Author Benjamin Radford obviously enjoys his work and enjoys telling his success stories. In many ways, he is thorough and scientific, such as when he investigates lake monster sightings or crop circles, and the claims of showman-type psychic who do tricks on TV. He does good detective work on ghosts as well, though I’m not sure he has proven they don’t exist, only that the methods of most investigators are poor and that the ghosts he has investigated don’t exist.
He falls short in his investigation of a “psychic detective” who was consulted by police. All the information she came up with was correct, but it was not as specific as she and others said it was when asked about it long after the event. Thus he shows the fallibility of memory over time, but not that she was initially incorrect. Her information given at the time of the crime (less detailed than that which was misremembered years later) was not specific enough that the police could have found the killer using it, but it was detailed enough that claiming she got it right by chance strikes me as a stretch. Radford says that her identification of the killer as an ethnically Eastern European man with hard K sound in his name and having a connection with a mechanic or being one, and having served prison time in the South are all just random guesses with good odds of being right. He didn’t do a statistical analysis of these factors to see if her odds of being right on this combination of traits were in fact as good as her odds of being wrong. The murder took place in New Jersey. He writes that 7% of the population of New Jersey at the time was Eastern European and therefore the odds of an accurate guess were good. But were they? 93% percent of people in New Jersey were not Eastern European. She had a much greater chance of being wrong. Of that Eastern European 7%, one can assume half were male. How many of that 3.5% of the state’s population had worked in a gas station or had relatives who did? Perhaps many. Jersey has a lot of gas stations. I’ll make that 2.5% of the New Jersey population just to lean in Radford’s favor. And of that 2.5% of the population, how many had a hard K sound in their names? It’s common in Eastern European names, so I’ll barely shave anything off and get this down to 2% of the population of New Jersey at the time. And of that 2% how many had served prison time in the South? (I have no idea, but if all of them had it would be remarkable.) Radford’s error in logic is assuming that because he can dispute the accuracy of various people’s memories years after the fact that he can prove she isn’t psychic. In another section, he showed that a performing card-guessing “psychic” was doing a magician’s card tricks, but this case isn’t the same. Nonetheless, he expresses dismay that the woman is still working as a psychic and refers to her customers as “victims.” He doesn’t notice the errors in his reasoning, and yet he critiques others for faulty thinking. A true skeptic has an open mind and looks carefully at what comes into it. Once in a great while, there may be a real psychic even if the majority are frauds.
Radford tells readers that he shows respect and compassion for people who believe in paranormal events. He investigated a house in which a couple perceived a scary haunting and he successfully explained the normal nature of the various events that taken together were misinterpreted as a ghost. This was a real service. But he tends to describe the couple in terms that make them look bad to the reader, by emphasizing, for example, that there was no ghostly emanation other than the cloud from the couple’s chain-smoking. The mockery is subtle, but it’s still mockery. He also uses as many disparaging adjectives as he can for other, less skeptical investigators.
I’m not sure if he takes himself as seriously as he seems to. Relieving frightened people of the fear their house is haunted is valuable, but most of what he does is merely entertaining. It doesn’t change the quality of lives for the most part. After all, what harm is there in people thinking they saw a Bigfoot? Or doing spooky TV shows hunting for ghosts? Yes, they use unscientific methods, but is entertainment harmful? He shows great concern for the dead who are reputed to be ghosts but less respect for the living who believe in them.
The book’s comingling of unrelated paranormal beliefs, ranging from cryptozoology (chupacabras and lake monsters and Bigfoot) to crop circles, to ghost sightings and psychics, and even a non-paranormal investigation into Pokemon cartoon-induced seizures in Japan made it more of a Benjamin Radford trophy case than a how-to book for would-be investigators. Though he does give some basics for how to hunt for ghosts, and also some explanations of how he disproves lake monsters and crop circles, it’s more of a how-I-did-it book than a how-you-can-do-it book.
It includes short sections by the same people who blurbed the book. I’m not sure what this means, but I noticed it.
The editing and proofreading could have been better. I usually find two or three typos in most books, but this had a few too many, as well as grammatical errors and even oddities like different font sizes on the same page. The title needed better editing. After all, if it’s a mystery, it’s unexplained, and if it’s been explained, it’s not a mystery.
Despite all the flaws, I enjoyed reading it. He’s a competent raconteur and I learned some useful material for a novel I’m working on.