Ray Hyman – The Elusive Quarry

June 05, 2009

Ray Hyman is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon and one of the leading figures of modern skepticism. He was a founding member of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly CSICOP). He has been a consultant with the U.S. Department of Defense, helping investigate parapsychology for the government and is the author of many books, such as The Elusive Quarry, and many articles in the scholarly literature, such as his popular manuscript that teaches people how to appear to have psychic powers by using “cold reading.” A former magician and mentalist, he has been featured on the cover of The Linking Ring, the magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. Hyman was a co-recipient of the 2005 Robert P. Balles Prize in Critical Thinking, and also CSI’s In Praise of Reason Award. For almost 20 years, he has run the popular Skeptics Toolbox, which trains rationalists in the best methods of advancing skepticism in our society.

In this conversation with D.J. Grothe, Ray Hyman recounts the history of his many critiques of the various Ganzfeld Experiments, which are scientific tests of psychic ability. He details his assessments of the later “Auto Ganzfeld experiments.” He shares his evaluations of other various research projects in parapsychology, and levels criticism against some skeptics who have too hastily dismissed parapsychology’s findings. He talks about his beginnings as a magician-debunker, and as a mentalist, and how he got involved in applying magic to his skeptical investigation of parapsychological claims. He explores whether or not the government should make fortune-telling illegal. He explains how leading scientists can believe in the claims of parapsychology, even without sufficient evidence. He describes some of his experiences with Uri Geller. He talks about the ethical implications of teaching non-magicians the art of cold-reading. He reveals ethical problems he has had with the Psychic Entertainers Association, and how giving psychic readings may cause real harm to clients. And he talks about how he may disagree with James Randi as regards the usefulness of magicians in conducting psychic research.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, June 5th, 2009. 

Welcome to Point of Inquiry, I’m DJ Grothe fee point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. My guest this week is Ray Hyman, one of the leading figures in modern skepticism. He’s professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon and a noted critic of parapsychology. Along with others like Paul Kurtz and James Randi and Carl Sagan, he was a founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, now called the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Ray has been a consultant with the U.S. Department of Defense helping investigate parapsychology for the government. He’s the author of many books, such as The Elusive Quarry and also many articles in the scholarly literature. One of his most popular manuscripts teaches people how to appear to have psychic powers by using cold reading. A former magician and mentalist, he’s been featured on the cover of the Linking Ring, the magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He is co recipient of the Robert Balas Prize in Critical Thinking, awarded by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and also CSI Eyes in Praise of Reason Award. For almost 20 years, he’s run the popular skeptic’s toolbox, which trains rationalists in the best methods of advancing skepticism in our society. Ray Hyman, it’s a real pleasure to have you on point of inquiry. Welcome to the show. I’m glad to be here, Professor. 

Today, I’d like to talk about a couple things. Mostly your book, The Elusive Quarry, one of the classic works and modern skepticism. I’d like to let our listeners know it’s available through our Web site point of inquiry dot org. Well, Professor, in this book, you write about, among other things, the Gan’s Felde experiments. Let’s start off by you telling me what those were, how you got involved. 

The gun failed experiments they called the gun failed because that’s a German word, which means total field. But it was used in psychology to describe the fact that when you say put ping pong balls over people’s eyes or otherwise make their visual field sort of like looking into a frog and having to sit down quietly, they quickly seem to go into an altered state. That’s called the gun failed state. The parapsychologists got the idea that, hey, one of the problems of picking up psychic signals is that there’s a lot of noise from the outside world going on. And if you put them in this darn failed state that cuts down the noise from the outside world and allows the psychic signal as they see it, to be easier to pick up. 

And these experiments were conducted by a number of researchers over many years, and a lot of parapsychologists saw the evidence as pointing in the direction that there was indeed such a thing as extrasensory perception. 

Well, the first dance of experiments were done in 1974. And in about 1980, early 80s, I was asked to do different reasons to evaluate the status of parapsychology. The best evidence for it. So I looked around and I contacted parapsychologists because my feeling is that one of the problems with the critiques of parapsychology is that most of the critics, including any of my friends, I must admit, don’t know what they’re talking about. They attacked parapsychology at its weakest, and they have not paid attention to the fact that many of the parapsychologists have scientific training and try to do scientifically good experiments. 

So that’s your criticism of skepticism, organized skepticism? It’s kind of a knee jerk skepticism and not in the best spirit of science, you’re saying? 

Exactly. And they were asking for the wrong reasons. And I had another nay nay. But some of that some of the greatest skeptics say they’re my best friends in many ways, and they’ve been my mentors in many ways. 

