Sceptics are people who believe that all claims of knowledge or certainty can and should be challenged. In regard to the paranormal, modern sceptics generally take a “science over faith” position, suggesting that unless something has been proved by science it cannot be true. In fact, many such sceptics do not even accept the possibility that paranormal phenomena might be real, dismissing any scientific evidence to the contrary as flawed. Such was the case, for example, when noted sceptic Ray Hyman dismissed data gathered over several years in government-sponsored scientific experiments on remote viewing. Despite the argument of an expert statistician that the data showed statistically significant results, Hyman was so forceful in arguing the sceptic’s position that he persuaded the U.S. government to stop funding these experiments.
Some sceptics are so zealous in their rejection of claims related to the paranormal that they launch personal attacks against believers. For example, Lee Nisbet, while the executive director of a sceptics’ organization called the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), accused all people who believe in the paranormal of being mentally ill. Such attacks are distasteful not only to believers but to many sceptics as well, who have criticized those who dismiss all paranormal claims so summarily. These voices of moderation have argued that doubt, not denial, should be the basis of scepticism and that rather than engaging in activities intended to end scientific research into the paranormal, sceptics—as rational, scientifically minded people— should encourage it.
Attacks by skeptics on those who believe in the paranormal, however, are nothing new. They have taken place since at least the fifth century B.C. in the Western world, and even earlier elsewhere. Indeed, skeptics have attacked accepted assumptions related to all aspects of human thought. Sometimes skepticism has even taken a decidedly non-scientific stance. For example, when the concept of evolution was first introduced, many sceptics challenged the notion that science could provide humans with more information than religious faith could. However, early sceptics did not have as many venues for expressing themselves as they do today, where many have prominent roles in the media. In addition, sceptics share their views through the work of sceptics’ organizations, which include not only CSICOP but the Skeptics Society and the James Randi Educational Foundation, established by prominent sceptic James Randi. There are also several magazines devoted to skepticism, including CSICOP’s Skeptical Inquirer.
- Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
- Hyman, Ray
- Randi, James
- remote viewing
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning