Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Flim Flam!

Flim Flam! The Truth About Unicorns, Parapsychology and Other Delusions
© 1980 James Randi
340 pages

In times past I have read authors following their appearances on a favorite podcast of mine, Point of Inquiry, and that's partly the reason I decided to read from James Randi this week. James Randi is a former professional magician and hardened skeptic who for years has challenged those claiming paranormal abilities. This is not simply because he gets his kicks destroying the dreams of true believers, but because so many claiming these abilities use them to defraud innocents. According to the book, Flim Flam! is the result of Randi's having been booed off stage when he opted to speak on the paranormal at a Mensa convention. He subsequently resigned Mensa and decided to devote a book to the subject.

What follows is straightforward debunking. Joe Nickell's books are similar, although he attempts to take people claiming the supernatural is at work seriously and deals with his investigations sternly. Randi writes much more informally, often addressing the reader in a light way and making acerbic comments. The book's topics include fairy photographs, the Bermuda triangle, UFOs, transcendental meditation, "psi", psychic surgeons, Pyramid mysticism, and more. The last chapter is devoted to trials undertaken when people take Randi up on his (then) 10,000 challenge, in which he offers to pay those who can prove their abilities $10,000. (The number has risen through the years in keeping with inflation.)

Some topics were better than others. Randi and debunking fans will probably enjoy it, and I would recommend it to those who have heard of such things and want to know what the evidence might be for and against it.

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