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am 31. Dezember 1996
I saw a TV show about James Randi recently. In one scene, he visited a college classroom, posing as an expert astrologer. He had prepared, he told the class, detailed individual horoscopes based on each student's birthdate and birthplace. The students read these horoscopes, then rated their accuracy on a scale of 1-5. One student gave his horoscope a 4. Every other horoscope got a 5. The students were amazed: astrology worked! Randi then had them look at each other's horoscopes. Cries of outrage filled the room. All of the horoscopes were exactly the same. They had nothing whatsoever to do with birthdates, or birthplaces, or any particular student.
This book is full of such examples. Randi uses them, and scientific data, and consistently careful analysis of facts, to show that such ideas as astrology, biorhythms, transcendental meditation, UFOs, the Bermuda Triangle, ESP, and psychic surgery are, quite simply, nonsense. In 1964, he offered $10,000 to anyone who could demonstrate a paranormal power under satisfactory observational conditions. As of the 1982 publication date, over 650 people had tried for the reward, none successfully. Some of the attempts are described in this book. Funny how psychics who have "demonstrated" the ability to bend metal rods by will power can't do it anymore when they are no longer allowed to wander out of the room with the rods during the experiment!
A theme throughout the book is that people who want to believe something will accept the most absurd rationalizations in order to continue to believe it, in spite of overwhelming contradictory evidence. At the beginning of his chapter on psychic surgery, Randi quotes William Cowper: "To follow foolish precedents, and wink / With both our eyes, is easier than to think." A similar theme arises in Langdon Gilkey's "Shantung Compound", about Gilkey's experiences as a prisoner of war (see my review). Observing "moral" internees rationalize stealing food from each other, Gilkey concluded that the greatest power of the human brain is not to reason, but to rationalize doing whatever the brain's owner wants to do. For other examples of this phenomenon, read anything by a "Creation Scientist".
Unfortunately, Randi is a professional magician, not a professional writer. His sentences are not always clear, and he does not always cite references where they would be appropriate. But his observations are insightful, and his writing is entertaining. James Randi is a compassionate man, fighting a good fight.
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am 20. Juli 2000
Randi is not only a professional conjurer, but also serves as an individual dedicated to exposing the illegitimacy of parapsychology, and other forms of pseudoscientific/supernatural beliefs held by people. Confidence in his affirmation that any form(s) of parapsychology, and many other unexplainable phenomena that are widely believed to be true are in fact not, is backed up by his offer of now $1 million. This book is a collection of Randi's encounters of that very group of individuals that claim to posses the supernatural abilities in question. The basic thesis of this book is that these supernatural phenomenas do not exist and their occurrences are quite explainable. The responsibility then, is rests on both the scientific community and ourselves, to not fall victim to their ability to deceive.
Randi does well in keeping the content light and relatively easy to read. His light sarcasm well reflects his lack of respect for false claims of the supernatural and other pseudoscientific beliefs. While the book consists mostly of accounts of objective observation, there are modest stints of ideas and opinions of the author, which keeps the book accessible to readers not looking to have to bore through only scientific account and analysis. The loose usage of the word(s) damn/damning to present ideas of the corruption of scientific ideals was amusing. Randi also does well in keeping his book for the most part, free of religion and its influence in science; rather, he chooses to focus on scientific explanation of respective phenomena.
A problem with the book was that Randi did not delve very deeply into the reasons behind the phenomena of those purporting evidence of the supernatural. Sparsely inserted throughout the book, the rest of reading consists of the actual encounters and experiments of Randi to discount the claims. When Randi does make a point to examine the reason behind some of the fallacies, they are short and concise. Some of these points include the need of the individual to believe in his/her's or other's "powers", economic attraction, or poor scientific investigation.
Another problem had of the author was his tendency to indulge in complicated details of the experiment. While one versed and knowledgeable in statistical charting and mathematical analysis may have understood the chapter on the fallacies of biorhythms in one reading, I found it difficult to fully grasp the ideas presented. The same went for the analysis of the Cottingley Fairies, where his careful explanation of the different uses of cameras and effects got to be drudging to read. Sometimes, the technical analysis of the many cases encountered by Randi were too drawn out and detailed, or boring, for an average reader to follow. Some are looking for more of a quick overview along with basic explanations of the hoaxes.
It is in these point that this book may not be for everyone. Detailed descriptions of procedures and outcomes of experiments impedes the flow of the book as a whole. Also a lack of psychological and social explanations and ramifications of such pseudosciences and paranormal phenomena may leave some desiring a reallocation of emphasis; from the book's strong emphasis on detail of the actual experiments to a more balanced approach, covering more explanation of root causes, and the ramifications of these delusions. As a whole, the book is witty and informative. It is amusing to read of failed ploys of trickery and manipulation. Essentially, we a have a text that serves as a directive for us to think for ourselves, and be skeptical and examine information that is given to us everyday. Yet, the book is written as if we think and know as Randi does, and this is where it fails to appeal and be accessible to everyone.
