Andrew Mayne – Magic, Mischief and Mayhem

August 06, 2010

Andrew Mayne is a magician, paranormal illusionist, inventor, TV producer, and skeptic.

One of the most creative and innovative minds in magic, Andrew has written and produced over 40 books and DVDs. Both creator and consultant, he has worked with a number of artists including David Blaine, and Penn & Teller.

Andrew’s performance material ranges from close-up and stage, to mentalism and illusion, and he is infamous for his brand of tricks, effects and stunts known as “shock magic”. Far from pulling a rabbit out of a hat, Andrew’s shock magic is described as “disturbing”, “evil”, “frightening” and “deadly”.

In this conversation with Karen Stollznow, Andrew speaks about being a Magician’s Magician, making multimedia magic, and not only inventing illusions but reinventing classic illusions. He explains the link between magic and skepticism, and how magic offers practical insight to protect us from charlatans, con-artists, and ourselves.

Andrew shares stories of his paranormal investigations for the Weird Things TV show and podcast, and his experiences as lead investigator for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge.

The author of the article Think Skeptically, Act Locally: 50 Things You Can Do To Encourage Critical Thinking, Andrew is one of the original activists in the skepticism movement. He talks about teaching science education and critical thinking, and presents his “elevator pitch” for becoming a skeptical activist.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, August 6th, 2010. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. 

I’m Karen Stollznow point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots level, I guess this week is Andrew Mayne, magician, paranormal, illusionist, inventor, TV producer and skeptic. One of the most innovative minds in magic. Andrew’s written and produced over 40 books and DVD. His performance material includes close up stage mentalism and delusion, and he’s well known for his multi-media magic, including his infamous brand of tricks, effects and stunts he calls shock magic. A performer and adviser, Andrew was a magician’s magician. Having worked as a magic consultant for a number of artists, including David Blaine and Penn and Teller, he publishes Eintracht sitcom, the number one news site for Magic. And he’s the host of The Weird Things TV show and podcast. Andrew spent five years as the lead investigator for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge. As the author of the article Think Skeptically, Act Locally, 50 Things You Can Do to Encourage Critical Thinking. He is one of the first activists in the skepticism movement. He has also lectured in science education and critical thinking. 

Andrew, thanks for joining me and welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Thank you for having me here. And Ronald Lindsay. 

You’ve been a magician since a very early age when you began working in a circus and then you had acts on various cruise lines, too. You’ve also worked as a consultant for other magicians, including David Blaine and Penn and Teller. And you’re known as a magicians magician. What does that entail? 

Well, I got my start performing, but I also had an interest in creating magic not just for my own show, but my friends and other people I come across professionally. And I started to develop a reputation, among other magicians, as a guy you could go to and say, hey, I was thinking about doing this. What kind of ideas do you have? And I’ve actually started pretty early on. Even as a teenager, I was very fortunate to work with a magician by the name of Rand Woodbury, who was a cruise ship magician and designed stuff for other people. So I would work out of his warehouse and help them build illusions and build stuff my own show, and then we would design stuff for other people. And from there, I started coming up with ideas and eventually becoming kind of a magician that other magicians from go to for ideas. 

Since great and you are also a performer, but far from pulling a rabbit out of a hat to your shock, magic is described as disturbing, evil, frightening and deadly. So what is shock? Magic? 

I’ve done a lot of different kinds of magic, and I believe my show should be for whatever audience I’m in front of. So I’ve spent of late. I spent a lot of time, you know, going and talking to scientists or groups of young kids. And I’m not going to do razor blades sort of shock magic there. And I carry a kind of reputation because I tried to I like those elements of shock and this bright sort of stuff. But I wanted to try and figure out how do I am. I’m a very kind of mainstream kind of guy in the sense that I’m not I’m a tattooed guy. I don’t have a lot of piercings and I don’t come across as some sort of extreme fringe sort of personality. So that’s why I like that was I thought I was a great contrast to, you know, who I was when I started performing in, let’s say, South Beach or nightclubs and places like that. I would use that sort of stuff because it was just a better way to get attention than just sort of standard sort of magic. I would do that in comedy clubs. 

Some of your magic creates twists on classic tricks and stunts. You levitate, you walk through a mirror, you’re sworn in half. Are you Jebba spike through your tongue. How do you rework a classic illusion? 

