From the Summer 1993 Tampa Bay Skeptics Report


Yours truly depicts "believers" as
loathsome, schizophrenic . . . (or do I?)

by Gary P. Posner

The International UFO Reporter is the bimonthly magazine of the J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS). Although the other major pro-UFO organization in the country, the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), has a larger membership, CUFOS may be the more highly regarded of the two, especially in light of MUFON's continued endorsement of Ed Walters' discredited "Gulf Breeze UFO" photographs.

IUR's editor, Jerome Clark (until recently also long-affiliated with Fate magazine), is well known for his harsh criticisms of the organized skeptics movement and its leaders, most notably Aviation Week & Space Technology reporter/editor and UFO expert Philip Klass. But Clark outdid himself in his March/April 1992 IUR editorial about the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which publishes the Skeptical Inquirer. [Late note: "CSICOP" has more recently shortened its name to "CSI" (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry).]

Entitled "That's the way the Committee crumbles," Clark's three-page piece included the following remarks:

CSICOP . . . lacks in scientific seriousness . . . (see, for [example], any of Philip J. Klass' books). . . .

Other CSICOP notables such as James Oberg . . . [have] depict[ed] us [ufologists] as cryptofascists. In UFOs and Outer Space Mysteries (1981) Oberg compared UFO groups to the "bizarre . . . irrational . . . cults which preceded the fall of democratic Germany in the 1920s." . . . Gary P. Posner, an associate of Klass [and] Oberg . . . and a member of CSICOP's UFO Subcommittee, once opined (Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1978, page 79) that believers in UFOs and other anomalous phenomena may be suffering from "ambulatory schizophrenia."

For CSICOP it is not enough to say that those with whom it disagrees are wrong. It must also depict them as loathsome human beings. . . .

[W]e have witnessed the spectacle of an organization in many ways out of control, so far gone into self-righteousness . . . that it appears convinced those who reject its rigid scientism are not only mistaken but irrational, even evil.

Neither CSICOP nor I had fared much better in the January 1992 Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. George P. Hansen's 45-page article, "CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview," citing the same 1978 Skeptical Inquirer reference, had this to say about me:

Gary Posner, an M.D. and leader of the Tampa Bay Skeptics, has claimed that believers in the paranormal may have a pathological medical condition, saying they may be "afflicted with a thought disorder that manifests in . . . a faulty sense of reality" and their "irrational behavior . . . may be more compatible with a diagnosis of ambulatory schizophrenia . . . than with mere naiveté." . . . Posner made this statement despite the fact that surveys show that over half the population in this country has had psychic experiences. . . .
And now here is, as Paul Harvey would say, "The Rest of the Story."

In the Spring 1978 Skeptical Inquirer, CSICOP chairman Paul Kurtz had singled out some paranormalists as candidates for the "Uri Award" for silliness and naiveté in parapsychological research (see pp. 90-94). One nominee had claimed the ability to communicate with the dead by employing a venus flytrap as the medium. Being a medical resident (and S.I. subscriber) at the time, such bizarre claims aroused in me the suspicion that there might be more going on than mere silliness or naiveté -- perhaps a medical condition not deserving of ridicule. I was thus motivated to write a letter to the editor of S.I. which was published in the Winter 1978 issue and which included the following speculative hypothesis:

[I]t is to this label of naiveté that I address my remarks. . . . [While] making light of such persons by nominating them for a "Uri Award" may seem appropriate, one is obligated to consider the possibility that some of these people may be not merely naive but, rather, afflicted with a thought disorder that manifests in . . . a faulty sense of reality. "Ambulatory schizophrenia" is an entity in which the subject, generally free of symptoms, develops them only under certain circumstances . . .

It is my opinion that much of the irrational behavior of many [I now wish I had said "some"] paranormalists may be more compatible with a diagnosis of ambulatory schizophrenia (or a close cousin thereof) than with mere naiveté. . . . [A]s we continue to encounter bizarre intellectual behavior . . . [this] possibility . . . should be considered before bestowing a "Uri Award" for silliness or naiveté.

Clark's first published reference to my letter (as far as I am aware) was in his May/June 1985 IUR editorial, as an illustration of how organized skepticism is a "Crackpot Enterprise." Clark implied that my comments had been directed toward innocent "believers in UFOs and other anomalies" (such as his typical readers) rather than toward irrational paranormalists. My best efforts to clarify the context of my comments for Clark (including informing him of my own prior belief in UFOs, the result of naiveté rather than mental illness) fell upon stubbornly deaf ears. And when it was made clear to me that my corrective "Letter to the Editor" of IUR would be followed by a Clark rejoinder accusing me of insincerity, "deliberate obfuscation," and of having been assigned some "function" or "role" as a "debunking party-liner," I withdrew the letter from publication.

Clark went a step further in his January 1990 "UFO Reporter" column in Fate magazine. After again implying that my 1978 letter had pertained to mere "believers in UFOs and other anomalies," Clark added, "In other words, if you disagree with CSICOP's pronouncements on UFOs and other anomalies, you must be nuts."

