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Heavy with Praise, Light with Skepticism

Extrasensory Perception is divided into two volumes, the first titled History, Controversy, and Research and the second Theories of Psi. It is introduced by Professor James Fallon, who describes himself as a “basic sciences hard-boiled neuroscientist” who generally considers psi (psychic power) to be little more than wishful thinking. However, he is so impressed by what he refers to as the sophistication demonstrated in this work—in terms of experimental design, statistical analysis, protection against fraud, and so forth— that he plans to make it required reading for his first-year graduate students. Such a positive endorsement by a self-described skeptic—combined with the work’s subtitle, Support, Skepticism, and Science—raises expectations of a rigorous and dispassionate examination of the evidence for extrasensory perception (ESP) and of the major methodological criticisms that it has engendered.

And therein lies the disappointment. While ESP proponents will no doubt be delighted by the parade of apparent data and theory in support of psi, skeptical criticism of parapsychological research is given short shrift indeed. Given that the first volume is titled History, Controversy, and Research, one might expect to find a detailed discussion and possible rebuttal of the many careful methodological criticisms leveled at ESP research by Ray Hyman, Susan Blackmore, David Marks, Richard Wiseman, and others, including me. However, of the fourteen chapters in this first volume, only three present a critical perspective, while the second volume virtually ignores criticism altogether.

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