Well, sometimes we go back and you look and there’s a fantastic history of magic that goes back thousands of years. And some of these things made sense in the context of their times and some of these things done. In an oral example, too, we use a lot of, let’s say, a top hat, a magician’s top hat perdition, a rabbit from a top hat. That used to be a really significant trick because you could walk into a theater and borrow a top hat to somebody in the audience and then produce a rabbit from there. That was an impressive effect because the rabbit came from their hat. When people stopped wearing top hats, the magicians would pull out a top hat and do a trick like that. It wasn’t as impressive because it was the magicians top hat. And a lot of magicians forget that. And the magic is sort of lost because it becomes their object. And so you can look at or look for tricks and magic that you go, okay. This was interesting. Then how do I make this work in this time? And so I got, you know, my bowling ball from shopping bag effect. This is kind of a modern version of that. I pull out a shopping bag, which people have or whatever, and look at whatever and then produce a bowling ball. And it’s, you know, four times. 

And I’m going to ask you about modern magic, too. And you’re leading the industry with this modern multi-media magic. There’s a tongue twister for you with your magic apps for iPod tricks. So I was wondering, is this the magic of the future? Is this new magic or old magic that has been adapted to new technology? 

I think for the most part, the principles are the same. And I think that a mistake that some people make when they start to look bored or what’s going to be the future of magic. And then this has always been the problem. And when I started paying attention to it in the late 80s, early 90s, as people always started to think technology was going to be not so much a driving force, that’s something we had to react to. And I don’t think that’s been the case in that you can do. You know, we’re familiar with paper that can, you know, easy things like that. Yeah, I can go do card tricks, report over a deck of cards and impress people with it while I have friends at M.I.T. that could do the same thing. You know, they could, you know, make a piece of paper, whatever, change things, things like that. And if people are invested in you as a personality and they believe you and when you say these cards are real, are you open it up, you take the cellophane off of it or whatever. It doesn’t matter what beer it is, how technologically advanced things are. They’re going to go with you and accept that you can do that. You just course, you may have to do a little bit more to prove to them that it’s not because, you know, people might think that there’s some sort of technology involved. But technology for me has always been just another element of the story and not a it shouldn’t be about the technology. If, you know, if it’s making a ghost appear on a cell phone, it’s about making people think for a moment that they’re nine years old and these things are real and they just something happen. And what’s the convenient way to do it? Well, you use this device that does that as a modern magician. 

Do historical or classic tricks somehow seem primitive, or is modern magic more complex somehow? 

I think that there’s there’s always been good and bad in any time period. And you look back historically at some stuff. And there was magic that was done 100 years ago that would certainly fool people today. I think that I would I would not want to call primitive because they had less to start from. I have the benefit of having, you know, just about every magic book that’s ever been published to go look into and go go look for ideas. And when you think of how many people were creating stuff in a vacuum or based upon things that they heard that other people have done. 

I’m very impressed. In some ways, you think these people are a lot more creative and resourceful because they couldn’t go to a Home Depot and bypass some things to build these things. So I’m always surprised by how come you know how impressive these things are. 

Speaking about do it yourself magic. I once overheard. Someone ask a magician. The secret to one of his tricks. But he was shot down in a very embarrassing manner. And yet you produced a DVD that teach magic. You explain the creative processes behind the tricks and provide step by step instructions on how to perform these illusions. So does this somehow break the magicians code or circumvented or is that a myth? 

Well, there is certainly in magic. There’s a code and a rough sort of. Everybody has their own idea of what that is. 

