Brian Brushwood – Scams, Swindles and Skepticism

September 03, 2010

Brian Brushwood began his career in magic “To get free drinks at bars and impress friends,” but ended up becoming a science communicator and skeptic.

The author of Cheats, Cons, Swindles & Tricks: 57 Ways to Scam a Free Drink and The Professional’s Guide to Fire Eating, Brian is a “Bizarre Magician”. Making side show tricks cool again, Brian hammers nails into his head and eats fire in his “Bizarre Magic Show”, “America’s Number One College Magic Show”. He also communicates critical thinking to the college market in his lecture “Scams, Sasquatch and the Supernatural”

In this episode with host Karen Stollznow, Brian discusses outreach to this important yet often overlooked demographic. They discuss tertiary-level courses in skepticism and the paranormal, and whether there is “age appropriate skepticism”

Brian explains the stereotypes associated with magic and magicians, and how the “m-word” (magic) has stigmatized. He also discusses the negative connotations associated with the “s-word” (skeptic), and how to combat the image problems with guerilla skepticism, hidden beneath comedy and magic.

Brian is a prolific personality on various internet shows including the Brian Brushwood Live Show, the Weird Things podcast, and NSFW on This Week in Tech TV. But he is best known for his show Scam School. Usually the ones who expose scams, Brian tells us when the skeptics should be the scammers. In this “Mythbusters” for the pool shark crowd, Brian pulls street cons, swindles and scams in the name of skepticism.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, September 3rd, 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 the grassroots. My guest this week is Brian Brushwood, Bazaar magician. Internet TV celebrity and skeptic. Brian is the author of Cheats Con Swindles and Tricks 57 Ways to Scam a Free Drink and the Professionals Guide to Fire Eating. He teaches science and skepticism in his popular college show, Bizarre Magic and his lecture scams, Sasquatch and the Supernatural. Brian is a prolific Internet personality on various shows, including the Weird Things podcast, the Brian Brushwood Live Show and Not Safe to Work On. This week in Tech TV, he’s best known for his Internet TV show Scam School, in which he pulls street cons, swindles and scams in the name of skepticism. Brian, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Oh, my gosh, you have no idea how excited I am to be here. 

Say, you’re the author of Cheats Con Swindles and Tricks 57 Ways to Scam a Free Drink and apparently started your career in magic, and I quote, to get free drinks at bars and impress friends. Yeah. So that sounds like a Dale Carnegie book in the making to me. 

Yeah. Exactly. You know how to win friends and screw them over. That’s my new book. Yeah. 

So which came first, the scamming or the skepticism? 

A lot of people say that, oh, I’ve always been skeptical since day one. But for me, I had a vague feeling of of just not understanding, whereas, like, I don’t get it. Is this really they’re saying it just happens exactly like this, but that doesn’t make much sense to me. And for me, it was an eye opening experience to take a class at the University of Texas at Austin. It’s an alternative to the regular introduction of physics class that most people take physics 341. It’s called Pseudoscience in the paranormal. And it’s it’s it’s taught by Dr Rory Coker. 

And he’s been doing it for years and years and years. It still does it every spring. And it was the most mind blowing experience of my entire life. It was like a crucible that took all these vague feelings of skepticism that I had in the past and consolidated them into a crystal clear understanding of of what is and isn’t truthful and what isn’t isn’t science. And it colored everything I experienced after that. From late night infomercials to claims of the supernatural to even people’s understanding of how past events happened. All of a sudden you call into question our own videotape in our memories. 

There are enough courses like that. I’ve got a friends Martin Bridge Stock who teaches at Griffith University. He does a similar course, but I think there should be more courses like that. College kids. 

Absolutely. And what’s great is when you have an entire semester to start going through nonsense, you’re able to start like I remember the first part was like, okay, astrology. We spent three three lectures on astrology when you understand the real history behind it. When you look in the eye, face to face from the origin, what’s great is there’s never a moment. He says this is definitely wrong. But the whole course long when you learn the real history behind it, when you learn the mechanisms that make it possible, when you learn about the forer fact and all these other psychological principles, there’s really only one conclusion that you can come to you by the time the course is over. 

Yeah, I think the point is to learn how to think for yourself. And I think with any quotes like that, you could do an entire semester on astrology and learn or any topic alone. Yes, absolutely. And your bizarre magic show has the honor of being America’s number one college magic show. 

