On Tuesday night, August 18thI did a podcast for SKEPTIKO at www.skeptiko.com. I had been warned about dealing with the host, Alex Tsakiris by several people far more familiar with the blog-universe than me including friends at CFI West and Baxter at Warning: Radio, so I was on my guard. It was an eye-opening session.
From the get-go the host, Mr. Tsarkiris presented himself as contentious and smug, extolling his vast credits as a parapsychologist and attempting to downplay my role as a mere magician, mentalist and skeptic. He used the term several times about how he “bristled” at the idea of a magician or mentalist being involved with “scientific investigations” and couldn’t see why it was needed in the laboratory, a place where he assured me he was well acquainted.
I kept my cool for as long as possible, but I’m only human.
Condescension is something I will rarely sit still for. Add in a tone of grandiose self importance and you have an individual that would be hard to listen to in any situation, much less a website that calls itself “Skeptico,” inviting the logical conclusion that those involved there are trained professionals seeking the skeptical point of view. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Mr. Tsakiris baited me at every opportunity he could find. I was reminded of those abusive customers I once had to deal with on the 900 psychic lines. I’m not referring to the one-in- a -thousand skeptical people who might occasionally dial in, I’m talking about the believers whom I sometimes tried to beat some sense into during those years. He wouldn’t listen to what I had to say and frequently interrupted. He went so far as to challenge my website for my “mind reading,” stage show, asking how I could be a mind reader and a skeptic at the same time! I then realized I was dealing with a person of limited resources, despite all the paranormal buzz words he spouted at regular intervals. After ten minutes of exacerbating an already sore subject of the reality of spirit communication, he went into a diatribe about how he and a female psychic I had never heard of and who had allegedly worked exclusively with Dr. Gary Swartz (!) now had conclusive evidence for what he called “anomalous material.” I asked for specifics, the term anomalous being as diffuse and ambiguous as the word cumulus in my mind. What exactly was he talking about? Big Foot? Loch Ness? Elvis sightings? Or just plain old mediumship?
He remained evasive. I asked him at least four or five times in a row how many years of actual research he had in the field of parapsychology. To this he repeatedly refused to answer. There was a mind numbing silence after each time I persisted in asking this question. When pressed after refusing to go on with any more of the interview until he answered, he finally admitted that he had about 22 hours of podcasts to show for his work! I told him I had been investigating psychics and mediumship for over thirty years and for seventeen of those years, I have been on the Editorial Board of Skeptic magazine! I wasn’t trying to “trump” him as he said, just telling it like it is. He accused me of trying to “one up” him as well. Well, ..yes. If you call having some credibility and a track record to back up your claims, yes. One up would be the only direction for me to go in that situation.
As time wore on, Mr. Tsarkiris became more and more aggressive and even abusive towards me; putting ridiculous words in my mouth, trying to speak for me (as if I couldn’t do it myself) and generally running me down as if all his listeners tacitly agreed with his skewed versions of such phrases as “peer review”; referring the “The Journal of Psychical Research” as a “scientific authority,” the many “papers” Mr. Swartz had published on the subject of spirit intervention and the indisputable reality of such communications down through history. I merely replied that there is as of now, no proof of any of that. Anecdotes are not scientific evidence. I further told him that I was perfectly willing to look at any “indisputable” evidence for myself and that I would be more than happy if such proof was forthcoming. I even stated that if such proof turned out to be verifiable, I would be the first one to turn in my skeptic badge and spread the word. Nothing would make me happier. My life would be complete. I could die and go to… well, wherever it would be. Science would have been turned on its head. The complete fabric of reality would have been torn to shreds and like a leak in a diver’s helmet who is exploring the depths of some uncharted ocean, a whole new reality would come flooding into the minds of mankind that would forever change the way we think about life, death and the hereafter. I wasn’t hearing anything that I hadn’t already read in hundreds of “true experience” books by Elliott O’ Donnell, Hans Holzer or Ed Warren.
