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Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #15: Adventures in Paranormal Investigation

Posted on : 01-03-2011 | By : Mary | In : Book Club

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Video evidence of a ghost? Alien hand syndrome? Clear and poorly acted fraud? Clearly all equal possibilities!

Last Book Club meeting, we discussed Joe Nickell’s Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. (Spoiler alert: All alleged paranormal activity was discovered to be fake or misjudged.) This book is actually a collection of his articles from the magazine Skeptical Inquirer and so it didn’t have the normal flow of a book. Each chapter was written decently, but it was full of Skeptic 101 material (The legend of the Crystal Skulls, Peter Popoff’s Ministry of Fraud, dowsing, crop circles, etc.), so it wasn’t a book that I enjoyed readingĀ  but it is an excellent primer for anyone new to the movement who previously believed in these things.

Even though the title of the book mentions Adventures and Investigation, the book lacked both. A few chapters were written in a way to include the actual investigation process (“Abraham Lincoln’s Spirit Writing”), and the author did do a little traveling, but too many chapters were just frank discussions of beliefs that people have. There is a chapter about the castle that may have inspired the naming of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and there is another chapter about people who celebrate The Day of the Dead, no investigations involved (not that any were necessary).

I’m not completely down on this book though. Clearly the author takes many of these claims seriously because he doesn’t want to think of himself as someone who solely debunks, which has the (unintentional?) effect of making a few of the chapters very humorous. For example, in “The Case of the Alien Hand,” a green, hand-like artifact was found in some hay and presented to the author for investigation. He notes that the skin is stretchy, green, and smells like latex, and he has very detailed photos showing manufacturing defects from the latex-coating process. He concludes that the hand probably belonged to a plastic ghoul and was caught up in a piece of farm equipment before ending up in the hay. I think it took me longer to read this chapter than it would have to find a green hand and proclaim its artificial origin.

Our next meeting is Saturday, March 26th at 3pm in our normal meeting spot in Harvard. We’ll be discussing The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean.

And for all you who like to read the following book the month before, I have a surprise for you: Here is the official Book Club list, take a look and let me know what book we should read next! Or suggest a new one if it’s not listed! Even if you have never made a meeting before, make a suggestion! (OK, I’ve reached my exclamation point quota for the week. Maybe!)