I found that when I read their critiques, I, I believe them for a while. But then when I was asked to investigate this area, I was surprised to find it. The work in parapsychology was much better than they had represented it. They ignored the good work and focused on the bad. And so my feeling was that, hey, if we’re going to evaluate this thing and critique it, let’s look at it as best, resinous worst. 

And you looked at it at its best, these Gonzales books in the 1980s when I did my first ballet, my first serious attempt to evaluate the field of parapsychology as a whole was in nineteen fifty seven. So we’re going way back. 

And I was a young fellow then, I was at Harvard and had been a lifelong skeptic even as a kid, because Whodini had been my my hero. I was a magician. And Whodini had gone out and debunked a lot of psychic claims. And I felt that with a magician, the magician must do so. I, even as a kid, was spending my time debunking psychic claims, so to speak. And so but 1957, when I was at Harvard, I was asked by the who was a big feud in Paris psychology. A science had devoted seven pages to review of what was then considered the best parapsychological experiment ever done. And it was very bad, nasty review and accused the. It said the review basically said that, hey, if you really look at the experiments that parapsychologist have done are good experiments and they make their case by scientific standards. But since we know that this can’t be true. And here the writing and the his name was Price said, if you look at David Hume’s article on Miracles and Thomas Paine in that No. Made famous during our Revolutionary War against England. All right. Thomas Paine also admitted that, you know, if thousands, even millions of people say they saw a miracle, that miracle is by definition is going against the grain of even more observations by scientists and other people who’s who’s shown that miracles can exist in a way. 

So you straddle the fence when it came to God’s Felde experiments and and others, because on the one hand, you criticize the organized skeptics movement for being too knee-jerk in their dismissal. But on the other hand, you went into it with a hardened skepticism along the lines of what you just mentioned in terms of human. 

You may be open minded and I always try to be fair. 

And what I did when I was asked, by the way, this debate was created because science had bent and pressed it and seven pages, 30 pages for a book review by the man prize. And as a result, it created a furor. And they had a revolt that did the January 19, January 1956, I think issue two rebuttals and back and forth on. You know, they usually science didn’t do anything like that. This is quite a thing. 

And at that time, William Allen was he was the editor of the Journal of the American Statistical Association, met me when I was writing my book on what? Twitching. I was at the Center for Advanced Learning at Stanford. He he said, look, Ray, you’re the best guy I can think of to do an article for the Journal of the American Fiscal Association, which can settle this issue once and for all. You’re a statistician. You’re a psychologist, experimental psychologist. You’re a magician. And those qualities, I just seem to be the right qualities. Sweet for someone to go and evaluate this issue. 

And what did you conclude after. 

No, you haven’t been to go and look at it. So I read not only this book by the book by Solen Bateman, but I also read Bagnolet Ryan’s work. And this is why I came to the conclusion, my God, these guys are doing better work than it being. You know, their statistics are the most sophisticated than they’re given credit for. They do controlled experiments. They do all kinds of stuff. And they’ve done a lot of stuff which I had never heard of before. You know, it was I had thought I would do what my fellow critics had described. And I took their word for what was going on. So I was surprised by that. However, when I looked at it very carefully, I decided, hey, did Bislama going on? And then the critics are saying, but if you look at this in a sophisticated way, there are problems with the work that the parapsychologist are doing. So I ended up saying that, look, there are things wrong with their work very seriously wrong, but they are not the things that they are being accused of. 

I see you argued that there were flaws with the research, but not the not the kind of issues that made them be dismissed by the knee-Jerk skeptic, Jacqui. 

Exactly. In fact, on many grounds, they would be accused of misusing statistics and so on. But actually, they were better. Many of them were better statisticians than their critics in terms of their knowledge of statistics. 

So where does it all come out regarding the guns? Felde experiments even now? 

In 1985, I was again 1980s. I was asked by the I tripped Billy there major journals for the first time. They had published an article by Robert. John, which was pro parapsychology, and it created a furor because that generally is generally conservative. You know, it’s in International Electrical Engineering Journal. It’s the major journal. Right. And a lot of the readers are really upset that they had allowed this pro parapsychological article in your journal. 

