Site Archive: Commentaries
A Commentary by Dennis Stacy
The situation is more dire than we here at The Anomalist ever realized. Following is a verbatim transcription of a fund-raising letter recently received from CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, publishers of the Skeptical Inquirer. All bold and italic passages appear in the original. My comments follow.
February 23, 1996
YOUR GENEROUS HELP IS VITALLY NEEDED!
May I share with you part of a letter we recently received at our office:
I was hoping you could send me some info on reports, abductions and just facts about aliens. I am doing a project on OFO[sic] phenomena. I believe with all my heart. I am 14 years old and live in Louisville KY... I was convinced that I was a [sic] a lien when I was a child. My family told me I was put in there [sic] home by the government and they get paid to keep me .... My sister still says I am part of some big government experiment to see if aliens can be like humans. I guess that is why I am s uch a believer...
This letter struck a chord with us. It disturbs us that paranormal popularizers have so effectively spread their propaganda that alien abductions are thus firmly rooted in the culture.
And things are getting worse. A couple of years ago, that did not seem possible. We thought the upsurge in television programs with paranormal themes could never be duplicated. Shows like "The X-Files," "Sightings," and "Encounters: The Hidde n Truth" made their debuts. The Learning Channel produced a series called "Mysterious Forces Beyond" and NBC launched the (thankfully) short-lived daily talk-show "The Other Side." Today, most of those credulous programs are still on the air. And thanks to their success, American viewers can gear up for another season of new pro-paranormal programs. According to TV Guide, (Jan 14-20):
"The supernatural success of Fox's "The X-Files" has every network believing in the paranormal. There are at least 25 sci-fi or just plain weird drama series brewing. CBS is developing a series called "Nightmares," featuring a man with amnesia who ha s prescient dreams of disasters. Then there's "The Calling" for NBC, in which a female Wall Street stockbroker gets struck by lightning and gains spooky mental abilities. The Warner Brothers Network is putting together a series based on the horror-spoofing film Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
From the news wire comes word of a pro-paranormal show TV Guide overlooked. "Strange Universe Tonight" will debut in syndication this fall, sporting a format that "closely and credibly" apes the nightly news, but with an emphasis on (their word s, not mine) "paranormal buzz."
In the face of this, you sometimes wonder what CSICOP can do to counter this torrent of foolishness. All the same, CSICOP has mobilized thousands of scientists, academics and responsible communicators to criticize media's most blatant excesses and pro vide a responsible alternative point of view. As America seemingly rushes headlong into fantasy, our achievements may seem modest. But imagine if CSICOP never existed!
Scary, but true: CSICOP may be one of the last bulwarks against a future where children will grow up believing that they're alien transplants -- that prayers sick people don't even know about can heal them -- or that folks wielding forked sticks can find water underground. To keep up the battle for rationality, I must ask you to make your most generous gift to CSICOP today.
Over the years we have spoken to many television producers about TV's lack of skepticism, about the harm their pro-paranormal pandering does. We let them know that their stock answer -- "It's just entertainment" -- no longer is acceptable. By repeate dly showing the public a television world where psychics can see the future, where astrologers read the stars to make important business and personal decisions, TV programmers make possible real life nightmares. How about the scandal in Orange County, Ca lifornia, where treasurer Robert L. Citron allegedly drove the county into bankruptcy -- and used psychics and mail order astrologers to predict interest rates! How about "financial astrologers" who charge up to $10,000 for one consultation?
Need more proof of the harm media-driven credulity can do? The U.S. government spent $20 million on a program called Stargate. "Psychics" and "remote-viewers" were paid to use their "powers" to find ships carrying drugs off Florida, spy on nuclear te sting in China and the Soviet Union, and look for a kidnapped American general held hostage by terrorists. Yet today the federal government repeatedly shuts down over budget battles and funding cuts for Medicare, Medicaid, education and social services. And in a TV-saturated world where aliens supposedly abduct millions of people, a 14 year old girl in Louisville, Ky., came to believe that she was an alien.
We are saddened by this because we honestly think CSICOP and the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER are doing almost everything they can to provide a reasonable alternative viewpoint, and to get that message across. Unfortunately, it's not enough. So much more needs to be done! For every success we achieve --and they do happen -- along comes another series in which, when skeptics appear at all, they appear as lone tokens, cast adrift to give audiences someone to shout down. Down the wire come more newspaper and ma gazine articles that devote rivers of ink to lunacy and an occasional sentence or two to the skeptical critique.
