This magazine was a site for sore eyes, I am probably more willing than the next man to believe a lot of the New Age mumbo jumbo out there and this magazine is the perfect cure for that kind of rampant optimism. The publication takes a very cold hard look at any kind of pseudoscientific or New Age claim, while examining it?s scientific grounding.
All their writers stick to science as much as possible and sometimes a little too much. The articles can get quite technical and often it is quite a chore to wade through it. Sometimes though plowing through the technical aspects can be easy compared to the dry and angry writing style. Often the writers of Skeptical Inquiry become as fanatic as the people they are trying to debunk. But they aren?t out there to try to give us a flashy fun magazine (if they were they would have some pictures or even color) their job is to put out an even minded rational analysis of the world around us.
Despite all it?s failings this magazine is a winner. Solid facts combined with analysis of subjects that typically get an extremely one-sided review make this a diamond in the rough. When you typically hear about some new medical therapy the proponents aren?t going to tell you the weaknesses, only the Skeptical Inquirer will give you the other side of the story. Who knows who will have been closer to the truth but I for one am glad to see both sides of the picture.
Good on analysis, lousy on tolerance
I enjoy science in its many forms and enjoy the Skeptical Inquirer for its thorough and logical explanation of "weird" events. While it takes the "fun" out of things like ghosts and UFOs, having the phenomena explained rationally is a treat in itself. Unfortunately I find the journal a little difficult to read at times. The intolerance of the beliefs of others gets a little difficult to take when it's so much in your face. Often the authors are condescending, sometimes outright insulting, with resepct to non-scientific points of view. There are times when they literally attack the individuals themselves instead of the ideas they propose. No matter how logical the discussion, it seems inappropriate for a journal whose purpose is the scientific explanation of events and phenomena to take such an emotional posture. Surely the attitude will do more harm than good, since those who sense that they are personally under attack will rise to their own defense and become even more entrenched in their beliefs. Instead of learning a new way of analyzing data and becoming less credulous, they will become even more resistant to a logical approach. Since some of the journal's own readership may be among these, the authors' risk losing the opportunity to teach and end up preaching to the choir of the convinced. What's the point? It seems to me that an entirely non-judgemental, just-the-facts approach would be in the best interests of the periodical and its readership.
A Decent Magazine
The act of skeptical inquiry in and of itself primarily results in what is often called "debunking." As a citizen living in country of people hoodwinked into beleiveing that witches, unicorns,and bigfoot all exist relative to their fairy tale roots, this magazine serves as a refreshing antidote. Most often you will find that those who are displeased with the magazine are those who want to read "serious inquiry" into X Files type events that are invariably a hoax. If someone wants to believe in the Loch Ness Monster or bleeding statues; that is their perogative. But they shouldn't be surprised when skeptical inquiry results in a less than favorable verdict for their pet-fantasies. For those that are interested in reading the best magazine of skeptical/rational inquiry outside of a straight science magazine; enjoy this one.
The best of a weak field
While it lacks the gloss and pizazz of the one other major magazine in the field (Skeptic), the Skeptical Inquirer is the far better publication of the two. It's much less of a one-man show, being guided by an organization (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal, or CSIOP) rather than a semi-charismatic leader. That's not to say it doesn't have its faults.
Like Skeptic, Skeptical Inquirer is heavy on the polemical approach and light on the tolerance. There tends to be a very heavy-handy and condescending attitude towards any religious belief, with a few odd and contradictory exceptions. For example, Martin Garder is a board member and a major inspiration of CSIOP; indeed, his books on "Fads and Fallacies" are among the most often-cited works on pseudoscience. Gardener himself is a practicing Christian, as he discusses in his book "What I Believe", yet he's all too quick to comdemn religious beliefs not concordant with his own. The truely skeptical reader might wonder why Garder's beliefs get a pass, but other religions are deemed cults. Why are only some revelation acceptible?
Overall, though, The Skeptical Inquirer does tend to have a little more of a scientific slant than does The Skeptic, and one will find more scientists writing in The Skeptical Inquirer. For instance, the current issue (July/August 2003) has an article on Memory Recover authored by (among others) Elizabeth Loftus, and a reply by Stephen PInker to an earlier article.
Given the choice between the two magazines mentioned, The Skeptical Inquirer gets my nod as the preferred publication. But it should still be read with an attitude at least as skeptical as the magazine itself.