Here is the text of my reply to Zeiler's attack
(followed by replies from others)

 

Having declared over the Internet in a 10/14 post that I "would have been a great Nazi doctor in World War II" (on the basis of his having read some out-of-context quotes of mine from an 18-year-old letter), Zeiler now fails to issue the anticipated retraction and apology upon receipt of the facts.

While Zeiler incorrectly identifies me as "President and CEO" of the Tampa Bay Skeptics (I am neither), I am the group's founder, and have edited and published its quarterly newsletter (and probably written the bulk of its contents) since 1988. I am also the author of the chapter on Noreen Renier in "Psychic Sleuths: ESP and Sensational Cases" (Prometheus Books, 1994), a number of "News & Comment" articles in Skeptical Inquirer (e.g., Sept/Oct 1996, Sept/Oct 1995, Summer 1994 [book review], Summer 1990), and articles in Free Inquiry (e.g., Spring 1990, Summer 1988, Winter 1986-87), as well as a series of eighteen "Skeptically Speaking" articles in Tampa Bay Mensa's newsletter from 1991-1994.

My "paper trail" also includes a number of TV and radio appearances, newspaper interviews, and public speaking engagements. It is a mile long, and (if I must say so myself -- although many others have told me so) my work is among the best written and most fair in the field.

I have never believed nor stated that mere belief in the paranormal, or in extraterrestrial UFOs, is the result of mental illness. In fact, Zeiler fails to reveal that I recently sent him articles from two different 1960s newspapers documenting _my own belief in UFOs as an activist in a pro-UFO group (NICAP)_ (I was actually a believer in UFOs, and to some extent ESP, well into my 20s)!

As some previous participants in this controversy have noted in their posts, my 1978 Letter to the Editor of Skeptical Inquirer was not a blanket indictment or medical diagnosis of "believers," but rather a hedged, speculative hypothesis, and a cautionary note to CSICOP about ridiculing people so intellectually bizarre as to suggest (at least to me) the possibility of more than mere silliness or naivete.

Since Zeiler chopped it to pieces, this post will continue with the entirety of my reply to George Hansen's article in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, as well as his reply, and my reply to that. This will then be followed by comments from Hansen's editor, who sides with me (as Zeiler is aware, having been sent a copy of her letter).

= = = My "Letter to the Editor" of JASPR [April 1994; 88(2):181-183]: = = =

I have just been made aware of George Hansen's (1992) article entitled "CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview," which on page 42 quoted from a Skeptical Inquirer "Letter to the Editor" in which I had speculated that perhaps the "irrational behavior of many [I wish I had said "some"] paranormalists" may be explainable by "a thought disorder that manifests in . . . a faulty sense of reality." It would be easy to infer incorrectly from Hansen's out-of-context quotes and from the sentence that follows them that I had offered this hypothesis as a blanket explanation for belief in the paranormal.

As I attempted to clarify in 1985 correspondence with Jerome Clark of the Hynek Center for UFO Studies, one of Hansen's acknowledged sources, who also had not appreciated the context of my comments when he quoted from them in a May/June 1985 International UFO Reporter (IUR) editorial, my 1978 letter was in response to remarks made by CSICOP chairman Paul Kurtz in the Spring/Summer 1978 Skeptical Inquirer. Kurtz (p. 94) had ridiculed and nominated for a "Uri Award" for "naivete" paranormalists such as Julius Weinberger, who claimed to have communicated with the dead by using a Venus flytrap as the medium.

As a compassionate physician, I suggested in my letter that although "it is inevitable that examples arise in which Committee [CSICOP] members marvel aloud (and in print) at the naivete of the proponents in question . . . [and while] making light of such persons by nominating them for a 'Uri Award' may seem appropriate," in cases of "bizarre intellectual behavior . . . the possibility of a true thought disorder should be considered before bestowing a 'Uri Award' for silliness or naivete." Translation: One should not ridicule those who actually may be afflicted with a subtle form of mental illness, no matter how ridiculous their claims may sound. And although Clark dismissed my response to his remarks in IUR by accusing me of "engaging in what I can only assume is deliberate obfuscation," he did acknowledge to me (in a personal letter) that at least the Weinberger case "should be in the psychiatric [rather than the 'paranormal'] literature."

