A Magician in the Laboratory

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Author: James Randi
Date: Summer 2009
From: Skeptic (Altadena, CA)(Vol. 15, Issue 2)
Publisher: Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine
Document Type: Excerpt
Length: 1,912 words

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SHAMELESSLY, I HERE OFFER readers an excerpt from the opening chapter of my next book, A Magician in the Laboratory. It's shaping up--slowly--and I invite you to a preview of what The Amazing Curmudgeon will release to the bookstores within the next year or so....

Enormous harm has been done to science by emphasizing quantity over quality, and at the extremes, fraud and fakery over honesty and intellectual hard work. However, science has self-correcting mechanisms built in so that mistakes, and the occasional bit of fakery, are soon automatically eliminated. Left to itself, science has created and shaped much of the world in which we live, but constant vigilance can never be relaxed, or the woo-woos can and will move in.

Malignant science--a variety of which was dubbed "pathological science" by physicist Irving Langmuir to describe the "N-Rays" fiasco back in 1903, and the sort of phenomenon which we will encounter in these pages--results from carelessness, incompetence, overemphasis on authority rather than expertise, plain stupidity, the tantalizing Nobel-prize-on-the-horizon-syndrome and, often, just avarice. All but one of these are elements not unheard of in everyday life, and the layman can easily relate to them.

I've never failed to hold an audience--a lay group or a conference of academics--with detailed accounts of these investigations, which sound much like developing detective stories. The gathering of clues, the recourse to past experiences, forensic techniques, the chase and capture, all demonstrate the narrow-spectrum specialty in which I'm involved. Some of these inquiries have taken their places in history already, and are referred to in textbooks and scientific journals, but an in-detail account has never before been published; therein can be found the fascinating angles and facets of this difficult pursuit.

As an experienced conjuror and observer, I've been called in to advise on many claims of psychic powers, crackpot science and just plain swindles. I have extensive photos and documents on all these adventures, and I'll supply references to those items as I go along.

Philosophically, I'm a skeptic, but just who and what are we skeptics? Skepticism means having good reasons for holding any belief. Skeptics are folks who are cautious about drawing their conclusions but always willing to change their minds upon the presentation of new or better information. Don't equate us with cynics, who believe that people are basically bad, and that our world is an evil place. We believe--always with good reason--that most people tend to too-easily accept supernatural, paranormal, or irrational explanations of quite ordinary events and claims that can be explained otherwise by careful investigation. We skeptics come from all walks of life and may have very differing views about the world, but we share a commitment to careful and respectful discussion, and to respectfully examining the fads, claims, and assertions about supposedly supernatural events or processes. We recognize that an opinion does not always represent a...

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Source Citation
Randi, James. "A Magician in the Laboratory." Skeptic [Altadena, CA], vol. 15, no. 2, 2009, p. 8+. Accessed 15 Jan. 2021.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A211061608