A ‘Heretic’s’ Complaint

Just Who Put ‘Skeptics’ in Charge of ‘Science’ Anyway?

In recent decades we have seen the emergence of a very militant and vociferous group of people, many of them in positions of influence in the media and academia, who call themselves “skeptics.” Claiming that science is under assault by hordes of ignorant, superstitious peasants who are so credulous that they actually take seriously things like the existence of a supreme being and a spiritual realm, or UFOs, cryptids, and government conspiracies, the “skeptics,” really debunkers, regularly denounce such silly superstitions. They resemble the militant atheists (in fact, most of them are militant atheists) who go to great lengths to attack religions, especially Christianity, pretending that it is a growing and malevolent influence in our society. In fact, every poll shows the opposite to be true: the influence of Christianity is waning, along with church attendance. This raises a question—if religion is mere childish nonsense and the power of the churches is declining, why do the atheists care? Why are they so obsessed that they spend a great deal of time and money attacking it? And the same holds true for the debunkers. Why do they care if a few people believe in, say, UFOs?

When someone reports a UFO, a cryptid, or a paranormal experience the debunkers often claim that there must be some “logical” explanation. They are being dishonest—they mean a conventional explanation, one that does not challenge the status quo and its reigning paradigm. The conventional explanation may or may not be logical. And they are fond of saying that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” In reality, any claim of any kind requires evidence to prove or disprove it. And who decides what constitutes an extraordinary claim? Who gets to decide what evidence is extraordinary? Obviously, the debunkers feel that they are the ones who have this authority, and any claim counter to the reigning paradigm is “extraordinary.” Judging by the debunkers’ reaction to UFO reports, no amount of evidence is sufficient to class as “extraordinary,” for the existence of UFOs has been proven beyond all doubt by astronaut and pilot reports, photos and videos, and by the lights at Marfa, Texas; Brown Mountain, North Carolina; and Hessdalen Valley, Norway. We just don’t know what they are… which is why they are called Unidentified Flying Objects.

So militant and so organized are the skeptics that they have their own magazines. One such is the Skeptical Inquirer, the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, supported at least in part by donations—for $25 a year a skeptic can become a supporting member, for $240 a year a full member, and for a mere $100,000 a member of the President’s Circle. The donations are tax deductible. The editor of the magazine is one Ken Frazier, with a degree in journalism.

Then there is Skeptic magazine, the journal of the Skeptics Society. This is another American magazine, and the British have their own Skeptic magazine.

Looking through the articles in recent issues of these magazines, we can get a clear picture of the debunkers’ viewpoint on various issues. A December 2014 issue of Skeptical Inquirer included a letter denouncing global warming “deniers,” meaning people who dare to be skeptical of the man-caused global warming theory. The letter was signed by a long list of prominent debunkers, including Bill Nye, Joe Nickel, Jill Tarter, atheist Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore, and Seth Shostak. Skeptical Inquirer has also published articles on “Statin Denialism,” attacking those who suspect (based on some very real studies) that statin drugs do more harm than good. The magazine has also accused those who suspect a link between vaccines and autism of using a “pseudoscience tactic.” One recent article denounced “conspiracy theorists” that dare to suggest that 9/11 may have been an inside job or that Barack Hussein Obama may not have been born in the U.S. Skeptic magazine also promotes the global warming theory, and attacks JFK assassination conspiracy researchers and claims of alternative cancer treatments.

Prominent debunkers appear regularly on television. One of these is Joe Nickel, who is not a scientist at all (he has a Ph.D. in English Literature). He has worked as a stage magician and a private detective. Bear in mind that, like all of us, he has a right to his opinion on scientific matters—after all, many of us who write for Atlantis Rising and similar publications and websites do not have degrees in science or engineering either.

Neil deGrasse Tyson does have real scientific credentials, with a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University. In 1997 he founded the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History and, since 1996, has been the Director of the Hayden Planetarium. He has published many articles and several books and hosted the TV series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, basically a revival of the late Carl Sagan’s series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. He considers himself an agnostic and, as an orthodox neo-Darwinist, opposes theories of intelligent design. He is decidedly leftist in his politics, openly despising President Trump, supporting the global warming theory, and opposing any cuts in funding to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. He counts as friends such leftist entertainers as Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, and Stephen Colbert. He often writes for Skeptical Inquirer. We must remember that a degree in astrophysics does not make someone an expert on evolution or climate. Dr. Tyson has a right to his opinions but, so specialized is modern science, that he is a layman in every field but his own.

Michael Brant Shermer, founded the Skeptics Society and is Editor-in-Chief of Skeptic magazine. He is also a monthly columnist for Scientific American magazine and does have scientific training, sort of, with degrees in psychology and a Ph.D. in Science History. Shermer appears often on TV, attempting to counter the claims of anyone who has reported anything counter to the established view on everything. He considers himself an agnostic and a humanist and, of course, believes in man-caused global warming. Interestingly, and unlike some of the other debunkers, Shermer was a fundamentalist Christian in his undergraduate years and, at one time, experimented with acupuncture, negative ions (which supposedly are healthful), and “pyramid power.” Quite a few years ago, some people touted the benefits of small model pyramids—if it’s that easy, why did the Egyptians go to all the trouble and expense of erecting man-made hills of stone? It’s not hard to understand how Shermer’s disillusionment with organized religion and plastic pyramids might have driven him to the opposite extreme. Shermer is also a competitive cyclist.

