|Based in||Amherst, New York|
Skeptical Inquirer is a bimonthly American general-audience magazine published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) with the subtitle: The Magazine for Science and Reason. In 2016 it celebrated its fortieth anniversary. For most of its existence, the Skeptical Inquirer (SI) was published by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, widely known by its acronym CSICOP. In 2006 the CSICOP Executive Council shortened CSICOP's name to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and broadened its mission statement.
Daniel Loxton, writing in 2013 about the mission and goals of the skeptical movement quoted an editor of the Swedish skeptic magazine Folkvett who felt that SI was a magazine written by '"old white men, for old white men"'. He criticized the idea that people wanted to read about the paranormal, Uri Geller and crystal skulls not being relevant any longer. Paul Kurtz in 2009 seemed to share this sentiment and stated that the organization would still research some paranormal subjects as they have expertise in this area, but they would begin to investigate other areas, S.I. '"has reached an historic juncture: the recognition that there is a critical need to change our direction."' While editor Frazier did expand the scope of the magazine to include topics less paranormal and more that were an attack on science and critical thinking such as climate change denialism, conspiracy theories and the influence of the alt-med movement, Frazier also added that "paranormal beliefs are still widespread" and quoted surveys that state that the public given a list of ten general paranormal topics will select four as a topic they believe in. While the general skeptic community believes that we should not waste more time debunking the paranormal, topics long ago discredited, Frazier says "millions of Americans accept them today."
Writing for Scientific American Douglas Hofstadter states that the purpose of Skeptical Inquirer magazine is to "combat nonsense... nonsensical claims are routinely smashed to smithereens." He writes that articles are written for everyone that can read English, no special knowledge or expertise is needed, the only requirement is "curiosity about truth".
The magazine was originally titled The Zetetic (from the Greek meaning "skeptical seeker" or "inquiring skeptic"), and was originally edited by Marcello Truzzi. About a year after its inception a schism developed between the editor Truzzi and the rest of CSICOP. One side (CSICOP) was more "firmly opposed to nonsense, more willing to go on the offensive and to attack supernatural claims" and the other side ("The relativist faction (one member)", i.e. Truzzi) wanted science and pseudoscience to exist "happily together". Truzzi left to start The Zetetic Scholar and CSICOP changed the magazine's name to Skeptical Inquirer.
Historian Daniel Loxton speculates on the answer to the question that if CSICOP was not the first skeptical publication, why is it considered to be the "'birth of modern skepticism' (at least for the English-speaking world)"? Loxton writes that it was because CSICOP organized "this scholarship collectively [and] comprised a distinct field of study." The organization was the first to establish "best practices... specialist experts... buildings... periodicals and professional writers and researchers."
The magazine contains several regular columns (and contributors). These have changed over the years as follows:
The magazine's website features new and recent articles, as well as an archive dating back to 1994; all are available without a subscription. A small selection of articles also have Spanish versions available. Most articles are organized into the following columns:
Several notable skeptics have described the influence the magazine had on them during the early stages of their development as scientific skeptics. In 1995, Perry DeAngelis and Steven Novella were friends that played Dungeons and Dragons together until DeAngelis noticed a Skeptical Inquirer magazine on the table in Novella's condo. DeAngelis who was also an avid reader of the magazine, pointed out the back page to Novella and said "What is missing?" DeAngelis stated that what was missing was a Connecticut skeptic group, he said "we should do this" to which Novella agreed. They started the New England Skeptical Society and eventually the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (SGU) podcast.
Writing for Scientific American, Douglas Hofstadter asked the question, why would Skeptical Inquirer succeed when the only people who read it are people who do not believe in the paranormal? The answer, he says, lies in the back of the magazine in the "Letters to the Editor" section. "Many people write in to say how vital the magazine has been to them, their friends and their students. High school teachers are among the most frequent writers of thank-you notes to the magazine's editors, but I have also seen enthusiastic letters from members of the clergy, radio talk-show hosts and people in many other professions."
Daniel Loxton, in his essay "Ode to Joy" about discovering Skeptical Inquirer magazine as a freshman at his University writes...
But the true treasure, the lamp at the end of the cave, the thing that helped set the course of my life, was hidden away in the periodical collection: a complete set of the Skeptical Inquirer, going back to its launch in 1976. I couldn't believe such a wealth of skeptical research existed! I worked my way through the stack systematically, hungrily.... I've been thinking of that experience a lot recently. These last weeks have been a rough ride for many skeptics, as longstanding debates about the scope and tone of skepticism have collided with the decentralized, organic nature of skepticism 2.0. I care a lot about those issues, advocating often for a back to basics approach to skepticism--a traditional, science-based skepticism that solves mysteries and educates the public. So, I thought: why not really go back to the beginning? Why not go back to my own roots as a skeptic, reading those old back issues--and back further, to the roots of the skeptical project? The Achilles heel of skepticism 2.0 may be that new skeptics are unfamiliar with the literature. And so, these last few days I've been losing myself in Skeptical Inquirer issues from 1977 and 1978. I'm falling in love all over again. The directness of those early voices is inspiring: here were investigable mysteries, and by god, skeptics were going to solve them. And they did. I'm learning a great deal by looking back once again at how they worked, about how things have changed and about how they haven't... We've come a long way since 1976--further since the days of Houdini--but we've got things to learn from those who set us on this path. Let's have another look at what those things are.
Inspired by the four decades of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, the exhibition Some Provocations from Skeptical Inquirers by artists Ellen Levy and Patricia Olynyk, was featured at the Baruch College Mishkin Gallery in February 2016. Reviewer Eileen G'Sell writes that they "plumb the depths of the murky ontological sea that is empirical belief." Reviewer states that the work represents, "this built-in confrontation between fact and fiction was the basis of the Skeptical Inquirer itself and its playful willingness to consider the most unlikely phenomena."
Kendrick Frazier in his office, 2018
Barry Karr reading Skeptical Inquirer at Amherst headquarters, 2014