Skepticalapalooza

By Phil Plait | April 25, 2006 11:03 pm

This is pretty cool. BA Reader Karen Davis alerted me to this page by a young Norwegian man. He has links to a ton of skeptical podcasts and radio interviews. If you read BA, you’ll recognize a lot of the names: interviews with Michael Shermer, James Randi… and hey, who’s that guy with the NASA cap on? :-)

Yeah, it’s me. Actually, there’s some stuff there I forgot about: like talking about the Venus Transit in 2004 with a reporter from MSNBC. I remember doing it, but I did a lot of short, four minute interviews that day at Goddard Space Flight Center– like literally 30 of them. The one I remember best was with a local reporter from San Francisco. I thought it was funny to fly all the way across the country, then wind up on the air with my own local news! I’ll have to write up that little adventure some day; it was fun, and the transit was truly excellent.

I watched that MSNBC video again (I had to use — shudder — IE), and besides looking a little stiff I think it was OK. But then the reporter mispronounced my last name. Sigh. It’d better than another reporter who introduced me as being from "the Goddard Space Station". Yikes.

Anyway, go to that skeptical site, and check out those links. Randi’s page has some great stuff. The debunking of Uri Geller is particularly fun.

Comments (32)

  1. Sam

    Wow, a gold mine.

  2. AitchJay

    That’s a gold mine! Thanks.

  3. Andrei

    actually I tested Uri Geller myself, as its not enough to listen to hearsay of 2nd parties (that kind of thinking is moronic, and what gossiping old wives do on street corners) – and I’ve take it even further,
    I’ve proved Randii is an imbecile. :-)
    really, you need to re-think.
    question are you really thinking like a scientist, or are you just getting off on your ego / pride / intellectual bigotry etc. (most blogs function like that) which is what most sceptics and psychic loonies are doing. Only a very tiny minority are finding the real truth,
    because they are devoid of ego.
    Randii and his guys are lying their asses off online.
    I have the actual libel court reports and statements that prove so.
    Seems to me the Million dollar psychic prize is a way of pooling money off his friends and living off the interest. They are just a scam also.

    A real scientist question both sides.
    Also reads Randii’s website, read it with a balanced mind, and you’ll notice all his complexes, bigotry and mocking hatred, that you’ll see his is not a man to act as a good filter of information.

    The huge irony is that Geller is not a fake. I tested him enough to see it.
    although it looks like he must be in the media to various people.
    but that’s just down to social representation.
    You can’t expect the ‘RAIN MAN’ (autistic savvant) to act humanly normal either on TV, and yet, it is scientifically and psychologically proven, and we cannot deny, they have certain superior functions than the average human.
    Uri does too, I’m happy to say, but as soon as you discover that.
    You realise that most skeptics are just as bad as any fake psychic new age mystic. Its just the other side of the coin.

  4. Andrei

    you can delete this posting of mine after you read it…
    or you can join the INTELLIGENTSIA list on yahoo groups.

    http://true.wxcs.com/multimedia/video/James.Randi.debunking.on.Tonight.Show.wmv

    what is interesting about this, is that you can derive a certain hierarchy of intelligence from this video. Most Skeptics think they are more intelligent than people in the new age psychic quarter. But I think there is the next level; those who are more intelligent than the skeptics.

    Its a smaller minority but they represent the balance point between left and right brained thinking.
    (left brain = sceptics, right brain= hysterics)

    In this case, I’m talking about Uri Geller (and not the Christian afterwards)

    First of all you seen Randii going on about his ego (left brain).
    “I won an award for this…”
    (so what Randii? that simply says the safe majority are backing you)

    Then he goes on to show, in a simplistic (but logical) manner (left brain),
    how he thinks Uri Geller is performing his act.

    Unfortunately, he is not being very clever (as much as he thinks he is)
    he is just providing and point out the blatantly obvious, that any kid can figure out. its really Kindergarten stuff (and not something one should get an award for).

    #1 First mistake: he shows how to bend a key, and how to provide the illusion of it.

    We’ve already proven Randii is wrong.
    And how was that done? easy. Instead of a key, a small Christian cross was used, placed around a girls neck, on a necklace.
    So there was no way that Uri could bend it under a chair, or have any access
    to bending the cross with slight of hand. Also it was too small to do that.
    In front of everyone, Uri, just softly rubbed the cross, and it bent in two.
    He had no opportunity to do anything else.
    None of what Randii is providing as his proof applies.

