Not to be at all confused with that trainwreck of a film, Expelled!, where Ben Stein was exposed as a creationist freak, Exposed: Ouija, firewalking and other gibberish by Henri Broch focuses on a few well known psychic/junk science examples and provides information on how to get around to the truth behind the trickery.
Some statistical data is provided regarding research on dowsing, clairvoyance and horoscopes and the like and Broch gives readers some suggestions on how to test the legitimacy of that kind of crap on our own. When dowsing, for example, he makes the point that it’s pretty likely that repeated trips around a field are going to result in crossed rods at the same point every time whether there’s really water under that spot or not. No field is completely flat so if you carefully note where the wielder was walking when the rods crossed, you can duplicate the “Wow!” yourself. No real trick there. Also, he gives an example of a test where the wielder is supposed to tell the researchers which underground pipe has water flowing. Done as a double-blind where neither the observers nor the dowser knows for sure, the dowser was incapable of determining where the water was.
Of course, a practiced dowser (or psychic or medium or astrologer) will have some excuses practiced for those (many) moments of failure.
There’s also a good story in it about a telekinesis test where the man being tested claimed he could move a door without the use of his hands and was very specific about how small the room should be that he was sitting in and how warm it was. The researchers agreed to his demands and it turned out that the guy had figured out that by flexing his pectoral and abdominal muscles, the resulting “subatomic acoustic wave” was just strong enough to nudge the door shut. And in the book there is some math with equations and percentages and constants for those keeners who care about that part.
Broch also provides some suggestions on how to recognize circular arguments (“What proves the divinity of Jesus to you?” “The miracles he performs!” “Why and how could Jesus perform miracles?” “Because of his divine nature” — in the book, page 35), the “snowball technique” where everyone refers to someone else’s referral without ever checking if there’s a true source to behind it, and that insane desire to dig deeper and work harder to prove a zany theory even though ample evidence has already uncovered that clearly proves the theory wrong.
He also encourages people to look for the “Little Streams” effect when reading about dubious findings. I’ll quote the definition from page 39:
Its essence is the construction of grand theories on the foundation of little oversights or errors that are absolutely necessary to thir credibility. Just as little streams join to make great rivers, little errors lead to grandiose theories.
He gives an example from Robert Charroux, a fellow who wrote a book in the late ’60s. One of the archeological wonders in the book is a site near Nice in southern France, Falicon’s Pyramid. It looks like many stories surround this place. Charroux’s story was that a second pyramid or room was under it and the Templars had known of it. He quotes Charroux on page 40:
At the bottom of the sinkhole is a second pyramid…with a base of 60 feet and a height of about 30 feet.”
And the “spacious cavern” under there is 90 feet long and 60 feet high. Broch is quick to point out that nothing’s been said about the width of this so-called hidden room, though. Long and tall, all right, but how wide? It’s been measured and the fissure is (or was) only six feet wide. Barely room to lie down, let alone house a pyramid as large as Charroux claimed existed.
The last warning about statistical trickery has to do with research that hides data that doesn’t correspond with hoped for conclusions. Suspicious sampling, claims that all data has been accounted for when clearly it hasn’t, or making shit up because not enough data corresponds to the predetermined conclusion. They make a mockery of the scientific method when they do that kind of “research” and call it successful proof of a hypothesis.
To finish this off my last quote comes from his conclusion, page 139-140:
Sixty years ago, Jean Piaget already had noted that the right to an education is not just the right to go to school, but also the right to find in the school “everything necessary for the development of an active mind,” because the exercise of one’s critical faculties is required for the intellect to attain objectivity. Such intellectual effort, and the corresponding development of the critical faculties, could turn “the day when schoolchildren learn to think in this critical and discerning spirit into the day that nations become more hesitant to act just like schoolchildren.”
It’s worth hoping for.
Extra reading (by writers other than me) for those who want it:
And clearly it’s not just kids that need it. Grown ups who never got it before they grew up could do with a lesson, too…