So what is bizarre magic? 

Well, to be honest, bizarre magic, as I presented, is a very strange mash up of stuff like sideshow stunts, fire eating escapes, mind reading, I, I break thirty pound bricks over my head, you know, classic sleight of hand comedy, magic, that kind of thing. The problem I had was I had this very peculiar idea of just as George Gershwin took jazz and and dressed it up nice for the genteel folk and presented it in an orchestra. That’s what I wanted to do with this gritty sideshow experience. I wanted to classi it up a bit and get the type of people who would never go and watch the Jim Rose circus sideshow or anyone to any of these punk groups and instead give them that same experience of simultaneous disgust and wonder, but presented in such a way that was classy enough to get me in there and said the easiest way was due to kind of come up with my own moniker. So I threw the words bizarre magic in there. The problem is, is that among magicians, bizarre magic already means something. It means you you tell a ghost story and then you find their card at the end. But just as nobody knew what street magic was, because street magic means you build a crowd and then you do some tricks and then you take up a collection and that’s how you make your money. But that word didn’t mean anything to the public. So David Blaine was able to say, oh, street magic, and he essentially took close up magic and made it street magic. That’s pretty much what I’m trying to do with this gussied up sideshow material that I do on my stage show. 

I feel like I’m at a safe distance for a lot of the things that you do in your act. I’m not going to lie. It’s a little bit like watching a horror movie. 

A lot of show you watch from between your fingers. 

And I’ve heard about your I’ve actually seen your human crazy stroke. So we’ll need people to go and Google that and look that up to. 

Absolutely. Absolutely. 

And you’ve also got electrical scams, Sasquatch and the supernatural, which is the sort of skeptical version of your bizarre magic show that’s aimed at college students. 

Yes. What I noticed was for the first five years, I wanted very much to become a hit on college campuses because I felt like this kind of punk rock magic had a real place in the most self-destructive demographic available. And so after five years, I noticed that every time the show ended, because I do a couple of mind reading tricks during my show, people would say, well, what do you think about John Edward? What do you think about this guy? You know, well, so and so laid a hand on so-and-so and his bones healed. What do you say to that? And I. Found myself giving this kind of impromptu 30 minute lecture after every single shell guys, I would answer honestly everyone’s questions. And so eventually I was like, this really should be a show that I could offer as as an independent show or as a follow up to my stage show. So I took us, you know, over over a summer, I met with the same guy who taught the pseudo science course. Dr. Coaker. And essentially scam Sasquatch and the supernatural is a greatest hits of all the parts of the Pseudo-Science course that were the most mind blowing for me. So we were sort of like a stone skipping across a lake, which means, you know, obviously, like you mentioned, you could do an entire semester long course on astrology. Unfortunately, I only have three to five minutes to talk about it. So I do my best to tell you the actual history and explain the four effect. 

Before we move on to the next thing, and I think skeptics seem very focused on teaching skepticism to adults and at a secondary level. But teaching critical thinking on a tertiary level seems to be an important let. It’s very neglected area that you treat. How do you communicate critical thinking to the college market? 

Part of it is that you don’t tell anyone. You’re teaching them critical thinking and and you’ll notice that. And you don’t make it very clear in my lecture, like, look, you should take everything I say with a grain of salt. If I vaguely sounds smart, it’s only because I’m quoting somebody a million times smarter than me. I’m an idiot who sticks nails in his eyes for a living. But listen to what I got to say. Draw your own conclusions, because that’s it. Like, the greatest gift we have in this life is to make up our own minds about things. And I would never presume to tell people what to think. All I could do is lay out the case as I understand it and give it back to them and they could decide what they want. 

And do you include alcohol? 

What, like. Do I force feed them alcohol in order to get them to believe me? Maybe I should. I don’t know. 

You combine skepticism in alcohol with some of your tricks. 

Well, that’s that’s the funny part is it’s funny the bridge that happens. Right. So. Well, on one hand, you’ve got magic leads to to skepticism and critical thinking and the ability to understand that people can deceive each other. But magic also leads to social situations where you could use trickery and scamming in order to get your friends to score you free drinks. And so somehow I’m bridging this gap between boos and skepticism. 

Lovely. And I was wondering, is there an age appropriate skepticism at all? Do think that there are topics that are more relevant to college kids? 

