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Under The Microscope

TEST YOUR PSYCHIC POWERS: FIND OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT YOURSELF by Susan Blackmore and Adam Hart-Davis; Harper Collins, 1995; 159 pages; $19.95

No, this review has not strayed from the pages of a "women's magazine", it is aimed squarely at NZSM readers. This excellent book describes numerous scientific experiments you and your friends can do together. After working through a few of these, you will be able to lift your self-assessment from the level of anecdote and coincidence on to a sound statistical basis.

The two authors have combined their skills to produce a book both interesting and informative. Blackmore is a well-known investigator of the paranormal, Hart-Davis a television researcher and reporter. They have chosen ten "psychic" topics (telepathy, astrology, etc.) and devoted a chapter to each.

These chapters have the same format -- first a couple of "gee whizz" stories illustrating the kind of psychic claim associated with the topic, then a discussion on how it might work. Next come the experiments; in most chapters a simple one first followed by a critique, then a more complicated and searching experiment. Controls, and why they are necessary, are discussed, and possible layouts of score sheets are illustrated. Most chapters close with the authors' assessment of the current status of the topic.

Here are snippets of information as fascinating as they are of doubtful usefulness: for example, if you see someone under a lamppost with a rapt expression, you are probably looking at a member of SLIDE (Street Lamp Interference Data Exchange) trying to put the light out by psychokinesis.

As a keen visitor to Science Fairs, I have been disappointed at the poor standard of many exhibits dealing with psychic matters. Science teachers involved in guiding projects for Science Fairs should use this book; they no longer have any excuse for submitting badly designed and interpreted psychic experiments.

Professor Bernard Howard is secretary of the NZ Skeptics

Professor Bernard Howard is secretary of the NZ Skeptics