And there’s some people think that the only way to learn magic is from you have a mentor and it should be passed down that way. When people started publishing books, putting magic tricks in the books that upset a lot of other magicians with office. It shouldn’t be passed down that way. But you need to need to transmit this information somehow. And for me, the line has always been very clear. There’s a difference between teaching and exposure. To expose a trick is just for me to tell you how it works. And if you have no intent of ever learning it, then I’ve just ruined that trick for you. But if you’re a person that wants to learn a trick and perform for your friends and to have some sort of this fun experience of performing that, then there needs to be a way to do it. And that’s what I thought. I don’t expose. I’ve never I’ve never thought that was a very good idea. I don’t think it’s as damaging as magicians think that it is. I don’t think people really care that much. But I’ve always been invested in teaching and I think some magicians don’t understand the difference. They look at the medium in which it gets transmitted and not the context and the medium in which I view as books or DVD mint for people who want to learn magic. And I know I’m sorry that that person, you know, shot them down like that. You know, people should ask questions. And it’s and I know magicians who are like that. If you ask them how they do it or whatever, and you’re a lay person and they will have that response because, you know, they’re full of themselves. They just think that they want to be Gandalf the Wizard or something. And they’re upset when somebody knows that it’s a trick walk or just a trick. And if they’re you know, and it’s it’s even more disturbing when I see people who are skeptics and magicians who have that response, who, you know, on one side of the mouth talk about how we need to be inquisitive and ask questions and do the stuff that when somebody asks them something like that about their own app, they become very Brisley, which to me is like, hey, look at the overall message you have here. So when somebody asked me about a trick that I do, I’m generally not going to tell them how I’d do it. If it’s a magician who has an interest in performing, that’s fine. If it’s a person who’s not a magician who wants to learn to do a trick. I will sit down and I will teach them something or point them direction, do it, because it’s a very, very powerful thing to be able to learn how to do. And that’s why I’ve spent, you know, a number of years in schools using magic as a way to teach critical thinking, because I realized, you know, as other people have. It’s a great, great tool for understanding the basic reasons why we find the world mysterious and how we understand the mysteries behind it. 

Absolutely. So, Andrew, you’re a prominent skeptic. What’s the link between magic and skepticism, the link between skepticism and magic? 

It’s interesting because I get asked if most magicians are skeptics, and I would say the answer is no. But I think that there is. But there is certainly a connection between people who have interests in one area and have interests. Or if you’re into if you’re if you have an interest in magic and you have an interest in science, then you’re going to probably be a skeptic or be skeptically inclined. And I think if you have an interest in method, in magic, then you’re probably going to be more skeptically inclined. A number of magicians and most magicians do not invent or even think about why a trick works. The great thing, and probably the worst thing about magic is you can buy a video and learn 10 tricks and call yourself a professional. And as far as most people think, they will assume that you are a professional magician because of that which in which they do any good says that’s. So that’s the strength of the material, which is a complement to how well these mysteries are sort of created. But it’s different. No other you know, I can’t do that in music. I can’t do that anywhere else. If I tell you I’m a writer and then you read 10 pages or something I wrote, it’s going to be clear that I’m not. Because, you know, if I try to embrace the cliches and the hack things that writers use all the time. The average person can pick that out right away. Not the case in magic, anyhow. And answer your question. I think that if people I got into magic because I was a kid that wanted to know how these things worked, I saw a magic trick. And I knew that it wasn’t really magic. I wanted to be, but I knew that it wasn’t. I knew there was a method behind it. I was interested in methods. And I found that by bringing magic into classrooms and taking basic science stunts or psychological principles in clothing, in the presentation of magic, I could get young people very, very curious about this and make this connection between two things they thought were totally unrelated. And, you know, it’s not just now I know how it does, but I went once. You know how it works. 

You understand a lot more about how humans work and asking questions is certainly very crucial to skeptical thinking and critical thinking. So you’re talking about being fooled a little earlier, too, when were tricked or fooled in life? It’s not. Ali by magic. So how could Magic offer practical insight to protect us from charlatans and con artists? 

Great example I think was Marvin Minsky had said this before and conversations a couple of times. This is a point he’s brought up when I talk to him about just trying to do critical thinking in schools. And what meant admits he thinks that every kid, you know, they’re eight years old, learn how to do magic. And on one side, it’s a neat thing to learn. You get skills out of a public speaking, etc. how to get in front of people. But for Marvin, Marvin thought the great thing about learning magic for kids is they could learn that adults are fooled. And that, you know, for a guy like Marvin Minsky, who’s a brilliant scientist and, you know, just a guy who’s a big way out there. But he has a wonderful way of looking at things. I thought that’s a great insight and an education. You know, who would ever think that we should teach kids the fallibility of adults? And think about it at the very, very important thing to learning. Magic is a great tool in that sense, because if it’s taught properly, if you’re taught the method and why it works and not just go do this to people, look, they’re an idiot. You’re taught. This is why this works. And this is why I pulled you. You get a really great insight into human psychology. 

We’ve touched upon this a little bit already. But not all scientists are skeptics, but they really should be. Are all magicians skeptics? 

