The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) (pronounced Psi-Cop but today known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)) was formed in 1976 at a meeting of the American Humanist Association. The growing interest in all things paranormal alarmed Paul Kurtz, the editor of The Humanist magazine, and it was his idea to form CSICOP.
CSICOP is the modern enforcer of David Hume’s philosophy. It is a secular humanist organization that masquerades as a scientific organization. It got off to a very good start because it pledged to be an impartial referee for scientific literature pertaining to the paranormal. It attracted a lot of famous academics including astronomer Carl Sagan, behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner, atheist philosopher Anthony Flew, author Martin Gardner, Harvard philosopher W.V. Quine and Marcello Truzzi, publisher of The Zetetic, a newsletter that dealt with academic research into anomalies and the paranormal. Truzzi’s magazine was supposed to become the official magazine of CSICOP. The new organization also attracted a large number of stage magicians, including James Randi, perhaps the most skeptical stage magician in the world.
Note: it’s a myth that a majority of stage magicians don’t believe that people possess psi facilities. A number of recent polls have consistently found that between 72% and 87% of the magicians belonging to professional stage magician organizations believe in ESP. James Randi is more the exception than the rule.
Over the course of the first year, it became apparent that CSICOP’s central committee was dominated by hardline anti-paranormal crusaders who acted as grand inquisitors and who saw their job as stamping out any belief in the paranormal. This approach was in direct opposition to the stated goals of the organization which was to be an impartial referee. As a result a few of their prominent scientific members quit, including Truzzi who took his magazine with him. The organization then began to publish articles in The Humanist magazine, a publication of the older American Humanist Association. Later, CSICOP began its own journal which was appropriately named The Skeptical Inquirer.
CSICOP’s first, and only scientific investigation concerned the work of Michel and Françoise Gauquelin, a French husband and wife team whose main occupation had been debunking traditional astrology. The Gauquelins did, however, uncover some compelling statistics in support of one aspect of astrology; namely that the position of the planets at the time of birth actually does appear to correlate with certain human characteristics. Their most compelling positive result was called the “Mars Effect”.
The Gauquelins’ results, published in 1975, just before the formation of CSICOP showed that out of a population of 2,088 European Sports champions, 22% were born with Mars either rising or transiting. The probability of Mars being in any two specific sectors of the sky at one’s time of birth is only 17%. The odds are millions to one against the 22% result occurring by chance.
Although the Gauquelins were mostly in the business of debunking the claims of traditional astrology, being good scientists, they did not withhold these results. The first attack against this claim came from an article in The Humanist magazine which objected to the Gauquelins scientific protocol and inferring that the statistics the Gauquelins had used were biased. The Gauquelins responded, proving themselves to be more skilled in statistics than the author of the Humanist article, and in addition threatened a lawsuit against the magazine. Kurtz, the editor of The Humanist is said to have become frantic to attack the Mars Effect in print.
Other members of CSICOP jumped into the fray and suggested that the effect was probably due to an individual’s time of birth since most births happen in the hours before dawn, and Mars appears near the sun more often than not. They proposed that the Gauquelins redo the study with NON-champions born at the same time of day as the champions to see if their birth rates also corresponded with Mars rising or in transit. If 22% of non-champions were also born at these astrological times, then the Gauquelins’ finding on athletes would not be significant.
The Gauquelins repeated the study, this time for non-champions and controlling for location and time of birth. They duly delivered the results, but Kurtz withheld them for two years. When the results finally came out, they showed that the birth rate for non-champions during the times Mars was rising or in transit was 17%, exactly what would be expected by chance alone, and not the 22% that Kurtz and other CSICOP members had expected. However a second article in the same issue of The Humanist argued that the results weren’t really valid because when female champions were dropped from the sample, the statistical significance of the results was reduced. Besides, most of the non-champions chosen for the second Gauquelin study were born in or around Paris, which for some reason further invalidated the results.
Two years later, the Skeptical Inquirer published the results of its own study on American sports champions which unequivocally disproved the Mars effect. But…
Shortly after the publication of the CSICOP study, astronomer Dennis Rawlins, who had earlier been excommunicated from CSICOP published an article called “Starbaby” in Fate magazine. Prior to his excommunication, he had been the only resident astronomer involved in the CSICOP Mars study. According to Rawlins, when the CSICOP study had been completed and the original results came in, they supported the Gauquelins’ study showing that 22% of American sports champions were born when Mars was either rising or in transit. However, Kurtz and others in the committee manipulated the results, distorting the data and making it appear that the study did not support the Mars Effect. Rawlins was thrown out of CSICOP because he had refused to go along with the ruse.
Rawlins final words on the subject were “I am still skeptical of the occult beliefs CSICOP was created to debunk. But I have changed my mind about the integrity of some of those who make a career of opposing occultism”.
A number of independent investigations backed up Rawlins’ charge, and eventually CSICOP admitted that it had “made mistakes”. However they never acknowledged Rawlins’s more serious charges that a Watergate style cover-up had occurred.
Several members resigned after reading Rawlins’ article, and CSICOP resolved never again to do another scientific study. Therefore, today, most of the opposition faced by parapsychologists and other proponents of “unusual claims” comes from an organization that has been exposed cheating and as a result, now refuses to conduct any scientific research into the paranormal itself. Its refusal to actually DO science allows CSICOP to sit on the sidelines and hurl non-scientific accusations against scientific studies without actually having to defend its conclusions against charges of fraudulent science.
In 2006, CSICOP changed its name from Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal to CSI, the “Committee for Scientific Inquiry” as a quiet acknowledgement that trying to use science to debunk the paranormal hasn’t worked out well for them. It still doesn’t perform any research of its own, and it has become simply a vigilante organization promoting a narrow brand of scientific fundamentalism. Its main occupation is to influence the media and public opinion. The name change allows it to masquerade as a non-biased scientific institute, but in reality it is really just a secular humanist organization with a huge budget. CSI, more than any other organization, accounts for the public suppression of belief in the paranormal and the media’s refusal to acknowledge religious belief as a necessary social institution. (This very important subject is covered in chapter 18.)
Today, the skeptics attack all scientific studies concerning the paranormal as either flawed or fraudulent even if the studies and their statistical analysis are immaculate. CSICOP still doesn’t do any scientific studies of its own in order to avoid scandals like “Starbaby”. They stick pretty much to collecting money from their membership and vandalizing Wikipedia and other popular media venues. They also send biased fools like James Randi around to various universities and colleges to spread the holy doctrines of secular Humanism and atheism.