WILLIAM JAMES described the will to believe; science writer Martin Gardner shows what damfools we make of ourselves when we let ourselves believe too easily. Science: Good, Bad and Bogus gathers some 30 years' worth of Gardner's articles and reviews, all of them debunkings of and reasonable explanations for the supposed miracles of ESP, psychokinesis, clairvoyance and precognition.
Gardner's earlier book, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science (1952) pointed out the logical flaws and plain idiocy to such then fashionable theories as orgone boxes, hollow earths and flying saucers. This new collection flattens the claims of Uri Geller, ESP researchers, psychic surgeons, and other reputed possessors of fabulous mental powers. In the view of Gardner, none deserves credence: Geller uses chicanery, showmanship and simple magic techniques to bend car keys; ESP researchers inadvertently allow bias to enter their experiments; a few of their test subjects have probably cheated; some scientists may be charlatans, others are certainly gulled.
Like Dr. Gideon Fell the detective, Gardner explains "miracles." Using his uncommon common sense, his personal knowledge of magic, and the expertise of magicians like James Randi, he indicates time and again how a professional mentalist might bend a key, read a mind.
Though there is some repetition from essay to essay, this is all to the good since Gardner hopes to enlighten the gee-whiz believers. Publishers naturally earn particular censure for promoting pseudo- scientific books. Some people, Gardner fears, may take seriously the claims of Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife and place their lives in the hands, or mind, of a quack.
At one point Gardner casually points out that in Ronald Reagan "our country has elected as president a man who holds Protestant fundamentalist opinions and believes in astrology and ESP." It is more pleasant to laugh at Wilhelm Fliess--a close friend of Freud's--who was convinced that mysterious cycles in men and women, involving the numbers 23 and 28, "are intimately connected with the mucous lining of the nose."