Ever since I was a boy I’ve been fascinated with ideas that might be characterized as outside the mainstream. As a child of the 70s, I was a huge Star Trek fan, watched In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy, learned all about the Stars and Planets in the Golden Stamp Book of Stars and Planets, and was naturally fascinated with Von Daniken’s ancient astronauts and the whole idea of space exploration. It seems to me completely natural for a 10 year boy to be interested in what is “far out” and out of the ordinary.
“In Search Of…” was especially stimulating, covering ancient astronauts, astrology, Martians, Mayans, firewalkers, Big Foot, reincarnation, UFOs and UFO “captives”, ESP, “Noah’s Flood”, the Mexican pyramids, the assassination of JFK, ghosts, and much more of what is often called “fringe” today.
The public’s interest in these “unscientific” ideas led to the formation of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Claims of the Paranormal, who saw this trend as an increase in “irrationalism” and began their assault with a coordinated attack on astrology. The whole sordid epic of CSICOP’s dishonesty and their attack on the integrity and work of French statistician Michel Gauquelin is well documented by one of its co-founders Dennis Rawlins in sTARBABY. The article is long, but Rawlins sums up his view of CSICOP early in the article when he writes “I now believe that if a flying saucer landed in the backyard of a leading anti-UFO spokesman, he might hide the incident from the public (for the public’s own good, of course). He might swiftly convince himself that the landing was a hoax, a delusion or an “unfortunate” interpretation of mundane phenomena that could be explained away with “further research.”.
Most people not seriously interested in fringe topics have probably never heard of CSICOP, and I doubt their name change to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has raised their profile with the general public. But they remain, and right now their main stomping grounds are on Wikipedia, where their presence is felt on just about any topic that could be construed as unorthodox. They’ve set up their (Irrational) Rational Skepticism Project, and any subject outside the bounds of the mainstream is under their dominion. This group consistently violates Wikipedia’s NPOV policy and people who try to call them out on their tactics and bring balance to these fringe topics find themselves in the labyrinthine world of Wikipedia policies and counter policies.
Article talk pages on these fringe topics are where the battles take place, but editors seeking balance are often fighting a losing battle because so-called “rational sceptics” are writing the rules as they go along and appear to be thoroughly entrenched in the Wikipedia hierarchy. I’ll be looking at some particularly interesting cases as I write in this space, because they’re very interesting in terms of how orthodoxies react to perceived threats to their positions. The tactics are not dissimilar from the way the Jesuit Aristotelians attacked Galileo’s Copernican position in 1611. Historians today have letters and written records of proceedings to help them understand the Galileo Affair. Today we have Wikipedia talk pages edit diffs. Now that’s progress!
I’m inclined to lean towards the fringe for many reasons I won’t get into in this entry, but I’m not in any way “irrational”. I approach most subjects I know little about from an agnostic position. But I do tend to be drawn to subject areas that stimulate my imagination and offer answers to questions that orthodox theories either don’t answer, or don’t provide satisfactory answers to. Often my heroes are those who might have been wrong in the particulars, but sketched new avenues of investigation that others never bothered to pursue.
Sometimes, it’s just fun to follow the journeys of those who pursue provisional answers to questions that challenge prevailing views but offer exciting new ways of seeing our world.
Over the course of time in this space, I hope to document my exploration and evolving views on various fringe topics and the battles some people are waging against guardians of current prevailing orthodoxies. Much of the inspiration for doing this comes from those who’ve bothered to fight the likes of CSICOP and their ilk on Wikipedia, where the basis of knowledge is an online version of a committee meeting.