Committee for Skeptical Inquiry
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|Purpose||Skeptical inquiry of paranormal claims|
|Headquarters||Amherst, New York, United States|
The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), formerly known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), is a 1976 US based non-profit organization within the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a transnational American non-profit organization, "promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues." It was founded by Paul Kurtz to counter what he regarded as an uncritical acceptance of, and support for, paranormal claims by both the media and society in general. Its philosophical position is one of scientific skepticism. CSI's fellows have included notable scientists, Nobel laureates, philosophers, psychologists, educators and authors. It is headquartered in Amherst, New York.
- 1 History
- 2 Mission statement
- 3 Activities
- 4 Organization
- 5 Awards funded
- 6 Publications
- 7 List of CSI fellows (past and present)
- 8 List of Scientific and Technical Consultants (past and present)
- 9 Controversy and criticism
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
In the early 1970s, there was an upsurge of interest in the paranormal in the United States. This generated concern in some quarters[which?], where it was seen as part of a growing tide of irrationalism.[full citation needed] In 1975, secular humanist philosopher and professor Paul Kurtz had previously[when?] initiated a statement, "Objections to Astrology," which was co-written with Bart Bok and Lawrence E. Jerome, and endorsed by 186 scientists including 19 Nobel laureates and published in the American Humanist Association (AHA)'s newsletter The Humanist, of which Kurtz was then editor. According to Kurtz, the statement was sent to every newspaper in the United States and Canada. The positive reaction to this statement encouraged Kurtz to invite "as many skeptical researchers as [he] could locate" to the 1976 conference with the aim of establishing a new organization dedicated to examining critically a wide range of paranormal claims. Amongst those invited were Martin Gardner, Ray Hyman, James Randi, and Marcello Truzzi, all members of the Resources for the Scientific Evaluation of the Paranormal (RSEP), a fledgling group with objectives similar to those CSI would subsequently adopt.
RSEP disbanded and its members, along with others such as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, B.F. Skinner, and Philip J. Klass joined Kurtz, Randi, Gardner and Hyman to form the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, (CSICOP). Kurtz, Randi, Gardner and Hyman took seats on the executive board. CSICOP was officially launched at a specially convened conference of the AHA on April 30 and May 1, 1976. CSICOP would be funded with donations and sales of their magazine, Skeptical Inquirer.
The formal mission statement, approved in 2006 and still current, states that...
"The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry promotes science and scientific inquiry, critical thinking, science education, and the use of reason in examining important issues. It encourages the critical investigation of controversial or extraordinary claims from a responsible, scientific point of view and disseminates factual information about the results of such inquiries to the scientific community, the media, and the public."
A shorter version of the mission statement appears in every issue: “... promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.” A previous mission statement referred to “investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims,” but the 2006 change recognized and ratified a wider purview for SI that includes new science-related issues at the intersection of science and the public while not ignoring core topics. A history of the first two decades is available in The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal published in 1998 by S.I. editor Kendrick Frazier.
Paul Kurtz was inspired by the 1949 Belgian organization Comité Para, whose full name was Comité Belge pour l'Investigation Scientifique des Phénomènes Réputés Paranormaux ("Belgian Committee for Scientific Investigation of Purported Paranormal Phenomena"). In 1976, the proposed name was "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and Other Phenomena" which was shortened to "Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal." The initial acronym, "CSICP" was difficult to pronounce and so was changed to "CSICOP." According to James Alcock, it was never intended to be "Psi Cop", a nickname that some of the group's detractors adopted
in November 2006, CSICOP further shortened its name to "Committee for Skeptical Inquiry" (CSI), pronounced C-S-I. The reasons for the change were to create a name that was shorter, more "media-friendly", to remove "paranormal" from the name, and to reflect more accurately the actual scope of the organization with its broader focus on critical thinking, science, and rationality in general, and because "it includes the root words of our magazine's title, the Skeptical Inquirer".
