Debunking the Debunkers Home  

The Debunkers of the Debunkers:

Winston Wu
Debunking Common Skeptical Arguments Against Paranormal and Psychic Phenomena

Steve Grenard
Rebuttal to book review of "The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life After Death" By Dr. Gary Schwartz

Dean Radin
A Field Guide to Skepticism

Daniel Drasin
Zen and the Art of Debunkery

George P. Hansen

The Debunkers:
Dr. Richard Wiseman
Michael Shermer  
->Project Alpha
The Amazing Randi
->Remote Viewing

-> Letter to the President of the University of Arizona, offering the "One Million Dollar Challenge"

->Dialog with Dr.Schwartz
Orthodox scientists:
Coming soon!

  Debunking the Debunkers

The past 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."

Like the 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.

The same 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 them up.

Protecting 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.

Professional 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."

Similarly, 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."

These are 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 organizations.

The second 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.

Randi is 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.

However, 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.

Is Randi's 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?)."

In short, 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 use. Enjoy!