Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Martin Gardner

Shouldn't scientific thinking and logic work together?

Recently the Skeptical Inquirer magazine published an issue remembering the late Martin Gardner, a founding member of CSICOP/CSI (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, renamed Committee for Scientific Inquiry). I first encountered his work in Fads and Fallacies in the Name Of Science, a classic book in the skeptical field.

In a SI tribute by Ray Hyman this detail leaped out at me: Gardner would sometimes write a book review by just reading its index.

Hyman wondered how Gardner could read and review so many books with his busy schedule. Gardner replied that in most cases he didn't actually read a book, he just scanned the index for the info he needed to write his review.

As I've mentioned before, sometimes I skim-read / skip-read a book, i.e., I'll peruse a few passages and jump around from spot to spot. When writing a review I mention this, letting the reader know that I haven't read a book from cover to cover. That way the reader knows I'm only commenting on certain aspects, not the entire work.

And please note: I haven't read the SI tribute issue for Martin Gardner (September/October 2010) from cover to cover. I just read a couple of the tributes.

From what I gather, Gardner didn't inform his readers about his index scanning method of book reviewing. Not very journalistic or scientific.

But this doesn't surprise me. One time in a SI interview (published March/April 1998; link below) Gardner revealed that he believed in God and a soul that lives on. He admitted that he had no evidence that either God or a immortal soul existed; he invoked fideism, a view that such things can't be proven by reason but by faith alone and that's OK if it makes you feel good.

So what about those who follow astrology or other fringe beliefs that Gardner would criticize with scientific skepticism? Why can't they invoke fideism? After all, doesn't astrology make a believer feel good, giving meaning to life?

Maybe it's a matter of who you are. If you're a intellectual skeptic, you're allowed to believe in an unprovable idea because you can use a philosophical copout like fideism.

I'm an atheist. Martin Gardner, prove me wrong. Send me a message from the great beyond like Houdini.


-- Skeptical Inquirer, September/October 2010 (Print version): Martin Gardner: A Polymath to the Nth Power by Ray Hyman, page 28-29.

-- A Mind at Play: Interview with Martin Gardner


X. Dell said...

The X. Dell fellow was kind enough to allow me use of his account. Would this suffice?

--Martin Gardner

Doug said...

Perhaps the lesson here is: Something is a good book if one believes it's a good book; that much one can judge from the cover alone, or maybe just the title.

Of course, I'm waiting for the SI swimsuit issue, so you may be best served paying no heed to anything I say.