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Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

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The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, or CSICOP, is an organization formed to encourage open minded, critical investigation of paranormal and pseudoscience claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. It is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1976.

According to CSICOP's charter, the organization exists to pursue six major goals:

  1. Maintain a network of people interested in critically examining paranormal, fringe science, and other claims, and in contributing to consumer education.
  2. Prepare bibliographies of published materials that carefully examine such claims.
  3. Encourage research by objective and impartial inquiry in areas where it is needed.
  4. Convene conferences and meetings.
  5. Publish articles that examine claims of the paranormal.
  6. Do not reject claims on a priori grounds, antecedent to inquiry, but examine them objectively and carefully.

In its 27-year history, CSICOP has conducted investigations into a vast number of paranormal claims, ranging from Bigfoot and UFO sightings to self-proclaimed psychics, to questionable pseudosciences, astrology, alternative medicines, and religious cults. Notable members of CSICOP have included TV science program host Bill Nye, Isaac Asimov, Dr. Carl Sagan, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Paul Kurtz, and many others.

As the publishers of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer, the committee disseminates information about results of such inquiries to the scientific community and the public.

CSICOP's investgations into claims of paranormal phenomena have been largely critical and unrelenting, and its statements and publications debunking its targets have been quite harsh at times. This has caused the organization's critics to accuse its members of having a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Supporters of paranormal beliefs often claim that the group has a fixed opinion that paranormal phenomena do not exist, regardless of any evidence presentend to them that such phenomena do indeed exist. CSICOP's response to these criticisms has been to state that no definite, peer-reviewed evidence of the existence of paranormal phenomena has ever been presented. CSICOP claims that each and every instance of claimed paranormal activity has failed to stand up under scientific scrutiny. Parapsychologists claim that, on the contrary, the body of scientific evidence for certain categories of psi phenomena holds up very well to scientific scrutiny; however, CSICOP members are not convinced by the evidence cited by parapsychologists to back up their claims.

CSICOP's harsh criticism of paranormal phenomena, pseudoscience, and fringe groups that encourage these practices have won it a large number of enemies. Some of these groups have researched the organization's apparent failures, and promoted them as a way of "proving" CSICOP's supposed lack of credibility. In 1977, a government raid on the offices of the Church of Scientology uncovered considerable evidence of the organization's misdeeds, including a plot by Scientology to discredit CSICOP by forging CIA documents. The documents seized by the FBI described a plan to spread rumors that CSICOP was actually a front group for the CIA. (Source: Toronto Globe and Mail, January 25, 1980.)

CSICOP also states that the various pro-paranormal factions have exerted a vast amount of energy, time, and money to ensure that the "grey areas" surrounding their fields of study remain in flux, largely in order to protect their profits and sources of revenue. The group's investigations into pseudoscience have shown that the field of paranormal phenomena, alternative medicine, and pseudoscience is often quite profitable. One of CSICOP's major concerns about the persistence of the belief in magical thinking and the paranormal is the signifcant risk it poses to the people who depend on pseudoscience to treat various life-threatening ailments and situations. One slogan originated by CSICOP concerning the profitability of pseudoscience states: Junk science books sell far more than real science.

See also: Mars effect

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