Randi in Maryland

Last weekend the infamous James Randi was in town (for a sufficiently loose definition of “town”) to receive an award, and I went to go see him.

If you weren’t there, to be honest, you didn’t miss a whole lot. Randi talked for a little while, the main take-home message being that we should get angry and fight all the “crapiola” out there, and did a simple magic trick, along with showing how it was done. The bulk of the time after that was a series of video clips featuring Randi in full debunking force, drawn from a TV series in Korea and some relatively recent media appearances in the U.S. (particularly regarding the most recent Sylvia Browne debacle), many of which can be found on YouTube, with Randi and one of the afternoon’s hosts providing commentary.

Since the Korean clips don’t seem to be online, you might be wondering what they were about. One featured a couple people claiming to have some sort of “human magnetism” where objects could stick to them. Randi demonstrated that their “power” vanished when their skin was sprinkled with talcum powder. As Randi explained, the “magnetism” was caused by sticky sweat, and applying that sweat to, say, a piece of wood would confer the same adhesive properties to it.

Another clip dealt with a “healer” who would use an egg to remove the bad juju from a person, rubbing the egg on their body and then cracking it open to reveal red goop inside of it. Video Randi demonstrated how this little trick is done: make a little hole in the end of the egg and squirt in some red food coloring, then tape over it and keep your thumb over the tape the whole time so nobody can see what you did. The “healer” also demonstrated the power to deliver electric shocks to people. A little stealthy camerawork revealed how this was done: the “healer” would stand on a rubber mat and with his foot operate a high-voltage, low-amperage generator concealed in one sandal; when activated, current would arc from his hand to the patient to the ground.

After that, the National Capital Area Skeptics presented Randi with an award, and that was pretty much it.

In conclusion, James Randi is surprisingly short in person.