College kids are such an interesting breed because they’ve spent the first 18 years being programed by their parents, being programed by their schools. And now it’s this fresh, wide open world and they could choose to believe whatever they want. But it’s amazing to me how different everybody is. There are some people who are inherently skeptical the moment they graduate and go to college. And then there’s other people who are still believing whatever they’re told. So it’s a very important time to reach out to him. But it’s also a time when they’re highly, highly resistant to being told what to think, even if what you’re telling them is to, hey, you should be more critical in what you think. Which is part of why I try to take a very hands off approach and say, hey, here’s some facts. And if you don’t believe me, you can look them up or don’t look them up. You know, this is up to you. You got to kind of be punk rock about the whole thing. Whereas just like a screw you, I’m just going to tell you, like I see it. We’ll see. And you tell me what you think. 

You got my hair for it, too. Yeah, unfortunately. And with your lecture scam, Sasquatch and the supernatural, it’s a very intensive lecture. And you expose frauds, con artists and paranormal and pseudo scientific phenomena. How do people react to your shows and to you exposing these popular beliefs and practices? 

I was really, really convinced when I wrote this thing that I was going to get a lot of flack for it, that people were going to say, you know, all across the line here, you cross the line there, whatever, or I or my cousin so-and-so or whatever. And instead I’m really surprised by the reaction I get. What I get than the most common response I get is I’ll give the entire lecture. And while I’m doing the lecture, I’ll ask after everything. Dieser, any questions about this? Anyone have something to share and I’ll get nothing. And then the show will end and then I’ll spend and is very much a show. You know, it’s like we call it a lecture, but there’s there’s entertainment in there. I’m doing psychic surgery and psychic demonstrations, this kind of thing. But when the show ends, I have to budget my time that I’m going to spend 45 minutes afterwards with individual people coming up saying how much they enjoy the show and then ask, well, what do you think of this? My aunt went to this lake and she saw a man and bottle just can’t defeat personal experiences. That’s why people respond to it. So I do my best and I say I say, well, I’m sure that’s how your aunt remembers it. Remember, remember the whole section where we talked about memory could be that the memory is gotten fuzzy over the years. Remember the other section where we talked about coincidence and remember the other sexual we talked about drawing false conclusions could be a little bit of A, B and C and, you know, so it’s like I do my best to empathize with people. But the important thing is that you. Never you never act like somebody has been chomped or they’re dumb or anything. And most importantly, if you want people to entertain the idea that maybe you’re right, it’s important to you not tell them what happened, but instead say, here’s how I see it. And that’s the best you can do. 

Raise some questions. Exactly. 

And not only do you expose scammers in spiritualism and TV psychics, as he said, and crop circle makers, but you also teach scams. So you’re probably best known for your Internet TV show scam school. 

That’s the problem, right? It’s like I’m I’m kind of half working for the bad guys here, Ana. Kinda. 

So you joke that this would be a pitched course in deceit. And the show demonstrates fantastic tricks, street cons and scams to get the girl’s phone number and to open padlocks without keys or the combination. So I’ve had great fun going through those shows. Skeptics are the ones who usually expose scams and scam. So is there a time when skeptics should be the scammers? 

You know, the what’s. To paraphrase the old phrase, you can’t scam a scammer. And so if what you want to do is get fewer people scammed, then we need to make more scammers out there. And of course, we want to do it in an innocuous kind of friendly way. And I think we’re pretty clear with the tongue in cheek aspect of stuff like, for example, when we do an episode about how to create your own bump keys that old that could be used for lock picking on the surface, we’re saying, hey, everyone, we’re going to open locks. But on the other hand, I think we’re very clearly saying, hey, people, you’re not as secure as you think you are. And that’s why we have a big section on what locks are relatively bump proof. And so it’s it’s it’s a conceit that we’re doing that we’re making a generation of con men. But essentially what we’re doing is we’re teaching some kickass magic tricks to make you the star of your local bar. 

See, it’s gaming for good and not for evil. 

That’s right. And what’s funny is that the whole teaching of scams is is in and of itself a scam, because I want to secretly, if I call the show, learn some magic with Brian. It probably wouldn’t be as as popular as scam school. 

And of course, skeptics have a reputation for being scammers for good as well with James Randi’s Carlos hoax, if you’ve heard of that before, too. Oh, absolutely. People how not to be ripped off. So I say scam school is along the same lines as that. 

