Skeptic pioneer Paul Kurtz dead

Professor Paul Kurtz, co-founder of the original Skeptical organisation, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), died on October 20, 2012. He was 86.

Kurtz was Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and over his long career published over 800 articles or reviews and authored and edited over 50 books. He has been called the “father of secular humanism”. In 1969 he founded the publishing house Prometheus Books, which specialises in humanist and skeptical publications.

Kurtz visited Australia on two occasions. During the first he attended the Australian Skeptics Convention in Melbourne in 1986, and then visited an outback site to view Halley’s Comet. His second visit was to jointly sponsor the 2000 World Skeptics Convention in Sydney, where he presented a Distinguished Skeptic Award to long-time editor of The Skeptic, Barry Williams. In conversation with Barry, Kurtz paid Australian Skeptics the compliment that, of all the Skeptics functions he had attended, this was the one that most emphasised how much enjoyment could be had from organised Skepticism, noting that he had never hitherto heard so much laughter at such a gathering.

While Kurtz’s period at the helm of various skeptical and humanist groups was not without some differences of opinion, in an interview with The Skeptic earlier this year, Ray Hyman, another pioneer in the establishment of the skeptical movement, praised Kurtz’s organisational skills in setting up the original CSICOP, suggesting those skills were essential to the birth of the movement. For this role, and for his continued championing of the skeptical approach throughout his life, he will be fondly and gratefully remembered by skeptics for many years.