No. No, I would I would say not only are not all magicians skeptics, I would say not all skeptics are skeptics. I would say a high percentage of skeptics bred cynics, and they don’t understand the difference between that. So I always go as far as to say that many magicians get into magic because it’s an easier way to get into show business. There is there are a lot of really, really amazing, talented people out there, and there are people who have a love of it. But the problem is, if you love magic, how do you express your love for magic? Some people find professions and I’ll go into offices of people and I find that they love magic because I’ll see these posters and these things all around and and but they’re accomplished lawyers or doctors or what have you. And they’ve they’ve established themselves there. Other people don’t know how to express their love of magic. So they figure maybe they just have to be a magician. And if they just like it from the showbiz point of view or the way to get attention and they’re not as interested in why this works than they are, they’re not going to be inclined to be skeptics. Magicians can be fooled just as easily as anybody else. You just have to avoid the things they’re familiar with and go to the unfamiliar. As a magician who creates magic for other magicians, I have to come up with stuff all the time that magicians are going to go, oh, that’s novel. That’s different. Even though think they should be wanting to do is the thing that’s going to fool normal people. Much of what I have to do is to think about how do I fool magicians to which what’s going to fool a magician may not be anywhere near as entertaining as what’s going to fool, you know, my friends and family. 

And I wanted to ask about tricks, dot com. So you publish this site, which has been called the USA Today of Magic and is the number one magic news site in the world. 

So what’s the site about that kind of gets back to how do you express your love of magic? And I wanted to create a Web site for people who like magic, who weren’t necessarily as interested in how tricks work, but like to talk about magicians or find out about what their favorite magicians were up to. And in entertainment reporting magic is a very, very small part of life, entertainment or television. So there wasn’t a whole lot of recording being done on magic, especially not in any sort of daily sense. And magic is magic a lot better than people realize. So I decided to create a Web site that was for people who loved Magic, for fans of Magic. And you could go there and find out what your favorite magicians are up to or finals going on in the world of magic and not be worried about having to learn a trick or what have you. And that’s that’s part of the problem in magic clubs. If you want to be in a magic club, you’re expected generally to be a performer to go perform, which encourages a lot of people who probably should not perform into performing, into thinking that they should go perform for other people. Right. And let’s create a space for people who just want to talk about magic, of the experience of magic and maybe a little bit of technical side. So I brought in Justin Robert Young, who was actually a real bona fide journalist to what the Newhouse School of Journalism in Syracuse, whose work on newspapers and was really interested in new media. And I said, here’s this area that’s kind of an entertainment style reporting, but it’s an interesting thing to cover and talked him into taking that over and running that. And the editor of Eye Tricks. And he’s done a fantastic job of it. And it just shows so proud of what I Trickster’s become for people who want to have an interest in magic. And we wanted to avoid magic. There’s so much it’s so many little clicks and personality things. And we just we wanted to get away from that. We want to create a space where anybody who says, hey, I like this. Yeah. Let me go there. And so that’s what I tricksters is about. So every day it’s different news stories about magic. We produce half a dozen podcasts. We’ve got live shows. We’re talking about, you know, maybe about technique, too. And then just for people who love it and want us to sort of find out what’s the latest going on in the world of magic. 

And you’ve got another project with Justin Robert Young and also Brian Brushwood, The Weed Things Project, which is a podcast and a television show as well, where you investigate paranormal and pseudoscientific phenomena. So what have you investigated so far? 

