It's a good time to be a skeptic, but you knew that. And upstate New York is a great part of the world for skepticism. The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (www.centerforinquiry.net) is right around the corner at 1310 Sweet Home Road in Amherst. They're the folks who publish Skeptical Inquirer magazine, which lets you ponder Yetis and weeping Virgin Mary statues and palm reading without insulting your intelligence. Such luminaries as Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov were involved in the early years of the organization. No other magazine explores concerns about dead Beatles and theories of intelligent design in the same volume.
Amherst also boasts the headquarters of Prometheus Books, which has been building a remarkable backlist since 1969. Sagan, Asimov and others cross over from the CSICOP fold, but the Prometheus family is huge in comparison even to mainstream publishers with a hundred or so books published each year. Among my favorites are: Shockingly Close to the Truth!: Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologistby James W. Moseley and Karl T. Pflock and On the Wild Side: The Big Bang, ESP, The Beast 666, Levitation, Rainmaking, Trance-Channelingby Martin Gardner.
Moseley spent much of the past 50 years as a player in the UFO subculture. He gossips a great deal and reveals a lot of the reality of pulling the wool over your neighbors' heads. It's the book that Moseley says he's been trying to write all that time. One of the major players in the popular science crowd, Gardner makes sense of nonsense --- the motivations and misunderstandings that drive people to idiocy. The world might just be a saner place if everyone read a little Martin Gardner and worked a little harder at separating reality from fiction.
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