Reflecting on Ken Frazier, skeptic

A few thoughts on life, uncertainty, death, and happiness

Philosophy as a Way of Life

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Ken in his office, 2018, Wikimedia.

Ken Frazier has passed away a few days ago. His death affected me more than I would have anticipated. We were not close friends, largely because we have lived our lives thousands of kilometers apart and had only a few opportunities to spend time together at conferences. But I have known of Ken for most of my life, and met him personally the first time in 1999. It has been an occasional, but long relationship.

Ken was the longtime editor of Skeptical Inquirer, the premier magazine devoted to fighting pseudoscience and defending reason and science. Indeed, Ken has been the editor since the magazine changed its name from the rather unwieldy “Zetetic,” back in 1978. He has written essays in every issue for 35 years.

He has also published a number of books, most recently Science Under Siege: Defending Science, Exposing Pseudoscience. He won the American Humanist Association’s Humanist Pioneer Award for his “effective worldwide advancement of rational skepticism,” and was elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science because of his “distinguished contributions to the public understanding of science through writing for and editing popular science magazines that emphasize science news and scientific reasoning and methods.”

But you can read about Ken’s accomplishments on his Wikipedia page. You can also check out his memorial page, with testimonies from many friends and colleagues. He was a steady light for the skeptical movement, as well as one of the most decent human beings I’ve ever met, and will be sorely missed.

What I wish to spend a few minutes doing, instead, is to reflect on what this episode tells me about life, death, meaning, and being happy. These thoughts have been prompted by having known Ken for such a long time and by a letter to the readers of SI that he wrote after having suddenly been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia on October 10th. It’s a precious example of how a wise and good person tackles such dire circumstances.

In the letter, Ken explains that he and his wife of 58 years, Ruth, went on a grand tour of some of the most stunning national parks in the United States last August. They drove 3,700…

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Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at https://massimopigliucci.org/essays/