Proof of Heaven , Neurosurgeon's Mystical Revelation, Climbs the Bestseller Lists

On Oct. 11 I wrote that the book Proof of Heaven, an account of a near-death experience by a neurosurgeon, reflected badly on its author, Eben Alexander, and on its publisher, Simon & Schuster, for allowing mystical belief, "visions" and religion to masquerade as science. I wrote then that I had no doubt that "all of the parties involved will make a large amount of money from this project -- money that will not, I suspect, be accepted as legal tender in their glittering afterlives."

This week, in an article in The New York Times, Alexander continues to push the same story. According to the article, he hopes his medical expertise "will be enough to persuade skeptics, particularly medical skeptics, as he used to be, to open their minds to an afterworld." Simon & Schuster says the book should appeal to readers interested in neuroscience.

Are you kidding? My prediction about the money seems on target, though, and it didn't come from a mystical vision. Oprah is doing a one-hour special on the book. And here are the book's current stats:
  • #1 in paperback nonfiction in The New York Times Sunday Book Review
  • #2 in Times nonfiction e-books
  • #2 in Times nonfiction combined print and e-books
  • #6 in books at Amazon

Alexander has made much of the supposed "fact" that his "entire neocortex -- the outer surface of the brain, the part that makes us human -- was entirely shut down, inoperative." Dr. Martin Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital, told the Times that "there is no way to know, in fact, that his neocortex was shut down." Samuels also dismissed the notion that Alexander's medical background gives him some authoritative edge on near-death experiences. "The fact that he is a neurosurgeon is no more relevant than if he was a plumber."

This post originally appeared at the Knight Science Journalism Tracker.