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It’s a conspiracy I tell you! Skeptic Richard Wiseman can’t get his latest book Paranormality published in the United States, because American publishers apparently won’t support a skeptical book on the paranormal:

The book has done well in the UK and has been bought by publishers in lots of other countries. However, the major American publishers were reluctant to support a skeptical book, with some suggesting that I re-write it to suggest that ghosts were real and psychic powers actually existed! We didn’t get any serious offers and so it looked like the American public (around 75% of whom believe in the paranormal) wouldn’t get the opportunity to read about skepticism. Then I had an idea.

I am going to self-publish an unashamedly skeptical book in America and see what happens. Today the book launches on Kindle and my UK publisher will ship physical editions into America (and it will appear as an iBook very soon). It all feels like a scary but exciting experiment.

…This is the book that lots of people don’t want Americans to read and I hope that you will support the project.

Ugh. Sorry, just choked on that last sentence. I do have fun watching Richard Wiseman’s marketing ploys on Twitter (it’s like he’s working through the chapters of a textbook), but this one takes the cake. The American public won’t get the opportunity to read about skepticism! This is the book that lots of people don’t want Americans to read! It’s almost like he’s poking the indignation gland of American skeptics in an attempt to make them buy a copy, just to show that skeptics will prevail over stupidity and the paranormal publishing conspiracy. Oh wait, he is.

That’s a tough sell though – these are skeptics after all! I mean, who’d buy some of those lines (“rewrite the book”, hah!). No, Wiseman has definitely bitten off more than he can chew…wait, wait…this just in: P.Z. Myers at claims U.S. publishers are insulting skeptics. And what’s this? Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing swallows hook, line and sinker, commenters pile on.

Seriously though, there could be plenty of reasons why Wiseman’s book hasn’t found a U.S. publisher. For one, he’s well known in the U.K., but not so much Stateside. Secondly, after selling it to a U.K. publisher in a “big, six-figure deal” (a number which makes his line about this being a “scary experiment” ring rather hollow), he and his agent may simply be holding out for numbers that U.S. publishers aren’t going to offer. Lastly, perhaps publishers think it’s simply not a good book. What’s that dear reader? Oh, of course I’ll elaborate on the final point…

I read Paranormality a few weeks ago, and was rather underwhelmed. Primarily, that feeling was nothing to do with the subject matter – it just feels like it was written in 3 or 4 weeks. Sentences are vapid and/or cheesy, Wiseman’s wisecracks are weak (and not helped by following them on a number of occasions with the words “just kidding!”), and much of the writing is lazy, such as the section on the Fox sisters and the birth of Spiritualism, where Wiseman’s chronology goes all haywire. He mentions how in the 19th century religion was under attack, with the arrival of Darwin, and then Nietzsche with “God is Dead”, before the religious supposedly “put their heads down, placed their hands together and prayed for a miracle. On 31 March 1848 God appeared to answer their prayers.” Hmmm.

And then, there is the content…

Richard Wiseman, like many leading skeptics, is a magician. And in this book, he certainly shows it: he makes a number of people vanish from history entirely. Most notably, biologist and parapsychology researcher Rupert Sheldrake. In the first chapter, about ‘psychic dog’ Jaytee, Wiseman doesn’t mention Sheldrake at all, except for a minor mention in the endnotes – this despite the fact that Sheldrake was the original researcher on this case, and in scientific testing came up with positive results for Jaytee’s alleged psychic talent. The following quote from Paranormality suggests Wiseman’s omission of Sheldrake was intentional – there is no reason at all not to mention his research in this passage:

One episode [of Paul McKenna’s paranormal TV show] involved an especially interesting film about a terrier called Jaytee. According to the film, Jaytee had the uncanny ability to predict when his owner, Pam, was returning home… A national newspaper had published an article on Jaytee’s amazing ability and an Austrian television company had conducted an initial experiment with him… Pam, Jaytee and I were all on the show and chatted about the film. I said that I thought it was very curious, and Pam kindly invited me to conduct a more formal examination of her apparently psychic dog.

Sheldrake has addressed his removal from history here. And yet Wiseman disappears more people (such as the esteemed scientists of the Society for Psychical Research) from history with broad statements such as “For over a century researchers have tested the claims of mediums and psychics and found them wanting.”

Wiseman brings up a number of skeptical standards: Randi and his million dollars (addressed by me here); Barry Beyerstein’s supposed debunking of the ‘tennis shoe out-of-body experience’ (addressed by Michael Prescott here); Sue Blackmore’s “25 years of disappointing parapsychology results” (more on that here..though, er, only 10 years?). It’s all whitewash, no real substantive discussion of both sides of paranormal research. But then, we’re fairly used to that from frontline skeptics.

I took notes while reading the book, and I could go through that list in detail, but really…is there a point? It’s more of the same pseudo-skeptical crap, and it’s a poorly written book to boot. Give it a miss and use your time more wisely (no pun intended). Though if you disagree, feel free to comment – would hate for anyone to miss out on a good book due to my individual opinion.

  1. NEWSFLASH: major American book publishers show common sense!
    If Richard can’t get his book published in the US it’s because of natural market forces and – rightly or wrongly however skeptics may feel about it – the publishers view of risk managment from a business point of view.

    Nothing more. There is no conspiracy.

    I’m left wondering why he didn’t just contact Prometheus books? Wouldn’t they jump at the chance of publishing another skeptical book from someone with a reasonably well known name in their target market?

    Maybe part of the answer lies in Richard’s blog post on the issue where he writes:

    The book has done well in the UK and has been bought by publishers in lots of other countries. However, the major American publishers were reluctant to support a skeptical book, with some suggesting that I re-write it to suggest that ghosts were real and psychic powers actually existed!

    Note the words “major American publishers”!

    Looks to me like Wiseman just thinks his book should be published by a bigger publisher and has been rebuffed!

    The whole thing smacks of a publicity stunt in Wiseman’s typical self-promoting fashion.


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