Committee for the Scientific Investigation of
Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP)
Founded April 30, 1976, at an annual meeting of the American
Humanist Association devoted to ‘‘The New Irrationalism
Antiscience and Pseudoscience’’ and sponsored by some twenty-five
scientists, authors, philosophers, and scholars. The moving
spirit in this organization was Paul Kurtz, professor of philosophy
at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and the
formation of CSICOP was an outgrowth of a 1975 manifesto,
signed by 186 prominent scientists, denouncing astrology. The
following objectives were stated by the committee
‘‘To establish a network of people interested in examining
claims of the paranormal; to prepare bibliographies of published
materials that carefully examine such claims; to encourage
and commission research by objective and impartial inquirers
in areas where it is needed; to convene conferences and
meetings; to publish articles, monographs, and books that examine
claims of the paranormal; to not reject on a priori
grounds, antecedent to inquiry, any or all such claims, but rather
to examine them openly, completely, objectively, and carefully.’’
An initial step toward implementing these aims was the
sponsorship of a journal, the Zetetic, originally founded by Marcello
Truzzi, a sociologist at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.
The name of the journal derived from an ancient Greek
school of skeptical inquiry, although, interestingly enough, in
nineteenth-century England it became synonymous with belief
in a flat earth, and it is still used in that connection by the Flat
Earth Research Society International.
Formation of CSICOP was an outcome of genuine concern
of some intellectuals and scientists, most with a prior commitment
to humanistic and rationalistic worldviews, about what
they viewed as the uncritical public acceptance of so-called
paranormal phenomena, often without any valid evidence for
their genuineness. In the wake of the publicity and seeming
sanctioning of paranormal phenomena by parapsychologists
and other scientists, as well as the intellectual pluralism in the
post-World War II West, they viewed with alarm widespread belief
in highly speculative pseudoscience. They saw this belief reflected
in best-selling books, television and radio programs,
and even university courses that elevated such controversial
subjects as ancient astronauts, astrology, UFOs, and so on to
the status of factual science. Seeing interest in the paranormal
as a reaction against science and reason, some members of the
committee viewed such beliefs as threatening to civilization.
CSICOP initially included a number of outstanding individuals,
such as George Abell (professor of astronomy, University
of California at Los Angeles), Isaac Asimov (chemist, author of
science-fiction stories), Richard Berendzen (dean, College of
Arts Sciences at American University), Brand Blandshard (professor
of philosophy, Yale University), Bart Bok (emeritus professor
of astronomy, University of Arizona), Daniel Cohen (author,
former editor of Science Digest), L. Sprague de Camp
(engineer, author of science-fiction stories), Eric J. Dingwall
(anthropologist, parapsychologist), Charles Fair (author), Antony
Flew (professor of philosophy, Reading University, England),
Martin Gardner (author, member of editorial staff of
Scientific American), Sidney Hook (professor of philosophy,
State University of New York at Buffalo), Lawrence Jerome (science
writer), Philip J. Klass (engineer, science writer), Marvin
Kohl (professor of philosophy, State University College at Fredonia,
New York), Ernest Nagel (professor emeritus of philosophy,
Columbia University), Lee Nisbet (special projects editor
of The Humanist), James Prescott (neuro psychologist), W. V.
Quine (professor of philosophy, Harvard University), James
Randi (magician, escapologist, author), B. F. Skinner (professor
of psychology, Harvard University), Martin Zelen (professor
of statistical science, State University of New York at Buffalo),
and Martin Zimmerman (philosopher, State University of
New York at Buffalo).
The inclusion of such well-known opponents of claims for
psychic phenomena as Martin Gardner and James Randi—as
well as of humanists who actively discouraged belief in religion
as unscientific—led to accusations that CSICOP was strongly
slanted to debunking the paranormal rather than impartial inComets
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
vestigation. Critics charged that chairman Kurtz was ‘‘exploiting
the prestige lent by the names of the scientists who joined
the Committee to further the aims of his American Humanist
Society—which, ironically, is registered as a religion (‘Atheist’)
for tax purposes.’’
However, Kurtz insisted that CSICOP was not a ‘‘witch
hunt’’ nor ‘‘biased or locked in by established scientific views,’’
and claimed that it was ‘‘willing to consider and investigate
areas however strange or anomalous they seem to the existing
state of knowledge.’’ He also stressed the social consequences
of increasing acceptance of reports of paranormal phenomena,
which might contain ‘‘inherent dangers’’ to society. ‘‘There is
always the danger that once irrationality grows, it will spill over
into other areas of society,’’ Kurtz said.
