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New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Discussions about the James Randi Educational Foundation and its Million Dollar Challenge.

New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Scepcop » 21 May 2011, 03:24

Check out this new book I heard about on Skeptiko:

http://astore.amazon.com/religion-spiri ... 1848764944

RANDI'S PRIZE: What sceptics say about the paranormal, why they are wrong and why it matters
By Robert McLuhan

Product Description

James 'The Amazing' Randi is a stage magician who says he has a million dollars for anyone who can convince him they have psychic powers. No one has even come close to winning, proof, say sceptical scientists, that there is no such thing as 'the paranormal'. But are they right? In this illuminating and often provocative analysis, Robert McLuhan examines the influence of Randi and other debunking sceptics in shaping scientific opinion about such things as telepathy, psychics, ghosts and near-death experiences. He points out that scientific researchers who investigate these things at first hand overwhelmingly consider them to be genuinely anomalous. But this has shocking implications, for science, for society and for even perhaps for ourselves as individuals. Hence the sceptics' insistence that they should rather be attributed to fraud, imagination and wishful thinking. However, this extraordinary and little understood aspect of consciousness has much to tell us about the human situation, McLuhan suggests. And at a time when militants are polarising the debate about religion, its mystical, spiritual element offers an optimistic and enlightened way forward. Randi's Prize is aimed at anyone interested in spirituality or those curious to know the truth about paranormal claims. It's an intelligent and readable analysis of scientific research into the paranormal which, uniquely, also closely examines the arguments of well-known sceptics.

Most helpful review:

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful.
A superb contribution to an ongoing debate
By Sauropod

There are thousands of books about the paranormal, but few of them approach the subject as judiciously as "Randi's Prize," by Robert McLuhan. Though the title suggests that the main focus will be James Randi's Million Dollar Challenge, the book actually ranges much more widely, as McLuhan examines skeptical responses to such reported phenomena as poltergeists, apparitions, telepathy, mediumship, near-death experiences, and children's memories of past lives. In each case he shows that the skeptical explanation, while superficially persuasive, falls apart when subjected to close analysis. His conclusion is that most skeptics do not really engage with the material they are critiquing; in their rush to explain it away, they tend to fasten on the first non-paranormal interpretation they can think of, even if it does not fit all the facts or is grossly implausible in its own right. McLuhan describes this tendency as "rational gravity" - the pull exerted by the "rational," mechanistic worldview that instinctively rejects anomalous phenomena.

The book is crowded with specific cases, examined in detail. For instance, McLuhan looks at an argument made by British skeptic Richard Wiseman, who has claimed that famed "physical medium" Eusapia Palladino could have been assisted by an accomplice who entered the locked seance room through a trapdoor. McLuhan writes, "Much later, when I had spent some time reading and thinking about Palladino, I returned for another look [at the skeptical argument], and it was only then that I grasped how cheeky Wiseman was being. As his critics pointed out, Palladino was tested many times in many different situations and [Wiseman's suggested] modus operandi could not apply to all of them (in the south of France she was tested successfully in the open air). One would think that a method that involves clambering through a hole in the wall a few feet away from three investigators on the look-out for tricks, concealed merely by a flimsy curtain, is hard to sustain. In any case, the report [of Palladino's sittings in Naples] mentions three occasions when the investigators looked behind the curtain, which would at once have given the game away.... On one occasion the phenomena continued after the sitting had ended, when they had turned up the lights and pulled back the curtain." (p. 97)

Again, looking at the case in detail demolishes the skeptical explanation. But skeptics like Wiseman seem to count on the fact that most of their readers are unfamiliar with the details. They are thus free to offer facile interpretations that reassure their audience, even while ignoring troublesome facts that they themselves must be aware of. This may be a clever debating strategy or a useful propaganda ploy, but it hardly looks like a search for truth.

"Randi's Prize" is a brisk, bracing look at this continuing controversy, exhaustively researched and offering 48 pages of endnotes and a 28-page bibliography. It's a must-read for anyone with a serious interest in parapsychology and its critics. Just don't expect a detailed treatment of the Million Dollar Challenge. McLuhan has bigger fish to fry.
“Devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality; there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.” - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Arouet » 21 May 2011, 03:30

I have it. Read a few chapters. He presents a pretty biased view IMO, though I've seen worse!
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby really? » 21 May 2011, 09:56

mechanistic worldview that instinctively rejects anomalous phenomena

The skeptical position doesn't instinctively (synonymous for knee jerk) reject anomalous phenomena, it reserves judgment. However, since no concrete indisputable proof has been found to indicate anomalous phenomena means what persons whom believe in psi thinks it means it is prudent to hold the skeptical position- period. It'd be nice if he ( McLuhan would) get that through his thick skull. I'd love to know what boob decided anomalous phenomena automatically means evidence for psi ?
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Craig Browning » 21 May 2011, 23:57

I'll have to check it out but I fear both of you are wrong when it comes to the things said here; yes, the instant anything in a conversation even remotely hints as the surreal/paranormal or mystical (and oft times "faith" based precepts) the typical "skeptic" of today roll their eyes and seem to jump directly to a long list of assumptions.

