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Committee for Skeptical Inquiry

Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal
Abbreviation CSI
Formation 1976
Type Nonprofit organization
Purpose Skeptical inquiry of paranormal claims
Headquarters Amherst, New York
Region served
Ron Lindsay

The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), formerly known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), is a program within the Center for Inquiry (CFI), whose stated purpose is to "encourage the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminate factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public."[1] CSI was founded in 1976 by Paul Kurtz to counter what he regarded as an uncritical acceptance of, and support for, paranormal claims by both the media and society in general. Its philosophical position is one of scientific skepticism. CSI's fellows have included notable scientists, Nobel laureates, philosophers, psychologists, educators and authors.[2] It is headquartered in Amherst, New York.


  • History 1
    • Name 1.1
  • Position on pseudoscience 2
  • Activities 3
    • Media response 3.1
    • Following pseudoscientific and paranormal belief trends 3.2
    • Health and safety 3.3
    • Humor 3.4
  • Independent Investigation Group 4
  • Humanism 5
  • Awards to fellows 6
  • Publications 7
  • Standards of evidence 8
  • Umbrella organization 9
  • List of CSI fellows (past and present) 10
  • List of Scientific and Technical Consultants (past and present) 11
  • Controversy and criticism 12
    • Mars effect 12.1
    • Attempt by Church of Scientology to discredit 12.2
    • Natasha Demkina 12.3
    • General criticism and reply 12.4
  • See also 13
  • References 14
  • Further reading 15
  • External links 16


The Banquet at the 1983 CSICOP Conference in Buffalo, NY

In the early 1970s, there was a significant upsurge of interest in the paranormal in the United States. This generated concern in some quarters, where it was seen as part of a growing tide of

  • Official website
  • Official websites for Skeptical Inquirer
  • "About CSICon Conference". Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  • "CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview" - An essay on the organization by the American Society for Psychical Research, a pro-paranormal organization.
  • Point Of Inquiry - Radio show and podcast for CSICOP's Center for Inquiry.
  • True Disbelievers - Former CSICOP member Richard Kammann's account of the Mars effect controversy.
  • The New Skepticism
  • The Creation of CSICOP
  • Name change to Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
  • James Randi comments on Mars Effect controversy

External links


Further reading

  1. ^ "CSICOP website". CSICOP. Retrieved 2006-06-21.  Statement from the heading of the website.
  2. ^ Kurtz, Paul. (1996). Skepticism and the Paranormal. In Gordon Stein (Ed.). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. pp. 684-701. Prometheus Books. ISBN 1-57392-021-5
  3. ^ a b c The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Volume 86, No. 1, January 1992
  4. ^ a b Kurtz, Paul (July 2001). "A Quarter Century of Skeptical Inquiry My Personal Involvement". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on March 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  5. ^ "CSICOP website". CSICOP. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  6. ^ a b Higginbotham, Adam (November 7, 2014). "The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi". The New York Times.
  7. ^  
  8. ^ Kurtz 2001, p. 42
  9. ^ "CSICOP becomes CSI after thirty years". CSI. Archived August 15, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^  
  11. ^ CSI is quoted by the National Science Foundation in its Indicators 2002 bienniel survey: Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding. Science Fiction and Pseudoscience. Relationships Between Science and Pseudoscience. What Is Pseudoscience?
  12. ^ "SkeptiCamp". Retrieved 2012-03-21. 
  13. ^ Nisbet, Lee (Nov–Dec 2001). "The Origins and Evolution of CSICOP; Science Is Too Important to Be Left to Scientists". Skeptical Inquirer. Retrieved 2006-06-22. 
  14. ^ "CSI". 
  15. ^ "FDA Asks U.S. Marshals to Seize Dietary Supplements: Products Being Promoted With Drug Claims". U.S.  
  16. ^ Quoted in Gardner, Martin (1981). Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus, Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-144-4, pg. vii and xvi.
  17. ^ "IIG Challenge". Retrieved 2010-11-04. 
  18. ^ "CSICOP announces winners of the first Robert P. Ballez Prize" (– Scholar search). Skeptical inquirer 26 (3). 2006. 
  19. ^ "Are subliminal messages secretly embedded in advertisements?". The Straight Dope. 26 June 1987. Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  20. ^ "Skeptical Briefs". Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-01. 
  21. ^ "Interview With Carl Sagan". NOVA Online. 
  22. ^  
  23. ^ Marcello Truzzi. "On Some Unfair Practices towards Claims of the Paranormal". Skeptical Investigations. Archived from the original on 2007-04-28. Retrieved 2007-05-01. 
  24. ^ "The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry". Retrieved 2010-08-18. 
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Frazier, Ken (November 2015). "Ten Distinguished Scientists and Scholars Named Fellows of Committee for Skeptical Inquiry". Skeptical Inquirer (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) 39 (6). Retrieved 16 October 2015. 
  26. ^ See, for instance, "The Campaign for Philosophical Freedom". Retrieved 13 August 2006. 
  27. ^ Truzzi, M (1996) from the Parapsychological Association newsletter
  28. ^ "Parapsychology, Anomalies, Science, Skepticism, and CSICOP". 
  29. ^ "Marcello Truzzi, On Pseudo-Skepticism" Zetetic Scholar (1987) No. 12/13, 3-4.
  30. ^ Rawlins, Dennis (1981). "sTARBABY". FATE Magazine. Retrieved 2006-06-21.  Rawlins's account of the Mars Effect investigation
  31. ^ Klass, Philip J. (1981). "Crybaby". Retrieved 2010-12-03. 
  32. ^ Marshall, John (January 25, 1980). "Cult order sought to end scientists' criticism". Toronto Globe and Mail. 
  33. ^  
  34. ^ "Cause, Chance and Bayesian Statistics: A Briefing Document". Retrieved 2006-09-11. 
  35. ^ a b  
  36. ^ "Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health". 
  37. ^ "Answer to Critics". CSMMH. Archived from the original on 2005-02-04. Retrieved 2006-09-11. 
  38. ^ The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Volume 86, No. 1, January 1992; pp. 20, 24, 40, 46, 51
  39. ^  