The initial attack on astrology had garnered much news attention
(and inadvertently brought a significant amount of free
publicity and new business to astrologers). CSICOP proceeded
to create issues that would keep its concern before the media.
For example, during November 1977 the committee filed a formal
complaint with the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) charging NBC Television with knowingly presenting
questionable material that could result in physical harm to the
public in a 50-minute program titled ‘‘Exploring the Unknown,’’
featuring psychic surgery, communication with the
dead, and other claimed paranormal events. CSICOP’s complaint
alleged that the favorable presentation of such topics as
psychic surgery and psychic healing could lead viewers to seek
such methods of treatment to the exclusion of needed medical
care. The FCC ruled that the complaint was unfounded.
Although it was true that individual members of the committee
were receptive to scientific investigation of claims of the
paranormal, the stance of Kurtz and others in control was
amply demonstrated by their first attempt at new research.
Soon after the formation of the committee, they began a project
to check the claims of French researchers Michel and
Françoise Gauquelin The Gauquelins said they had found significant
correlation between the position of planets at the time
of birth of a number of individuals who had been outstanding
examples of success in their profession. Several members of the
committee studied a sample of American athletes to see if, as
the Gauquelin’s had found with their sample, the planet Mars
had a similarly prominent position when they were born.
Kurtz’s group declared that their research disproved the Gauquelins’
claims, and they published their report in the committee’s
journal, now renamed The Skeptical Inquirer.
However, trouble was brewing within CSICOP. In 1979
Dennis Rawlins was excluded from the group’s council, upon
which he had served. Two years later, in a lengthy article published
in Fate magazine (October 1981), Rawlins revealed that
the research had in fact substantiated the Gauquelins’ research,
but that findings had been altered so that negative results could
be reported. Rawlins accused the committee of willingness to
cover up evidence of any reality of the paranormal in an effort
to totally destroy public belief in it. Rawlins’s revelations about
the activity of some of the committee’s leading members put a
mark on the committee that has hampered its efforts ever
The ‘‘Starbaby incident,’’ as the astrology scandal was
termed, however, merely highlighted issues that had divided
members of CSICOP from the beginning. Marcello Truzzi,
original founder of the journal The Zetetic (formerly titled Explorations),
had already resigned from the committee in 1978, relinquishing
editorship of the journal, which thereafter changed
its name to The Skeptical Inquirer. His letter of resignation told
of differences between his original goals and those of the committee
and the American Humanist Association, leaving him no
alternative but to resign. For many years thereafter Truzzi edited
the Zetetic Scholar, an independent scientific review of
claims of anomalies and the paranormal.
Truzzi’s resignation underlined a basic contradiction in the
purpose of CSICOP How could it combine an attitude of impartial
inquiry with a stance of scientific authority when there
was an initial assumption that all claims of the paranormal were
erroneous or fraudulent One searches the pages of The Skeptical
Inquirer in vain for an instance of any paranormal phenomenon
or parapsychological finding being validated or even tentatively
accepted, and opposing voices or protests are quoted
only in order to be relentlessly discredited without extended
discussion. The tone of many articles is sarcastic and hostile,
rather than impartial, and the frequent appeals to ‘‘scientific
evidence’’ as a remedy for ‘‘false beliefs and delusions’’ often
sound authoritarian.
Because of the skepticism of its members, however, CSICOP
has made many contributions, especially through its journal. Its
scope of inquiry has been a wide one. Drawing on resources far
beyond the committee’s membership, CSICOP has effectively
refuted many dubious or fraudulent claims. Foremost among
these contributions was the uncovering of several fake faith
healers who were using classic Spiritualist tricks to impress
their audiences.
Address Box 703, Buffalo, NY 14226-0703.
Clark, Jerome, and J. Gordon Melton. ‘‘The Crusade
Against the Paranormal.’’ Parts 1 and 2. Fate 32, 9 (September
1979) 70–76; 32, 10 (October 1979) 87–94.
Kurtz, Paul. The Transcendental Temptation A Critique of Religion
and the Paranormal. Buffalo, N.Y. Prometheus Books,
Kurtz, Paul, ed. A Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology. Buffalo,
N.Y. Prometheus Books, 1985.
Melton, J. Gordon, Jerome Clark, and Aidan Kelly. New Age
Encyclopedia. Detroit Gale Research, 1990.
Rockwell, Theodore, Robert Rockwell, and W. Teed Rockwell.
‘‘Irrational Rationalists A Critique of the Humanists’ Crusade
Against Parapsychology.’’ Journal of the American Society
for Psychical Research 72 (January 1971) 23–34.

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