While this book may be "biased" I've yet read anything from the skeptic's world that wasn't the same -- let's face it, either side is trying to sell their point of view; their version of the gospel.

As most know, I stand in between these two worlds leaning far closer to the skeptic's side of things than that of the "blind & deaf" believer. Put another way, Ignorance can be corrected through study, but stupidity is a thing people volunteer to be by not being willing to learn. This is a double-edge ideology in that it requires us to see an issue fairly, from all available points of view. Based on the reactions I'm betting this book has gone to the extreme opposite end of the proverbial scale, failing to find and share the common ground factor which actually does exist -- there is a very intellectual side to esoteric philosophy, the problem is however, so few graduate beyond that first "elementary" sphere of things -- they are in love with the idea of things fantastic rather than the harder truth such things actually represent. As an old country minister pointed out to me once, less than 10% of any church congregation actually does the work and understands the mission -- it's an unfortunate truth in many aspects of life.
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Arouet » 22 May 2011, 00:02

Craig Browning wrote:I'll have to check it out but I fear both of you are wrong when it comes to the things said here; yes, the instant anything in a conversation even remotely hints as the surreal/paranormal or mystical (and oft times "faith" based precepts) the typical "skeptic" of today roll their eyes and seem to jump directly to a long list of assumptions.


They may make assumptions, but the questions they ask is: what is your evidence?
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Interview with Robert McLuhan on Skeptiko

Postby Scepcop » 01 Jun 2011, 05:52

Here is the interview with Robert McLuhan, the author of this book, on Skeptiko:

http://www.skeptiko.com/randi-prize-exp ... -new-book/
“Devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality; there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.” - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Jayhawker30 » 08 Aug 2011, 21:30

Arouet wrote:I have it. Read a few chapters. He presents a pretty biased view IMO, though I've seen worse!


He does? As far as I've read, he sounds pretty neutral to me. What makes you say that?
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Arouet » 08 Aug 2011, 23:50

Jayhawker30 wrote:
Arouet wrote:I have it. Read a few chapters. He presents a pretty biased view IMO, though I've seen worse!


He does? As far as I've read, he sounds pretty neutral to me. What makes you say that?


Welcome to the site! Nice to see a first post that's not just a spammer!

It's been awhile since I read it. I agree that he does attempt to provide some balance, but IMO (at least for the chapters I read), he did not present the criticism in full. I will give him credit though for being more balanced than most who write about these topics.

I'm afraid I'd have to go back and re-read to give you more specific examples. I seem to remember having issues with the way he looked at the skeptical criticism of the zener cards.
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Jayhawker30 » 09 Aug 2011, 07:53

I got to a few parts that read like it blatantly condemned skeptics as a whole.

However, I think it might just be a problem with how he's phrasing it. He could just be talking about the stick-in-the-ass garden variety of naysayers rather than those who take a genuinely skeptical look at things.
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby derrida » 09 Aug 2011, 11:32

evidence is such a taboo word for believers..
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Jayhawker30 » 09 Aug 2011, 16:44

...now that's just a tad derogatory, isn't it?
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby Craig Browning » 09 Aug 2011, 23:41

derrida wrote:evidence is such a taboo word for believers..


:!: Proof to what I said about biased assumption :twisted:

Unfortunately, the majority of folks that fall into the "believer" niche do so blindly and more as a matter of desperation and need; chances are they weren't so keen on family tradition when they were young but something happened in their mid to latter 20's (usually prior to 35) that helped them find "IT" (Jesus, Buddha, Allah, who/whatever) and they credit that essence for "saving them" in some way; at least that's the psychological overview of it all. The other side of this happenstance is the fact that most human beings aren't so much gullible as they are LAZY e.g. the won't do the footwork or ask the questions. . . ironically, the bible itself tells those of deep conviction to ASK QUESTIONS and more so, to NOT TRUST the priests & money grabbers that use religion as their income source. Buddha and the majority of the other iconic sages of history each encouraged this sort of attitude and yet, human beings are both, redirected away from such common sense (by the clergy) and too, are more content with being ignorant -- if you don't know certain things you can't worry and thus, life is bliss. . . a really lame philosophy if you ask me.

