureate, made his comment about telepathy in a booklet issued by the Royal Mail about an issue of stamps to mark the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prizes. Deutsch said: "The Royal Mail has let itself be hoodwinked into supporting ideas that are complete nonsense". But Deutsch embodies a curious double standard about the need for scientific evidence. He is a proponent of a theory that there are billions of parallel universes to our own, expounded in his book The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes. He also speculates freely on time travel. There is no evidence for either of these phenomena. Deutsch highlights the remarkable way in which evidence-free speculation in some areas of science can coexist with dogma in others, while legitimate evidence is dismissed or denied.
Web site: David Deutsch
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Edzard Ernst M.D., Ph.D.
Prof. Edzard Ernst was the UK’s first professor of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM); the chair was endowed by the Laing foundation at the University of Exeter in 1993. Ernst was previously professor of physical and rehabilitation medicine at the University of Vienna, where he specialised in investigating venous and arterial blood flow modified by physical treatments such as spa, heat, or massage. At this time he also undertook a basic postgraduate training in homeopathy, but has hardly practiced. The research facility at Exeter is not involved in any outpatient or inpatient treatment or postgraduate clinical training within the field of CAM or conventional medicine. He has not practiced medicine for some time and is currently not registered or insured to do so. This may explain the major thrust of his research: literature reviews of already extant research making approximately 90% of his voluminous output of several hundred papers and some twenty books. The fact that he has collated the published literature in the field of CAM has earned him well justified praise. However the reviews and evaluations he publishes have often met with substantial methodological criticism. In situations where reviews were conducted simultaneously by other research groups, other scientists frequently came to entirely different, and usually more positive, conclusions Practitioners of CAM and conventional medicine have pointed out that Ernst has almost no first-hand experience of many of the modalities about which he publishes. Compared with the substantial number of literature reviews, meta-analyses and opinion pieces, Prof. Ernst has published little original primary research. His clinical trials have nearly all encountered severe methodological criticism and have often been published in low impact journals. However, some studies conducted by his research fellows, mainly in the field of acupuncture, are of high quality.
Web site: Edzard Ernst
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Chris French Ph.D.
often appears on British radio and TV in the role of an "informed skeptic". He is the editor of The Skeptic magazine, a publication of the British and Irish Skeptics, produced and distributed by CSICOP. He is head of the Psychology Department of Goldsmith's College in the University of London, where he is also head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. The purpose of this unit is primarily to investigate "why people believe in the paranormal" and it has "only a secondary interest in whether psi may, on rare occasions, naturally operate." French is under no illusions as to the prejudices of many of his colleagues. "Most psychologists could reasonably be described as uninformed skeptics - a minority could reasonably be described as prejudiced bigots - where the paranormal is concerned". ( The Skeptic 14(9)) He is also more self-aware than most skeptics about his own prejudices. As he wrote in The Skeptic, 14(4): "I am biased in my approach to evidence relating to the paranormal…..I make no claim to be a neutral assessor of the evidence". He takes the view that the on-going debate about the existence of psi "is more consistent with the notion that psi is a powerful illusion rather than the idea that it is real and we are making progress in understanding it". Nevertheless, he concedes that: "Many of the most sophisticated experimental designs within parapsychology are easily on a par with the best psychological studies. Furthermore, some parapsychologists appear to produce evidence in support of the existences of paranormal forces even from such apparently well-controlled experiments." In the end, he concludes, "only time will tell".
Web site: Chris French
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was a founding member of CSICOP, and has been described as the "single most powerful antagonist of the paranormal in the second half of the 20th century". He died in 2010 at the age of 95. He wrote a regular column in the Skeptical Inquirer until retiring in 2002, and published dozens of books, including his classic Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science.
