Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book Report: Flim-Flam!

James Randi, a well known magician and escape artist, published the book Flim-Flam! in 1980. The pseudoscience skeptic poured all of his knowledge and past encounters into debunking and exposing widespread deceptions, commonly promoted by the media. A common theme Randi follows is confirmation bias; the tendency to search for and find confirming evidence for a belief while overlooking counter examples. Randi's efforts to bring to light the poor research done by scientists and their foolish rationalizations are well documented and compelling. Randi works to disprove astrology by explaining how vast the universe is. He states that many people are born at the same time but bear different personalities, giving rise to the suspicion of horoscopes. His efforts to uncover deceit include analysis of how two young girls who posed with faeries and gnomes tricked thousands with their camera, the mystery of the Bermuda triangle, an ex-hotel managers claims of aliens visiting earth and leaving artifacts, and how human beings will to believe does not stop at professionals.

James Randi Debunks an Astrologer

The most interesting part of this book, I found, was Randi's lengthy discussion of astrology and UFO's. He explains that there is an infinite amount of stars in the universe and the distance between us and them is so vast that they could not even be there anymore. So, the position of the sun in a set of stars that could possibly not even be there anymore means close to nothing. Of course I am talking about horoscopes. They describe how a group of people, born within a set of about 30 days, have the same personality. Randi begins to question the personality of twins saying that, according to astrologists, twins should have the exact same personality. However, instead of realizing their mistake, astrologists turn up an explanation for the discrepancy. I can say with first hand experience that I do not have the exact same or even a similar personality to my twin sister. This is another example of confirmation bias.

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Reports of UFO sightings are not uncommon to anyone living in the United States, but how do we know if they are real or not? James Randi performed a small experiment in which he went on a radio show and told of his recent experience of seeing a triangular shaped UFO in the sky. He gave no specific details and of course was lying. Within seconds the radio station was receiving dozens of calls of people seeing the exact same thing. By the end, the people had agreed on the exact number of triangular air crafts, along with the specific location, altitude, and direction the craft was traveling. Reading this, I realized how many of the thousands of reports of UFO's every year are more than likely fake. However, believers will still claim the definitely saw something in the air that night. Quite like every other chapter in his book, Randi does an excellent job of making the reader aware of peoples stubbornness towards their passion. For reasons unknown to me, communities continue to believe in unfounded concepts and theories, even more than 30 years after the publication of James Randi's book debunking their favorites stories.

Former NASA Engineer Debunks UFO Sightings

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