Saturday, November 13, 2010

Should We Be More Skeptical of Paranormal Skeptics?

Should we be more skeptical of paranormal skeptics? Greg Taylor says we should because some of them are not truly "skeptics." They are biased debunkers masquerading as objective investigators.
The modern skeptical ‘movement’ has grown and thrived in recent years to the point where the public generally views self-appointed ‘skeptics’ as arbiters of the truth and defenders of rational thought. But how much of what they say can we really trust as being objective truth? Are self-described skeptics championing critical thinking, or are they simply defending one particular worldview? The late Marcello Truzzi came to think so: despite being the co-founding chairman of the influential skeptical group CSICOP (the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), Truzzi soon became disillusioned with the organization, saying they “tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion… Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them.” Truzzi claimed that by using the title of ‘skeptic’, biased debunkers had claimed an authority that they were not entitled to, opining that “critics who take the negative rather than an agnostic position but still call themselves ‘skeptics’ are actually pseudo-skeptics and have, I believed, gained a false advantage by usurping that label.” Should we be more skeptical of the skeptics?
Taylor says that one skeptic of whom we should be particularly skeptical is the late Martin Gardner. He cites Gardner's false and misleading article on trance medium Leonora Piper as an example.
... Gardner states ‘facts’ which are not just debatable, but completely the opposite to what can be found in the primary sources. He says of Mrs. Piper’s trances that they “never occurred spontaneously”, despite Fred Myers stating in his report that “[T]he trance has occasionally appeared when it was not desired.” Also, says Gardner, “they never began when she was alone or asleep”. Again, from the same page of the same primary source: “the access has several times come upon her during sleep.” Further, according to Gardner, “whenever a sitter paid for a séance, she had no difficulty going into a trance.” At this point we might assume that Gardner wasn’t too familiar with Fred Myers’ report on Mrs. Piper, as it continues (yet again on the same page): “These trances cannot always be induced at pleasure. A state of quiet expectancy or ‘self-suggestion’ will usually bring one on; but sometimes the attempt altogether fails.” And in case Gardner missed Myers’ statements, a rebuttal can be also be found on page 1(!) of probably the most important primary source concerning Mrs. Piper’s mediumship, Richard Hodgson’s report in Volume VIII of the Proceedings of the SPR: “Several times Mrs. Piper was unable to go into trance at all.”  Read more

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