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on 9 October 2007
Chris Carter has put together quite a treatise. In thoroughly readable, engaging and clear prose, he provides an erudite and comprehensive review of the skeptical and scientific studies of events that don't fit present paradigms. Despite having researched the subject extensively myself, I found a deep well of new information. Carter's book, the first in a series of three, is both scholarly and entertaining; I eagerly await his next two works. Robert S. Bobrow, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York. (Author, "The Witch in the Waiting Room- a physician investigates paranormal phenomena in medicine")
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on 19 October 2007
Like the title suggests, this book is two stories intertwined, one charting the scientific discovery of psychic powers (psi) over the last century and another castigating a misguided social movement known as skepticism for claiming to know better.

Chris Carter surveys the sea of anecdotal and statistical evidence for the existence of telepathy, clairvoyance (also known as remote viewing), precognition and psychokinesis. Skeptics, meanwhile, maintain that psi is incompatible with what we know about reality and therefore must be false. Yet psi phenomena do not violate any known principles of physics, which certainly has changed since Einstein derided quantum entanglement as "spooky action at a distance."

Rather than face the evidence head on, self-proclaimed skeptics are engaged in a holy war, says Carter, "fueled by the fervent belief that they alone are the last defenders of the citadel of science." As to real scientists, most do not identify with organized skepticism.

Going all the way back to Herodotus, Carter examines the history of psi, including the findings of the Society for Psychical Research, JB Rhine, Daniel Home and Charles Honorton, whose "autoganzfeld" procedure was immune to charges of human tampering. He also discusses statistician Jessica Utts' claim that "psychic functioning has been well established" by ordinary scientific methods.

Carter contrasts the sober science of psi with the crusading fanaticism of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. CSICOP, an organization straight out of Orwell, completely avoids scientific investigation. James Randi, Richard Wiseman, Susan Blackmore and Ray Hyman all get singled out for extensive scrutiny. Needless to say, their methodology is found wanting.

In the face of skeptics who claim that all research into psi is pseudoscience, Carter charges that ideological skepticism represents a mutant form of science known as scientism, which is more concerned with absolute truth than such banalities as hypothesis, experimentation and theory. The only skeptic who emerges from Carter's analysis with a shred of integrity is Blackmore, who at least concedes she was biased and might have got it wrong.

For diehard skeptics, this book will only irritate. For the more thoughtful among us, it will fascinate.
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on 21 November 2015
A superb book, part of a trilogy making an extremely compelling case for psychic phenomena, the validity of the near death experience and genuine personal survival of consciousness after death. Highly evidential, focused on a science based approach with due diligence to religious tradition where deemed necessary. Refreshingly dogma free and written in an engaging style. The author, Chris Carter, has clearly done his research and I look forward to further books from him.
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on 19 September 2012
Amazon reviews are not the best place in the world to discuss controversial science. Unfortunately, neither is this book. Having finally bought and read it, I couldn't let the otherwise glowing reviews remain without some kind of counter-balance.

Chris Carter is clearly an educated, intelligent man but he makes one big mistake in this book. He approaches the subject of parapsychology with the view that if he can prove the skeptics wrong then that will automatically prove the opposite viewpoint right. And this is the theme that runs throughout the book: What is the claim? What is the skeptics' argument against? What is the rebuttal to that argument? And then stop. He does not seem to take his research any further than that, and he very rarely offers any original research of his own. I cannot help but notice that the sections of the psi debate that he focuses on are the same ones that have been discussed in depth on the internet.

This means that this book misses out a lot of the controversy regarding psi, since most of the strongest criticisms about psi come from within parapsychology itself. For example, Chris writes about the Slade trial in which Henry Slade, a medium who used slate-writing to get messages from the dead, was prosecuted. Chris Carter shows how the prosecutor was unable to successfully explain how Henry Slade achieved his results. And this is true: reading the reports in the Times, the case against Slade does not seem strong. However, Carter does not mention that, barely ten years later, the Society of Psychical Research published work by a conjurer Davey who was able to replicate all the slate-writing feats that psychics could achieve, and the phenomena was greatly diminshed as a serious source of investigation.

His chapter on the ganzfeld is also poor. He simply repeats what other people have written about the debate, rather than going back to the source material, such that mistakes they made are present in Carter's work, too. For example, he criticises Milton and Wiseman's negative meta-analysis for using the wrong statistical measure, but does not mention that Charles Honorton used the same measure in his positive meta-analysis. Why didn't he know? Because the second-hand source he was using didn't tell him.