He also used to write the Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. Conjuring was a life-long hobby and much of his criticism of psychical research focused on possibilities of cheating. The style of his attacks was frequently bitter, derisive and personal. Yet, surprisingly, unlike most self-proclaimed skeptics, he was not an atheist. Gardner's motivation was religious. As he explained in his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener, he believed in God, the power of prayer and life after death. In a penetrating study of Gardner's work, George Hansen, in his book The Trickster and the Paranormal (2001) , argued that Gardner's position can be traced back to his teenage Protestant fundamentalism and his belief that the realms of science and faith should be sharply separated. "[He] vehemently opposes using science to empirically address religious issues…. He is comfortable with CSICOP because it doesn't really do science. Instead it ridicules attempts to study the paranormal scientifically…. Gardner serves as a border guard to keep the paranormal out of science and academe. He belittles parapsychological researchers in order to ensure their marginal status. By emotional attacks and biting sarcasm he warns others to stay clear of the realm. He portrays the paranormal as 'unclean' and unsuited to be part of elite culture. His writings, actions and life constitute an important case study of how taboo continues to be enforced." Although Gardner was more scholarly than most skeptics, and was widely quoted as an authority, some of his work was poorly-informed, biassed and unreliable, as this critical essay by Greg Taylor shows.
How Martin Gardner Bamboozled the Skeptics...
Skeptical of a Skeptic by Greg Taylor
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Goldacre describes himself as a “junior doctor”. He writes the weekly “Bad Science” column in the British Guardian newspaper. His column aims to “debunk pseudoscientific nonsense in consumer adverts, alternative therapies and flaky media science stories.” He concentrates almost all his skepticism on fringe medicine, with only an occasional acknowledgment that there might be some bad science in drug companies and official medicine. In one of his columns he wrote, “There are bad trials in medicine, of course, but here’s the difference: in medicine there is a strong culture of critical self-appraisal, Doctors are taught to spot bad research… and bad drugs.” He pointed out that according to a list published in the British Medical Journal, the most highly referenced articles were on problems with the anti-inflammatory Vioxx and the anti-depressant drug paroxetine. “This is as it should be,” he added complacently.
But if doctors were so good at spotting bad drugs, why are Merck, the makers of Vioxx, paying out billions of dollars to the families of some of the thousands of people killed or damaged by Vioxx? And why are so many doctors still prescribing addictive anti-depressants like paroxetine that have been shown to cause suicidal behaviour in susceptible patients?
Instead of critically discussing bad science within industry and government, where the consequences can affect millions of lives and where billions of dollars are at stake, he prefers easy targets such as trials of fish oil supplements for schoolchildren in a town in the north of England, ridiculing them as unscientific. His tone is heavily didactic and patronizing: “I’m teaching you now… Congratulations! You now understand evidence-based medicine to degree level.” Perhaps his most revealing comment was, “Stick with me. Science is fun when you’re making people look stupid” (The Guardian, November 10, 2007).
His safe, pro-establishment skepticism has endeared him to the defenders of orthodoxy and he has received several awards for his writing, including one from HealthWatch, a pro-industry organization that attacks homeopathy and other forms of alternative medicine. He is the subject of a book by Martin Walker called Cultural Dwarfs and Junk Journalism which “investigates Goldacre’s role in industry lobby groups and puts another point of view in defence of some of the people he has attacked, belittled, satirized, castigated, vilified, maligned and opined against.” The book is available online at Slingshot Publications
Goldacre’s website: www.badscience.net
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!s on the editorial advisory board of The Skeptic and is a Professor of Psychology at Bristol University. He is best known for his idea that humans are hard-wired for religion and superstitious beliefs, and is the author of a book entitled The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs. In The Amazing Randi meeting in London in 2011, Hood claimed that “personal experience” with the paranormal can be explained through expectations stemming from belief, in that the brain’s neural firing fills in inferred information (such as “seeing a ghost”) for what is believed and “should” be. Hood concluded that it is not enough just to be skeptical, but that we need to know why people believe in the paranormal. He also posited that believing may be more natural than abnormal, since it seems to be how the brain works. Like several other academic skeptics, he claims that his own beliefs are based on evidence. In an interview in the Skeptical Inquirer (March 5, 2011) he said, “I think that dogma, whether you’re a believer or nonbeliever, is not appropriate, and you need to have the flexibility to change with the evidence. That’s what a true skeptic should be, not someone who dismisses it off-hand.” However, he himself has shown very little interest in the evidence for psi phenomena, and seems to have been programmed with a strong belief in the materialist philosophy. In his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures for children in December 2011, he stated categorically that “There is no such thing as psychic phenomena and anyone who says that there is is either a fraud or deluded.” His most recent book is The Self Illusion.
