There is only one research
organization on parapsychology in France, Institut Métapsychique
(IMI), which is recognized as public interest
organization but hardly has any public support, and roughly no
recognition of its views by any other organization. (So, thorough
debates usually have to refer to the data produced outside France
as evidence for psi)
Instead, the views of the skeptics groups ("Zététique") are
strongly supported by the academic system and other official
The founding organization of the whole French skeptical movement (Cercle Zététique
) was more
and more discredited and finally self-dissolved, as the leading
and finally remaining few members were the most sectarian.
Members who left as they were not happy with its methods formed
other groups, but inherited its ill-informed claims and its biased
One of them is the Laboratoire
, an official laboratory in the University of
Nice, directed by the founder of the Cercle (Henri Broch), and
officially supported by 2 French Physics Nobel laureates, both
dead but still put forward as honorary members.
The other, less official but the least sectarian and thus most
respectable, thus with the maniest members, is the Observatoire Zététique
in Grenoble. So they have basically the same ideology from the
same guru (Broch) but make a difference by their "soft attitude".
Smaller groups and independent skeptical webmasters also exist.
The Observatoire made clear its independence to not be mistaken
with the others'sectarism, and prefers to not put forward its
divergence with the other groups, but all is explained in its
The whole ideology of the Zététique groups is that they are not
interested in the paranormal for itself, but made the choice to
focus on paranormal claims (preferably the most crazy and
incredible ones, or their own caricatural interpretation of them)
as a toy model for a pedagogical project of teaching the
scientific method to a large public. But the practical effect of
doing so is a dogmatic, ideological fight against all paranormal
claims across society through unserious investigations only; and
their discrepancy with science is particularly manifested by their
amateurist, demagogic approach of the scientific method (which one
web site of a small zététique group claims to be applicable by a
child) - while of course keeping the conclusion fixed by
The Skepticism pole of IMI's student group, whose members had to
remain anonymous to avoid any sort of personal attacks, hold a
blog and made a lot of contributions to many online discussions.
Finally they set up a web
to debunk the claims of the Zététique movement.
By taking the time to review some of the many debates across
forums and blog comments, it is striking how more rational and
convincing (while remaining very polite and civilized) is the
argumentation of these critics, as compared to the visible
dogmatism, sectarism, amateurism and paranoia of the skeptics,
which has been widely discredited anyway as such across any
forum not hosted by them nor by any "officially scientific"
Ironically, I even happened to find a lot of
similarities between the attitudes of these "skeptics"
and those of Fundamentalist Christianity, as well as with some
aspects of Postmodernism, (both movements which skeptics
officially claim to be radically opposed to), and which
are not shared by mainstream science. In other words, by such
a long, rich and extensive set of various rationality criteria, it
happens that "Scientific Skepticism" falls on the side of
irrationality together with its irrational "best ennemies" of
religious fundamentalism and posmodernism which it is most similar
to, while the whole of mainstream science generally falls on
the opposite side (rationality).
So, the official support to the French skeptics groups and
ideology is all a kind of Emperor's new clothes.
"To finish with
some clichés: parapsychologists would be marginal,
while skeptics would be the official representatives of
science. And what if it were the contrary ?
(This text is an introduction to the lecture given by Pierre
Lagrange January 28, 2005 at IMI)
I will want to consider two points during this presentation. The
first is how all actors, whether favorable to the study of
parapsychology or against this study, present the debate. In their
view, this debate would oppose a parapsychology at the margins of
science that would be barred from becoming a normal science
because of the opposition of skeptics, integrated with the
institution. But if you look at the situation as it stands, we
notice that it is parapsychology, particularly through the
Parapsychological Association, that belongs to the institution,
while the skeptics are those gathered in associations outside
the establishment. It is therefore not a controversy for the
admission of a discipline but a controversy between scientists
(parapsychologists) and science consumers (the rationalists) who
are skeptical towards the interest for society of obtained
results, as often happens (GMOs, nuclear energy etc.). Thus
why do even parapsychologists accept reports on the controversy
that do not correspond to reality and promote the discourse of
skeptics ? That is an enigma.
But this puzzle does not come alone. In fact, I think it is
related, at least in France to another very powerful speech in
parapsychology circles. Indeed, for decades, endless controversies
always occured following the terms imposed by rationalists.
Thus parapsychologists scramble to meet the requirements of
proof raised by rationalists rather than rely on the normal
scientific practice and seek in the plurality of
scientific practices the allies they would need. And this
discourse on evidence taken from rationalists (that has the
disadvantage of being by definition impossible to satisfy) is
coupled with a lack of real practice of the discipline. However,
it is difficult to accept that rationalists are such a
great danger when we see that parapsychology has scientific
societies such as the PA, newspapers referees and symposia.
Nothing prevents French parapsychologists to use these tools but
the frequent argument is that rationalists prevent their
work. Isn't this argument a bit weak ? Also if you look back in
time there were other times, especially in the early 50s with
Robert Amadou, when parapsychology has created the conditions for
a debate without worrying constantly of the only rationalist
opponents (...) By focusing on rationalists,
parapsychologists today give the impression of wanting to support
them at all costs by refraining to find elsewhere relays to
build an identity for research in parapsychology (...) we may
wonder if rationalists would be an ally for some actors that
otherwise would be obliged to produce facts, to show they have
something to say. But as long as this sterile controversy lasts
they can pose as oppressed and pretend that they are prevented
from producing facts..."