And you also engage in some myth debunking, too, in the show. 

Yes. Yes, absolutely. And part of the reason that I love educating the masses as to how to deceive is for my experience because I got into magic before I took this pseudo science in the paranormal course. So I had these tools on how to fool people. And I just had this vague understanding that people are really easy to fool. And it’s not that were broken or dumb or bad or whatever. It’s that that it’s that the brain is built a certain way. And magicians take advantage of that. And it was only after taking the pseudo science course that that it crystallized everything. And I realized that that’s exactly what scam artists do as well. So if if I can get more people familiar with the tools and familiar with how easy it is to deceive other people, maybe more people will begin to question their own experiences. 

Now, what kind of feedback? To receive everything. 

It’s it’s all over the board. I’m really surprised by it. I get everything. The most gratifying feedback is stuff like I got an email from a kid in Bulgaria who told me that he was always shy. But as a result of watching scams go, he’s become the head of the school. And he hopes the only problem with scams school is nobody wants to share it. It was like nobody else discovers this program, because for right now, I’m on the king of this turf. I tell you, it it really seems to matter. You know, there are magicians who get bent out of shape, like, oh, you’re teaching magic in a public forum. But on the other hand, it’s like, no, I’m making magicians. I’m running a magic school. The only difference is that we’re ad supported rather than you having to pay me directly. 

And are you contravening magicians laws or something by revealing these tricks? 

You know, when when we put together scam school, I was convinced that there would be a tremendous backlash from magicians because only a few years before the mass magician got a lot of publicity and a lot of negative press for magicians by exposing all the secrets. And there’s this sort of allergy to exposure that magicians have. And so I did know whether or not the show would go over with him. And I have been absolutely shocked, 100 percent of all the magicians who see it loved it. And I was trying to figure out why. And I realized that exposure is not the problem for magicians. Exposure is. And by that, I mean, you know, I I’m not doing a trick and then say, now let me ruin it for you. But DJ Grothe, it’s done. It’s like there’s a difference between exposure and teaching exposure, something that’s denigrates the art, that takes magic down a peg and makes it seem small and petty. Teaching is something that builds an appreciation for the craft and makes you get Hands-On with it. So you understand just how hard it is to become a master craftsman of manipulating people’s understanding of the world. And I think that difference in attitude is what has resonated with magicians, because now I’ve got magicians all over the place volunteering material. They’ve written themselves saying, I’d love you to teach this on Scamp School. And it’s amazing to see how behind the show magicians have gotten. 

I’ve seen a number of magicians appear on your show as well. 

Yes, that’s one of the nice things, is as when the show show first started, you know, I was like, oh, I got 100 ideas rattling around in my brain. And now we’re up to we just shot like episode 140. And so all of a sudden, I’m just like, well, I think I’m about ready to get some help in here. So whoever whoever I know that has the material that they’d like to share a of the masses, I’m always happy to make them a featured guest on the show. 

Burlinson speaking about denigration, you just mentioned, you’ve said before in other interviews that magicians are sometimes denigrated, so they’re often looked down upon and that the Inwood magic is stigmatized so that you don’t use it very much in your shows. Why is this so? 

That’s a really good question. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that magic can be so many different things. Yet we have so few practitioners of it. For the example I give, because it’s amazing because they’ll be corporate events where people will try to get booked as a magician. People say, oh, no, we had a magician once before. He didn’t walk out. And the problem is that people aren’t familiar enough with the vocabulary to know how many wildly different types of magic there are. And for example, imagine if there were only, we’ll say, 2000 guitar players in all of the state of Texas. Right. And so, first of all, two things will happen. Anyone who could afford a guitar and learn three chords would now be a musician. And second of all, anyone who saw a guy with a guitar would be convinced that he’s seen what a guy with a guitar looks like. And meanwhile, obviously, there’s so many different styles of music. There’s so many different degrees of talent and storytelling and what’s in you that needs to come out as an art. And unfortunately, that’s what we have with magic. There’s only two thousand magicians in Texas. So anytime somebody sees someone with a deck of cards, it’s amazing. Upload a deck of cards of people say, oh, I’ve seen this one. Really is like there are there are so many amazing effects that can be done with a deck of cards, so many from storytelling to mind reading to to objects being produced and varnished and who knows where it’s headed. But the mere fact that there’s so few of us out there and the public has such a limited vocabulary about magic, that’s what makes people convinced that they’ve already seen. And that’s one of the things that I’m most proud the scam school is helping to do is to give people just a taste of the drug. So they want to come back and experience more of it. 

