Saturday, September 30, 2006

Skeptic Podcast with Shermer and Randi

"I can't understand that at all! Why would you be proud of such an abilitiy to believe in spite of the lack of evidence?" - James Randi
` In this new podcast, Swoopy has a cold (as I do). Michael Shermer (boy, he moves fast!) and magician/skeptic James Randi are discussing wonderful things that are - it's true, I'd say! - a crime to edit.
` The interview is recorded on a skeptic cruise in the Bermuda Triangle. According to Randi, ten years ago he started his anti-trickster organization, James Randi Educational Foundation. He still talks about how rewarding it is for people to come up to him and say 'Thank you! You really turned my way of thinking around!'
` And what kind of thinking are they referring to? I have transcribed some of the more interesting and entertaining chunks from the show, including some funny anecdotes about claimants of amazing abilities - like this one:
Shermer: "In ten years of vetting challenges for the million dollar prize, what are some of the weirder ones you've gotten?"

Randi: "...Some of them are not quite so weird. People think they can do something very directly and straightforward. Those we get rid of easily. Do it. Oh, doesn't work. Do it again. Oop, doesn't work. And after a certain number of tries... they will often say this 'Gee, maybe it doesn't work.'
` "I always sort of sigh at that because I know fifteen minutes later they will come back and say 'Oh, but it's because it was Thursday, and Thursday is a bad day for me, I should never have tried this on a Thursday.' So they always have some sort of excuse."

Shermer: "Oh this guy contacted me a few weeks ago, said he could live on sunshine alone.... So I said; 'To win a million dollars Randi would probably put you in a room somewhere with some people to watch you to so that you don't cheat. He said, 'Well I do have coffee now and then,' and I said, 'Well... Randi would give you a little bit of coffee each day'. He goes 'I also have chocolate once in a while.'...."

