James Randi: Homeopathy, quackery and fraud (1)
Good morning. Happy to see so many fine folks out here and so many smiling faces. I have a very peculiar background, attitude and approach to the real world because I am a conjurer. Now, I prefer that term over magician, because if I were a magician, that would mean that I use spells and incantations and weird gestures in order to accomplish real magic. No, I don't do that; I'm a conjurer, who is someone who pretends to be a real magician. (Laughter)
Now, how do we go about that sort of thing? We depend on the fact that audiences, such as yourselves, will make assumptions. For example, when I walked up here and I took the microphone from the stand and switched it on, you assumed this was a microphone, which it is not. (Laughter) As a matter of fact, this is something that about half of you, more than half of you will not be familiar with. It's a beard trimmer, you see? And it makes a very bad microphone; I've tried it many times. (Laughter) The other assumption that you made -- and this little lesson is to show you that you will make assumptions. Not only that you can, but that you will when they are properly suggested to you. You believe I'm looking at you. Wrong. I'm not looking at you. I can't see you. I know you're out there, they told me backstage, it's a full house and such. I know you're there because I can hear you, but I can't see you because I normally wear glasses. These are not glasses, these are empty frames. (Laughter) Quite empty frames.
Now why would a grown man appear before you wearing empty frames on his face? To fool you, ladies and gentlemen, to deceive you, to show that you, too, can make assumptions. Don't you ever forget that. Now, I have to do something -- first of all, switch to real glasses so I can actually see you, which would probably be a convenience. I don't know. I haven't had a good look. Well, it's not that great a convenience. (Laughter)
I have to do something now, which seems a little bit strange for a magician. But I'm going to take some medication. This is a full bottle of Calms Forte. I'll explain that in just a moment. Ignore the instructions, that's what the government has to put in there to confuse you, I'm sure. I will take enough of these. Mm. Indeed, the whole container. Thirty-two tablets of Calms Forte.
Now that I've done that -- I'll explain it in a moment -- I must tell you that I am an actor. I'm an actor who plays a specific part. I play the part of a magician, a wizard, if you will, a real wizard. If someone were to appear on this stage in front of me and actually claim to be an ancient prince of Denmark named Hamlet, you would be insulted and rightly so. Why would a man assume that you would believe something bizarre like this? But there exists out there a very large population of people who will tell you that they have psychic, magical powers that they can predict the future, that they can make contact with the deceased. Oh, they also say they will sell you astrology or other fortunetelling methods. Oh, they gladly sell you that, yes. And they also say that they can give you perpetual motion machines and free energy systems. They claim to be psychics, or sensitives, whatever they can.
But the one thing that has made a big comeback just recently is this business of speaking with the dead. Now, to my innocent mind, dead implies incapable of communicating. (Laughter) You might agree with me on that. But these people, they tend to tell you that not only can they communicate with the dead -- "Hi, there" -- but they can hear the dead as well, and they can relay this information back to the living. I wonder if that's true. I don't think so, because this subculture of people use exactly the same gimmicks that we magicians do, exactly the same -- the same physical methods, the same psychological methods -- and they effectively and profoundly deceive millions of people around the earth, to their detriment. They deceive these people, costs them a lot of money, cost them a lot of emotional anguish. Billions of dollars are spent every year, all over the globe, on these charlatans.
Now, I have two questions I would like to ask these people if I had the opportunity to do so. First question: If I want to ask them to call up -- because they do hear them through the ear. They listen to the spirits like this -- I'm going to ask you to call up the ghost of my grandmother because, when she died, she had the family will, and she secreted it someplace. We don't know where it is, so we ask Granny, "Where is the will, Granny?" What does Granny say? She says, "I'm in heaven and it's wonderful. I'm here with all my old friends, my deceased friends, and my family and all the puppy dogs and the kittens that I used to have when I was a little girl. And I love you, and I'll always be with you. Good bye." And she didn't answer the damn question! Where is the will? Now, she could easily have said, "Oh, it's in the library on the second shelf, behind the encyclopedia," but she doesn't say that. No, she doesn't. She doesn't bring any useful information to us. We paid a lot of money for that information, be we didn't get it. The second question that I'd like to ask, rather simple: Suppose I ask them to contact the spirit of my deceased father-in-law, as an example. Why do they insist on saying -- remember, they speak into this ear -- why do they say, "My name starts with J or M?" Is this a hunting game? Hunting and fishing? What is it? Is it 20 questions? No, it's more like 120 questions. But it is a cruel, vicious, absolutely conscienceless -- I'll be all right, keep your seats (Laughter) -- game that these people play. And they take advantage of the innocent, the naive, the grieving, the needy people out there.
Now, this is a process that is called cold reading. There's one fellow out there, Van Praagh is his name, James Van Praagh. He's one of the big practitioners of this sort of thing. John Edward, Sylvia Browne and Rosemary Altea, they are other operators. There are hundreds of them all over the earth, but in this country, James Van Praagh is very big. And what does he do? He likes to tell you how the deceased got deceased, the people he's talking to through his ear, you see? So what he says is, very often, is like this: he says, "He tells me, he tells me, before he passed, that he had trouble breathing." Folks, that's what dying is all about! (Laughter) You stop breathing, and then you're dead. It's that simple. And that's the kind of information they're going to bring back to you? I don't think so. Now, these people will make guesses, they'll say things like, "Why am I getting electricity? He's saying to me, 'Electricity.' Was he an electrician?" "No." "Did he ever have an electric razor?" "No." It was a game of hunting questions like this. This is what they go through.
Now, folks often ask us at the James Randi Educational Foundation, they call me, they say, "Why are you so concerned about this, Mr. Randi? Isn't it just a lot of fun?" No, it is not fun. It is a cruel farce. Now, it may bring a certain amount of comfort, but that comfort lasts only about 20 minutes or so. And then the people look in the mirror, and they say, I just paid a lot of money for that reading. And what did she say to me? 'I love you!'" They always say that. They don't get any information, they don't get any value for what they spend.