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Rational Inquiry -Volume 6 Number 3

From the Editor

I was invited recently to participate in a long term study of the potential benefits of vitamin E and selenium in reducing the incidence of certain cancers. It is a scientific, double-blind (that is, neither the patients nor the doctors know who receive the placebos) study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health.

I welcome such studies; there are far too few of them. Those of you who read this newsletter regularly know my position on so-called alternative medicine. I am deeply skeptically about most of the procedures and medications involved, and some I reject as plain nonsense or fraud. There is a difference between a skeptical approach, that is, not accepting a claim without further scrutiny and testing, and rejecting it because it goes against all facts and physical laws that we have established over the centuries. My skepticism in this area concerns not only the efficacy of a product or procedure but also its potential harmful side effects.

Judging from the popularity of alternative medicine, the general public seems to practice fuzzy reasoning that is at times baffling. They may accept the skepticism ingrained in science as a good thing in that it is, among other things, a protection against fraudulent or crack-pot science. However, when someone applies skepticism to other aspects of life, it is often considered to be a negative thing, even anti-progressive. That, of course, is not so. Skeptics, including scientists, as a group are more open-minded to new things than perhaps any other group of people who claim to use reason and rationality as a guide.

How do we get this across to the public? Locally, we can continue what we have been doing for six years: offering public lectures on interesting and timely subjects, presenting rational views in our newsletter, writing letters to the newspapers, television producers, etc., and generally letting it be known that SDARI exists. On a national level, we can join such organizations as CSICOP, James Randi Educational Foundation, and the Skeptics Society. These are all playing important roles in our society in promoting rational thinking and debunking nonsense. CSICOP is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Our congratulations to this worthy organization!

And wouldn’t you know that we are so lucky that Paul Kurtz, a founder and the driving force in CSICOP and the Council for Secular Humanism over the years will be our speaker on September 7. We hope for an excellent turnout at that occasion. Join us to show your support and to meet this well-known figure in the skeptical world.

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