    #2 the spoon bending.
    again, Randii shows how to bend a spoon, BUT Randii’s technique all relies
    (and ultimately fails) upon ‘previous tampering’.
    We’ve seen Uri in multiple circumstances, where he had no chance
    whatsoever for pre-tampering. Various random cases, all kinds of spoons,
    in different locations, that involved total unexpected improvisation on his part.
    I.E. a kid would rush up to him in the high street, and say bend this then! etc.
    Too many occasions that showed no chance of Uri bending the spoon
    without anyone catching him out.

    #3 mind reading.
    This is where Randii really embarrasses himself.
    Is he saying that Uri is using small mirrors in his hands to see what the other person is drawing? Unfortunately this is rather laughable, and is just too easy to catch anyone doing this. This experiment was not only done with Uri, but many other people, including Japanese kindergaten children. These Japanese kids were pooled from higher learning classes. And at no point did 8 kids go out and buy mirrors to put in their tiny hands! (hoho!)
    Ridiculous conclusion, and utterly non scientific.
    Especially since the drawings were done BEFOREHAND, by SKEPTICAL SCIENTISTS, and then the paper was folded up, making it impossible for any kid to read them. Finally what was written on the paper was Scientific Formula, that ONLY the scientists knew.
    AND YET, still the kids were able to re-create, the images and formulae.
    Needless to say, the scientists were taken aback.

    All I can see is that many people, like Randii, are being purposely blind to this phenomena, because of complexes and non-abilities of their own.
    And tarring everyone with the same brush.
    I.E. if you like football, then that automatically makes you a football hooligan.

    The purpose is to seek truth, and not to fall upon limited, easy and safe prejudices.

    As long as we rely on listening to people who think in such simple bigoted terms, we’ll never progress, because we are too scared to move forward (minority view), and face the mockery of the crowd (majority view).

  5. James Pyrich

    Andrei:

    First, it’s “Randi.” I’m not sure how you missed that.

    Civil court cases are not sufficient proof. Criminal cases are slightly stronger, but still not sufficient.

    It’s fine to say that you have personally tested Geller, but we can’t simply go off of your authority that he is authentic.

    A “real scientist” looks at the facts. A journalist is the one who “questions both sides.” Journalists are not nearly as honor-bound to make accurate predictions as scientists. A “real scientist” is peer-reviewed. While a “real scientist” will make mistakes, over time, those mistakes do not stand up to scrutiny.

    Also, the minute you start making baseless accusations regarding personal motives, your credibility immediately plummets.

  6. Melusine

    The purpose is to seek truth, and not to fall upon limited, easy and safe prejudices….As long as we rely on listening to people who think in such simple bigoted terms, we’ll never progress, because we are too scared to move forward (minority view), and face the mockery of the crowd (majority view).

    LOL! We as a human race (at least some of us) have been doing that for years!! When will it stop??

    My disposal bends spoons.

  7. Andrei

    Ah yes, RANDI
    its other languages in my head, in this case Japanese, that interprets words differently…I.e when I read Russian (which uses English characters) my brain tries to read it as English or Japanese,
    when it is neither.

    :-p

  8. James Pyrich

    Andrei (your second post):

    #1 – bending keys: I would guess that the cross on the chain was made of gold, a very soft metal that does not take very much force at all to bend, depending on how thin the specimen was. However, beyond that, without a verifiable reference, your claim is hearsay.

    #2 – the spoon bending: if any kid could run up to Geller on the street and he could bend the spoon, why couldn’t he do it on the Tonight Show?

    #3 – mind reading: can you provide references to this story? If not, then we have to take you on your word, and I’m afraid that I’m not prepared to do that.

    Can you provide actual references that are not simply repetitions of what you have just claimed? That is, experiment methodologies, data collected, data analysis methods, hypotheses, and conclusions?

    And now to see if you’ve actually read my comment: if you make a claim–any claim–and somebody says, “I don’t believe you” (which is what we’re saying), then the burden of proof is on you. Castigating us for not accepting items which are not proof is not going to make us change our minds. We tell you exactly what we expect by the way of proof but you and those like you consistently fail to provide it. We are actually making this as easy for you as possible: we are saying, “Prove it, and this is how I will be convinced.”