See also

Have I ever heard a skeptic wax superior and contemptuous? Certainly. I've even sometimes heard, to my retrospective dismay, that unpleasant tone in my own voice. There are human imperfections on both sides of this issue. Even when it's applied sensitively, scientific skepticism may come across as arrogant, dogmatic, heartless, and dismissive of the feelings and deeply held beliefs of others ... CSICOP is imperfect. In certain cases [criticism of CSICOP] is to some degree justified. But from my point of view CSICOP serves an important social function – as a well-known organization to which media can apply when they wish to hear the other side of the story, especially when some amazing claim of pseudoscience is judged newsworthy ... CSICOP represents a counterbalance, although not yet nearly a loud enough voice, to the pseudoscience gullibility that seems second nature to so much of the media.[39]

On a more general level, proponents of parapsychology have accused CSI of Parapsychological Association, suggests that CSI's aggressive style of skepticism could discourage scientific research into the paranormal.[38] Astronomer Carl Sagan wrote on this in 1995:

General criticism and reply

In 2004, CSICOP was accused of scientific misconduct over its involvement in the Discovery Channel's test of the "girl with X-ray eyes," Natasha Demkina. In a self-published commentary, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Josephson criticized the test and evaluation methods and argued that the results should have been deemed "inconclusive" rather than judged in the negative. Josephson, the director of the University of Cambridge's Mind–Matter Unification Project, questioned the researchers' motives saying, "On the face of it, it looks as if there was some kind of plot to discredit the teenage claimed psychic by setting up the conditions to make it likely that they could pass her off as a failure."[33] Ray Hyman, one of the three researchers who designed and conducted the test, published a response to this and other criticisms,[34] [35] and CSI's Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health[36] also published a detailed response to these and other objections, saying that the choice of critical level was appropriate because her claims were unlikely to be true: "I decided against setting the critical level at seven because this would require Natasha to be 100% accurate in our test. We wanted to give her some leeway. More important, setting the critical value at seven would make it difficult to detect a true effect. On the other hand, I did not want to set the critical value at four because this would be treating the hypothesis that she could see into people’s bodies as if it were highly plausible. The compromise was to set the value at five."[35][37]

Natasha Demkina

[32] In 1977, an

Attempt by Church of Scientology to discredit

An early controversy concerned the so-called Fate, he wrote: "I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism."[30] CSICOP's Philip J. Klass responded by circulating an article to CSICOP members critical of Rawlins' arguments and motives;[31] Klass's unpublished response, refused publication by Fate, itself became the target for further criticism.

Mars effect

[29] to describe critics in whom he detected such an attitude.pseudoskeptic Truzzi coined the term [28] TV celebrity and claimed psychic [26] CSI's activities have garnered criticism, in particular from individuals or groups that have been the focus of the organization's attention.

