few years have seen a rapid proliferation of popular books, websites,
articles, and radio and TV programs devoted to paranormal phenomena.
That this growth is market-driven is self-evident. A recent Gallup
Poll showed that half of Americans believe in extrasensory perception
(ESP), and a third or more believe in haunted houses, ghosts, and clairvoyance.
In short, consumers are eager to learn about evidence of spirit-related
phenomena, and the media are accommodating them.
The media aren't alone in profiting from this fascination with the paranormal.
Professional self-described "skeptics" are also cashing in,
claiming that their mission is to save the public from fraud and deceit.
And what's wrong with that? After all, fake mediums and fortune-tellers
have been swindling the gullible for centuries, and they ought to be
exposed. The occasional scientist, too, fakes data to further his or
her career. Parapsychologists and other scientists who explore the paranormal
are keenly aware of such fraud. That's why they strongly support exposing
deceit by whomever uses fraud-including the professional "skeptics."
fake mediums and psychics, the most famous professional "skeptics"
regularly swindle their dupes. The universal fraud perpetrated by these
folks is describing themselves as "skeptics." In fact, they're
not skeptics, they're dogmatists.
The distinction between skeptics and dogmatists is drawn by their opposite
positions on the issue of certainty. Dogmatists claim that their knowledge
is certain, whereas skeptics claim their knowledge is never certain.
True scientists are skeptical because they know their knowledge of the
real universe can never be established with certainty. In contrast,
lawyers and politicians are dogmatic when they zealously advocate their
positions regardless of any evidence or arguments to the contrary. Further,
lawyers and politicians are quick to avoid the truth, and even to deliberately
deceive, when it advances their advocacy.
is true of professional debunkers. No amount of scientific evidence
can move them from their positions, and they aren't reluctant to lie
to promote their dogmas. Why? Because the stakes are high. Their careers
and reputations depend on their advocacy, so they can't afford to give
their fame and fortune isn't the only motive that drives professional
debunkers. Personal beliefs also contribute. The professional debunkers
defend their faith in the doctrine of materialism against the weight
of evidence of an active, conscious spirit world. This is anti-scientific
because science tests theories against evidence, not the other way around.
It's paradoxical, then, that many scientists uncritically accept the
anti-science that underpins many of the debunkers' arguments.
debunking takes place on two fronts-through publications of societies
and through the acts of professional illusionists--magicians. Two well-known
societies and magazines are most prominent in the debunking effort.
Michael Shermer's magazine Skeptic
makes this claim about the Skeptics Society: It is a "scientific
and educational organization of scholars, scientists, historians, magicians,
professors and teachers, and anyone curious about controversial ideas,
extraordinary claims, revolutionary ideas and the promotion of science.
Our mission is to serve as an educational tool for those seeking clarification
and viewpoints on those controversial ideas and claims."
Paul Kurtz's Skeptical
Inquirer, the magazine of CSISOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation
of Claims of the Paranormal), claims to "encourage the critical
investigation of paranormal and fringe?science claims from a responsible,
scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about
the results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public."
It claims further that the magazine "tells you what the scientific
community knows about claims of the paranormal, as opposed to the sensationalism
often presented by the press, television, and movies."
certainly worthy goals if they are sincere, but can we believe the debunkers?
We cannot. Our debunking exposes egregious examples of pseudoscience
and anti-science disseminated by these so-called scientific and educational
front is garrisoned by professional magicians, the most famous of which
is James Randi, founder and promoter of JREF
(James Randi Educational Forum). His website proclaims, "James
Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist,
but today he is best known as the world's most tireless investigator
and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.
an accomplished illusionist and trickster. That is, his glib delivery
and skills of misdirection are outstanding. Yet, his behavior is ethically
corrupt. When a magician such as Randi performs on stage, his deceit
is entirely ethical because he and his audience enter into a tacit agreement.
Spectators expect to be fooled, and the performer expects to entertain.
This agreement works well when the performer tells a lie such as, "I'm
holding in my hand a new deck of ordinary playing cards." The spectators
don't say, "I don't believe it." Instead, they suspend their
disbelief to enjoy the show. Then, say, the magician pushes a cigarette
through a "randomly chosen card." The majority of spectators
will enjoy the illusion, knowing that they've been tricked but not caring.
But a spectator with a scientific turn of mind might ask how the trick
works. After a quick search on the internet, he or she can link to a
dealer of magic
tricks and find the "Cigarette thru card" trick for sale.
Clearly, there's nothing unethical about any of that.
Randi has broken the tacit agreement by creating illusions off-stage
under the guise of investigating and debunking paranormal phenomena.
The people he aims to fool have not agreed to be tricked, nor does he
tell them he's doing it. On the contrary, he claims he's a serious investigator.
It's ludicrous because he uses deception from the start, and that's
a serious ethical problem. In fact, this type of unethical behavior
is the reason con games are illegal when they are intended to swindle
victims of their money.
con game deliberate? Judging from his own words, it is. He candidly
identifies himself as a professional trickster in his online commentary
of 8/3/01 in response
to the remark, "Randi is a professional trickster whose life's
work is to fool people." He wrote, "Here we have two 'doctors'
... who resent my being a professional trickster (how could we function
without lawyers or politicians, smartypants?)."
not only critical thinkers, but Randi himself, recognize the absurdity
of claiming to evaluate serious scientific work in terms of the methods
of tricksters. Nevertheless, scientists and lay persons alike are regularly
duped by this showman. In these pages, we debunk the debunkers by documenting
many instances of the dishonesty, pseudoscience, and anti-science they