An Honest Liar

Led by punch-drunk theoreticians who amass disconnected bits of experimental hubbub devoid of context, any scientific method will disintegrate, leaving open the possibility of flim-flam fakery.

I’m constantly hearing that catch-all safety net, “Oh, I side with science,” as though there were one collective, universal scientific cognitive ruling body that deems fact from fiction. Any inquiry or disagreement with those who adhere to such a belief in the “almighty” stone tablets of science is met with the erudite words of wisdom: “You shut up!”

In the documentary An Honest Liar, The Amazing Randi – escape artist extraordinaire, stage magician and paranormal debunker – gives a finger wave to the nose for all the frauds, swindlers and false prophets who cheat and misinform the public by finding ways to remove money from a victim’s wallet and place it into their own. That’s about as magical as these “psychics” and New Age gurus ever come.

With comments from supporters such as Penn & Teller, Banachek and Mythbusters’ Adam Savage, film directors Justin Weinstein and Tyler Measom trace the various methods and skeptical inquiries that over the years brought Randall James Hamilton Zwinge from having seen Harry Blackstone perform magic at an early age to confront and debunk the faith healing racket and the malignant mediums who know full well that people prefer romance even with the lies rather than facing the facts.

And you know the type that finds safety in numbers, regurgitating unsubstantiated myths because their friends won’t like them if they rock the boat. To hold a contrary position even when the facts are evident means you may have to defend against the half-truth that is popularly accepted.

“Bad ideas can cause damage or even death,” says Randi.

Which brought him into conflict with famous popular figures during the heyday of holistic quackery. JZ Knight was such a woman who claimed to be able to “channel” 10,000-year-old spirits! It’s never just some guy hit by the bus in Cleveland, is it?  Channeling is a cutesy name for being possessed, so Randi found a fellow trickster willing to pass himself off as a “channeler” who set up a tour of Australia. “Carlos” was a 19-year-old Puerto Rican who provided a made-up resume, making outrageous claims of spiritual contact falsified with fake newspaper clippings, and the media bought it hook, line and sinker without bothering to check up on even one of his claims.

There was the young Israeli, Uri Geller, who was all over TV in the ‘70s “bending” spoons! Claiming that energies would leave his mind to penetrate and alter molecular structures! And the scientific community embraced his “abilities” to the point where research experiments were being conducted in telekinesis! This was to determine those who had the ability to move objects using only the power of the human mind. Next thing you knew, these same “scientists” would be telling us that the discovery of fire had caused pollution. And don’t laugh, environmental scientists believe as much!

So The Amazing Randi responded by exposing Geller as a fraud on national television. It was one thing for Geller to pull tricks to pass himself off as an enlightened being. What Randi could not tolerate was that the scientific community was starting to take the guy seriously, breaking their own rules to pursue validating such garbage. So-called “para-psychologists,” no matter how well funded, were not able to properly judge where they were being deceived, so Randi sent in two high school magicians claiming to be telekinetic to stump the scientists.

Though exposing psychic surgeons and charlatan ministers, An Honest Liar withholds Randi’s deepest secrets for its final act.

Even today, people continue to believe dumb things because it’s less of a bother to accept popular myths than it is to risk being outcast by exposing fraud.

I heard this sort of stuff all during An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore’s climate change crock: “Well, it must be true, after all it was in a documentary and they would not be able to present it as factual if it wasn’t”! Have you ever bothered to watch David Holtzman’s Diary, listed as one of the National Film Registry’s essential American films?

And it’s perfectly OK if you choose to believe whatever lie you are comfortable with, but it is not OK to try and silence those who disagree with your blind faith.

James Randi is as pertinent today as ever!