This short review (3 pages)  highlights some of the key  issues  covered in The Trickster and the Paranormal.

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Originally published  in:
The Journal of Parapsychology
Volume 66, No. 3, September 2002
Pages 321-324.


QUANTUM LEAPS IN THE WRONG DIRECTION by Charles M. Wynn and Arthur W. Wiggins, with cartoons by Sidney Harris.  Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press, 2001. Pp. xiv + 226. $18.95 (paperback). ISBN 0-309-07309-X.

    This book covers parapsychology, out-of-body experiences, ghosts, near-death experiences, UFOs, creationism, and astrology.  The presentation

322                           The Journal of Parapsychology

is “popular”; there are no footnotes or endnotes, and the text rarely acknowledges any recognized authorities.  I suspected that the book was aimed at a juvenile audience, but neither my local library nor the Library of Congress classifies it that way.
    The tone is deprecatory throughout, and 30 cartoons, many of which are full page, reinforce the ridicule and derision.  The “Additional Reading” section (6 pages) lists no scientific journal articles but includes debunking books by Houdini, Henry Gordon, James Randi, Martin Gardner, Joe Nickell, and Michael Shermer.  The chapter on astrology begins with the bold heading, “Reading the Entrails of a Newly Slaughtered Chicken.”
    The reader of this Journal may then wonder why the book is being reviewed.  Quantum Leaps is published by Joseph Henry Press, an imprint of the National Academy Press, the publishing arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).  The NAS is chartered by the U.S. federal government and provides advisory services to government agencies.  It is one of the most elite scientific bodies in the world; only the very top scientists are elected to membership.  The NAS imprimatur carries enormous clout.  Adding to the book’s apparent credibility is a blurb on the back cover from Nobel laureate Leon Lederman and a glowing review in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
    Normally, one would expect such a volume to be written by well-qualified authors.  Charles Wynn is a professor of chemistry at Eastern Connecticut State University.  Arthur Wiggins is a physicist at Oakland Community College in Michigan.  They apparently have no credentials or specialized expertise that would qualify them to write the book.  Quite otherwise, for example, the authors assert: “The Rhines used a 153 [sic] of cards designed by their colleague Carl [sic] Zener” (p. 154) and that Rhine coined the term parapsychology (p. 154).  They also severely misdescribe blind-matching card tests (p. 155).
    The book begins with a description of what the authors believe to be the scientific method.  Their presentation is simplistic and uninformed by any scientific study of scientific processes (e.g., sociology of science).  No mention is given to sociologists’ “demarcation problem,” that is, determining the difference between science and nonscience.  No anthropological, cross-cultural, or historical perspective is included.  One redeeming factor is that the entire volume can be viewed online free of charge at the publisher’s Web site (though the process is cumbersome).
    The topic of parapsychology is allotted 14 pages of text, including the subheadings of “Dowsing” and “Nostradamus.”  Survival-related issues are allocated 21 pages.  The index gives an indication of the coverage.  Robert Jahn is not included therein, T. Lobsang Rampa is; random number generator is not, Mu is; DMILS (direct mental interactions with living systems) is not, but apantomancy is.
    The casual treatment subtly, but effectively, conveys the message that these topics do not merit serious examination.  The publication and reception of this work say something  profound about the status of parapsychology.  In fact, they should serve as a wakeup call for the field.


Book Reviews                                    323

      From their beginnings, psychical researchers have hoped for respectability and for acceptance by the scientific establishment.  This has not been achieved, quite the contrary.  Parapsychology remains an extremely marginal endeavor, and a very brief review of its current status is in order (a more extended analysis is presented in Hansen, 2001).
    After 95 years of continuous research, and countless successful experiments, the academic position of parapsychology in the United States is worse than any time in the last 40 years.  The field has been remarkably ineffective in establishing and maintaining viable institutions that conduct scientific investigations, and there are no university departments of parapsychology.  The field’s scientific conferences may attract 100 people, few of whom are known outside the discipline.
    Skeptics’ groups draw hundreds of people to their conventions, including Nobel laureates.  The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) is opening new offices and establishing an ever-larger media presence.  Its building program flourishes.  CSICOP’s membership includes Nobel laureates such as Francis Crick, Murray Gell-Mann, Leon Lederman, Steven Weinberg, as well as such luminaries as Marvin Minsky, Gerald Holton, Marilyn vos Savant, and Stephen Jay Gould.
    This is a wondrous state of affairs given the immense popular interest in psychic phenomena and the fact that surveys show that over half the adults in the United States have had paranormal experiences.
    All this says something  important about the operation of psi.  Parapsychology’s continuing marginality is no accident.  It is not due to a certain scientific ideology, nor is it a peculiarity of Western culture.  The hostility springs from far deeper sources.  The structure of society, and the processes of rationalization and disenchantment (identified by Max Weber), inherently act in this fashion.
    Anthropologist Michael Winkelman (1992) demonstrated that a wide range of cultures visit low status on those who most directly engage paranormal power.  Parapsychologists have missed the significance of Winkelman’s findings.  The publication of Quantum Leaps is not a fluke; rather it is an exceptionally clear manifestation of the taint, stigma, and taboo surrounding the paranormal.
    Weber’s rationalization process produces bureaucratic institutions (e.g., those of government, industry, academe).  But Weber also understood that the advancement of rationalized society entailed the marginalization or elimination of magic (i.e., paranormal power); in other words, taboos must be enforced.  Indeed, large bureaucracies have rarely been hospitable to psi research, and when they have, it has been only for limited periods of time.  High-status persons within those institutions are especially likely to be hostile.
    Sociologist James McClenon (1984) confirmed that elite scientists are some of the most antagonistic to parapsychology, despite having little knowledge of it.  Quantum Leaps is a case in point.  Scientists are rarely aware of the pressures influencing their actions and beliefs.  Social forces often operate with few people being aware of them.  Over 70 years ago 


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Walter Franklin Prince’s classic work The Enchanted Boundary (1930) documented many scientists’ irrational responses to paranormal claims.  These reactions are not to be explained by psychological abnormalities but rather by social forces and by the nature of psi.
    The publication of Quantum Leaps, however unwelcome, should provoke the field to examine its position in relation to larger social and historical forces, and to grasp the implications.  Typically, parapsychologists conceptualize psi as a capacity of human individuals.  This is not only limiting but also  fundamentally wrong.  The very data of the field (e.g., experimenter effects, checker effects, divergence problem) demonstrate the transpersonal nature of psi.  Social forces must be taken seriously, and they help explain not only the operation of psi, but also the resistance to it.


Hansen, G. P.  (2001).  The Trickster and the Paranormal.  Philadelphia: Xlibris.

McClenon, J.  (1984).  Deviant Science: The Case of Parapsychology.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Prince, W. F.  (1930).  The Enchanted Boundary: Being A Survey of Negative Reactions to Claims of Psychic Phenomena 1820-1930.  Boston: Boston Society for Psychic Research.

Winkelman, M. J.  (1992).  Shamans, Priests, and Witches: A Cross-Cultural Study of Magico-Religious Practitioners.  Arizona State University Anthropological Research Papers No. 44.  Tempe: Arizona State University.

George P. Hansen
Princeton Arms North 1, Apt. 59
Cranbury, NJ  08512