His blog: Bruce Hood
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Nicholas Humphrey Ph.D.
is an evolutionary psychologist and School Professor at the London School of Economics. From 1992-95 he held the Perrott-Warrick Research Fellowship for Psychical Research at Cambridge University. He did no psychical research, but instead wrote a book, Soul Searching, in which he claimed to have proved on theoretical grounds that phenomena like telepathy were impossible. Few were impressed with his proofs. Even his fellow skeptic, Susan Blackmore, regarded his dismissal of the experimental evidence for telepathy as misleading. In a review of his book in New Scientist, she wrote: "The best known research in parapsychology today uses the ganzfeld technique, a kind of partial sensory deprivation believed to enhance ESP. Humphrey summarises it in two pages and dismisses it with one recent unpublished reanalysis which suggests a serious flaw. This is unfair given the fact that the ganzfeld technique has been around for two decades, has received enormous publicity, and has been thoroughly criticised both from within and without parapsychology - without any consensus being reached. Humphrey may well be right that something other than extrasensory perception is responsible for the results, but many people far more knowledgeable than he have failed to find out what it is." In 2001, in reaction to a statement by Professor Brian Josephson, a Nobel laureate in quantum physics, that quantum physics may lead to an explanation for telepathy, Humphrey said: “I think the idea that quantum physics explains the paranormal is an unnecessary idea, because there's nothing to explain. We haven't got any evidence.” (BBC Radio 4, TODAY, October 2, 2001).
Web site: Nicholas Humphrey
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One of the more extreme skeptics, Hutchinson is U.K.
representative of CSICOP and co-author (with journalist Simon
Hoggart) of Bizarre Beliefs, (1996) in which something of a
combine harvester approach is taken towards everything from
astrology, ghosts and spoon-benders to crop circles, Nostradamus,
the curse of Tutankhamun, dowsing and claims that Elvis still
lives. An example of their critical method is their statement that
"there are no ghosts, no poltergeists and no hauntings. They are
all mistaken, imaginary, or false". Even skeptic Richard
Wiseman found parts of the book "somewhat superficial" and noted
that specific sources were not given for much of the material.
while "some of the chapters lack necessary detail". Even so, he concluded in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (April 1996) that the book "deserves a place on both our bookshelves and our coffee tables". At least one reader disagreed, describing the book as "fundamentalist revisionism, of which radical members of the Sceptical Tendency are as guilty as
those who maintain that the Holocaust never took place" and
suggesting the appropriate place for it was "the recycling bin". Hutchinson is also U.K. representative of Prometheus Books, whose
list includes, in addition to some fifty debunking volumes, such
'libertarian' titles as Children's Sexual Encounters with Adults,
Cannibalism: from Sacrifice to Survival, and the memoirs of
the SS Kommandant at Auschwitz.
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Ray Hyman Ph.D
is emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. He serves on the Executive Council of CSICOP and chairs its subcommittee on parapsychology. Hyman has been a professional magician, and has published in conjuring magazines. In the U.S.A., at least, Hyman is regarded as the leading critic of academic parapsychology. His critique of the Ganzfeld work is probably the best known, although Honorton (1985) was able to produce a detailed rebuttal. They subsequently collaborated on a joint communique which recommended reporting and procedural guidelines for future Ganzfeld research.
Hyman pursues two critical agendas: as a scientific, technical critic and as a prosecutor arguing the case against the legitimacy of parapsychology. Hyman's own involvement in research seems to have been minimal, giving him a distinct advantage in the rhetorical arena. In responding to research findings for which no conventional explanation can be offered, Hyman's tactic has been to suggest that whilst psychic claims have been unfairly attacked, there is no reason for orthodox science to pay attention to claims for the paranormal.
