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The Evolution of Barbara Ehrenreich

A Skeptic’s Progress
by Ted Dace

After decades of concealing the mystical experience that wrenched open her mind at age 17, Barbara Ehrenreich was finally coming to grips with what happened that sunny morning in 1959. But now she faced a quandary. Long revered as a dedicated atheist, even accepting awards from organizations of “freethinkers,” a.k.a. skeptics, how could the noted author and theorist tell the world she’d once seen God – or if not God, at least the Other? By writing Living with a Wild God, Ehrenreich courageously broke ranks, demonstrating that the scientific mind need not be burdened by ideological “skepticism.”

Atheism ran deep in her family. Her dad, who’d escaped the mines of Butte, Montana by way of an education in metallurgy, liked to regale the wife and kids Sunday mornings with classic atheist tracts. So when 12-year old Barbara Alexander began to question the point of existence, the one place she would never go for answers was religion. This complicated her task enormously. Paraphrasing Pascal, “How shall we redeem this obscene slaughter called history,” ask Will and Ariel Durant, “except by believing, with or against the evidence, that God will right all wrongs in the end?”

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Dean Radin

Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), Associated Distinguished Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), and chairman of the biotech company, Cognigenics.

Dean Radin
Dr. Dean Radin

Clever Rationalizations that Get in the Way of Progress

Skepticism, meaning doubt, is one of the hallmarks of the scientific approach.

Skepticism sharpens the critical thought required to sift the wheat from the chaff, and it forces experimental methods, measurements, and ideas to pass through an extremely fine sieve before they are accepted into the “scientific worldview.” A little critical thinking applied to many of the claims of New Age devotees reveals why many scientists are dubious of psi phenomena. Science requires substantial amounts of repeatable, trustworthy evidence before taking claims of unexpected effects seriously. Depending on the claim, providing sufficient evidence can take years, decades, or half-centuries of painstaking, detailed work. Learning how to create this evidence requires long training and experience in conventional disciplines like experimental design, analysis and statistics.

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Dogmatic Skepticism Does Not Advance Science

by Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D.

Biologist and author best known for his hypothesis of morphic resonance. At Cambridge University he worked in developmental biology as a Fellow of Clare College.

Rupert Sheldrake
Dr. Rupert Sheldrake

Dear Deepak,

I read your exchange with Michael Shermer with much interest. I agree with both of you about the need for skepticism as a essential part of the scientific process. But media skeptics are not usually part of a constructive scientific debate but rather follow a narrow, negative agenda. Michael claimed that skeptics such as himself are “thoughtful, inquiring, and reflective.” But there is a big gulf between this ideal and what media skeptics actually do, which, as you pointed out, all too often involves condemning open-minded inquiry. Like you, I have been the target of many skeptical attacks, and my experience has been very similar to your own.

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Pathological Disbelief: The Lindau Lecture

by Brian D. Josephson, Ph.D., Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1973

Nobel Laureates’ Annual Meeting, Lindau, Germany – June 30, 2004
(download slides)

Brian Josephson
Dr. Brian D. Josephson


This talk mirrors “Pathological Science”, a lecture given by Chemistry Laureate Irving Langmuir (1). Langmuir discussed cases where scientists, on the basis of invalid processes, claimed the validity of phenomena that were unreal. My interest is in the counter-pathology involving cases where phenomena that are almost certainly real are rejected by the scientific community, for reasons that are just as invalid as those of the cases described by Langmuir. Alfred Wegener’s continental drift proposal (2) provides a good example, being simply dismissed by most scientists at the time, despite the overwhelming evidence in its favour. In such situations incredulity, expressed strongly by the disbelievers, frequently takes over: no longer is the question that of the truth or falsity of the claims; instead, the agenda centres on denunciation of the claims. Ref. 3, containing a number of hostile comments by scientists with no detailed familiarity with the research on which they cast scorn, illustrates this very well. In this “denunciation mode”, the usual scientific care is absent; pseudo-arguments often take the place of scientific ones. Irving Langmuir’s lecture referred to above is often exploited in this way, his list of criteria for “Pathological Science” being applied blindly to dismiss claims of the existence of specific pheomena without proper examination of the evidence. We find a similar method of subverting logical analysis in a weekly column supported by the American Physical Society (4).

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Deepak Chopra

Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), Associated Distinguished Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), and chairman of the biotech company, Cognigenics.

Deepak Chopra
Dr. Deepak Chopra

Skeptics in the Media: Gadflies Without a Sting

We live in a society where the worst humiliation, apparently, is to be duped. If Skeptic magazine’s table of contents reflects the world, we are buried up to our necks in charlatans, pseudoscientists, scam artists, and the self-deluded.

I cannot otherwise explain why being skeptical, without any additional positive contribution, is considered somehow admirable. I dislike skepticism when it sits by the road and shoots down any traveler trying to take a different way. I oppose skepticism when it turns destructive, using disdainful dismissiveness as its chief tactic.

Let me speak personally here as a target of skeptical critiques:

I have rarely met a skeptic who didn’t use ad hominem attacks.

1.   Skeptics generally leap to the conclusion that I am naive, self-deluded, or simply unread in the sciences.

2.   Skeptics rarely examine the shaky assumptions of their own position.

3.   Skeptics believe that doubt is a positive attribute. (Skeptics in person can be appealing, usually in a kind of quirky misanthropic way, although most come off as self-important petty naysayers who try everyone’s patience.)

4.   Worst of all, skeptics take pride in defending the status quo and condemn the kind of open-minded inquiry that peers into the unknown.

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