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Obituaries of Skepticism in 2014

Dec. 23, 2014 by | Comments (13)

The end of the year is a time for looking back, and that includes remembering who we have lost. For the last few years I’ve tried to do this for the skeptical community via blog posts and my segment on the Skepticality podcast. I also produce a visual presentation that is seen each year at The Amazing Meeting (TAM) in Las Vegas—this year’s was designed by Cheryl Hebert and INSIGHT blog editor Daniel Loxton.

Whenever I compile these lists, I try to include not only famous skeptics but also rank and file skeptics who have made contributions. I also attempt to include pseudoscientists and paranormalists of note, as well as others who have played a role in important incidents relevant to skepticism. Here are a few of the most notable, followed by a list of all the names I was able to find. (Please point out any omissions in the comments).

Victor Stenger

Victor Stenger, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Two have already been memorialized right here at INSIGHT already. The first was Victor Stenger, the so-called “fifth horseman” of atheism. He was a physicist, philosopher and author of many books about pseudoscience as well as religion, and was remembered by Michael Shermer. The other was Gerald LaRue, gerontologist and author on biblical history, archaeology and criticism of religion. Jim Lippard recounted his involvement in the famous 1993 Noah’s Ark hoax.

Edwin Kagin, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Edwin Kagin, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Another well known leader in the secular/atheist area was Edwin Kagin, the national legal director (and a member of the board) of American Atheists. He was a co-founder of Camp Quest and a longtime advocate for church-state separation.

Several others were perhaps not as widely known in skeptical circles, but played key roles in our movement. Jean Dommanget was a Belgian astronomer who was an expert on binary stars. In 1960 he joined one of the oldest skeptical organizations, the Comité Para (founded in 1949), and served as its president from 1980 to 2007.

Jack Friedman, courtesy NCSE

Jack Friedman, courtesy NCSE

Jack Friedman and Bernard Winograd both served on the National Center for Science Education board of directors. Friedman helped found the organization and served on its board in various capacities for 29 years. Charles M. Fair was an author, poet and neurology researcher who served as a fellow of CSICOP from 1976 to 1984. He wrote several books including The New Nonsense and From the Jaws of Victory and wrote and narrated the soundtrack for the original Salem Witch Museum.

Others long associated with skeptic organizations included Marc Blondel of FNLP, the French national freethought organization; Frans W. Sluijter, emeritus professor of physics and former president of Stichting Skepsis, the skeptic group in the Netherlands; and Warwick Don, biology professor and author of Ants of New Zealand who was past president of the New Zealand skeptics.

Of course even as we opposed them in life, we also remember in death the promoters of nonsense who have passed this year. That includes Fred Phelps, founder of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, known for their outrageous protests. Masaru Emoto was known as the “water doctor”, he claimed water could respond to human emotions and was featured in the film What The Bleep Do We Know!? Joan Quigley was an astrologer who became most famous when it became known that she personally advised Nancy Reagan during her time as First Lady of the United States. And Claus Fritzsche was a pro-alternative-medicine campaigner in Germany, who (infamously) was paid by the makers of alternative remedies to spread negative information online about skeptics such as Prof. Edzard Ernst.

H.R. Giger via Wikimedia Commons

H.R. Giger via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

As a student of skeptic history, I find interesting the figures who play smaller, even tangential roles along the way. For instance, John Seigenthaler was a journalist and writer involved in U.S. politics, serving as aide to Robert F. Kennedy. But when an anonymous person added a defamatory conspiracy theory to his Wikipedia biography, a controversy arose over the accuracy of online information. This eventually resulting in rules changes at the online encyclopedia. Designer H.R. Giger is far better known for his work creating the look of films such as Alien, for which he won an Academy Award. But an investigation by Benjamin Radford into the origins of the “chupcabra” myth indicates that the original reports of the creature were strongly influenced by Giger’s design of a creature in another movie (Species) released just weeks before the alleged sighting. And we can’t forget those who were victims of critical thinking failures—Bernard Baran was one of the first people convicted during the day-care sex-abuse hysteria moral panic in the 1980s and 1990s. He spent 25 years fighting his conviction and was finally exonerated in 2009.

