Deborah Hyde is the editor in chief of The Skeptic Magazine in the UK. She is a film make up effects co-ordinator and leading writer, often under the name of Jourdemayne, on the subject of belief in the supernatural.
I always say that religion is superstition with politics.
On Becoming Interested in Science
So, my area of interest is why people believe in the malign supernatural. All the lovely stuff – all the gods and the fairies and the angels – I leave to other people; I do the nasty stuff, the werewolves, the vampires, the poltergeists, that sort of thing. (I had a) disturbed childhood, I guess. Just always, always been fascinated by it. I’m interested in, from an entertainment point of view, I just think it’s good entertainment. But as I got older, it fascinated me that people at some point in history – and a lot of people now – still truly believe in this stuff. And the beliefs themselves are fairly systematic. So you can break them down into patterns, and you’re thinking, well, actually there must be a human thing going on here. And so now I use mainly history and psychology to try to understand why people come up with these kinds of beliefs again and again.
On an Inspiration
Somebody who’s inspired me to do this kind of work? There are a lot of authorities in my area who I admire tremendously. I would pick out two names, I think. One is Montague Summers, because he was a nutcase – I can say that, he’s been dead a long time. But he was a very diligent, scholarly nutcase. He believed in all this stuff. He was writing in the 20’s and the 30’s, and he’s made sure that we get a lot of the information now. We don’t believe in his conclusions – he was a believer in all these things – but those books are just hilarious. They’re an inspiration. They’re still good to read now.
And the other person who’s inspired me on a more serious note is a historian called Keith Thomas, who wrote one of my favourite books, possibly my favourite book ever: ‘Religion and the Decline of Magic’ about how people assimilated a new world view after the Reformation and how magic changed – the function of it changed – during that time.
On Religion vs Superstition
Religion and superstition aren’t particularly different. Well, they aren’t different. I mean I always say that religion is superstition with politics. So if you’re going to believe in something supernatural on no evidence at all, you could talk about a god or you could talk about a bloodsucking fairy. I mean, the sort of tendencies, the organisations of the information, the predispositions that we have as human beings to believe in these kinds of things, it’s all coming from the same underlying place.
On Editing The Skeptic Magazine
The Skeptic Magazine in England has been going for over 20 years. There’s also an American version. And everybody gets on, but they’re a different publication from us. We both have the same name.
It was started by Wendy Grossman and she was a journalist. It, over the years, had had a few different editors, and then the longest tenure, I think, was by Professor Chris French of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmith’s. And he’s interested in the psychologic reasons that people believe in weird supernatural things. So he took on The Skeptic for, I think, around 10 years, as part of that interest. And then when he stepped down for a break, I took over. That was around two years ago now.
On Making People Connect to Science and Skepticism
I find, when I go around and I talk to skeptics, that there are different entry points for it. Some people are interested in alt-med, some people are interested in the Loch Ness monster, some people are interested in ghosts, some people are interested in using evidence based policy on the political scale. So I think if you’re talking to people who haven’t got skepticism yet, it’s really a matter of finding the thing that they’re interested in. Because once you find out the basic approach – of just evidence, it’s no more complicated than that – then you can get them to apply it to other areas of their life. And that’ll be different for different people.