|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,
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
Eastern Michigan University
|Ron Westrum is a sociologist
and long-time colleague of Marcello Truzzi.