= = = Hansen's reply (as published immediately below my letter): = = =

Posner objects to my quoting from his letter published in the Skeptical Inquirer, saying that I took it out of context. His letter cited no previous article or comment. Its "context" existed in his mind.

Now Posner clarifies his meaning and implies that notions of "bizarre intellectual behavior . . . a true thought disorder," etc., apply to Julius Weinberger. Although I might have some quibbles with Weinberger's work, it is clearly described and constitutes a reasoned, rational approach. Perhaps Posner would label Thomas Edison an "ambulatory schizophrenic" for his attempts to build a machine to contact the deceased.

In his final paragraph, Posner proclaims himself to be "a compassionate physician." I feel fortunate that I am not his patient.

= = = My published reply to Hansen's reply (same issue): = = =

In response to the preceding reply of George Hansen to my "Letter," I would point out that the "context" of my 1978 letter to the Skeptical Inquirer is apparent throughout. The letter began with a reference to how "Committee [CSICOP] members marvel . . . in print [i.e., in the Skeptical Inquirer] . . . at the 'naivete' of the proponents [of the paranormal] in question," and concluded with a reference to CSICOP's inappropriate (perhaps) "bestowing [of the] 'Uri Award' for silliness or naivete." Nowhere did I focus on the approximately 50% of Americans who are merely passive "believers in the paranormal," as Hansen's article recklessly charges.

Though Edison may have believed in life after death, and may even have attempted to build a machine to contact the deceased, I am unaware of any scientific claims on his part to have successfully and repeatedly made such contact, as Weinberger claims to have done.

If my medical colleagues were to openly ridicule a patient who believed that he was in frequent communication with the dead through the use of a Venus flytrap (or some other comparable belief), I wonder how Hansen would have me react?

= = =

Although his editor offered him the opportunity, Hansen declined to get in the "last word."

Hansen's editor, Rhea White, had this to say to me in a personal letter dated 10/6/93:

"Sometimes I think I must be crazy because I can see your point and others apparently can't, but I'm too far gone now to change. I still remain confident that any sensible person reading your letter is bound to see your point no matter what Hansen writes. Otherwise blue is red and up is down. I plan to stick to the view that up is up." (Emphasis in original.)  [See some of our correspondences, including this 10/6/93 letter]

[Late Addendum: Interestingly, in his 2001 book The Trickster and the Paranormal, Hansen comments on the mental stability of UFOlogists and paranormalists, according to David Perkins' book review in issue #80 of the British publication Magonia (January 2003): "Hansen counsels that ufologists and paranormal researchers must have an extremely high tolerance for ambivalence, ambiguity and paradox to avoid disillusionment and personal destabilisation."]

= = =

A few final words regarding some odds and ends in Zeiler's "Conclusion on Posner's comments":

CSICOP is, of course, not a "cult," nor is it "dedicated to debunking all paranormal claims."

My medical specialty is Internal Medicine, and in 1978 I was a medical resident in training (I made this clear in the line just above "Maryland General Hospital" at the bottom of my 1978 letter, but that line was deleted by the editor).

The "Uri Awards" are not "presented by the Skeptical Inquirer to ridicule what they perceive to be the most radical of paranormal researchers and proponents." They were, years ago, bestowed by James Randi, a founding fellow of CSICOP (which publishes Skeptical Inquirer). I think Randi may still occasionally bestow them, though not under the auspices of CSICOP.

= = = = = End of my reply as it was posted on the newsgroups at the time = = = = =



In hindsight I would now amend my comment that CSICOP is not "dedicated to debunking all paranormal claims." If "debunk" means simply to remove the "bunk" and see how much "real" evidence remains, then CSICOP and I are indeed dedicated to that, as any scientifically oriented organization/investigator should be.