He writes that in the debate in 1986 "none of the ten contributors" agreed with Hyman over the issue of his flaw analysis. The claim comes from a talk given by Radin, I believe, and it gives the impression that everyone agreed with Honorton. In truth, most of the ten commentators do not mention Hyman's flaw analysis and while it is true that none explicitly say "I agree with Ray Hyman," their response are a little more nuanced than Chris Carter implies.

Carter also writes that the critic Christopher Scott was convinced by Honorton's work. In truth, Scott was impressed by Honorton's debate but that didn't stop his conversion from believer to skeptic (largely caused by his role in uncovering the Soal fraud) which lead to him leaving the discipline a few years later, calling it "an empty field."

In trying to paint skeptics as cherry-pickers of the worst data, he does some serious cherry-picking of his own. In the section about Susan Blackmore, he references Berger's re-analysis of her work quite extensively but does not mention the numerous mistakes that Berger apparently made as listed in Blackmore's reply at all. Carter even attempts to show that Berger's paper was somehow responsible for a change in Blackmore's attitude. However, a careful reading of the quotes from Blackmore - putting Carter's misleading introduction out of one's mind - shows that both before and after Berger's paper her attitude is the same: "I don't know."

Not everything in the book is wrong. Wiseman's investigation into Jay-tee (the dog who knew when his owner was coming home) is hardly a shining example of scientific investigation. Nevertheless, the book is littered with little mistakes. Carter repeats the myth of museums in the eighteenth century throwing out their meteorite collections because the science establishment was so dead set against it. He also mentions the novella "Futility" by Morgan Robertson as evidence of a premonition of the sinking of the Titanic but even in that short section he gets the numbers wrong. The list of errors goes on, and this review is already long enough.

The lengthy second half of the book, where Chris Carter asks if parapsychology is really incompatible with modern science is a little outside my area of expertise, so I will not pass judgement on it. However, given his treatment of the history of parapsychology, I don't have a great deal of confidence.

Unless the reader has access to an extensive library of parapsychological sources so they can check on Carter's statements, I can't recommend this book. And if you do have such a library, then there's no need for you to buy this book at all. For a better book of the controversy between skeptics and parapsychology, I'd point people in the direction of Randi's Prize: What sceptics say about the paranormal, why they are wrong and why it matters or for a more academic overview of the evidence itself, Parapsychology: A Concise History (Studies in Psychical Research) is an excellent place to start.
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on 15 July 2012
Some of this book was above my head: pages about the currently accepted laws of physics, about quantum theory and new theories of consciousness were difficult to grasp. But I still found the book worthwhile, because it puts a very striking perspective on scientific attitudes towards what is called 'the paranormal'.

It appears that reactions to 'psychic phenomena' from experts in different branches of the scientific and psychological communities are sometimes startling for their intolerance and strident volatility: "I don't want to discuss evidence!" (Richard Dawkins).

By what are generally accepted criteria, the existence of 'psi' phenomena (such as telepathy) has apparently been satisfactorily proven. But many prominent people in the scientific community discredit this, mainly because the phenomena cannot be fitted into currently accepted understanding. 'Current understanding' therefore frequently looks more like rigid dogma. (These prominent experts nearly always end up finding some kind of fault with the trials and experiments about 'psi' phenomena, which on most other topics would usually be found acceptable.) Science is by its nature not dogma, but a living ongoing enquiry. By its nature, Science always has to make room for new developments.

It is interesting to recall that Susan Sontag pointed out comparable reactions within the medical profession, when it is faced by as-yet inexplicable diseases. Before they have been properly understood, the diseases have sometimes been written off by exasperated doctors as therefore 'all in the mind' (as in some current attitudes to "M.E.").

What stands out clearly in this book is that it has always been problematic for the scientific community to accept and incorporate newly-emerging truths. New truths inevitably compel revision of accepted theories and paradigms, and this is where the trouble begins. Many experts have lived their careers by these accepted theories -which are being questioned and challenged.

Scientific scepticism certainly has its place. But it appears to be almost impossible for any leading scientist to admit that he was 'wrong all along'. (This seems to be largely a question of reputation.) Denial has usually ruled the day. For example, 'rocks from the sky' -meteorites- were rejected as impossible, and X-rays were insisted by some to be nothing but an elaborate hoax.

