Sunday, July 03, 2011

A Wiseman among the not so wise

Yesterday I was saddened to read that Professor Richard Wiseman's latest book Paranormality cannot land a suitable publishing deal in the USA. Wiseman has therefore decided to self-publish it as a Kindle edition. The book, which takes a sceptical look at so-called paranormal activity such as ghosts, astrology, mind-reading etc., has been a bestseller in the UK and in many other countries.

Before I go any further, I should point out that Wiseman - the most quoted psychologist working in Europe today - is a popular author and speaker with a string of entertaining and educational bestsellers to his name. It may be that he can get a book deal in the USA but not one worthy of his sales and status. However, the fact remains that he has no such deal. US publishers don't want it. I guess it's because, in these austere times, no one wants to read a book that debunks such things as spiritualism, fortune-telling and astrology - especially when there's an industry built on them that generally suggests healthy and happy futures for most of their clients (Have you ever heard of someone having a serious illness or death accurately predicted by a spirit, palmist or star-reader? Nope, me neither.).

According to the NY Times, more than 80% of Americans believe that they have had a paranormal experience, so it may be that the publishers simply don't see a market for the book. If so, that's very short-sighted. And unfair. How can people make sensible and considered choices about what to believe unless they can weigh up all of the available evidence? It seems that the publishing industry believes that no one wants to hear an alternative explanation of what might have happened to them.

Or, I suspect, it's the accountants - who now seem to run the publishing industry - who are not willing to take the risk that US readers are intelligent enough to make their own decisions. Whatever the reasons, here is a smart, intelligent book that the majority of people in the USA won't get to read.

I'd like to see a campaign led by American sceptics to get the book published in book form. Get enough people behind the idea and even the accountants will take note. Otherwise, America is glissading down a slippery slope towards bookstores full of populist drivel and books only being produced for the lowest and largest common denominators.

Meanwhile I'll rub my lucky rabbit's foot and hope that this isn't so ...

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