Below are a few additional replies to Zeiler's attack on me, as posted on the newsgroups. (I have herein taken the liberty of deleting the repetitively copied/pasted portions of the earlier messages being referred to in these replies, but have left intact the original spelling/grammar errors.)


From: elwest@teleport.com (Wes Taylor)
Date: 14 Oct 1996 15:52:26 GMT

I read the article in question and Posner did back up the statement. I can understand Brian's reaction. The article did a dandy job of describing Brian's problems dealing with reality. Hit a little close to home, did it brian?


Date: Sun, Nov 3, 1996 10:41 AM EDT
X-From: JKCason@gnn.com (John Cason)
Sender: JKCason@gnn.com (Kathleen Cason)

The last sentence in the first paragraph established the context for [Posner's] letter.

The first sentence in the second paragraph again referred to the context.

The last sentence of the third paragraph referred again to the context of the Uri Awards.

The complete context would include not just Posner's 7-sentence letter, but also the earlier remarks in Skeptical Inquirer which led to Posner's letter. Hansen's version certainly distorts Posner's intent, because it fails to mention that Posner was criticizing the Uri Awards, which were mentioned indirectly in the first paragraph and specifically in the other 2 paragraphs of the letter. Three references in 7 sentences should make it clear that the Uri Awards were important to understanding the meaning of Posner's letter. Hansen's mention of "half the population in this country" further distorts the letter by making it sound like Posner was describing all believers in the paranormal. Regarding your claim that anybody can see that Hansen did not take parts of the letter out of context, the editor of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research wrote to Posner, "I still remain confident that any _sensible_ person reading your letter is bound to see your point no matter what Hansen writes."

No context? That is absurd. When you called Posner a Nazi, did that remark have no context?

The sentence that you object to includes the terms "ambulatory schizophrenia" and "naivete." Ambulatory schizophrenia was mentioned in Posner's previous sentence, the last sentence of the second paragraph. Naivete is mentioned twice in each of the 3 paragraphs in the letter. The sentence is not just tied to the rest of the letter, it is chained to it, with far more links to other sentences and other paragraphs than is seen in most letters to magazines or posts to Usenet. Describing it as an "...independent thought formation, without any ties to any earlier themes" is absolutely incorrect.

Z> Then Posner suggested that Hansen should have known that
Z> Posner was referring explicitly to the Uri Award nominees
Z> themselves, since he mentioned them in the first paragraph.

And in the second and third. That's 100% of the 3 paragraphs.

Posner refers to bizarre behavior, not bizarre claims. "Ambulatory" means that such persons are coping without therapy. Your description of Posner's views is absolutely twisted.

Count the times that "naivete" and "naive" are mentioned, and note that they occur in all 3 paragraphs. Note that the Uri Awards are referred to in all 3 paragraphs. Note that "behavior" is mentioned 2 times in the third paragraph. Note that Posner is criticizing the Uri Awards as being inappropriate when given to some individuals.

Posner's main focus was *behavior*, not types of paranormal beliefs.

Z> It doesn't look to me as though Posner simply wrote
Z> the letter rather poorly.

You read it poorly, and only after posting your attack on Posner.

Hansen did not mention that Posner was criticizing the practice of giving Uri Awards to people exhibiting irrational behavior. Posner mentioned that in every paragraph in his letter.

You didn't even know that Posner was criticizing the Uri Awards. You hadn't read Posner's letter when you posted your attack, and Hansen didn't mention it, so you didn't know. Sounds like out of context to me.

It seems to me that you are the one engaging in hasty damage control after attacking a letter that you hadn't bothered to read. That was reckless and thoughtless. How did you miss the mention of the Uri Awards in the third paragraph?

