Thursday, November 21, 2013

The roots of my disillusionment with 'official skeptics'

There were several contributing events, all similar in one point: 'official' skeptics prove to be so in name but not in actuality. This is one of the events, involving James Randi, whom I still admire.

James Randi had a long feud with Uri Geller regarding spoon bending. Now, I used to do a lot of spoon bending myself before I got a OXO Good Grips ice-cream scoop, but that's not the type of spoon bending that got Mssrs Randi and Geller at loggerheads.

Mr Geller claimed he had paranormal powers, which he demonstrated by bending spoons. Mr. Randi implied (for legal reasons he couldn't outright state) that Mr Geller was in fact using prestidigitation. (For a moment ignore the obvious question of why someone with paranormal powers would use them to bend eating utensils instead of, say, make a fortune on Wall St.) You'd think that Mr. Randi would explain how the trick is done, so that the audience could check whether Mr. Geller was in fact using that trick.

No. Mr. Randi invoked the Magician's Code and declined to explain how the trick is done. (FYI: you bend the spoon with finger pressure or against a table, takes a bit of practice to do it without other people noticing, and even with practice they will notice if they're looking for it.) So, here is Mr. Randi, allegedly a skeptic, asking his audience to accept on faith that there exists such a trick that Mr Geller could be using.

When Mr. Randi replicated his great feat of spoon bending, allegedly using a trick, Mr. Geller took advantage of Mr Randi's adherence to the Magician Code to say that Mr. Randi was in fact using his -- Randi's -- paranormal powers. All because Mr. Randi's argument relied on the audience's faith, not a testable proposition.

Now, that's ironic.

-- -- -- --
Note: this vignette was part of the post "Fed up with 'trust us, we're experts' science," but it detracted from the point of that post so I separated it into its own post.