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The Science of Ghosts: Searching for Spirits of the Dead Paperback – June 26, 2012
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Winner of the 2013 Robert Balles Prize for Critical Thinking!
"This is it—the definitive book on ghosts from a scientific perspective, written by the world's foremost science-based ghost hunter. Nickell is the go-to guy for all things paranormal, and with this book he has once again asserted himself as a fair and careful investigator whose conclusions we can trust."
—Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Believing Brain
"In [this] important new book Joe Nickell-the premier skeptical paranormal investigator alive today-explains his expert techniques while presenting various paranormal cases, looking at the actual evidence for the existence of such spirit beings. This is a book that everyone interested in ghostly evidence for the afterlife-believer and skeptic alike-will benefit from reading."
—D. J. Grothe, president, James Randi Educational Foundation
"[Nickell is] the epitome of [a] skeptical investigator...coming to a subject without prejudgment but with an honest desire to find the truth...."
—Kendrick Frazier, editor, Skeptical Inquirer
"[The Science of Ghosts] will find a home in science and new age collections alike, and considers the actual evidence surrounding psychic contacts with 'the other side… a balanced assessment of the evidence for ghosts and hauntings."
"Filled with case studies, this book will interest other fans of ghostly affairs academia."
—Bookviews by Alan Caruba
"This is a well thought out, intelligently written book."
—City Book Review
About the Author
Joe Nickell (Amherst, NY) has been called "the modern Sherlock Holmes" and "the real-life Scully" (from The X-Files). He has been on the trail of mysterious creatures and phenomena for four decades. Since 1995 he has been the world's only full-time, professional, science-based paranormal investigator. His careful, often-innovative investigations have won him international respect in a field charged with controversy. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More and Real or Fake? Studies in Authentication and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. See www.joenickell.com for more.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but his methods are less than stellar.
As far as I can tell, his approach is something along the lines of:
[Witness] I've seen an apparition.
[Joe] Were you asleep? If so,it was a dream.
[Witness] No. I was awake.
[Joe] It was a near sleep hallucination.
[Witness] No. I was actually working at the time
[Joe] Was it routine work?
[Witness] Well, yes.
[Joe] Ah, well, it was a hallucination. People hallucinate while doing routine chores. Well-known fact.
And so on.
He repeats this over and over, as if it were scientific fact. It's not.
I wouldn't have minded if the book had been interesting, but it wasn't.
Read something else.
I have apologized to my students.
In this book, Nickell does not investigate or explain -- he merely dismisses. In all fairness, he may have fully investigated some of these cases thoroughly and published that information elsewhere (he does cite himself quite liberally), but in this particular book all we get is a summary of the claims of the case and then one of his summary stock answers. All apparitions are waking dreams or sleep paralysis episodes. All near-death experiences are anaerobic hallucinations. All EVPs are white-noise pattern seeking. What's worse, and what makes the title of the book so misleading (and the book so disappointing to me and my students), is that Nickell does not offer any of the rich scientific research behind any of those explanations.
Nickell also displays (again, in this particular book) an astonishing lack of intellectual honesty. Time and again he takes cases that have long been discredited (the Amityville house, the Fox sisters, Victorian-era ghost photography) or popular television shows, movies and even tourist attractions and presents them as if they're being offered as some of the most credible encounters available. By choosing such low-hanging fruit, he doesn't have to exert himself too hard to join in the already-established discrediting. In the few places that he discusses a genuinely controversial case (the Enfield poltergeist or William James' investigation of a medium's location of a drowned girl), he finds one or two critiques among a sea of lively discussion and presents them as proof of the case's non-paranormal nature. Presenting only the evidence that supports your pre-determined thesis is a freshman-level error, not the behavior of someone touting the necessity of rigorous scientific investigation.
This book is fine if you simply need some excuses not to consider the possibility of ghosts. If you want to know what scientists have discovered about haunt phenomena, you'll need to look elsewhere.
Were Joe writing in the 1850s, I could see him penning, "Without question, there is absolutely no such animal as the gorilla. The natives are clearly mistaken--even though they've lived here for eons beyond reckoning, they must be confusing something with lions or okapi or dik-diks. I mean, who ever heard of something as ridiculous as a man-shaped thing, covered with black hair and sporting black skin--and with a silver saddle, no less! Come, now!"
Oh, and I loved what he did with Sandra Mansi's "Champ" photograph--its intrinsic validity notwithstanding. He went out of his way to construct the most utterly, pathetically contrived situation in which her image could--just could--JUST COULD be interpreted as a stick, a log, a rock, or a dead horse. Funny, but I was unaware that such a plethora of sticks, logs, rocks, and dead horses were floating around Lake Champlain.
In my opinion, Nickell stops way short of being convincing when he dismisses something as, for example, "a waking dream" with no further exploration or explanation. As my daughter said when I mentioned it, "well, maybe that's when ghosts like to communicate with us."
As the Great Carl Sagan was found of saying "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". You say you seen a ghost or a house that is haunted, then show me the evidence. Read this book and great insight into the way a real investigation is carried out.