July 22, 2020
As part of a reference question I received during the recent pandemic, I looked back at the beginnings of the modern skeptical movement and was reminded of the writings of Martin Gardner. Those of you familiar with us know that Gardner had a very large influence on what became the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and the creation of scientific skepticism.
In the Name of Science An Entertaining Survey of the High Priests and Cultists of Science, Past and Present (by Martin Gardner, New York: Putnam, 1952) is considered the “founding document” of the modern movement and was rereleased in 1957 as Fads and Fallacies: In the Name of Science (by Martin Gardner, New York: Dover, 1957). The rerelease was very much the same as the original book, with few editorial changes and a new chapter that covered Bridey Murphey along with some added notes and ponderings about the other chapters and updates.
In the preface to the second edition, Gardner pointed out, with tongue in cheek, that he received letters from irate readers of the first edition. He mentions that he received letters from Reichians, Orgonists, Dianeticians (which we now call Scientologists), homeopaths, and chiropractors, each complaining about being associated with the others. “Oddly, enough, most of these correspondents objected to one chapter only, thinking all the others excellent” (vii)
As I reread the second edition of this classic, I thought about how far we have come as a “movement” and of how little we have achieved. It seems like we are always talking about the same things or a variant of those things. However, toward the end of the book, I found this paragraph:
The spectacular recent successes of pseudo-science have a value also in publicizing aspects of our culture that are in much need of improvement. We need better science education in our schools. We need more and better popularizers of science. We need better channels of communication between working scientists and the public. And so on. (322–323)
Gardner says the proliferation of these things gives us an opportunity to teach critical thinking, to talk about them and the work that we do. And the needs that follow this statement are still needs today: better science education, more popularizers, and better communication. These are the things we at CSI and the Center for Inquiry are working toward.