  9. James Pyrich

    Er, Russian doesn’t use “English” characters, it uses cyrillic characters, though I suppose you mean that you’re attempting to read Russian that’s been phonetically translated to roman characters.

    I apologize, though, picking on you for misspelling Randi’s name was a cheap shot, especially when you provide so much other fodder.

  10. Melusine

    Phil, why are my two posts gone from here, and the one thanking Emily for her link regarding earthquakes deleted as well? I don’t think they were strange, in fact, quite the opposite. Was it because of the email addresses, perhaps? ~vexed~

  11. Melusine, not sure. SOmetimes comments go away; I think it may have to do with the spam filter. I am switching comment systems soon, so never fear…

  12. Andrei, I think you are totally and completely wrong about everything you have said. But ignoring that… don’t you think it’s a little rude to come into a blog and post insulting comments about the blogger’s friend?

  13. James Pyrich

    It was kind of fun responding to Andrei’s posts, but I just realized that I was going about this all the wrong way.

    This isn’t about whether Uri Geller has the ability to pull off magic tricks via supernatural power or anything. This is about the dangers of “magical thinking.”

    Even what Uri Geller was saying himself can be very dangerous when logically applied to various ends. In the posted video clip, he was saying that we just need to “want” something done and it will be done. We can just “want” the broken radio to be fixed and it will be fixed, etc., etc.

    The problem with this isn’t so much that people will be sitting around with broken radios, but that people will take this to the next logical step and apply this sort of thinking to cancers and diseases, even to the point of foregoing medical assistance that may help or at least alleviate the pain.

    Also, you run into problems with claiming that all you need to do is “want” something hard enough. Okay, so maybe I can’t muster up enough “want” to make my radio work again, but I will definitely “want” my cancer to go into remission. And what about all the people who are starving in the world? Do you think that they do not “want” food and survival with all of their being? How is it that their unyielding “want” is not satisfied?

    And what of those caught in war zones? They “want” a life of peace, where they can go about their business and not be terrorized constantly. Even if you pit the “want” of the terrorized people against the “want” of the people doing the killing, it’s definitely arguable that the “want” of the people being terrorized is far greater than the “want” of the people causing the terror.

    This is the danger of magical thinking and why it is not harmless for Uri Geller and those like him to go around performing magic tricks and preaching his philosophy of “all you need is to want.”

    The “Christian” following Geller in the clip was truly following in Geller’s philosophical footsteps, taking magical thinking to the next level.

  14. Andrei, You are right!

    Send me $1000 and I’ll do your horoscope, if you enclose a spoon I’ll be very happy to bend with my mind and send it back to you (enclose another $500 for the spoon bending).
    ;-)

  15. Woopity doo! I already link to all the Shermer/Randi/Plait/Pinker/Pigliucci media pages from that site individually on my blog which I haven’t been around to.

  16. Michelle Rochon

    Oh yea! I actually remember finding that place not that long ago!

    I downloaded like crazy. :)

  17. Tara Mobley

    Thanks for the links, Phil. I’ve been curious about the Uri Geller debunking for a while now and have wanted to see it.

  18. Irishman

    Gee, look how quickly Bill Perron jumps on a Randi-bashing. Nothing new to see here. Move along.

  19. You can ignore Bill Perron. He is abusive, so I delete his comments (like the one Irishaan mentions) if they get through the spam filter.

  20. Don’t tell me, we are all a bunch of Randibots…

  21. Dave Simpson

    I posted this on the comment thread about the poster sale, but I don’t think too many people saw it;

    Phil,

    Before you go overboard for this guy (Randi), you might want to take a look at what a fellow astronomer and skeptic thought of Randi’s CSICOP organization and some of their tactics -

    http://cura.free.fr/xv/14starbb.html

  22. Troy

    From what I’ve heard about James Randi in the past he seems to reserve himself from saying that anything Uri Gellar does is specifically fake, instead he says he can do the same thing with trickery. I’m not so generous. It is amazing that frauds like Uri Gellar and Peter Popoff are still around after being exposed. Keep up the good work James Randi. What daily newspapers need is a daily dose of James Randi instead of that inane astrology column.

