A Basic Bibliography of Skepticism

Renato M.E. Sabbatini, PhD

The following is a list of books on "debunking pseudo-science", written by major debunkers, such as Gardner, Randi, Sagan and Asimov. They constitute essential reading for anyone interested on the subject. The reviews were taken without permission from the site of Amazon.com, where you can buy the books at a very good price, if you wish.

Brought to you by the Brazilian Society of Skeptics and Rationalists

Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions

by James Randi, Isaac Asimov

Paperback, 342 pages Published by Prometheus Books Publication date: October 1988. ISBN: 0879751983

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Review: Lunatics, Frauds, and Suckers

I saw a TV show about James Randi recently. In one scene, he visited a college classroom, posing as an expert astrologer. He had prepared, he told the class, detailed individual horoscopes based on each student's birthdate and birthplace. The students read these horoscopes, then rated their accuracy on a scale of 1-5. One student gave his horoscope a 4. Every other horoscope got a 5. The students were amazed: astrology worked! Randi then had them look at each other's horoscopes. Cries of outrage filled the room. All of the horoscopes were exactly the same. They had nothing whatsoever to do with birthdates, or birthplaces, or any particular student. This book is full of such examples. Randi uses them, and scientific data, and consistently careful analysis of facts, to show that such ideas as astrology, biorhythms, transcendental meditation, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, ESP, and psychic surgery are, quite simply, nonsense. In 1964, he offered $10,000 to anyone who could demonstrate a paranormal power under satisfactory observational conditions. As of the 1982 publication date, over 650 people had tried for the reward, none successfully. Some of the attempts are described in this book. Funny how psychics who have "demonstrated" the ability to bend metal rods by will power can't do it anymore when they are no longer allowed to wander out of the room with the rods during the experiment! A theme throughout the book is that people who want to believe something will accept the most absurd rationalizations in order to continue to believe it, in spite of overwhelming contradictory evidence. At the beginning of his chapter on psychic surgery, Randi quotes William Cowper: "To follow foolish precedents, and wink / With both our eyes, is easier than to think." A similar theme arises in Langdon Gilkey's "Shantung Compound", about Gilkey's experiences as a prisoner of war (see my review). Observing "moral" internees rationalize stealing food from each other, Gilkey concluded that the greatest power of the human brain is not to reason, but to rationalize doing whatever the brain's owner wants to do. For other examples of this phenomenon, read anything by a "Creation Scientist". Unfortunately, Randi is a professional magician, not a professional writer. His sentences are not always clear, and he does not always cite references where they would be appropriate. But his observations are insightful, and his writing is entertaining. James Randi is a compassionate man, fighting a good fight.

By: dlawrence@pomona.edu , 12/31/96

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural : James Randi's Decidedly Skeptical Definitions of Alternate Realities

by James Randi, Arthur C. Clarke

Paperback, 336 pages Published by St. Martin's Press Publication date: April 1997. ISBN: 0312151195

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Science : Good, Bad, and Bogus

by Martin Gardner

Reprint Edition Paperback, 412 pages Published by Prometheus Books Publication date: March 1990. ISBN: 0879755733

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Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science

by Martin Gardner

2nd Edition Paperback Published by Dover Pubns Publication date: June 1957. ISBN: 0486203948

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Review: Timeless essays a must-read for all

Although written in the 1950s, Martin Gardner's Fads and Fallacies is one of the masterpieces of science. Gardner tackles both seriously and humorously the pseudoscience of his day, including flying saucers, flat-earthers, dianetics, medical cults, dowsers, orogonomy, Atlantis historians, and many more. From Trofim Lysenko's efforts to overthrow Darwin's theory of evolution for Lamarck's theory of acquired characteristics in Russia, to the hilarious chapter on Charles Fort's philosophy of "accept everything but believe nothing" in our own country, Gardner paints a marvelous portrait that will make the reader roll their eyes and smile at some people's credulity as well as be shocked at how far some will go to search for and believe in what isn't there. What strikes me as the most prominent thing about this book is that he almost seems to be addresing the pseudoscience/antiscience of our day instead of decades past. In summary, his essays will bring the reader's mind to a more a skeptical level of thinking when faced with current claims that resemble those of yester-year. Gardner's book is a fitting prequel to Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World as it not only debunks the false claims of pseudoscience, but also educates the reader's mind about what real science is while maintaining an apt for wonder.