Diane "Kit" Moser via GoodReads

Diane “Kit” Moser via GoodReads

Finally, I always make it a point to remember people who played rank-and-file roles in the skeptic movement. These are people who do very important work in our field, but may never achieve national prominence. This year, they include Eric Broze who founded the United Church of Bacon and the Coming Out Godless project, who was a regular at TAM; Diane “Kit” Moser, co-founder of the Sacramento Organization for Rational Thinking (SORT) and co-author of quite a number of books including Carl Sagan: A Biography; Rob Nanninga who was webmaster for Stichting Skepsis and edited their magazine Skepter; Fred Green who was involved in several projects including Guerrilla Skeptics and IIG; and Mick Sievers and magician Steve Walker of the Australian Skeptics.

I encourage everyone to read more about these people who we have lost this year. Every name in this article links to more information about that person. Below you will find the complete list, in alphabetical order, of the skepticism-relevant obituaries I have found in 2014.

  • Margot Adler (Apr 16, 1946–Jul 28, 2014) Neo-pagan spiritualism priestess, NPR correspondent;
  • Bernard Baran (May 25, 1965–Sep 1, 2014) Convicted in 1980s day care abuse hysteria, exonerated on appeal in 2009;
  • Sandra Bem (Jun 22, 1944–May 20, 2014) Cornell psychologist known for work on androgyny & gender studies. Bem Sex Role Inventory (BSRI);
  • Marc Blondel (May 2, 1938–Mar 16, 2014) Human rights campaigner, president of FNLP, the French national freethought organization;
  • Nathaniel Branden (Apr 9, 1930–Dec 3, 2014) Canadian born psychotherapist & colleague of Ayn Rand who promoted Objectivism and libertarianism;
  • Eric Broze (Nov 9, 1970–Feb 22, 2014) United Church of Bacon, Coming Out Godless project;
  • Boyd Bushman (Jul 20, 1936–Aug 7, 2014) Defense contractor who allegedly made a “deathbed confession” about a photo of an alien in Area 51;
  • Nigel Calder (Dec 2, 1931–Jun 25, 2014) British popularizer of science who denied global warming in his later years;
  • Joel Carpenter (Jan 11, 1959–Mar 14, 2014) UFO investigator and photo researcher;
  • Ciro de Quadros (Jan 30, 1940–May 28, 2014) Public health expert who played a critical role in polio eradication in the Americas;
  • Jean Dommanget (1924–Oct 1, 2014) Astronomer, long-time head of Comité Para in Belgium;
  • Warwick Don (1933–Nov 11, 2014) Past chairman of the New Zealand Skeptics, author of Ants of New Zealand;
  • Bobby Drinnon (Oct 27, 1952–Mar 3, 2014) Tennessee psychic “intuitive”;
  • Soley Edamaruku (Jan 31, 1934–Mar 1, 2014) National Council member of Indian Rationalist Association;
  • Gerald Edelman (Jul 1, 1929–May 17, 2014) Eminent biologist and Nobel Laureate, supporter of Darwinian thinking;
  • Dennis Elwell (Feb 16, 1930–Nov 13, 2014) British astrologer;
  • Masaru Emoto (Jul 22, 1943–Oct 17, 2014) “Water doctor” featured in What the Bleep Do We Know?;
  • Charles M. Fair (Sep 18, 1916–Jul 28, 2014) Early CSICOP fellow, author of The New Nonsense;
  • Paul M. Fleiss (Sep 8, 1933–Jul 19, 2014) Pediatrician with unconventional views on HIV/AIDS and other topics, father of Heidi Fleiss;
  • Radu Florescu (Oct 23, 1925–May 18, 2014) Romanian historian who first linked Dracula myth with Vlad the Impaler;
  • Alan J. Friedman (Mar 15, 1942–May 4, 2014) Popularizer of science, revived the New York Hall of Science;
  • Jack Friedman (Oct 26, 1925–Jul 31, 2014) Past president of NCSE Board of Directors, helped found the organization;
  • Claus Fritzsche (1964–Jan 14, 2014) Promoted alternative medicine on German CAM company payroll;
  • Jacinto García (Sep 11, 1913–May 12, 2014) Inventor of a leprosy vaccine and other vaccines;
  • H.R. Giger (Feb 5, 1940–May 12, 2014) Influential Swiss artist, his creature design for the movie “Species” inspired the first chupacabra sighting;
  • Frederick Green (Mar 29, 1963–Oct 22, 2014) US Air Force, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, Guerrilla Skeptics, Camp Quest Chesapeake, Independent Investigations Group;
  • Patrick Heron (Feb 2, 1952–Jan 2, 2014) End Times author, wrote “Apocalypse Soon” (1996);
  • John-Roger Hinkins (Sep 24, 1934–Oct 22, 2014) Founded the controversial new-age Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness church in the 1970s;
  • Simon Hoggart (May 26, 1946–Jan 5, 2014) Guardian & Observer journalist who wrote Bizarre Beliefs (1997);
