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Offline Reading Recomendations > Wednesday, 23 June 2010 21:13:08 EST

Book Recommendation: Scientific Paranormal Investigation

Keywords: book

So I decided to send an email to Ben Radford, skeptical investigator and co-host of the Monster Talk podcast.  I had a question about his investigation of the KiMo Ghost, and I mentioned that I was looking forward to his new book, "Scientific Paranormal Investigation" coming out.  He told me that his book was already available, I just couldn't buy it from Amazon.com yet.

Then he offered to personally sign a copy of the book for me.  I readily agreed, and about a week later I received the book in the mail:

Benjamin Radford's Scientific Paranormal 

Investigation

As promised, the title page is signed by Radford himself:

Benjamin Radford's Signature

I've never had a book actually signed by the author before, so that's kind of cool.

Of course, I take this to mean that we're now best buds.  I know he still hasn't responded to the last email I sent him, but we're in tune so I understand that he's just busy and he knows that I'll forgive him for not answering my question right away.

When you're on the same wavelength like that, you don't need to put this kind of thing into words.  I know that he values and respects me, after all he did show it by sending me a personally signed copy of his latest book.  How many people would he do that for?

Form On Radfordbooks.com
Order form on Radfordbooks.com

....... Shut up!!!

Okay fine, so he does it for everybody.  Big deal!  You can tell by the way he wrote "Keep It Real!" for me he really meant it.  After all, he used an exclamation point and a smiley face!

In any case, even though we're best buds I'm not about to sacrifice my integrity and give him a glowing review in spite of what I might think of his book.  So fortunately for him, I found the book to be very engrossing.

A couple of quotes from the book really appealed to me:

The true state of the world around us is something that I believe we all have a moral obligation to try to understand.  Nobody has all the answers; all we can do is to try and weed out the false beliefs to the best of our ability.  Every single one of us holds beliefs that are false or only partially true.  Perhaps the most important process in human thinking and knowledge is the recognition and awareness that we may be wrong - and the commitment to correct our mistakes

Physicist Richard Feynman once said that he's smart enough to know that he's dumb.  I wouldn't have put it quite that way, but his point is well taken: There is a certain enlightenment in understanding and acknowledging that we are fallible, fool-able creatures, and not everything is as we perceive it to be.

Ben, you've just perfectly explained my whole philosophy behind setting up this blog!  It's the very reason for the name I chose.  Feynman's phraseology works for me with only a minor change: I'm smart enough to know that I'm a dumbass!

See how much in tune we are?  I told you guys, we're best buds!  Brothers from different mothers!

I was also really struck by this quote from a contribution to the book by Daniel Loxton:

In my investigations of strange mysteries, one discovery stands out as the most bizarre: that it's possible for me to make discoveries at all.

Very often, I am able to turn to a paranormal topic I know little about, and in a very short time (weeks, occasionally days) make significant contributions to the literature on that topic - either shedding light on a possible solution or solving the mystery.  Which is ridiculous.  I shouldn't be able to do that from a standing start.  When proponents have already spent decades discussing Bigfoot, pyramid power, or the Thetis lake monster, all avenues of investigation should have been explored.

But here's the unfortunate truth: paranormal enthusiasts don't do their homework.  Rather than digging seriously with an aim to solve these mysteries, paranormal writers pass around unverified trivia like trading cards.  They may have exhaustive knowledge of the legendary anecdotes that comprise the canon of their favorite claim, but that information usually comes from third-hand sources - which in turn get it from other third-hand sources.

Loxton, you're speaking directly to me here!

I've investigated several paranormal claims on this blog, and it still astounds me how often I'm able to put something out there that nobody else is addressing critically!  I'm amazed at how many hits I get from Google searches where my article is the only skeptical result on the topic in question!

Lately my articles on ancient aliens have been getting a lot of attention like this.  And I recently got a fair number of hits from people searching for information about the Nightmare Island story.  And I see it happening with many of the articles I've written.

I've only been running this blog for 6 months.  It's absolutely crazy that a dumbass like me gets to put in the primary refutation to many of these claims!

And I've noticed pretty definitively how little regard there is among these people for checking out the primary sources.  It's such a basic thing, but it just never occurs to them that third hand information might not be completely faithful, or even represent anything other than an urban legend.  As I've talked about before, often there's just no substance there.

As you might be able to tell, this book definitely resonated with me.  If any of you read my blog on a regular basis and enjoy it when I research some paranormal claim, I highly recommend reading this book.

The one criticism that occurred to me is that perhaps Ben trusts too much in the honesty of his interview subjects.  He doesn't accept what they have to say as truth, of course.  It's just that when they're wrong he always seems to believe that the reason is because of faulty memory and misjudgments, rather than a purposeful attempt at deception.

I think I understand why he does that though.  For one thing, most people in these cases are probably honestly deceived by faulty memory and misjudgments.  For another, even if you suspect that somebody's being less than honest, it's probably best to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're telling the truth unless you have proof otherwise.  It's not good for a skeptical investigator to get a reputation for accusing people of lying.  If that happens, people will be much less likely to talk to you.

So when I think about it from this angle, it seems to me like my criticism isn't well founded.  There are a couple cases mentioned where I have a suspicion that some source isn't being entirely honest... and perhaps Ben got that sense as well.  But it's no use dwelling on suspicions when there's no evidence to support them.  Much better to conclude that people's minds are playing tricks on them.

In any case, it's fascinating stuff.  I highly recommend visiting radfordbooks and buying a copy for yourself.


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