A magician will instantly see the truth behind any colleague’s illusion. But we have a bit of an advantage: We know we are being fooled. Scientists are instinctive doubters who employ a rigorous method to zero in on the truth, but they aren’t necessarily trained to expect deception by subjects and collaborators.
We can’t make magicians out of scientists — we wouldn’t want to — but we can help scientists “think in the groove” — think like a magician. And we should.
For most of my life I’ve pecked away at a certain type of swindler: faith-healers, mystics, mind-readers. Those of a certain age may remember my appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson — a skilled amateur magician himself who introduced my exposure of flummery to a huge television audience.
Mine was a lonely voice back then, but I’m not alone anymore. The immensely talented and popular Penn & Teller long ago joined me as foes of harmful deception, along with other magicians; the president of my foundation, D.J. Grothe, has a background in magic, and many of our associates are professional magicians, as well. They all agree with me that the Society of American Magicians and the International Brotherhood of Magicians should re-establish their once very active investigations of the fakers who claim supernatural powers.
It’s not something that is generally done, or maybe at all – I’d love to see one funding grant that has a line item for the services of a magician, if somebody out there has one. But it is long overdue that my peers in the conjuring profession try to take a more active role in the elimination of nonsense science by joining forces with scientists, and that scientists be open to the proposition.
Please bear with me while I offer you a peek behind the curtain, a cursory glance at what we magicians are — and aren’t. First, we’re entertainers, actors, showbiz people who have as our primary objective the delight of our audiences. We’re deceivers, yes, taking on roles and characters to express our art, just as any actor does.
We are not scientists — with a few rare but important exceptions, like Ray Hyman and Richard Wiseman. But our highly specific expertise comes from knowledge of the ways in which our audiences can be led to quite false conclusions by calculated means — psychological, physical and especially sensory, visual being rather paramount since it has such a range of variety.
The quest for the ultimate in hydration has now reached a high-water mark in surrealchemy. After the hype of fog-drip, coconut water, charcoal water, smoked water, vitamin water, gogi water and even “black water,” America continues getting hosed with a steady stream of scientific claims and the height of medicine show quackery. Can you say “snake oil?” One of my favorite episodes of Penn & Teller’s “Bullshit” is “The Truth About Bottled Water.” That classic featured a ”Water Sommelier” at a high-end restaurant.:
The national obsession with water was beautifully skewered. That should have been the end of the story. Not by a long shot apparently.The purveyors of woo knew that few of the people searching for the Fountain of Youth would pay much attention to to scallywags like Penn & Teller, and so the river flows on. Take the claims of “Isklar,” Norwegian glacier water:
“The people behind Isklar claim that while most of our planet’s water evaporates into the atmosphere and is recycled in a seven-year period – picking up pollutants on the way – the water frozen inside glaciers was formed thousands of years ago when the air was far cleaner. But some reviewers on Amazon say Isklar water (£8.44 for 24 500ml bottles) never tastes better than when mixed with whisky. ”
I suppose the “frozen inside” theory makes sense of a sort and the taste test from Amazon would depend largely on the whisky and amount you drink. We all have blind spots. Back in my single malt drinking days, I had to have that special bottle of Scottish “Highland Spring Water” to truly complete my solemn drinking ritual. I bought into the hype. What garden hose it came from didn’t matter to me as I fancied myself a connoisseur of fine regional “waters of life” and wouldn’t think of sullying my fine dram with mere tap water.
Today you can even get genuine “Loch Ness Water.” Never mind what the locals say when you read about the loch. They warn visitors boiling for 5 minutes before drinking any loch water owing to the algae and other pollutants present in the murky depths. Visitors are further advised to take any water from the center of the loch rather than the surrounding edges for that reason. I’m not sure how far out in the loch or what part of the purveyors of “Genuine Loch Ness Water” syphon their bounty from, but I’m guessing it’s close to the shore.
But now we are assured have the ultimate:
Yes, it’s here – and no less a personage than Mayor Villaragosa himself heartily endorses it!
