Lynne Kelly - The Skeptic’s Guide to the Paranormal

February 15, 2008

Lynne Kelly is a writer and science educator in Australia, and a founding member of Australian Skeptics. An expert on the paranormal who uses aspects of the magician's art to advance skepticism, she holds degrees in education and engineering and is the author over a dozen books, including The Skeptic's Guide to the Paranormal.

In this discussion with D.J. Grothe, Lynne Kelly examines differences in paranormal beliefs between Australia and the United States, and whether such beliefs are growing. She talks about various paranormal topics from her book, including crop circles, psychic detectives, and communicating with the dead, and explains how to best convey a skeptical approach to students when addressing such topics. She addresses why she avoids overt skepticism of religion when educating her audiences, and why skepticism as a movement has often avoided religious faith claims. She also debates the perils and proper use of the magician's art, especially "cold reading," when teaching skepticism.

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Comments from the CFI Forums

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I think what she said about bringing up the paranormal in the classroom was straight up brilliant.

If someone in my science classes in highschool had talked about psychics or walking on coals I would have started college a lot sooner I think.

Posted on Feb 16, 2008 at 3:41pm by mindcore Comment #1

I’m listening to the podcast right now. I love the part where she she says “The real world is awesome.” Agreed. The universe is much more fascinating than theologians and new-age paranormal devotees can imagine.

Posted on Feb 16, 2008 at 7:06pm by DarronS Comment #2

“Northern-Europe ... there’s belief in gnomes and the Nordic Mythologies..”

I’m not sure what D.J. exactly meant by this, kinda sounded funny. If by Northern-Europe he meant Skandinavia, I’m pretty sure that Nordic Mythologies haven’t been that popular since the days of the vikings. :)

Christmas is a pretty big holiday here in Finland at least, and with that comes Santa Claus and the elves and such, which are commonly used when marketing Finland (or more precisely the area of Northern-Finland, Lapland, that gets lots of tourists around Christmas) to tourists. But I don’t think these folkloric myths are much of a belief around here, not any more than apple pie and baseball are to Americans. :)

Posted on Feb 18, 2008 at 5:39am by geru Comment #3

This interview was great. I was very pleased with Lynne’s understanding, intellect, and experience with skepticism. Her reasoning was very well thought out and clear. I think she would be a great debater against religion as well if she ever chose to go that route.

Posted on Feb 18, 2008 at 7:21am by morgantj Comment #4

“Northern-Europe ... there’s belief in gnomes and the Nordic Mythologies..”

I’m not sure what D.J. exactly meant by this, kinda sounded funny. If by Northern-Europe he meant Skandinavia, I’m pretty sure that Nordic Mythologies haven’t been that popular since the days of the vikings. :)

Christmas is a pretty big holiday here in Finland at least, and with that comes Santa Claus and the elves and such, which are commonly used when marketing Finland (or more precisely the area of Northern-Finland, Lapland, that gets lots of tourists around Christmas) to tourists. But I don’t think these folkloric myths are much of a belief around here, not any more than apple pie and baseball are to Americans. :)

I have a tendency to take DJ at his word about this stuff, just because he seems so well traveled and informed.

But I did think that this was odd as well.

Though I do know that England does a good job of rejecting religion, but they seem to be far more excited about New Age stuff than us in the United States, which is exactly what they were discussing in Australia.

Thats why I think you cannot promote Atheism without promoting science.

Posted on Feb 18, 2008 at 3:28pm by mindcore Comment #5

Here’s an issue I have.  Lynne Kelly is also a trained counselor. In her interview with DJ, she was adamant that as soon as people started showing emotion during her cold reading sessions, she would quit and suggest they talk with her about it. While this is a sensitive and compassionate thing to do, it also reminds me of the big complaint that Dennett, Dawkins, and others have about religion: it is taboo to criticize people’s deepest beliefs. Why?  Well, I think this episode brings out the real reason. There is the sense that people might be emotionally traumatized or even damaged if confronted. Everybody despises Fred Phelps for protesting at the funerals of gay military men for this reason too.

We are conflicted because we have conflicting moral obligations. What do you do if you believe that knowing the truth about something will harm someone?

