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Interview With Professor Richard Wiseman

I was fortunate enough to see Richard Wiseman, a popular figure on the skeptical scene, present in Australia as a part of National Science Week during the launch of his book Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things. Wiseman started his professional life as a magician before graduating in psychology from University College London and obtaining a PhD in psychology from the University of Edinburgh. He recently presented at The Amazing Meeting 9 in Las Vegas.

His latest book, Paranormality, has been published for the United States in rather unusual circumstances, as Wiseman writes on his website:

I am going to self-publish an unashamedly skeptical book in America and see what happens. The book launches on Kindle and my UK publisher will ship physical editions into America (and it will appear as an iBook very soon).

Kylie Sturgess:  Has this book been in the works for quite a while, because it has so much in it?

Richard Wiseman:  It has! I think around about, oh, fifteen years ago, I actually suggested the idea of doing a book about the psychology of the paranormal. I think I got as far as writing a proposal for it. It got kind of passed around a little bit, and we could never get the angle quite right on it. And then, The Luck Factor came along, which was a much bigger book, so the paranormality thing got put onto the back burner. Then, only recently, I thought, “Maybe there’s different ways of doing this rather than a straight debunking book.” So, I have returned to it, but the idea has been around for a very long time.

Kylie:  It’s wonderful. Now, for those who might not be familiar with your career, you’re professor of public understanding of psychology at Hertfordshire University [and] do a great amount of research and writing and present at a variety of science festivals. Do you think that improving the public understanding of psychology promotes a skeptical outlook, and, maybe more importantly, helps reduce uncertainty and unease about paranormal claims?

Richard:  Well, certainly, it’s very difficult to be sort of rational and scientific about the paranormal and not be skeptical to some extent. I mean, lots of the things which we consider to be paranormal have been “debunked.” We now have a normal explanation for them. So yeah, I think it does. And part of my work is going around, as you say, to various festivals. So yeah, I’ll go and pop around the country and occasionally the world talking about all sorts of things, mainly psychology [that] is relevant to people’s lives. So one of the reasons why I was excited about Paranormality is that lots of people have these weird experiences and it’s nice to explore them.

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