We won't give up. We dare not. CSICOP and the SKEPTICAL INQUIRER will continue to make a difference. But they depend on your support. Magazine subscription revenues don't pay the costs of running CSICOP -- of responding to hundreds of media inquiries each month and expanding CSICOP's presence on the Internet.
CSICOP may never win the war against foolishness. But with your help, we will win more battles than the purveyors of paranormal silliness ever imagined possible. Please make your most generous possible gift today. Complete the enclosed reply card an d return it to CSICOP with your gift in the postage paid envelope provided. If your prefer, you may charge your gift to your MasterCard or Visa. You may FAX you credit card gift to 716-636-1733, or phone it in toll free to 1-800-634-1610.
May we please hear from you? We cherish your support.
for the Executive Council
It's nasty business this battling the forces of darkness and evil, but I suppose someone has to do it, and what better group of pusillanimous, publicity-seeking people than CSICOP?
Apparently, it's also an expensive business, too. Before sending any money in, however, I sure would like to see the original of that poor little girl's letter, a copy of which I've requested in writing. I'd also be curious (being of an inquiring mind) to learn how someone who can't get UFO right managed to come up with CSICOP's correct acronym and mailing address in the first place.
In short, it's the suspicion here that either CSICOP itself has been possibly had, or is perhaps hoaxing its own members. Here is a copy of our letter:
PO Box 703
New York 14226-0703
March 1, 1996
Dear Barry Karr:
Thank you for your fund-raising letter of February 23, 1996. Before contributing any additional funds to CSICOP's operations, however, I would like to request a copy of the original letter written by the 14-year-old girl from Kentucky which you say rec ently arrived in your office, and from which you quote at the beginning of your appeal. I would also appreciate a copy of any response made by you or anyone on your staff.
So as not to impose any unwarranted expenses on you or your office, upon receipt of copies of the letter in its entirety and any response on CSICOP's part, I will write a check in the amount of $50.00 to CSICOP's Fund for the Future, earmarked for use in the Center for Inquiry's Library of Skepticism. This should cover the costs of postage and copying, and leave something like $49.00 left over for the purchase of additional new volumes.
I thank you for your cooperation and look forward to hearing from you.
cc: P. Kurtz
March 15, 1996 Update
Two weeks seems like a reasonable enough length of time to wait for a copy of a simple letter. Accordingly, not having received the courtesy of a reply, on the 15th of March the following letter was sent to Barry Karr, Executive Director for the Executive Council, CSICOP, Buffalo, New York:
Dear Mr. Karr:
On March 1, 1996, I wrote you a letter requesting a copy of the original letter supposedly written by a 14-year-old girl from Kentucky, as prominently featured in your CSICOP fund-raising letter of February 23, 1996.
At that time I also said: "So as not to impose any unwarranted expenses on you or your office, upon receipt of copies of the letter in its entirety and any response on CSICOP's part, I will write a check in the amount of $50.00 to CSICOP's Fund for the Future, earmarked for use in the Center for Inquiry's Library of Skepticism. This should cover the costs of postage and copying, and leave something like $49.00 left over for the purchase of additional new volumes."
My offer still stands, but as of two weeks later I have yet to receive any response from you. In the meantime, a similar request and the same offer was made in writing to Joe Nickell, Philip Klass and Robert Baker. I have not heard from any of those gentlemen, either. I should explain that my offer is a once-only affair, i.e., not a standing blanket offer to pay $50 for each and every copy received.
If, after a reasonable amount of time, I have still not received a copy of the young girl's letter, I intend to prepare a small press packet containing copies of the original fund-raising letter and my own correspondence, and to make it available to several media outlets. In other words, I will have assumed at that point that no such letter exists. A press packet will also go to the appropriate parties in charge of investigating mail fraud, as in the soliciting of funds under false pretenses.
