Unfortunately I did not write my contribution to the Accretionary Wedge #2 (How the Earth Can Kill You). I am going to post this thought though. although I understand it is a poor replacement. Read the Accretionary Wedge first, there are some excellent contributions this time around, then you can come back here.
During an ad break in a football game Sunday I overheard a promotion for a new show on NBC, called Phenomenon, which is allegedly in search of the world’s new “mentalist”. The show is starring Chris Angel (who had a magic, err, excuse me, mentalism show called MindFreak where he entertained with a “distinct blend of magic, mentalism, and dazzling pyrotechnic effects”) and Uri Geller. That’s right, wanna-be magician, swindler, liar, and all around jackass Uri Geller is trying to make a comeback. For those of you who don’t know who Uri Geller is, (or why he is always standnig around with an ED-afflicted spoon) he came to fame in the 70’s with his claims of psychic abilities, including his most famous illusion, bending a spoon with his “mind.” The folks over at the Denialism Blog have a nice summary and two exceptional videos showing 1) Geller getting debunked live on the Tonight Show thanks to tips from skeptic and debunker-of-BS James Randi, and 2) One of Geller’s “secrets” getting caught on camera.
Even though Geller was before my time, I know of him primarily through my brother, who became a big fan of Randi’s when we were young. My parents also took us to a live show where James Randi was the main speaker (and where my brother got to be the person who held the magic spoon as it was bent and broken by Randi’s “mind”). I have no problem at all with illusionists, I think they can be entertaining, but whenever anyone tries to pass off their tricks as proof of supernatural abilities, well, that’s just too much. People like Geller (or even worse Peter Popov, also featured in the videos I linked to) often use their tricks and personality to swindle people. Although these are two extremes, I think these characters and their techniques speak volumes about our role as scientists in society. We do not know everything, we aren’t always right, and science has been used for plenty of bad reasons, but one of our duties, I believe, is to single out and call Shenanigans (or BS) when applicable. Although many things we see are not as blatant as Geller or Popov, they can be much more dangerous. Most pseudoscience is really just a slight variation on their themes, misdirection and manipulation. We see it with the ID crowd, the young-earth crowd, the “CO2 is life” crowd, it’s really the same idea, misdirect and make it so there appears to be only one possible answer. I think the use of the term “irreproducible complexity” (a Beheism) is a direct analog to the “mentalist” illusion; It must be ESP/Supernatural Forces, what other explanation is there?!?!?
What is most baffling to me is this: Geller’s whole spoon thing is completely debunked, so how does he get away with it? Maybe that is his real magic trick, convincing people to continue to believe his BS even when he’s been outed a thousand times. Popov at least went bankrupt, but now Geller gets a new show?
And finally, am I the only one who is convinced that Uri Geller was the inspiration for Gob Bluth from Arrested Development, perhaps the funniest American television show of the last 5 years? You be the judge, can you guess who is who?