So they asked me. They they gave me to. Very interesting task. They asked if I would write a tutorial. That’s what they called it. Cantorial for their members, their readership on parapsychology from a critical point of view, of course. And they gave me unlimited space. Which was unusual. So that was one reason I got into this to take a serious look at it again. And then I was at the same time, I was also asked by some other people to do to do with some sort of overview of the field. And so I took time out. I didn’t think it would take that long. And it actually ended up I took almost three years to go through the work. What I did was I said, look, I want to look at parapsychology at its very best. So I contacted parapsychologist. I said, what is the best work that you’ve got going? But what what is the best that you have? 

And so what was the best research that they held up when you ask that question with, again, failed experiments? 

I had only known about the first one and I, in fact, had already written a critique of the very first one had been published, which was 1974. But by then they had been about forty five or so guys, failed experiments that had been done and uniformly did. Parapsychologists said, look, the failed experiments are yet they are repeatable, they are sound and they produce good results. And so I contacted Charles Onegin, who had done the very first one, and he was happy to have a critic like myself get involved with that. And so he took it upon himself to dig up every Gasso experiment ever done up to 1982 or so. 

And he not only not he sent me the published ones, but also that he dug up Zeron published ones, and he sent me what turned out to be he gave a huge stack. I think it was 500 pages more of material. And took me quite a while to go through it. And I was impressed at first because every major parapsychologist had done some at least one Dunfield experiment. So several laboratories delegating good results, very good results consistently. 

So, Ray, if if they held this up as the best that parapsychology had and and you were initially impressed with the evidence, did it persuade you? Did you then, you know, believe in what psychic powers after you looked at this evidence? 

I went through every one of those experiments. I said ahead of time criteria. I had twelve objective criteria as a six with statistical and six work dealing with methodology. And if they could pass if any particular study could pass on all six and I said, that’s great. But none of them did. 

Mm hmm. That surprised me because many of these mistakes were ones. It parapsychologists, even in your textbooks, do have textbooks would say you must never make. And here are some of the major parapsychologists making obvious statistical mistakes, making obvious experimental methodological mistakes. And ultimately, it was just overwhelming. I just you know, it wasn’t how the good thing, a good experiment of the 42 that had been delivered to my doorstep. Finally, I wrote, I was up and 1985, the Journal of Parapsychology Lobi whole issue to a debate between onto myself. They had my paper and then the other they left. Actually, they gave in 14 months. It took them and I wasn’t allowed to change anything. But he took 14 months to try and write a rejoinder to my critique. 

And that’s what they published. But what’s fascinating to me is that all the skeptics valley to my side at home and has demolished the parasite go with their best case. The parapsychologist said, look, Charles on Itan has the most time and shown that his criticism is no good. Which which is amazing. The general parapsychologist yellowcake. 

OK, you can have repression and subsequent issue give you room to reply, but then we’re going to give Washington the last word to reply to my reply. I wrote an 85 page rebuttal of his critique of my critique. 

And then I met him in person at some conference and he was almost in tears. He said, How could you say all those nasty things about me? I said, what did I say? That was nasty. I just cited evidence. I said, When you said that I made this mistake. I pointed out that I hadn’t. And so on. And everything I did was objective. And we talked for a while. And it turned out that as we talked, I was surprised he was agreeing with me more. More. And what he ultimately agreed with Mrs. I agree with you that does 42 studies have allowed problems. You say they have, but they have enough problems that by themselves they do not prove the existence of say, well, and this took me by surprise. He said but he said if we could agree on a set of criteria, what would be needed to do them right? Then maybe we can get together rather than have. This continues. He knew we could get together and do a joint article on what was needed to do these things right. And we did. We published Joint Communique. Right. And parapsychologist been delighted by it. I was a little weary of doing this because, you know what? If I commit myself today, if we do this and this and if it is, then I have to leave. That you that you made your case. But anyways, what we did that anyway, we did that joint communique and Oregon came out eventually it came out with the order gone, failed experiments claiming that they they had met my criteria and his and that they were highly significant. 

And this was actually a published in a psychological bulletin, of all places. And it was in that psychological bogon. There was a debate between Dean and Daraban, Hayes’s famous social psychologist who had put his name on his article so it could get published. And it’s like a journal because site journals, the ordinary don’t like to publish anything that’s parapsychological. So we had this debate in the psychological bulletin. And to know the claim that he would need the title of their article was Reputable Evidence. The Viewpoint of Parapsychological Evans right from its beginning 150 years ago is that they’ve been unable to repeat anything Jim Underdown which is the hallmark of good science. Right. Without replicability, don’t have anything. Science has succeeded because it only deals with data that can be independently replicated if it can’t be independent, replicated, can’t do science. You don’t have anything severely. The bottom line in science. Parapsychologists for 150 years have been struggling to get evidence of repeatability. Well, here they claimed, in fact, both in the title of their article was a replicable evidence for the existence of science. 

