Book Review: Scary Science

Scary Science Cover I recently moved into a new place and, for the first time since I moved out of my parent’s house for university, I have enough room to unpack all of my books. One that I pulled out of the box of beloved children’s books was Scary Science: The Truth Behind Vampires, Witches, UFO’s Ghosts and More. I didn’t actually remember it, but given that I was a fairly superstitious child, I didn’t hold out a lot of hope for it being an actual science based book – I was pleasantly surprised.

The author, Sylvia Funston, is a former editor of OWL magazine and has other well regarded kids science books under her belt. The book itself is nicely illustrated, doesn’t avoid the occasional big word, and it has some experiments. It’s is targeted at the 9-12 age range, and starts off with an introduction about science and the scientific method. It then goes on to a very basic explanation of fear, superstitions, and phobias, with a few experiments thrown in. The rest of the book covers your standard paranormal topics: the human supernatural creatures like werewolves and witches, UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, and psychic abilities. For the most part, I was pleased with the content, although I suspect some of the side blurbs about real research are either out of date since the book was published in 1996, or over-simplified.

For vampires, werewolves, and witches, the book discusses the various real life things that could lead to these beliefs, such as porphyria and ergot poisoning. The Loch Ness monster and fairies are discussed in terms of historical hoaxes (and the unlikelihood that a dinosaur is in a lake that size). The UFO section has a few more “we don’t know what that was” moments, but it goes on to a simplified version of the Drake equation and a general sense of wonder at how large the universe is.

Even the discussion of psychics was reasonably skeptical. Where the book annoyed me was its treatment of ESP and telekinesis. There was almost no skepticism there. When held in contrast to the rest of the book, I think this section gives the impression that there’s science behind the ideas that people can read minds and move an object by thinking about it. The side blurbs even throw in some studies that are “making non-believers take note”. Now, if you wanted, this could present a teaching moment to compare the evidence used in the ESP section with the section on monsters, but it mars an otherwise skeptical children’s book.

I’m a bit late for this to be a Christmas gift suggestion, but overall, I think this is a good book to get a child.

One Response to “Book Review: Scary Science”

  1. Thomas Doubts says:

    I actually found this book in a second hand store over the summer and picked it up for my 9-year-old son. I too was pleasantly surprised by the level of skepticism (unusual for this type of book geared to kids). The power-of-the-mind section I found annoying, but not egregious, and it opened up a topic for discussion. The book’s out of print now, but is available on amazon from various third-party sellers.

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  • Marion Kilgour

    Marion is a mechanical engineer, and also works to promote critical thinking and scientific literacy through local skeptical and atheist activism in Edmonton, Alberta. Marion especially wishes to encourage girls to consider science or technology-based careers, and is involved in the University of Alberta's Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology (WISEST) project.