Who’s a skeptic, and who’s a believer? That’s the first thing that crossed my mind when I came across the ‘In Memoriam’ slides presented at the recent skeptical gathering in Las Vegas, TAM8. For some absurd reason, it was deemed necessary to have two separate slide shows featuring the names and photos of those who left this mortal coil in the past year – one for “Skeptics”, one for “paranormal and pseudoscience believers”.
So in the latter category we have the likes of Mac Tonnies, an atheist with an interest in Fortean topics who enjoyed speculating about possibilities, alongside Christian ‘end-times’ zealot Charles Meade. Also thrown in are the likes of long-time UFO investigator Richard Hall, a man who had extremely intelligent things to say about the phenomenon, and UFO experiencer Lonnie Zamora, of whom Project Blue Book investigators remarked that there was “no question about [his] reliability. He is a serious police officer, a pillar of his church, and a man well versed in recognizing airborne vehicles in his area. He is puzzled by what he saw and frankly, so are we.” These are the “paranormal believers”.
In the skeptics section we have Martin Gardner, who was a theist, and whose beliefs and biases imposed themselves in many of his debunkings, to the detriment of scientific investigation. Happily, Michael Thalbourne is included in the skeptics section, though he was a long-time parapsychology researcher but is represented only as a ‘psychologist’ in the slideshow – I’m inclined to wonder whether one of his papers was to the liking of ‘skeptical believers’ and so he was given honorary membership. As for baby Dana McCaffery, the victim of a pertussis outbreak in Australia – while I think her tragic death serves as a harsh reminder of impact of anti-vaccination campaigns, her inclusion simply shows that these lists are not so much ‘skeptics’ vs ‘believers’, as “our side” vs “the other side”.