Street Librarian

Mags for inquiring minds; what's new in the independent press.

| November-December 2001

I saw a UFO one night when I was 10. An eerie feeling gripped me as I watched the saucer pass overhead, red lights rotating slowly. Seconds later I identified the object as an advertising sign towed behind a plane. I’ve been skeptical ever since.

The desire to believe in something—anything—often overrules reason, sometimes unfortunately. Although the human capacity for credulity seems measureless, a handful of engaging magazines counter the tendency by promoting critical thinking about extraordinary claims.

Skeptical Inquirer (Box 703, Amherst, NY 14226; $35/6 issues;, published bi-monthly by the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), calls itself “the magazine for science and reason.” Fascinating and useful, it rationally examines everything from parapsychology to dubious medical practices. Recent issues have included articles on polygraph testing, veterinary quackery, child behavior myths, and mass panics.

Skeptic (Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001; $30/4 issues; www.skeptic .com), the quarterly magazine of the Skeptics Society, applies reason and scientific method to creationism, cults, Holocaust revisionism, conspiracy theories, near-death and out-of-body experiences, urban myths, academic fraud, and all kinds of pseudoscience. I especially like Skeptic’s lively letters section and interviews, but the magazine is also a good source for book reviews.

Always entertaining and provocative, Fortean Times, “the journal of strange phenomena” (IMS, 3330 Pacific Ave., Suite 404, Virginia Beach, VA 23451-2983; $59.40/12 issues;, manages to combine graphic appeal with an international News of the Weird sensibility. The monthly British magazine’s coverage of crop circles, cryptozoology, and paranormal phenomena was once overly gullible, but now seems clearheaded. A two-part article recently examined the antagonistic extremism of “true believers and true disbelievers.”

Free Inquiry (Box 664, Amherst, NY 14226; $31.50/4 issues;, published quarterly by the Council for Secular Humanism, often focuses on social debates along the borders of religion, philosophy, and science. “Celebrating reason and humanity,” recent editions have looked at the death penalty and church/state separation, with contributions by Mark Crispin Miller, Christopher Hitchens, Wendy Kaminer, Peter Singer, Nat Hentoff, and other notable writers.