Street Librarian

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.

The Humanist (1777 T St. NW, Washington, DC 20009; $25/6 issues; is a bimonthly “magazine of critical inquiry and social concern” issued by the American Humanist Association. Like Free Inquiry, it covers ethical and political debates (on such topics as cloning, education, and privacy rights), providing a moral framework for human rights and social justice outside of religion.

Also worth noting: The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine and Aberrant Medical Practices (Prom-etheus Books, 59 John Glenn Dr., Amherst, NY 14228-2197; $60/4 issues) and Freethought Today (Box 750, Madison, WI 53701; $20/10 issues;

This Just In

Richard Hansen’s Poems-for-All series of matchbook-size chapbooks (24th street irregular press, 1008 24th St., Sacramento, CA 95816;; donation) is meant “to be taken by the handful and scattered like seeds.” Dang, they’re inspirational! The series features poems by Roque Dalton, Anne Waldman, Charles Bukowski, Patti Smith, and Dr. Seuss, among others. (“You have NOTHING to fear / from the poet / but the TRUTH,” writes Ted Joans in one.)

The zine that’s offered “free to commercial fishing women,” Xtra Tuf (Box 6834, Portland, OR 97228; $3 for #3; $1 for #4) is back after a four-year absence. The 80-page “Salmon Season ’01” edition (#3) features Moe Bowstern’s stories about beach seining in Alaska, a recipe for fireweed jelly, and knot-tying instructions (in Polish, it seems), while #4 focuses on work as a first-time fishing boat cook.

Challenging readers to “Live on Your Feet and Not on Your Knees,” Year Zero (Box 26276, London, W3 7GQ, England; $27.77/6 issues; is a rowdy British tabloid guaranteed to provoke thought and feeling. Six issues so far have included an article about street theater privacy advocates (the Surveillance Camera Players), a photo essay on North American gun culture, and an amusing essay about “your dad’s record collection.”

Anything That Moves, “the magazine for the resurgent bisexual” (2261 Market St. #496, San Francisco, CA 94114-1600; $10/3 issues;, has published a new issue after a one-year hiatus. The Spring 2001 edition includes two articles by lesbians involved with men, as well as a travelogue (“one man’s journey through queer America”), and comics by Tracy Williams.

Alternative Family has been relaunched as Proud Parenting (Box 8272, Van Nuys, CA 91409; $24/6 issues; with the June/July 2001 issue. The magazine is intended for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender parents–and their families.”

Chris Dodge is the Utne Reader librarian.

In-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.