And then there is the “Amazing Randi,” the stage magician name of a man born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in 1928. He is a homosexual, an agnostic, a Democrat, and an admirer of Barack Obama. In 1967 he admitted that ufology might contain “a small grain of truth.” In 1976 he and Martin Gardner and Ray Hyman founded the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). He was also a co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. A stage magician for many years, Randi has no science degrees but claims to have an IQ of 168; and also claims that, at age 12, he taught himself calculus and learned to read Egyptian hieroglyphics. A lot of people have their doubts about these claims. He also founded the James Randi Educational Foundation and offered a one-million-dollar payment to anyone who could prove a paranormal ability. But, as I can attest, this is a sham.

Quite a few years ago I used to practice a form of “meditation”—I guess that is as good a term as any—by somehow causing bursts of what felt like a kind of energy flow through my body. A paranormal investigator tested me with an instrument that could detect electric fields, and the device showed that every time I deliberately pulsed the energy, the needle would jump. Now this doesn’t mean that I can still do this, and there is also the possibility of some kind of experimental error. But the measurement seemed to show that I could consciously generate an electric field, which is supposedly impossible. I wrote to Randi’s foundation, suggesting that they test me (I would have to travel at my expense to their location and we would have to agree on the test parameters) and, if I passed the test, award me the one million dollars. They replied that my alleged paranormal ability was just “static electricity.” But this is absurd; the existence of a charge was not the issue—what was unique was my apparent ability to control it. If they were so sure of themselves, why did they not take me up on the challenge? It appears that Randi’s foundation would only test people they were certain did not have a paranormal ability. And this implies that they may secretly believe such powers are real.

Another prominent debunker, often appearing on TV, is Susan Blackmore, a British psychologist with a Ph.D. in parapsychology. She began as a believer in a paranormal side to reality, and even believed that she had had an out-of-body experience. But, like Michael Shermer, she became disillusioned and is now a debunker and an atheist—but still practices Zen meditation.

Then there is Bill Nye, the “science” guy. He has a degree in mechanical engineering and, by all accounts, was once a very inventive and competent engineer. But he wanted a career in show business and appeared on comedy programs on TV and hosted a PBS children’s science show. He became CEO of the Planetary Society, although he is not an astronomer. He appears regularly on TV as a debunker, and is on the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Nye tells us that neo-Darwinism is an established fact, GMO foods treated with glyphosate herbicide are safe, and he believes in global warming. In fact, he has suggested that we “deniers” who are skeptical of the global warming theory should be imprisoned. But there are so many of us that the prisons couldn’t hold us all—think concentration camps. Again, Nye has a right to his opinion, but an engineer is not an expert on evolution, climate, or agriculture. And someone who opposes free speech and desires to imprison (or worse) those with different opinions is a fascist.

And, finally, we come to James Oberg, who has a bachelor’s degree in math and master’s degrees in astrodynamics and computer science. He was a USAF officer and worked for many years on shuttle missions, at NASA Mission Control in Houston. He worked for a time as NBC’s space consultant, and, has written 10 books and some 1,000 articles.

Years ago, I used to leave comments (really mini-articles) on the website, Unexplained-Mysteries.com. Oberg monitored the site, and any time I said anything critical of NASA, he would attack me. Once I wrote of the tethered satellite experiment, when the space shuttle deployed a long cable with a weight on the end, allegedly to generate electricity as the shuttle flew through Earth’s magnetic field. I was the first person to point out the absurdity of this explanation and to state that it was really a test of a low-thrust propulsion system that would allow a spacecraft in orbit, powered by a solar array, to accelerate slowly to enormous velocity by reacting against Earth’s field. I mistakenly thought that the tether extended ahead of the shuttle in orbit; Oberg denounced my whole argument because (he said) the cable extended above the shuttle. But later on, Scientific American published an article describing NASA’s plan to build solar-powered satellites that would generate thrust and change orbit by sending an electric current through a cable, reacting with Earth’s magnetic field. In other words, I had been right all along, but Oberg had never even tried to debate my real argument—this is a standard tactic for debunkers.

Oberg has stated that Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin never said he saw a UFO on the mission. This is technically true, but he and the other Apollo 11 astronauts later admitted that their ship had been followed for a time by a strange object, never positively identified. Excuse me, but that is the precise definition of “UFO.” Oberg was equally disingenuous when he stated that shuttle pilot Story Musgrave never reported a UFO. But Musgrave saw, and the astronauts videotaped, a writhing object in space shaped like an eel or a snake. There may well be some “logical” explanation for this, but Musgrave has stated that he has no idea what it was—again, this is the very definition of “UFO.”

I cannot address the motives of these debunkers; for all I know they may be absolutely sincere true believers in status quo explanations for everything. But it is almost uncanny how academia, government agencies, and the mainstream media seem to want us all to believe in statin drugs, chemotherapy, and vaccines (all very profitable for the pharmaceutical industry). We are repeatedly told that man-caused global warming is a dire threat, that a lone gunman killed JFK, that UFOs do not exist, and that neo-Darwinism explains evolution. And the “skeptics” reliably preach this party line. If scientism is a kind of religion, the debunkers resemble the Inquisition.

By William B. Stoecker