Mr Tsakiris then suggested a “challenge” whereby he and his female medium (with the help of Dr. Swartz of course) would set up a “scientific protocol” involving a list of names, A, B, C, etc. Their team would obtain a “spirit message” from some entity the identity of which would only be known to himself and Mr Swartz, and then I would be tasked along with the medium with matching up which message went with which discarnate spirit. I was assured that the final tally would be largely in the medium’s favor. Well duh. What could anyone expect? It would be their medium and their set-up. How ridiculous is that? Does it say “stupid” somewhere on my website bio? I restated that this sort of mind game is exactly why a magician or mentalist versed in the techniques of deception is needed in these completely unprofessional situations.
I then attempted to invoke Asimov’s “Unicorn Wings” theory, reminding Mr. Tsakiris that it would be necessary for me to be firmly convinced of the reality of life after death and spirits (the unicorn) before I could even begin to accept that their medium had anything even approaching any communication with them (whether or not they have wings), but this fell on deaf (and dumb) ears. He used the word “competition” several times and I told him that any competition between myself and any so-called medium he would be pitting me against would be anything but a scientific method. This was his idea of a scientific test!
I lost it about then.
Some may have heard how I react when I can no longer suffer a fool and already know how I respond in these situations. I’m basically a patient man, but even at the best of times I can get aggravated with groundless theories and weak verbal misdirection. I’m a magician and the old adage “don’t bullshit a bullshitter” definitely applies here. Tsakiris kept up his side of the bull with all the pseudo scientific woo fodder he could muster, but he ended up sounding extremely unprofessional.
So why am I bringing all this up? Because we have a growing problem here. Mr. Tsakiris is just a symptom of a much larger problem. This guy and others like him on the Internet are even worse than the run-of-the-mill believers you see wandering in and out of psychic fairs. Mr. Tsakiris is not just a believer, he’s clearly a con artist out to sell himself as an “expert in the field.” He’s not an expert at all. I doubt if he’s really even a believer if you get right down to it. He is playing what he thinks is a shrewd game of playing both sides against the middle and creating a win/win situation for himself. There’s no science at Skeptiko. If you call any of the various magazines like “Fate,” “Beyond Investigation” or “TAPS Paramagazine” definitive scientific journals loaded with “peer reviews,” you’ve lost my vote as credible.
Slick entrepreneurs who happen to have a degree in graphic design or website construction can manage to put up very academic looking websites that have all the bells and whistles in all the right places and look amazingly professional. Take a look at another of these sites called The Paranormal Study and Investigative Research Organization at www.psiro.com. There they post a “Call for Papers,” promise members “Journals and Reports” and feature a “Research and Case Study”section. If I didn’t know better I’d sign up. However, as my good friend Batboy discovered about PSIRO:
“I used about an hour of my life to listen to a podcast they appeared on, they seem sincere but naïve. No one in this organization has a background in science or research. But yet they advertise that they are using the scientific method, in researching alleged evidence of the paranormal.”
He also wrote :
“That (PSIRO) website is populated by a group I like to call para-nerds, they like to use scientific terms which usually have no meaning connected to whatever claim of the paranormal they are trying to explain. When you corner a para-nerd instead of giving you the usual answer like a believer would for example “it was magic” their answer usually is “quantum physics” or ” this anomaly is beyond our current range of understanding” BULLSHIT!! Go back to the magic explanation!”
In truth many of these “organizations,” “foundations” or “institutes” may be run by some loser holed up in his basement surrounded by empty pizza boxes. Sorry if that’s harsh, but I’m taking it to the worst case scenario here, because what Batboy wrote about is exactly the kind of drivel I heard with my own ears the night I was on SKEPTIKO. I wasted well over an hour with Mr. Tsakiris. I heard an arrogant, self-assured woo peddler doing his damnedest to ridicule the very scientific methods he was purporting to know so much about and in the process, glossing over the most important issues that separate fantasy from fact. It’s frightening that such people can ascend to such levels without any apparent qualifications whatsoever, but there you have it.