Hyman’s perceived position as a responsible critic of parapsychology has placed him in a position of some influence. He was appointed to the NRC committee on enhancing human performance for the U.S. Army (see also this site Dean Radin ). He served as chair of the parapsychology subcommittee, which concluded that there was no scientific justification for the existence of parapsychological phenomena.
Dr. Hyman's books include Water Witching USA (with Evon Vogt), and The Elusive Quarry: A Scientific Appraisal of Psychical Research.
For a detailed exposition of Dr Hyman's work, see George P. Hansen's article The Elusive Agenda from which this summary is taken with the kind permission of the author.
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Is the Chairman of CSICOP, also the Founder and Chairman of the Council for Secular Humanism and of Prometheus Books, the leading publisher of skeptical literature. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Free Inquiry magazine. In addition, he is President and Humanist Laureate of the International Academy of Humanism. He is deeply committed to a secular humanist ideology and one of its leading public proponents. He is against parapsychology, holistic cures for animal illnesses, alternative medicine and organized religion. "We are the heroic defenders of science and reason," he told the New York Times (June 19, 2002).
The Headquarters of CSICOP, the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York, is also Headquarters of the Council for Secular Humanism. Kurtz’s unflagging opposition to claims of the paranormal is part of a larger ideological agenda. He is not a scientist, but a philosopher and sees the primary role of the Skeptical Movement as educative. In his reflections on 25 years of CSICOP ( Skeptical Inquirer, July/August 2001) he wrote, “The basic question that we need to ask is, Why do paranormal beliefs persist?” The one possibility that he did not consider is that some of the phenomena these beliefs concern, like telepathy, might actually exist. He thinks Skeptics and secular humanists have a duty to propagate a materialistic world-view. “It is incumbent on us to defend the naturalistic interpretation of reality, a materialistic not a spiritual-paranormal account. We need generalists of science to sum up what science tells us about the human condition in a Universe without purpose or design, yet who have the ability to awaken wonder and excitement about the scientific quest itself.”
An article by Mark Oppenheimer NY Times October 1, 2010 reveals a deep division in the ranks of the Skeptics
Closer Look at Rift Between Humanists Reveals Deeper Divisions
Web site: Paul Kurtz
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David Marks Ph.D.
A CSICOP Fellow, he is Professor of psychology and research director, Centre for Health and Counselling, City University, London. He is the author of The Psychology of the Psychic (2000), a revised edition of the book of the same title co-authored with the late Richard Kamman in 1980. Marks laments the fact that "over thirty publishers were approached before Prometheus Books agreed to publish this book", no less than five chapters of
which are devoted to Uri Geller and what is described as "Gelleritis". He claims to have detected Geller using trickery of various kinds, which many other researchers (including at least 20 magicians) have failed to do. Geller has dismissed Marks's claims as "fantasy". Marks has repeatedly stated that funding should not be wasted on "relatively trivial" subjects like ESP, but applied instead to USP - Urgent and Serious Problems (such as population growth and poverty). Thus he appears to be arguing that psi should not be studied merely because other matters are more important. Although he claims that "I will never refuse to change if the evidence demands a change", he has devised a formula for ensuring that such evidence is never forthcoming. If the evidence is positive, it is either "flawed" or in need of "replication and further analysis". If it is negative it is accepted uncritically. Marks appears impervious to positive evidence of any kind. For example, commenting on the several successful replications of the remote viewing experiments carried out by Harold Puthoff, Russell Targ and Edwin May (funded for several years by various U.S. government agencies) he dismisses them all as "flawed in a variety of ways". In a chapter entitled "The Sloppiness Continues", Marks mentions positive results of a remote viewing experiment reported by Marilyn Schlitz and Elmar Gruber. Admitting that this was a successful replication of the similar experiments of Targ and Puthoff, Marks gets off this particular hook by stating: "However, we do not know how many nonsignificant studies remain in the investigators' file drawer. If it is a small handful, which seems likely, the... statistical significance simply melts away like snowflakes in the psring." He has no evidence that any such "file-drawer" studies exist. Marks
has shown once again that when negative evidence is required to
disprove a positive claim, he simply makes it up. He also frequently resorts to ad hominem attacks. Scientists
prepared to study Uri Geller are referred to as "Gellerites",
biologist Rupert Sheldrake is described as a "paranormalist" and
a "latter-day Dr Who". The research of Targ and Puthoff, much of
which appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals, is "nothing
more than a massive artifact of poor methodology and wishful
thinking" In addition, the best positive evidence is simply not mentioned. Robert Morris noted that Marks and Kamman (1980) "disregard altogether the studies considered by those familiar with the field as providing the best evidence for psi" and cite no
evidence from parapsychology journals. Theirs, said Morris, was a
"biased selection of material [which] cannot be regarded as an
adequate review for assessment of psi research". Marks now frankly describes himself as a disbeliever and sets his subjective probability of various psi phenomena as between a millionth and a trillionth of a trillionth. He has, however, made a useful contribution to the study of the psychology not of the psychic, but of the skeptic. In the words of the Robert Browning, as cited by Marks himself:
As is your sort of mind
So is your sort of search, you'll find
What you desire.