As with anything, we have different "levels" of belief -- varying perspectives.

I was watching a show on The Science Channel this weekend in which Scientists & Theologians engaged in conversation around the Hawking ideologies about the Universe and the whole "God" issue. While there was one very adamant atheist (scientist) in the group showing a rigid front, most of the panel seemed to not just get along, but see points of agreement, even clarifying when and why science divorced itself from the auspices of faith a bit more than 150 years ago, in exchange for giving a harder sense of substance to the equations vs. the traditional view that "god this this. . . " The irony to it all is the point made by two of the scientists on the panel (including Dr. Michio Kaku) who intimated that science and true religion (from the more theological perspective) actually can and do support one another and it may be time to start bringing the two back together to some degree, for the sake of better understanding -- to bridge the gap now segregating the analytical from the "spiritual" ways of existence.

When anything is taken to an extreme polar end, it is incomplete. This is basic Hermetic Law and I do believe, one of the more elemental views of physics; that fact that Hot & Cold are more a matter of perspective, differing by degree vs. a solid demarcation point.
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Re: Interview with Robert McLuhan on Skeptiko

Postby Scepcop » 07 Sep 2011, 20:01

Scepcop wrote:Here is the interview with Robert McLuhan, the author of this book, on Skeptiko:

http://www.skeptiko.com/randi-prize-exp ... -new-book/


I've just posted the full interview with Robert McLuhan to my SCEPCOP YouTube account. Here it is if you want to listen to it there.

“Devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality; there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.” - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby craig weiler » 08 Sep 2011, 02:24

Like the author, I spent a long time going over the work of skeptics and believers before drawing any conclusions. As a psychic, my question was "have they proven this?" Whether psi exists was never really in question. Direct experience is like that.

What I found was exactly what the author found: The skepticism is weaker than the science and in many cases passes over into outright lies. I am intolerant of lies and stretching the truth and bending the facts and that is what I have found over and over again in the literature. (not on this board) When you have someone who is a supposedly respected scientist spewing lies, like Wiseman, and to a lesser extent, Hyman, I don't feel that I have to take them seriously.

For those high profile skeptics that don't fall into the category of outright lies, I have also noticed that withholding positive evidence is common. Steve Novella has been guilty of this as well as fudging the figures for the Ganzfeld to fit his narrative. Why? If his position is so strong and he's so confident, why does he resort to this? Because he has to. His position isn't actually strong and he has to in order to maintain his point of view. No other conclusion makes sense.

Never, have the scientists on the parapsychology side done anything like this. In fact, they often publish criticisms of their work on their site.

You see enough of this and you think, hmmmm, who's right?
A ship in harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are for.
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Re: New book! Randi's Prize - Why Skeptics are Wrong

Postby ProfWag » 08 Sep 2011, 04:35

craig weiler wrote:Never, have the scientists on the parapsychology side done anything like this. In fact, they often publish criticisms of their work on their site.


Depends on who you talk too. Here is a story of questionable actions by Radin:

Radin showed a graph which – again on the surface – showed that there indeed was a drop in violent crime during the period where the participants thought about peace.
One thing immediately caught my attention, but somebody else beat me to it: Some days before the experiment, there was a similar drop in crime, which looked percentage-wise about the same. When asked about what caused this drop, Radin answered:
“I don’t know.”
Spotting a pattern here, I called Radin on his methods of research: How could he say that the later drop in violent crime was caused by the Maharishi Effect, when he didn’t go back and check what caused the previous drop?
His answer: “This was a planned experiment.”
When I then pointed out that September 11th was not exactly a planned experiment, he went back to his previous stance: That it would be shoe-horning, etc., etc.

I asked him if he did go back and could not find anything that would qualify as a global event on those days that had the same fluctuation as his examples, wouldn’t that show the theory false?
His answer?

“Not necessarily.”

I don’t think he appreciated it when I used the phrase “You are selecting your data”. It was the only time his brow was furrowed.
I dropped it there and then. It was clear that Radin was selecting his data. He did not seek out alternative explanations for his theories. Shoe-horning indeed.
http://www.skepticreport.com/sr/?p=560

I would like to point out that although it may appear so, I am not taking sides, merely pointing out that "never" is a strong word and there are questionable stories about most everyone (except me, of course...)
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