Wiseman - ParanormalityPUBLISHING YEAR: 2011

SUMMARY: Review of the scientific research into paranormal claims.

AUDIENCE: Whilst not tackling dog-related topics specifically (bar one experiment on canine telepathy), this book will sharpen the critical thinking chops of the reader when it comes to paranormal claims. This can be useful to counter the many esoteric approaches to dog behaviour and can give arguments to encourage practitioners and clients to get back to working with facts.

01 OwnerAuthor: Richard Wiseman is a british Psychology professor and prolific popular science author.

Style and contents: The book is as hilarious as it is informative. It explores the scientific history of hypnosis, telepathy, ghost hunting and medium claims with wit and rigour, putting to rest whatever notion the reader might have entertained that these claims held any merit whatsoever.

325-pages long, and written in such easy prose, it can be read in a day or two.

If you are interested in running an evidence-based dog behaviour practice, or in critical thinking and scientific skepticism in general, you might also want to read Bad Science (which focuses on pseudoscience in general) and Beware the strawman (which focuses on pseudoscience in dog behaviour).

The gems

I loved it all so it’s hard for me to pick a favorite passage. What impressed me the most is it didn’t fall for the usual pitfalls:

  • The book was chock-full of pithy one-liners and compelling summaries. None of the dreary descriptive and theoretical passages that many science books fall into. Richard Wiseman has a knack for getting to the meat of the matter quickly, and entertainingly.
  • I loved the experiment about the dog whose owners claimed he could predict his owner’s return (debunked, needless to say)
  • I loved that he delved into the history of belief into different paranormal phenomena, and how they were mercilessly, one-by-one, debunked.
  • I loved his evolutionary psychology explanations about why we tend to believe in certain phenomena, and, most entertainingly, his instructions on how to reproduce the illusion at the end of each chapter.
  • Not a given, even in science-focused books, I loved that he cited his sources when quoting experiments. Failing to do so is a pet peeve of mine and I was glad Prof. Wiseman did not fall for this.

Possible points for optimization

I would love to see this book followed by a series of more detailed books focusing on the individual phenomena it briefly tackled.

The verdict: I loved it! Whilst it may not be all that useful to the rookie behaviourist, sooner or later in your career, any seasoned behaviourist will be confronted with the paranormal crowd; people who take it upon themselves to provide dog behaviour advice on the basis of paranormal intervention. This book forms a great framework to prepare you to meet these claims with counter-facts. It was extremely useful to me when I interviewed an animal communicator, for example. It can also be useful to explain the illusions upon which these claims rest to unsuspecting clients who may otherwise have followed the paranormal route to help their pet.

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Author: Wiseman Richard
Genre: pop science
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