What do I think of Posner's letter? It was a response to the Uri Awards, and clearly wasn't worthy of such a fuss (Hansen's article, Clark's editorial, Brian's multiple Usenet posts on the subject). The fuss was fueled by the lack of proper context in Hansen's article, but Posner has said that he wishes he had said "some" rather than "many." In another post Brian said, "I have no doubt that an overlap exists to SOME extent between paranormal belief and schizophrenia." Can we be sure that there aren't a few paranormal believers out there who are offended by Brian's statement? Will someone quote Brian's sentence without the "to SOME extent" qualifier?

I think that it is almost always a mistake to characterize the opposition with a disparaging label, such as schizophrenic, liar, groupie, cultist, idiot, moron, delusional, or dishonest. It leads to complacency, sloppy thinking, and underestimation of the other side, not to mention that others may perceive it as a sign of a weak argument. The great irony of this thread is that Posner's "many" was attacked by Brian, who regularly uses the insults in the above list.


From: Mike Hutchinson (mike@hutch.demon.co.uk)
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 1996 23:24:47 +0100

This demonstrates the danger of taking literally a quote from a secondary source which is so misleading. Posner had two qualifiers in the paragraph from which the above selected words were taken. These were "some" and "may".

Mr. Zeiler, perhaps you now realise why Posner's 'findings' weren't published in a peer reviewed journal. Letters are rarely, if ever, peer reviewed.


From: gothic@netaxs.com (Matt Kriebel)
Date: 16 Oct 1996 21:39:35 GMT

Conveniently deleted from your [Zeiler's] comment was that he suggested that *some* believers in certain phenomenoe *may* be suffering from pathology. Ergo your attack-puppy premise is based on the idea that he said thatsomehow *all* beleivers were mentally ill. He did not.

The premise (and it is really hard for a 3 paragraph letter to truly establish one) was based on a reaction of the ridicule of a few beleivers. An action Posner objected to on the basis that some beleivers ( I'm not sure if the ridicule was in reaction to anyone specific) may be ill. ergo by removal of the terms 'some' and 'may' and conveniently forgetting that this was a letter and not an article.

The rest of Brian's arguements are based on his faulty attack premise in the first place. Ergo, since Brian refused to do proper research on this matter from the start I hardly see why any justification of Posner's comments is needed vs. Brain's faulty and shredded premise.


From: gothic@netaxs.com (Matt Kriebel)
Date: 16 Oct 1996 00:50:03 GMT

. . . Hell, Brian didn't bother to check up the original *article* before frothing and foaming at the mouth about alleged things that Posner has not said. That quoting is deceptive in a very sly and sneaky way. There are large gaps, brackets, and such desgined to make a consideration by Posner look like a flat out 'Beleivers are Kooks' statement that Brian can flame with glee.

Given his overall comentary throughout this thread, I say Brian deserves censure of the worst kind for this low tactic and research.


From: tommyboy@loop.com (Tommyboy)
Date: Tue, 15 Oct 1996 13:13:31 -0800

. . . Posner is simply proposing a theory; he's not claiming to have found an answer. I might also add that a recent analysis by Joe Nickell of John Mack's "Abductions" found that *all* of his subjects used in the book exhibited some, and in most cases, all of the "symptoms" of fantasy proneness (Skeptical Inquirer, Vol. 20, No. 3). Now whether fantasy proneness equates a "thought disorder" is debatable. But Posner's theory that the personality might be a factor in paranormal beliefs (in this case abduction) is certainly applicable.


From: tommyboy@loop.com (Tommyboy)
Date: Wed, 16 Oct 1996 14:33:53 -0800

. . . The final sentence of the third and final paragraph reads as follows: "However, as we continue to encounter *bizarre* intellectual behavior, refractory to reasoned arguments, the possibility of a true thought disorder should be considered before bestowing a 'Uri Award' for silliness or naivete." [emphasis added].

And in the second paragraph Posner suggests that "some of these people may not merely be naive but, rather, afflicted with a thought disorder that manifests in, among other possible symptoms, a *faulty sense of reality*" [emphasis added].

THERE is your qualification. When can we expect to see a retraction?


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