According to CSI's charter, the Committee" maintains a network of people interested in critically examining paranormal, fringe science, and other claims, and in contributing to consumer education; prepares bibliographies of published materials that carefully examine such claims;encourages research by objective and impartial inquiry in areas where it is needed; convenes conferences and meetings; publishes articles that examine claims of the paranormal; does not reject claims on a priori grounds, antecedent to inquiry, but examines them objectively and carefully".
An axiom often repeated among CSI members is the famous quote from Carl Sagan: "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence." based on an earlier quote by Marcello Truzzi "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof", who traced the idea back through the Principle of Laplace to the philosopher David Hume.)
Response to mass media
Many CSI activities are oriented towards the media. As CSI's former executive director Lee Nisbet wrote in the 25th-anniversary issue of the group's journal, Skeptical Inquirer:
"CSICOP originated in the spring of 1976 to fight mass-media exploitation of supposedly "occult" and "paranormal" phenomena. The strategy was twofold: First, to strengthen the hand of skeptics in the media by providing information that "debunked" paranormal wonders. Second, to serve as a "media-watchdog" group which would direct public and media attention to egregious media exploitation of the supposed paranormal wonders. An underlying principle of action was to use the mainline media's thirst for public-attracting controversies to keep our activities in the media, hence public eye".
Involvement with mass media continues to the present day[when?] with, for example, CSI founding the Council for Media Integrity in 1996, and co-producing a TV documentary series Critical Eye hosted by William B. Davis. CSI members can be seen regularly in the mainstream media offering their perspective on a variety of paranormal claims. In 1999 Joe Nickell was appointed special consultant on a number of investigative documentaries for the BBC. As a media-watchdog, CSI has "mobilized thousands of scientists, academics and responsible communicators" to criticize what it regards as "media's most blatant excesses." Criticism has focused on factual TV programming or newspaper articles offering support for paranormal claims, and programs such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which its members believe portray skeptics and science in a bad light and help to promote belief in the paranormal. CSI's website currently[when?] lists the email addresses of over ninety U.S. media organizations and encourages visitors to "directly influence" the media by contacting "the networks, the TV shows and the editors responsible for the way [they portray] the world."
Following pseudoscientific and paranormal belief trends
CSI was quoted to consider pseudoscience topics to include yogic flying, therapeutic touch, astrology, fire walking, voodoo, magical thinking, Uri Geller, alternative medicine, channeling, psychic hotlines and detectives, near-death experiences, unidentified flying objects (UFOs), the Bermuda Triangle, homeopathy, faith healing, and reincarnation. CSI changes its focus with the changing popularity and prominence of what it considers to be pseudoscientific and paranormal belief. For example, as promoters of intelligent design increased their efforts to include it in school curricula in recent years, CSI stepped up its attention to the subject, creating an "Intelligent Design Watch" website publishing numerous articles on evolution and intelligent design in Skeptical Inquirer and on the Internet.
Health and safety
CSI is concerned with paranormal or pseudoscientific claims that may endanger people's health or safety, such as the use of alternative medicine in place of science-based healthcare. Investigations by CSI and others, including consumer watchdog groups, law enforcement and government regulatory agencies, have shown that the sale of alternative medicines, paranormal paraphernalia, or pseudoscience-based products can be enormously profitable. CSI says this profitability has provided various pro-paranormal groups large resources for advertising, lobbying efforts, and other forms of advocacy, to the detriment of public health and safety.
the Center for Inquiry is the transnational non-profit umbrella organization comprising CSI, the Council for Secular Humanism, the Center for Inquiry - On Campus national youth group and the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. These organizations share headquarters and some staff, and each have their own list of fellows and their distinct mandates. CSI generally addresses questions of religion only in cases in which testable scientific assertions have been made (such as weeping statues or faith healing).