By: cennbuie@aol.com from Watkinsville, GA , 10/27/97

Weird Water & Fuzzy Logic : More Notes of a Fringe Watcher

by Martin Gardner

Hardcover, 260 pages Published by Prometheus Books Publication date: October 1996. ISBN: 1573920967

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The New Age : Notes of a Fringe-Watcher

by Martin Gardner

Reprint Edition Paperback, 273 pages Published by Prometheus Books Publication date: April 1991. ISBN: 0879756446

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The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal

by Gordon Stein (Editor), Carl Sagan

Hardcover, 859 pages Published by Prometheus Books (Short Disc) Publication date: February 1996. ISBN: 1573920215

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To those familiar with Prometheus Books, it will come as no surprise that this work takes a decidedly skeptical approach to the paranormal. Most members of the distinguished editorial board and many of the 56 contributors are fellows of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Carl Sagan notes in his brief foreword that "Almost every entry represents an assessment by an expert with skeptical credentials." James Alcock, Antony Flew, Kendrick Frazier, and Paul Kurtz are among the best-known contributors. Nevertheless, a number of contributors possess what would seem to be proparanormal credentials. Susan Blackmore (Near-Death Experiences), Andrew MacKenzie (Ghost/Haunted Houses), Robert S. Ellwood (Theosophy), and Robert L. Morris (Parapsychology) provide some of the most balanced and open-minded articles here. Some descriptions of contributors are misleading, however: the biography of Blackmore, "Researcher in the paranormal for twenty years," neglects to mention that she is a fellow of CSICOP who long ago concluded that parapsychology had made no progress.

The encyclopedia's 91 signed articles range in length from The Amityville Horror (two pages) to Astrology (more than 50). Other articles of 15 pages or more include Archaeology and the Paranormal, The Bermuda Triangle, Cryptozoology, Skepticism and the Paranormal, and Survival of Death. Articles range in tone from open-minded and sympathetic, if ultimately skeptical (e.g., Blackmore's Out-of-Body Experiences or Martin Kottnieyer's Fairies) to the occasionally sarcastic or condescending (e.g., Paul Edwards' Reincarnation or Martin Gardner's Oahspe). Most articles are subdivided with boldface section headings, and all are followed by a bibliography. A moderate number of cross-references eases access, as does the index. Names or terms sometimes appear with no identification: in a brief discussion of chiropractic, "Palmer's theories" are mentioned with no indication of who Palmer was or what his theories were; in Gardner's Oahspe, the initials UB are used four times in a single paragraph with no indication that they refer to The Urantia Book.

While Prometheus (perhaps the most frequently cited publisher in the bibliographies here) has published dozens of antiparanormal books and several collections of articles from CSICOP's official journal, Skeptical Enquirer, these are likely to be in circulating collections. The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal will provide new perspectives in reference collections that contain only middle-of-the-road treatments such as Jerome Clark's partially overlapping Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Physical Phenomena [RBB O 15 93] or blatantly proparanormal works. Recommended for academic, public, and high-school libraries.

Copyright© 1996, American Library Association. All rights reserved

The Demon-Haunted World : Science As a Candle in the Dark

by Carl Sagan

Reprint Edition Paperback, 457 pages Published by Ballantine Books (Trd Pap) Publication date: March 1997. ISBN: 0345409469

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Carl Sagan muses on the current state of scientific thought, which offers him marvelous opportunities to entertain us with his own childhood experiences, the newspaper morgues, UFO stories, and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of pseudoscience. Along the way he debunks alien abduction, faith-healing, and channeling; refutes the arguments that science destroys spirituality, and provides a "baloney detection kit" for thinking through political, social, religious, and other issues.