Randi: "I don't know whether coffee and chocolate is enough to keep you alive for long.... Breathairians in general are people who - for those who may not know - either they say that they can get along on water alone, or on nothing. And it's the people on nothing I'd really like to test. Because you can't survive very long without water intake. ...The woman Jasmine, she was tested on a TV program....
` "They put her through this test, and they figured that if she went five days without water and food, that she would be showing serious signs, and they had a doctor attending to her. The doctor had the final say as to whether or not she should give it up. Well of course after three and a half days or so, the doctor says 'it's getting critical, now she's gonna die'. And she said 'No, no, no, ha ha *cough-cough* I'm perfectly alright.'
` ...I have denied these people the privelage of being tested by the JREF for the million dollar prize simply because it endangers their lives. I would be happy to let one of these guys go all the way through and die in front of me and say 'Hello? You haven't won! Hello?' I get so impatient with these people, I get very angry at them because they're either total idiots, they're fools, they're not responsible people, in which case maybe they should go away someplace. Or, they are blatant fakes:
` "Now, we found the guy in San Francisco years ago, before the JREF existed, where we watched outside the Holiday Inn in the car and fell asleep, we took turns watching the door, and it wasn't like six or eight hours into the thing, at four o clock in the morning, that we found him going across the street to the local hot dog stand and loading up a bag, and of course he said at that time he was only going to inhale the aroma. Yeah right, get the vibrations from it. But that sort of terminated that experiment and I thought to myself; 'What am I - a reasonably intelligent guy - doing, waiting in a car in a parking lot to see if the guy comes out to get food? This is not my place in life! Doing stupid things like this and going along with stupid people! So, ya have to know when to draw a line here...."
` Lou and I are now laughing at the story about the time that a team of eleven dowsers' abilities 'went wrong', all at the same time! One guy did say that perhaps they were mistaken in their abilities - after all, they had been tested under their own conditions! Wow! They had gotten one out of eleven to admit that perhaps they had duped themselves: They'd never got a score that high before!
` Then, less than twenty minutes after they had left, the formerly-doubting dowser called them from a payphone outside and said that the electromagnetic interference from their walkie-talkies had interfered! Forget that EM radiation strongly floods the air everywhere in the first place!
` Lou also admires Richard Feynman who showed that he knew he could be deceived when he was indeed tricked by Randi. Some PhDs, on the other hand, think that they are an authority because they believe something crazy.
` And the crazy things they believe! Here, Randi talks about faith healers:
"The faith healers I'm sure, many of them - if not all of them - can start out... believing... that they're really doing something because they see people apparently recovering in front of them! Hallelujah! Then, if they actually get to visit these people, or these people get to visit them... they start to find out, they suddenly say, 'Wait a minute! These people aren't healed; they believe they're healed but they're not healed!' and then they go along with it anyway because it's a huge income.
` Interestingly, W.V. Grant's father was a faith healer, and so he knew it was a fake. But, being a sociopath, he decided to go into it knowing it was fake! Now, that's twisted! But not everyone is that way about such abilities. Michael Shermer said that a guy called him and said that he realized that psychic abilities are mostly fake - such as psychic phone scams - but he's still leaving his mind open to certain things.
` Ohhh... Randi has some screwed-up transcripts of Miss Cleo where she goes silent for minutes at a time and then says something very unprofound, such as; 'I'm getting an M'. It's all because she's paid by the minute.
` Besides psychic frauds, Randi is famous for once and for all pulling the cover off of faith healer Peter Popoff:
"...Popoff... is purporting to have visions from heaven and hearing a voice from heaven that told him about the illness of these people. No, he was picking it up on a short wave receiver. Now, that's positive material evidence. But did anyone do anything about it? No. Not one lawgiver, not one authority stepped forward to say 'wait a minute! That's fraud! This man should be behind bars'... He's lying to people, he's cheating, he's stealing their money, he's... it's a racket! It's a scam! But nobody stepped forward.
` "I did a hell of a job... it's the one thing I'm proudest of was what Carson did with me... is to expose Peter Popoff, and what his gimmick was. And it was so blatant, the proof was there. Carson never quite got over that, every time we talked on the phone, even following his retirement, he used to say; "I can't get Popoff out of my head! He's back in business! I can't believe he's back in business! We put him out of business, but he's back in business!' And I kept saying, 'Johnny, that's the way it is, these are unsinkable rubber duckies, because no one in authority will do anything about it, and that really makes me angry!...' [Why?] ...'Oh, does he talk about Jesus?' 'Yes' 'That's okay then, we don't touch religion.'"
` And here is a very disturbing anecdote where an undercover Randi is investigating one of Benny Hinn's faith healing extravaganzas, and is sitting at a table in a restaurant, when he looks over at another table:
"There was a woman in there, sobbing, a very large elderly woman, sobbing, and she had her friend... sitting with her. I could hear her clearly: 'But I've been to eleven of the meetings now, I've followed him all over the United States and now into Canada, and I'm trying to get up on the stage. I need to be healed. I need his help. And they keep me back, they won't let me up there. And I keep giving money... all the time, I've [bought his] CDs...' and her companion leaned across and she says 'But dear, you haven't given everything yet. And Jesus requires that you give your all.'
` "...I was so angry, seething! Michael, I was so angry that... it frightens me that I can get that angry... at these people! Never mind Benny Hinn. He's the only instigator... he's the one who's getting the money. But these people are being so... bloody stupid to go along with this kind of thing, to allow themselves to be taken to this depth!
` "...After I did the exposure of Peter Popoff on the Carson Show, they [believers] wrote me and said 'Oh, God Bless you. I've now changed over to Reverend So-and-So. In other words, they want, they want to give their money, they want to throw their money at these people.... Incredible! They just want to be fleeced! These are lambs alright... 'Here, shear me! ... Take me all the way, I am your lamb!' Yeah sure. The analogy in the Bible about the Shepherd leading the lambs. Yeah, to slaughter, yes!"
