People are always telling me I have to check out this or that book or this or that film that will change my worldview, prove skeptics wrong or whatever. It’s usually backed by some claim that “scientists” support or have produced the information they want me to look at. It started years ago with Gregg Braden. A friend told me it contained all this amazing stuff, all confirmed by scientists etc etc and I shouldn’t criticize it unless I read it. Well OK, so I read it and it was the worst book of its kind I have ever read. Worst in that not only was it nonsense, but the manipulative style of the author made it clear he knew he was writing pseudo-scientific drivel to impress the scientifically naïve. It was so dishonestly bad it compelled me to write a review of Gregg Braden’s book – a review that I think has stood the test of time.
Then I was in a debate with someone about reincarnation. This guy said I should read the works of Ian Stevenson – a doctor who had documented cases that were very strong evidence for reincarnation, and I shouldn’t criticize it until I had read some of his work. So, I bought one of Stevenson’s books and I found it to be very unconvincing. His work is merely a collection of anecdotes: all the “past life behavior” had been witnessed before the author met any of the “reincarnated” children and so the veracity of the stories was hard to determine. In addition, in the later chapters Stevenson made several statements and drew conclusions that cast doubt on his ability to evaluate these kinds of claims critically. I thought this book was so bad that I wrote a review of Stevenson’s "Children Who Remember Previous Lives” and a general overview of Stevenson’s credulous outlook. I have since read skeptical reviews of Stevenson’s other work in Skeptic magazine and elsewhere, that mirrored my thoughts.
I then had a discussion with a Reiki practitioner who said I should read Candace Pert’s Molecules of Emotion that somehow proved Reiki worked (except it did no such thing). The same person said I should read another book called “Spiritual Healing” (ditto and ditto). Later still, various people told me I must see What The (Bleep) Do We Know!? What a waste of nearly two hours that was.
There have been many other examples.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It was interesting reading all those books and films, and it certainly gave me something to write about. And I learned a lot. For example, I think I can say with some degree of confidence that Ian Stevenson’s work is not good evidence for reincarnation. And since his work is considered to be some of the best evidence there is for reincarnation, I can say with some confidence there is probably no good evidence for reincarnation. I wouldn’t be able to say that if I hadn’t read his book. Likewise, while deconstructing What The Bleep for my review I became pretty clear about the flaws in each part of that absurd film. It’s comical now listening to true What The Bleep believers twittering to each other over dinner about the amazing things they found in this film. I can say this sure in the knowledge that I have seen it and examined it carefully with an open but critical mind and found it seriously wanting.
But enough is enough. I’ve seen enough now to get an idea if something is worth bothering with before I even start. I don’t have to read every book someone tells me about any more, if I don’t think the book’s premise makes sense. I was prompted to write this post after reading this comment apparently from Daniel Pinchbeck, after I wrote about Pinchbeck’s book here. (I wrote something on what his book appeared to be about, and how it looked like a load of 2012 / Mayan Calendar woo.) He made the point in his comment that he’s not going to defend his book if I’m not prepared to read it. And he’s quite right – why should he? But likewise, I see no need to invest time in a book that appears on the surface not to be worth the effort.
Don’t get me wrong. There may well be woo-ish books or films that I decide to look at, and maybe write reviews of in the future. It depends if the material looks interesting enough and if enough people are talking about it to make it worth the effort. But don’t expect me to read every book you found fascinating that you’re sure proves skeptics wrong, unless there is a very good reason for me to potentially waste days of my time. Sorry. No offense but been there done that.
As for Pinchbeck’s book – I haven’t read it so I can’t say for sure if it’s any good, but a book that (according to amazon.com) centers “around the Mayan prophecy that 2012 will bring about the end of the world as we know it”, comes under the heading of “this book’s premise makes no sense”. But don’t take my word for it – read it yourself if you want. Just don’t blame me if you think it’s woo.