A debunker is an individual who discredits and exposes claims as being false, exaggerated, unscientific or pretentious. Debunkers often focus on topics such as U.F.O.s, claimed paranormal phenomena, conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, religion, research outside mainstream science or pseudoscientific subjects. The term debunker is applied when a person functions as an activist and performs research, writes articles, gives speeches, conducts seminars, or engages in other activities with the specific intent of discounting the validity of a dubious, bizarre, or abnormal claim.

Debunking is the act of disproving a proposal or hypothesis, generally in an academic or scientific sense.


The term debunk originated in 1923, when American novelist William Woodward (1874-1950) used it to mean to "take the bunkum out of things." Often the term "debunkery" is not limited to arguments about scientific validity. It can also be used in a more general sense at attempts to discredit any opposing point of view, such as that of a political opponent. "Debunkify", a variant of debunk, has also recently been introduced into the lexicon. The word is a marketing/advertising term coined by the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation, and is associated with debunking the myths associated with tobacco use.


Debunkers' critiques of such things as religion and pseudoscience may offend believers. Some, such as Marcello Truzzi (who self-identified as a skeptic), maintain that some skeptics go too far and assert negative claims, and thus are not true skeptics but "pseudoskeptics". According to Truzzi, genuine skeptics are neutral or agnostic, often critical of extraordinary claims, but do not make negative claims by denying them. Instead they "demand extraordinary proof" before they will accept extraordinary claims as proven.

Well-known debunkers

  • Stephen Barrett specializes in debunking quackery, health fraud, and alternative medicine.
  • Mark Bellinghaus exposed some Marilyn Monroe memorabilia as fake. Bellinghaus also debunked psychic James van Praagh.
  • Barry Beyerstein was professor of psychology, researched explored brain mechanisms of perception and consciousness, the effects of drugs on the brain and mind, sense of smell and its lesser-known contributions to human cognition and emotion.
  • Robert Todd Carroll, author of The Skeptic's Dictionary
  • Kendrick Frazier was the editor of Science News for several years. Since 1977 he has been the editor of Skeptical Inquirer, the journal published by CSICOP.
  • Martin Gardner is a popular American mathematics and science writer specializing in recreational mathematics, but with interests encompassing magic (conjuring), pseudoscience, literature philosophy, and religion.
  • Terence Hines is professor of neurology, a science writer, and debunks pseudoscience and the paranormal.
  • Harry Houdini, one of the most famous magicians, escapologists, and stunt performers of all time, was also an active debunker of charlatans and Spiritualism.
  • Philip J. Klass was a debunker of UFOs.
  • Abraham Kovoor was a Sri Lankan professor known for attempting to debunk the prominent Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba.
  • Barbara and David Mikkelson, who run Snopes, a website that is the most widely-known resource for validating or debunking urban legends, Internet rumors, email forwards, and other such stories of uncertain or questionable origin in popular American culture.
  • Joe Nickell is CISCOP's Senior Research Fellow and author of numerous books on the paranormal, he is a former stage magician and is a prominent skeptical investigator of the paranormal. He also works as an historical document consultant and has examined such famous forgeries as the purported Jack the Ripper Diary.
  • Penn and Teller, a two-man magic and comedy team, who are also skeptics. They host the debunking show Bullshit! and have a live show at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.
  • Philip Plait, also known as The Bad Astronomer, is a debunker of various theories related to space and astronomy. Most of these (and clearing up of other astronomy-related misconceptions) are accessible at his website.
  • Massimo Polidoro is co-founder and executive director of CICAP (the Italian Committee for the Investigations of Claims of the Paranormal), editor of its journal Scienza and Paranormale, CSICOP's research fellow and author of various books dealing with paranormal claims.
  • Basava Premanand is a rationalist and full time Indian skeptic from Tamil Nadu, publisher of the magazine the Indian Skeptic.
  • Benjamin Radford is managing editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer and editor-in-chief of the Spanish-language magazine Pensar. After receiving a B.A. in psychology from the University of New Mexico in 1993, he traveled extensively pursuing his interest in urban legends.
  • James Randi is a skeptic, a professional magician, and opponent of pseudoscience. He founded the James Randi Educational Foundation.
  • Carl Sagan was a highly successful popularizer of scientific subjects and a noted scientific skeptic.
  • Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the Executive Director of the Skeptics Society, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, the host of the Skeptics Distinguished Science Lecture Series at Caltech, and is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims.
  • L. Sprague de Camp, debunked speculative history and pseudoscience
  • Robert B. Stein, who debunks faked photographs of UFOs and cryptozoological creatures
  • Christopher Wanjek is a health and science writer who debunks false medical claims.
  • Fang Zhouzi, nom de plume of Fang Shimin, a Chinese scholar living in the U.S., a Ph.D. in biochemistry, freelance writer, exposes misconduct mostly in Chinese academia, news, and businesses. Owner of the Chinese website New Threads which aids his debunking activities in addition to publishing original literary works. He was reported in the column News Focus of the prestigious journal, Science, on August 10, 2001.

See also




  • Henry Gordon (1988). ExtraSensory Deception: ESP, Psychics, Shirly McClaine, Ghosts, UFOs, .... Macmillian. ISBN 0-7715-9539-5.

External links

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