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Flim-Flam! By James Randi

01/09/2007. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Flim-Flam! in the USA - or Buy Flim-Flam! in the UK

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pub: Prometheus Books. 342 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: $25.00 (US). ISBN: 1-59102-139-1.

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One thing that I was concerned about when writing my science chapter for SF Nomenclature was the division between real and pseudo-science. After all, Science Fiction plays on the border all the time whether it is with the frontiers of where discoveries are taking us to looking at the possibilities of whether such things like time travel is possible. One still has to be able to tell the difference and not get caught out by too much hokum. What is interesting is that this book, 'Flim-Flam!', released originally in 1982 and still available today, is that outside of the oddly shaped Bermuda Triangle, most of what is shown to be fraud here isn't actually used in SF.

I mean, when we use ESP or psionics in SF, we don't play around with conjuring tricks like spoon-bending, dousing and what have you, we go for the bigger stuff like proper mind-speaking telepathy and precognition. No real takers in this area. At least, not in this book. As I've said before here in these pages, such abilities have to have practical use rather than change statistical anomalies. In that respect, I'm very much in favour of James Randi removing the delusional, fakers and fakirs so we can look for the real talent. Its rather interesting looking at those he exposes here that outside of Uri Geller, none have seen the light of day in the past decade or so. If anything, I wish Randi would do another book covering those he's examined in the past couple decades. I find it interesting that James Randi is actually seeking out the real talent in all of this but will stop at nothing to dismiss the hoaxers which is just how it should be.

It isn't just the allegedly talented he's looked at here but also the 'scientists' who wouldn't recognise themselves being hoodwinked neither. As a magician, Randi's experienced eye is there to check for fraud and deception, to mark out the talk from the action. You would think anyone really talented would be able to do their thing with minimal guidelines.

Looking at this in depth through this book, two things did occur to me from this perspective. One was how these scientists found their guinea pigs or was it the other way around. The second was not setting the test to determine the extent of any psionic ability rather than merely what its user claimed they could do or see them benefiting from it. It shouldn't have been difficult to test someone who can predict unturned cards in something akin to a casino card game to their accuracy before getting into laboratory conditions, especially if the casino keeps an eye open for card counters. If such powers do exist then they will work far more for self-benefit first rather than proving to scientists they do. I've tended towards the belief that any psionic talent that is out there will be used matter-of-factly and taken for granted than any grandstanding. It might be harder to pin down in a laboratory but there are such things as field experiments which can still be closely observed.

Anyway, you can tell the effect this book has had on me. If you want to see where scientists go wrong and the conning that goes on in this field, then this book deserves to be on your reading list. If nothing else, it should teach scientists to be careful in how they set up their tests. A fascinating read.

GF Willmetts

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