Richard

Posted on Feb 19, 2008 at 7:27am by rgill Comment #6

“Northern-Europe ... there’s belief in gnomes and the Nordic Mythologies..”

I’m not sure what D.J. exactly meant by this, kinda sounded funny. If by Northern-Europe he meant Skandinavia, I’m pretty sure that Nordic Mythologies haven’t been that popular since the days of the vikings. :)

Christmas is a pretty big holiday here in Finland at least, and with that comes Santa Claus and the elves and such, which are commonly used when marketing Finland (or more precisely the area of Northern-Finland, Lapland, that gets lots of tourists around Christmas) to tourists. But I don’t think these folkloric myths are much of a belief around here, not any more than apple pie and baseball are to Americans. :)

I am not sure why DJ keeps making this claim; this hasn’t been the first time. I have never visited the Scandinavian countries but I would like to think that people there believe in gnomes as much as people anywhere else in Europe believe in mythological figures. I grew up in Czech R., where we have hundreds of all kinds of fantasmas, fairies, etc., but I have yet to meet a person who actually believes they are real. Parents do tell their kids to watch out for Wassermann, for example, who will drown them and eat their soul, but, again, nobody actually believes any of it.

Posted on Feb 19, 2008 at 8:13am by George Comment #7

“Northern-Europe ... there’s belief in gnomes and the Nordic Mythologies..”

I’m not sure what D.J. exactly meant by this, kinda sounded funny. If by Northern-Europe he meant Skandinavia, I’m pretty sure that Nordic Mythologies haven’t been that popular since the days of the vikings. :)

Christmas is a pretty big holiday here in Finland at least, and with that comes Santa Claus and the elves and such, which are commonly used when marketing Finland (or more precisely the area of Northern-Finland, Lapland, that gets lots of tourists around Christmas) to tourists. But I don’t think these folkloric myths are much of a belief around here, not any more than apple pie and baseball are to Americans. :)

I am not sure why DJ keeps making this claim; this hasn’t been the first time. I have never visited the Scandinavian countries but I would like to think that people there believe in gnomes as much as people anywhere else in Europe believe in mythological figures. I grew up in Czech R., where we have hundreds of all kinds of fantasmas, fairies, etc., but I have yet to meet a person who actually believes they are real. Parents do tell their kids to watch out for Wassermann, for example, who will drown them and eat their soul, but, again, nobody actually believes any of it.

I hosted an exchange student from the Czech R. once, it sounds like one of the coolest countries in the world.

Posted on Feb 19, 2008 at 9:22am by mindcore Comment #8

Not sure, mindcore. I guess if I thought that Czech R was one of the coolest countries in the world I would be living there and not in Canada. The problem with Czech R. as far as I can tell is that it’s full of Czechs. :-)

Posted on Feb 19, 2008 at 9:53am by George Comment #9

:-P

Posted on Feb 19, 2008 at 10:14am by mindcore Comment #10

I found Lynn Kelly’s observation about gullibility quite plausible. Churches and new ages venues appear to attract women more than men, or so it appears to me. She posits that gullibility equals trusting people
“I believe that gullible is the same as trusting, therefore it’s vulnerable. I trust people naturally and therefore I’m vulnerable, and this I think is more true of females… When I’m out in the schools I always talk about skepticism as a protection against being exploited by these sort of claims, and ... the emotional exploitation is far more significant [than the financial exploitation].

This could well be true. But perhaps we can ignore the male/female aspect here because the core claim is consistent with what you and I can see around us. There exist a few misanthropic grouches but for the most part humans are social animals who trust each other. That makes it easy for delusional but charismatic people to spread their unproven claims: as long as they project enough conviction, chances are good that others will take it for granted when it is not.

(Oh, and for the record: no one in Germany believes in gnomes. Not a single person. I happen to know all 80 million of them personally and have a big file with their notarized signatures. No, seriously: DJ’s claim has no substance, it doesn’t even have indicators. I’m totally at a loss as to where he got this false idea. Having said that, I don’t think it’s worth belaboring.)

Posted on Feb 23, 2008 at 12:52am by moreover Comment #11

Yeah, Lynn Kelly’s thing about gullibility and trust was good. It also made me feel better about all the BS I’ve bought into throughout my life.

Posted on Feb 23, 2008 at 9:54am by mindcore Comment #12