Saturday, August 4, 2018

Book Report: Flim-Flam! By James Randi

The book I chose was “Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions” by James Randi. James Randi is a professional magician and skeptic who is dedicated to disproving any or all claims in which he considers is pseudoscience. Throughout the book, he provides all of his knowledge and past encounters in order to disprove and expose widespread deceptions that the general public has which is mainly promoted through media. Randi feels like the world is a dangerous place filled with many tricksters and con artists that should be exposed for their frauds and wrong-doings. He covers many subjects such as the Cottingley Fairies, the “mysterious” Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, astrology, medical humbugs, and much more. Each chapter has a new topic that Randi tries to disprove and show what the logical side is. Randi’s approach is very well received and he does an excellent job at explaining all of his points. Along with his spot-on explanations and experiences, Randi delivers his thoughts and sayings in a sarcastic/ironic approach which keeps the readers glued to the book.

My favorite part was chapter 2 where Randi described the Cottingley Fairies hoax (starting from page 12). Two girls had claimed that they often had played with fairies in Cottingley Glen, near their home. Two photographs were published causing more and more people to believe in this hoax. The first photo showed a girl named Frances Griffiths with four fairies where three of them were winged and the other fairy was playing the pipes. The second photo showed a girl named Elsie Wright sitting in the lawn playing with a gnome. Several critics pointed out that it was strange that Frances in the first photo was looking straight at the camera and not at the fairies. Several months later, three new pictures were released with more fairies which made many more people believe that fairies were real. However, in the end the girls admitted that the pictures were fake in the 1980s and that the fairies were just cut out cardboard figures supported by hatpins. This was my favorite chapter because it was interesting to see how many people really did believe in anything they saw and how simple pictures could make them believe that fairies did exist. When I was looking at the pictures, I could easily tell that the fairies were fake and the coloring of the fairies did not match up with the girls. It literally looked like photoshop to me when I first stumbled upon them. The fairies were completely two dimensional against the girls. I was just astonished at how people believed in whatever they saw. This Cottingley Fairies hoax reminded me of the topic of the Salem Witch Trials that was covered in the lectures. Even in the Salem Witch Trials, many people accused others of being witches due to the strange behavior of 8 girls. This caused so much panic and then later it was finally found that the girls were faking. This again shows how many people tend to believe anything they see or hear.

Here's a picture that I have photoshopped myself into to show how faking a photo back in the 1900s was different as compared to today.

Besides the Salem Witch Trials, there were so many other topics that were covered which related to the topics that were discussed in the lectures. For example, in the book, the topic of UFOs was covered. Randi talked about how there wasn’t any physical evidence of UFOs and then he discussed all of his thoughts. This ties in with the topic of UFO Abductions that was discussed in the lecture where it talked about people who typically believed in UFOs and aliens had other esoteric beliefs as well as having a higher rate of fantasy proneness and sleep paralysis. This also related to when Orson Welles produced a radio podcast depicting a Martian invasion which affected more than 1.2 million listeners. Another topic that was discussed in the book as well as lecture was about Uri Geller and his psychokinesis abilities which Randi disproved. Geller had claimed that his achievements were due to his paranormal powers given to him by extraterrestrials, however Randi showed how Gellar’s tricks could be replicated with stage magic techniques.

Besides being a book that is read within the classroom, this book can be used in the real world. All of the things that Randi exposed are due to the public having deceptions about certain things mainly from things that have been promoted in the media. Many people are under the impression that certain things will give them benefits or the things that they see or here are actually true. Randi does an excellent job at bringing the truth out in order to show all the frauds and hoax there are in the real world. For example, nowadays there are a lot of people who believe in psychics and the things that they predict about the future are true. However, in reality, Randi debunks those psychic claims. Another example is Uri Geller as I mentioned previously, he was a magician that was tricking the real world into thinking that he had psychokinesis powers. However, again Randi exposed him and showed how his tricks could be achieved. These are the types of things that Randi wants to expose in the real world, so that people don’t believe in everything they see or hear. Randi is the type of person who would do whatever it takes to show the reality and truth to the public and not care of their opinions. I highly recommend this book to skeptics and even non-skeptics, this was certainly a wonderful read.   

Below I have inserted an amazing presentation of Randi debunking a magic trick that many magicians use. 

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