I look forward to hearing from you. In the meantime, the original fund-raising letter, along with my own original request and commentary, has been published on the World Wide Web, and will continue to be updated on a regular basis. If and when I write my check, that news will gladly be announced, too. To access same, go to:
http://www.cloud9.net/~patrick/anomalist and select "CSICOP Scare."
cc: other parties
In the interval, I sent a similar letter of my request and $50 contribution offer to Joe Nickell, a CSICOP Senior Research Fellow, Philip Klass, and Robert Baker. Nickell writes a regular column, "Investigative Files," for CSICOP's bimonthly journal, the Skeptical Inquirer. (If anyone could get to the bottom of this mystery, then, I figured it would be Nickell.) Fellow Klass, editor and publisher of SUN, the Skeptical UFO Newsletter, is presumably still chairman of the CSICOP subcommittee on UFOs, whereas Fellow Baker is Professor Emeritus of Psychology, the University of Kentucky, Lexington, and a vocal critic of various aspects of the UFO phenomenon.
My reasoning was as follows: Since both Nickell and Baker live in Kentucky, there was at least some likelihood that the 14-year-old's letter had originally been addressed to one or the other, and was then passed up through channels to CSICOP headquarters in Buffalo. (And had this been the case, it seems likely that they would have retained a copy for their own files.) Regardless of its source, however, and whether the flow chart direction of the original letter was up or down, I assumed that a copy would also have been shared by Mr. Karr with Mssrs. Klass, Nickell and Baker. None of these three gentlemen has yet responded to my request, either. Consequently, a copy of the above missive was also forwarded all three on this date.
Monday, March 18, 9:24 am Update:
Just returned from the second morning visit to the Post Office box. "PC Magazine" was there, along with an order for The Anomalist: 3, a letter of inquiry about same in Spanish from Costa Rica, and the usual miscellanea, but no letter from Barry Karr. Three of the items received today, all personal letters, were mailed from Alpine, TX, Galesburg, IL, and Washington, DC, and were postmarked March 16, March 16, and March 15, respectively.
In a letter dated Monday, March 11, Mr. Philip Klass said that he had spoken with Mr. Karr that same day and that "he says that he plans to send you a copy of the letter." One would think that a week would be enough time to Xerox a simple letter, even one of two or three pages, and slip it into an envelope. But maybe it was a busy week. Or perhaps Mr. Karr's secretary was out sick?
In addition, an E-mail correspondent suggests that "Mysterious Forces Beyond" (from the Learning Channel) was hosted by Arthur C. Clarke. Can anyone please confirm or deny this? If anyone has TV Guide for the week of Jan. 14-20 with the excerpted article, a copy of same would be greatly appreciated.
At 2 pm today, I returned to my mail box for the third time, tieing my previous personal high for number of visits on any single day. The prior record(s) had been set several times, but always in expectation of an incoming, as opposed to outgoing, check. As irony would have it, two flats were in my slot, but no additional letters. The first was a brochure, God's truth, called "Understanding Document Imaging (Managing Corporate Information in the 90s), from Data-Tech Institute of Clifton, NJ, promoting a one-day seminar on same for the princely sum of only $995.00
The second flat was a complimentary copy of Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 1 (112 pages), containing a thumbnail review of The Anomalist 1 and 2, picturing the covers of both. Since the review is fairly brief, I'll quote it in its entirety:
"The Anomalist is a semi-annual book series 'exploring the mysteries of science, history and nature,' and the second installment of the series features such essay contributions as 'Betting on the Mars face,' by Tom Van Flandern, 'Was the First "Bigfoot" a Hoax?' by Loren Coleman, 'Organ Theft Rumors in Guatemala,' by John Shonder, and 'Alien Dreamtime,' by Robert Baker. It is an interesting mixture of authors--skeptics (Baker) and non-skeptics (Rupert Sheldrake) alike--with a strong leaning toward the latter. Most of the essays are well-written, referenced, and reasonably fair in their approach, although hard-core skeptics will feel that many of these anomalies have already been explained. Still, students of science, protoscience, and pseudoscience should have this series in their collection."
The following review is of William Corliss' bimonthly newsletter, Science Frontiers, and his most recent hardback collection of organic oddities, Biological Anomalies. In the last paragraph of same, the reviewer notes that, "Like The Anomalist, skeptics would be well-advised to have this excellent collection in the[ir?] library as an excellent reference to all things strange."
This will sound self-solicitous now, but I still find the Skeptic Magazine, when compared side-by-side with the Skeptical Inquirer, to be by far the better of the two publications. It contains more information per issue, and is both less dogmatic (i.e., less propaganda oriented) and more open-minded than its more self-serving and newsstand-visible counterpart. Subscriptions to the former are $35 per year from Skeptics Society, PO Box 338, Altadena, CA 91001. Michael Shermer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief.
