The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP -- pronounced "sigh-cop", in case you were wondering) publishes a bi-monthly magazine called Skeptical Inquirer. I suppose its intent is to be the answer to another magazine of similar nomenclature, with "National" replacing "Skeptical" in its title.
How exactly do people walk on red-hot coals, and what sort of magic is involved, anyway? What is the definitive, reliable word on the "mysteries" of Atlantis? Should you be concerned about your vacation cruise that sails through a portion of the Bermuda Triangle? How well does faith healing work? Have any psychics really done what they say they can do? Should you fear spontaneous human combustion, perhaps carrying a water jug on your person, just in case? Are aliens really snatching people, performing grotesque rituals upon them, and then returning them home again? How can we tell when a claim is likely to be true?
All of those questions, and many more, are answered with exhaustive thoroughness in one or another issue of Skeptical Inquirer. This is the magazine that telemarketers, Psychic Friends, tarot readers, alternative medicine suppliers, and other flim-flam artists dearly hope you never read. Many of its articles could be identically brief -- "that claim is rubbish, and that's all there is to it" -- but then SI would be utterly worthless and pointless. Surely, some of us would nod sagely at such proclamations, and meekly accept them, but most of us demand something more substantial. SI produces abundant substance; it has substance coming out of its ears, as it were.
Instead of just ridiculing bogus claims, contributors delve into the details, examining the intricacies, the facts, the science, and drawing conclusions based solely on these aspects. Sometimes, they draw no concrete conclusions at all, which is the proper and appropriate avenue to follow when the evidence does not support a firm conclusion.
With few exceptions, SI authors loathe to reach conclusions that are more than tentative in nature. After all, science depends on the notion that maybe someday a new bit of data shall emerge that turn our beloved theories inside-out, and force us to re-examine our state of knowledge. Always, this possibility must be taken into account, and SI tries very hard to keep this in mind, but they balance this caution with acknowledgement that extraordinary claims are not created equal. In fact, that leads us to the heart of Skeptical Inquirer -- indeed, the very core of Skepticism -- which is "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proofs." The more fantastic the story, the more reliable and concrete the evidence that ought to be required before we believe it. This sort of balance is hard to achieve, harder to maintain, and does not sell well -- titillation grabs viewers, while hard science does not. Still, SI largely treats Paranormal claims as if they might be true, at least before the investigation concludes.
But not all its authors are so generous with the Paranormal community. Joe Nickell, for example, has had his rants. So has Martin Gardner. A few of the articles in SI seem to me snobbish, condescending, and trite, although their logic and scientific framework never waver. I speak of the tone of the articles.
Not long ago, I wrote an article elsewhere that criticized the sort of Skepticism that imitates Cynicism. SI -- indeed, CSICOP itself -- does only a fair job of avoiding this pit fall; it has some work remaining to it yet. It irks me to see an otherwise fine publication risk driving away those who may most benefit from it, by irritating them with snide remarks, arrogance, and elitist attitudes. We Skeptics have enough difficulty with our audiences as it is, without making matters worse for ourselves by handing ammunition to the opposition.
Ultimately, SI lives up to its masthead. It is the epitome of investigative Skepticism. There are other Skeptical publications -- most notably Michael Shermer's Skeptic Magazine -- but SI is the Grand-Daddy of 'em all. It is courageous, tackling controversial subjects such as mainstream religious claims. It has integrity, whereby submissions are themselves investigated prior to acceptance (an author who claims to have visited a "bleeding" statue and had the alleged blood analyzed had better produce verified lab reports, proof of travel to that site, and such). It is unbiased in its subject matter -- the same enthusiasm meets tales of cattle mutilations that is spent on cropcircles, dowsing and bigfoot, for example.
If you have never seen or read Skeptical Inquirer, do yourself the favor of visiting their website. There you will find archives of the past few years worth of articles, which are updated when the latest issue leaves newsstands. Whether you are skeptical, credulous or in-between, you shall enjoy a net gain for your efforts.
(See note 1 below about the title)
This magazine is dedicated to investigating "Fringe Science" (including fringe interpretations of real science) and/or paranormal phenomena, and reporting as to whether there is any possible basis in fact. I suspect they're biased (against it), but probably no more so than I would be. There have been articles on UFO's, dowsing, astrology, hypnosis, "Recovered Memories" (see note 2 below), auras, remote viewing, near-death experiences (the light at the end of the tunnel), ghosts, poltergeists, haunted houses, "famous" mediums, "creation science" (see note 3 below), Uri Geller (see note 4 below), "cold fusion", "Bigfoot", and many other topics.
