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James 'The Amazing' Randi is a stage magician who says he has a million dollars for anyone who can convince him they have psychic powers. No one has even come close to winning, proof, say sceptical scientists, that there is no such thing as 'the paranormal'. But are they right? In this illuminating and often provocative analysis, Robert McLuhan examines the influence of Ra James 'The Amazing' Randi is a stage magician who says he has a million dollars for anyone who can convince him they have psychic powers. No one has even come close to winning, proof, say sceptical scientists, that there is no such thing as 'the paranormal'. But are they right? In this illuminating and often provocative analysis, Robert McLuhan examines the influence of Randi and other debunking sceptics in shaping scientific opinion about such things as telepathy, psychics, ghosts and near-death experiences. He points out that scientific researchers who investigate these things at first hand overwhelmingly consider them to be genuinely anomalous. But this has shocking implications, for science, for society and for even perhaps for ourselves as individuals. Hence the sceptics' insistence that they should rather be attributed to fraud, imagination and wishful thinking. However, this extraordinary and little understood aspect of consciousness has much to tell us about the human situation, McLuhan suggests. And at a time when militants are polarising the debate about religion, its mystical, spiritual element offers an optimistic and enlightened way forward. Randi's Prize is aimed at anyone interested in spirituality or those curious to know the truth about paranormal claims. It's an intelligent and readable analysis of scientific research into the paranormal which, uniquely, also closely examines the arguments of well-known sceptics.


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James 'The Amazing' Randi is a stage magician who says he has a million dollars for anyone who can convince him they have psychic powers. No one has even come close to winning, proof, say sceptical scientists, that there is no such thing as 'the paranormal'. But are they right? In this illuminating and often provocative analysis, Robert McLuhan examines the influence of Ra James 'The Amazing' Randi is a stage magician who says he has a million dollars for anyone who can convince him they have psychic powers. No one has even come close to winning, proof, say sceptical scientists, that there is no such thing as 'the paranormal'. But are they right? In this illuminating and often provocative analysis, Robert McLuhan examines the influence of Randi and other debunking sceptics in shaping scientific opinion about such things as telepathy, psychics, ghosts and near-death experiences. He points out that scientific researchers who investigate these things at first hand overwhelmingly consider them to be genuinely anomalous. But this has shocking implications, for science, for society and for even perhaps for ourselves as individuals. Hence the sceptics' insistence that they should rather be attributed to fraud, imagination and wishful thinking. However, this extraordinary and little understood aspect of consciousness has much to tell us about the human situation, McLuhan suggests. And at a time when militants are polarising the debate about religion, its mystical, spiritual element offers an optimistic and enlightened way forward. Randi's Prize is aimed at anyone interested in spirituality or those curious to know the truth about paranormal claims. It's an intelligent and readable analysis of scientific research into the paranormal which, uniquely, also closely examines the arguments of well-known sceptics.

30 review for Randi's Prize: What Sceptics Say about the Paranormal, Why They Are Wrong and Why It Matters

