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North American Science, Skepticism, and Secular Humanism 2 — American Scientific Skepticism’s Pillars: Alcock, Asimov, Gardner, Hyman, Klass, Kurtz, Loftus, Nye, Randi, Sagan, Skinner, Tyson, Vos Savant, and More


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Humanist Voices)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2019/12/20

James A. Haught was born on Feb. 20, 1932, in a small West Virginia farm town that had no electricity or paved streets. He graduated from a rural high school with 13 students in the senior class. He came to Charleston, worked as a delivery boy, then became a teen-age apprentice printer at the Charleston Daily Mail in 1951. Developing a yen to be a reporter, he volunteered to work without pay in the Daily Mail newsroom on his days off to learn the trade. This arrangement continued several months, until The Charleston Gazette offered a full-time news job in 1953. He has been at the Gazette ever since — except for a few months in 1959 when he was press aide to Sen. Robert Byrd.

During his six decades in newspaper life, he has been police reporter, religion columnist, feature writer and night city editor; then he was investigative reporter for 13 years, and his work led to several corruption convictions. In 1983 he was named associate editor, and in 1992 he became editor. In 2015, as The Gazette combined with the Daily Mail, he assumed the title of editor emeritus, but still works full-time. He writes nearly 400 Gazette editorials a year, plus personal columns and news articles. Haught has won two dozen national newswriting awards, and is author of 11 books and 120 magazine essays. About 50 of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He also is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century. He has four children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. For years, Jim has enjoyed hiking with Kanawha Trail Club, participating in a philosophy group, and taking grandchildren swimming off his old sailboat. He is a longtime member of Charleston’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Haught continues working full-time in his 80s.

Here we talk about the pillars of scientific skepticism in the United States.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Pillars of the freethought community with not necessarily a large prominence but a pervasive influence on the main influencers have been the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer, who, often, will, probably, receive Scientific American in the mail too.

The speakers, the organizations, and the campaigns exist, but the ideas matter most of all. How has the CSI been important for the advancement of science, skepticism, and secular humanism?

Jim Haught: Several studies have found that skeptics have higher intelligence than religious believers. Top scientists — perhaps most intelligent of all — overwhelmingly reject supernatural religion. A famed 1998 survey found that 93 percent of members of America’s National Academy of Sciences doubt the personal God alleged by churches. CSI is vital in applying the rational approach of such scientists to supernatural claims.

Jacobsen: Also, following from the previous question, what is scientific skepticism compared to science alone to skepticism only?

Haught: America has multitudes of skeptics who aren’t scientists — yet both groups are kindred spirits, trying to understand reality through rational logic.

Jacobsen: Bright individuals like James Alcock, Isaac Aasimov, Martin Gardner, Ray Hyman, Philip Klass, Paul Kurtz, Elizabeth Loftus, Bill Nye, James Randi, Carl Sagan, B.F. Skinner, Tyson, Marilyn (Mach) Vos Savant, and a host of others have been a part of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), previously the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).

The current ‘incarnation’ of the Committee functions in more general terms if I interpret the simplification of the title correctly. Why does scientific skepticism seem to tend to disproportionately attract some extremely smart people into its cohort and leadership? Not a verified statistical claim inasmuch as an observational one. All have made an enormous impact in different areas of increasing America’s rational quotient.

Haught: The ancient Arabic poet Abd Allah al-Ma’arri said: “The world holds two classes of men — intelligent men without religion, and religious men without intelligence.” That’s simplistic, but it illuminates the disbelief among scientists.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Jim.

Haught: Keep the faith, baby.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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