Independent Investigation Group
Within the Center for Inquiry-West, now[when?] Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles in Hollywood, California, James Underdown founded the Independent Investigations Group (IIG), a volunteer-based organization in January 2000. The IIG investigates fringe science, paranormal and extraordinary claims from a rational, scientific viewpoint and disseminates factual information about such inquiries to the public.
IIG has offered a $50,000 prize "to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event", to which 7 people applied from 2009-2012. In 2011, the IIG announced an affiliate program, allowing other skeptic groups to form across the world which would have access to the $50,000 and the ability to test claimants. Affiliates are in Washington DC (IIG DC), Atlanta, GA (IIG Atlanta), Denver, CO (IIG Denver), San Francisco Bay Area (IIG SFBA) and Alberta, Canada (IIG Alberta).
In Praise of Reason Award
"The In Praise of Reason Award is given in recognition of distinguished contributions in the use of critical inquiry, scientific evidence, and reason in evaluating claims to knowledge." This is the highest award presented by CSI and is often presented at the CSIcon conferences.
|1982||Martin Gardner||Awarded in Atlanta, GA "'In honor of his heroic efforts in defense of reason and the dignity of the skeptical attitude.'"|
|1984||Sidney Hook||Presented at Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA by CSICOP Chairman Paul Kurtz.|
|1985||Anthony Flew||Awarded in London by Paul Kurtz, "'[I]n recognition of his long-standing contributions to the use of methods of critical inquiry, scientific evidence, and reason in evaluating claims to knowledge and solving social problems."|
|1986||Stephen Jay Gould||Presented at the University of Colorado, Boulder "'In recognition of his long-standing contributions to the use of the methods of critical inquiry, scientific evidence, and reason in evaluating claims to knowledge and solving social problems'".|
|1987||Carl Sagan||Pasadena, CA CSICOP awards banquet|
|1988||Douglas Hofstadter||Presented at the Chicago CSICOP conference|
|1990||Cornelis de Jager||Presented at the Brussels 1990 CSICOP conference|
|1990||Gerard Piel||Awarded at the Washington D. C. conference March 30-April 1st.|
|1996||Leon Lederman||Awarded at the First World Congress in Amherst, NY, presented by Cornelis de Jager|
|2003||Ray Hyman||Presented at the Albuquerque conference by friend James Alcock. "Ray Hyman, from whom I-and I am sure all of us-continue to learn so much."|
|2009||James Randi||Presented at the 12th World Congress in Maryland. Paul Kurtz presented the award saying '“Your greatest quality is that you are an educator, a teacher. You have shown that the easiest people to deceive are PhDs, a great insight to all of us. You expose myths and hoaxes.... You stand out in history.”'|
|2011||Bill Nye||Presented at CSIcon New Orleans conference. Eugenie Scott stated "If you think Bill is popular among skeptics, you should attend a science teacher conference where he is speaking" it is standing room only. She continues by saying that no one has more fun as Nye when he is "demonstrating, principles of science."|
Robert P. Balles Prize
CSI awards the Robert P. Balles Annual Prize in Critical Thinking annually. The $2,500 award is given to the "creator of the published work that best exemplifies healthy skepticism, logical analysis, or empirical science" Robert P. Balles established this permanent endowment fund through a Memorial Fund. Center for Inquiry's "established criteria for the prize include use of the most parsimonious theory to fit data or to explain apparently preternatural phenomena."
