Friday, October 12, 2012

The Best Skeptic is an Ex-Skeptic! Some of the Best and Worst Skeptics of the Twentieth Century

Someone over at a discussion forum I participate in asked who were the best skeptics of the twentieth century. I replied with some of the ones I thought were best - people who started out as skeptics but changed their views when they examined the evidence. I also included some of the individuals who I thought were the worst skeptics - skeptics who were embarrassingly wrong or who engaged in misleading behavior in the pursuit of perpetuating skeptical myths. This is not a complete list of either:


Linus Pauling (Winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry) said, "There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists." However, he was proved embarrassingly wrong when in 2011 Dan Shectman won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of quasicrystals.

Best (The best skeptic is an ex-skeptic!):

Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander: Alexander started out as a skeptic but after his near death experience he said, "consciousness outside of the brain is a fact. It’s an established fact".

In an interview at, Alexander said:

Coming from a neurosurgeon who, before my coma, thought I was quite certain how the brain and the mind interacted and it was clear to me that there were many things I could do or see done on my patients and it would eliminate consciousness. It was very clear in that realm that the brain gives you consciousness and everything else and when the brain dies there goes consciousness, soul, mind—it’s all gone. And it was clear.

Now, having been through my coma, I can tell you that’s exactly wrong and that in fact the mind and consciousness are independent of the brain. It’s very hard to explain that, certainly if you’re limiting yourself to that reductive materialist view.

... consciousness outside of the brain is a fact. It’s an established fact.

Dr. Charles Robert Richet (1850–1935, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine). Richet initially scoffed at psychical research but after thirty years of his own investigations he came to believe in telepathy, precognition, ectoplasm, and cryptesthesia (the ability of mediums to obtain information about spirits).

Richet admitted that in the 1870s, he dismissed and even scoffed at parapsychology research being carried out by prominent scientists like Frederic Myers and William Crookes.
(From: When skeptics become believers at

Later Richet wrote in his book Thirty Years of Psychical Research:

Perhaps-and I admit it-the innumerable experiments published by eminent men of science would not have convinced me, had I not been a witness of the four fundamental facts of metapsychics. I was an unwilling witness, in no way enthusiastic, very critical, extremely distrustful of the facts that forced themselves upon me. I was able to verify, under unexceptionable conditions
and despite my desire to disprove them, the four essential facts of metapsychics.

These four personal experiences, all four of which carry obvious proof, determined my belief, and that not at once, but after long consideration, meditation, and repetition.

A. Cryptesthesia. Stella, in presence of G., whose family she does not and cannot have known, gave the first names of his son, of his wife, of a deceased brother, of a living brother, of his father-in-law, and of the locality where he lived as a child.

B. Telekinesis. While Eusapia's head and hands were held, a large melon weighing six pounds was moved from the sideboard to the table, the distance between them being over a yard.

C. Ectoplasms. Eusapia was in half light, her left hand in my right and her right in my left tightly held, and before Lodge, Myers, and Ochorowicz, a third hand stroked my face, pinched my nose, pulled my hair, and gave a smack on my shoulder heard by Ochorowicz, Myers, and Lodge.

D. Premonitions. Alice, at 2 P.M. told me, for the first and only time, that I should soon give way to violent anger before one, two, three persons whom she designated with her hand as if she saw them. At G P.M. the unlikely and unforeseeable impertinence of a person absolutely unknown to Alice provoked me to one of the strongest and most justifiable fits of anger of my whole life before two other persons, an anger that led to my receiving a challenge to a duel, the only one I have ever received.

Richard Hodgson:

Richard Hodgson was a skeptic. He had investigated Madam Blavatsky and exposed her as a fraud. Hodgson's investigation of Mrs. Piper proved she was psychic.

Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge (1851–1940). Lodge started out as a skeptic but after attending sessions with mediums, he came to believe they could communicate with spirits. He eventually published a book of communications from is deceased son Raymond.

(From: When skeptics become believers at

Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge was a prominent British physicist and mathematician credited with significant contributions in the fields of thermal conductivity, thermo-electricity, and electricity. He was the first to transmit a radio signal, even before Marconi, and was also the developer of the Lodge spark plug. Just like other scientists of his time, Lodge did not believe in the possibility of communicating with an afterlife.

In 1883, he came across stage performer Irving Bishop and was impressed and intrigued by the idea of thought transference and telepathy. He began thinking of the possibilities that can arise from the concept of dislocation between body and mind. He stated, “I began to feel that there was a possibility of the survival of personality.” Lodge later went on to study the American medium Leonora Piper in 1889, followed by other investigations and research into methods of different popular mediums of the time. He also wrote a book on communication with the spirit of his son who died in a battle. The book was published in 1916 and was called Raymond, or Life After Death.

Sir William Crookes: 1832-1919. Crookes started out as a hostile doubter but later came to believe that Daniel D. Home demonstrated psychokinesis.

Crookes first began his investigations into 'psychic' phenomena in 1869 as a hostile doubter. In his article, 'Spiritualism Viewed by the Light of Modern Science' he declared:

"The increased employment of scientific methods will produce a race of observers who will drive the worthless residuum of spiritualism hence into the unknown limbo of magic and necromancy."


Crookes' experiments with Daniel D. Home demonstrated the existence of a 'psychic force' wholly ignored by science.

Crookes stated:

"Of all persons endowed with a powerful development of this Psychic Force, Mr. Daniel Dunglas Home is the most remarkable and it is mainly owing to the many opportunities I have had of carrying on my investigation in his presence that I am enabled to affirm so conclusively the existence of this force."


Skeptical Investigations explains how the skeptical organization CSICOP while trying to debunk astrology, actually found evidence supporting astrology and "In order to get the result they wanted, ... had to commit a total of six statistical blunders...".

The statistician and psychologist Michael Gauquelin had done a statistical analysis providing evidence that astrology might have some basis in fact. His analysis showed a correlation between the position of Mars in the sky at the time of birth and the odds of a person becoming a sports champion...

In 1976, in an attempt to make this embarrassment go away once and for all, Harvard professor of biostatistics and CSICOP fellow Marvin Zelen proposed a simplified version of the original Gauquelin study which he subsequently performed with the assistance of CSICOP chairman and professor of philosophy Paul Kurtz and George Abell, a UCLA astronomer. In order to get the result they wanted, the trio had to commit a total of six statistical blunders, which are discussed in detail in the article The True Disbelievers: Mars Effect Drives Skeptics to Irrationality by former CSICOP fellow Richard Kammann. Proper analysis showed that the new study actually supported the Gauquelin effect.

Lots more worst skeptics here.

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