But his latest effort in IUR was the last straw. To make certain that Clark did indeed consider me among those CSICOP members who "must depict [those with whom we disagree] as loathsome human beings," I reinitiated our correspondence and asked him. Clark responded: "From all available evidence . . . you consider ufologists to be a loathsome lot . . . moral lepers. . . . I hate to tell you this, Doc, but the shoe fits. Wear it in style."

James Oberg (mentioned earlier) is a NASA engineer, writer and scholar (particularly with regard to the Soviet space program). He has submitted a "Letter to the Editor" to IUR which reads in part:

On page 102 of . . . UFOs and Outer Space Mysteries . . . I conclude a chapter debunking a collection of crackpot claims concerning alien life discovered on the moon with a complaint that the uncritical way publishers promulgated such obviously loony material indicated poor judgement and disregard for elementary fact-checking. . . . [I] drew a parallel with the wide-scale pseudo-scientific crazes of Germany in the 1920s . . . [when] the decline of public common sense provided fertile ground for the collapse of democracy. I still cannot believe that any rational person could so grossly misinterpret that reasonable passage into an attack on "ufologists" (who are nowhere mentioned in the chapter) as "cryptofascists" (neither that term nor any accepted synonym or euphemism is used . . .). Mr. Clark's vicious accusation is thus totally unsupported. . . . Since I have never held the loathsome opinions Mr. Clark unfairly attributes to me . . . I might expect a clarification, retraction, and apology from IUR, but I'm told I'll have to be satisfied with publication of this statement, no doubt accompanied by more self-justifying excuses from Mr. Clark. . . . A remedial high school class in "Reading for Comprehension" might be in order for anyone who suspects that there is any validity at all in Clark's nasty fantasy-prone misinterpretation of my words.

But given the defamatory nature of Clark's accusations, I was not content merely to write another "Letter to the Editor." In response to a communication from my attorney, which requested a retraction, apology and clarification, Clark, while citing references allegedly demonstrating that I consider ufologists to be loathsome, maintained that the "loathsome human being" paragraph did not even pertain to me (or to Klass or Oberg), but rather only to James Randi, with whom the subsequent paragraph of his editorial dealt.

Yet, Clark offered to "insert a paragraph into our next editorial stating Dr. Posner's concerns and making it clear that he does not consider 'pro-paranormal activists,' including ufologists, to be 'loathsome human beings.'" I accepted, and submitted (via counsel) a proposed text.

In response, Clark wrote that he "would be delighted to publish a letter from Dr. Posner. . . . We would simply change third-person references to Dr. Posner to first-person references and publish the statement in the 'Letters' section of the first available issue of IUR." My attorney, noting the apparent "retraction of your offer . . . which we assumed had been made in good faith, to 'insert a paragraph into [your] next editorial,'" conveyed my willingness nevertheless to "compromise" on this point of contention, provided that my "'Letter' . . . not be subjected to an adversarial critique." My "Letter" was then resubmitted as such, and CUFOS President Mark Rodeghier (who had co-signed Clark's letters to my attorney) wrote back to inform us that it would be (and it now has been) published in the March/April 1993 issue of IUR. The text follows:

Your March/April 1992 editorial highly critical of CSICOP, in which I was named as a member, contained the following charge: [I then recounted the "loathsome human being" and "evil" passages.]

I wish to clarify for the record that despite my fundamental disagreements with many paranormalists, including your editor, I do not believe that those with whom I disagree must be loathsome, evil human beings (nor do my colleagues). Further, as I reminded Mr. Clark in 1985 correspondence, the 1978 "ambulatory schizophrenia" remark . . . had in fact been made in reference to what I termed the "irrational" and "bizarre" behavior exhibited by a number of paranormalists, not to mere "belief" in UFOs and other anomalous phenomena. . . . In fact, I was a believer in UFOs well into my 20s, and was even a member of the pro-UFO organization NICAP in my younger "pre-critical thinking" days.

But even my agreement to this "compromise" had to be trumped by CUFOS. Rodeghier's letter had also stipulated that my "Letter" would be (and it was) accompanied by the following words: "The editors of IUR cannot respond to this letter from Dr. Posner because his legal counsel demanded that we provide no 'adversarial critique.'" Jim Oberg's harsher letter has yet to be published, though Oberg tells me that Clark has promised him that it will be.

As for George Hansen's mischaracterization in JASPR of my 1978 letter, I have submitted a Letter to the Editor, and have been in frequent communication with JASPR's editor, Rhea White, who has consistently expressed to me her agreement with my position in this dispute. Hansen, on the other hand, has submitted to White a rejoinder to my "Letter" which I find defamatory and infinitely more objectionable than his original remarks. Discussions continue as to how this situation will ultimately play out, but the fair and rational approach being taken by White stands in stark contrast to that of some of her colleagues. I may not even need to rehire my attorney -- this time!


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