Martin Gardner was a founding member of CSICOP, and has been described as the “single most powerful antagonist of the paranormal in the second half of the 20th century”. He died in 2010 at the age of 95.
Gardner wrote a regular column in Skeptical Inquirer until retiring in 2002, and published dozens of books, including his classic Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952).
He also used to write the Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. Conjuring was a life-long hobby and much of his criticism of psychical research focused on possibilities of cheating. The style of his attacks was frequently bitter, derisive and personal. Yet, surprisingly, unlike most self-proclaimed skeptics, he was not an atheist. Gardner’s motivation was religious. As he explained in his book The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (1983), he believed in God, the power of prayer and life after death.
In a penetrating study of Gardner’s work, George Hansen in his book The Trickster and the Paranormal (2001) argued that Gardner’s position can be traced back to his teenage Protestant fundamentalism and his belief that the realms of science and faith should be sharply separated. “[He] vehemently opposes using science to empirically address religious issues… He is comfortable with CSICOP because it doesn’t really do science. Instead it ridicules attempts to study the paranormal scientifically… Gardner serves as a border guard to keep the paranormal out of science and academe. He belittles parapsychological researchers in order to ensure their marginal status. By emotional attacks and biting sarcasm he warns others to stay clear of the realm. He portrays the paranormal as ‘unclean’ and unsuited to be part of elite culture. His writings, actions and life constitute an important case study of how taboo continues to be enforced.”
Although Gardner was more scholarly than most skeptics and was widely quoted as an authority, some of his work was poorly-informed, biassed and unreliable, as this critical essay by Greg Taylor shows.
How Martin Gardner Bamboozled the Skeptics
Greg Taylor, Daily Grail, 10 November 2010
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