  1. 5 out of 5

    Pauline Ross

    This was one of those accidental finds on Amazon, the online equivalent of wandering aimlessly around a bookstore. I searched for something quite different, and was tossed a ragbag of unrelated stuff. One was quite interesting, but the reviews mentioned that McLuhan's book was much better. It was cheaper, too, and that was that. This book is a discussion, not about the paranormal itself, but rather about the determined sceptics who devote their time and energy to debunking it. McLuhan admits that This was one of those accidental finds on Amazon, the online equivalent of wandering aimlessly around a bookstore. I searched for something quite different, and was tossed a ragbag of unrelated stuff. One was quite interesting, but the reviews mentioned that McLuhan's book was much better. It was cheaper, too, and that was that. This book is a discussion, not about the paranormal itself, but rather about the determined sceptics who devote their time and energy to debunking it. McLuhan admits that he started off as a sceptic himself, although surely a healthy disbelief in such seeming absurdities as poltergeists, reincarnation, ghostly hallucinations, psychic mediums and the like would be the default position for anyone with a rational mind. At first, he accepted that the evidence for paranormal activity must be flawed, and believed the categorical statements of the debunkers that it was all invented or (at best) misinterpreted. But when he began to delve more deeply he discovered that there was a vast database of evidence, much of it consistent and surprisingly robust. The debunkers, by contrast, used a variety of methods to undermine its credibility. They quibbled over statistics and methodology, proposed that those experiencing paranormal events were rogues and charlatans, were scathing about serious researchers, and occasionally invoked explanations for some incidents that were even less plausible than the paranormal. None of this will convince a sceptic that paranormal powers actually exist, nor will believers be deterred. Even those who are initially open minded will probably not be induced to settle on one side or the other by this book. If anything, it suggests that there is bad science and irrational behaviour on both sides of the argument. There are weaknesses in McLuhan's argument, too - debunking the debunkers, however satisfying, does not make paranormality any more plausible. He also fails to enquire too deeply about the cultural differences in paranormal experiences (although he does address the issue as regards reincarnation). But what this book really underscores is the great unease we feel when faced with apparently inexplicable events. Far from being credulous and gullible, most people are deeply uncomfortable about such things, keeping their own experiences secret sometimes for years, and this allows the sceptics to prevail, while believers and even honest, open minded researchers are seen as crackpots. I have no idea whether 'psi' (paranormal power) really exists, or whether human consciousness can survive death. Perhaps we will never be able to prove these things one way or the other. But this thoughtful book is happily free of the hyperbole which often accompanies the subject. It sets itself a fairly narrow target, but it addresses it in painstaking detail, in a clear, calm and readable style.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anthony O'Connor

    I thought this book was excellent. It was a well written and well researched account of the fallibility, intransigence,dogmatism and sheer bloody mindedness of the supposedly rationalist skeptics - Randi included. Are these various paranormal effects real? I don't know. I've never experienced anything for myself. McLuhan asserts that there are a number of scientific studies showing statistically significant results. Are there? I don't know. I've never studied the claims in any detail or tried to I thought this book was excellent. It was a well written and well researched account of the fallibility, intransigence,dogmatism and sheer bloody mindedness of the supposedly rationalist skeptics - Randi included. Are these various paranormal effects real? I don't know. I've never experienced anything for myself. McLuhan asserts that there are a number of scientific studies showing statistically significant results. Are there? I don't know. I've never studied the claims in any detail or tried to reproduce them. Have you? He skirts around deeper issues of who says what and why they say it - pointing out that the overriding criteria is rarely what is actually true. His account of the motives of the media especially TV shows is classic. Their strategy is usually to push the Wow factor for a few weeks and then debunk it. We've all seen this. Their agenda is obvious. As for Randi's prize, McLuhan shows clearly how it is basically a PR stunt, its primary purpose being to sell and push Randi's image as the great debunker. McLuhan asks the intriguing question - what would happen if someone actually won the prize. There would be a bit of a media frenzy for a while - depending on how reproducible the result was and then business as before. These things just don't fit the prevailing world-view and aren't sufficiently useful or profitable for most of us to bother with. Even if they are real they are clearly only very weakly reproducible and this isn't necessarily just a convenient dodge. As for Randi, he would be dismissed by the other great skeptics with something like 'Poor guy, they finally got to him', and then business as usual. He points out that these self-styled skeptics are merely the new defenders of the faith, new dogmatists in their own right, out to establish their results and their credentials by any means necessary, fair or foul. McLuhan briefly examines the wider implications of these supposed paranormal effects - inevitably getting into the survival of consciousness after death and the religious implications. He is on much weaker ground here - but is honest enough to point out his own views and speculations and note them as such. The main conclusion I got from this really quite excellent and important book is that just maybe these questions are still open questions. This definitely matters - if anything does.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bill FromPA

