The Martin Gardner Correspondence with Marcello Truzzi

Ray Ward

Dear Martin, Dear Marcello: Gardner and Truzzi on Skepticism. Edited by Dana Richards. World Scientific, Singapore, 2017. ISBNs: 9789813203693 hardcover, 9789813203709 softcover. 458pp. Hardcover, $88; softcover, $48.

Martin Gardner (1914–2010) was a famous writer and philosopher of science, and Marcello Truzzi (1935–2004) was trained in sociology. Both had backgrounds in magic, giving them intimate knowledge of how people can be tricked and believe things unsupported by evidence. Both were founders of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) in 1976, but Truzzi soon left and founded his own journal, The Zetetic Scholar (not to be confused with The Zetetic, which became the Skeptical Inquirer). Much of their correspondence, collected and published for the first time in Dear Martin, Dear Marcello, is about Gardner’s disapproval of what Truzzi published, which he thought conferred too much respectability to nonsense, while Truzzi criticized what he saw as CSICOP’s debunking stance, which he considered to be in breach of its declared position of not dismissing anything without full evaluation.

As editor Dana Richards sums up neatly in his introduction, Truzzi contended that Gardner and CSICOP acted like lawyers, more interested in winning a case than abiding by science’s rules of conduct. But, as he also says, CSICOP was never intended to be a scientific organization, performing experiments or carrying out field studies; as Gardner himself says in one of his letters, it had no lab. Gardner also opposed “believers” in the paranormal becoming CSICOP members (as opposed to subscribers). He specifically mentions Harold Puthoff, of whom the introduction nicely says that he and Russell Targ imagined they could do research in parapsychology but instead dealt with “psychics” who were cleverer than they were.

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