SFU professor Barry Beyerstein dies of heart failure

One of SFU's most popular professors, Barry Beyerstein, is dead.

Beyerstein, an internationally admired expert in cognitive psychology, died on Monday of heart failure while working at his desk, according to an SFU news release (see below).

He was the long-time chair of BC Skeptics, a group that debunks claims of the paranormal and medical quackery.

He also happened to be a central player in the first television news story that I ever reported as a student intern at BCTV.

At the time, the West Vancouver public library was relying on a handwriting analyst to screen job applicants. Beyerstein, ever the skeptic, condemned the practice as pseudopsychology.

He later went on to appear on Oprah's show.

The Straight extends its condolences to the Beyerstein family, including his brother Dale, who has been very active over the years with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. Here is SFU's news release:

Popular psychology professor passes away

Barry Beyerstein, a Simon Fraser University psychology professor and well-known media commentator, passed away on Monday, June 25. His death was due to heart failure while working at his office desk.

A charter student at SFU, Beyerstein enrolled at the university because he was looking for something different. He earned his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. He then returned to the hill, building a career that capitalized on his passionate investigation of the psychology of truth to help SFU enhance its reputation as a university with a difference.

Beyerstein has been internationally recognized and sought by media because of his unique understanding of human brain behaviour, from the psychology of human error to his penchant for debunking scientifically questionable beliefs.

"Clearly Barry's work has made an important and enduring contribution to psychological science,” says Dan Weeks, chair of psychology at SFU. “He achieved worldwide eminence for his critical analyses of pseudoscience in psychology and medicine. Most importantly he was a kind and genuine person and we will miss him deeply."

A skeptic at heart and a tireless commentator, Beyerstein tackled issues from drug and alcohol addiction and depression to the notions and social beliefs linked to parapsychology.

Beyerstein’s dedication to clearing the unscientific air about the benefits of alternative medicine, the presence of UFOs and other widely cherished beliefs motivated him to do more than 800 interviews.

His willingness to discuss tough topics and do media interviews earned him SFU’s annual president’s award for service in media and public relations in 2002.

A resident of Port Moody, Beyerstein headed the B.C. Skeptics Society, an educational organization dedicated to improving scientific literacy and providing critiques of occult and pseudoscientific claims.

He also chaired the selection committee for SFU’s Ted and Nora Sterling prize in support of controversy, an award acknowledging academics who challenge entrenched authority or prejudice with reason and evidence.

A celebration of Barry's life is being planned.