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Skepticism Reloaded

A leading skeptic addresses the essence of contemporary skepticism and highlights the vital nonpartisan and science-based role of skeptics in preventing deception and harm.

Forty-two years have passed since the birth of CSICOP, the Committee for the SciF entific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, CSI), and its magazine, Skeptical Inquirer. Soon after its birth, there was a wave of skepticism across the globe. A great visionary was at the center of the explosion: Paul Kurtz, a philosophy professor who saw skepticism as a global worldwide endeavor. The Australian Skeptics took off in 1980 with Mark Plummer as president. A decade later, in the mid-1980s, CSICOP encouraged skeptics all over the world to form their own groups.

Mark Plummer, then executive director of CSICOP, and Wendy Grossman, founder of the magazine The Skeptic in the United Kingdom, toured Europe in this mission, resulting in many new groups.

Paul Kurtz also defined skepticism as he saw fit for the movement in his book The New Skepticism (1992). This variant is what we would now call “scientific skepticism.” It is distinct from the ancient Greek variety of skepticism that denied that we could acquire knowledge and wanted us not to take a stand—to suspend judgment.

Skeptics today do take a stand. They insist on skeptical inquiry, which is at the core of scientific research, as a fundamental and indispensable tool. At the same time, they also acknowledge that the body of science represents reliable knowledge of a real world. More importantly, they stand up and advocate for what we know about science and pseudoscience, even when others (including friends and colleagues) frown on us. Skeptics today are committed to scientific realism.

Initially, the movement focused mainly on fringe science claims ignored by the scientific establishment. A decade ago, Kendrick Frazier, editor of Skeptical Inquirer, extended the scope. In the book Science under Siege: Defending Science,

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