As we previously announced, co-founder, editor, and contributing author of SBM, Dr. Harriet Hall, unexpectedly passed away on the evening of January 11. This is a tremendous loss for SBM, for the skeptical and science-based medicine community, and for us personally. Great appreciation to her husband, Kirk, who thoughtfully provided a short bio for Harriet:

Harriet Anne Hall was born to Albert L Hoag and Edna (Barnes) Hoag in St. Louis, Missouri on 2 July 1945. She was the eldest of four children (the twins Steven & Stephanie and the youngest Andrea). Harriet attended the University of Washington as an undergraduate, where her father taught and graduated with her medical degree from there in 1970. She was commissioned First Lieutenant in the US Air Force on 13 June 1970 and completed her Rotating Internship at the David Grant USAF Medical Center in 1971. In her early AF career, she was a General Medical Officer and was stationed in Spain for seven years. After her return to the US Harriet attended the Aerospace Medicine Primary Course to become a Flight Surgeon, graduating in 1979. In the same year Harriet became Certified by the American Board of Family Practice. She was assigned to Francis E. Warren AFB where she met and married Kirk Albert Hall, Jr. Harriet retired as a Full Colonel at McChord AFB, WA. She lived in Puyallup, Washington until her death on 11 Jan 2023.

But perhaps the greatest impact Harriet had was after she retired from her first career and essentially took up a second career as a science communicator. I first met Harriet about 20 years ago, at a science and medicine conference hosted by CSI. We immediately connected, as two physicians highly skeptical of the claims and practices loosely collected under the umbrella of “alternative medicine”. We worked together, mostly through Wallace Sampson (another founding contributor to SBM whom we lost a few years ago) and his work with CSI, including the journal, The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine. When I decided to begin my own project here at SBM, Harriet was an obvious choice to join the effort.

Since then Harriet has been tireless in her efforts to help educate the public about how science should inform the practice of medicine, and how medicine, and even common sense, can go horribly wrong when we abandon good science as our guide. Among her many contributions, Harriet is remembered for coining the phrase, Tooth Fairy Science, which nicely crystalized and communicated one of the many core problems with alternative science. To paraphrase, you can study in detail all of the aspects of the Tooth Fairy phenomenon without ever getting to the core question – the only question that really matters – does the Tooth Fairy actually exist?

In addition to being an editor and regular contributor to SBM, Harriet also ran her own newsletter, SkepDoc, and contributed to Skeptic magazine, Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and O, The Oprah Magazine. She would lend her time and efforts to many projects promoting science and skepticism, including Quackwatch, CSI, The Skeptic’s Toolbox, and the Institute for Science in Medicine. She worked through her retirement, even when her health began to fail her, right up until the end.

Harriet also published two books. The first, Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon, chronicles the challenges she faced in a male-dominated career. And just this year she published There’s No Such Thing as the Tooth Fairy! This is an illustrated children’s book that will hopefully introduce a generation of children to skeptical thinking.

Unfortunately, during the last few years Harriet suffered from declining health, including heart failure and arrhythmias. These health issues limited her ability to travel, but also coincided with the pandemic, which greatly limited live events for over two years. This means I had not seen Harriet in person for several years, which I regret. But through it all she never missed a deadline.

We will certainly miss Harriet’s contributions here. She was always fearless and tireless in promoting and defending science, reason, and above all what she considered the best interest of her patients. In her second career she made the entire world her patient. She was driven by the desire to protect the public from misinformation, exploitation, and the bad science and thinking that lead to bad medicine. That is a life worth celebrating.

Author

  • Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also has produced two courses with The Great Courses, and published a book on critical thinking - also called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

Posted by Steven Novella

Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also has produced two courses with The Great Courses, and published a book on critical thinking - also called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.