I should also add that the World Wide Web home page for CSICOP itself is a very good one, as it tends to observe Netiquette, which is more than can be said for its sister in print, the Skeptical Inquirer. You can access the CSICOP home page via our links page, or at: http://www.csicop.org.
Tuesday, March 19, 7:53 am Update
My check's in the mail! Or it will be by approximately noon today, anyway. As mentioned, copies of same will also be forwarded to Mssrs. Klass, Baker and Nickell. Everyone will have to supply their own frames, though.
Mr. Karr's letter arrived this morning, with a copy of the OFO Letter inside, dated January 12, 1996 and indeed addressed to CSICOP. It is hand-written in a script better than my own. Here is the body text, with misspellings, etc., maintained:
"I was hoping you could send me some info on reports, abductions and just facts about aliens. I am doing a project on OFO phenomena. I believe with all my heart. I am 14 years old and live in Louisville, KY. Where I live is not farmland (like everyone thinks). I was convinced that I was a alien when I was a child. My family told me I was put in there home by the government and they got paid to keep me. I believed that until I was 10. My Sister [deleted] still says I am part of some big experament [a sic CSICOP missed] to see if Aliens can live like humans. I guess that is why I am such a believer and try to find all the info I can on the subject. I just like to say thanks for all your time and help.
"Thanks again, [deleted]"
We have no objections to the deletions of names, of course. Accompanying my check to CSICOP in the amount of $50.00, however, was the following letter, which I asked Mr. Karr to please forward for me.
I understand that on January 12th of this year, you wrote a letter to CSICOP asking for additional information about the UFO phenomenon and expressing the belief that you may be an alien, put here as part of a big government experiment to see if aliens can live like humans.
Part of your letter was quoted in a fund-raising appeal put out by CSICOP, a copy of which you'll find enclosed.
I would appreciate it if you could take the time to answer a few questions and return the answers in the provided envelope.
How did you come by the name of CSICOP and a mailing address for them in the first place?
Did you receive any response from CSICOP?
Did you write anyone else, or any other organizations, about this belief? If so, how did you learn about their names and addresses? Did you receive any response from them?
Do you still believe you are an alien or part-alien?
I thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Commentary to this point:
Certainly, some of CSICOP's concerns, if not necessarily all of its assumptions and conclusions, can be shared here. No one would argue, for example, that a young girl believing she is an alien, or part-alien, is in any way a "good thing." But it's a long way from such a letter to an extrapolation like "Scary, but true: CSICOP may be one of the last bulwarks against a future where children [sic] will grow up believing that they're alien transplants . . ."
This is little more than hyperbole and fear-mongering. Is there necessarily any real reason to think, for example, that even this particular girl will still believe she is an alien come voting age, or, for that matter, even next summer? Is there any reason to think that hordes of children will share such a belief anytime soon, or that popular programming like the "X-Files" will somehow be responsible?
Is the situation indeed now worse, vis-a-vis so-called "paranormal programming" than it has ever been? Is there any evidence that past TV shows, from, say, "Topper" and "I Dream of Genie," resulted in an increase of ghost and genie reports, or the number of little girls who believed that they were Genie? Ditto for "The Twilight Zone," "Outer Limits," "The Avengers," "Dr. Who," and God only knows what else down through the years.
In this particular case, other factors must be afoot rather than too much time spent in front of the family TV. A parent doesn't "catch" the belief, for instance, that they're getting a government check to maintain an alien. A check is not a matter for belief, unless something else is fundamnetally wrong. It either gets deposited, or it doesn't. Are we to believe that this girl's mother doesn't remember whether she was the biological mother or not? Something is still fishy here, in other words, which could conceivably have little or nothing to do with paranormal belief systems and/or propagandists of same, and perhaps everything to do with a dysfunctional family unit, to a teenager seeking attention, to a practical "in-family" joke gone awry, to a teasing older sister.
But this would only complicate matters, and CSICOP shows no signs that it wants its black and white world view complicated. One is reminded of the following Sufi story:
A man approached the local mullah for advice. His neighbor was driving him crazy with his incessant presence. How could he get him to stay away, or at least drop by less frequently, without offending him?
"Simple," said the mullah. "The next time he comes over just ask if you can borrow some money. Continue to do this and he will soon cease his visits."
"But then my other neighbors will think I'm impoverished and can't fulfill my own family and financial obligations," the man complained.
