|Purpose||Scientific investigation of paranormal claims|
The Comité Para, in full Comité belge pour l'Analyse Critique des parasciences ("Belgian Committee for the Critical Analysis of Parasciences"), is a Francophone Belgian skeptical non-profit organisation. Founded in 1949, the Comité Para regards itself as the originator of the modern skeptical movement. The group's motto (by Robert Rendu) is Ne rien nier a priori, ne rien affirmer sans preuve ("Do not deny anything a priori, do not assert anything without evidence").
"Comité Para" originally stood for Comité Belge pour l'Investigation Scientifique des Phénomènes Réputés Paranormaux ("Belgian Committee for Scientific Investigation of Purported Paranormal Phenomena") until it adopted its present name on 19 June 2014.
Challenging paranormal phenomena began long before the foundation of the Comité Para. For example, in the 19th century the debate raged about spiritism and the existence of spirits. The illusionist Harry Houdini (1874–1926) is seen by skeptics as a debunker of mediums, and therefore regarded as one of the founding fathers of the modern skeptical movement.
Discussion to form a committee that would regularly perform experiments with scientific controls to assess extraordinary claims originated in January 1947, after a group of academics was challenged to prove the validity of radiesthesia (the results were negative). The organisation was eventually founded by seventeen members including astronomer Sylvain Arend on 15 January 1949, and officially registered as an association without lucrative purpose on 4 June 1949. It emerged in part as a response to a pressing consumer protection problem in the aftermath of the Second World War: a predatory industry of bogus psychics was selling false hope to the grieving relatives of people who had gone missing during the war. The Comité Para tried to combat clairvoyants, astrologers, dowsers etc. American philosopher Paul Kurtz was inspired by the Comité Para to found the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in the United States in 1976 after the debate around the Mars effect (that allegedly proved astrological influences). This made that the organised modern skeptical movement became an international one, and also gave a new impulse to scientific skepticism in Belgium. The Comité was formally bilingual, but after a sleeping existence it was revived by almost exclusively French-speaking members, most of them astronomers. When in 1976 teacher Jean-Marie Gantois founded the working group Prometheus within the Dutch-speaking Society for Astronomy (VVS), that besides astrology and ufology also began taking on other pseudosciences during the 1980s, discussion rose whether Prometheus was still compatible with the aims of the VVS. One proposal was to integrate the entire working group into the Comité Para, of which several people already had a membership, but the Comité concluded that founding a separate Dutch-speaking would be a better solution. This gave rise to the Flemish SKEPP as a sister society of the Comité in 1990.
- Jean Champenois is a former spirit medium who became an illusionist and skeptic, in the line of Harry Houdini, James Randi and also Gérard Majax. Currently he organises skeptic conferences in this domain. He uses his talents as a magician to imitate the techniques mediums utilise to convince their audience that they can contact the dead.
- Jean Dommanget (1924–2014) was an astronomer and long-time president of the Comité, who took the lead in many astrology and dowsing experiments.
- Jacques Van Rillaer is the author of Les Illusions de la Psychanalyse (1980) and co-author Le Livre Noir de la psychanalyse (2005), criticising the theories of Sigmund Freud as pseudoscientific.
- Comité Para (Ed.) (2005). La science face au défi du paranormal. Brussels: Relie-Art.
- Nouvelles Sceptiques (until 2009 named Nouvelles Brèves), fanzine destined for members.
- Dommanget, Jean (1993). "Guest column: The Comité Para – A European Skeptics Committee" (PDF). Journal of Scientific Exploration. Society for Scientific Exploration. 7 (3): 317–321. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- "Une nouvelle dénomination". Comité Para website (in French). Comité Para. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- (in French) For the events that led up to the formation of the group, see chapter Historique du Comité - Les grands évènements in Comité Para (Ed.) (2005). La science face au défi du paranormal. Brussels: Relie-Art.
- Tim Trachet (5 June 2010). "Twintig jaar SKEPP in 2010" (in Dutch). SKEPP. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
- "The Fox Sisters: Spiritualism's Unlikely Founders". HistoryNet.com. 12 June 2006. Archived from the original on 17 May 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
- Hughes, Virginia (22 December 2011). "2011 Houdini Awards". Last Word on Nothing. Archived from the original on 21 June 2016. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
- "Skeptics Guide to the Universe 5X5 Episode 98". SGU Transcripts. 30 December 2010. Archived from the original on 19 February 2015. Retrieved 8 August 2016.
Everyone knows who Harry Houdini was. He is a Hungarian-born American magician, an escape artist, and he is also well known within the skeptical movement as a famous skeptic. And in fact, he started the tradition of famous magicians also being popular skeptics.
- Daniel Loxton (2013). "Why Is There a Skeptical Movement?" (PDF). The Skeptics Society website. p. 3. Retrieved 1 September 2014.
- de Jager, Kees (December 1994). "Een Europese Skeptische organisatie". Skepter (in Dutch). Stichting Skepsis. 7 (4): 11.
- "Jean Dommanget (1924 - 2014)". Comité Para website (in French). Comité Para. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- "Jacques Van Rillaer et le freudisme". Comité Para website (in French). Comité Para. 19 September 2014. Retrieved 14 December 2014.
- Olivier Mandler (30 October 2014). "Sommaires des Nouvelles Brèves / Nouvelles Sceptiques". Comité Para website (in French). Comité Para. Retrieved 14 December 2014.