The Art of Book Review PDF Print E-mail
Written by James Randi   

Mr. Steve Hume, a member of the UK Society for Psychical Research, who apparently gives personal demos of "physical phenomena" such as "table levitation" and "direct voice communication" which are claimed to occur under the forces of spirits at séances has provided readers of the October 2008 edition of the Journal of the Society with a 1,600-word review of a 2007 book by Chris Carter, of Oxford University.

The Hume review contains this paragraph, following a comment that the focus in ESP research has moved toward statistical analysis:

Throughout, Carter gives examples of the opposition to this by detractors and the rhetorical claims made by them. One good example included from the modern era is CSICOP founder Martin Gardner's claim in 1983 that evidence for psi "... keeps coming from a tiny group of enthusiasts, while negative evidence keeps coming from a much larger group of skeptics." Carter seemingly could find only three such skeptical researchers worthy of mention and he subjects their careers to brief scrutiny that is all the more withering by virtue of its understatedness. These are Richard Wiseman, Susan Blackmore and conjurer James Randi. The inclusion of Randi at all is perhaps evidence that Carter may have been barrel-scraping here, writing of Randi that "his work is so irrelevant to serious psi research that for the most part parapsychologists simply ignore it." Indeed Gardner's claim is the exact opposite of the truth.

Let's look at that last sentence, first. Martin's quoted statement was made a full quarter of a century ago, when the woo-woo element was much more attracted to spirit-mongers; Geller was one of the rare magicians who had captured attention with simple conjuring tricks and had claimed they were genuine miracles. Mr. Hume seems to be of that heady school, the survival-after-death crowd, since his specialties - "table levitation" and "direct voice communication" - both require direct involvement of the performer, with conscious physical activity. It's far from any sort of self-delusion; it's full, knowing, fakery and fraud. It doesn't take place by accident.

Yes, parapsychologists can and do "simply ignore" my work, by scurrying off to their Ivory Towers and slamming the doors. They dismiss me because I have no academic labels to my name, and that - to them - takes me and my work out of consideration - regardless of the awkward and copious evidence I produce to annoy them. But notice that Mr. Hume declines to mention the qualifications of my other two partners in what he dubs "rhetorical claims" - Richard Wiseman (Professor, Dr., and author) and Susan Blackmore (BA, MSc, PhD.) They're just listed as names, but James Randi is clearly and joyously labeled as a "conjuror" - a certain condemnation, if ever there was one!

By the way, Steve Hume works for an insurance company...