|2005||Andrew Skolnick, Ray Hyman and Joe Nickell||The Girl with X-ray Eyes||Shared the first award for their 2005 reports on CSICOP's testing of Natasha Demkina, a girl who claimed to have X-ray eyes.|
|2006||Ben Goldacre||For his column in The Guardian U.K. newspaper, Bad Science||Columns include "Dyslexia 'cure' fails to pass the tests", "Bring me a God helmet, and bring it now", "Kick the habit with wacky wave energy", "Brain Gym exercises do pupils no favors" and "Magnetic attraction? Shhhh. It's a secret"|
|2007||Natalie Angier||The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science||"[S}he thoughtfully explores what it means to think scientifically and the benefits of extending the scientific ethos to all areas of human life."|
|2008||Leonard Mlodinow||The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules our Lives|
|2009||Michael Specter||Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives|
|2010||Steven Novella||Body of work including the The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast, Science-Based Medicine, Neurologica, Skepticial Inquirer column The Science of Medicine and the "tireless travel and lecture schedule on behalf of skepticism"||'“The truly most amazing thing is he does this all on a volunteer basis.”' According to Barry Karr "'You may be the hardest worker in all of skepticism'"|
|2011||Richard Wiseman||Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There||"Wiseman is not simply interested in looking at a claim... He is interested in showing us how easy it is for us to be deceived and how easily we can be fooled and fool others."|
|2012||Steven Salzberg and Joe Nickell||Salzberg's column for Forbes magazine, Fighting Pseudoscience and Nickell's book The Science of Ghosts - Searching for Spirits of the Dead||"Salzberg regularly shines the light of reason on the false or dubious claims ... with a clear and accessible voice, and with a healthy dose of humor." And "Accessibility and humor, along with unmatched rigor and curiosity, are what famed Joe Nickell, ... has been bringing to his work for decades."|
|2013||Paul Offit||Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine||"Offit is a literal lifesaver... educates the public about the dangers of alternative medicine, may save many, many more."|
|2014||Joseph Schwarcz and to the creators, producers, and writers of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey||Is That a Fact? and Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey||"Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey opened the eyes of a new generation to humanity’s triumphs, its mistakes, and its astounding potential to reach unimagined heights.... Is That a Fact? unflinchingly takes on all manner of popular misinformation."|
|2015||Julia Belluz||Vox.com||"We need more people in the media doing what Julia Bellux does... "|
Responsibility in Journalism Award
CSICOP seeking to acknowledge and encourage "fair and balanced reporting of paranormal claims" established the Responsibility in Journalism Award in 1984. Frazier stated that "There are many responsible reporters who want to do a good job in covering these kinds of controversial, exotic topics."
|1984||Leon Jaroff and Davyd Yost||Jaroff as managing editor of Discover magazine established the Skeptical Eye column. Yost of the Columbus, Ohio Citizen Journal specifically for a story about a poltergeist.||Frazier said of Yost "In the mold of careful, responsible journalism... [he made] a special effort to get outside expert opinion". Philip Klass stated that Jaroff has "'political courage'" for his column that offers "useful perspectives... of claims of the paranormal".|
|1986||Boyce Rensberger and Ward Lucas||Rensberger, science reporter for Washington Post and Ward "anchor and investigative reporter KUSA-TV Channel 9 Denver"||Presented at the University of Colorado, Boulder, "'In recognition of contributions to fair and balanced reporting of paranormal claims'".|
|1987||Lee Dembart, Ed Busch, and Michael Willesee||Dembart from Los Angeles Times, Willesee, Australian journalist and Busch, Texas radio talk-show host||Presented at Pasadena CSICOP award banquet.|
|1988||C. Eugene Emery, Jr. and Milton Rosenberg||Emery is a science and medical reporter for the Providence Journal and a contributor to SI. Rosenberg is the host of Extension 720 a program on WGN-Radio in Chicago||Presented at the Chicago CSICOP conference Emery researched claims of faith-healer Ralph A. DiOrio and wrote about the results in his journal.|
|1990||Stephen Doig||Science Editor for the Miami Herald||Awarded at the Washington D. C. conference March 30-April 1st.|
Frontiers of Science and Technology Award
|1986||Paul MacCready||AeroVironment||Presented at the University of Colorado, Boulder "'In recognition of his innovative and creative contributions to technology and his outstanding defense of critical thinking'".|
|1987||Murray Gell-Mann||Presented at Pasadena CSICOP award banquet.|
Public Education in Science Award
|1990||Richard Berendzen||"In recognition of his distinguished contribution to the testing of scientific principles and to the public understanding of science."||Presented at Pasadena CSICOP award banquet.|
Distinguished Skeptic Award
|1990||Henri Broch||Awarded for "his pioneer work with Minitel and making scientific critiques of the paranormal available to a wider audience in France.||Presented at the Brussels 1990 CSICOP conference|
Presented to founder and chairman of CSICOP, Paul Kurtz "'In recognition of your wisdom, courage, and foresight in establishing and leading the world's first public education organization devoted to distinguishing science from pseudoscience'". Award was given April 26, 1986 at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
CSI publishes the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, which was founded by Marcello Truzzi, under the name The Zetetic and retitled after a few months under the editorship of Kendrick Frazier, former editor of Science News. Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope calls Skeptical Inquirer "one of the nation's leading antifruitcake journals". In addition, it publishes Skeptical Briefs, a quarterly newsletter published for associate members.
