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Marcello Truzzi  (1935-2003)


Marcello Truzzi

An appreciation by Jerome Clark

Late on Sunday afternoon February 2, 2003,  I received a call from Kris Truzzi, informing me that his father, Marcello Truzzi, died at 3 pm that day. The cause of death was the cancer Marcello had been battling off and on for seven years. Kris informed me that around the middle of the week his father suddenly took a turn for the worse, and his health declined rapidly after that.

Marcello, a sociologist at Eastern Michigan University (Ypsilanti), was a dear friend of mine. We last spoke when he called me on a Sunday afternoon, almost precisely a week, even to the hour, before he passed on. He was bedridden but reasonably optimistic, though realistic, about his condition. He was not a religious man, but he remarked calmly that he was not afraid to die. My impression, however, is that he did not expect to go so quickly, because he talked at length about his thoughts for a personal and intellectual autobiography. It would have been a fascinating, original book.

But then Marcello was a fascinating and original man. I first met him in 1977, around the time he left the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which he co-founded with Paul Kurtz. It soon became apparent to Marcello (as well as to Kurtz and many others who were looking on) that he and Kurtz had fundamental philosophical differences. Kurtz and other hard-liners in the organization suspected that he was soft on anomalous claims and insufficiently committed to the crusade against "irrationalism," in CSICOP's often-used characterization of contrary opinion. For his part Marcello felt he was a true skeptic, who doubts, rather than a debunker (he later preferred "scoffer"), who denies.

In an interview J. Gordon Melton and I conducted with him in his home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1979, he eloquently laid out those views. The interview appears in the September and October 1979 issues of Fate. He wrote and published frequently, his writings reflecting his wide range of interests, including stage magic, music, carnivals and circuses (he was born into a prominent European circus family), the sociology of science, folklore, anthropology, psychology, popular culture, politics. Perhaps the paper that best summarizes his views on anomalous subjects  is his "Zetetic Ruminations on Skepticism and Anomalies in Science," which appeared in his own journal, Zetetic Scholar 12/13 (1987). Unfortunately, he never did expand that essay into a full-length book, though from time to time he talked about it.

To the end he doubted, but he did not deny. He thought that whether or not they were ultimately proved to be as extraordinary as they seemed, the issues raised by anomalous experiences, and investigated by serious, critical-minded ufologists, cryptozoologists, and parapsychologists, are legitimate ones which science dismisses or ignores to its own detriment. In our last conversation he spoke of the fundamental uncertainty that underlies all existence and understanding.

I might note here that it was Marcello, not Carl Sagan, who coined the often-misattributed maxim "Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence." In recent years Marcello had come to conclude that the phrase was a non sequitur, meaningless and question-begging, and he intended to write a debunking of his own words. Sad to say, he never got around to it.

No single human being influenced my thinking on UFOs and other anomalies as Marcello did. Over the years we spoke, usually over the phone, dozens and dozens of times. Sometimes his ideas provoked or even annoyed me, but he never failed to force me to think deeper and harder because of that. He was smarter than any five other humans combined. I suspect that every day that passed by, he had at least one insight that had never occurred to anybody else. It is sad to reflect that that wonderful, unceasingly creative intelligence is now lost to this world. My last words to him were, "Take care of yourself. There's only one of you."

Beyond that, he was a good and valued friend, a warm and funny man, whom it was an honor and a delight to know. I loved him. I will miss him forever.