Monday, July 14, 2008

Skepticism Is a Small Movement

New York Review of Magazines reviews the only two skepticism magazines in the US.

When I worked in the magazine distribution business, we carried and distributed both these magazines, alongside Sedona Journal, Mountain Astrologer, and a whole mess of other magazines that provide skeptics with much of their material. I always enjoyed that quality of my job.

Circulation: 54,000
Date of Birth: 1992
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $6.95
Natural Habitat: To the left of your Mythbusters! DVD collection

Skeptical Inquirer

Circulation: 50,000
Date of Birth: 1976
Frequency: Bimonthly
Price: $4.95
Natural Habitat: To the right of your Mythbusters! DVD collection

By Callie Enlow

Come one, come all! Step right up and buyourmiracle snake oil!Communicate with the dearly departed!Teach your schoolchildrenIntelligent Design!

In a world where UFOs are sighted daily, where The Secret books and DVDs go platinum, and where reality television shows center on haunted houses, Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer exist to bring us back to earth. Skeptical Inq

According to both publications, the skeptic is less a know-it-all bubble-burster than the Lone Ranger of reason battling against an onslaught of misinformation. Even Lone Rangers need some support, and modern skeptics find solace in two organizations: The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which funds Skeptical Inquirer, and the Skeptics Society, which publishes Skeptic. Furtherance of science and the scientific method are the main goals of both groups; exposing hokum and phonies is just a perk. Members of both organizations—primarily doctors, journalists and scientists—contribute the bulk of the magazines’ features.

The two publications are the only magazines for skeptics in the country, and, given their small readerships, one wonders whether the movement might benefit from producing only one. Both Dr. Paul Kurtz, founder of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Dr. Michael Shermer, co-founder of The Skeptics Society (both are de facto publishers of their organizations’ respective magazines) seem skeptical of the idea, though neither criticized the other organization or publication. When asked about the necessity for two skeptic publications, Dr. Shermer replied, “There’s a market for it and plenty of articles to publish, topics to cover [and] controversies to investigate.” Dr. Kurtz said of Skeptic, “They do good work and we’re similar in many senses, but we have a much broader base,” pointing out that The Committee of Skeptical Inquiry has many international Centers of Inquiry.

Like two scientists racing to reach the same conclusion first, both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer state their claims in a similar way. The magazines mainly publish stories centered on scientific controversy; predictably they are sourced to the highest standard. Talking chimps? Bogus. The data collection was flawed, according to Dr. Clive Wynn’s assessment in Skeptic. The dating website’s “scientific” romantic successes? Not so amazing if you consider the company’s unpublicized failure rate, says Skeptical Inquirer editor Benjamin Radford, in his monthly column.

Read the whole review.

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