Barry Beyerstein, 1947-2007

Barry Beyerstein, a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University, died unexpectedly of a heart attack on June 25th. His daughter said that he was a man fulfilled, and he certainly seemed to be that — well loved by family, well respected by colleagues, and motivated by the highest of ideals.

I first met Barry a little more than 25 years ago, after my arrival at Simon Fraser. I quickly learned that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the effects of various drugs on behavior; he would get a call whenever I had doubt about a recent piece of research on this subject, and he always provided thoughtful and thorough responses. Barry was also committed to drug policy reform, at the time a both politically and academically unpopular pursuit. His commitment to science gave him the tools to understand the contradictions of prohibition, just as it gave rise to his secular humanism, and his many encounters with astrology, the para-normal and other dubious ways of thinking about the world.

What endures today is Barry’s charming, warm and engaging personality. He wasn’t threatened by those who disagreed with him, and actually went out of his way to try to make them feel comfortable. He was a remarkable activist, a man who could communicate his ideas without dogma, and with a cheerful confidence. For those of us who want to build a more rational and compassionate society, Barry’s death is a significant loss.

Last word to his daughter, Lindsay, “The number one thing he always used to tell me is if you don’t believe in an afterlife, you live on in the way that people remember you, and all you can hope for is to do your best and leave the world a little bit better than you found it…And I think he would like to be remembered as somebody who left the world a bit better than he found it.”

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One Response to “Barry Beyerstein, 1947-2007”

  1. Bob B. Says:

    Barry Beyerstein “without dogma”?
    The fact CSICOP/CSI embraced him as a valued member at the top of their pecking order/heap, a “hero” to the cause, speaks volumes. Because open minded skeptics soon find they are completely unwelcome at CSI, and are either driven out or leave as Marcello Truzzi, an early member, did. Truzzi then formed an organization to investigate paranormal phenomena with an OPEN mind not the closed mind of the debunker. Truzzi, perhaps naively, at first thought CSICOP’s mission would be to impartially investigate paranormal claims with an open mind. He soon realized his CSICOP colleagues were doctrinaire fanatics, with impartiality definitely not being on their agenda.

    If Beyerstein was without dogma, how is it he apparently dismissed data of dozens of studies into paranormal phenomena by qualified scientists conduct under University auspices over decades, many of which showed with statistical validity that paranormal phenomena like ESP, demonstrably do occur? Surely only a dogmatic idealogue could do that.

    I agree with his and your own stand on drug law reform.
    I view it as a sad irony that the irrational idealogical thinking that leads people to view drug use as criminal/immoral – a form of thinking likely Beyerstein criticized – was mirrored in his own zealously ideological irrational thinking when it came to paranormal phenomena.
    -Bob

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