An Interview with James Randi (Part Three)
Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Numbering: Issue 13.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Nine)
Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada
Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal
Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com
Individual Publication Date: February 15, 2017
Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2017
Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing
Frequency: Three Times Per Year
An interview with James Randi. He discusses: James Hydrick’s false claim and trick; Sylvia Browne’s and James van Praagh’s false claims and tricks; the purported spoon bending of Uri Geller; scientific education in the US; and understanding principles of certains fields and religion as the big problem.
Keywords: James Hydrick, James Randi, James van Praagh, scientific education, Sylvia Browne, Uri Geller.
An Interview with James Randi: Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (Part Three)
*Footnotes in & after the interview, & bibliography & citation style listing after the interview.*
*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.*
7. I want to get more into the career and professional skeptic work.
I’m sure you’ve been asked these questions a couple of hundred times. You’ve exposed fakers in the New Age, in various religious movements. You have called New Age “newage” to rhyme with sewage. James Hydrick, what was his false claim, and what was the trick behind it, in brief?
Hydrick. I feel very sorry for Hydrick. I believe he is still incarcerated because he’s not a safely sane person. He showed up on television, and I gave him a very simple test, as simple as it can get because I knew what he was doing. He was blowing on the pages of a telephone book to make them turn over. I happen to have a book called Flim-Flam!. You may have heard of it.
I keep it out on the desk most of the time. I assure you.
That is an understated part of your legacy, inventing terms.
Yeah, of course. The trick was having the page slightly curled at the leading edge and then Hydrick was simply blowing, and it would lift and fold back, you see. He had to break the back of the book, so to speak, a good deal, first of all. He did it very cleverly. Then he turned his head away by the time the page had started to move. That’s pretty clever, and hard to do. He learned that trick in prison because he had a violent past. He got locked up in prison for several things, which are not of importance.
When he got out, he showed the trick to somebody. They said, “That’s supernatural!” He got a couple of people to set up some sort of a temple or other. He thought, “Oh boy, this seems like a real way to break into society.” Some very wealthy people offered him some money to go ahead and start certain temples and religious movements going. Of course they didn’t understand it was a trick. They weren’t terribly smart.
So, he was on his way to doing that, and then we got on television for the test and Hydrick failed. What I did was distribute Styrofoam pellets – packing pellets – all around the edges of the book. If he were to blow like that to turn the page, you’d see – whoosh! – clearly what he was doing. Hydrick looked amused during the taping, which was in Los Angeles. We had to turn off all of the air conditioning in the TV studio. In those days, in the middle of the summer, you didn’t do that because everyone would be very unhappy. They actually had to send the studio audience to the cafeteria, then quiet the whole place down, make sure everything was still, and ask them to come in very carefully and not disturb the air currents or anything like that.
Hydrick was totally unable to do anything impressive. He walked around the thing for over 20 minutes. Now, this was taping/studio time, very expensive in those days, that was not going to be a part of the program. They’d have to edit it way down. Mark Goodson was the producer. I remember, he was walking around saying, “Money, money, money, my god! This is costing a fortune.” To have the studio two or three hours more than they needed it, was an expensive rental, but the show worked out very well for me. Hydrick was about to get very violent. I had to have two bodyguards. Oh yeah…
Hydrick was a Kung Fu guy. Any demonstration of Kung Fu against my poor body would not be welcome. They protected me, put me in a limo to take me back to the hotel. That program made quite a stir, and Mr. Hydrick lost his sponsorship by those wealthy people who wanted to start a temple to study his wonderful powers. It’s too bad because he really was a sick man. He later got locked up for acts of violence, and he called me a few times – about twice a year. He’d ask generalized questions, but I knew what was going on. He was looking for me to make some kind of appeal for him. It was something I could not handle.
I wouldn’t know how to go about doing that sort of thing. They had decided to keep him beyond the time he was sentenced to, because he was very violent and likely to be a danger to society. I don’t know under what circumstances he is being held now. I trust that it is reasonably comfortable for him, but that’s a lost life that could have been a much more useful one. Life could have been kinder to him, but it just didn’t work out that way. That’s James Hydrick, yeah.