These are the auto Garns Felde experiment attrite. 

They claimed that the auto Godsell experiments successfully replicated the original gonzo experiments that Otterton and I had debated over Jim Underdown. 

So were they repeatable? Was it good science? 

They claimed it was nice and it was pretty obvious it wasn’t. Let me give an example. The original failed experiments. That was it. I know that. And I debated over. Always uses targets, pictures. But they were static picture. They were simple pictures. The auto Dansville used two kinds of targets. They used video clips. They called dynamic targets. And these static pictures like the original, what happened was in the auto gonta experiments, the static pictures which would direct the replication of the original one, got zilch. The the the guessing against that target was just pure chance. Okay. 

But against the videos, they were they called dynamic targets. 

They got significant. So I said this is not what we call a replicate a successful replication in science. No, because what was close, what was the same as the original experiment did not replicate. Use a new kind of target and you got something on that new kind of target. By the way, I pointed out there were problems with a new kind of target to analyze. 

I found a very peculiar pattern in the data and then he can be cute, cutesy type of guy. Many ways he’s an interesting guy. He replied that, look, if that peculiar idea at home and found in our data holds up, it could be a new marker for say and we want to call it the Heimann effect, asking the what? 

I died in line to see it and say it’s very gratifying. We’re looking at the pad, the pad, and I’d find it today. It would realize that this suggests a very serious flaw in your data Jim Underdown. 

But anyways, I thought it was sufficient to point out that this wasn’t a replication Jim Underdown by definition it wasn’t a replication. 

That’s right. But it turns out I have now known that parapsychologists used the term replication anomaly and things that we use in regular science, these in a special way to them. Anything the matter? Imust agreed. Different pattern in a new set of data. As long as we get significance, then it’s a replication. 

Ray, you mentioned a few minutes ago about how. Were you still consider yourself open minded? But here originally, you got these 42 best cases of the gods failed experiments, and you found them wanting. They weren’t good science, in your view, after you really dug in and looked at it and then the auto guns failed experiments didn’t hold up. So if you looked at all of that, are you still open minded that science may still someday discover evidence of psychic abilities? Or have you just kind of been around the block so much you’ve looked into all of it. You’ve looked so hard so long, never found any convincing evidence. So now you think it’s all right to conclude that such extrasensory abilities just don’t exist? 

Well, logically, you can’t. Absolutely conclude it doesn’t. But I think there’s no question about it that the whole field has failed completely. And it’s not just me now. It turns out that several major parapsychologists, including Bob, John and James Kennedy and so on, they have also taken a position that there’s no way that parapsychological evidence can meet scientific standards as they are currently accepted. But by the way, these people don’t don’t give up their belief in reality. They say they’re just saying that it can’t be demonstrated by science. 

They’re just saying science has rules are too stringent at this time. 

That’s right. In fact, one of the articles by John he published recently was changed the rules since they. This begs the question because he knows that PSI is real, but you can’t demonstrate by current scientific technologies. There must be something wrong with science. So so maybe we should change the rules of science to to allow it to allow fake evidence to be accepted. Well, even though it’s not it’s not replicable. Biology is not replicable. It’s not sustainable as as calls it, because it keeps changing. There’s what they call the decline effect over time began. Gonzo experiments have declined. The effect size is declined to zero. This is true in all the major domains of parapsychology. Over time, the effect declines to zero. We call it the decline effect. They all agree that’s there. They now argue, though, that this is a peculiarity of the phenomena. SCI is is deliberately set for whatever reason is elusive. We try to find it more hides itself. 

It’s like the hiddenness of psychic abilities. And they actually suggest that that’s somehow proof that it exists. The harder it is to find, the more evidence in their heads that it actually exists. 

And now this is a split within current parapsychology. There are other parapsychologists like in Raven and Scott who say, look, we have they talked about their meta analysis. We have demonstrated that say exists that the evidence, they say, is is replicable and and consistent. So this is complete split within the field. Those who admit that the evidence will never be is not only inconsistent and elusive, it never will be consistent. And then as the other group, parasite guys who say, look, we’ve already established reality to say so there maybe they’re the more fundamentalist Sci. believers in a sense. 

Ray, I want to talk a little about the history of science. I mean, here you gave a history of psycho core research in science going back from the 50s. But if you go back even further, you know, 100 years, 150 years ago and you cover this in your book. There are eminent scientists who got involved in paranormal or psychical research, big names in the history of science like Sir William Crookes, Alfred Russell Wallace, who co discovered with Darwin evolution by natural selection. Here’s here’s the question. How could such big names in the history of science be persuaded themselves that the paranormal existed, or at least that it was worth really digging into as a scientific question? 