  • Alexander Imich (Feb 4, 1903–Jun 8, 2014) Parapsychology author certified in 2014 as oldest man in the world;
  • B.K.S. Iyengar (Dec 14, 1918–Aug 20, 2014) Helped bring Yoga to the West, wrote Light on Yoga;
  • John Joseph (Jun 1, 1955–Jul 3, 2014) Independent Scientologist who was a critic of church leadership;
  • Edwin Kagin (Nov 26, 1940–Mar 27, 2014) American Atheists national legal director, co-founder of Camp Quest;
  • James Keegstra (Mar 30, 1934–Jun 2, 2014) Canadian Holocaust denier, prosecuted for teaching this to his high school students;
  • Aykut Kence (Aug 27, 1946–Feb 1, 2014) Biologist who opposed government attempts to teach creationism in Turkey;
  • Kenny Kingston (Feb 15, 1927–Jun 30, 2014) Self proclaimed “psychic to the stars” in Hollywood;
  • George Kukla (Mar 14, 1930–May 31, 2014) Climate scientist who studied global cooling in the 1970s;
  • Alan Landsburg (May 10, 1933–Aug 13, 2014) TV producer: In Search Of… and That’s Incredible!;
  • Gerald Larue (Jun 20, 1916–Sep 17, 2014) Religion & gerontology professor and former minister who became a debunker of Bible stories;
  • Roger Leir (Mar 20, 1935–Mar 14, 2014) Podiatrist who claimed to remove alien implants from human bodies;
  • Sherry Matulis (Jul 9, 1931–Aug 2014) Former secretary of the board of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, abortion advocate;
  • Steve Moore (Jun 11, 1949–Mar 16, 2014) Writer of comics, contributor to Strange Attractor, co-founder of Fortean Times;
  • Diane “Kit” Moser (Feb 13, 1944–Apr 14, 2014) Science author & educator; co-founder of Sacramento Org. for Rational Thinking (SORT);
  • Rob Nanninga (Aug 6, 1955–May 30, 2014) Editor of Skepter, webmaster for Stichting Skepsis (Netherlands), author of Parariteiten. Een kritische blik op het paranormale (1988);
  • Adelbert Nelissen (Dec 1, 1948–Sep 6, 2014) Dutch advocate of microbiotics and promoter of the health food industry;
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg (Oct 2, 1928–Sep 5, 2014) Theologian who focused on science vs. religion;
  • Fred Phelps (Nov 13, 1929–Mar 19, 2014) Founder of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church;
  • Rick S. Plitz (Jul 29, 1943–Oct 17, 2014) Climate scientist, resigned in protest over Exec. Branch meddling. Founded Climate Science Watch;
  • Amrut Prajapati (1941–Jun 10, 2014) Ayurvedic doctor & former aide to Indian “god man” Asaram Bapu, murdered by gunmen after testifying against the guru;
  • Joan Quigley (Apr 10, 1927–Oct 21, 2014) Astrologer to Nancy Reagan;
  • Howard B. Radest (Jun 29, 1928–Oct 11, 2014) Former Exec Dir. of American Ethical Union, founder of Humanist Institute;
  • Michael Ruppert (Feb 3, 1951–Apr 13, 2014) 9/11 Truth and other conspiracy theory author;
  • Joshu Sasaki (Apr 1, 1907–Jul 27, 2014) Influential Zen master who was accused of sexual misconduct;
  • John Seigenthaler (Jul 27, 1927–Jul 11, 2014) Editor and aide to RFK who was involved in a famous Wikipedia controversy;
  • Jack Shallcrass (Sep 11, 1922–Aug 13, 2014) New Zealand Humanist of the Year for 1993;
  • Mick Sievers (Aug 3, 1970–Oct 23, 2014) Australian skeptic;
  • Frans W. Sluijter (Oct 2, 1936–Nov 21, 2014) Former president of Stichting Skepsis (Netherlands), Emeritus Professor of Physics at Technical University of Eindhoven;
  • Victor J. Stenger (Jan 29, 1935–Aug 27, 2014) Physicist and atheist author, the Fifth Horseman. Author of God: The Failed Hypothesis and other books;
  • Frank Sumption (Nov 5, 1953–Aug 16, 2014) Inventor of “ghost box” a radio-based EVP box;
  • Simon Turnbull (May 10, 1950–Nov 6, 2014) Psychic, astrologer and writer on parapsychology, President of the Australian Psychics Association;
  • Peter Underwood (May 16, 1923–Nov 26, 2014) English parapsychologist;
  • Steve Walker (Jul 23, 1945–Dec 11, 2014) Sydney magician who supported the Australian Skeptics and often performed at their events;
  • Elizabeth Whelan (Dec 4, 1943–Sep 11, 2014) Founder of American Council on Science and Health against junk science, sometimes criticized for industry funding and bias;
  • Bernard Winograd (Dec 31, 1950–Mar 1, 2014) National Center for Science Education board of directors member;
  • Warren Wolf (Dec 10, 1941–Apr 25, 2014) President of the Institute for Humanist Studies;
  • Rocky Wood (Oct 19, 1959–Dec 1, 2014) New Zealand-born Australian writer on UFOs and other topics.
Tim Farley