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am 14. Oktober 1999
James Randi is a zealot of the religion of Scientific-Materialism. Like all religions, SM seeks to define reality and howit operates; its assumption is that all phenomena are both observable and testable, and it is characterized by an exaggerated faith in the methods of natural science and the conclusions of (some) scientists. Scientific-Materialists are not skeptics - they have a deep and profound faith and examine alternative philosophies not as possibly true but as heresies against modernism.
Randi has made his name in the SM community in the '70's, claiming that all psychic phenomena are fake. This book, written in 1980, is his claim to be Grand Inquisitor of the SM organization, the Committee to Scientifically Investigate Claims Of the Paranormal (CSICOP, pronounced 'psy-cop'.)
Unfortunately for Randi he has learned an expensive and time-consuming lesson: simply being able to demonstrate an alternative explanation for phenomena is not the same as PROVING a psychic claim to be fake. Randi's fanatical assertions that the psychic abilities claimed by some people (Uri Geller for one) were 'fake' was challenged in court in the mid-80's. Randi lost, as any honest scientist could have predicted - without using psychic powers!
As the other reviews indicate, this book will be treated as holy writ by believers in SM, as an entertaining sideshow by the open-minded, and as repugnant by believers in the philosophies Randi scorns.
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am 6. Oktober 1997
I read this book early in my college career and have to say it had a profound influence on me. Randi is not a trained scientist, he is a magician, and so he knows about fooling people. From this unique vantage point, he demolishes many of the hoaxes and frauds perpetrated on intelligent people and scientists. Randi pulls no punches, and has even been sued (by Uri Geller) for things he has written and said. The book is thourough, you will probably encounter frauds and scams you never heard of before, but if it leaves you wanting more. Unfortunately, I'm not aware of anything else that covers this subject this well.
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am 17. November 1999
In Flim-Flam, James Randi explains the trials and tribulations of his attempts to separate true paranormal activity from what just looks like paranormal activity. For those who wish desperately to believe in paranormal activity at any cost this book will serve no purpose. For those truly interested in proving the existence of the paranormal this book is a must. A person who is sincerely interested in psychic phenomena will not wish to be tricked by con artists or people who erroneously believe they are psychic. The fact that there are con artists in this world is an undisputed proven fact. Psychic phenomena are not. Therefore, the study of psychic phonemena must be geared towards eliminating known causes in order to be meaningful. This is what James Randi does and what he so clearly chronicles in Flim-Flam. His detractors are generally those who have a stake in believing or in having others believe in psychic phonemena irrespective of whether their belief is justified by the real facts. Flim-Flam's age shows in the examples Randi uses but the activities he investigates are still pertinent examples. If Randi has one fault it is his alegence to the Magician's Code. As an expert professional magician Randi has special insight into tricks often used to imitate psychic phenomena and often he replicates the event in question to show it can be done with conjuring tricks. But many times he won't give away the trick. I think fewer people would be fooled by con artists if they actually knew the techniques behind the con. Even so, James Randi is at his best in Flim-Flam. It is a very enjoyable and fascinating read.
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am 3. Juni 1998
Flim Flam, as the subtitle says, is about other delusions, and how James Randi investigates and exposes the tricks, frauds and fakery in the field of Psychic "Research". This field is really the wrestling arena for the con-artists who live by hype - either by fooling scientists, or in collusion with the pseudoscientists who live by money conned from good Samaritans, us - the tax payers and consumers and scientists of the normal. The Bermuda Triangle, Biorhythm, photos of fairies, ghosts and kirlia, levitation, pyramid power, Mayan visitors from outer space, tele-what-nots, TM and Z-rays are some of the "other delusions" exposed in this book. We know that these are bunk. But how do we convince our friends that they are? Give them this book. Show them how any of those so called psychic phenomena cannot stand the test of any skeptic with scientific approach which does not preclude the possibility of fraud or delusion or both. James Randi is the hit man of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) and in this book you get an idea of how hard it is pull those punches.
Besides hundreds of names of people, places and institutions associated with these frauds, details from correspondence, this book has photos and diagrams of the hoax-rooms where the paranormal fakers did hoodwink and unnerve the rationality of the respectable scientists. The charts that were designed to fool the custodians of money - to be wasted through the propagation of pseudoscience of para-psychology and pollute the minds of the future generations of Americans with pure non-sense, the money that has been lost by genuine scientific and medical research - such charts have also been included in this book.
Issac Asimov in his introduction to this book rightly says, "Folly and Fakery has never before been dangerous as it is now" and that we therefore more than ever be grateful to Randi who deserves our admiration for his courage, diligence, perseverance, and the k! een senses needed for exposing these "rascals and knaves".
