Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions, by James Randi

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on September 18, 2009

Flim-FlamMany people mistakenly believe that scientists are the best people to test of the paranormal. After all, scientists get their name from their assiduous use of the scientific method, which has proven to be the most powerful tool ever conceived to reveal the workings of the natural world. The key difference here is in the word “natural.” Scientists rely on replicating the published experiments of their colleagues, expecting to get the same or similar results. They never have to worry if nature is lying. Nature can be reluctant to reveal her secrets, but she always tells the truth.

Not so people. People lie frequently. Sometimes harmlessly, other times maliciously. Indeed, magicians make a living entertaining us with a form of lying–deception. That’s what makes magicians the best people to investigate claims of the paranormal, because always, the demonstrated feats of those who claim to be harnessing paranormal powers can be replicated by magicians who claim no such powers.

Take Uri Geller, the Israeli con man who claimed to have special powers that allowed him to bend spoons and guess the contents of sealed containers, among other parlor tricks. An accomplished magician can accomplish these same feats with standard magician’s tricks. Who do you think is telling the truth?

The author, James Randi, along with magic-enthusiast Johnny Carson, famously disgraced Geller on Carson’s The Tonight Show, simply by asking him to perform the feat he claimed he could do, but eliminating his ability to cheat.

Paranormal liars can cause real harm. Just one example is so-called “psychic surgery,” the practitioners of which claim to be able to painlessly reach into a person’s body and pull out a diseased organ or a tumor, leaving no trace of an incision. Watching a demonstration is remarkable and not for the squeamish. However, as this book clearly shows, anyone with the inclination, a little red food coloring and some bits of raw chicken can duplicate the “surgery” very convincingly.

This book is filled with examples of how innocent (and often highly intelligent) people are deceived into believing that which is not true, for the monetary benefit of charlatans (and, admittedly, some “true believers”).

There’s a surefire way anyone claiming to have paranormal powers can make lots of money: Take the Randi Challenge. One million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate such powers under scientifically controlled circumstances. Reading this book, you can understand why Randi believes his money will stay in the bank.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mocking Otter September 23, 2009 at 3:55 pm

James Randi is a recipient of a Macarthur “Genius” grant. He is also the person responsible for the JREF Challenge, which promises $1 million to anyone who can demonstrate paranormal abilities under laboratory conditions. (Famous psychic Sylvia Browne agreed on the Larry King show to accept this challenge, yet never has.)

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