In 'The Need for Open-minded Skepticism' from The Skeptic Rupert Sheldrake refutes Marks' criticism of research into human and animal telepathy Sheldrake article
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Randi is a conjurer (the “Amazing Randi”) and showman who is described on his web site as “the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims.” He used to be a leading figure in CSICOP, but had to resign because of litigation against him. Carl Sagan, in his sympathetic introduction to Randi’s book The Faith Healers (1987) described him as an “angry man.” His work as a debunker has attracted lavish funding and in 1986 he was the recipient of a $286,000 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. In 1996 he established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). He has an ambiguous attitude to scientific authority, deferring to it when it supports his beliefs, but rejecting it when it does not.
On his web site he asserts: “Authority does not rest with scientists, when emotion, need and desperation are involved. Scientists are human beings, too, and can be deceived and self-deceived.” He is not afraid to attack scientists who take an interest in subjects like telepathy, like Brian Josephson, Professor of Physics at Cambridge University. In 2001, on a BBC Radio program about Josephson’s interest in possible connections between quantum physics and consciousness, Randi said, “I think it is the refuge of scoundrels in many aspects for them to turn to something like quantum physics.” Josephson has a Nobel Prize in quantum physics. Randi has no scientific credentials. Of his current work, he writes, “We at the JREF are skilled in two directions: we know how people are fooled by others and we know how people fool themselves. We deal with hard, basic facts.” Yet in a review of his book The Supernatural A-Z: The Truth and the Lies, his fellow skeptic Susan Blackmore commented that the book “has too many errors to be recommended.” He has also been shown to invent "facts" and make up evidence, see
Randi's dishonest claims .
Fraud of this kind is unacceptable within the scientific community; but Randi is no scientist.
The arch-debunker taken for a ride by Dennis Stillings Skeptics Can Be Fooled
Randi’s stock in trade as a debunker is the offer of a million dollar “prize” for a demonstration of “any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability”.
For details, see The Randi Prize .
But as a leading Fellow of CSICOP, Ray Hyman, has pointed out, this "prize" cannot be taken seriously from a scientific point of view: "Scientists don't settle issues with a single test, so even if someone does win a big cash prize in a demonstration, this isn't going to convince anyone. Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments."
Randi’s fellow showman Loyd Auerbach, President of the Psychic Entertainers Association, is likewise sceptical about this “prize” and sees it as a stunt of no scientific value.
See Randi’s Challenge
Recent discussion on Randi's prize can be found at the following internet forum:
and on the following blogs:
Michael Prestcott's Blog and
Prove Randi wrong
More on the Randi Prize... Why Randi may have to pay up
Sean of PsiPog has investigated and found out what the Randi Challenge is really about.
Michael Prescott has revisited Randi's "evidence"... A Skeptical look at James Randi
Rupert Sheldrake comments in Skeptic on a disappointing interview of James Randi by Chris French...
Patron Saint of Skeptics?