Skeptical Inquirer has carried humorous articles that report on the success rate of past years' tabloid "psychic predictions" and the Australian Skeptics' "Bent Spoon Awards" where winners are notified by telepathy and must pick up their trophies by paranormal means.
List of CSI fellows (past and present)
The inside front cover of each issue of the Skeptical Inquirer lists the CSI fellows. (* denotes the Fellow is a member of the Executive Council)
List of Scientific and Technical Consultants (past and present)
The inside back cover of each issue of the Skeptical Inquirer lists the CSI consultants.
Controversy and criticism
CSI's activities have garnered criticism from individuals or groups which have been the focus of the organization's attention. TV celebrity and claimed psychic Uri Geller, for example, was until recently in open dispute with the organization, filing a number of unsuccessful lawsuits against them. Some criticism has also come from within the scientific community and at times from within CSI itself. Marcello Truzzi, one of CSICOP's co-founders, left the organization after only a short time, arguing that many of those involved "tend to block honest inquiry, in my opinion. Most of them are not agnostic toward claims of the paranormal; they are out to knock them. [...] When an experiment of the paranormal meets their requirements, then they move the goal posts." Truzzi coined the term pseudoskeptic to describe critics in whom he detected such an attitude.
Mars effect, 1975
An early controversy concerned the so-called Mars effect: French statistician Michel Gauquelin's claim that champion athletes are more likely to be born when the planet Mars is in certain positions in the sky. In late 1975, prior to the formal launch of CSICOP, astronomer Dennis Rawlins, along with Paul Kurtz, George Abell and Marvin Zelen (all subsequent members of CSICOP) began investigating the claim. Rawlins, a founding member of CSICOP at its launch in May 1976, resigned in early 1980 claiming that other CSICOP researchers had used incorrect statistics, faulty science, and outright falsification in an attempt to debunk Gauquelin's claims. In an article for the pro-paranormal magazine Fate, he wrote: "I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism." CSICOP's Philip J. Klass responded by circulating an article to CSICOP members critical of Rawlins' arguments and motives; Klass's unpublished response, refused publication by Fate, itself became the target for further criticism.
Church of Scientology 1977
In 1977, an FBI raid on the offices of the Church of Scientology uncovered a project to discredit CSICOP so that it and its publications would cease criticism of Dianetics and Scientology. This included forging a CIA memo and sending it to media sources, including The New York Times, to spread rumors that CSICOP was a front group for the CIA. A letter from CSICOP founder Paul Kurtz was forged to discredit him in the eyes of parapsychology researchers.