And you’ve spoken about the stereotypes of magicians before as a people associate magicians with magic wands and dogs and pulling a rabbit out of a hat and things like that, even worse than that. 

I mean, the thing I’m fighting, like even that would be fine, because that’s kind of kick ass. That’s Harry Potter stuff. You know, you get your wands and you make it does appear that the thing I have to fight is the creepy guy who shows up at an eight year old’s birthday party. You know, that’s the image that I’m fighting of it against. 

But this seems to me to be in stark contrast to the skeptical community where magicians are really well respected. And so if there’s any sort of hierarchy of skeptics, then magicians would have to be at the top of that hierarchy, no doubt, because of James Randi and Whodini. 

Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s so great the work they have done to bring a significance to the art of deception. And it’s such a great thing. And unfortunately, those are the only times that I feel a little bit bad. I’ve done a lot of trading on the public’s perception of magic and of what I do being a rejection of that. As did Penn and Teller. You know, Penn and Teller. They created that conceit. All magicians hate us. And unfortunately, the conceit became reality. 

Was that for publicity and promotion purposes? 

Oh, yes, absolutely. Absolutely. They would tell a story as part of the script. They’d say, oh, magicians all hate us because we give away the tricks. And then, sure enough, after or after a few weeks on tour, they there would be magicians protesting out in front because they you know, they said, oh, well, we understand we hate you because you you said it yourself. You give away the tricks. And so it’s important to realize that that perception becomes reality. But as far as, you know, my magic goes, I’ve traded a lot on the public’s perception of what a magician is as somebody who’s cheesy and socially awkward, although, of course, most magicians I know are very, very clever and very easy to get along with. But I trade on that perception in order to portray myself as a rejection and say, look, I’m one of you guys. 

I’m a normal guy, because certainly within the skeptical community, magicians are seen as being very cool and the kinds of people who can beat the frauds at their own game. 

Absolutely. And, you know, Teller was the one who pointed out that people associate magic with children’s performances, which is such a tragedy because a look at music you could take away and this is these are Teller’s words, not mine. You could take away nine tenths of someone’s brain and they could still feel the beat. But for magic, you have to be smart enough to understand reality well enough to recognize unreality. When you see it, you know a kid. For a kid, the world’s magical enough the way it is. But it takes an adult and an intellect to understand that paradox. 

And when did Teller say that? 

Well, he’s written a number of articles on there. I can’t. I cannot say enough nice things to tell her as a mere fact. He wrote me a letter 15 years ago that, you know, I hit him up at the right time, I guess. But I told him when I was trying to do and I was getting started and I titled the letter Fury and I said as like, look, you don’t know who I am. I’m an 18 year old kid just getting into magic. But but but the fact is, I’m furious at you, not because you’re clever or original, but because you got there first. And because you got there first. I’ll never be able to be what you are because you’ve already taken up the spot. And the best I’ll be is a Penn and Teller wannabe. And I guess it struck a chord because he wrote like a five page essay, which is one of the most amazing life shaping experiences of my entire life. As a matter of fact, just a couple of months ago, I posted it up on my blog at Schwarzkopf’s. If you go to should not common Dipen Teller in the search, I believe I titled it 15 years ago, the day Teller gave me the secret of my career. And it it is amazing. It’s mind blowing. 

And I usually ask all of my magician guests this question, are all magicians skeptics or should they will be skeptics? 

You know, there is a really good survey recently, and I think it was published in Skeptic magazine that said that when it comes to matters of the supernatural, on balance, magicians tended to be much more skeptical than normal people, except when it came to matters of of faith, which in which case because there is a strong contingency of gospel magicians. Obviously faith is important to them as they they use magic to, you know, to convey the message of their church. 

What’s the gospel magician? I’ve never heard of that before. 

You haven’t seen any of these? Yeah. Yeah. And this has always struck me as a little bit odd. And I have a lot of friends who are gospel magicians, so I don’t wanna speak ill of them at all. But I always thought of all the ways to convey the importance of of your Disney essentially emulating his miracles. Using deception is a very curious way to try to get a lot of followers. Yes. 

