Hello, you beautiful minds. Let’s take some brain candy, shall we? So put down your game controls for a brief yet splendid moment, and stuff your brain with tasty tidbits of information.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

There's A Book For That: Skepticism

This is random, but I feel like recommending some books for all you literate types. One of my favorite genres of nonfiction is what I shall call “Skepticism/Debunking books.” They tackle the falsities of pseudo-science and related silliness in an easy-to-read way. Personally, I can’t get enough of these types of books, although I’m not much of a Dawkins fan. Don’t get me wrong, he is an intelligent and highly respected skeptic, but I find him off-putting.  I prefer the more respectful tact of Carl Sagan and James Randi. If I want an offense, I’ll choose Penn Jillette (the Penn of Penn and Teller). At least Penn is funny, Sagan is a sage, and Randi is adorable.

Flim-Flam: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and other Delusions, by James Randi, is a fun read (although I disagree with his views on unicorns). Randi had a long and exciting career as a conjurer (he was the Amazing Randi back then) but is now better known for his skepticism. He had a brief T.V. show where he allowed supposed psychics, astrology experts, telepaths, etc. to prove their talents. They ended up debunking themselves. This book basically debunks various frivolities from psychic surgery to dowsing. It was originally published in 1982 but is still very pertinent today. Oh, and just in case any of you have supernatural powers, the James Randi Educational Foundation offers a $1 million prize to anyone who can prove, under proper observable conditions, any paranormal power. The prize has been offered for over 20 years. Many hundreds have applied. Not one person has yet to pass the preliminary tests. Good luck!   

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, written by the immortal (in the figurative sense) Carl Sagan, is part of the cannon of skeptical literature. Sagan was a world-renowned astrophysicist and author. A staunch promoter of scientific skepticism, Sagan nevertheless treats religion with respect, which I really appreciate. Sagan is known for his work on the Cosmos television program, as well as his frequent appearances on The Tonight Show with Jonny Carson. This particular book of his is eloquently written and very approachable. You can be a bit slow on the uptake and read it. I know this because I read it. Always a proponent of scientific education, Sagan creates a strong argument for reason. The back cover of his book reads, “How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don’t understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience, New Age thinking, and fundamentalist zealotry and the testable hypothesis of science?” How indeed.

Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It? is an important book in the fight against Holocaust denial. Written by Michael Shermer and Alex Grobman, it is a book that explores the phenomenon of denial and arms readers against it. Michael Shermer is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine and Alex Grobman is president of the Institute for Contemporary Jewish Life. A collaboration between these two men must be important. And it is. Growing up in a town with a large Jewish population (ma shelomkha Irvine?), I never truly realized that there are still people who deny the Holocaust. This book was an eye-opener. It pokes holes in the arguments of “Holocaust revisionists (that term can be loosely translated as “f@*%^ng bastard, anti-Semitic sons of bitches),” and gives rational people the knowledge they need to refute illogical claims.

So there we go. Give someone the gift of reason this Chanukah/ Christmas. Woot woot. 


  1. I just got a kindle, I might have a look at those books. They look fairly interesting, although I also enjoy reading mystery books - John Pinkney is a decent enough mystery writer, but I found the second book of his I read to be based more on the supernatural side of things (as opposed to the first book I read, based mostly on murder mysteries) and once I read a few lines of him devaluing anyone who would not believe in something simply because it could not be proven.

    When I read him slamming people for being logical, I found it hard to take him seriously. It was almost like he was encouraging people not to think too hard about something and to accept what he was saying without any questions.

  2. I have no problem with exploring the supernatural in fiction so long as it is clear that it IS fiction. What I hate is anything trying to tout pseudo-science as real science.

    I haven't read any Pinkney. Michael Crichton is one of my guilty pleasures though...he can be a bit silly at times too.