A Sceptical Trio

Paul Kurtz (Editor), The Skeptic’s Handbook of Parapsychology, Prometheus, 1985.
Hyte L Edge, Robert Morris, John Palmer and Joseph Rush. Foundation of Parapsychology: Exploring the boundaries of Human Capability, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986,
Kendrick Frazier ( Editor), Science Confronts the Paranormal. Prometheus,1986.
Three large paperback volumes here represent the range of responses to psi. The Handbook is certainly the largest with over 700 pages and thirty papers, some reprints and some prepared specially for this volume. In general they represent a reasoned, intelligent, 'internal' criticism by such people as Christopher Scott, Gerd Hovelmann, P Hoebens and Susan Blackmore, as well as hardline critics such as James Randi and Martin Gardner.

Of special interest are 'A Critical Overview of Parapsychology' by Ray Hyman; 'Fraudulent Children in Psychical Research’ by Fraser Nicol; Betty Marwick’s demolition of Soal; 'Parapsychology and its critics, by Douglas Stokes; 'The Adventures of a Psi-Inhibitory Exper1menter' by Susan Blackmore, and Hovelmann's bibliography of sceptical literature and critical examination of the Near-Death Experience.
Hovelmann, Blackmore and Stokes represent a ‘new parapsychology which, in Blackmore's terms, will maintain the interest in anomalous experiences while liberating them from the straightjacket of psi. Traditional parapsychologist John Beloff responds, though as he now appears to be suffering from an advanced case of Inglisitis this adds to the sceptical case!

All papers except one or two are readily comprehensible to the lay person, which is more than can be said for much of Foundations of Parapsychology, which describes itself as a textbook of parapsychology. Many of the problems discussed by the contributors to the Handbook are really only touched on here in one chapter, and too often 'findings' are presented without any critical sense,or even any sense of the ridiculous. This reviewer, having no deep interest in ever more elaborate guessing games, or great k now ledge of statistics, turned instead to Part III, where reasonable chapters on psi and science and the problem of survival are spoiled by a foolish piece on the 'Socio-Cultural Aspects of Psi', in which white South Africans 'wonder tales about the Kaffirs' are reported with a straight face, 'new-age' nonsense is churned out, and the pseudo-scientific ramblings of 'psychic archeologist Jeffrey Goodman are desribed as 'legitimate'.

Confronts is a selection of articles and book reviews from Sceptical Inquirer, and is more lightweight than the previous works. It is overloaded with Randi, Gardner, Klass and other members of the rationalists' version of the Moral Majority. As readers of Lewis Wolpert;s article in the Guardian (24th December 1986) will gather the real objection the CSICOPers have to psychics and psi is that these offend against the Puritan hard work principle by promising knowledge on the cheap - “I didn't get where I aim today without studying theoretical physics for seventy years, now along comes John Pseudoscientist stealing the bread out of my mouth!” This probably explains the bad temper. Best is P. H. Hoebens on Croisset the Clairvoyant, and his pompous and fraudulent mentor the great 'Herr Professor' Wilhelm Tenhoeff. The parallels with CSICOP's own devotion to 'The Amazing' himself is not, however , commented upon .

Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 26, June 1987

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