And so what what what they’ll often do is one of the things that’s great about magic is that it lends itself to storytelling. So when you have this prefabricated story with as you do with with people of all faiths, then it lends itself very well to telling the story, using the illustration of a magic trick as well. But the but unfortunately has this bizarre irony that I can’t quite stop thinking about every time I see a gospel magician. 

And is that specific to any particular denominations? 

Oh, no, no, no. There are there all across there, all across the board. As a matter of fact, one of the greatest illusion makers in the business, the guy who created a bunch of David Copperfield’s effects, is a guy named Andre Cole who created illusions. You know, this this bed of spikes, this death thing where the these spikes come and kill the magician. And he appears in the back of the audience or or he actually created a walking a water illusion and he actually tours all over the United States doing this this gospel message with with his show. 

Incredible. And Sass is talking about the N-word. There’s also an s word. 

And I think you know what that is. Well. 

Oh, thank you. Yes. Were you thinking of something else? I’m sorry. I to I wanted the obvious place there. 

So, yeah, this is another word that you tend to not use in your shows. 

Oh my God. I didn’t know that was not I guess that’s an unintentional aunt. All right. Now that I think about it. You’re right. I think I don’t know that it was ever a conscious decision to avoid using the word skeptic, but I think we could agree it’s a reasonably loaded term, especially for somebody who who would qualify themselves as a believer in the paranormal. My goal is to is to be heard by as many people as possible and get them to wrap their minds around things that they wouldn’t normally think of. And if you’re a believer in the paranormal. My guess is that the moment you hear the word skeptic, you think cheater, liar, fraud, shill for the corporate oil or whatever those things are. And it shuts your brain down to even listening to what they have to say. So if I can avoid saying a certain word and cause somebody to be more interested in listening to me, then by all means, I, you know, trade the word, get her. That’s the most important thing. 

Absolutely. It’s still a very useful label. But I find I function very well without using words like Skeptic and Woo, which is a popular sort of pejorative used in the community. I don’t like to use that term very much at all. 

And I think it’s fine. I think it’s fine when people of a like mind are having a drink in the pub to use the shorthand and talk that way. But when you’re talking to somebody who you know, I’m very, very careful and part of it is out of a fear of turning off people who might otherwise love scam school, because I’m sure there’s some number of people. Who fall into scam school. Deeply enough, and they dig to show enough that then they discover some of the skeptics stuff and maybe they’re. They like me enough. They trust me enough that they’ll actually listen to me in a way that that otherwise, if they just stumble across YouTube, which, by the way, I posted all of scam Sasquatch and the supernatural on YouTube, you could find it, somebody just running across it. It’s amazing. The comments are like this guy’s an idiot used. Yes. Stupid error. Therefore, he’s dumb. 

So I guess a preconceived ideas that that people have, and it’s nice to to bust those myths that people have. But what concepts or words would you use instead of using the word skeptic? Because you can refer to words like common sense and rationale and critical thinking. And often they’re not very user friendly either. 

I think critical thinking is pretty good if you can get away without using labels for a while. And a lot of it is case specific. You know, like like, for example, there’s nothing wrong with saying, hey, let’s talk about UFOs. There, that’s always said. Let’s talk about UFOs. Let’s talk about, you know, here’s the story with UFOs is X, Y and Z. And I find that that different supernatural force phenomenon lends itself very well to. To me, it always kind of boils down to the psychological phenomenon that allows the first one. For example, in my lecture, I start off talking about UFOs. But it leads instantly into into memory and memories being so bad, because we have when it comes to UFOs, we’re very, very scant on hard evidence. But we do have a tremendous amount of stories of people who have seen things and experience things or whatever. So it’s important to turn that focus on itself and talk about memory. And so all I could do is say, you know, here’s what we don’t have with you AVOs. Here’s what we do know about memory. And it’s you know, it’s up to you to decide what that means. You know, nobody really decides anything until they decide it for themselves. So all I can do is lead the horse to water. 

And so, admittedly, skepticism suffers from some image problems. And I’ve previously spoken with other guests about Kovács skepticism. So skepticism that’s hidden beneath comedy, music and magic to make it more palatable. So how do you think skepticism could be spread on a more popular level? Because you do that so well. 

