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Skeptical Inquirer Magazine Names the
Ten Outstanding Skeptics of the Century

For Immediate Release
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In a century filled with UFO sightings, psychic claims, doomsday prophecies, quack therapies, pseudoscientific gadgetry, conspiracy claims, New Age spiritualism, and paranormal mystery-mongering, which individuals rank as the ten outstanding skeptics of the last one hundred years? Who are the brightest champions of science and reason-exposing deception, uncovering fraud, identifying nonsense, and solving so-called "mysteries"?

Skeptical Inquirer magazine polled those who should know best: the Fellows and Consultants of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), an international organization of scientists and scholars that has tracked the paranormal and the pseudoscientific for the past 23 years. Nominations could be chosen from any combination of science, scholarship, writing, public education, outreach, investigation, activism, leadership, or other qualities. The only restriction was that the individual's major contributions have been made in the twentieth century. The following are the ten individuals receiving the greatest number of nominations:

    James Randi
  • James Randi-A skeptical investigator of paranormalists like spoonbender Uri Geller and televangelist Peter Popoff, Randi combines a mastery of conjuring skills, an irrepressible energy, a sharp critical intelligence, and a fine understanding of science to expose fraud, deception, and flim-flam wherever it arises. Randi's lectures and television appearances have entertainingly educated audiences worldwide about the differences between genuine science and pseudoscience, the methods of psychic claimants, and the pitfalls of self-deception and gullibility.

    Martin Gardner
  • Martin Gardner-His first book published nearly a half-century ago, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, influenced and informed generations of scholars and future skeptics, and became a classic. Essentially an independent scholar but without academic trappings, the polymathic Gardner keeps tabs on all kinds of topics and issues in mathematics, science, philosophy, and religion, not to mention the fads and foibles of paranormalists, fringe scientists, quacks, and pseudoscientists. For three decades he wrote the popular "Mathematical Games" column for Scientific American, and has written for Skeptical Inquirer since its inception, with his "Notes of a Fringe Watcher" column appearing in every issue since 1983. He followed Fads and Fallacies with later books about pseudoscience and fringe science, including Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus; The New Age; On the Wild Side; and Weird Water and Fuzzy Logic.

    Carl Sagan
  • Carl Sagan-The people's astronomer and the public's scientist, Sagan's brilliant career was foreshortened by death in 1996 at the age of 62. Sagan used his passion for science, intelligence, charisma, and formidable literary and communication skills to turn several generations of young people on to the wonders of science and the rewards of critical thinking. He had a unique talent to inspire wonder and awe at the true mysteries of science and the temptations of wishful thinking and self-deception. His last book published before his death, The Demon-Haunted World, ranged over late-twentieth-century fringe science and warned of the perils of a public unable to distinguish real science from bogus science.

    Paul Kurtz
  • Paul Kurtz-A philosopher and intellectual with a practical bent and special talent for visionary leadership, Kurtz founded CSICOP and Skeptical Inquirer magazine in 1976 while a professor of philosophy (now emeritus) at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Kurtz also founded Prometheus Books, which publishes over 100 books a year in philosophy, science, skepticism, humanism, freethought, and ethics. With diplomatic skills and an internationalist perspective, he has an uncanny ability to bring diverse people together, organizing over the decades dozens of international conferences and helping to launch many skeptical organizations across the world. As active as Kurtz has and continues to be, he is also a prolific scholar, having authored or edited over thirty books on philosophy and science, and having served for more than two decades as an important public intellectual.

  • Ray Hyman-- Considered the leading constructive critic of academic parapsychology research, Hyman is a longtime professor of psychology (now emeritus) at the University of Oregon. He has taught about the psychology of belief and self-deception and conducted painstaking critical analyses of published parapsychology experiments. An amateur magician, he has critiqued experiments with highly visible psychics and other psychic claimants conducted by private scientific and government organizations. Despite intense controversies, he has managed to maintain the respect of both parapsychologists and fellow skeptics. As a well-informed outside critic, he is often credited with helping raise the quality parapsychological research. He has conducted detailed critical analyses of Ganzfeld experiments-research that parapsychologists find compelling but he so far does not. In 1995 he was one of two experts the CIA contracted for an outside evaluation of the military's twenty-year program to see if alleged remote viewing could assist with intelligence gathering. His essentially negative evaluation was reflected in the sponsor's report.