Well, the simple answer is that they’re human. And secondly, that they have they step outside. They’re what I call the safety net when they work within their particular disciplinary matrix, as Coon calls it. 

In other is, they work in a Wrigley Field like, well, working within biology or evolution and stuff like that. Working within a field. He has a lot colleagues, Darwin, Huxley and so on. And he’s aware of what they’re going to say. They’ve placed checks on what he can and cannot do within the field. So they keep them honest. And it’s the whole point of science that that within your own area that you work, you and your colleagues, you have the peer review system. You have all these facts. I call a safety net. Keeps you from going to. Restraint. When you step outside of that safety net, you don’t have those safeguards. But you don’t realize that because we all admire scientists as individuals. We think of them as individual heroes. Darwin was a hero. Newton was a great hero. And they themselves get the idea that their success is Katari within themselves so they can step. They’re good scientists. They can step into any area and be good scientists. But doesn’t work that way. 

So this criticism that you’re leveling against someone like Wallace, you know, you’re basically saying you should stick to biology, to evolution. You’re out of your domain. You’re out of your area of expertize. When you talk about the paranormal, that sounds like the same criticism that some religious scholars, comparative religionist historians of religion psychologists have religion that they level against someone like Richard Dawkins. Hey, Richard Dawkins, you’re an expert in biology, but you’re you’re not an expert on religion, so you really shouldn’t be talking about that. Do you see the analogy? 

No, I don’t see the analogy at all because science is dealing with facts that you can establish. And as long as religion is not talking about facts that can be established, science, of course, has nothing to say about it. But if a person in the name of religion says, I can heal you, we can measure those things. So sort of the things that science that Halesworth Jim Underdown. Right. And if that’s the scientific question, we can measure it. If they say there is a God and then end to end, where’s the evidence for it, you know? So we can ask the questions. 

You know, from the scientist point of view, if they they’re making certain kinds of claims that the world is only began so long ago and that evolution is not real and separate, then, whereas there’s scientific evidence there stepping into Affeldt when that’s stepping into the sea. 

And indeed, that’s Dawkins response. He says, hey, when you make these kinds of claims about God or religion, they are scientific claims. And I’m just looking at that evidence, finding it wanting. 

I’ve always said that skepticism has nothing to do with religion, but we’re not concerned about what God or not God or what having what we’re concerned about any kinds of claims that are testable and that seem to violate common scientific systems Jim Underdown in that respect. 

The claim that God exists and does X miracles is a scientific claim. 

Well, if they want to say that that it’s real, where’s their evidence? 

Right. Okay. I don’t want to get off track and just talk about God stuff, but I saw an analogy there and wanted your take. 100 years ago, big names could get into these parapsychological fields, even if you’re suggesting they got out of their areas of expertize. But I don’t see as much of that happening today. I’m not a big historian of science. But, you know, we’re all interested in it. Here’s the question. Has science, which at its best is open minded? Has it become so closed minded on these parapsychology topics that today it’s kind of fair boten for a big name scientist to look into these questions? If a big scientist, you know, a serious scientist has a lot of steam and status in his field, comes out as a believer in the paranormal. Wouldn’t he be dismissed by his colleagues if he or she gets into researching those those subjects? Or do I have it all wrong? 

Well, actually, there’s been a lot of scientists who openly or otherwise support paranormal claims. I was at a conference two years ago in B.C. and or two Nobel Prize winners there believe is in parapsychology and supporting the claim to the uranium. There have been lots of people take early gallah. There are several scientists. Some big name ones who seemingly endorses powers. However, they were scientists and they know that you have to have independently replicable evidence under control conditions before you make any kind of claims. And so they did write papers, which they shouldn’t have, even in nature, endorsing Geller in a way. But yet they always said at the end of their article. And this is because of their training as scientists that, look, we know this is not replicable and if these conditions were not ideal, but we believe that when Geller comes back, as we know, he will go to our laboratories, we would they would do the tests of him under better conditions. And we were very confident that we’ll get good results because he never came back. 

Right. And that also sounds like a faith claim. Hey, I’m a scientist. I only look at the evidence. But by the way, I have the faith that when Uri Geller comes back into the lab, the evidence will prove him, right? That’s right. 