    In Randi’s Prize: What Sceptics Say about the Paranormal, Why They Are Wrong and Why It Matters Robert McLuhan seeks to take a skeptical (I’ll use the US spelling) look at skeptics of the paranormal. McLuhan writes as an interested layman, neither scientist nor psychic. He claims to have started out pretty much accepting the skeptics’ arguments against the reality of psychic phenomena (psi). They showed that the field was rife with fraud, credulous investigators, and inadequate experimental c In Randi’s Prize: What Sceptics Say about the Paranormal, Why They Are Wrong and Why It Matters Robert McLuhan seeks to take a skeptical (I’ll use the US spelling) look at skeptics of the paranormal. McLuhan writes as an interested layman, neither scientist nor psychic. He claims to have started out pretty much accepting the skeptics’ arguments against the reality of psychic phenomena (psi). They showed that the field was rife with fraud, credulous investigators, and inadequate experimental controls; besides the whole thing was very unlikely, and so it would be no surprise if it were entirely bogus. Then he started to read the reports of psi researchers. First he was astounded by the sheer number of cases they found of various phenomena, and quickly realized that the skeptics' debunking paradigms covered only a small number of them – there were many reported incidents that featured phenomena that went beyond the kind of fakery or incompetence which skeptics implied was common to all such investigations. McLuhan also came to respect the investigators for the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) as serious scientists who were vigilant against fraud and very capable of designing controls to prevent or detect it. The 7 chapters cover poltergeists, séance mediums, spirit channeling, telepathy and psychokinesis, crisis apparitions, near death experiences (NDEs) and reincarnation, and the evidence for an afterlife and its implications. In each, McLuhan shows that the objections of skeptics cover only a minority of cases and cites evidence that the more convincing cases have been misrepresented or deliberately ignored. He sees the skeptics’ mission as being to cut short any possibility of the scientific community or general public suspecting that psi might actually exist. The title refers to a million dollar prize (now withdrawn) offered by magician James Randi to anyone who could prove the existence of a paranormal phenomenon in a controlled environment supervised by Randi and a team of other skeptics. The book only refers to the Prize in passing at a number of points, mainly as a metaphor for what the author sees as the skeptics’ bad faith claim to be objective observers. McLuhan’s contention is that the Prize is a kind of swindle: that the skeptical attitude is so ingrained that no possible demonstration would ever be accepted as convincing. I can’t agree with this, as it would seem that some of the psychokinetic feats of medium Eusapia Palladino that the author describes as having been verified by members of the SPR under controlled conditions would be pretty irrefutable if they could be reproduced. Nor do I think that the author is entirely fair to the skeptics; whatever their sometimes condescending or insulting tone toward believers, researchers, and practitioners in psi it’s credible to me that they are acting in good faith, with a self-perceived mission of protecting the public against fraud and misinformation and the misapplication of scientists’ time and science funding. McLuhan doesn’t seem to share my belief that a researcher’s entire career is rendered questionable by the endorsement of an obvious fraud like Uri Geller (who is treated somewhat at arm’s length in this book - McLuhan never comes right out and says that Geller’s feats of psi are either genuine or deceptions) or that, once caught out in fraud, a psi claimant has lost all credibility. He cites the justification séance medium Palladino gave to explain why her frequent cheating in psychokinesis experiments should not undermine belief in her possession of genuine psychic powers: She explained – and it seemed to be confirmed by observation – that psychokinesis effects occurred during her trance state by a process of will. The initial channel for the will would be physical: if you or I want to lift something we grasp it with our hands and raise it up, and this was a natural impulse in her also. It was by checking this impulse, allegedly, that the psychokinesis could be unlocked. For this reason she is recorded shouting ‘Controllo!’ at moments when she felt the energy building, to ensure that she was properly held and did not release it by reaching out to perform the action naturally. I have been in a similar position to McLuhan, reading and accepting skeptics’ accounts of and explanations for psi; unlike him, I don’t feel that the material was presented in bad faith, though I knew their selection of cases was less than the tip of an iceberg of paranormal accounts. Time is limited and accounts are vast; in general I don’t think that they have avoided some of the most celebrated cases, such as the famous out-one-window-and-in-another levitation of Daniel Dunglas Home. Nevertheless, there is a whole lot of material out there, and much of it comes from responsible witnesses who stand to gain nothing and perhaps, on the contrary, open themselves to ridicule for coming forward with their testimony. And in laboratory experiments, under tightly controlled conditions such as those imposed by J. B. Rhine, there does seem to be a small but statistically significant indication of the existence of some psi abilities. But while McLuhan excoriates skeptics for cherry-picking their cases, he exercises much the same kind of selectivity. Early in the book, he indicates that he will not cover topics such as UFOs or Bigfoot; his tone here and toward the end of the book hints that he considers such things beyond serious consideration. Yet, there are certainly a large number of eyewitness accounts for these phenomena, as numerous and credible as those he cites for other psi events. He also shies away from the weirder aspects of the phenomena he does cover. For instance, he cites Life After Life, Dr. Raymond A. Moody’s pioneering work on NDEs, but never mentions that Moody’s follow-up was Elvis After Life, where Moody documented a number of cases where people undergoing NDEs claimed to encounter the late Elvis Presley as a kind of psychopomp. Such stories were collected with the same research protocols as those accounts McLuhan accepts, but their aura of tabloid exploitation would probably tend to provoke the reader’s skepticism rather than anesthetizing it, which seems to be McLuhan’s general goal. I also think it’s a mistake to dismiss UFOs in discussions of psi, especially in a work like this, which advocates scientists undertaking a serious study of the paranormal. The beginning of the flying saucer phenomena coincided with the start of the Cold War and in the atmosphere of East-West tensions the appearance of unknown airborne objects of apparently superior technology was certainly considered a serious matter and the US government and military undertook an intense but largely unpublicized effort to discover the nature of these objects, devoting more money and manpower to the pursuit than has ever been spent researching psi during a similar span of time. As John A. Keel suggests, the apparent conclusion was that, though a certain number of cases seemed credible and defied explanation, the phenomena itself was ultimately an enigma which posed no direct physical threat to national security, and that the investigation was an expenditure of resources better used elsewhere. Since then a number of independent investigators have looked into UFOs, Keel prominent among them, and found that their investigations have led to a kind of stalemate, promising leads that go nowhere or degenerate into a kind of self-contradiction such that seeming solid conclusions reached earlier need to be abandoned as unverified. I sense some of the same kind of things happening in psi research, where a certain level of certainty and validation ends up falling apart, falling back toward statistical norms, or, at best, reaching a limit beyond which no further conclusions can be drawn.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Rundle-Keswick