` He is fairly good at uncovering scams, and yet look how he is represented by much of the popular media:
"The media, they don't give a damn! Look at what... ABC... Primetime did to me, getting me into New York and taping me for an hour and a half about John of God, and I had all the explanations for the so-called miracles of John of God, I had them right there on videotape and I had them in person, I had the affidavits, all the evidence. They didn't look at any of it! And they used something I did, a total of nineteen seconds of my entire interview.
` "But doctor Mehmet Oz... a heart surgeon, cardiac specialist, and I'm told one of the top people in the field, is a woo-woo who has therapeutic touch people wandering around his operating room, will step back from the person on which he's operating at the moment so they can pass their hands over the wounds and such and then move on. This is strictly woo-woo! This is strictly supersition, mythology, it's nonsense! [Referring to the old trick of shoving foreceps four inches into the nostrils:] ...And he gave his physical explanations for it [that it may stimulate the pituitary gland], and I showed on my website, in detail, that he was wrong, absolutely wrong!
` "He didn't even know enough about the construction of the head to know that what he was purporting to provide as an explanation for what John of God might be doing was absolutely wrong, it doesn't happen. It's an old carnival stunt. But ABC didn't accept any of that, and they made John of God look good.... [All for ratings, of course.] 'Hey the sponsor loves it, people were tuned in, great, I sold a lot of cars.' Whatever the bottom line is, it's the dollar."
` Quite unlike John Stossel on ABC. Although, as for Barbara Walters....
"She just is not perhaps as well-informed... I wish she'd come to me in advance... and I could set her up in such a way that she would have more information available to her. But maybe she makes the assumption that her writers and producers are going to provide her with that information, and they're not, they're going to with information that they want her to put out there."
` He also had much to say about homeopathy - which Lou (who had told me that the government was suppressing homeopathy) thought was interesting:
"I don't have much faith in the State Department, or in the U.S. Government.... I appeared in front of a congressional auditorium full of congressional aides, congressman, and whatnot, oh so many years ago, and I ate something like forty times the lethal dose of sleeping tablets right in front of them... and I told them what homeopathy was all about, and I got a lot of questions... 'Really? Is that what it's about?' But nothing happened, Michael! ... Not one of those... government officials went into action and said 'Wait a minute, we've got to do something about what this man, James Randi told us about.'
` "...And when I went to... Oslo, they were having a meeting there... to discuss whether homeopathy would be made part of the European Union's accepted range of medicine, and they asked me to go into Oslo, and I had Nobel Laureates and all kinds of people sititng in front of me, expressing their astonishment. When I told them what homeopathy actually is, [Shermer is laughing] what the doses are, they're not vanishingly small, they were vanished, long ago! And they knew about Avagadro and such, but they were... saying 'Really? There isn't any content in it?' 'No, there isn't, there's nothing there but vibrations,' and they were looking around like 'what do they mean by vibrations?' 'You ask them, don't ask me!' But the point is, does it work, no it does not work. And nothing was done about that, either!"
` He's also had much experience with researchers for psychic abilities:
"My contacts with scientists, who often, as they did in Russia, they took me in, big embraces and whatnot 'Oh, we're so happy to have you here,' they end up being rather unhappy. ...Like this poor graduate student... young fellow after I did the NOVA program, they took me over there and we did some double-blind tests of a so-called psychic, and they didn't know what double-blind tests were all about! [Um!!]
` "But I imposed double-blind techniques on the testing procedure, and of course the psychic didn't get anywhere. And this graduate student wrote me and he said that he had resigned from the Mind/Brain Institute in Russia, in Moscow... he said because their chief operating officer... told them that obviously, these double-blind techniques don't work, so they were going to discontinue them.
` "...No, they didn't prove what he wanted to prove, they didn't give him the evidence that he preferred! And therefore they're going to discontinue, so far as I know the Brain/Mind institute in Moscow is still continuing on doing these silly things and discovering what they think is information and isn't. ...Good science is just simply good science, but there is no such thing as bad science because at that point it's not science."
` I'd stop right there, but I thought I'd sneak one last part in: This definitely rings a bell with my own former beliefs in paranormal phenomena and how they could fit in with a vague-sounding science called quantum theory:
"They're very busy working out theories and of course they... adore quantum ideas. 'It's quantum, you see, it's very mysterious so we don't really understand it.' Sure. But we do understand quantum theory. The fact that quantum physicists and quantum people in general, use strange terminology, they're using the Enlgish lanugage.... What? A particle has charm? It has a flavor? It has color? These are English words used in a different way. That's what makes it so mystical. But it is not mystical. It's very much down to earth and real, and it has a good basis in rationality and in fact, so it is not mystical."
` Indeed. I had always reasoned that quantum physics had rendered things such psychic abilities into the range of the normal, rather than the paranormal, just as Randi said would happen if they were demonstrated to be genuine.
` But, I was eventually disappointed to learn that such things have not been done. Boy was I angry about being tricked, and boy did I feel stupid!

` Now, what was I talking about? Oh yeah.... if you're so compelled, listen to the whole thing!! And, while you're at it... watch some videos of Randi being Amazing in the post just below!

1 comment:

Galtron said...

That is the best interview ever! Crazy people who believe they can live on sunlight!Waaa haaa!!! That's so funny!

It's horrible how ABC Primetime just ignored everything he had to say abotu John Of God! They weren't doing their jobs! They need a good spanking!
...And the leader of the psychic institute refusing to use double-blind studies because they don't show psychic ability!? Never mind that double blind studies are the only way you can make sure nobody is cheating!

Is there anything on the recording you haven't mentioned?