You know, Ray, in your book, you also talk about dowsing and remote viewing, supernatural healing. You cover all kinds of topics in the elusive quarry in all of your. Years of doing this. Have you ever been completely stumped by one of these paranormal claims? Have you ever come close to actually being persuaded that the paranormal is real in this or that given instance? 

Well, I would like to have had that experience. I’ve had a lot of experience. I’ve been on government committees. I’m going to look at ladies who for the government who apparently can vote with their hands. I looked at these remote viewers that our government had employed for almost 20 years. I went to all that stuff. I was hoping I’d find something that would stump me. 

But nothing has always been disappointed. These. It surprises me that I’ve never been stumped because every time I go to a magic convention, I get fooled by magicians and I can fool some of them. 

Right. Right. I’m so glad you mentioned magic in addition to being a psychologist and professor. You mentioned you’re a magician. In fact, you’re on this panel with me at the upcoming amazing meeting in Vegas, James Randi’s huge skepticism and critical thinking convention. It’s on magic in skepticism, this panel. Let me ask you a couple questions about magic and how it enters into all of this. You intimated earlier that you were sought out as an expert in these fields because you were a psychologist and a statistician and a magician. Right. So magic somehow gave you a little more expertize, etc.. Let’s go back to your background in magic. Early on, you were, you know, a magician. Before you were a psychologist and a statistician, you did palm reading, of all things as a young man, right? Yes. I have a public policy question about palm reading or fortune telling. Some municipalities, they in the public interest, their outlying psychics, their outlying palm readers, kind of in the public interest on the grounds that these fortune teller folks are fraudulent. They’re bilking the credulous out of their money. As a scientist who’s investigated this kind of stuff, because you believe in the you know, the public learning the truth about it. What’s your take on it? You did palm reading as a young man. Do you agree with the government making it illegal? 

Well, I don’t know about that, actually. I have been asked by her lawyers on both sides of the case to represent you know, there’ve been a lot of Palm readers and other people who have challenged the ordinances in their local cities against these are the basis of free speech or like free exercise of religion. 

You know, fortune-telling is the religion of some of these folks. 

But my take on all this is my interest in it is not on the whether this is right to do or not to do. My interest is on how people can get to believe this is very powerful stuff. I have run lots of workshops all over the world on teaching people how to do cause we had to be psychic readers. And within a claim, within a day or two, I can get people out there and who are better than most psychics. David and Sylvia and all these others psychics out there will get lots of money Jim Underdown. 

That’s kind of playing with fire, though. I’m not sure I want a bunch of skeptics going out there knowing how to do the the magicians are without having been steeped in the history of magic or philosophy, magic, etc.. 

You may be right. And then it is an interesting question. I tried to warn them. It is fascinating why skeptics should want to learn cold reading. I age they teach it to my classes as well. My goal in teaching it to them is to show them that there’s nothing special about doing a cold reading or take it reading. We all can do it. Anyone who is who is verbally coherent can do it. You have a little bit confidence and follow a few simple rules and you will be as good as anyone is because the secret is that it’s not you. The psychic who is doing all this, the all the meaning is being put into the reading by the client. By the sitter. Yeah. Right. And you just have to do a few things to get them to cooperate with you. And a few little rules. And you can’t help but succeed. I’ve done this on television several times. Never gone. Never Miss Jim Underdown. 

But you don’t have a strong opinion about whether or not it should be illegal. 

Well, there’s you know, there’s an interesting question about civil rights and what have you. And you get into the issue about caveat emptor, you know, buyer beware. You know, to what extent should we regulate all this to protect people found themselves and to what extent should people’s be, you know, be well educated so that they can take care of themselves? I don’t know. Mm hmm. 

And of course, there’s the argument I hear in mentalism or, you know, magic circles a lot that, hey, even if fortunetellers are fake, are fraudulent, even if they’re not real, they’re they can actually help people sometimes. You know, the poor man’s psychiatrist argument. Right. 

Right. The danger, actually, and this this sounds good. It’s a nice defense mechanism that these people have an excuse for doing what they do. But unfortunately. 

So seeing I known and I belong to this biking entertains association for some years before we had the parting of the ways against on ethical grounds. Right. 

But I got to the point where the striking entertainers association became more, more or less entertainment as it is, people who are going out there doing being being being put in therapy. So what have you and that poor man’s therapist, because they charge him more than this therapist? 

You’re right. There are a lot of performers who to make an extra buck, they will add on a psychic house party or, you know, the Emmy. These are entertainers who got to pay the bills. And so there are entrepreneurial magicians out there teaching other magicians how to pretend to be psychics to make extra money. 