I think it’s a great idea. I think that’s exactly how it should be. I think skepticism should should be the default frame of mind that you have unless unless there’s a particular you know, sometimes it’s easier to use a shortcut. Once you’ve grown to trust someone, it’s easier to just, you know. You know, every time my mom says she loves me, I don’t think I need to ask for an argument to prove it. But but yeah, I think I think that’s a great way to do it. One of the other things I think is great as far as outreach goes is and does the first time I’m talking about this in a public forum. But I was really shocked at the difference in the experience of going to the amazing meeting at MAZING Meeting three in was that 2003, I believe, and and the amazing meeting. Wait, these these numbers aren’t adding up. That was 2005. 2005. Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Because my daughter was just born. The 2005 was amazing. Me 23. And then I went to TAM seven last year. And the difference was absolutely mind blowing when I went in 2003. I loved the intellectual discourse. I loved the experience. But oh my God, I was shocked at how much hatred was all around. People were just really angry. And it was it was it was a very rewarding experience for me. But it wasn’t fun in in a in a lighthearted kind of way. And maybe I just didn’t meet the right people. But and also, you know, keep in mind, we had some some outspoken people, you know, like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. And when I went back last year for Tam’s seven, I was shocked at how much positivity there was. There was food drives to serve as an outreach program. There was there was there was everybody hanging out in the bars talking with each other. I love this whole movement of skeptics in the pub, and I loved seeing the positive energy that had been infused to the experience that it wasn’t this naked intellectual discourse. 

The amazing meeting is suddenly grown exponentially from, I think, 150 people who attended the first meeting through to thirteen hundred this year. So I don’t believe you attended this year with SA. 

No, I’m so, so very sorry. I ended up like the only two shows I got booked for in all of July were a were were during that exact time as I got high. Got to do this unfortunately. 

Maybe next year. And you’re going to be at Dragon Con this year instead. 

Yes. As a matter of fact, we’ll be we’ll be broadcasting live a dragon con. I’ll be participating in whatever the skeptic track will have me participate in. Very, very excited as my first year of Dragon Con. 

I would definitely agree to that. The movement is becoming a lot more positive and I think that’s going to help with the outreach and friendly as well. 

I think that’s the important thing. I think the face of skep skepticism when I first got into it was very negative and very off putting a very you’re dumb. Why aren’t you? Why you let yourself be fooled. And I’m so glad to see less of that and more like more more just expressing like, hey, man, let’s do some good. Let’s wake some people up. 

Yeah. And I think with people like you and I, I’d like to think there’s no one face. 

Yes. Unless you and I are sharing a face. 

So getting back to your brand of skepticism, it seems to be very guerrilla style. To me, the way that you communicate skepticism and you always give something back. So with scam school, you teach tricks to your audience. So these are things that they can reproduce. And I think that’s a very important part of teaching skepticism to replicate phenomena such as your EVP cell phone trick. 

Yes, absolutely. And and, you know, there’s a difference. Obviously, when I’m onstage, I’m playing the part. But to me, the difference is the moment the show’s over, the moment anybody starts to ask about E.S.P, the supernatural, whatever. Oh, oh, dude, it’s a trick. It’s a very, very good illusion. I’m very proud of that illusion. But it is just a trick. And when I tell people is like, oh, what about so-and-so? And the shorthand. Instead of getting in this contest of, oh, he’s not real and he’s not really he’s not real, what I usually will say is anyone who tells you they have E.S.P is either fooling you or they’re fooling themselves. By which I mean either they’re using a very good trick to put on a performance for you. And part of the performance, you know, you have to use the short end of erm doing the ESB. And there are some people who are, are jerks who will off stage continue to tell you they have, they have GSB and then the other type is, and I think this is actually much more common or really well-meaning people who just don’t understand that they’re unintentionally reading body language, that they’re that they’re looking at eye dilation and face facial gestures, and they have a good intuitive understanding of the way people react. And as a result, they honestly think they have some kind of supernatural capability when in fact they’re just fooling themselves. Mm hmm. 

And you’ve been getting into the investigation side of things a fair bit more with the Weird Things podcast. And so I I’m just wondering, do you think that it’s more important that we try to replicate phenomena or to actually go out there and investigate and look for phenomena? 