Natasha Demkina, 2004
In 2004, CSICOP was accused of scientific misconduct over its involvement in the Discovery Channel's test of the "girl with X-ray eyes," Natasha Demkina. In a self-published commentary, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Brian Josephson criticized the test and evaluation methods and argued that the results should have been deemed "inconclusive" rather than judged in the negative. Josephson, the director of the University of Cambridge's Mind–Matter Unification Project, questioned the researchers' motives saying, "On the face of it, it looks as if there was some kind of plot to discredit the teenage claimed psychic by setting up the conditions to make it likely that they could pass her off as a failure." Ray Hyman, one of the three researchers who designed and conducted the test, published a response to this and other criticisms,  CSI's Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health also published a detailed response to these and other objections, saying that the choice of critical level was appropriate, because her claims were unlikely to be true: "I decided against setting the critical level at seven because this would require Natasha to be 100% accurate in our test. We wanted to give her some leeway. More important, setting the critical value at seven would make it difficult to detect a true effect. On the other hand, I did not want to set the critical value at four because this would be treating the hypothesis that she could see into people's bodies as if it were highly plausible. The compromise was to set the value at five."
General criticism and reply
On a more general level, proponents of parapsychology have accused CSI of pseudoskepticism, and an overly dogmatic and arrogant approach based on a priori convictions. A 1992 article in The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, an organ for the Parapsychological Association, suggests that CSI's aggressive style of skepticism could discourage scientific research into the paranormal. Astronomer Carl Sagan wrote on this in 1995:
"Have I ever heard a skeptic wax superior and contemptuous? Certainly. I've even sometimes heard, to my retrospective dismay, that unpleasant tone in my own voice. There are human imperfections on both sides of this issue. Even when it's applied sensitively, scientific skepticism may come across as arrogant, dogmatic, heartless, and dismissive of the feelings and deeply held beliefs of others ... CSICOP is imperfect. In certain cases [criticism of CSICOP] is to some degree justified. But from my point of view CSICOP serves an important social function – as a well-known organization to which media can apply when they wish to hear the other side of the story, especially when some amazing claim of pseudoscience is judged newsworthy ... CSICOP represents a counterbalance, although not yet nearly a loud enough voice, to the pseudoscience gullibility that seems second nature to so much of the media".
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- "Scientific Facts and Fictions: On the Trail Of Paranormal Beliefs at CSICOP '84". The Skeptical Inquirer. 9 (3): 197. 1985.
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- Shore, Lys Ann (1987). "Controversies in Science and Fringe Science: From Animals and SETI to Quackery and SHC". The Skeptical Inquirer. 12 (1): 12–13.
- Shore, Lys Ann (1988). "New Light on the New Age CSICOP's Chicago conference was the first to critically evaluate the New Age movement.". The Skeptical Inquirer. 13 (3): 226–235.
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- Flynn, Tom. "World Skeptics Congress Draws Over 1200 Participants". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
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- "Randi, Krauss, Kurtz Honored with Major Awards". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
- Fidalgo, Paul (2016). "CSI's Balles Prize in Critical Thinking Awarded to Julia Belluz of Vox.com". Skeptical Inquirer. 40 (5): 6.
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- "CSICOP announces winners of the first Robert P. Ballez Prize". Skeptical Inquirer. 26 (3).
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- "CSI's Robert P. Balles Award Goes to 'Guardian 'Bad Science' Columnist Ben Goldacre". Skeptical Inquirer. 31 (5): 13. 2007.
- Bupp, Nathan. "CSI's Robert P. Balles Award Goes to New York Times Science Writer Natalie Angier". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
- Karr, Barry. "CSI's Balles Prize Goes to Physicist/Author Leonard Mlodinow". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
- Lavarnway, Julia. "CSICon New Orleans 2011 - Where Meeting Awesome Skeptics Is As Easy As Saying 'Hello'". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
- Karr, Barry. "CSI's Balles Prize Goes to Richard Wiseman for Paranormality". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
- "Skeptic Authors Steven Salzberg and Joe Nickell to Receive Balles Prize in Critical Thinking". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 19 August 2016.
- "Cosmos, Joe Schwarcz Win Skeptics' Critical Thinking Prize". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
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