Saturday, October 11, 2008

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New York gets Randi

James Randi speaking in NYCLast night, the New York City Skeptics hosted a guest lecture by famous skeptic James Randi, and it was a very entertaining evening. Mr Randi talked about faith healing, homeopathy, and assorted other related things. He showed clips of some of his old appearances on the Johnny Carson show, including one in which he exposed a “faith healer”, Peter Popoff, who got tips from his wife through a wireless earpiece — they discovered the transmission frequency and listened in, and overlaid the audio onto the video of the faith healer in action.

What he said about that video that I thought was saddest — or maybe scariest — though not really surprising was that after the show was broadcast, hundreds of people called and wrote, wanting to know how to contact Popoff. Even after seeing the sham exposed, what people remembered was not the fakery but the “healing”. And, of course, fraud Popoff is still in business and making more money than ever, some 20 years later (I won’t link his web site here, but you can find it in the Wikipedia entry).

The audio of the talk should be available soon on the NYC Skeptics’ web site. I’ll try to remember to update this with the link when it’s there.

2 comments:

W.M. Irwin said...

I like Randi. There's just too much paranormal nonsense going on around us, and he serves a great public service in exposing it. But, like you, it's not just the fraud perpetrators that concern me: we'll always have those. It's the enormous level of gullibility and wishful thinking among the general population that makes me fear for our future. For people like these can be manipulated not just by modern-day versions of snake-oil hucksters, but also by demagogic politicians and media extremists as well.

Frisky070802 said...

Randi gave the keynote to USENIX'98 when I chaired the conference. It was a pleasure! I still remember him giving a talk at Bell Labs a year or two earlier, with a stunt involving a particular page of a particular book ...