Weird things. It started as a Web site, which is weird things, dot com, which was we wanted to sort of approach all this weird stuff from a fun point of view. And we wanted to create a place where all you needed to show up was just to have a curiosity about these things. You could be a skeptic or a believer. We just wanted to create this kind of open place with No. That what your your belief set was, how critical you were about these things. If you thought they were fun, you would want to come here and participate, because skepticism has done a wonderful job in organizing and creating spaces for skeptics to get together online in real space. And it’s done a fantastic job of allowing a lot of people felt alone to get together. And I think we’re at that point now where we need to say, let’s step back a bit and just bring people who love mysteries and love these things that are there weird together. And then I believe and in my world view, this objectivism or empiricism and science is the superior way or the most efficient way that the thing to go to the best results to look at this. And if we bring this into the discussion, people who formerly or before would have felt attacked or ridiculed or embarrassed or that we were trying to be little, them would be much more receptive to discussing these things because they understand that the reason we’re here is not because we’re skeptics or because we think this stuff is baloney. We’re here because we think this stuff in mysterious. So that was sort of the idea behind weird things, dot com. And in this part that we said, well, let’s let’s not just talk about things. Let’s go out and do stuff and let’s let’s go investigate things. But without sort of this, let’s just show up and already declare that it’s not true when we get in there and kind of more embrace it like, you know, 10 year old kids who think maybe there could be something there or at least have state of mind. So we started doing these live investigations. We’ve had an investigation coming up where we’ve. My father of all people, who’s an avid fisherman, has seen something strange swimming around an island that’s right in front of where my parents live. And my father is an expert on these kinds of things. And my father isn’t sure what it is because every time he tries to get close to it, it goes underwater. And my dad’s familiar with alligators and Harben and you get Dolphin and all these other things, but it doesn’t say those. Now, I’m sure it’s probably something known, but it’s something in a place where it’s not normally supposed to be. And that’s fun. And that’s interesting that we want to go find out what that is until somebody is missing. Should people, like don’t have to violate the laws of physics or even physiology or taxonomy, what have you. These can just be five things. And so I just I think that is skeptic’s. Let’s talk about these all things. So let’s embrace them, because then we can have a place to talk about these things with people who we want them to see things from our point of view. 

Absolutely. And you you’re right near the Everglades, aren’t you? Yeah, I live in where I live. 

And South Florida is basically midway between the ocean and the Everglades. 

A couple of years ago, I was there and visited Carl Kasell. I did an investigation into that for Skeptical Inquirer. So I hope you do a story there sometime. 

Yeah. I would love it. We did a we did with weird things a year ago. We did sort of I just for the kind of a little day trip down there and and took a bunch of photographs and stuff. And now that was neat. I would love to do something about Coral Castle because it is it’s you know, there’s so much lore about it. And it’s weird because, you know, you see this place that was just built by, you know, unhealthy obsession with a teenage girl. And I would love to be able to get in there at night or something and do a whole range of pseudo scientific experiments. 

I noticed that a lot of people who download your podcasts also download mine wants to talk. So we’re doing a lot of a lot of crossover with what we’re both doing. But we things is is really fun and accessible. And I urge everyone to go and check that out. 

Thank you very much. Yeah. And we’re we’ve got more interesting stuff coming. So thank you. Thank you for that. And, you know, we’re just we’re having fun. And that’s that’s that’s why you got into it. That’s why you got in science. Because you loved you loved these mysteries. 

And I think that and I’ve been very, very rewarded by the people who’ve been contacting us and talking to us, who when I was doing kind of just talking strictly to more of a skeptical audience I would never hear from. And people who 10 years ago would have wanted to engage me in an argument or what have you are having discussions with us in conversations with about this stuff where they understand that to be interested in this stuff doesn’t mean they have to give up their sense of mystery. And that’s made it worth doing. And we just can’t wait to see what happens. We keep doing it. 

Yeah. And sometimes a lot of the fun is in solving the mystery. 

Oh, yeah. Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a that’s how you get to know. You keep going down turtles all the way down. 

Indeed. And I’ve got the final couple of questions so we can wrap this up because you’ve got another investigation to get to. So I wanted to ask you about the million dollar challenge. She spent five years as the lead investigator for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s million dollar challenge during that time. How often was magical trickery behind any of the claims? 

I would say maybe just a handful of times when we knew that somebody was trying to use trickery and the overwhelming number of people that we encountered were sincere people who were deluded themselves, people who were actually. 

Going to try and use some sort of deception could pretty much figure out right away that it was not likely to work. I would never say never work because I, as a skeptic, put me in that position. I have to assume that I can be fooled and protect against that. 