8. Two more prominent names come to mind, especially with your interaction with them, purported mediums and psychics like Sylvia Browne and James van Praagh. What were their false claims, and what, just in brief, are the tricks behind that?
You should get a copy of my book, Flim-Flam! The stories are told in there. But Sylvia Browne was doing readings for people, really badly. She was so bad at what she did. She would, first of all, do them by telephone. You would have to reserve time – and pay for it as much as two years in advance, to get a reading from her. She’d charge, I think, $800 or something like that to read you over the telephone. And she smoked all of the way through it. I have recordings right here, in fact, of her, that people sent me because she would give them a tape of the reading, a little cassette tape. You may remember cassette tapes.
It’s very interesting to hear some of them. You can play any one of them, and you’ll hear pauses in it, her drawing on a cigarette. You can hear the crackle of the cigarette, you know.
Because she’s got a mike right up against it. “Well now, dearie…” She always spoke like she had gravel in her throat. I don’t know what killed her, but I think it was throat cancer. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was the cause. She had a big staff working for her. She’d keep people waiting for years – literally. She’d already have the money a couple of years in advance, in many cases. She’d call them up, talk to them on the phone, and always tell them the same things. “You have to eat more so-and-so” – different foods she’d recommend to them. She’d often recommend various throat medicines, probably the ones she took for what she had.
In my latest new book, in the appendices, I’ll have a whole “reading” by her and every “puff” in the reading, as well. A very interesting woman, but absolutely cruel, savage, and very, very damaging. She got people really believing her. Some mail I got from people after they had their reading and listened to it again on the tape, then they realized just how bad it was, how absolutely without any trace of reality, or use, or any moral whatsoever. She was just a terrible person. I think, an evil person, and she made a lot of money on it. You were saying “James van Praagh”?
James van Praagh, I think, is easily transparent. What he does is the same old thing, called “cold reading.” You say, “I’m getting an M or an R.”
“M, R, maybe an N, I’m not sure.” People speak up and ask, “Martin?” and he says, “Yes, Martin, they call him Marty as far as I understand.” These people are reasonably good at it, but not good enough if you really listen carefully to what’s being said. In many cases, the written notes that the victims would send them – along with the check, of course, for the reading – would have that mentioned: “I’m going to ask you about Martin.” Van Praagh would start the conversation with “I am getting an M. I don’t know whether it is Marge, Martin, or something important. Is that it? Is that it?” This is how they do it. The people that send in the letters often forget that they wrote that part in their letter.
9. Another individual is Uri Geller, the purported spoon bender.
Well, he is a spoon bender. Any fool can bend a spoon.
Unless you’re a centipede or something like that, and it’s too big for you. What always astonished me about Geller, he appeared in libraries and men’s clubs and things like that, you see, and if you bring a spoon to him, he picks up the spoon, but he picks it up like this – with both hands. But hey! I’m 88 and I can pick up a dozen spoons in one hand!
Right, he’s got a prepped spoon.
Not necessarily, no. Now, I can hold a spoon in one hand, but Geller has to pick it up in both hands like this, he then turns away from you and says, “Come over here” and you see the arms, and the shoulders, go like this! And then when he turns back to you, he’s holding the spoon concealed in such a way that you can’t see it’s already bent. It’s hanging out of his hand like that, and then very slowly it appears to bend over.
In any case, it’s easily seen how he does it. He just slowly reveals the bend by concealing his hand like this, and it appears to have been bent. If you see it, it’s so obvious. But one thing about Geller: he is a very good magician. Magicians have to be aware of where people’s eyes are going. I swear, even with the glasses that I’m wearing, I see things out of the corners of my eyes, and I can see whether I’ve been twigged, which is the term for “discovered”. We know not to do it that way.
Geller is very good at that. Sometimes, he’ll just throw the spoon away and say, “No, I don’t want to do that anymore,” then he’ll walk across the room and do something else. He has now said that he does not want to be known as a “psychic” anymore, but wants to be known as “a mystifier.” That’s the term he told an audience. “A mystifier” doesn’t translate well into German, nor into Hungarian. And his character? He now says that his character has been completely changed, now that he’s a “mystifier”. Duh!