If you aren’t sitting down while you read the next paragraph, I would advise it. I haven’t seen such a load of non-stop woo bullshit since the power bracelet hit the streets. Here’s the label in it’s entirety:
THIRST THE FIRE
“Legend has it that the mystical “Starfire” was the liquid manna of the divine, used by the ancients for ultra-focus, extreme performance, and even enlightenment. In that vein, we introduce STARFIRE WATER, a propiratary alkaline performance, bio-holographic “living” water produced using breakthrough 21st century, quantum water technology. STARFIRE WATER is treated with ultraviolet, ozonation,infra-red stimulation and electromagnetism for a negative (-) ion charged water, as in nature, allowing deep cellular intake through your aquaporins, the floodgates to hydration.Vortex induced, using a solar -helix and pyramid-grid system. to give it a hexagonal structure, and infused with monatomic elements, we are able to achieve a water with cosmic healing energy. This water is amplified with psionic wave oscillation tuned to the Universe’s frequency, helping to synchronize you with the heartbeat of our Earth. STARFIRE WATER is treated with Sacred Sound Resonance Transmission to vibrationally transform you on the deepest molecular level. Altogether we’ve created the world’s first premium alkaline . performance, “living,”” hexagonal super-structured water.”
It isn’t just water – it’s structured water. It’s also infused and energized.
- Still Getting Hosed: Starfire Water (skepticblog.org)
What do you get when you mix slight of hand with pickpocketing? You get Apollo Robbins, also known as “the gentleman thief.” I love anything having to do with magic, illusions and slight of hand. But when you’re good enough to pick the pockets of Penn Jillette and Secret Service agents (YES! It’s true) (read below) it’s just … well … amazing!!!!!
This article from The New Yorker is rather lengthy, so let me begin by piquing your interest with this video. Watch carefully. You’ll love this.
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
By Adam Green via The New Yorker
A few years ago, at a Las Vegas convention for magicians, Penn Jillette, of the act Penn and Teller, was introduced to a soft-spoken young man named Apollo Robbins, who has a reputation as a pickpocket of almost supernatural ability. Jillette, who ranks pickpockets, he says, “a few notches below hypnotists on the show-biz totem pole,” was holding court at a table of colleagues, and he asked Robbins for a demonstration, ready to be unimpressed. Robbins demurred, claiming that he felt uncomfortable working in front of other magicians. He pointed out that, since Jillette was wearing only shorts and a sports shirt, he wouldn’t have much to work with.
“Come on,” Jillette said. “Steal something from me.”
Again, Robbins begged off, but he offered to do a trick instead. He instructed Jillette to place a ring that he was wearing on a piece of paper and trace its outline with a pen. By now, a small crowd had gathered. Jillette removed his ring, put it down on the paper, unclipped a pen from his shirt, and leaned forward, preparing to draw. After a moment, he froze and looked up. His face was pale.
“Fuck. You,” he said, and slumped into a chair.
Robbins held up a thin, cylindrical object: the cartridge from Jillette’s pen.
Robbins, who is thirty-eight and lives in Las Vegas, is a peculiar variety-arts hybrid, known in the trade as a theatrical pickpocket. Among his peers, he is widely considered the best in the world at what he does, which is taking things from people’s jackets, pants, purses, wrists, fingers, and necks, then returning them in amusing and mind-boggling ways. Robbins works smoothly and invisibly, with a diffident charm that belies his talent for larceny. One senses that he would prosper on the other side of the law. “You have to ask yourself one question,” he often says as he holds up a wallet or a watch that he has just swiped. “Am I being paid enough to give it back?”
In more than a decade as a full-time entertainer, Robbins has taken (and returned) a lot of stuff, including items from well-known figures in the worlds of entertainment (Jennifer Garner, actress: engagement ring); sports (Charles Barkley, former N.B.A. star: wad of cash); and business (Ace Greenberg, former chairman of Bear Stearns: Patek Philippe watch). He is probably best known for an encounter with Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service detail in 2001. While Carter was at dinner, Robbins struck up a conversation with several of his Secret Service men. Within a few minutes, he had emptied the agents’ pockets of pretty much everything but their guns. Robbins brandished a copy of Carter’s itinerary, and when an agent snatched it back he said, “You don’t have the authorization to see that!” When the agent felt for his badge, Robbins produced it and handed it back. Then he turned to the head of the detail and handed him his watch, his badge, and the keys to the Carter motorcade.
In magic circles, Robbins is regarded as . . . (MORE) . . .
- Adam Green: The spectacular thefts of Apollo Robbins, pickpocket. (newyorker.com)
- Video of the Week: The World’s Best Pickpocket (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- The Best Pickpocket in the World (neatorama.com)
- The Spectacular Thefts of Apollo Robbins (eliainsider.com)
- A handy guide to pickpocketing (washingtonpost.com)
- Watch This Man Reveal His Pickpocketing Secrets (fox4kc.com)
- Meet The World’s Best Pickpocket (huffingtonpost.com)
- Apollo Robbins: profile of a pickpocket (boingboing.net)
- Apollo Robbins, Pickpocket (schneier.com)
- The Pickpocket Of All Pickpockets (treeofmamre.wordpress.com)