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Books and Magazines
For secondary students critical of the paranormal

"Some believers accuse skeptics of having nothing left but a dull, cold, scientific world. I am left with only art, music, literature, theatre, the magnificence of nature, mathematics, the human spirit, sex, the cosmos, friendship, history, science, imagination, dreams, oceans, mountains, love and the wonder of birth. That'll do for me". Lynne Kelly, The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal 2005 page viii.

To be listed here a book must provide a convenient one-volume resource for the classroom. It must (1) be critical, (2) cover a wide range of paranormal topics, and (3) be suitable for secondary schools. Books that focus on particular paranormal topics, or on critical or scientific thinking in general, or are beyond secondary level, although numerous (collectively over 100 titles), are not included. Unfortunately the books that follow are published in the USA and are rarely on the shelf in Australian bookshops. First a quick look at magazines.

Over 40 countries including Australia publish their own skeptic magazines but their contents tend to be beyond the comfort zone of younger secondary students.

Junior Skeptic The only skeptic magazine specifically for young people
is Junior Skeptic, which is a section averaging ten pages
bound into each issue of the American quarterly magazine
Skeptic. Shown is the 12(2) 2006 issue. Each issue of
Junior Skeptic explores in words and pictures the best
evidence for a major paranormal claim such as Pyramid
Power, the Bermuda Triangle, or Bigfoot, and shows
where the thinking went wrong and why. Back issues
of Skeptic are available at $US6.00 each plus postage,
for details visit
Great Skeptic CD2 The best-selling The Great Skeptic CD2 contains all the material from
Australia's skeptic magazine the Skeptic 1981-2003, and is one of only
two skeptic magazines available in this format. Not specifically for young
people but readable, often very funny, and a good resource on every
paranormal topic imaginable. It is fully searchable. Just enter your chosen
phrase to see every page containing it exactly as it appeared in print. Thus
creationist appears hundreds of times while toothbrush appears once.
A window lets you page through an issue or turn directly to an article that
interests you. CD also contains two books: Skeptical, a 78-page A-Z
anthology of skeptical essays (most with references) on 36 paranormal
topics from aliens to water divining published by Canberra Skeptics in
1989, now out of print, and Creationism, a 94-page skeptical anthology
of Australian views last updated in 2001. CD is very user-friendly and
contains over 5000 pages plus 10 hours of skeptic talks. $A55 including
GST and postage from Australian Skeptics, Box 268, Roseville NSW
2069. Educational institutions should ask for a site license agreement.

In 2001 Skeptic magazine asked its readers to name the skeptic books they would recommend others to read, or which university professors assign to their students to read, and thus not necessarily the most important books. More than 150 titles were named by a total of 300 respondents. The top five with number of votes were:

42 Carl Sagan The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
29 Michael Shermer Why People Believe Weird Things
21 James Randi Flim Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions
10 Martin Gardner Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science
10 Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn How to Think About Weird Things

However, none of the above books meet our criteria, for which the following titles are recommended. Most would make an excellent classroom resource for secondary schools. Online sources with recommended skeptic titles (often numerous, usually for older readers, usually with brief descriptions, and usually linked to Amazon) are listed on this website under Links.

But be aware that the paranormal field is much too large to be exhaustively known by a single author, or even several authors, so the following titles should be seen only as an introduction to the topics they deal with, not as the last word. For example, even on a topic as popular as astrology, none of the single-author works mention that many hundreds of scientific studies exist -- a point of some importance to any student planning to enter this topic for the WA Skeptics Awards for Young Critical Writers.