Dr. Russell Targ and Dr. Harold Puthoff are the Laurel and Hardy of Psi as a chapter title appropriately describes them. Reading this chapter it becomes at once obvious that if two scientists decide to cheat other men of science, tons and tons of our money can go down the drain. The directors of monies have to come up with an explanation for the misdirected research when the skeptics expose them. Because an apology would mean personal disaster, half-truths, rationalization, lies, damned lies, and, to back them up, statistical charts, and so on and on, until the consumer and tax-payer believes that there must be some truth somewhere beyond his common-sense beliefs. The fact that the Stanford Research Institute has been humiliated by these clowns, is only the tip of the iceberg of harm done by hype.
The flood of betting, lotto, and related software in the market is but the natural outcome of the pseudo-science of psi sanctified by misguided scientists who cannot tell the "law" of chances of mathematics from the laws of the physical world and believe that it can somehow determine the outcome of the roll of the dice, and their shortcut to fortune. If one just remembers that the people who sell such wares did not make money by the techniques they sell, but only by perpetuating wishful thought of the gullible, one would not be in that category any longer. Since the year 1964, Randi's Challenge to offer to pay $10,000 to any person who can demonstrate that she has any kind of paranormal power under fraud proof conditions still remains open. In chapter 13 Randi gives the details of this challenge and the conditions. The conditions can be obtained from him by sending a self addressed stamped envelope. To quote Randi "In response to that challenge, over 650 persons have applied as claimant. Only 54 (as of this writing) ever made it past the preliminaries, and none of them ever got a nickel.
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am 28. Dezember 1998
James Randi has written books, all of which are illuminating, but none so much as this. In Flim-Flam he has taken to task all who would delude themselves or others with notions of fairies, ESP, and extra-terrestrials. It has been said that one must use a thief to catch a thief, and no one is better equipped to catch frauds than magicians. Randi, the only MacArthur (genius) Award winning magician I'm aware of, is THE man for the job. Flim-Flam is a comprehensive, no-holds-barred exposure of some of the most infamous hoaxes, frauds, and nonsense in history. Anyone who wants to learn to distinguish fantasy from reality or just fraud from genuine needs to read this book. I initially read it years ago and use it frequently as a reference book. I own two copies - one to loan (which I do frequently) and my dog-eared, highlighted and marked-in-the-margins copy. It is a book not only for those who want to learn about the subjects contained within, but also (and maybe more so) for those who see no harm in believing in ESP, pseudoscience, or faith healing and the like. My only wish for this terrific book is that it be updated to include some of the more recent and tragic delusions of recent history.
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am 30. September 1997
Way back when I was in high school, I eagerly ate through most of the parapsychology section of my school library. I couldn't get enough of the stuff. I had a deep loathing of those darn "skeptics," ever-villianized in the UFO and ESP books, who always wanted to take the magic from the world.
I decided to read _Flim-Flam_ as a bit of a challenge to myself, though I felt internally kinda ... I dunno ... *naughty* doing it. At first, I thought the book was bunkum. However, when I read further, I began to realize it was all that other crud that was the real bunkum.
This was probably the most important book I've ever read, though I can barely remember it. It was the first skeptical book I familiarized myself with, and I've been thankful ever since.
I give it a 10, even though I can't remember much, because of this ultimate importance. Much like Sagan's _The Demon-Haunted World_ I think _Flim-Flam!_ should be required reading for any class about science.
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am 4. Oktober 1998
If you enjoy looking at the weird and unusual, you could easily be tempted to consider the folks on the fringe to be a bunch of entertaining, harmless, and often friendly kooks...and sometimes, this is true. People have the right to believe anything they want to believe, so long as they cause no harm to others. But some of those dupes of the Conspiracy are far from harmless, and they enjoy nothing better than separating innocent people from their money, using pseudo-science and nonsense as a shield to keep from brought to much-deserved justice. So-called "psychics" rip unsuspecting people out of huge sums of money, and in some cases lives have been lost because terminally ill people have shelled out thousands of dollars to phony "healers" who do nothing but perform a few parlor tricks. James Randi exposed many of the most notorious pseudo-scientific and "psychic" rip-off outfits with this book, and it's still a must-read.
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am 21. Dezember 1999
This book exposes those who make things up and try and pass them off as reality. It shows that it is easy to fool most of the people a lot more than we like to think.
James Randi is one of the leaders of the skeptical movement. He would love to be presented with a verifiable paranormal event. But whenever somebody looks for a verifiable paranormal event, they pretty much always find that there was no paranormal event taking place. Just a cleverly disguised normal event that it rigged up to look like magic.
This is why a real magicain is good to have when inventigating a claim of a paranormal event. Lay persons, and even scientists, can be fooled into believing something just because they are used to having the truth told to them.
This book is good to read so that one can learn how to avoid falling into some traps.
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