    Confront the sceptic within yourself. In this incredibly important book, you get the opportunity to follow along with the author, Robert McLuhan, as he examines much of the evidence in a number of areas of the paranormal. Some the paranormal events he looks at are Ghosts/hauntings, visits from apparitions, Mediums, seances, OBEs, NDEs, reincarnation, children remembering past lives, remote viewing, Card guessing experiments, the sense of being stared at, Psychic animals and more If you, like I, ha Confront the sceptic within yourself. In this incredibly important book, you get the opportunity to follow along with the author, Robert McLuhan, as he examines much of the evidence in a number of areas of the paranormal. Some the paranormal events he looks at are Ghosts/hauntings, visits from apparitions, Mediums, seances, OBEs, NDEs, reincarnation, children remembering past lives, remote viewing, Card guessing experiments, the sense of being stared at, Psychic animals and more If you, like I, have been reading lots of the information about various paranormal events, You find that this book help to bring lots of it together and puts forward many thought provoking ideas to Consider. In This book as well as looking at some of the evidence you get a great overview of some of the different paranormal events happing on the planet, that when all taken together becomes a huge pile of evidence that is hard to ignore if you are willing to look at it. Robert call himself an agnostic and that he does not want to be convinced that the paranormal is true, particularly reincarnation. Quote from Page 1 "I saw myself more as a free-thinking agnostic than a committed atheist, as I believe many scientists themselves do." Quote from Page 281 I’d have to add that the idea of reincarnation, more than some other things we have been looking at, fills me with apprehension, as I think it does to many people, and I’d be relieved if I thought Stevenson’s claims could be adequately explained away. This book is for someone who has an open mind and is willing to look at all the different angles, because most sceptics will not be convinced this book is not for them. Quote from Page 239 "Mayer cites the case of an individual who peer-reviewed an article on remote viewing that had been submitted to an engineering journal, stating that it was methodologically impeccable and that he could find no reason to reject it, but still recommending that it not be published, as it was the kind of thing he would personally not believe in even if it existed. I found this book particularly useful, I have read, or heard about many of the examples in the book, and had my own sceptical reaction. In following along with the Author as he first finds the material unbelievable but with further study becomes convinced that there is something to all of the evidence accumulated over the years. One often cited reason why the sceptics don't have to believe the evidence is that they claim that there is a large number of unpublished reports, the so called bottom drawer problem, when the experiments failed. Quote from Page 200 "Critics might counter that it would be neutralized if all the data were included, on the assumption that studies with negative results were never published. But Dean Radin calculates that for this to happen there would have to be twenty-three such studies for every known one, requiring continuous activity for thirty-six years – an utterly implausible idea." Most sceptic don't even read the evidence, maybe part of them knows that if they want to hold onto their martial world view that they don't dare read any of it but need to be thoroughly scathing in there response to any presentation of anything slightly paranormal. As Robert points out if someone manages to convince a sceptic, all the other sceptics treat them as though they have gone over to the other side. If, for example some convinced Randi of the reality of the paranormal he may hand over the Million bucks, but then all the sceptics would consider him a fool. Quote from Page 58 ... consider what would have happened if Randi had observed at first hand the events at the Resch household, and come out bewildered by what he had seen. No question, he might have said, I was wrong – there really are psychic forces of which I had no conception. Tina, my child, here’s the cheque. Spend it wisely. Even if this fanciful scenario were one day to be played out, nothing would change. It would make headlines briefly but would not convert sceptics all over the world into believers. Its only lasting effect would be to end Randi’s career as a debunker: he would be written off as an elderly man who has finally succumbed to the madness of paranormal belief. For me this book helped me to understand why the sceptics are not convinced. I grew up with a materialist view of the world and when I started to read about NDE and other stuff I was always wondering what the sceptic saw/knew which kept them as unbelievers. Was there more information that I was missing, was I being fooled, but I now know it is the sceptic who are missing information because they won't even look at any of the evidence. If you have a world view, and don't want to change it it behooves you to NOT look at anything that might convince you to change. I could say if you want to keep you world view "Don't Read this book" but I don't think you need to be concerned as if you want to keep not believing in the paranormal you would have already left this page, and probably never came here in the 1st place. As the Robert says on Page 6 On a matter such as this, one is not – and perhaps should not be – persuaded by a single book. Until you achieve a solid foundation any conviction I leave you with will be temporary, easily undone by the next article or review you come across that blandly reaffirms the paranormal to be a lot of nonsense. As I’ll suggest, orthodoxy exerts a gravitational pull in this respect, although we may not recognize it as such. I Highly Recommend this book, and would give it more than 5 stars if I could. See this review at soulfulbooks.home.blog/2019/03/14/randis-prize/

