This is John Grant’s third volume in a trilogy, following on from Discarded Science and Corrupted Science. In many ways this volume follows the path of Martin Gardener’s famous Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, and looks at the wilder fringes of pseudoscience. Here we meet the, presumably, insane flat-earther John Hampden who ended up in jail several times for stalking and harassing Alfred Russel Wallace and his family, Cyrus ‘Koresh’ Teed who believed we live on the inner surface of a hollow earth, and many another strange character. Just about every eccentric idea that you can think of seems to have proponents, there are for example people who still believe that the earth is the centre of the universe.
There are of course the more usual suspects, such as believers in Atlantis, perpetual motion machines and various revisionist histories. One of the oddest of the latter, which was featured in a recent Fortean Times, was the idea developed by a group of Germans, that Charlemange was a fictional character devised by the Emperor Otto who wanted to add several hundred years to the calendar in order that the millennium be celebrated during his reign. How he persuaded the Vatican to add a large number of non-existent popes to the records, to say nothing of inventing Alfred the Great, is not explained.
Like Martin Gardner, John Grant is no great fan of Charles Fort, and he perhaps takes Fort’s more outrageous ideas as serious suggestions, rather than the jokes that Fort, or at least his more intelligent supporters, insisted they were. On the other hand the rather fawning attitude several otherwise sane and sensible Forteans took towards the late John Michel makes we wonder just how cranky Forteanism might be beneath the surface. Grant could well have included Michel in his compendium, alongside much else on earth mysteries, but perhaps they have been overshadowed by the likes of Graham Hancock and Robert Bauval who are featured.
Grant is rather more favourable to cryptozoology, perhaps too much so in the case of Bigtoot and the Loch Ness Monster, though he does accept that the odds in favour of them are not good, given the absence of any bodies. – PR.