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SkepticSkeptic

Circulation: 54,000
Date of Birth: 1992
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $6.95
Natural Habitat: To the left of your Mythbusters! DVD collection

Skeptical Inquirer

Circulation: 50,000
Date of Birth: 1976
Frequency: Bimonthly
Price: $4.95
Natural Habitat: To the right of your Mythbusters! DVD collection

By Callie Enlow

Come one, come all! Step right up and buyourmiracle snake oil!Communicate with the dearly departed!Teach your schoolchildrenIntelligent Design!

In a world where UFOs are sighted daily, where The Secret books and DVDs go platinum, and where reality television shows center on haunted houses, Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer exist to bring us back to earth. Skeptical Inq

According to both publications, the skeptic is less a know-it-all bubble-burster than the Lone Ranger of reason battling against an onslaught of misinformation. Even Lone Rangers need some support, and modern skeptics find solace in two organizations: The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which funds Skeptical Inquirer, and the Skeptics Society, which publishes Skeptic. Furtherance of science and the scientific method are the main goals of both groups; exposing hokum and phonies is just a perk. Members of both organizations—primarily doctors, journalists and scientists—contribute the bulk of the magazines’ features.

The two publications are the only magazines for skeptics in the country, and, given their small readerships, one wonders whether the movement might benefit from producing only one. Both Dr. Paul Kurtz, founder of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and Dr. Michael Shermer, co-founder of The Skeptics Society (both are de facto publishers of their organizations’ respective magazines) seem skeptical of the idea, though neither criticized the other organization or publication. When asked about the necessity for two skeptic publications, Dr. Shermer replied, “There’s a market for it and plenty of articles to publish, topics to cover [and] controversies to investigate.” Dr. Kurtz said of Skeptic, “They do good work and we’re similar in many senses, but we have a much broader base,” pointing out that The Committee of Skeptical Inquiry has many international Centers of Inquiry.

Like two scientists racing to reach the same conclusion first, both Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer state their claims in a similar way. The magazines mainly publish stories centered on scientific controversy; predictably they are sourced to the highest standard. Talking chimps? Bogus. The data collection was flawed, according to Dr. Clive Wynn’s assessment in Skeptic. The dating website eHarmony.com’s “scientific” romantic successes? Not so amazing if you consider the company’s unpublicized failure rate, says Skeptical Inquirer editor Benjamin Radford, in his monthly column.

Surprisingly, both reviewed issues have lengthy articles featuring respected biologists taking aim at Richard Dawkins’ skeptical atheist book The God Delusion. The ubiquitous Dawkins is on both Skeptic’s editorial board and part of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Pet topics of the magazines include alien theories, creationism and historical myths. Both also semi-frequently debunk popular conspiracy theories, such as those involving John F. Kennedy’s assassination, denial of the Holocaust and The Da Vinci Code.

The editors of Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer have so much fun disproving trendy science and cultural myths that it seems they have forgotten their art departments. Photography is of the stock variety in Skeptical Inquirer and totally absent from the matte inside pages of Skeptic. The stately Skeptical Inquirer displays an odd orange and gray color scheme on its glossy pages. The nonprofit magazine, which switched from quarterly to bimonthly eight years ago, is considerably lighter than the quarterly Skeptic. The costs of the slicker cover and better binding of Skeptic may be funded by its scant advertisements, many for books authored by well-known members of the skeptic community.

Several of those familiar names crop up in both magazines’ editorial and committee boards, and lists of contributors. Skeptic positively reviews Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World’s Most Elusive Creatures, a book written by Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell, both on the masthead at Skeptical Inquirer. Social psychologist Carol Tavris is a longtime contributor to Skeptical Inquirer and also is on the Editorial Board at Skeptic. Dr. Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic, even contributed an article to the more established Skeptical Inquirer in 1993, the year after his magazine launched.

Despite the similarities, there is one marked difference. For the questioning family, Skeptic includes a regular back-of-book section called “Junior Skeptic,” essentially a 12-page magazine for young adults. According to Dr. Shermer, “[Junior Skeptic] is a way of teaching how science works by exploring how it doesn’t work.” Separately edited by Daniel Loxton and Pat Linse, the section has a more graphics-oriented layout and ample exploration of a single topic (like a claim that aliens built the Wonders of the World) in each issue. Of the two magazines, this is the one element that goes furthest in reaching out to a new audience.

The biggest fault of both magazines may be that, like many partisan political publications, they know their audience a little too well. Most subscribers are members of The Skeptics Society or have ties to The Center of Skeptical Inquiry. Newsstand sales are estimated to make up only 20 percent of Skeptical Inquirer’s circulation. Though the magazines employ a tone meant for the lay reader, both preach to the choir of the unbeliever.

It might make sense for the Lone Rangers of reason to join forces. Could one magazine be produced by two separate organizations? Would the cause they share benefit from one solid print presence? True skeptics know that only a carefully controlled experiment will yield a believable answer.

 

 

 

 

 



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