These para-nerds are “armchair investigators” in every sense of the word. Like the so-called “ghosthunters” we are seeing such a dirge of on television, in print and under every haunted rock we turn over, they fly in the face of reality; there’s no laboratory, no peer group, no professional papers or degrees involved with this type of “parapsychology.” It’s all a ruse to get money out of the gullible who aren’t savvy enough to read, think or ask the tough questions. I finally had enough and hung up after telling Mr. Tsakiris that he and his ilk are now on my personal FORCE ONE hit list and that he wasn’t playing with a full deck.
Now for the best part:
About five minutes after I hung up, Tsakiris called back and told me that the was sooooo sorry, but that due to some “human error,” the whole show hadn’t recorded properly and he didn’t have any of it! Coincidence? I think NOT. I’m thinking the human error here was Mr. Tsakiris’ finger on the erase button. He offered to “re-do the show” if I wanted. Of course to do so would be futile unless I agreed to his line of bullshit. Only then would he get what he wanted in the first place and have something he might twist and later use against me and the greater skeptical movement.
Can you believe this guy? What are we to do with this new breed of “experts?” Or can we even begin to address this new media phenomena masquerading in our midst?
There is the possibility, however sleight, that I am wrong about Mr. Tsakiris. Maybe my own prejudices borne of my own past experiences have clouded my judgment. If such is the case, may I take this opportunity to sincerely apologize. If on the other hand Mr Tsakiris represents what I think he does, that is, a new wave of “paranormal investigators” who have neither the education nor common sense to see beyond the thinnest of conjectures about which they speak, we are in trouble. In the latter case we are not just dealing with willful ignorance of the facts, we have reached what Mr. Tsakiris refers to on his site as “science at the tipping point.” With his acquiescence, he’s tipping away from reason, reality and science.
There’s just so much of this disingenuous fluff out there it makes my head spin. Of course, it’s a free country and everyone should be able to tune into whatever brand of “entertainment” they desire. I’m not advocating censorship and I’m certainly not the one to throw stones at anyone less skeptical for playing both sides of the street. I’ve been there and done that. It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to push my point too hard here. After all, I’m a mentalist and a performer and not a scientist.
The role I am often tasked to play is not dissimilar to the one Mr. Tsakiris is playing right now on his website. But I have the proscenium of the stage or the trappings of the Victorian Seance Room to tell the audience that I’m only playing a cardboard character. That’s my disclaimer.
Perhaps I’m beginning to see the dark shadows of my own past taking on the shape of the future form of cyber con artistry? Again, what’s old is new. Don’t believe me ? Check out the June 23 edition of “Newsweek:”
“The $10,000-A -Month Psychic; When business people need a crystal ball, they turn to consultant Laura Day, the intuitionist.”
Yep. They sure do. In the world of big business,
Psychic = Bad,
Intuitionist = Good
From the “Newsweek” article worth reading:
“The scale of Day’s success would have been hard to imagine in the 1990′s when the Psychic Friends Network and a campy Jamaican psychic called Miss Cleo clotted the airwaves with low-rent infomercials, giving the P word a bad public image. Some stigma still remains. ‘ The hedge funds would freak out’ if they knew he consulted a psychic, says the Hollywood executive.”
Uh huh. Another example claiming a more “scientific method” to promote the new ” intuitionist” branding. Watch out for the new breed of ”executive psychics” who promise to purposely veer away from old school archetypes like Edgar Cayce or Jean Dixon and focus instead on the reputations of more “scientifically accepted” modern icons like Buckminster Fuller, John Lilly and Carlos Castaneda. Laura Day has already raked in 10 million in the last 15 years according to the above article. The cocksure approach of this new exploitative angle is bad enough. What bugs me even more is the puffed-up attitude and complete lack of civility that characterizes this new “paranormal investigative” era we find ourselves in.
Harry Price would be really pissed off.
Everybody is an expert.