And, you know, we had a case of a person who claimed that they can read with their fingertips and it was obvious that it was a trick. But there was a young person, a teenager who was doing this, who didn’t understand the implications of trying to deceive people that way. We had other people would send us. They would say like they’d give us these scenarios and, you know, like, well, if you put me into if you if you have a person leave the giraffe at seven o’clock and put them in an undisclosed location, I will be able to tell you by the end of the day where they’re located. And it’s like, well, what if we have them? We from someplace you don’t know where they’re leaving from and then go there so you don’t just have somebody follow them. And they would stop talking to you at that point because they think they’ve got this great, great way to trick us. And that’s one things we would very much upfront like. You understand that if you’re trying to deceive us and use magic trickery or whatever, that is fraud and that’s illegal. So once the people came éclairs you you aware of that in India? But magic was very, very helpful in just understanding how we were fooled in the case of the teenager who claim they can read at their fingertips and do this. There was a it was a a prominent scientist in that area of research, was had a lab and was looking into this. And he when I went to go on as the chair to go visit the lab and talk to them and talk about the potential of applying for the challenge and the know supervise. You know, one of the tests the scientist, as we’ll hear, was head of the Lodge Local Magic Club. And this older guy turns out it’s real, not a trick. And it’s like, you know, I mean, not to be unkind. I’m like, it’s an idiotic thing to say. I didn’t actually say that. I was much more polite. But I know a lot about method. I know a lot about math. And I think I know more about methods than most magicians, because that’s my job to do that. I know I can be fooled. And you’re not going to hear me say it’s not a trick. I’m not going to say, oh, it’s not real either. But to have somebody say, oh, it’s not a trick, because I would know and well, magicians are just as easy to fool as anybody else. And so it was it was frustrating to see because, you know, Randi is talked about bringing magicians in to get them involved in understanding how people can be fooled. And that’s absolutely true. The mistake was made. They brought in the wrong magician to go look at this, who had no experience in experimental procedures or double blind to what have you analysis sort of. It just was frustrating to see that. 

I’ve seen examples of that, of psychologists. And although people with expertize being brought in and it’s not the right kind still and they can easily be fooled. 

Well, that was a funny thing to Karen, was that you would find that people have their own, especially P.H.. These are professionals in that area, would have their own blind spots. And they joked, Randi, that, like, I should get the million dollar challenge, because if you tell me that claim and you tell me the person has APHC, but don’t tell me what is in, I can tell you what their background is. If it was remote viewing, I knew it was going to probably be a psychologist. And the reason to be a psychologist, because when you want to do remote viewing experiments, you have a lot of sample sets and statistics is involved in. The psychologist I came across were horrible statistics. They were absolutely horrible statistics. They were very good at finding meaning. And so when somebody got a miss from the target, they can look at that miss and they could say, well, I think this is why this was a hit. And I have friends or psychologists. So it’s not to be dismissive to the field of psychology, but some people in that field are very good at seeing things. There’s absolutely nothing there. And that was why remote viewers always tended to be the people who endorse and trying to find out who is real would be psychologists. 

Yeah, that probably helps them in other areas, though. 

Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. You just gotta be careful of one and signal one when it’s noise. 

So I’m I’m a linguist. What would be my Pseudo-Science. 

Your blindsides going to be politics as Noam Chomsky is an example. I had a pit in that area. I remember, you know one of what’s funny was when Randy became aware of postmodernism, particularly as it was being talked about, semiotic SIST and linguists and some people in that area and this extreme. And that’s got to be sort of a frustrating thing to look at people who wanted to sort of get away. I go laws of science in some ways for people who take a very, very I guess when a term is structuralist approach, they would kind of even think that these things were debatable, which, you know, we can certainly talk about our interpretation thereof and all that and understand imperfect. And I would be that was sort of a frustrating thing to get into this. And it’s funny because I got into that by coming from all the bad examples of that sort of way of looking in post-modern and if you know of analysis and whatnot. But then after a time I realized, well, I they caught my attention because there were people saying to really, really crazy, stupid things. But there are some other. People here say it’s really fascinating things that really do make you want to step back and look at how we perceive things and in what things mean for me and what they mean for somebody else from a different culture and place. You know, what does magic mean in understanding the basics of that? And that was you know, that was very fast, you know, you know, going back and we like, you know, Saphir and Warf and going, oh. I see what they’re getting at. Now, this sort of makes sense to me, which my knee-jerk skeptical reaction to, you know, to listen to somebody decide that, you know, you could ignore Sir Isaac Newton because he was a European white male, which is sort of. Well, OK. 

I think that can often happen. Having a background in cultural anthropology, that’s really more the subjective side of social science. Yes. So, you know, we’ve spoken about you teaching critical thinking and science education. And you wrote the article, Think Skeptically, Act Locally, 50 Things You Can Do to encourage critical thinking. So this seems to be very early tracks that was written about skeptical activism. What’s your elevator pitch for becoming a skeptical activist? 

