Thursday, October 11, 2012

Marcello Truzzi, an honest skeptic.

Someone in an internet discussion forum I participate in asked the members of the group who their Favorite CSICOP Fellow is. CSICOP is an organization of skeptics. I answered with my favorite past CSICOP member: Marcello Truzzi. Truzzi was a founding member of CSICOP and co-chairman. He felt CSICOP should include some people who believed in paranormal phenomena and he was forced to leave the organization because of his views. He believed that scientific experiments had demonstrated ESP is a real phenomenon and he was critical of pseudoskepticism. He was the first to express the idea that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof" in those words, but he later came to recognize the flaw in that belief is that the definition of extraordinary is not something that can be measured objectively.

The wikipedia article on him gives a brief biography.

Truzzi founded the skeptical journal Explorations and was invited to be a founding member of the skeptic organization CSICOP as its co-chairman with Paul Kurtz. Truzzi's journal became the official journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and was renamed The Zetetic ("zetetic" is another name for "skeptic"). The journal remained under his editorship. He left CSICOP about a year after its founding, after receiving a vote of no confidence from the group's Executive Council. Truzzi wanted to include pro-paranormal people in the organization and pro-paranormal research in the journal, but CSICOP felt that there were already enough organizations and journals dedicated to the paranormal. Kendrick Frazier became the editor of CSICOP's journal and the name was changed to Skeptical Inquirer.

After leaving CSICOP, Truzzi started another journal, the Zetetic Scholar.[2] He promoted the term "zeteticism" as an alternative to "skepticism," because he thought that the latter term was being usurped by what he termed "pseudoskeptics." A zetetic is a "skeptical seeker." The term's origins lie in the word for the followers of the skeptic Pyrrho in ancient Greece and was used by flat-earthers in the 19th century. Skeptic's Dictionary memorialized Truzzi thus: “Truzzi considered most skeptics to be pseudoskeptics, a term he coined to describe those who assume an occult or paranormal claim is false without bothering to investigate it. A kind way to state these differences might be to say that Marcello belonged to the Pyrrhonian tradition, most of the rest of us belong to the Academic skeptical tradition.”[3]

Truzzi was skeptical of investigators and debunkers who determined the validity of a claim prior to investigation. He accused CSICOP of increasingly unscientific behavior, for which he coined the term pseudoskepticism. Truzzi stated:

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. [...] When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts. Then, if the experiment is reputable, they say it's a mere anomaly.[4]

Truzzi held that CSICOP researchers sometimes also put unreasonable limits on the standards for proof regarding the study of anomalies and the paranormal. Martin Gardner writes: "In recent years he (Truzzi) has become a personal friend of Uri Geller; not that he believes Uri has psychic powers, as I understand it, but he admires Uri for having made a fortune by pretending he is not a magician."[5]

Truzzi co-authored a book on psychic detectives entitled The Blue Sense: Psychic Detectives and Crime. It investigated many psychic detectives and concluded: "[W]e unearthed new evidence supporting both sides in the controversy. We hope to have shown that much of the debate has been extremely simplistic."[6] The book also stated that the evidence didn't meet the burden of proof demanded for such an extraordinary claim.[7]

Although he was very familiar with folie à deux, Truzzi was very confident a shared visual hallucination could not be skeptically examined by one of the participators. Thus he categorized it as an anomaly. In a 1982 interview Truzzi stated that controlled ESP (ganzfeld) experiments have "gotten the right results" maybe 60 percent of the time.[8] This question remains controversial. Truzzi remained an advisor to IRVA, the International Remote Viewing Association, from its founding meeting until his death.[9]

Truzzi died from cancer on February 2, 2003.

I mention Truzzi on my web page on Skeptical Fallacies

The notion that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof was first phrased in those words by Marcello Truzzi. He later came to believe that...
The central problem however lies in the fact that "extraordinary" must be relative to some things "ordinary." and as our theories change, what was once extraordinary may become ordinary (best seen in now accepted quantum effects that earlier were viewed as "impossible"). Many now extraordinary claims may become more acceptable not when they are replicated but when theoretical contexts change to make them more welcome.
Source: "On Some Unfair Practices towards Claims of the Paranormal" by Marcello Truzzi

This suggests that what constitutes an "extraordinary" claim is subjective.

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