  5. 5 out of 5

    Peter A. Lio

    Good ideas and well written but unfocused I loved the first half of this book. Insightful, provocative, and beautifully written! He did such a good review of psi and thoughtfully argued his case. However, by the second half, he became bogged down in the afterlife stuff, which I found boring and repetitive. I felt abandoned and that he really lost focus. Still, a very good read, and with important arguments and ideas.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book definitely has something new and valid to bring to the table in the form of unbiased, well thought out and reasoned exploration of the available information and positions taken regarding it. McLuhan makes a lot of very good points that should not go unacknowledged, and would enhance anyone's personal investigation into this field. This book definitely has something new and valid to bring to the table in the form of unbiased, well thought out and reasoned exploration of the available information and positions taken regarding it. McLuhan makes a lot of very good points that should not go unacknowledged, and would enhance anyone's personal investigation into this field.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Avery

    Contrary to the previous review, this book did make me a believer. It was the first time I realized that parapsychology can be approached from the believer's side while still maintaining a rigorous skeptical analysis -- and McLuhan cites many examples of skeptical parapsychologists in the past 100 years. A revelatory book for the intelligent person raised on Randi and Sagan. Contrary to the previous review, this book did make me a believer. It was the first time I realized that parapsychology can be approached from the believer's side while still maintaining a rigorous skeptical analysis -- and McLuhan cites many examples of skeptical parapsychologists in the past 100 years. A revelatory book for the intelligent person raised on Randi and Sagan.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andy Kurzweil

    I found this to be a very thoughtful and well written discussion of what the evidence for psi actually is vs. the arguments of skeptics. However, it does not really discuss Randi's prize in very much detail, so the title is misleading. I found this to be a very thoughtful and well written discussion of what the evidence for psi actually is vs. the arguments of skeptics. However, it does not really discuss Randi's prize in very much detail, so the title is misleading.

  9. 4 out of 5

    S G Hall

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kelvin Thompson

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  12. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ross Collins

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Matthew

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cjremund

  16. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bisson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Isa

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cassidy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Td Hayler

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jasmin

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rune Stava

  22. 5 out of 5

    James A. Crews

  23. 5 out of 5

    Aleks Baklanovs

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jona Taylor

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doug Scott

  27. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

  28. 5 out of 5

    Vilda Rosenblad

  29. 5 out of 5

    MR M F KNIGHTS

  30. 5 out of 5

    Daryl R. Anderson

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