I’ve been talking with my mate Steve Hume, who sometimes posts comments here. When Steve got interested in psi research some years ago he did some research on sceptics, which brought him into contact with the late Marcello Truzzi. (Truzzi, a sociology professor, is remembered as the ‘moderate’ sceptic who was part of the CSICOP crowd at its inception, but quickly fell out with them.) Truzzi sent him copies of his resignation letters, and we thought we’d share them here.
The story is often referred to in books that describe the sceptics’ movement - those that aren’t written by sceptics, that is. Truzzi didn’t believe there was such a thing as paranormal phenomena and he must have been pretty sure about that, because Paul Kurtz, who was the driving force behind CSICOP (now the CSI), called him ‘the sceptic’s sceptic’. I don’t know if Truzzi ever wavered. But he did become concerned about the intolerance shown by his colleagues, and that seems to have become his main preoccupation. Eventually he talked about them as any psi-proponent would, as ‘scoffers not sceptics’ who ‘block honest inquiry’.
Parapsychologists really want to play the game by the proper statistical rules. They're very staid. They thought they could convince these sceptics but the sceptics keep raising the goalposts. It's ironic, because real psychic researchers are very committed to doing real science, more than a lot of people in science are. Yet they get rejected, while we can be slipshod in psychology and sociology and economics and get away with it. We're not painted as the witchdoctors, but they are.
The first of the letters is dated August 10, 1977, and is addressed to CSICOP fellows in his capacity as editor of their magazine The Zetetic (the forerunner to Skeptical Inquirer). An executive meeting had just decided, against Truzzi’s wishes, to drop the scholarly format and turn it into something more ‘hard hitting’. That wasn’t his thing, so he resigned as editor. He also complained that although he was co-chairman of the executive committee he was being left out of the loop. He asked for a vote of confidence, and having failed to get it resigned his position as co-chairman, although he remained a member of the committee.
The tone of this first letter is calm and resigned, but it becomes sharper in the second. Truzzi had just discovered that Kurtz has gone behind his back to the other committee members and vetoed his request to be given CSICOP’s mailing list. Kurtz appears to have suspected that Truzzi wished to start a rival magazine and continue calling it The Zetetic. Truzzi admits he wanted to go on producing a scholarly as opposed to a popular journal, but says he had never contemplated calling it The Zetetic – he just wanted to be sure that CSICOP’s new magazine would be called something different. It looked to him as though Kurtz et al wanted to ‘corner the market’.
I would have expected any new scholarly Journal that helped us reach our goal of educating the public, spreading the truth about claims of the paranormal, etc., to be highly welcomed by all of you. Instead, I am being accused of being divisive. I am also concerned about the growing lack of tolerance within our ranks. Instead of encouraging debate and reason among us - demonstrating our openness and balance — the reaction seems to be against any form of dissent even of the kind that merely differentiates between normal and hard-line skepticism —disregarding the obvious point that all of us are skeptics and not believers. I begin to see less difference between the believers and us in terms of the orthodoxy being demanded.
He ends by demanding that the committee stop freezing him out of their deliberations.
I have consistently sought to be above-board about my views and differences with all of you. I think I should expect the same in return. I grow weary of having to defend my actions and finding my motives questioned by those who should know better. Since I have given disproportionately of my time, effort, and resources to this Committee, I shouldn't have to defend myself against innuendo which all of you should have reason to question. I shouldn't have to be writing a memo like this.
The final letter is dated October 29, 1977. It’s quite terse:
I hereby resign from the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. I ask that my name, my views, and my work be dissociated from the Committee.
This unpleasant decision does not result from any change in my skeptical views towards claims of the paranormal. It comes about- because I find that my views towards both what constitutes a truly scientific attitude toward such claims and what should be a democratic structure within our Committee are not being reflected in the statements of the Chairman, Paul Kurtz, or the actions of the Executive Council. Since Fellows of the Committee not on the Executive Council are given no vote and are viewed as merely "advisory," I 'see no way in which my original goals for our Committee can be met. These goals included objective inquiry prior to judgement and clear separation between the policies of the Committee and those of the American Humanist Association and The Humanist magazine. I have come to believe that Paul Kurtz does not completely share those goals.
My thanks to those of you who have supported my efforts.
This sort of politicking goes on all the time, where internal dissent is crushed. Looked at from CSICOP’s point of view, Truzzi’s defenestration makes sense. They were fighting a war, and they couldn’t let themselves be distracted by doubters in their midst.
But the affair is interesting in the way it highlights the switch in CSICOP thinking from science to ideology. The truth about the paranormal didn’t have to be thrashed out by clever minds, on the basis of scientific research. It was obviously nonsense; the approach should be based on advocacy, not exploration. Also it needed to be accessible to a wide public, in the way that a scholarly journal would not. Dealing with it in an academic context would legitimise it as a potentially meaningful subject.
So Truzzi had to be frozen out.
For me there is still an unanswered question in all of this, which is what Truzzi really thought. I’m not completely, one hundred per cent certain that he actually was as sceptical as he appeared to be, or perhaps even as he thought he was. Kurtz and the others may have felt the same. A part of him wasn’t sure, which was why a scientific approach to scepticism was important to him. He needed to nail the thing, which the others didn’t, because they already knew the truth.
In later years Truzzi apparently struck up a friendship with Uri Geller, on the grounds - so one learns from Wikipedia, a reliably sceptical source – that he admired the success Geller had made of pretending to be psychic. That’s how a sceptic would explain it, but I’d guess that a small part of Truzzi might have been fascinated by Geller’s feats – if unwilling to admit it. It's the same paradox as Houdini’s friendship with Arthur Conan Doyle, an utterly convinced spiritualist. In some sceptics one glimpses a sort of residual fascination, that peeps through their otherwise assured claims of disbelief.