  23. Irishman

    Thanks for posting that, Dave. I looked that up not long ago after repeated prodding from Bill Perron. Funny thing is Bill was so adamant that we all read it but he couldn’t be bothered to post a link.

    You have to remember that article is one side of the argument. While it certainly paints a bad picture of CSICOP and several key players (Randi included), it is just one person’s account.

    I look at the bulk of work to which I know and evaluate it all as a whole. And from what I read in that article, it speaks far more about Kurtz and Abell than it does Randi.

  24. Dave Simpson

    Re what Irishman said -

    Yes, it sure does. Randi, although coming off as either a flake or (possibly) just noncomittal – doesn’t hold a candle to the orthodoxy of Kurtz and Abell. And, as I found out awhile ago, Rawlins is hardly the first real scientist to leave that organization in disgust.

    My gut feeling is that if a lot of the “honorary” members were aware of the total lack of objectivity, they’d quickly divorce themselves from that parody. I find it disappointing that an organization which so boldly claims to be objective, scientific, and worthy of our trust should behave in such an egregious manner. After having read Rawlins account, it no longer suprises me that they willfully ignore things like the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab.

    I really didn’t have an opinion one way or the other about James The Amazing Randi until I read the account; now it seems that he’s simply one of a bunch of ersatz skeptics with an agenda – self promotion.

    And about it being just one side of the argument – I’m really eager to see how Kurtz, et al. can distance themselves from this one, given the documentation that Rawlins has provided.

  25. Dave, you seem to form your opinion about Randi from just one person’s account of events.
    There is nothing bad about self promotion. There is no other way to fight the people who swamp and pollute the internet, bookshops and pharmacies with lies, deception and swindles, all just to fill their own pockets with money from trusting people.

    Anyone with a sound mind would distance themselves from PEAR.

  26. Dave Simpson

    Well, at some level, is necessary for many people; else they wouldn’t be employed. However, when the self-promotion takes precedence over truth, (as it certainly seems to have in the Starbaby saga) we usually say that the person involved isn’t displaying a scientific attitude.

    I’m interested to find out why you said that about PEAR. Have I missed something? I’m truly interested, as it seemed that they had some fairly valid statistics. (Note: I’m studying pure math, not statistics, so it’s entirely possible my impression is incorrect).

    The only reason I give Dr. Rawlins credence is his voluminous documentation, and the somewhat dispassionate way he relates the incidents. The sum of the incidents is clearly not an isolated instance of accidental happenings; it’s a clear pattern of incompetent (at best) or egregious (at worst) behavior. It’s clear to me that he’s qualified to speak about the subject at hand, and unless Kurtz et al. have a really convincing explanation as to why all his requests and warnings were ignored, their behavior indicates the antithesis of a scientific attitude. Have they ever addressed these claims? If so, I’ll peruse the reply immediately. I rather suspect not, since it would be very difficult for them to explain away his written documentation. But if so, please inform – I’ve been wrong before.

  27. PEAR have been at it for 27 years and only produced data that show a minor (their word) impact of the human mind on a graph. There does not appear to be any detailed description of exactly how these data was produced.

    My opinion is: of around 6 billion people living on earth now, not one have produced any evidence of being able to control anything other than her/his body with the mind, unaided by technology.

    Again, you only use one source of evidence. Have you looked through the commentary archive on the JREF site?
    http://www.randi.org/
    I recommend it, he is truly going after people who is trying to con other people.

  28. Ha ha, just checked above link to JREF site and saw he had an entry on PEAR.
    http://www.randi.org/jr/2006-04/042806boots.html#i2

  29. Dave Simpson

    Thanks for the info on PEARL; I guess I’ll have to talk to some stats people here (UIC) to find out what the weak links are specifically. (When I get time.) But I won’t be mentioning it again until I do.

    When you say one source of evidence, do you mean Rawlins? I’m open to reading what anyone has said in defense of CSICOP regarding his arguments…

  30. Dave Simpson

    Found an interesting rebuttal, but it took quite a bit of fishing.

    http://www.matarese.com/matarese-files/3782/crybaby-philip-klass/index.html

  31. Dave Simpson

    …but another vote for Rawlins, by another fellow who resigned….

    http://www.discord.org/~lippard/kammann.html

    Guess I’ll never know.

  32. Dave Simpson

    More on Klass -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_J._Klass

    the “talk” section was rather pointed.

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