The Amazing One

Contributed by
Jun 19, 2005
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Note added June 27, 2005: This entry was accepted as part of the 11th Circle of Skeptics.

When I was but a Pre-Bad Astronomer, still in high school, I decided to stay up late one night and watch Johnny Carson's show. He had as a guest that night a tiny gnome-like man, shiny pate gleaming and white beard blindingly reflecting the stage lights. He went on stage and performed what is called "psychic surgery", a technique that some people in the Philippines claim allows them to reach inside a person's body and removed diseased tissue, all without even breaking the skin of the patient.

This odd little man, gruff of voice but charming in demeanor, demonstrated this technique on a volunteer from Carson's audience, all the while discussing exactly why it was a fraud. He would pull out long strings of what was obviously chicken guts, and dump them in a bowl, while the audience moaned and groaned at the disgusting display of goo.

It was truly an awesome and hilarious thing for me to see (and you can see it too! [Real Media file courtesy of Richard Saunders]). At that time in my life, I was susceptible to all sorts of woowoo creduloid nonsense, and seeing this man debunk -- and I had never even heard of that word before -- antiscience garbage like that may have very well set me on the road that lead, inevitably, to the here and now.

That man was, and is, James "The Amazing" Randi.

You can read more about him here, and here, and of course here, at his own website. I'll have more stories about Randi on this blog as time goes on. I have quite a few, and they're pretty funny.

Anyway, I am in awe of him and his history, and it is with disbelief (har har) that I can actually call him friend. I sometimes think that if I had a time machine, I wouldn't bother going to see Lincoln on the night of the play, or the dinosaurs the eve of the asteroid impact. I'd go back to when I was 15, watching that show, and say to the young and naive me, "See that guy? He'll be a bud of yours in just a couple of more decades. Hang tight."

And now Randi does me the great honor of posting one of my blog entries on his own weekly newsletter. It's my Science Fair speech (originally found here), and he posted it on his June 1 newsletter.

Randi is a very cool guy. To get a nod like that from him warms my heart (if I knew what cockles were, I'd guess that part of my heart would be warm and fuzzy too).

Thanks, Randi. And I'm looking forward to the next Amaz!ng Meeting in January 2006. BABloggeroos, if you can, come to this meeting. The past three have been incredible, and so so so much fun. I'll be there, with a host of, well, amazing guests. I have always come away from the meetings renewed and invigorated, and ready once again to fight the swell of ignorance and silliness that threatens our intellect.
I sometimes wonder what the role of hope is in the world of skepticism, but hope is what I have after those meetings. We can change things, we can show people that critical thinking is important, and we can show them that it's possible, needed, and even fun. That's what I learned that night so many years ago when I saw Randi on Carson's show. And he's still just as funny, sharp, and ready to take on the antiscientists of the world now as he was then. I'm proud to be a part of his team.