Uri Geller filed a number of unsuccessful lawsuits against CSICOP

Controversy and criticism

  • Gary Bauslaugh
  • Richard E. Berendzen
  • Martin Bridgstock
  • Richard Busch
  • Shawn Carlson
  • Roger Culver
  • Felix Ares de Blas
  • J. Dommanget
  • Nahum Duker
  • Taner Edis
  • Barbara Elsenstadt
  • William Evans
  • Bryan Farha
  • John F. Fischer
  • Eileen Gambrill
  • Luis Alfonso Gamez
  • Sylvio Garattini
  • Susan Gerbic[25]
  • Laurie Godfrey
  • Gerald Goldin
  • Donald Goldsmith
  • Alan Hale
  • Clyde Herreid
  • Sharon A. Hill
  • Gabor Hrasko[25]
  • Michael Hutchinson
  • Philip A. Ianna
  • William Jarvis
  • I.W. Kelly
  • Richard H. Lange
  • William M. London
  • Rebecca Long
  • John Mashey[25]
  • Thomas R. McDonough
  • James E. McGaha
  • Joel A. Moskowitz
  • Matthew C. Nisbet
  • Julia Offe[25]
  • John W. Patterson
  • James R. Pomerantz
  • Gary P. Posner
  • Tim Printy

The inside front cover of each issue of the Skeptical Inquirer lists the CSI consultants.

List of Scientific and Technical Consultants (past and present)

The inside front cover of each issue of the Skeptical Inquirer lists the CSI fellows.[24] (* denotes the Fellow is a member of the Executive Council)

List of CSI fellows (past and present)

A transnational non-profit weeping statues or faith healing). The Council for Secular Humanism explicitly fosters humanism and secularism.

Umbrella organization

An axiom often repeated among CSI members is the famous quote from Carl Sagan: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."[21] (This was based on an earlier quote by Marcello Truzzi "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof",[22] who traced the idea back through the Principle of Laplace to the philosopher David Hume.)[23] CSI members argue that none of the paranormal claims have met even the most minimal standards of scientific scrutiny.

Standards of evidence

CSI publishes the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, containing articles on skepticism, pseudo-science and the paranormal, as well as reports on experiments conducted to test alleged paranormal phenomena. Skeptical Inquirer was founded by Marcello Truzzi, under the name The Zetetic and retitled after a few months under the editorship of Kendrick Frazier, former editor of Science News. Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope calls Skeptical Inquirer "one of the nation's leading antifruitcake journals".[19] In addition, it publishes Skeptical Briefs, a quarterly newsletter published for associate members.[20]


CSI awards the Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking. Andrew Skolnick and CSI fellows Ray Hyman and Joe Nickell shared the first award for their 2005 reports on CSICOP's testing of Natasha Demkina, a girl who claimed to have X-ray eyes.[18]

Awards to fellows

CSI is a member organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union and endorses the Amsterdam Declaration on the principles of modern secular humanism.


In 2011 the IIG announced an affiliate program, allowing other skeptic groups to form across the world which would have access to the $50,000 and the ability to test claimants. Affiliates are in Washington DC (IIG DC), Atlanta, GA (IIG Atlanta), Denver, CO (IIG Denver), San Francisco Bay Area (IIG SFBA) and Alberta, Canada (IIG Alberta).

IIG offers a $50,000 prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.[17] The IIG is involved in designing the test protocol, approving the conditions under which a test will take place, and in administering the actual test. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant is asked to perform a simple preliminary demonstration of the claimed ability, which if successful is followed by the formal test. Associates of the IIG usually conduct both tests and preliminary demonstrations at their location in Hollywood.

The Independent Investigations Group (IIG) is a volunteer-based organization founded by James Underdown in January 2000 at the Center for Inquiry-West (now Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles) in Hollywood, California. The IIG investigates fringe science, paranormal and extraordinary claims from a rational, scientific viewpoint, and disseminates factual information about such inquiries to the public.

Independent Investigation Group

As referenced by CSI member Martin Gardner, a maxim regularly put into practice by the organization is H. L. Mencken's "one horse-laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms."[16] Skeptical Inquirer has carried such articles as reports on the success rate of past years' tabloid "psychic predictions" and coverage of the Australian Skeptics' "Bent Spoon Awards" (winners are notified by telepathy and must pick up their trophies by paranormal means).


