The Stossel special

James Randi --- Wizard (
Wed, 7 Oct 1998 10:35:08 -0400 (EDT)

The people at ABC-TV, in my opinion, did a really excellent job of
"The Power of Belief," shown last night. Good old Michael Shermer
came through strongly, Stossel represented himself with integrity, and
I'm very pleased with the total effect.

Heads will roll if I find out who provided that clip of me as a
teenage "Magic Clown," but I'll get over it....

The e-mail reaction has been very strong. My mailbox filled up, and I
had to download it twice since last night. If you saw the show,
please share your thoughts -- negative or positive -- with ABC-TV
News. That can help to encourage them in the direction of more such
material, and produce an exchange of ideas, as well as what might
become a regular forum.

I can safely predict that ABC will get a very heavy reaction to this
show, and much of it will be angry believers who resent their ideas
being questioned. I regret that these folks will be annoyed, but
annoyance can be the beginning of critical thinking....

What a contrast between the 20/20 presentation on Sunday, and this
one! I don't envy Stossel having to deal with the rest of the 20/20

This was a positive move forward. Now, if only major networks could
be encouraged to handle such subjects in a similarly responsible
fashion, we'd all be well served. Your letters to the producers DO
help, believe me. Whether you liked the show, or not, I urge you to
contact ABC to show them that they reached you, either way.

And I have an idea that applications for the million dollars will be
pouring in at the JREF.....

On that matter, I must tell you that a claimant from Arkansas, having
filled out the form as required, yesterday underwent his test. His
claim -- and I'm serious here, as he was -- stated that if we prepared
a light-tight cardboard box and set it on a table between 10 and 10:15
in the morning, at the JREF, he would cause a pigeon to materialize
inside it. And he would be at home in Arkansas. In accordance with
our stated rules, we had to carry out his requirements, and we
dutifully sat there waiting. No pigeon.

Now, that is certainly NOT the reason that the JREF exists. We are in
the business of examining serious claims of paranormal ability. But
this gentleman sincerely believes (we must assume this) that he can do
such a wonder. It's easy to simply dismiss his highly improbable
claim, but we can't do that, in all fairness. It is increasingly
surprising just how naive some people are, in believing what they
would LIKE to be true, as if it were fact.

We can't laugh at the Arkansas man. We can, and we do, treat his
claim as any other: as if it just might be true. We're not judges of
common sense or naivety.

The show last night might give us more likely claims to examine. I
hope so. And, if the time should ever arrive when we have induced
enough critical thinking and basic science education into mainstream
America, no one will be happier than I.

I'm off to participate in the annual IgNobel Prize awards in Boston.
A report will follow.

(And, I'm going in for a closing EKG readout today. I'm recovering
VERY nicely, getting my strength back, and getting feistier every day.
Stand back!)


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