A day at JREF...

James Randi --- Wizard (JREFInfo@ssr.com)
Wed, 25 Nov 1998 15:41:48 -0500 (EST)

I would like to share with you a recent example of the sort of thing I
handle just about every day at the JREF. I offer it with the
assurance that I feel full sympathy for those described here who have
been led to their conclusions by their misunderstanding of how the
real world works, and of how their own minds function. These are not
charlatans -- the sort of persons I can deal with rather more easily
-- but self-deluded folks for whom we can do very little,

Last week, I was dueling on e-mail with a woman who says her father
"takes rocks and makes them alive," among other wonders. "His closest
companion," she told me, "is a small rock with a hole in it that he
keeps with him all the time and communicates with it, he even feeds
it." This is a man who needs to get out more often, one would think.
She sent me a videotape, four-and-a-half minutes that absolutely
transfixed us as we watched it. The very unhappy-looking man, with
his mouth turned down all the way, held in one hand what looked like a
small pumpernickel roll -- but might well be one of his rocks. (The
"pet rock" craze of a few years back comes inevitably to mind.)
Seated, he began shaking his head from side to side until it was
"flapping" in an alarming fashion. And that's it.

There was nothing else on that tape but this rather disturbed-looking
man shaking his head! Added to this was his daughter's observation
that "in the winter he doesn't wear a coat because he doesn't get
cold." She writes that when her dad is head-shaking, she has "seen
lights were [sic] there was no electricity and in the dark." She has
"seen lights come from his head. . . . [he] has helped cure cancer, to
merely headaches with his techniques [sic]." Now I must tell you that
this description, and the videotape, are claims on the Pigasus Prize!
These folks want us to award the chap our million-dollar prize,
because he flaps his face! Sometimes I wonder what I, a fully-grown
man, am doing in this strange business.

But I know full well why I'm doing this. It's my attempt to bring
some common sense to those I can reach. Don't think for a moment that
this man I've been describing could not attract enough attention to
get a major religious movement started. Just look at Jim Jones, the
Aum cult in Japan, or the Heaven's Gate group. Just as silly notions
created and nurtured those groups and led to the subsequent disasters.
Maybe, just maybe, I can get in a few words of common sense and
guidance that could alter the course of these small insanities.

Just for a moment, consider what this misguided man, in an impassioned
letter to President Clinton, wrote about his own obvious understanding
of science: " . . . as the universe expands, it is inevitable that we
will all feel it. There will be a moment when critical mass is
achieved in this expansion -- and if we are not ready for it, the
human race may simply not make it as a species. Scientists tell us
the rate of expansion is increasing -- global warming and wildly
unpredictable weather patterns offer us palpable physical
evidence. . . . We must acclimate ourselves gradually by joining with
the expansion. I have learned how to do this -- for myself -- and am
now teaching others to do the same." Here we have an excellent
example of how phrases that have a proper place in science --
expanding universe, critical mass, global warming -- are picked up and
used totally out of context and without any understanding of their
real meaning, to construct sentences that seem to make sense to the
scientifically naive reader. This unfortunate chap, in his letter to
the White House, offers his "discovery" as "a way out of disease,
poverty, fear, war, acrimony, lack, disharmony, political strife,
back-stabbing, miscommunication, misery -- in short, everything that
has plagued mankind since time immemorial."

No, I don't think I can ever reach this man, or his daughter and other
followers. But I must try, because it just might work. It saddens me
to know the odds.

While I'm on here, for those of you who observe these things, enjoy a
fine Thanksgiving holiday. This year, as always, I'm celebrating good
friends and colleagues who have brightened my life over the past year.
Thank you all, wherever you may be.

James Randi

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