If I recall correctly, they've only found one "paranormal" phenomenon that could be confirmed; they found a man who could identify classical music phonograph records (you remember those; thin, usually black, vinyl disks with a small hole in the middle) with his hands. The test included a rock music record, which he accurately <G> reported as "noise", and one mislabeled record, which he accurately identified by its content, not by the label.
I find the writing interesting, although biased. However, I have a scientific background, and my father is a professor of statistics, so that I can follow the statistical analysis (often an important part of the articles) without a problem. If you don't have such a background, you may want to reconsider my recommendations.
As for the specific reasons I enjoy it, I suppose the best one is based on jealousy. On many of the scams they've uncovered, it makes me wish I'd thought of it first, in order to fleece the masses. Of course, I'd never really do such a thing....
On the whole, I recommend this to anyone who has a scientific background and wants to know the truth about fringe science and paranormal phenomena. I recommend against it for anyone who doesn't want to know the truth about fringe science and paranormal phenomena. (You may notice the gap there. Others will have to comment about whether it is still readable if you can't follow the statistics.)
Note 1 I took the title of my review from the title of a professional review reprinted in the magazine. I'm not good at titles, but if you've seen the movie Ghostbusters, you can see how I could consider it one of the best possible titles.
Note 2 I am not saying or implying that all recovered memories are bogus, merely that, in those cases where the truth of a "fact" revealed under hypnosis or as a "recovered memory" could be verified, it was hardly ever true.
Note 3 They are not anti-religious; that is supposedly reserved for another publication, Free Inquiry, from the same publisher, but with different editorial boards.
Note 4 Uri Geller has an unfortunate tendency to sue those who claim he does not have paranormal powers. As far as I know, the Skeptical Inquirer has won those suits. I make no claims here as to whether Uri Geller has paranormal powers.
I grew up reading many, many stories about ghosts, UFOs, Bermuda Triangle disappearances, ESP, and all sorts of other intriguing, mysterious phenomena. I ate the stuff up - I really loved it. I read clean through 3 libraries of paranormal literature, reading many of the same tales in different books. I was fairly credulous, but always had certain questions in my mind.
As time went on, my foremost question was "Why aren't the people in this story doing what I would do if I were there. Why aren't they asking this question, or trying this to test that or whatever. Why aren't they trying to get to the bottom of the matter.
Then, one day, someone introduced me to the Skeptical Inquirer. I was amazed. Here were people asking the exact questions I wanted to ask - and they were getting answers and results.
Rather than being distressed to find out that many of the tales I enjoyed so much in my youth were poorly supported, I was quite relieved to find out what was shaky about them. I remember specifically a story of reincarnation - the popular tale of Bridey Murphy who came out during a hypnotist's age regression session. I finally learned that this supposed reincarnated spirit was based on real people that the woman knew as a child. No one had bothered to report the truth because they felt the story was less sensational that way.
What's in it?
Usually, Skeptical Inquirer contains stories about careful, skeptical investigations of the paranormal. I know skepticism is a dirty word to some people. In this context it means that the investigator is not presupposing anything. The investigator is trying to verify an extraordinary claim, and therefore must find some evidence.
Joe Nickell's column, for example, details his applications of investigative techniques. He's quite thorough.
Martin Gardner is a hard skeptic who is steeped in the history of paranormal charlitains and crackpots, as he calls them, having written enough essays on the subject to fill 6 books or so.
There are reviews of books on the paranormal, reports on media treatment of the paranormal, news items, and many other regular and special features.
If you are like me, and thrilled to these stories, but feel gyped by a mystery that is simply the result of people ignoring the facts, the Skeptical Inquirer is for you.
There are plenty of real mysteries and amazing phenomena around. Learn to tell the difference.
