The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

A Critical Look at CSI, (formerly CSICOP), a Pseudo-Scientific Skeptic Organization


Most psychic people have never heard of this organization.  The original name was:  Committee for Scientific Investigations for Claims of the Paranormal.  (CSICOP)  It’s since been shortened to CSI.  It should be noted that they are not a scientific organization, nor do they normally do investigations.  They have a popular magazine, The Skeptical Inquirer which is also not a scientific, peer reviewed journal.

What they do very, very well is pretend to be scientific.  They are basically an atheist marketing organization dedicated to the systematic debunking of all psychic research through pseudo-science, talking points, ridicule and lobbying.  In particular, they lobby real scientific organizations, using their list of well educated fellows to discourage any active interest in any parapsychological studies.  (link here)  They maintain the pretense of objectivity, but in reality, they are anything but.  George Hansen writes:

In examining the scientific status of CSICOP, sociologists Pinch and Collins (1984) described the Committee as a “scientific-vigilante” organization (p. 539). Commenting on an article in SI, medical professor Louis Lasagna (1984) wrote: “One can almost smell the fiery autos-da-fe of Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition” (p. 12). Engineering professor Leonard Lewin (1979) noted that in SI articles “the rhetoric and appeal to emotion seemed rather out of place” (p. 9). Rockwell, Rockwell, and Rockwell (1978b) called CSICOP members “irrational rationalists” (see also Kurtz, 1978b; Rockwell, Rockwell, & Rockwell, 1978a). Sociologist Hans Sebald (1984) described contributors to SI as “combative propagandists” (p. 122). Adams (1987) compared CSICOP with the Cyclops; Robert Anton Wilson (1986) labeled CSICOP the “New Inquisition,” and White (1979) called them “new disciples of scientism.” McConnell (1987) wrote: “I cannot escape the conviction that those who control CSICOP are primarily bent upon the vilification of parapsychology and parapsychologists” (p. 191). Clearly, CSICOP has its share of detractors.

 

CSI has a number of well defined characteristics:

CSI membership is generally very well educated, with many holding prominent positions within academia.  Many are magicians and they are overwhelmingly male.  Many members actively hold atheistic viewpoint and promote them.[1]

CSI shares office space with the Council for Secular Humanism, an atheist organization and Paul Kurz, one of the founders of CSI, has chaired both organizations.  Thus, there is a strong link between CSI and active atheism.[2]

Something strange happens when these pseudo-skeptics get involved with science.  I’m going to assume that the skeptics I’ve mentioned so far and the ones I haven’t mentioned yet are smart people who do intelligent things in most areas of their lives.  Most of them are PhD’s and many hold university positions after all.  Yet when members of CSI actually attempt to involve themselves in parapsychological research, bad things happen and their research is highly questionable at best and downright embarrassing at worst.

CSI and its members have a history of bad research into the paranormal.   It’s not just that the research is sloppy, phrases such as “deliberately misleading” come up frequently.  On those rare occasions when skeptics conduct research, they often omit positive research in the same area and focus exclusively on their results, which are almost always flawed in some important way.  It appears to be a combination of willful ignorance of parapsychology methodology and statistics combined with a serious bias.  The results aren’t pretty:  (I don’t know if this is a complete list.  It’s what I could find.)

Investigation: Researchers Results
The Gauquelin Effect, 1975-78(Astrology) Rawlings, Kurz, Abell, Zelen, Ignored the only planetary motion specialist involved in the project, bad calculations by skeptics, eventual cover-up of the results and resignations by moderate skeptics from CSICOP. (exposed by Dennis Rawlings)[3]
The Girl with the X-Ray Eyes, May, 2004, Discovery Channel Wiseman Hyman, Skolnick Faulty experiment design, violations of the protocol, bad statistics by skeptics, general uproar from critics including Nobel Prize winner in physics, Brian Josephson[4]
Skeptical Staring Study, 2001 Marks, Colwell Allowed subjects to be distracted, dismissed answers from two acceptable subjects, introduced an unnecessary experimental restriction, dismissed or explained away positive results.  Failed to acknowledge previous research.[5]
Critique of Sheldrake’s paper: “Dogs that know when their owners are coming home. Wiseman Got the same results as Sheldrake.  Based statistical calculations on comments made by TV commentators.  Set arbitrary criteria for judging that removed positive results, failed to adequately review Sheldrake’s calculations or methods.[6]
Milton and Wiseman Autoganzfeld meta-analysis, 1999 Milton, Wiseman Botched statistics and Flawed methodology, omitted a relevant, positive study, included an irrelevant study.[7]
Blackmore Parapsychology Studies, 1976-78 Susan Blackmore Vastly overstated her experience, applied double standard to experiments, her studies were reported to be: “carelessly designed, executed and reported.” [8]

What you can see here is that first of all, there isn’t very much research, and second, there is a pattern of methodological and statistical failures.  These are just the people associated with CSI.  While they may be incompetent to judge the existence of psychic ability, they are at least performing the rituals of real science and they are to be commended for that I suppose; these skeptics have provided open access to their work, allowing their critics to check their math and their procedures and provide relevant criticism. This is, of course, faint praise, but considering the overall poor quality of most paranormal skepticism, it’s as good as it gets.

[1] The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Volume 86, No. 1, January 1992, pp. 19-63

[7] Parapsychology and the Skeptics, by Chris Carter

[8] ibid

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3 comments on “A Critical Look at CSI, (formerly CSICOP), a Pseudo-Scientific Skeptic Organization

  1. Monica
    August 30, 2011

    When I run into these people, I have a more succinct name for them: Idiot. :p

    • craigweiler
      August 30, 2011

      Yes, they’re pretty dreary. They are usually polite at least. The Randi-ites (followers of James Randi, million dollar challenge) are far more insufferable IMHO.

    • Anonymous
      January 24, 2017

      That’s very ironic.

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