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Best Evidence
 by Michael Schmicker
Book review by Jody, NDERF

Best Evidence, by Michael Schmicker, Writer’s Club Press, Lincoln NE (2000).

Michael Schmicker's work is outstanding.  Truly a must-read for skeptics and believers alike.  I really enjoy reading about the different paranormal phenomena and what evidence is out there to support these phenomena.  Although the routine scientific method may not be adequate to explain paranormal events, it certainly is not the only method that is recognized by science.  Therefore, the best review I can do of this book is to talk about some of the main concepts for the benefit of skeptics/scientists/media, and highly recommend reading the Best Evidence for a larger scope of understanding.  

According to Gallup poll surveys, 93% of American polled in 1990 believed in one or more of 18 categories of paranormal phenomena. Id. at 3.   This means that realistically, skeptics probably do believe in some sort of paranormal events.  Moreover, believers in paranormal events do not fit media portrayals - such as seeking interviews with gullible, mentally-unbalanced person of low social, educational and economic status.  Id. at 11.  

If you think about this, it is truly odd that media isn't aware that people such as Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Wallace (associate of Darwin), Edgar Mitchell (former Apollo Astronaut), Chester Carlson (physicist and Xerox inventor), James McDonnell (yes, the aircraft guy of McDonnell Douglas), Laurence Rockefeller ($$), Michael Crichton, Winston Churchill, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Margaret Mead, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford, General George Patton . . . etc. Id. 12-16.  What means is served by portraying a stereotype that simply is not a majority view?

I really love chapter four.  There are so many examples of new scientific ideas, rejected by science, but later resurrected and heralded as some of the best inventions of the century.  Just to cite an example, 

"'He ought not to risk his reputation by presenting the learned body anything which appears so much at variance with established knowledge, and withal so incredible.' England's Royal Society rejecting Jenner's smallpox vaccine." Id. at 31. 

Those notable names that were initially ridiculed include Louis Pasteur (microbiology and rabies cure), Joseph Lister (germs cause sickness), Albert Einstein, Lord Kelvin (X-rays), the Wright Brothers (flight), Thomas Edison (phonograph and light bulb). Id. 31-33.

The distinction between "science" and "scientism" is profound.  "Science" is defined as the process used to find truth.  Id at 37.  "In contrast, 'Scientism' is a philosophy of materialism, masquerading as scientific truth.  Paranormal research, has used the process of science to prove the existence of a variety of phenomena, that simply doesn't fit within Scientism's philosophy of materialism.  If evidence conflicts with philosophy, the evidence should not be dismissed; instead, the philosophy should be revised."  Id.  

Science needs to look at evidence in an unbiased manner, evaluate the investigational methodology and then review the properties of what they observe.  From there, science comes up with possible explanations.  Some problems arise when scientists systematically reject challenges to established work and they insist on the experimental method occurring in a controlled laboratory setting.  Id at 34-35.  Some scientists remain so rigid in belief systems  that they don't seek the truth.  Therefore, it is not surprising that many experiments effectively control the method, means, and manner of the exploration and fail to allow for variables leading to truth.

Schmicker documents foundational problems with skeptics beliefs.  "Skeptics have done valuable and respectable work in challenging paranormal claims." Id. at 40.  Healthy skepticism helps to find the truth.  A true skeptic is someone who "express[es] uncertainty or doubt, non belief rather than disbelief.  In contrast, too many skeptics and debunkers are disbelievers, offering answers rather than questions." 

Skepticism can also be the sign of a sick mind when motivated by ego and preconceived biases.  How much truth will be gained by a skeptic who portrays all paranormal believers as wrong, regardless of the evidence?  Here are some point, counterpoint arguments regarding skeptics.  

 "Skeptics point to the possibility of errors in observation," but there are many documented cases involving "multiple, independent witnesses whose testimony agrees." Id. at 36.

"Skeptics warn that some people who report paranormal events may be biased towards belief in their reality."  The counterargument is that "many skeptics bring an equally unscientific bias towards disbelief to their investigations - a prejudice so strong that they won't accept a phenomenon even if they personally witness or experience it." Id.

Skeptics argue that people who report paranormal events are only looking for attention.  The counter argument is "most eyewitnesses of a strange, paranormal event have little to gain and much to lose by reporting them.  They're usually branded as wackos and nut cases."   "It's just not socially acceptable to profess a belief in a non-material world beyond the five senses.  As a result, under-reporting of these phenomena is more likely than over-reporting."  Id

And finally, what better way to sum up the philosophy of the book than the ending paragraph in chapter 5, 

"Belief in the paranormal, then, doesn't continue to exist simply because people are ignorant, credulous, or uneducated.  Belief continues because paranormal phenomena - phenomena that violate known laws of science - continue to occur.  They continue to be seen, felt, experienced and reported, by people of all ages, races, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds; in every country on earth; often in forms and manifestations unchanged since mankind started recording them four thousand years ago.  Ridicule doesn't make them disappear; the immense technological achievements and intellectual prestige of modern science cannot eradicate belief in them.  Perhaps it's time to sit down and honestly examine the best evidence believers and experiencers can offer for the existence of these science-challenging phenomena."  Id. at 51.


Copyright1999 by Dr. Jeff and Jody Long