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August 16, 2007

Like Snopes, but More In-Depth

Skeptical
On the advice of a friend I subscribed to the little-known magazine Skeptical Inquirer, "the magazine for science and reason." Published bi-monthly, Skeptical Inquirer is a product of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and has been called, "one of the nation’s leading antifruitcake journals." According to Wikipedia:

CSI’s mission statement is to "encourage the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminate factual information about the results of such inquiries to the
scientific community and the public." The Skeptical Inquirer is an internationally refereed journal, but it is not a formal scientific journal.

The content consists of articles, columns and book reviews on a
variety of topics that the authors seek to examine critically,
including ESP, homeopathy, astrology, SETI, the creation-evolution controversy, the historical basis of legendary persons such as King Arthur, and controversial medical diagnoses like Attention Deficit Disorder. The magazine is headquartered in Amherst, New York.

For the thirtieth anniversary of the Skeptical Inquirer in 2006, CSICOP founder Paul Kurtz listed four long-standing policies:

  1. to criticize claims of the paranormal and pseudoscience
  2. to replicate the methods of scientific inquiry and the nature of the scientific outlook
  3. to seek a balanced view of science in the mass media
  4. to teach critical thinking in the schools (Kurtz 2006:14).

If an article criticizes a proponent of a paranormal claim, he is always given an opportunity to respond. (Kurtz 2006:15). Some have taken advantage of that opportunity (Suitbert Ertel and Michel Gauquelin, for example).

The magazine, in short, explores extraordinary statements and myths from a scientific perspective. Their aim is to debunk pseudoscience, especially pseudoscience gobbled up and regurgitated by mainstream media outlets. In each issue there is a news and comment section, a comment and opinion section, feature stories, book reviews and a section entitled "Forum" for other essays.

Personally, I like the magazine, but I wouldn’t call it a "fun read." The articles are all written, seemingly, by a bunch of old guy science professors. Not that there is anything wrong with that. But, the tone is decidedly stuffy, without an ounce of humor to be found. (I mean, the publishers even ask readers to give to Skeptical Inquirer through their will. Like, the one you make before you die.) The writers seem to take their skepticism verrrrry seriously. There also seems to be a bit of preaching to the choir going on, as I can’t imagine a non-skeptic picking up this magazine and being persuaded by any of the articles. Not because they aren’t well presented or researched, but because there is a hint of snobbery in the pages toward anyone who doesn’t think like they do.

Lucky for me, I do. I’m actually a pretty gullible person when it comes down to it, but I’m not especially spiritual or quick to believe in psychic pronouncements. I find psychic "detectives" like Sylvia Brown to be frauds of the highest order, preying on the weak and mourning to fool their followers. Skeptical Inquirer takes on stories I find fascinating–ancient Peruvian mysteries or global warming–and comes at them with a completely scientific approach. Incredibly interesting stuff. For instance, in my first issue for July/August, there included such pieces as:

  • a writer’s mission to deny a feng shui decorator a $4,500 assignment within a monkey house in the LA zoo
  • the overwhelming influence of religion on global policies
  • profile of Audrey Santo, a proclaimed "victim soul"
  • "Is Dawkins Deluded?"
  • "The Quest for the Real Robin Hood"
  • the pseudoscience behind fingerprinting used by law enforcement

The cover story was an amazing article on "The Science Behind Fiction: Cinema Fiction vs. Physics Reality." They explored vampires, superheroes, ghosts and zombies. My favorite segment was a chart showing the geometric progression of how many vampires would be living in the world now if every vampire converted a new blood sucker once a month. It’s a lot.

The magazine is ad-free, and printed on thin, slick pages. All photographs and illustrations are in black and white, and the magazine is staple bound. It’s a great read for science-minded skeptics, but might not appeal to those who are deeply religious or spiritual. The articles are intelligent and well-sourced, and the material covered by the magazine is hard to find anywhere else. Future readers should know…the truth is out there.



About the Author

Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan
Michelle Ryan is obsessed with good food, great shoes and Alabama football way down South in Savannah, Georgia. She hasn’t met a kitchen gadget she hasn’t at least thought about buying (trying them is another story) and devotes her time to Bikram Yoga, baking and trying to overcome long-held finicky eating habits.