Hoaxes, Myths and Manias


Hoaxes, Myths, and Manias: Why We Need Critical Thinking

By Robert Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford. Prometheus Books: 2003, 229 pages, Illustrations. Paperback, $19.80. ISBN: 1-59102-048-4

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Thinking is an innate ability that most people take for granted. But like writing well or speaking effectively before the public, thinking well is a skill that can be learned and improved with practice. In this unique introduction to critical thinking, Robert Bartholomew and Benjamin Radford first lay out the principles of critical thinking and then invite readers to put these principles to the test by examining a series of unusual and challenging case studies. Assembling a wide range of bizarre but actual incidents from many cultures and various time periods, they demonstrate how the tools of critical thinking can help to unravel alleged paranormal events and seemingly mysterious behavior.

What factors led to the “Martian panic” of 1938? Why did many people conclude that an alien spaceship crashed in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947? How do we explain the panic expressed by otherwise normal African and Southeast Asian men who came to believe that a contagious disease was causing their genitals to shrink, or the frenzied dance manias that captivated thousands of Europeans during the Middle Ages? Bartholomew and Radford show that reality is very much a social construction, that cultural assumptions play a large part in our judgments about what is normal and what is deviant, and that the use of critical reasoning is our best means of ensuring an objective perspective.


“…you are certain to be amused and amazed in equal parts…an entertaining and enlightening book.” – Psychology Today

“…fast-paced and intriguing…anyone with an interest in the odd or in critical thinking should read.” – Statesman Journal

“For those who trust their own intellect, this book will prove refreshing, interesting reading.” – Bookviews.com

“…could easily fit into an introductory psychology course, or courses on social psychology and human cognition… a good entertaining introduction to critical thinking for the general reader and for undergraduates.” – Contemporary Psychology: APA Review of Books

Table of Contents

Part 1: The Broad Picture

Chapter 1: Why Develop a Critical Eye?

Part 2: The American Picture

Chapter 2: Was there Really a Martian Panic in 1938?
Chapter 3: The Roswell “Flying Saucer” Crash of 1947
Chapter 4: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon
Chapter 5: New England´s Great Airship Hoax

Part 3: The Cross-Cultural Perspective

Chapter 6: What Is Normal?
Chapter 7: Latah:
Strange Mental Disorder or Exotic Custom?
Chapter 8: Exploring Tolerance:
Religious Devoutness or Bizarre Ritual?
Chapter 9: Genital-Shrinking Scares

Part 4: The Historical Picture

Chapter 10: The Dancing Mania of the Middle Ages
Chapter 11: The Jumping Frenchmen of Maine
Chapter 12: The Birthplace of the Flying Saucer
Chapter 13: England´s Black Helicopters
Chapter 14: India´s Monkey Man Mania
Chapter 15: How to Recognize Mass Delusions