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A Review of "Leaving the Land of Woo"

By Michelle Shires
Posted on: 12/5/2009

Need a good book about skepticism? This is one.

Bob Lloyd’s book, Leaving the Land of Woo, is a wonderful book on skepticism and critical thinking that we should all have on our bookshelves. In fact, we should all have several copies. One for the neighbor who continues to bring us copies of The Secret or whatever Oprah is hawking this week. One for Aunt Sue, who is convinced that vaccines are the cause of the world’s problems. One for the co-worker who pushes echi-nasty and Airbourne on any innocent bystander. It is an excellent primer for skeptics and budding skeptics offering chapters covering the gamut; from the scientific method to a nice synopsis of many alternative therapies that are floating around in popular culture today. Lloyd includes the history of post-modernism in the academic community during the 1980s as a nice jumping off point to lead the reader down the rabbit hole into the Land of Woo.

Leaving the Land of Woo is deceivingly small and looks unthreatening. At a mere 147 pages long, it has a pretty Woo tree on the cover and rainbow colors. The chapters are short and concise. The table of contents is long and informative. The book is easy to navigate and the reader is not intimidated by its size or by the author’s voice. Lloyd is not snotty or condescending to skepticism’s uninitiated, and is incredibly informative. This book is aimed at the “layman,” but Lloyd never presumes that the layman is an idiot. Instead he assumes that the reader just may not have thought about certain things in certain ways. Not that he is incapable of critically thinking. He respects the reader’s intelligence.

Bob Lloyd is kind to his audience but don’t mistake that kindness for any sort of ambivalence about the subject of Woo. He is very clear and strongly states that the land of Woo contains frauds, scams and cons. And he does not mince words when it comes to his disgust at those who prey on the gullible.

There are two sections in this book in this book that I found especially fresh and interesting. Throughout the book Lloyd offers straightforward information that guides the reader to a better understanding of critical thinking vs. Woo Reasoning. But he illustrates it so clearly for the reader in the section called “Sniff Theory — an alternative con.” In this section, Lloyd designs his own Woo alternative therapy. He takes the reader, step by step, through the process of creating extraordinary and false claims based on a few scientific facts. And it becomes so obvious how the Woo muddies the waters of fact and fiction to such an extent that it is difficult for most to find the truth. In this way, Lloyd shows us from the inside out, how Woo works and it is very effective.

Lloyd also has a section titled “Rational Thinking” in which he addresses the common misconceptions about skeptics. He discusses the myths that skeptics are unemotional, uncreative curmudgeons. And I appreciate this about his book because I have all too often had to address these beliefs with my own family and friends. The reader can clearly see that rational thinking does not negate emotional feeling. Really, it’s just such a relief for me, a skeptic, to see it in writing. The subject is rarely addressed although we all experience it, being the Bubble-Busters that we are.

Bob Lloyd does not fill his book with footnotes and references, which I found a bit unsettling until I read his explanation. He has left these out to encourage the reader to investigate further, begin her own exploration of the facts, and learn even more. I think this is clever and it also keeps the book easy to navigate for someone who may feel uneasy with all that “extra” information.

This is a great book for anyone with an interest in skepticism. But it’s the best book for someone who is about to make a costly mistake with a psychic, chiropractor, or other kind of sham artist. This is the book that Andy Kaufman should have read.

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