"Ah," said the mullah. "Now you want to change the thought patterns of mankind. That, of course, is a different problem altogether!"
With the Millennium looming on the horizon, CSICOP is going to need all of the money it can get. Maybe it should think of starting its own TV show, "CSICOP at Night," hosted by the Amazing Randi, who seems to have mastered every aspect of the magician's art, save for a dignified Disappearing Act. As for me, I gave at the office.
April 4, 1996
In a letter dated March 28, 1996, and received here on April 1, Barry Karr thanks me for my contribution to CSICOP's Library of Skepticism, and apparently he isn't fooling. He notices that same is tax-deductible, but says that "I do not think it would be appropriate to forward your letter on to the girl."
If I were in his place, I probably shouldn't think so, either. CSICOP has always had a sure grasp of what is appropriate and what is not. So perhaps they won't mind telling the milling minions how appropriate it is for one CSICOP Fellow to review the work of another Fellow without making the connection (a conflict of interest?) known to the review's editor and readers?
The book in question of course is Carl Sagan's new The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Random House, 457 pp., $25.95), which Martin Gardner reviewed in the Sunday book review section of The Washington Post on March 17. Gardner does admit that he is "handsomely acknowledged, though I don't know Sagan personally and didn't provide any help in the writing of his book." Does this mean that Gardner has never met Sagan in person and knows him only by reputation, or merely that the Gardners don't summer over with the Sagans?
And what is Gardner "handsomely acknowledged" for? According to Sagan (p. 436): "My opinions on democracy, the method of science, and public education have been influenced by enormous numbers of people over the years, many of whom I mention in the body of the text. But I would like to single out here the inspiration I have received from Martin Gardner, Isaac Asimov, Philip Morrison, and Henry Steele Commager." [My emphasis.]
The reason why I italicize Gardner's name is that acknowledgments are normally listed in alphabetical order (as Sagan does later in the same paragraph), but here Gardner's is the first name so mentioned, indicating that his "inspiration" must have been primary and considerable. But since the two don't personally know each other, perhaps Sagan was merely influenced by Gardner's regular column, "Notes of a Fringe-Watcher," in the Skeptical Inquirer, CSICOP's journal of record? The latter, incidentally, excerpts Sagan's book in its latest issue (March/April, 1996).
Sagan continues: "There is not room to thank the many others...[but] I must however explicitly thank the following friends and colleagues for critically reviewing all or part of earlier drafts of this book." In this list of 27 names, Gardner's name appears again, in alphabetical order, the only individual so acknowledged twice.
If Gardner "didn't provide any help in the writing" of the book, as he maintains, he certainly did in its publicity. His review literally gushes with profusive praise. "Like all of Sagan's books," Gardner notes, The Demon-Haunted World is rich in surprising information and beautiful writing." Moreover, it is a "stirring defense of informed rationality," full of "colorful attacks," "withering blasts," and "hilarious paragraphs" aimed at "crank science," interspersed with "memories of his happy childhood in Brooklyn, his early enthusiasms, his passionate love of science," etc., etc. The reader almost expects to be informed at some point that the book contains no typos, that no living trees were felled in its publication, and that the author only sinks up to his ankles when attempting to walk on water.
No doubt there is a serious book here struggling to escape Mr. Gardner's warmly obsequious embrace, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from the review itself, which is largely a litany of the reviewer's own gleeful bashing of favorite demons. In the same vein, two paragraphs of the 12-paragraph review are given over to the antics of magician James Randi, who used to be a CSICOP Fellow himself before he became a magnet for lawsuits. (Randi, also acknowleged by Sagan as a critical reviewer [sic], makes only a cameo appearance in the book.)
All of which bring the words of Ambrose Bierce to mind. Bierce said that "criticism is an erring guide. Its pronouncements are more interesting than valuable, and interesting chiefly from the insight that they give into the mind, not of the writer being criticized, but of the writer criticizing." This may be unfair, however, as Bierce frequently was, as there is nothing the least bit critical in Gardner's "review" to begin with. Indeed, as puff-pieces go, it ranks right up there with Leon Jaroff's "penetrating" profile of Randi in the mass-market Time Magazine, a shameless abuse of journalistic privilege if ever there was one.