An issue of particular concern to CSI are paranormal or pseudoscientific claims that may endanger people's health or safety, such as the use of alternative medicine in place of science-based healthcare. Investigations by CSI and others, including Quackwatch and the National Council Against Health Fraud.

Health and safety

CSI changes its focus with the changing popularity and prominence of various aspects of what it considers to be pseudoscientific and paranormal belief. For example, as promoters of intelligent design have increased their efforts to have this teaching included in school curricula in recent years, CSI has stepped up its own attention to the subject, creating an "Intelligent Design Watch" website[14] and publishing numerous articles on evolution and intelligent design in Skeptical Inquirer and on the Internet.

Following pseudoscientific and paranormal belief trends

This involvement with mass media continues to the present day with, for example, CSI founding the Council for Media Integrity in 1996, as well as co-producing a TV documentary series Critical Eye hosted by William B. Davis (the actor who played the Smoking Man in The X-Files). CSI members can also be seen regularly in the mainstream media offering their perspective on a variety of paranormal claims, and in 1999 Joe Nickell was appointed special consultant on a number of investigative documentaries for the BBC. In its capacity as a media-watchdog, CSI has “mobilized thousands of scientists, academics and responsible communicators” to criticize what it regards as “media's most blatant excesses.” While much of this criticism has focused on factual TV programming or newspaper articles offering support for paranormal claims, CSI has also been critical of programs such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which its members believe portray skeptics and science in a bad light and help to promote belief in the paranormal. CSI’s website currently lists the email addresses of over ninety U.S. media organizations and encourages visitors to “directly influence” the media by contacting “the networks, the TV shows and the editors responsible for the way [they portray] the world.”

CSICOP originated in the spring of 1976 to fight mass-media exploitation of supposedly "occult" and "paranormal" phenomena. The strategy was twofold: First, to strengthen the hand of skeptics in the media by providing information that "debunked" paranormal wonders. Second, to serve as a "media-watchdog" group which would direct public and media attention to egregious media exploitation of the supposed paranormal wonders. An underlying principle of action was to use the mainline media's thirst for public-attracting controversies to keep our activities in the media, hence public eye.[13]

Many of CSI's activities are oriented towards the media. As CSI's former executive director Lee Nisbet wrote in the 25th-anniversary issue of the group's journal, Skeptical Inquirer:

Media response

[12] CSI has also helped to support local grassroot efforts, such as

CSI conducts and publishes investigations into Bigfoot and UFO sightings, psychics, astrologers, alternative medicine, religious cults, and paranormal or pseudoscientific claims.

  1. maintains a network of people interested in critically examining paranormal, fringe science, and other claims, and in contributing to consumer education;
  2. prepares bibliographies of published materials that carefully examine such claims;
  3. encourages research by objective and impartial inquiry in areas where it is needed;
  4. convenes conferences and meetings;
  5. publishes articles that examine claims of the paranormal;
  6. does not reject claims on a priori grounds, antecedent to inquiry, but examines them objectively and carefully.

According to CSI's charter, in order to carry out its major objectives the Committee:


CSI considers pseudoscience topics to include yogic flying, therapeutic touch, astrology, fire walking, voodoo, magical thinking, Uri Geller, alternative medicine, channeling, psychic hotlines and detectives, near-death experiences, unidentified flying objects (UFOs), the Bermuda Triangle, homeopathy, faith healing, and reincarnation. Its position on pseudoscience has been quoted favorably by the National Science Foundation.[11]

Position on pseudoscience

On 30 November 2006, the organization further shortened its name to "Committee for Skeptical Inquiry" ("CSI", pronounced C-S-I.)[9] The reasons for the change were to create a name that is shorter and more "media-friendly", to remove "paranormal" from the name, and to reflect more accurately the actual scope of the organization with its broader focus on critical thinking, science, and rationality in general, and because "it includes the root words of our magazine's title, the Skeptical Inquirer".[10]

Paul Kurtz was inspired by the Belgian acronym, "CSICP" was difficult to pronounce and so was changed to "CSICOP." According to James Alcock, it was never intended to be "Psi Cop", a nickname that some of the group's detractors adopted.[8]


RSEP disbanded and its members, along with others such as Skeptical Inquirer.[6]

[3], all members of the Resources for the Scientific Evaluation of the Paranormal (RSEP), a fledgling group with objectives similar to those CSI would subsequently adopt.Marcello Truzzi, and James Randi, Ray Hyman, Martin Gardner Amongst those invited were [4]

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