Harriet Hall

On this date in 1945, physician and science communicator Harriet Anne (Hoag) Hall was born in St. Louis to Edna (Barnes) and Albert Hoag. She grew up in Seattle with three siblings. “I began to question the existence of God in my early teens, because of the hypocrisy I observed among my fellow Methodists and because of things I read,” Hall wrote in “Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon” (2008).

“In looking back, it’s hard to retrace my path, but I remember being impressed by Frazer’s ‘The Golden Bough,’ a book about comparative religions. It made me realize those different religions couldn’t all be right, so maybe they were all wrong; and it explained some of the psychology that might have led humans to invent gods.”

She earned a medical degree in 1970 from the University of Washington, where her father taught, then was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force and served for seven years as a general medical officer in Spain. In 1979 she earned her wings as a flight surgeon and was certified by the American Board of Family Practice.

Hall met future husband Kirk Hall Jr. at Francis E. Warren AFB near Cheyenne, Wyo. They had two daughters, Kristin Ann and Kimberly Alexandra. She retired in 1989 as a full colonel at McChord AFB in Washington state after 20 years of service. Her daughters were 4 and 6 then and she wanted to devote more time to raising them.

Hall started writing about science and medicine, including complementary and alternative medicine, in her mid-50s and contributed regularly to the Skeptical Inquirer and Quackwatch. She was dubious about acupuncture and alternative treatments in general: “If it were shown to be truly effective, it would be part of regular medicine.” (The Boston Globe, July 24, 2009)

Her SkepDoc column in Skeptic magazine debuted in 2006 and eventually included over 700 articles. She co-founded the Science-Based Medicine website in 2008 and co-published the college textbook “Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions” in 2013. She started a column in 2018 in Skeptical Inquirer called “Reality Is the Best Medicine.” She published a whimsical children’s book titled “There’s No Such Thing as the Tooth Fairy!” in 2022, having previously coined the term “tooth fairy science” to refer to studying a phenomenon before establishing its existence.

She died in her sleep at home at age 77 in Puyallup, Wash. (D. 2023)

PHOTO: Hall at the Center for Inquiry’s CSICon 2016 in Las Vegas. 

Freedom From Religion Foundation