James Randi - Skepticism's Great Achilles
A new piece on James Randi from Steve Volks's blog
10 Developments in Fringe-Ology:5
Web site: James Randi
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Is publisher of the Skeptic magazine, the Director of the Skeptic Society, the host of the Skeptics’ Lecture Series at the California Institute of Technology and the author of a regular column in Scientific American called “Skeptic”. He frequently appears in the US media as an advocate of the skeptical point of view. Although he is a historian rather than a scientist, he sees himself as an arbiter of scientific credibility and standard bearer of rational thought. “In a free society, skeptics are the watchdogs against irrationalism. Debunking is not simply a divestment of bunk; its utility is in offering a better alternative, along with a lesson in how thinking goes wrong” (Scientific American, June 2001, p. 23).
According to Wikipedia ( Wikipedia.org ) he was once a fundamentalist Christian. Much of his writing concerns the personal experiences that shaped his worldview. He once tried to enhance his athletic abilities with various New Age techniques, such as iridology, rolfing, and mega-vitamins. He even kept a pyramid in his living room to increase energy. His skepticism developed in reaction to his earlier credulity. He now reveals a similarly credulous attitude toward mainstream science itself. If it's Big Science, he's for it, including human cloning. In his book The Borderlands of Science he outlines a series of criteria for distinguishing between real science and “baloney”. He particularly warns his readers against people who have ideologies to pursue, whose pattern of thinking “consistently ignores or distorts data not for creative purposes but for ideological agendas". Unfortunately he himself has an ideology to pursue and makes untruthful and pseudoscientific claims.
For example, in his "Skeptic" column in Scientific American in March, 2003, he cited a research study published in the Lancet, a leading medical journal, by Pim van Lommel and colleagues. He asserted this study "delivered a blow" to the idea that the mind and the brain could separate. Yet the researchers argued the exact opposite, and showed that conscious experience outside the body took place during a period of clinical death when the brain was flatlined. As Jay Ingram, of the Canadian Discovery Channel, commented: "His use of this study to bolster his point is bogus… He could have said, 'The authors think there's a mystery, but I choose to interpret their findings differently'. But he didn't. I find that very disappointing" (Toronto Star, March 16, 2003).
Pim van Lommel wrote to the editor of Scientific American setting out the evidence that Shermer misrepresented.
In August 2004, Dr Petrus Pennanen wrote to point out 'an extremely unscientific statement' in an article by Shermer on telepathy
In November 2004, Professor John Poynton, President of the Society for Psychical Research, wrote to protest that Shermer's activities are a distortion of the concept of skepticism.
Full text of these statements... Statements by Shermer's critics
In relation to Rupert Sheldrake's book The Sense of Being Stared At, he claimed in USA Today that "the events Sheldrake describes don't require a theory and are perfectly explicable by normal means"(Feb 26, 2003). When asked to substantiate this claim, he was unable to do so and admitted he had not seen the book.
In his August 2004 Skeptic column in Scientific American, Shermer launched an extraordinary attack on the widely respected physicist Freeman Dyson, of Princeton. He took exception to the fact that Freeman Dyson publicly concluded that paranormal phenomena might really exist, on the basis of “a great mass of evidence“ (New York Review of Books, March 25, 2004).
Dyson’s error, according to Shermer, was to be interested in people’s actual experiences:
“Even genius of this magnitude cannot override the cognitive biases that favour anecdotal thinking. The only way to find out if anecdotes resemble real phenomena is controlled tests. Either people can read other people’s minds (or ESP cards), or they can’t. Science has unequivocally demonstrated that they can’t - QED.“
This sounds like a crushing rebuttal of Dyson’s view, with the full weight of the authority of science. But it is untrue. There have been many scientific investigations of telepathy, and there is much evidence in its favour.
Shermer is a close associate of the conjurer James Randi. In January 2005 in Las Vegas, at the Stardust Hotel, they gave a workshop together on how to get the skeptical message across, teaching would-be media skeptics the “tricks of the trade,” so that they could be the one the media will call “when the next UFO or psychic healer appears on the scene.”
For details, see Randi’s web site, www.randi.org
For the Coast to Coast debate, January 23, 2006 'Shermer in the Skeptics' Cage'
Review of the Debate
Shermer's conversation with Ted Dace The End of Reductionism
Shermer’s website: Skeptic.com
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Richard Wiseman Ph.D.
