Strange Songs from the Fringe

Brian Regal


Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers. By Sharon Hill. McFarland, Jefferson, N.C., 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1476672472. 277 pp. Kindle edition, $18.99; paperback, $35.

When odd birds sing their strange songs, does it change the forest? Do others, who don’t know any better, mimic those songs until the forest is filled with dissonance? This is an important question when it comes to science, history, and scholarship in general in Trump-era America. We used to be able to notice the odd birds, think them interesting or not, then move on to proper work based upon facts and evidence. Now the highest echelons of our government tilt their ears to hear the weird peeping and smile in agreement. Sharon Hill’s new book Scientifical Americans: The Culture of Amateur Paranormal Researchers addresses this issue at an important time.

Chasing enthusiasts of the paranormal is like chasing ghosts. They flit about and reside in the darkened corners of rationality. When they do appear we almost need to look at them from the corner of our eyes rather than directly, as a direct view doesn’t really provide clarity. Despite this, Hill has done an excellent job of analyzing the myriad realms and compartments of paranormal studies. What ties them—and this book—together is their attempts to pursue their quarry according to the rules of academic science and scholarly research despite most of them having little more than a nodding acquaintance with it. The results, sometimes serious and sometimes ridiculous, are what bring us to the notion of them being “sciencey.” One way historians define pseudoscience is that practitioners give a superficial gloss of science to their work though it is not really proper science. Their results are, as Hill says, scientifical rather than scientific. They separate themselves consciously from the mainstream, but they also self-segregate into different disciplines. There is little interdisciplinarity in the world of sciencey studies; UFOlogists, for example, rarely sit down with ghost hunters or flat-Earthers to compare notes.

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