Originally published in:
Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 17, No. 2, pp. 197-200, 2003.


Marcello Truzzi  (1935-2003)

Marcello Truzzi was an original.  A maverick sociologist, he made  major contributions to the study of anomalies through his theories, his  investigations, and his publication of Zetetic Scholar.  He advanced the field through his brokering of ideas, individuals, and organizations.  He was a colorful person, with many friends in show business, literature, and science.

    Marcello Truzzi was born in Copenhagen on Sept. 6, 1935 into a circus family, the son of Massimiliano Truzzi, a gifted juggler.  His mother Sonya was Massimiliano's Russian assistant, apparently a beauty who often missed her cue because she was posing for the audience.  The Truzzi family left Denmark and moved to the United States in 1940.   Massimiliano then joined Barnum and Bailey Circus where he became the center ring juggler.  Much of Marcello's young life was dominated by the aura of his brilliant, dashing, and overbearing father.   Association with the circus also taught him  that every institution has a "backstage"  as well as a public face.    Preoccupation with what was going on backstage, the hidden reality of society, would shape Marcello's approach to sociology and later to the paranormal. 

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    He majored in sociology at Florida State University and studied law at the University of Florida before switching back to sociology and earning a master's degree there.  He moved to Ithaca, New York, where he earned a doctorate in Sociology from Cornell University.  He had a variety of teaching jobs at the University of South Florida, The University of Michigan and New College (Sarasota, Florida), before coming to Eastern Michigan University in 1974 as Chairman of its Sociology Department.

     Marcello had exceptionally broad interests.  He had a huge private library that required regular  stacks  in his basement .  He published many articles on popular culture and the sociology of the circus, but also many edited volumes.  The most popular of these was Sociology and Everyday Life (1968), which sold roughly 200,000 copies.

    Having learned how to perform magic tricks at an early age, Marcello was   strongly interested in the paranormal.  Shortly after his arrival at EMU, Marcello's interests in this area led him to aid in founding the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).  Other major figures in founding CSICOP were James Randi, Martin Gardner, Ray Hyman, Paul Kurtz, and Dennis Rawlins.  The aim of the committee, he explained to me at the time, was to engage in an even-handed investigation of paranormal claims.  After an investigation was complete, the committee would then publish its findings, positive or negative.  Marcello was to edit the Committee's Journal, whose name was initially to be The Zetetic.  The first issue appeared in Fall of 1976.

    At first things went well with CSICOP, but soon Marcello realized that other members of the Committee did not share his commitment to even-handed investigation.   In fact, for many of the Committee's leaders, the real purpose was a hammer and tongs crusade against the paranormal.  Truzzi resigned from the Committee and founded his own publication, Zetetic Scholar  (the Committee's publication then became The Skeptical Inquirer).   Zetetic means "seeker" in Greek, and Marcello wanted ZS to be a scholarly meeting ground for dialogue between proponents and detractors of the paranormal.  It was.  In the dozen or so issues of ZS that were published (roughly twice a year), debate over various paranormal claims did in fact take place on a scientific basis.   Marcello also used ZS to put forward many of his pungent observations on the sociology of the paranormal.  Ray Hyman and myself were nominally co-editors, but, in fact, Marcello did most of the editing and writing.

    Marcello was involved in the so-called "Starbaby affair," which revolved around a CSICOP-sponsored test of Michel Gauquelin's "Mars Effect" claims.  Statistician Marvin Zelen had suggested a novel test of these claims, and Marcello gave much support to such a test.  As the test was carried out, however, several events took place that cast doubt on the impartiality of the procedures being used by the Committee.  Dennis Rawlins, who was carrying out the research, confessed that Committee President Paul Kurtz had wanted to know how the data was coming out prior to complete processing.  Truzzi also noted a packing of the sample with confounding data and post-hoc-ing of the results. 

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In the end the whole event became an embarrassment to CSICOP.  In Marcello's mind this showed that the Committee was really pseudo-skeptics.  A true skeptic, says Truzzi, has an open mind; this trait was seldom in evidence, however, with CSICOP's leaders.

    In 1982  Marcello became one of the founders of the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE).  In many ways SSE would become what Marcello had hoped CSICOP would be: A means for the scientific investigation of anomalies.  But unlike CSICOP, there would be no corporate point of view, and SSE would be a forum for investigators rather than an organ for investigation.  Also, SSE was set up to be an elite organization rather than having an active leadership with a much larger body of passive members like CSICOP.  Over the years Marcello's participation has been important to SSE, which he has served as council member, speaker, and active participant.  His conceptual distinctions have been of great value.

    Marcello's own views on the paranormal reflected both his entertainment background and also his sociological training.  While there might be many legitimate anomalies in the world, Marcello thought, he was sensitive to the reality that commercial interests and gullibility led to all kinds of puffery.  He insisted on keeping a balanced perspective and unmasking the many frauds and mistaken "discoveries."  He often made reference to Wald's distinction between Type I and Type II errors (false positives and false negatives).   He noted that past scientific investigations seemed to concentrate on unmasking the Type I errors.  Not much consideration was given, he thought, to the Type II error, in which anomalies are mistakenly dismissed, as happened with early investigations of  meteorites.

     An important distinction Marcello made was between "crypto" and "para"  sciences.  Cryptosciences study "hidden objects" whose existence can be proved by public demonstration of a single specimen of the disputed category (e.g. a bigfoot carcass).  Parasciences, by contrast, deal with unexpected kinds of causality, such as telekinesis, and link apparently disparate orders of events, such as thought and physical force.  The proof in parasciences must often be inferential (e.g. via statistics), rather than a simple physical demonstration.  Michel Gauquelin's theories of planetary effects on birth times is an example of a parascientific claim. 

     Marcello's investigation of psychics involved in police work showed the kind of serious research into the paranormal he thought valuable.  In a book written with Arthur Lyons, The Blue Sense (1992), he weighed claims that psychics had helped solve major crimes.  For the most part, Marcello and Lyons found that these claims were inflated, and  showed the various ways in which this inflation occurred.   Yet they were not willing to dismiss such claims completely, and allowed that there might be isolated instances where psychics provided key inputs. 

    Through his pioneering theory, empirical research, and brokering of ideas and people, Marcello advanced our thinking about the paranormal.  Zetetic Scholar was a major contribution to debates over anomalies.  Marcello was an excellent 

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friend and colleague, and will be missed by all of us.  He is survived by his wife, Pat, an artist and illustrator,  two sons, Gianni and Kristopher, and a granddaughter, Sofia.

Ron Westrum

Eastern Michigan University

Ron Westrum is a sociologist and long-time colleague of Marcello Truzzi.