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

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



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 reading  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!)

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Comments (7)

I think Adventures in Paranormal Investigation would make a good bathroom book. Short chapters that can be read a random. Not good on a Kindle, though.

Good point! It was definitely tough to read in one sitting with my Kindle. Much more enjoyable as something just to pick up and read randomly when you’re bored. Hopefully the next book is different!

By the way, do you have any opinions for the book after next?

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” seems to be on every single top 10 science books list I have seen.

Maybe that is a good sign?

I am also selfishly partial to “Newton and the Counterfeiter” since I already own it but have not read it.

Any of the books by Simon Winchester would be good too. They have been on my to read list for a while.

Was having to register to post a new thing? I do not remember doing it before.

I hope that does not keep people from posting?

I picked up Winchester’s “The Map That Changed the World” recently. Haven’t started it yet. Also Ben Goldacre’s “Bad Science – Quacks Hacks and Big Pharma Flacks”, which I have started, put down, and just picked up and almost read while typing this comment. Very readable. The new paper back edition has the suppressed “The Doctor Will Sue You Know” chapter about vitamin woo (which can be read online if you have an older edition without it.)

There is an audiobook version available for this; I’ve ordered it from the library and will listen to it at work. Love audiobooks!

The topic of this book is timely as I’ve been attempting to write a poem for each element this year (in order of element discovery). I’m a little behind (I was aiming for one a week, I’ve written six) so perhaps this book will help inspire me.

I case anyone is wondering…

The next book is “Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me” by Carol Tavris. For some reason, I kept spelling it “Miskates”. I blame my web browser.

Meeting is 3PM on Saturday, April 30. Same place.

We had a great discussion last time, despite the dearth of Buffy references. Mary, if you get tired of keeping detailed notes, maybe we can rotate the job of discussion leader. You always do a great job, but it seems a little unfair to make you do all the work.

The food people brought was fantastic, though I hesitate to mention it because it might discourage people who think they need to compete. We always bring way too much food, so we need more eaters!

Thanks John! Yes, I could use a note-taking break occasionally, and of course anyone can take notes and lead the discussion if they want. I’ll bring it up in the meeting!

Sorry for the lack of Buffyisms, I can only watch one scifi marathon at a time and I’m currently in the 2nd season of Deep Space Nine. (Then probably Stargate: SG-1?)

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