The Skepticality podcast and Skeptic Mag’s web site (9-page PDF file) have picked up on something I wrote on 5 July 2006. Thus, to keep you in the know, Dear Reader, I’ve copied the entry to Aard as well.
Skepticism, for those of you who don’t use the word fifteen times a day, means an unwillingness to believe anything without good reason. These days, it’s also an international movement that can be seen as the antithesis of a) New Age, b) pseudoscience. Skeptics don’t believe in herbal remedies, astrology, spiritism or self-improvement coaches. But they do believe in rational scientific enquiry and deliberation.
I’m one of the editors of the Swedish skeptic magazine Folkvett. It’s a quarterly publication of the Swedish Skeptic Society, Föreningen Vetenskap och Folkbildning. (This actually means “The Society (for) Science and Popular Enlightenment”.) I’m also a subscriber to two big US skeptic magazines, Skeptical Enquirer and Skeptic Magazine. Skeptic Magazine is good fun, always a lot to read. But I’m dropping Skeptical Inquirer. It takes me a quarter of an hour to flip through it, because there’s very little in it I want to read. Here’s why.
S.I.’s content appears to be written by old men for old men. Now, many elderly people of course retain their intellectual vigor and curiosity. But many don’t. And few of them realise what they’ve lost. We all run the risk of becoming slightly pompous, a bit too fond of hearing our own voices, of losing touch with what happens now, holding on to what we learned in the prime of our lives as if it were timeless wisdom. (Ask me about this in 2046 and check out how I’m doing.)
The summer issue of S.I. reached me today. On the cover is a lady of about 65, holding a giant magnet to her head: the cover story is about medicinal magnets, which are of course a load of crap. It was written by the celebrated professor Bruce L. Flamm, who has practiced obstetrics and gynaecology for over 20 years and looks fiftyfivish in photographs.
Other features and columns in this issue were written by:
- D. Alan Bensley (57)
- Mario Bunge (87)
- Kendrick Frazier (about 65? S.I.’s editor-in-chief. He’s been an journal editor at least since 1969)
- Ragnar Levi (45)
- Joe Nickell (62)
- Massimo Pigliucci (42)
- Massimo Polidoro (about 35?)
- Paul Quincey (about 50?. PhD 1986)
- Robert Sheaffer (about 60? CSICOP Fellow since 1977)
They’re all men, and their mean age appears to be about 55. This is perhaps not surprising given the age and gender of the editor-in-chief. And there’s no denying that these guys have seniority and authority. But there’s something lacking. A lot of the articles in S.I. seem to be about hoaxes and “mysteries” current when I was a kid. Uri Geller is still very much an ongoing concern in S.I. And in the current issue they discuss Central American crystal skulls again! Every issue carries an ad where the reader is invited to provide for the journal in his will.
I certainly don’t mean to say that all old folks are boring. But I do believe that, sadly, most old folks were a bit more fun back before they became old. Ideally, I think a journal should have contributors of various ages and genders, to tap the insights of people whose minds have been formed in different times and environments. So until Skeptical Inquirer lowers the mean age of its contributors and finds a few more ladies, I’ll stick to Skeptic Magazine.