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The Demon Haunted World – Carl Sagan *****

An eloquent plea for reason and the scientific method when the media are pumping unexplained phenomena and X-Files fiction at us all the time. There’s nothing wrong at all with science fiction or fantasy, as long as we are aware that’s what it is – but Sagan points out just how easy it is for us to believe that the ‘truth is out there’ just because we want it to be.
Everything from presidents consulting horoscopes to witch burning and miracle cures come under Sagan’s logical but still human eye. Whether your demons are traditional or modern world alien abductors, spirit mediums or faith healers, he painstakingly shows that we are much more likely to invent the supernatural than to experience it for real.
Although Sagan goes on a bit, it’s a great counter to wide-eyed acceptance – as useful in business as it is in dealing with the unexplained. The cover asks ‘Are we on the brink of a new Dark Age of irrationality and superstition?’ and it’s a question anyone with an interest in science has to face up to.
Perhaps the only weakness Sagan doesn’t face is the scientists who have don’t take a scientific, rational view (‘let’s test this theory with experiment’) but instead refuse to even consider phenomena outside of their experience (‘There’s no point looking into it; it doesn’t exist.’) But we definitely need a few more sceptical works like this to put along the uncritical pap that TV companies regularly feed into our homes as ‘documentaries’.
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Review by Brian Clegg

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