We’re doing something a little bit different with the Weird Things podcast. And I and I hesitate to talk too much about it because it’s really Andrew Mayne’s creation and it’s really his his brainchild. I will say that the Weird Things podcast is hands down out of scam school, out of NSW, out of any of the live streams that I do. Weird things is my favorite experience to have. Because what we’ve noticed is that skeptic’s, in addition to knowing the truth about a lot of supernatural phenomenon, still tend to be really in2 that kind of thing. Like like we don’t believe in Sasquatch, but we all kind of think it’s awesome, you know, and or at least there’s a there’s enough people out there. And so, Eske, weird things is an interesting take where we want to wrap our minds around. It’s basically a science fiction podcast is what it is, where it’s like I don’t put down a science fiction, I don’t put down Isaac Asimov because I’m just like, well, that’s ridiculous. Nobody can have that super psychic power and. But but if they could, you know, what would the repercussions of that be? And that’s the kind of mind games that we play on on weird things. And recently, we’ve had a really good time doing doing live investigations. On Halloween last year, we did a live Whodini Science at the ref with the James Randi was kind enough to give us an introduction and a forward for the whole thing. It was. And of course, we know we got we got word suggested by Penn and Teller. Bye bye, folks, over Reason magazine. Bye bye, David Copperfield. They all gave us sealed words and envelopes. And strangely, the ghost of Whodini wasn’t able to get any of them, but it was an electric experience. It was really a lot of fun. And we had 10000 people tune in over the course of the of the live broadcast. Wow. 

I would definitely great that skeptics do, even if we we doubt these phenomena. We do have a fascination with the ghosts and Big Fortin’s and we’d like these things to exist or at least, you know, even if they don’t exist, we’d love to. 

We love to wrap our minds around what that would mean if they exist. And we love to think about these fringe possibilities. 

And I do think that weed is another great woods tees for this skepticism instead of talking about the paranormal and the occult and pseudo science to things that are we. I think that’s a really accessible word. 

Tease, I think. Exactly. And again, you know, there are a number of people who come to the Weird Things podcast because they dig a lot of fringe items. They’re into the art bell kind of stuff. And a lot of them regard themselves as critical thinkers and some of them are hardcore believers. In the moment we start talking and they’re like, these guys don’t believe they’re not treating the source material well enough. They hate us, they hate the show. But I think a lot of people kind of get this stealth skepticism because we’ll mention, you know, way in every episode of weird things, in addition to talking about the scenarios that we posit to each other. We do acknowledge, you know, the parts that make it unlikely to work in the real world. And so we kind of stealthily arm people with the tools to start to think critically. 

Yeah, I think a lot of members of your audience ask skeptics and they don’t know it. 

Yes. Yes. And that’s what I’m convinced. I’m convinced that there are way more skeptics out there, but they just don’t know it yet. And the problem is you can’t go up and proclaim them to be skeptics, that what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to arm them with the tools for them to come to that realization on their own. 

Exactly. And just a final question I’ve been asking my guests of late for their practical skepticism tips. So, Brian, what’s your skeptical sound bite from our point of inquiry listeners? 

Because I am a person who who lives and feeds his family based on my ability to to to meet people and get them to like me well enough to book my show. I tend to be, some might say, chicken in the way I engage stuff. And so and so I avoid actually making any decisions for them. And I make sure to say things like, well, the research suggests and and give them facts. And and, you know, people tend to just want to be heard. And if you can listen to them and then offer them some tools. To get ahead, then I think you’re doing a lot more for skepticism than than what’s been called skeptical porn of just, you know, telling off people and shutting them down. You know, it’s a really good sounding soundbite to say, Waseca, speak the truth. And in your face, that sounds great. Unfortunately, that turns off people who might otherwise join your side of the discussion. And unfortunately, when people use other people as a toy to talk bad about their ideas, to crush them and say, well, you’re just dumb, you’re either ignorant or you’re uninformed or even if you do it when it’s masked behind this scientific sounding jargon, what you’re really doing is you’re alienating somebody who could be a potential ally and you’re making yourself a smaller clubhouse for having done it. So I say, you know, love everyone, even if they’re wrong now, eventually maybe they’ll come around. All you could do is continue to try to give them the tools to figure it out themselves. 

Thank you for that skeptical wisdom. And Brian, thank you so much for joining me. It was a pleasure to speak with you. 

Oh, dude, I’ve. Anytime. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry, Brian’s Web site is. Should dot com. That’s is h w o o d dot com. And scam school can be found at two Revision3 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 points 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 Mike Wilen. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Karen Stollznow. 

Karen Stollznow