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Barry Beyerstein

June 27th, 2007 · 1 Comment

I’m saddened to read that Lindsay Beyerstein’s father died yesterday, less than a month past his 60th birthday. I actually hadn’t realized they were related: I was only aware of Barry Beyerstein as the best sort of skeptic, casting a critical eye on the grand claims of alternative medicine without ever lapsing into dogmatism—open-minded, as the old dictum has it, but not so open minded one’s brain falls out. He also did important work fighting hysteria and abuse in the name of the War on Drugs. You can hear interviews with him here on perverse incentives in pharmaceutical research and here (in the second half) on alternative medicine. Reading Lindsay’s post, it sounds as though he was an exemplary father and human being too—a genuinely inspiring and at the same time seriously humbling man.

Tags: Academia



1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Bob B // Nov 13, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Although it’s been 1.5 years since Beyerstein’s death, I just learned about it yesterday.
    As a Vancouver BC resident of many years, I was exposed to Beyerstein as the most visible, vocal local skeptic, who would pop up periodically in the news to denounce this or that paranormal phenomenon, belief, believer or investigator.

    Frankly, I got to find him more and more tiresome the more times I had him foisted upon me via TV, radio, or newspapers!
    I wondered where he’d been lately, as it seemed like a long (pleasant) while since I’d last heard him pontificate on his “fundamentalist materialist” beliefs.

    Although, I’m not mean enough to wish death on anyone, and oppose the death penalty,
    I confess I personally am glad his voluble pseudo-skeptical voice is now silent! I call him a pseudo-skeptic, because as far as I could tell, he was anything but an open-minded skeptic.
    Like most activist skeptics, his mind was made up. He had a carefully constructed world view that said paranormal phenomena is impossible. And that it was his duty (or psychological need) to spread his firm belief/ideology, and worse, persecute those who disagreed.

    CSICOP/CSI, the pseudo-skeptics organization he was a proud and valued member of, has had a sordid history of persecuting brave scientists who studied subjects like ESP with an open mind, instead of with a debunker’s zeal. Particularly when study data validated claims of ESP, the CSICOP persecution machine would ramp up, and attempt to have scientists removed from University positions, demoted, fired, and denounced as “pseudo-scientists”!As Robert Anton Wilson suggests in his excellent account of the CSICOP debunker crowd, “The New Inquisition”, skeptical activists have a lot in common with the Catholic church’s Inquisition, in persecuting those who hold views deemed “heretical”! The difference being, destroying “heretics'” careers replaced burning at the stake.

    Some have suggested Beyerstein was more open and fair minded a “skeptic” than some.
    I see no evidence of open mindedness. The fact CSICOP/CSI embraced him as a valued member at the top of their pecking order/heap, a “hero” to the cause, speaks volumes. Because open minded skeptics soon find they are completely unwelcome at CSI, and are either driven out or leave as Marcello Truzzi, an early member, did. Truzzi then formed an organization to investigate paranormal phenomena with an OPEN mind not the closed mind of the debunking idealogue.
    Truzzi, perhaps naively, at first thought CSICOP’s mission would be to impartially investigate paranormal claims with an open mind. He soon realized his CSICOP colleagues were doctrinaire fanatics, and impartiality was definitely not on CSICIOP’s agenda.

    I don’t have sufficient data on this, but I’ve noticed at least a couple of the most loud and zealous debunkers didn’t live very long. Beyerstein dead at 60. Carl Sagan dead at 62… Is “skepticism” hazardous to the health?! I see the less-than-amazing Randi doesn’t fit, as he’s still going strong at 80. Are hexers are at work, “proving” to debunkers the paranormal power of black magic, by successfully hexing them (just joking!)?

    Actually, instead of a silent Beyerstein, I’d have preferred to see him finally come around and accept data of some of the dozens of paranormal studies by qualified scientists conducted under University auspices over decades, many of which show statistical validity for paranormal phenomena like ESP. But unfortunately, as paranormal research scientist Rupert Sheldrake (a favourite target of CSI) says, dedicated debunkers insist on being “immune to data”.

    Scientists like Beyerstein, who are immune to scientific data concerning all things paranormal,are thus approaching the subject(s) in a very UNscientic or pseudo-scientific fashion. May the real pseudo-scientist please stand up! Hello Barry Beyerstein. Goodbye.