By Tuesday, March 26, though, Gardner's review had traveled well, an excerpt from same appearing as a glowing endorsement in a Random House ad for the book in The New York Times. The 4 by 5-inch ad was headed "Fundamentalism, alien abductions, faith healings, astrology, channeling: Carl Sagan takes on America's most dangerous beliefs," causing at least one reader to ponder whether an anonymous CSICOP Fellow might not be moonlighting as a Random House ad copy writer. At any rate, Demon-Haunted, already a selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club, now had the previously prestigious cachet of The Washington Post unsquarely behind it.
Above Gardner's blurb was a quote in larger type from Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins which appeared in his review for The Times of London: "Eloquent, fascinating....I wish I had written [it]. Please read this book." Dawkins is also a CSICOP Fellow, but without having seen the review in question, I have no idea of whether he mentions any such connection or not. (And why trifle with such trifles, anyway, when the future mental safety of the universe as we know it is at stake?)
Sagan, to his credit, does. On page 299 of Demon-Haunted he says that "I've been affiliated with it since its beginning [in 1976]." He also adds that "CSICOP is imperfect. In certain cases such a critique is to some degree justified. But from my point of view CSICOP serves an important social function--as a well-known organization to which media can apply when they wish to hear the other side of the story, especially when some amazing claim of pseudoscience is adjudged newsworthy." But what if all we want is an honest, objective critique and public discussion of the ideas, solutions and policies contained within Sagan's book(s)? Isn't the public entitled to same, as opposed to an apparently endless series of ostensibly objective reviews by well-acknowledged friends and colleagues of the author?
The next CSICOP Fellow to weigh in with a review who I am as yet aware of is Susan Blackmore, for the English weekly New Scientist (March 16, 1996, p. 50). Blackmore's review is unabashedly positive, too, but at least it gives readers an idea of what the book is actually about, beyond the bashing of gratuitous strawmen, and doesn't blush quite as openly and awkwardly with the same sorts of overwrought superlatives so glibly employed by Gardner and Dawkins. In fact, she even offers up the following criticism: "Though Sagan talks about the 'global civilization,' at times I felt I was reading a diatribe against the evils of American society."
My dictionary defines diatribe as "a bitter, abusive denunciation," which would seem at odds with dispassionate, scientific discourse. Ms. Blackmore, who may be beginning to see the light, is a lecturer in psychology at the University of West England, Bristol. In the same wise as Gardner, Randi and Philip Klass, though, she is also acknowledged by Sagan as another "one of the following friends and colleagues...critically reviewing all or part of earlier drafts of this book." As with Gardner and presumably Dawkins, however, we accept that Blackmore, too, neither personally knew Sagan nor aided in the actual writing of his book. With "distant" friends and advocates like these, however, with their ready access to critical media connections, who needs closer ones?
Still, I sincerely hope such less than stirling sentiments won't get Ms. Blackmore drummed out of the mostly white male CSICOP BRCC (Book Review Country Club). After all, anyone who can criticize any aspect of a book by his holiness, however minor and brief in passing, can't be completely bereft of objectivity. Unlike some of her CSICOP counterparts.
In fact, The New York Times Book Review for April 7, 1996, is just in, and it's amazing what a drastic sea-change in the public perception of Demon-Haunted might be occasioned when the work in question is reviewed by someone who is not listed on CSICOP's letterhead. The review (p. 10) is by James Gorman, deputy science editor of the Times.
Commenting on Sagan's own remarks about a Weekly World News story regarding a doomsday asteroid, in contrast to scientific concerns about the real thing, Gorman notes that "seldom has a tabloid been charged with putting the planet in peril."
As for the book's eloquent style and "beautiful sentences," a la Mssrs. Dawkins and Gardner, Gorman quotes the following examples: "The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir," adding that he, Sagan, "could write for the tabs."
In all fairness, overall Gorman finds the book on-target--"Mr. Sagan may be stuffy, but he is seldom wrong"--and generally well written in contrast to most scientific works, noting that "while Mr. Sagan may wax ponderous, he always writes clearly," if "with more than [his] fair share of wind. Indeed, a reader cannot help wishing that Mr. Sagan's manuscript had been abducted by editors. He could easily have [made his arguments] at half the length." (And the same could no doubt be said of most of the reviews.)
As for Mr. Sagan's own self-admitted errors, Gorman notes that they occupy "little less than half a page in a book which is over 400 pages long." 460 pages, to be exact, when everything is added in.
Copyright 1996 by The Anomalist