I’ve changed a lot in sort of my first year. My view of the place, the skepticism and how it should be out there and what we should be doing as a skeptics. And I would say in the late 90s, I had an epiphany and I tried to convince other skeptics around me and I didn’t quite get what I was saying, and probably because I didn’t quite express or particularly. But at the time and the way even the mid to late 90s, the problem of being a skeptic was you had three or four major networks and then you had some cable channels and the very few group of people who were producers or telephone executives or whatever who were, you know, choosing and picking shows and particularly new shows on network shows. 

You had two or three people who were deciding what the story was going to be, particularly on networks on late night and an investigative news shows. They would tell they would decide what the story was. So whether it be somebody who is somebody claimed to talk to the dead or what have you, if 20/20 wanted to cover it and then leave it with a very soft ending and say maybe this is true, or 60 Minutes wanted to go look into one of these faith healers but not destroy them, even though we we saw them capture that moment on camera that totally debunked what they were claiming they could do. And then it was frustrating because the skeptics, you would see the truth not get out there. You would see that people in journalism would decide that they had this weird, perverted idea of what objectivity was supposed to mean. You know, you say you’re thinking this here. They know you talk about what the truth is. And the same reason, you know, we’ve we’ve exposed people when they lie in politics. You do that in science, are these claims. And so it was frustrating to see time and again, time again, the media not do the job they should do. And just simply telling the truth and telling what they saw they would even dare tell you is like, yeah, we caught that. But we want to get this sort of balanced view or whatever. And they would you know, it’s both frustrating and especially for a guy like Randy who’s dedicated his life to go out there and say, listen, look at this and then have people do. Yeah. But we want to give his balanced view and really meant we don’t want to offend. People are upset, are we? We want to have an end. Or maybe this could be true. But the problem is that some of these ideas they were promoting were dangerous. And so it was disheartening to be skeptics of me working with the media and to see the media actively lie to their audiences. 

And in the late 90s, I realized something and that was. The Web had changed everything. 

If the goal was for somebody to find out the truth and to have access to the truth, where before you only had your newspaper or your channel changer to do that, you were screwed. But when the web became about and you had some people early on who were very, very aggressive about trying to do that or the dictionary and then snow and then these other people started talking about that skeptic community started to grow and flourish. You started to get more and more material on there. You’ve been Alstrom, you’ve got Wikipedia, and you had these these places where everybody could go to. And it didn’t mean that we got rid of the nonsense, but it meant that skepticism got a much bigger platform for it. If you post a thing on, let’s say, dig dot com when it was popular social media sites in the world claiming here’s evidence of psychic powers, the comment thread is quickly going to turn to a skeptical thread and you’re gonna find this thing to bungs really quickly. And that’s what’s happened to the Web. You can choose to believe whatever you want and insulate yourself, but if you’re just curious and you want to find out, it’s out there. It’s absolutely everywhere now, which is we won. We absolutely won in the sense that we wanted to be able to get the word out there and not have one or two people be able to shut it down and hide what’s going on. It doesn’t mean we changed or, you know, those statistics have shown that people have changed what they believe in. But allowing for a kid or somebody who’s in the middle who just wants to find out to have access to it. The access argument has been won. And so now my my elevator pitch to somebody who wants to become an act skeptic is. Find ways to engage people who are interested in mysteries, talk about things and don’t I? I think there’s a place for opinion pieces and essays and stuff. But the thing that are most compelling to people are investigations and firsthand experiences. If you if you’re going to go to the car like you wanted to call Caerphilly to photos you wrote about this, you talk about these things, go there and go do this stuff. There’s a lot of skeptics who just want to sit in a dark room at a computer and explain how the world works without actually setting foot in the world and experience it and telling about their own experiences. So use your own experiences. That’s the most powerful way to communicate that. Now, obviously, it’s a you use your own experiences through an objective lens to talk about these things. And I think that’s the strongest thing you can do. That’s the most compelling thing. 

Andrew, thank you so much for joining me. And it was a pleasure to speak with you today. 

Thank you so much for having me. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. Andrew’s websites include Andrew Mayne dot com. I Trix dot com and weird things dot com to participate in the online conversation about this show. Please join our discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. The 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 Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Karen Stollznow. 

Karen Stollznow