The skeptic's motto; "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof", is the reason for the existence of this magazine. It does a superb job of holding claimants of extraordinary circumstances up to the light of reason. Recent articles include articles on "The Pseudoscience of Oxygen Therapy", "Confessions of a Graphologist" and the inevitable end of the year list; "The Ten Outstanding Skeptics of the Twentieth Century". Past articles have dealt with the alien autopsies, dowsing, religious statue weeping, creationism, astrology, ghosties and other beasties. The typical magazine contains sections of News and Comment, Martin Gardner's column, various commentary, Investigative Files by the Committee for the Scientific Claims of the Paranormal's (CSICOP, for which the Skeptical Inquirer is the house rag) superb investigator, Joe Nickell, articles and reviews.
As a subscriber for over 15 years, I have found the Skeptical Inquirer to not only be useful and informative in the debunking of many claims, but also very comforting to know that in the vast wasteland of popular culture, there are others who look at our culture with some rationality and rigor.
I do find that some articles can be a bit strident and humourless in their zeal to show how others have been led astray. Other articles can be a bit technical for the average reader, but not to the extent of a refereed technical journal. Also some of the writing can be a bit dry. However, these small complaints do very little to detract from the excellent mission for which the magazine exists. I highly recommend this magazine.
Have you wondered what scientific proof we have as to whether God exists? Have you ever wondered where the Universe came from? What about parapsychology? It is real? The paranormal?.....These are but a few of the difficult subjects the Skeptical Inquirer has tackled. Instead of printing a lot of theory, they get down to the nitty-gritty and present what evidence is actually there.
As much as I love science, I am amazed at the number of articles and especially children's textbooks which present theory as fact. Skeptical is a good balance to all of it. I read it to my children so they have a more accurate view of what we ACTUALLY know instead of what we think we know.
It has opened up a more qualified side to my thinking. They are fair in their assessment of the topics they are covering. I have noticed they choose qualified people to present the "other side." An example? Stephen Jay Gould....Issue...."Does God Exist?" My favorite issue was "Where did we come from?" Every "theory" was examined for it's validity and all fell short. Why they fell short amazed me. It was then I realized my children were being taught theories masked as facts in their science courses at school. No one really knows where life originated. There isn't enough real evidence to say for sure.
The Skeptical Inquirer assesses the pros and cons, they present qualified opinions, by top notch scientists and writers and I have never found it to be dull.
Skeptical Enquirer is the Journal CSICOP (Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal). This respectable organization is dedicated promotion of critical thinking and turning much needed questioning eyes towards much of the bunk that is taken as fact. It is a worthy and under-funded organization and its journal is a refreshing read. No sacred cows are left untouched astrology, alternative medical claims, chiropractic claims, faith healers, homeopathy, revisionist history, abusive cults, creationism, intelligent design, alien abductions, crop circles, bigfoot, free energy claims, and many more claims are regularly examined. The letters and editorials sections are the best. It dedication to rebuttals and fairness is by far the best of any publication with a general public readership.
Opinions that it is bias and too skeptical are laughable. One might as well say that Sporting News has too much sports and the only bias it is has is a tendency to lean toward the factual and measurable. Of course the contributors have their views points but almost always-verifiable data is provided to back up an opinion. If one wants and examples of bias you can turn on the TV and go to the bookstore. On TV you can find tons of programming geared to the paranormal and most of presents the claims as fact. Go to the book store and see how many shelves are dedicated to New-Age, Alternative Medicine, Religions, and Wacky conspiracies compared to the space dedicated to Critical thinking and Science. You will also find some of the formed mixed with the later.
Years of dealing with irrational people and/or unscrupulous profiteers have left some contributor bitter and the commentary can be caustic. If a person has issues with their own shortcomings you may find the journal as painful as a kick in the onions. Display of ownership can also provoke confrontations with the willful ignorant and the close minded.
Recommended For: Anyone
This magazine is put out by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP for short). Their mission statement is "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" and the Skeptical Inquirer magazine is one of the main ways the information is disseminated.
The articles in any typical issue cover a wide range of subjects from ESP and alien abductions to the claims of efficacy of various alternative medicine practices. The point being with all of these topics, to apply the scientific method to either prove or disprove a claim. I've always found the articles to be unbiased. If a test is inconclusive the results are reported as readily as a positive result. In addition, since the magazine is intended for the public and not specifically scientists, the writing is always very clear and easy to read.
