For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785

The Folly of Phrenology, Celebrity Psychics, and the Singularity Exposed in “Skeptical Inquirer”

October 18, 2012

The nineteenth-century fascination with phrenology, a thoroughly discredited pseudoscience for studying the human mind, is explored in all its strangeness in the latest edition of Skeptical Inquirer, the leading magazine of science and skepticism. This same issue also takes on many of our modern obsessions with the outrageous and implausible, such as psychics on TV, Olympic UFOs, and prophecies about the coming human-computer “singularity.”

Phrenology, an area of study that wrongly presumed that the mind could be understood by analyzing the shape of a skull and the size of “modules” in the brain, became something of a pseudoscientific craze in the 1800s. Geoffrey Dean, in his cover story “Phrenology and the Grand Delusion of Experience,” unpacks what was so attractive about its claims, explaining that it offered “a recipe for living and self-improvement based not on metaphysics but on claims testable by experience,” or so it appeared. Indeed, phrenology’s proponents remained unshakable in their misplaced faith, and Dean sees a lesson for skeptics, counseling, “The delusion of experience should never be underestimated. It dies only when believers die.”

Pseudoscience and the paranormal also infect our culture today, of course. Also in this issue, famed investigator Joe Nickell recounts his experience as the token skeptic on an episode of Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show, and even gives high marks to the incredulity of the host; Benjamin Radford clarifies the hubbub over what seemed to be a UFO buzzing by a crowd at the London Olympics (it was a Goodyear blimp); Simon Davis helps expose some high-end snake oil in Greece, as purveyors of so-called “nanobiotic” clothing are taken to task; and Massimo Pigliucci takes apart the extraordinary predictions of high-tech “prophets,” such as Ray Kurzweil, who believe humans are only a few decades away from a “Singularity” in which human beings and our computers will become indistinguishable.

There is much more enlightening and stimulating content in the November/December 2012 edition of Skeptical Inquirer, and it’s available on newsstands now or by subscription at

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Skeptical Inquirer is the official journal of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. CSI encourages the critical investigation of paranormal and fringe-science claims from a responsible, scientific point of view. Learn more about CSI and SI at