Randi's Prize has just picked up a one-star review on Amazon UK under the heading, 'Not Worth a Cent'. It's quite short, so here it is verbatim:
About the most paranormal thing about this book is that anyone would wish to write it or buy it. But science has an explanation for that.
Obviously the Million Dollar challenge irritates belivers in the paranormal - but that doesn't make it bad.
The prize is open, honest and easily winnable by anyone with genuinely para-normal powers.
No one would be more delighted than Randi if the prize was won - think about it - he'd getb the Nobel prize for proving telepathy, teleporting or whatever really existed.
As a response this book attacks the man (James Randi)misrepresents the nature of the challenge and 'knocks down' arguments that haven't been made. For example - skeptics do not dispute that out of body experiences are real phenomena - it's just they have a sensible explanation that doesn't rely on goobledy-gook.
So if you want to understand the world - read a book by James Randi - if you want to waste your time - read this one.
I'm sure anyone who's genuinely interested in the subject will recognise this for what it is. It would be a concern, though, if there was a lot of it and it started to influence potential readers.
And it's easy to do. This guy hasn't read the book - he's just clocked the title and the blurb, and perhaps browsed a few pages. Anyone can do it. That's what we're up against.
George Monbiot, an environmentalist, writes in the Guardian today about astroturfing - the practice of organisations faking 'spontaneous grassroots' campaigns. He writes:
I love debate, and I often wade into the threads beneath my columns. But it's a depressing experience, as instead of contesting the issues I raise, many of those who disagree bombard me with infantile abuse, or just keep repeating a fiction, however often you discredit it. This ensures that an intelligent discussion is almost impossible - which appears to be the point.
Know what he means. Not that I have that problem here; those of us who write about psi are fine as long as we stick to our quiet backwaters. But as soon as we stick our necks out in a widely accessible public forum the trolls turn up in force. (There was a classic example of this in a Guardian piece by Caroline Watt.)
Alex Tskaris laments the huge amount of attention he has been getting for Skeptico podcasts on the customer review pages in the App Store, a lot more than even some popular mainstream products - most of them relentlessly negative.
Some of these attack threads do seem to be organised, Monbiot suggests. He quotes from a covertly-recorded session organised by a rightwing libertarian group called American Majority, with the trainer instructing Tea Partiers how to "manipulate the medium":
Here's what I do. I get on Amazon; I type in 'Liberal books'. I go through and I say 'one star, one star, one star'. The flipside is you go to a conservative/ libertarian whatever, go to their products and give them five stars ... This is where your kids get information: Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster. These are places where you can rate movies. So when you type in 'Movies on healthcare', I don't want Michael Moore's to come up, so I always give it bad ratings. I spend about 30 minutes a day, just click, click, click, click ... If there's a place to comment, a place to rate, a place to share information, you have to do it. That's how you control the online dialogue and give our ideas a fighting chance.
I don't think psi-sceptics are organised in this way, but they can easily mob their perceived enemies. They don't have to debate, or even read the book or article - just click and blather.
I know that Amazon have been getting flak about customer reviews with an axe to grind, and I think it may be possible to apply to get obviously biased ones removed. It's something I need to check out.
But hey, it's not a perfect world. Defending themselves from digital attack is something that authors are more and more going to have to get used to - the price of trying to reach a wide audience. A bit like travelling to some exotic location, marvelling at the scenery, and at the same time having to beat off the mosquitoes.
[This post is also published at Paranormalia]