Martin Gardner, polymath extraordinaire, mathematician, magician, writer, philosopher, and to me, a skeptical titan, left us unexpectedly earlier this year at the well-earned and well-spent age of 95.
It was he, to my understanding, who really got the ball rolling in the 1950s, started the chain of events that led to the worldwide grassroots skeptical groups and individual activists that exist today.
His first books on pseudoscience, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus were landmarks in the field, and many of the ideas explored in these works are still valid today.
He was keenly aware of the dangers of pseudoscience — always with a ready answer to the meaningless question asked endlessly by believers, “What’s the harm?” — of the dangers of uncritical acceptance of nonsense as fact, the hazards of pernicious doctrines that claim to be science, and the harm that can result to our thinking, our financial health, and even our physical well-being when we place our trust in notions that sound a little too good and with too little evidence to support them.
Extraordinary claims require you-know-what…even if YOU don’t think them that extraordinary…
Here’s something from an interview Gardner gave, on some of his thoughts concerning pseudoscience. He is someone, like Sagan and Asimov were, people I would have liked to have met when they were alive but for whatever reason could not, and his inclusion in this post completes the triad of individuals whose writings most deeply influenced me in my skeptical genesis.
There are, and always have been, destructive pseudo-scientific notions linked to race and religion; these are the most widespread and damaging. Hopefully, educated people can succeed in shedding light into these areas of prejudice and ignorance, for as Voltaire once said: “Men will commit atrocities as long as they believe absurdities.”
Mr. Gardner. May you be with the personal God you so believed in, and even if not, may you be long remembered by those of us who came after and learned from you. Peace out.