And the real danger among them, there are real dangers, almost porgies, probably not so. But the real dangers are and I come across, is that when I heard some of these people talking about their clients and like that some of these people are suicidal and they don’t recognize and they know how to handle it even. Right. Right. 

So there are situations where they are definitely it’s a danger because they don’t know to handle people, you know, people that come to them for help and they don’t mechanized most of the time. They may be of some help. Who knows? They’re not going to do too much harm, but many times they can do serious harm. And that’s the problem. 

I might be biased about all of this because my own background in magic. But do you buy the argument, Ray, from folks like Randy? Like like I buy the argument that scientists really should have magicians involved or in the mix when they’re doing experimentation to, you know, research, psychic powers or something. In other words, has your background in magic actually made you a stronger researcher in parapsychology? 

No, and I don’t believe, Randi, that magic has helped him that much. He thinks so. But I think it’s because Randi is good at what he does, because he’s a smart guy. I mean, even though he’s more than just a magician. Any magicians get in a given situation and they do the date. They follow a situation rather than help. 

All right. So in other words, skeptics don’t need to learn magic tricks in order to be better skeptics. 

Well, I think a good science is if they’re good, scientists can. By the way, we’re talking about testing psychics as opposed to doing science, which is a different animal. It’s not the same thing. But if you’re doing a test of a psychic and by the way, I’m not I think it’s a good thing for a scientist to be testing psychics. But anyway, if you’re testing a psychic. Yes. Advice and help a magician can be very helpful as long as he’s dealing with the magician who also knows his or her limitations. The problem I have, for example, with Uri Geller, I had you know, I was involved in the middle, very jealous situation right from beginning because I was in the Defense Department. Look at him. But people like Noble Christopher, a good magician, well knows. That’s right. 

That’s right. Wrote books about E.S.P. You know, hucksters and seers. You know, he was a skeptical magician. 

Yes. And he was called and he actually was one of the few magicians who was called in to be a consultant at Stanford. Messages to when he was studying or yelling at Sigo ordinarily would not allow him magicians around him. And Christopher, like many magicians, you know, he’s a smart guy in many ways and writes books on E.S.P. He actually was full completely, as many magicians were by Garretti. He didn’t have a clue what Geller was doing. But he’s not going to make that no magician self-respect and reduced the myth that this is a weakness of magicians. So he made up what he said. The girl was using corrosive chemicals. He has groupies, chemicals on his hands, which this week in the middle of the spoon. And that’s what makes it bad. 

Well, immediately, Geller and other Bee point out he had been he had these gross the chemicals you wouldn’t have no using on his hands. He had nothing as well left by now. 

It was a stupid argument. And he also I think it was him and some other magicians also claimed that he as a receiver and his tooth. 

So, yeah, I made a heyday of the goings on the television shows, opening his mouth, having a dentist with him, looking in his mouth and saying, no, I can’t see any hidden receivers that he has in his teeth. And this is stupid. 

So, again, that knee jerk skepticism actually strengthen the hand of the psychic claimant. 

Oh, yes. Geller was helped more than he was hurt by magicians. Wow. 

BAYWAY And he came friends, a magician. You know, David Berglas became a friend of his and a supporter. Peter Duffey, as, let’s say, Get Protective Head was jacking Randi for all kinds of things in defending Geller. Right. 

And in fact, in the magic community now, you mentioned Berglas. Ben Berglas recounts how he’s seen Geller do things that he can’t explain and he doesn’t need to explain it away with magic tricks. He’s still kind of in awe. Of course, he’s skeptical on the whole. But the point is, Geller connected with an. Number of the really creative mentalists, magicians out there. And the paradox in all of that is that, Randi, though we hold him up and many in the magic community hold him up. He’s gotten kind of a black eye among later generation of psychic entertainers as being what he used to attack, which is close mindedness and kind of faith commitments, when, in fact, he’s he seems very open minded, open to the evidence. 

And he used to do some his mentalism in spiritualism. He was. 

And while he was on the other side and he was a good friend of damages at the time, Danja had Parkinson’s. And then he was definitely a very, really strong enemy of Christian. Right. Christian still dunnage his whole act in verbatim. 

You know, Don, I love that you mentioned that because we’re trying to get Christian on the show, and I doubt he will now. But I love that you mention Dunninger because Dunninger played both sides of the fence like you just suggested, maybe Randy did early on. Dunninger, on the one hand, offered one of the first prizes, if you could prove the existence of, you know, psychic powers. On the other hand, he left open the question whether or not he was real, you know, in some of his script points, some of his shows. So, yes. 