He’s very clever, no question about that, but when you – ahem! – read my 11th book called A Magician in the Laboratory, Appendix number 7 has a complete account of where two of the so-called scientists fell for Geller at Stanford Research Institute, in those days. It’s called something different today – “Stanford Research International”. They fell for it completely. They got literally – literally – millions of dollars from the government and from different agencies as well, and from the Department of Defence.
The DOD decided “There must be something to this. He must have some powers. I wonder if we could use them.” They soon found out he didn’t have any, but they’d already spent the money. Stanford Research International did very, very well off that. They’ve been happy about that ever since. If you write to them or the DOD and ask about Geller, they will not respond to you at all. They won’t answer requests for information because, I think, they’re rather hugely embarrassed over what that did to them.
Of course, they wrote books on it and everything else. They got these tens of millions of dollars in budgets to deal with. But Geller is no longer taken seriously, even in the so-called psychic world.
10. We do have accounts of just general principles. We do have surveys that do kind of take account of some countries’ level of scientific knowledge, if you take an average citizen. For instance, in the United States, belief in evolutionary theory is rather low. In Canada, it is higher by a significant margin. In the UK, it is a bit higher than in Canada.
Yes, this is something quite serious. Education with regard to science in the US has just deteriorated. It’s shameful.
11. In addition to this, people don’t need to memorize facts, necessarily, because Google and the Internet can expedite the searching of the information, but the understanding of the principles of the understanding of certain fields – evolution by natural selection, plate tectonics and continental drift, even just deep cosmic time where you’re talking about a 13.8 billion years old universe, a Big Bang cosmology universe…
…Remember that religion enters into this too. And there are many millions of people out there who believe the Earth formed 2,000 years ago. Some say 1,200 years because they want to be stupider than the other people.
They have no idea how long rocks take to form, how they form, and why they come into existence. They have no knowledge of this. Religion? Religion is the evil giant here. I’m an atheist, but I’m not an atheist just because I don’t believe in this sort of thing. I searched for answers, as a kid, and the answers I got were all stupid. They asked me to just believe things. They’d hammer a Bible and say, “It’s in this book!” I’d always try to read the Bible. I didn’t understand what I was reading, and when I asked them for an explanation, they said, “You have to read a long time before you understand.” I don’t want to read books for most of my life before I find out what they really mean to say.
Because books are easy to put together: verbs, adjectives, you know, nouns, that’s not too difficult to do, but that’s not the way it’s done. I’ll state that religion is stupid in the first place, in my estimation, it doesn’t hold water, at all. There is no basis for it. And evolution is an absolutely wonderful, beautiful, beautiful fact. And DNA, come on! The beautiful things we can know about the real world so overpower the superstitious end of things, in my estimation.
It’s just wonderful. The truth is much more beautiful. I can appreciate a sunset or a sunrise, though I admit that I like sunrises better than sunsets, at my age.
But I can go out there and watch the clouds turning orange and whatnot, and be much at peace with the universe that I see in between the trees here in Florida. It doesn’t make it any less beautiful. It makes it more beautiful because I realize the Sun didn’t go behind the trees. No! The Earth turned away and that made the Sun appear to go away – we turned away from the Sun, it didn’t go away from us. Get that mindset going for you, that will help you understand a great deal, a great deal more. It is much more beautiful than the superstitious angle or point of view.
Appendix I: Footnotes
 Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).
Appendix II: Citation Style Listing
American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Three) [Online].February 2017; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.
American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2017, February 15). An Interview with James Randi (Part Three). Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.
Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Three). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A, February. 2017. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three>.
Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2017. “An Interview with James Randi (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.
Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with James Randi (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 13.A (February 2017). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.
Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part Three)‘, In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three>.
Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2017, ‘An Interview with James Randi (Part Three)‘, In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 13.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.
Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with James Randi (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 13.A (2017):February. 2017. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three>.
Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with James Randi (Part Three) [Internet]. (2017, February; 13(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/an-interview-with-james-randi-part-three.
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