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CSICOP announces the Council for Media Integrity

News & Comment

The Editors

Skeptical Inquirer Volume 20.5, September / October 1996

The establishment of a new “Council for Media Integrity” was announced at the World Skeptics Congress, meeting at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The Council is sponsored by the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), based in Amherst, New York. The charter members of the Council include many distinguished figures from the world of science and academia:

Honorary chairpersons of the Council are

The formation of the Council was announced at the opening session of the first World Skeptics Congress, attended by over 1,200 scientists and skeptics. The theme of the Congress was “Science in the Age of (Mis)Information.”

According to Paul Kurtz, chairman of CSICOP and coordinator of the new Council,

“The media have now virtually replaced the schools, colleges, and universities as the main source of information for the general public. . . . the irresponsibility of the media in the area of science and the paranormal is a worldwide problem. But it especially applies to the United States, where the media have been distorting science, and in particular presenting pseudoscience as genuine science. Indeed, we are appalled by the number of ‘documentaries,' which are really entertainment programs, presenting fringe science as real science.

“The major networks have been running two or three such specials almost every month. Recently there have been programs on prophecies, astrology, psychic powers, creationism, Noah’s Ark, angels, alien abductions, etc. This is in addition to the popular ‘Unsolved Mysteries,' ‘X-Files,' and ‘Sightings,' as well as new programs such as ‘Paranormal Borderlands,' and ‘Poltergeist,' and ‘Outer Limits.'”

The Council noted the fact that on Saturday, June 8th, NBC rebroadcast ”The Mysterious Origins of Man,” narrated by Charlton Heston. The program promoted pseudoscience and suggested that evolution is questionable, that human civilization originated 100 million years ago, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. The program, which was originally broadcast in February, raised protests from the scientific community, which NBC ignored. It also broadcast the fourth in a series of “Prophecies,” which provided questionable scenarios of the end of the world.

The Council also complained about the many talk shows devoted to the paranormal, in which claims in favor of the paranormal are given a platform but skeptical dissent is rarely heard. A statement endorsed by members of the Council maintained that,

“If the United States is to continue to provide leadership and compete in the global economy, then we need to raise the level of scientific literacy and understanding of the general public.

“We are not, of course, asking that TV producers not run these shows or make a profit. We surely do not wish to censor the media. We only ask that they provide some balance and provide some appreciation of the scientific approach. The new Council will monitor such programs, and attempt to persuade producers, directors, writers, and the general public to leave room for the appreciation of scientific methods of inquiry. “We realize that the media are being attacked from all sides, but we think that a plea for raising the level of understanding of science should be heard.”

According to Paul Kurtz, among the first tasks of the new Council is to attempt to persuade TV producers to label their so-called docudramas as “entertainment” or “fiction,” and to make it clear that they are not based on scientific fact.