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52 MIN READ TIME

When Scientific American Put Psychics to the Test

REVIEWED BY MICHELLE E. AINSWORTH
Crown, New York 2015 448 pp. $28.00 ISBN 13-978-0307451064

According to the séance record, the table pushed [a sitter] out of the den, through the dark corridor, and into the…bedroom … Were four respected physicians and their wives collectively hallucinating? (123)

CAN THE DEAD TALK TO THE LIVING? Can it happen with worldwide press coverage and with the future of psychical research on the line? In 1924, Scientific American magazine, which often exposed charlatans, offered a contest seeking proof of testable séance phenomena. Several candidates were dismissed before the magazine’s judges chose the wife of a Boston surgeon, medium Mina Crandon, known to the public as Margery. During her séances tables moved mysteriously and a Victrola started and stopped without anyone visibly touching them—all this apparently caused by the medium’s dead brother Walter, whom she channeled. Scoffers became converts. Historical context (from the Old Gold brand cigarettes nervously smoked by one of the investigators, to the hit song of the day “Yes! We Have No Bananas”), dramatic tests, and ensuing controversies are engagingly presented by David Jaher in The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. His prose brings the past to life, despite being weak when it comes to precise dates. The book seemed at first reading to be highly credulous, even though the details it presents, taken together, indicate consistent fraud by Margery.

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COLUMNS
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SPECIAL SECTION IS PORNOGRAPHY BAD FOR YOU?
New Brain Research Supports the Porn Addiction Model
A Response to Zimbardo, Wilson, and Coulombe
ARTICLES
The Tale of the Ancient Maya and a Canadian Teenager
“LIFE WAS GOOD FOR OUR PALEOLITHIC GRANDparents,” recounts a 2001
Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step Programs, and What We Really Know About Substance Abuse Treatment
The Role of End-Times Thinking in World History
The Neurophysiology of Anomalous Psychological Experiences
Myths of Poison Gas Attacks in History and More Recently on Afghan School Girls
A Case Study in How Science Can Bring Comfort
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Review of The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution, by David Wootton
A Review of The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind by A.C.Grayling
Review of The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case against Life after Death edited by M. Martin and K. Augustine
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