Beyond the Fringe

Martin Gardner. The New Age; Notes of a Fringe Watcher. Prometheus Books, 1988.
Largely comprising selections from the author's columns in Skeptical Enquirer, Martin Gardner takes an uncompromisingly sceptical look at the whole gamut of paranormal and 'new age' preoccupations.

Although some of the writing which has arisen from the group of people gathered around CSICOP has shown much of the closed-mindedness associated with the topics they criticise, Gardner has always been prepared to take a wider view. Here, for example, he attacks the non-scientific basis of much of psychoanalysis with a well-targeted attack on Freud and his working relationship with Fleiss, the originator of biorhythms. lt is always difficult for the sceptic to judge what line to take on such obvious nonsense as t he 'f ace' on Mars or channelling (which must be the laziest paranormal scan yet, you don't even have to do any simple conjuring tricks or practice talking in funny voices).

To go on at too much length risks accusations of pedantry and taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. To ignore it risks allegations that ‘scientists have no answers’. Here Gardner takes the risk of pedantry; but easily avoids it by the liveliness and humour of his writing. His extended review of Shirley Maclaine's numerous autobiographical experiences of channeling are hilarious (Shirley, it seems, is now threatening Prometheus with a libel suit over another book, not by Gardner, which they recently published). Although I suspect that some of our readers will disagree violently with some of Gardner's views it is still of value that they should read this book, if only to practice their own critical faculties on some of the author's generalisations.
  • John Rimmer, Magonia 31, November 1988.

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