Ken Frazier, editor of 'Skeptical Inquirer' magazine, dies at 80 - Albuquerque Journal

Ken Frazier, editor of ‘Skeptical Inquirer’ magazine, dies at 80

Kendrick “Ken” Frazier stands near the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park this past September. Frazier, a noted science writer, died in Albuquerque on Nov. 7. (Courtesy of Ruth Frazier)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

On one of their first dates, Kendrick “Ken” Frazier took his future wife, Ruth, to a trailer in the dark outskirts of Boulder, Colorado. That was in 1963, when they were students at the University of Colorado.

“My dad thought it was just a sneaky way for Ken to get me out in the countryside,” Ruth said. “But it was a university trailer and there were three university scientists there. We went there to listen to sounds being emitted from Jupiter. It sounded like static.”

Perhaps only Ken Frazier would have considered that the kind of outing on which to launch a romance. But Ruth understood.

“Ken just loved science, especially astronomy and geophysics, but also a very broad-based area of different sciences,” she said.

Ken Frazier went on to a career as a noted science writer. He was editor of “Science News”; he was the author or editor of 10 books; he worked for more than 20 years at Sandia National Laboratories, writing about the lab’s research projects and serving as editor of “Sandia Lab News”; he was also the longtime editor of “Skeptical Inquirer,” a magazine dedicated to combating disinformation and pseudoscience, and discovering rational explanations for paranormal claims.

“Ken helped launch the whole skeptical movement with people like James Randi and Carl Sagan,” said Dave Thomas, a physicist at New Mexico Tech and president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason. “Ken was interested in everything about the integrity of science and the scientific method of evaluating things, and tossing out the things that don’t work.”

Ken Frazier died in Albuquerque on Nov. 7 of acute myeloid leukemia. He was 80.

Survivors include his wife, Ruth; son, Christopher; and seven grandchildren. Ken was preceded in death by a daughter, Michele. There will be a celebration of his life from 3-5 p.m. Jan. 8 at St. Chad’s Episcopal Church, 7171 Tennyson NE.

“The skeptical community is pretty small,” said Ben Radford, deputy editor of “Skeptical Inquirer.” “Ken’s loss hits hard for a lot of us.”

Still waters

Frazier was born in Windsor, Colorado. He started out as a science major at the University of Colorado Boulder, but switched to journalism. He and Ruth met at a fraternity party.

“I could tell right away he was the total opposite of me,” she said. “I had heard the expression that still waters run deep and Ken was the stillest of waters. I am a total extrovert and he was a classic introvert. They say opposites attract, and we were both attracted.”

They were married about a year after he took her to that trailer to listen to Jupiter’s noise.

He got a master’s in journalism at Columbia University in New York City.

While editor of “Science News” in 1976, Frazier reported on the founding of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. The committee published a journal, which was originally called “The Zetetic,” but soon changed its name to “Skeptical Inquirer.” Frazier became editor in August 1977 and, working out of his Albuquerque home, continued in that role until his death.

Thomas knew Frazier for about 20 years. He said Frazier encouraged him to write an article about Project Mogul, a top-secret U.S. Army Air Forces project involving high-altitude balloons equipped with microphones to detect sound waves generated by Soviet Union atomic bomb tests. The crash of such a balloon in New Mexico in 1947 is believed by some to be the source of the famous Roswell UFO Incident.

That was the first of about five articles Thomas wrote for “Skeptical Inquirer.” “Ken nurtured the skeptical community, not just by editing ‘Skeptical Inquirer,’ but also by encouraging people to write and investigate. He was extremely friendly, thoughtful and engaging.”

Endlessly curious

Radford, who grew up in Corrales and lives now in Rio Rancho, was a University of New Mexico student when he discovered an old issue of “Skeptical Inquirer” in a Logan, Utah, used-book store in the early ’90s. He was hooked right away.

“In my teens, I had realized that all the mystery-mongering TV shows about UFOs and Bigfoot had very little investigation,” Radford said. “They were not giving me any evidence. I loved the critical-thinking aspect of ‘Skeptical Inquirer.’ ”

When he discovered the magazine’s editor lived in Albuquerque, Radford wrote Frazier a letter saying, “I love what you are doing and would like to contribute.”

Radford would become managing editor, and then deputy editor, of “Skeptical Inquirer.” He is the author of 13 books, including “Mysterious New Mexico: Miracles, Magic and Monsters in the Land of Enchantment,” and has written hundreds of articles, many of them for “Skeptical Inquirer.”

“I worked with Ken for 25 years,” he said. “He kind of gave me my break in publishing. The main thing I remember about him is that he was endlessly curious and had an enthusiasm that was infectious. I sometimes forgot he was my boss. We were just two guys with a shared love of skepticism and critical thinking. I will always have fond memories of him.”

Last Grand Tour

In September, Ken and Ruth made a 3,700-mile trip that took them from Albuquerque to Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, and back home.

“We called it The Last Grand Tour,” Ruth said. “Ken had an incredible love of nature, from the planets to the mountains at the doors of our house in the (Sandia) foothills. We had a second-floor deck we could go up on to look at sunsets. He would often get up at 3 or 4 in the morning and go look for the space station.”

Ken learned soon after returning from his September trip that he was suffering from aggressive leukemia.

In a note to “Skeptical Inquirer” readers, which will be published in a forthcoming issue, he wrote: “New generations of scientific skeptics are moving into positions of influence. I have no qualms about their being up to the task and only wish I could journey along with all of you a while longer.”

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