It is unfortunate that given the nature of the situation, it can take generations for 'a new idea' to find acceptance:
"a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it", (Max Planck).
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on 16 June 2012
I really disliked Philosophy in college, not seeing the point in all the hair-splitting going nowhere. Chris Carter's book brought it all back to me, but thankfully his talent for lucid explanations and his ability to connect the different schools of thought to their attitudes towards scientific enquiry vs psychic phenomena made all the difference. (College teachers take note!)

Skepticism toward the unknown, and perhaps unknowable has been central to philosophical debate since the 1700's. It has certainly been a hallmark of the modern era when reproducible, evidence-based experiments became the gold standard of "truth." The core argument in the book rests on affirming the logic of a conceptual shift from observation and replication of a phenomenon, therefore inferring that that is absolute proof of truth, to a more empirical approach of acceptance of an observation as a valid phenomenon, putting forth a tentative explanation of how it might have come about until a better explanation comes along.

This distinction is profound, because science was, and still is, riddled with the attitude of rejecting inconvenient phenomena that don't fit into the accepted theory of the day. This attitude still has reverberations into all of society, and spawns ridicule of uncomfortable truths in journals and in the media, as well as ostracism of any researchers prepared to swim against the tide of conventional wisdom.
In the case Carter makes for the reality of psychic phenomena, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming; quantum physics implies the action of consciousness.

This book is important because it suggests that we could or should be on the threshold of mainstream acceptance of psi phenomena, which implies the primacy of consciousness in the manifestation of physical reality. Like most scientific books or papers the evidence takes up 98% of the book before you get to the conclusion, but you can either skip to the end or enjoy the ride like I did.
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on 3 November 2007
Chris Carter's "Parapsychology and the Skeptics" is a major contribution to the literature of the paranormal.

Carter ably recounts the history of ESP studies, covering telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and micro-PK. He shows how improved protocols and ever more sophisticated statistical analysis have answered skeptical objections. Then he looks at trends in quantum physics, demonstrating that the new post-Newtonian world-picture has ample room for psi phenomena. Finally, he dips into the philosophy of science and provides the clearest exposition of Popper's falsifiability principle I've seen.

His conclusions are that parapsychology has all the elements necessary to be seen as a serious branch of science; that psi phenomena have been proven by well-designed (and yes, repeatable) experiments; and that while no comprehensive theory of psi exists at present, there are provocative pointers in that direction.

His tone throughout is cautious, serious, and sensible. It is hard to see how an open-minded reader could come away from this book with any confidence in the skeptical position.
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on 10 January 2008
This is a well-structured and intelligent look at the common objections to parapsychology raised by skeptics. If all you have read so far are the objections of the usual skeptical sources then you really would benefit from reading this before forming a view. The presentation style is down to earth and the bits that do delve into mathematical detail are either well explained or don't need to be read by those without a mathematical bent in order to get the points the Author makes.It won't change the minds of hardened sceptics but for those only interested in the truth and dont have a axe to grind it's a very valuable and well-timed book.
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on 22 December 2007
Chris Carter has written a clear, detailed exposition of the controversy over the findings of scientific parapsychology. He is at his best when he is reviewing the work of critics and sceptics, detailing how they overestimate their own objectivity, their scientific skills, how data-driven they are (as in not very). Added to the tendency of critics to commit all the scientific "sins" they attribute to parapsychologists, Carter shows that critics and sceptics also misunderstand both modern science and modern physics at a deeply fundamental level. A must read cautionary tale for anyone who hopes to get involved in the sceptical movement as well as for those who have a serious scientific interest in seemingly parapsychological phenomena. The best of its genre!
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on 11 November 2008
What I enjoyed most when reading the book were the very helpful summaries that Carter provides of the relevant psychological, philosophical and scientific principles that need to be understood clearly, in order to have an intelligent opinion about paranormal phenomena. What on the surface appears to be "supernatural" is nevertheless experienced through the senses, as described by sincere and honest individuals. I myself have experienced such things. How is this possible? It's because there is indeed room in the science of the natural for these phenomena, when blinkers and prejudices are removed. However the masterful research that Carter has put into this book is clearly and interestingly explained; it never comes across as dry academia.
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