And this is the nature of the game. And you meant to that. You know, I always meant this for six years, professional. And you get tempted into that kind of stuff, because, let’s face it, most mentalism is definitely boring. You. Once you want to get out there and show, you can meet someone’s name. The rest of your act is just repetition. 

It’s just another way I can read your mind. 

Yeah, that’s right. And and so what made mentalism more attractive? I made much more money out than doing the magic which I preferred. What makes it attractive is the possibilities. People willing to believe it’s real and they want to believe it’s real. And even if you have a disclaimer in disclaimers are always ambiguous. They’re going to believe even more so. 

Right. I remember seeing your show by Max Maven in in Manhattan once. Where what? His whole show’s a disclaimer. It’s very theatrical. He begins by saying, boo, you know, he begins kind of you know, he has makeup on its stage, lights, et cetera. So there are those built-In disclaimers, in a sense. But after the show, someone came up to him and asked him. I you know, this is a great show, etc., but I’m dealing with this personal problem. Can you use your gift to help me out? And all the magicians hanging around were just floored that people believe sometimes despite disclaimers. 

Well, the psychology of this is fascinating. By the way, the value for me of being a magician and having been a mentalist is my whole career in psychology was the psychology of deception. 

Right. We get fooled how we can fool ourselves as well. But with mentalism, the nice thing is the interesting thing is if you do have a disclaimer right from the beginning, then you’ve disarmed people. They have no way of decky. You. And you made it even more likely you’re going to meeting. For example, I was always young. I’d look much younger than I was when I did my mentalism. So I immediately began. Came out and said, look, what I’m going to do is I’m doing just fine. I hope you will find it interesting and entertaining. And I work hard at it. But believe me, there’s nothing special about it. And I know. And that’s all I said. Right. They knew that since no one could challenge my. And Clay had made any claims. So I had this on them and they themselves then figured out I must be reasonable. 

Did anyone ever come up to you after a show or at another point and believes so completely in your gifts that they asked for personal healing or advice or power or something? 

I always, always Karen Stollznow. I had a number of one after one show. This lady came up to me. And by the way, I was always embarrassed. I was a young, young. I began when I was in high school. Mm hmm. And I was always embarrassed because women would come up to me and because I had apparently told them their name or their age or some other piece of information, they felt I could handle everything they would tell me about their sect, their sex affairs, their extramarital affairs and all kinds of help. And I was just turning red as a beat. You know, this is unbelievable, but just unbelievable. What by distilling a simple mind reading trick that people come up to you afterwards and assume that you can handle all their problems. 

And therein lies the big ethical forni questions you were talking about earlier. The last thing, Professor, before we finish up, would you let our listeners know about this next skeptic’s toolbox? It’s one of the most popular things that the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry supports. And what it’s the 17th year that you’ve put this thing on. Right. 

Every year we have this skeptic’s tool box, and the idea is to provide skeptic’s with tools to be better skeptic’s. Here, it’s the 6th through the ninth here in Eugene. We have it every year at the university there. University of Oregon. Yeah, we have. We used to. We have to have an infinity because when we first started it, we thought we’d have a new group every year and we could do the same thing. Jim Underdown. 

But you have alumni. You have people who come back year after year after year. 

If I say about 50 cent or more of maybe we have people who’ve been there all 17 years and I keep coming back. Now they’re of groupies. I think they’re like the weather and the food here. To see this year’s theme, which we’ve had themes, everything, but we never really we never covered the scientific method, which is controversy over the methods of science. 

Yeah, right. The scientific method. But every skeptic is beholden to that. We all pay lip service to the scientific method. But do we know what it is? 

So that’s this year’s theme. That’s right. And we’re gonna deal with the various attacks on science, the science wars and that kind of business. 

I’d like to let our listeners know that you can get more information about the skeptics toolbox and also get a copy of the elusive quarry through our Web site. Points of inquiry, dawg. Well, Ray Hyman, I really enjoyed our discussion. And I’d like to thank you for joining me on Point of Inquiry. 

I’m very happy to have been here. 

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Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry for updates throughout the week. Find me on Facebook and on Twitter to get involved with an online conversation about today’s show. Join our online discussion forums at point of inquiry dot org. Views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Thomas Donnelly and recorded from St. Louis, Missouri. Executive producer is Paul Kurtz. Point of Inquiry’s music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael. Contributors to today’s show included Sarah Jordan and Debbie Goddard. I’m your host DJ Grothe. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.