Nothing like starting with a trite title. I've been subscribing to this fine journal longer than I have "Skeptic" which I also recommend. Indeed, I recently argued with a colleague, one who's convinced that she's had an out-of-body experience (OBE), who thinks this journal is the closest thing to heresy she's ever encountered. (Suffice it to say, the argument didn't go on for long. I climbed aboard my UFO and went off to Xanadu and we remain friends.)
I should mention too another friend who jumps from one New Age fad to another. He prefers "Skeptic" to this as he feels the editors of that magazine are less prone to insult the things in which he chooses to believe. So if your hypersensitive, this might not be for you. I'm not that sensitive, just know who NOT to bother arguing with.
I look forward to every issue of Skeptical Inquirer. Some of the articles are a little terse, but that's okay. I mean, Carl Sagan was right: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Yet there's people who'll buy the latest health fads, the latest UFO claim--the list grows by the day.
To be perfectly honest, I thought the magazine was a little better when it was quarterly. (I think it's every other month now.) But I still read it cover to cover. It's a little less "academic" than "Skeptic" but that doesn't mean less researched. There just tends to be a little more wit than that other journal. When Martin Gardner had a regular column, I turned to that before the other articles. But Martin, like the rest of us, isn't getting any younger. I'll still have to read his library of books much of which graces my bookshelves.
Folks, there's a lot to learn. The "mainstream" media tend to NOT discourage items that lead to the Amityville Horror and countless other scams. (I just remember that one, hence my referring to it specifically.) Indeed, this is one of the few magazines that I not only read but save in one of the binders I also got from them (along with the legged Darwin fish for my car and the slogan, "I doubt it" which flashes on my cyber-hat. Sorry. Someone gave that to me for my birthday and that just seemed an appropriate slogan to flash to people who buy the stuff so seldom challenged by people who should know better!)
If you are inclined to skepticism, you're healthier than the average American these days. I recommend this journal. The subject matter is broad, the articles are fun, and
This magazine is by far the best of the bunch. It's published by CSICOP [Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal]. Unlike "Skeptic Magazine", the Skeptical Inquirer does divide religious criticism for another magazine called "Free Inquiry". Therefore, this magazine deals solely in pseudoscience.
At first, you might feel uncomfortable in their dealing with issues people want to believe in (e.g. ghost and UFO's), but with a little time, you will start thinking clearer and more rationally. For example, have you ever really wondered why some people are not cured when they go to the Chiropractor? I know my grandmother wound up have more back problems after visiting one for a few weeks, and eventually had to have surgery on her back! This magazine does a good job in explaining why its junk science; and the people who explain it are usually experts in the topics field (e.g. Quakwatch - aka - Stephen Barrett, M.D.). Great material!
Skeptical Inquirer has got to be, hands down, my absolute favorite periodical (Free Inquiry comes in a close second). Produced by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the magazine aims to separate "fact from myth in the flood of occultism and pseudoscience on the scene today." Through scientific inquiry, scholarly research, and in-depth analysis, it succeeds (and with flair!).
A typical issue reads like a season of the X-Files (well, had Scully been the more enlightened member of the duo). A sampling of articles from some recent issues includes "Facts and Fiction in the Kennedy Assassination"; "Is Science Making Us More Ignorant?"; "Investigative Files: Rorschach Icons"; "The Campeche, Mexico 'Infrared UFO' Video"; "Pranks, Frauds, and Hoaxes from Around the World"; and "Belgium Skeptics Commit Mass Suicide." The contributors cover every "supernatural" topic imaginable, from alchemy to zombies, angels to the Zodiac, and everything in between. They also discuss "normal" topics (e.g., the energy crisis) by way of pseudoscience.
Although the writing is scholarly, it never becomes dry or boring - how could it, what with such unusual topical choices? The authors are all experts in their fields; their analyses are academic yet well within the grasp of laypersons. When compared to the watered-down rubbish that passes for popular science nowadays, Skeptical Inquirer is an obvious choice for the discriminating reader - she who would rather exercise her brain than put it on autopilot while perusing "People"! The writing is superior, the issues entertaining, the documentation fair and clearly laid out - if you only subscribe to one magazine, let it be Skeptical Inquirer!
Also, be sure to check out CSICOP's web site. They've got tons of special features, such as "Creation Watch" and "Superstition Bash." Sign up for their mailing list and enter to win their decal/Picture of the Month contest; first prize will bag you a nifty new book (by the way, I'm Ms. December 2003, The Grinch!).