Carroll Skepdic Robert Todd Carroll The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of
Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions
John Wiley, New York 2003, large format paperback 190 x 230 mm,
446 pages, list $US19.95. The author is a professor of philosophy at
Sacramento City College. Over 400 readable essays on A-Z topics
from abracadabra to zombies, and how to think critically about them,
most with references and further reading. Unlike the next title it covers
the many ways in which our eyes and ears can deceive us, so we learn
why beliefs get accepted. The first choice for schools that can afford
only one critical compendium on the paranormal, and the first choice
for WA Skeptics' book donations to school libraries. An update with
more than 500 entries is available online at
Randi Encyclopedia James Randi An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of
the Occult and Supernatural
. Foreword by Arthur C Clarke "I wish
Randi's encyclopedia could be in every high school and college library,
as an antidote to the acres of mind-rotting rubbish that now litter the
bookstands". Pictured is the hardcover version, St Martin's Press NY
1995, 155 x 235 mm, 336 pages, list $US15.00 from JREF. The
author is a professional magician and world-famous investigator of
unusual claims. In 1996 he founded the James Randi Educational
Foundation for promoting rational and critical thinking in paranormal
areas. In his introduction he writes "I have tried valiantly to avoid
pontificating ... Long involvement with these subjects naturally gives
rise to a certain cast of mind, which doubtless will be apparent". The
Randi British edition result is a very readable text of 666 A-Z entries enlivened with pithy
asides e.g. "Coffee grounds are also used [for tea leaf reading] but
there is no record of Shredded Wheat being so employed. Not yet."
2nd picture shows the British paperback version, Headline, London
2005, 363 pages, same content. Both versions have an excellent
index, a 40-item non-annotated bibliography (but no references or
further reading for each entry), and include 49 end-of-the-world
prophecies that failed. An updated version with corrections sent in
by readers, more illustrations, more humour, and over 700 entries
is available online at > Media > Encyclopedia.
Kelly US edition Lynne Kelly Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal. Thunder's Mouth
Press, New York 2005, paperback, 272 pages 135 x 200 mm, list
$US14.95. The author is Australian, works with gifted students, and has
been teaching science and maths in Australia for more than thirty years.
She is also an accomplished cold reader and fake psychic, often being
wrongly told "there is no way you could have known that". There are
27 chapters giving rational explanations of popular paranormal beliefs
including aliens, astrology, Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, crop circles,
dowsing, ESP, fire walking, ghosts, levitation, Loch Ness Monster,
Nostradamus, numerology, past lives, psychic detectives, psychics on
stage claiming to contact the dead, psychic readings, shroud of Turin,
Kelly Aus edition spiritualism, spontaneous human combustion, UFOs. There are also
chapters on do-it-yourself psychic readings, telepathy, Nostradamus
(using Coleridge's Kubla Khan to make amazingly accurate predictions
after the event), and spoon bending. The author carefully lays out the
claims and supposed explanations, then gently leads the reader towards
their real explanations. "Not disbelief but a reluctance to believe without
substance." Entertaining and easy to read, with references at the end of
each chapter, but no illustrations and no index. The second picture
shows the earlier Australian edition published by Allen & Unwin,
Crows Nest NSW 2004, now out of print. Same content as above.
Hines 2nd edition Terence Hines Pseudoscience and the Paranormal: A critical
examination of the evidence
2nd revised edition, Prometheus,
Amherst NY 2003, paperback, 500 pages 130 x 210 mm, list
$US22.00. Author is a professor of psychology at Pace University
and adjunct profession of neurology at New York Medical College.
Very readable, jargon-free, suitable for older readers at upper
secondary level and above. There are 14 chapters covering the
nature of pseudoscience and the paranormal; psychics and psychic
phenomena; life after death; laboratory parapsychology and ESP
research; pseudopsychology including Freud, Jung, and quack
psychotherapies; astrology including lunar effects and biorythms;
Hines 1st edition UFOs and human perception; UFOs and claimed evidence; ancient
astronauts including Velikovsky and the Bermuda Triangle; faith
healing and psychic surgery; health and nutrition quackery; current
trends in pseuodscience including dowsing, firewalking, graphology,
pyramid power, secret life of plants, shroud of Turin, subliminal
perception; alternative medicine; collective delusions including
health scares about power lines and mobile phones. Shows via a
thorough survey of recent research how people are led astray by
powerful biasses of memory and perception. Over 900 references
and an excellent index make it an ideal one-volume resource for
upper secondary classrooms. 2nd picture shows the 1988 edition.
Stein Encyclopedia The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal edited by Gordon Stein,
Prometheus, Amherst NY 1996, 859 pp 235 x 155 mm, hardcover,
list $US160 (not a misprint) or $50 used from Amazon, 56 leading
experts cover 91 paranormal topics from alchemy to zombies. The
aim was to produce a science-based encyclopedia but some subjects
(such as homeopathy, Uri Geller) are missing because suitable authors
could not be found. Entries range from 2 pages (Amityville, vampires)
to 52 pages (astrology), a page averaging 600 words, and most have
references or a bibliography. Standards vary. Most entries are really
excellent but a few are diffuse. Perhaps inferior to the previous title
as a good all-round critical introduction to the paranormal for senior
secondary students, but certainly worth having if you can afford it.
Dan Barker Dan Barker Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A guide for young skeptics
with illustrations by Brian Strassburg, Prometheus, Amherst NY 1993,
215 x 140 mm, 80 pages almost all with line drawings, softcover, list
$US15.95. In easy-to-follow words and pictures it shows younger
readers up to age 10 when to believe and when to suspend judgement.
For older readers it offers a painless and entertaining recap. The story
follows ten-year-old Andrea as she investigates various claims made
by her friends. The basics of critical thinking emerge (don't believe
what you hear, check it out, keep it simple, try to prove it wrong, it
has to make sense) and are supported by clear examples. The book
assures young readers that they are capable of figuring out what to
believe and of knowing when there isn't enough information to decide.

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