Wiseman is a fellow of CSICOP, a consultant editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and an associate of Rationalist International. Having started his career as a conjuror, he took a degree in psychology (University College, London) and a PhD in parapsychology from Edinburgh University, and is now based in the Psychology Department at the University of Hertfordshire. His speciality is the psychology of lying and deception, and he is the author of Deception and Self-Deception: Investigating Psychics. He is Britain’s most ambitious and ubiquitous media skeptic and has appeared in hundreds of TV and radio programmes. In 1995 he was awarded a Perrott-Warrick research fellowship for psychical research, and according to his web site has received more than £400,000 sterling in grants. He has been at the centre of many controversies with researchers in parapsychology, and has often been accused of deliberately misrepresenting data.
In 1995, he replicated Rupert Sheldrake’s results with a dog that knows when its owner was coming home, and then claimed to have debunked the 'psychic pet' phenomenon
Attempts at debunking.
He has been described by the President of the Parapsychology Association as motivated by "obvious self-interest", and by a desire "to support an a priori commitment to the notion that all positive psi results are spurious and all methods which seem to show the presence of psi are flawed" (see ganzfeld controversy ).
In December 2000 he carried out what he described as the 'world’s biggest ESP experiment' which, like many of his activities, was widely publicised in the media. A skeptical observer of the experiment claimed that he had designed the experiment to fail and interfered with the procedure in such a way as to gain the non-significant result he expected.
See O'Neill - Wiseman controversy
In September 2004 he took part in a classic CSICOP debunking excercise, claiming that a young Russian girl who had seemingly psychic powers of diagnosis had failed a test he and his fellow skeptics designed. In fact the girl scored at a level well above chance. Prof Brian Josephson, FRS, a Nobel Laureate in physics, investigated Wiseman's claims about this test and found them to be seriously misleading:
see Media propaganda
Sheldrake and Wiseman on Skeptiko
A lively debate between biologist Rupert Sheldrake and Richard Wiseman reveals a wide rift between skeptics and psi proponents. (March 8th 2010)
In an article on this website, Mary Rose Barrington takes Wiseman and his colleagues to task
The Natasha Demkina Case - 'Respected Scientists'
In our Media Watch feature, Guy Lyon Playfair doubts Wiseman's claim of a 'breakthrough' in his attempt to debunk Remote Viewing
Breakthrough to Nowhere
By the autumn of 2004, after a series of other very questionable claims, widely publicized in the media, many of his peers in the parapsychology research community concluded that his behaviour was not consistent with commonly-accepted standards of scientific integrity, and he was voted off the main research forum in parapsychology by a large majority. In addition, for similar reasons, some members of the Society for Psychical Resaerch called for him to be expelled for the Society. He resigned. Despite his strong skeptical beliefs, in 2004 he applied for the newly-established chair of Parapsychology in Lund, Sweden, which was endowed to promote research in this field.
In an interview with
Skeptiko (April 2011) Rupert Sheldrake accused Richard Wiseman of 'persistent deception' in his book Paranormality
JSPR has published a penetrating critique by Chris Carter of Richard Wiseman's attack on parapsychology - his 'Heads I win, tails you lose' paper published in Skeptical Inquirer.
Chris Carter's reply... A Response to Wiseman’s (2010) Critique of Parapsychology
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Wiseman's ability to manipulate the media misleadingly is not confined to psychic phenomena. Much has been written about a scientific "study" of his that claimed to show that people could not tell the difference between cheap and expensive wines. But the test was seriously flawed, in that subjects were not asked to compare two samples of wine blind, but were given just a single glass and asked to say whether it was cheap or expensive. The wine blogger Jamie Goode comments that this "study" was "in essence a clever publicity stunt to boost the profile of the [Edinburgh science] festival by generating column-inches." Wiseman was on the Advisory Board of the festival at the time. http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/wine-science/the-wiseman-‘study’-–-cheap-versus-expensive-wine
Wiseman's web site: Richard Wiseman
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Lewis Wolpert Ph.D.
Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College, London. He served for five years as Chairman of COPUS, the Committee for the Public Understanding of Science. He has been a faithful standby for the media for more than 20 years as a denouncer of ideas that he suspects are tainted with mysticism or the paranormal. On the other hand, in the context of genetic engineering, he is a fervent believer in free enquiry. “I regard it as ethically unacceptable and impractical to censor any aspect of trying to understand the nature of our world.” (Nobel Website, June 29, 2000). In 1994, as a member of the BBC Science Consultative Committee, he tried to stop BBC Television from making a six part series on scientific “heretics”, as he revealed in the Sunday Times (July 3, 1994). "This is an absurd series. The whole way these programmes are being presented just fills me with rage. It's a grotesque distortion. It's disgusting. It's just sensational anti-science, and anti-science is the rationalization for ignorance". Wolpert's most memorable aphorism was "Open minds are empty minds".
In 2001, in a programme about a series of controlled telepathy experiments on the Discovery Channel, broadcast in the US on August 31, 2001, he proclaimed that "There is no evidence for any person, animal, or thing being telepathic". He did not examine the evidence, presented in the same programme, about which he was being interviewed. He is an old-style dogmatic skeptic, and seems entirely unaware of numerous scientific studies that seem to show that that telepathy actually exists.
In January 2004 he took part in a public debate on telepathy with Rupert Sheldrake at the Royal Society of Arts in London, with a high court judge in the chair. According to a report on the debate in the scientific journal Nature, “few members of the audience seemed to be swayed by his [Wolpert’s] arguments…. Many in the audience… variously accused Wolpert of ‘not knowing the evidence’ and being ‘unscientific’.” You can hear the debate online by clicking here, read the text here, or read the Nature report.
Report from Nature
Web site: Lewis Wolpert
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Youens has risen to prominence as a media skeptic on U.K. television making many appearances on day-time shows such as “Vanessa”, “Kilroy”, “The Heaven and Earth Show” and “Stigmata: The Marks of God”. Youens’ interest in skepticism began when he saw the U.K. Granada television series “James Randi – Psychic Investigator” in the early 1990’s. This inspired him to take up conjuring and to read James Randi’s books. Youens’ interest in skepticism grew and by 2000 he had met Randi and has since worked with him, organising tests for U.K.-based applicants to Randi’s million dollar challenge , and appearing on T.V. shows with Randi such as “The Ultimate Psychic Challenge”. Randi has referred to Youens as “our man in the U.K.” and Youens has called Randi “a huge source of inspiration” .
Youens has also worked with other skeptics such as Chris French, and his method typically involves posing as a psychic, an astrologer or medium (with the audience being deliberately mislead to this effect), and simulating psychic feats using stage-magic . He also tests psychics and has his own “psychic challenge” worth 5000 UKP. In addition he is a founding member of the U.K.-based Association for Skeptical Enquiry (“ASKE”)
See... Association for Skeptical Enquiry which has its own “psychic challenge” worth £13,000.
Youens is nothing if not confident of the absolute rightness of the skeptical position and clearly believes that skeptics have a monopoly when it comes to rational debate: “... I don't expect to convince believers of the skeptical view. Despite all their claims to open-mindedness, I've never found one persuaded by rational argument” .
When asked about his qualifications as a skeptic Youens reply was: “... I would say I was for the most part self taught. I did get a third of the way through a philosophy degree but lack of time forced me to give up. Other than that my professional qualifications are not remotely connected with skeptical subjects generally.”
In spite of his complete lack of scientific credentials, Tony Youens has attempted to debunk the work of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake. In August 2005, with many subsequent repeats, National Geographic TV Channel broadcast a programme called "Is It Real? Psychic Animals" (also called "Is It Real? Animal Oracles"). In this programme, criticisms were made of Sheldrake’s experiments involving the parrot N’kisi, who appears to display telepathic abilities. The criticisms focused on Sheldrake’s statistical analysis. However the British Government’s media-watchdog OFCOM ruled that the programme makers treated Sheldrake unfairly for not allowing Sheldrake to respond to these criticisms and breaching their prior agreement to allow him to do so ...
Youens works as a Health and Safety Training Officer at the University of Nottingham Trent, England .
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