Tim Farley is a computer security analyst in Atlanta, Georgia as well as a writer, podcaster and lecturer. He is known for his website What’s the Harm?, which catalogs the real-world consequences of irrational beliefs. He also writes on technology issues for skeptics at his Skeptical Software Tools blog, where he advocates for skeptic online best practices and explores crowdsourcing as a skeptical technique. Read Tim’s full bio or his other posts on this blog.

13 responses to “Obituaries of Skepticism in 2014”

  1. Tim Farley says:

    I found another person we missed from 2014.

    Lois Williamson (Feb 16, 1934 – March 24, 2014) was a Therapeutic Touch practitioner in the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada area.

  2. Tim Farley says:

    I found another one we missed from 2014.

    Donald Wesley Patten (Nov. 11, 1929 – Feb. 12, 2014) bridged the world between young-Earth creationism and catastrophism but wasn’t accepted by either camp.

  3. Tim Farley says:

    Yet another addition, courtesy of William London on Twitter:

    Michio Kushi (May 17, 1926 – December 28, 2014) Advocate of macrobiotic diet who wrote The Cancer Prevention Diet, died of cancer as did his wife (in 2001) and daughter (in 1995).

  4. Bob says:

    Eisenstein is dead?! He once advised me how to file a religious objection to vaccination even though I told him I was an atheist.

  5. Tim Farley says:

    Found two more obituaries from after this post:

    Moshe Sang (1959-Dec 22, 2014) Kenyan leader of House of Yahweh who predicted an apocalyptic nuclear war for Sept. 12, 2006.

    Ben Ammi Ben-Israel (born Ben Carter) (Oct 12, 1939–Dec 27, 2014) Leader of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, claimed African-American descendants of the original Israelites.

  6. Tim Farley says:

    Two more late editions I discovered via this year-end article at Religion Dispatches.

    Charles Paul Brown (1935-Oct. 2014) who founded an immortality cult in Arizona.

    Jamie Coots (Nov 17, 1971-Feb 15, 2014) snake-handling pastor who starred in the reality program Snake Salvation.

  7. Tim Farley says:

    Here’s a late addition to the list: Dr. Mayer Eisenstein (1946 – Dec. 22, 2014) a Chicago-area pediatrician known for anti-vaccine views and autism quackery.

  8. Susan Gerbic says:

    Terrific Job Tim. Thank you for doing this every year. It does mean a lot to me.

    Here is the blog I wrote about our GSoW Team Leader Fred Green.

  9. Max says:

    Whole careers wasted on BS, smh.

  10. Terry Farley says:

    Beautiful job, bro.

  11. Daniel Loxton says:

    Thank you for compiling this list for another year, Tim. It’s a lot of work, I know, but it’s worthwhile. It’s something that ought to be done, as an antidote for our forgetfulness and for other reasons besides—and like so many things in our largely volunteer-driven field, it gets done only because someone made the choice to take it on as a personal project. A hat tip to you, and a moment of reflection for these lives lived in service of ideas good and bad.

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