    Phil Klass
  • Philip J. Klass-Sometimes called "The Sherlock Holmes of UFOlogy," Klass has been the world's leading skeptical investigator of UFO claims for well over three decades. In a field dominated by proponents and wishful believers, he and a few colleagues have been the almost lone voice of careful, reasoned analysis and critical thinking. His UFO investigations have always been a sideline to his nearly thirty-four-year career as a distinguished Washington-based senior editor for Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine. Notable books: UFOs Identified; UFOs Explained; UFOs: The Public Deceived; UFO Abductions: A Dangerous Game; Bringing UFOs Down to Earth (for young readers); and The Real Roswell Crashed-Saucer Coverup. He is also founder and editor of Skeptic's UFO Newsletter.

  • Isaac Asimov-The master science popularizer of his time, Asimov became famous at an early age for his science fiction, and soon turned to science fact. He was a Ph.D. biochemist and polymath, and from the 1950s until his death in 1992, he wrote prolifically about every aspect of science-and with enormous clarity, directness, and charm. Possibly no one has ever amassed a body of written work simultaneously so voluminous (nearly 500 books), diverse, and substantive. He loved the historical approach, and his works always put scientific progress into historical perspective. Asimov was a steadfast defender of science and reason and foe of nonsense, superstition, and pseudoscience. He blasted astrology, and creationism. A few of his notable books: Asimov's New Guide to Science; Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science; The Roving Mind (dedicated to CSICOP); and (science fiction) the Foundation series, I, Robot, The Martian Way, and The Gods Themselves.

  • Bertrand Russell-One of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century, Russell wrote widely, covering topics including epistemology, psychology, morals, education, and political and social reform. He believed that logic was capable of untangling many of the problems that have vexed philosophers throughout history. Russell was a defender of the humanist outlook and believed that despite mankind's possible extinction by nuclear warfare, we must confront the indifferent or hostile universe and stand for our ideals. He received the Nobel prize for literature in 1950. His writings include The Problems of Philosophy, Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy, Principia Mathematica, Logic and Knowledge, Sceptical Essays, and Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays.

  • Harry Houdini-The world's best-known magician and escape artist, is also the twentieth century's most famous ghostbuster. Houdini used his knowledge of magic to expose the secrets of such wonderworkers as "the Spaniard with X-ray eyes," an "Egyptian Miracle Man," and a host of spiritualist mediums offering "materializations" and other séance deceptions. Houdini challenged mediums to perform under test conditions and offered various inducements for demonstrations of genuine psychic phenomena, including $10,000 as part of a Scientific American reward. His efforts-including his books A Magician Among the Spirits and Miracle Mongers and Their Methods-caused spiritualist devotee Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to break off their friendship. After Houdini's untimely death on Halloween, 1926, his wife Bess attempted to contact his spirit through mediums, seeking a pre-arranged message. Houdini's life is celebrated in countless movies, books, and other venues, including annual Halloween séances at which-although he is invariably a no-show-Houdini's legacy is kept alive.

  • Albert Einstein-As a young physicist in 1905, Einstein published papers on three topics that revolutionized our view of the universe. One (for which he later won the Nobel Prize) explained the photoelectric effect in terms of the then-new quantum theory of Max Planck. One provided the first mathematical analysis of Brownian motion. And one propounded the special theory of relativity, after which physics would never be the same. By assuming a constant velocity of light, the work explained the earlier Michelson-Morley experiment, deduced the length-contraction and mass-enlargement effects of FitzGerald and Lorentz, and abolished the notion of absolute time. This was followed by a short published note working out the equivalence of mass and energy in the famous equation E=mc2. His crowning achievement came in 1915 with publication of his paper on the general theory of relativity, a wholly new theory of gravitation based on the curvature of space-time. When observations confirmed Einstein's predictions, his reputation as the preeminent scientist of the century was assured. Many polls conducted in 1999 chose Einstein as the most influential person of the twentieth century.

Other outstanding skeptics who received multiple votes or at least one first-place vote:

11. Richard Feynman [books]
12. Joe Nickell [books]
13. Karl Popper [books]
14. H.L. Mencken [books]
15. Richard Dawkins [books]
16. Stephen Jay Gould [books]
17. James Alcock [books]
18. Stephen Barrett [books] [Quackwatch]
19. Bart Bok [books]
20. Michael Shermer [books] [Skeptic's Society]
21. Kendrick Frazier [books]
22. Mark Twain [books]
23. Oscar Pfungst [books]
24. Robert. A. Baker [books]

Skeptical Inquirer, The Magazine for Science and Reason, is a bi-monthly publication dedicated to the scientific examination of claims of the paranormal and the pseudoscientific. It can be found in most large bookstores and on the Web at

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