Pssst! Climate Change Activists? This Is Why Nobody Trusts You…

Here is Houdini showing the Scientific American panel how spiritualists and mediums made bells ring. See his foot?

I once subscribed to Scientific American. We had to read it in high school, and I often used articles from the magazine in research projects. I also was a fan of its history, which intersected with my long-time love of magic and magic history. It was Scientific American, back in the 1920s, that created the special cash prize for anyone who could prove they had supernatural powers, or that paranormal phenomena was real. After a while psychics and other miracle workers stopped applying for the prize, because SA’s panel of experts always exposed them as frauds. The star member of that panel was Harry Houdini, in his post-performing second career as the enemy of charlatans and frauds

Thus it pains me to see the once great, dumbed-down vestige of Scientific American publish an article with this unforgivable headline, in front of content that is little better:

Climate Change May Have Helped Spark Iran’s Protests

And space aliens may have built the pyramids.

Actually, the article still has educational value, though no teacher is likely to use it properly. It is a wonderful example of poor critical thinking, bad science, the result of mixing science with politics, and how bias makes you stupid.  The author, Scott Waldman, doesn’t even try to hide the article’s weak logic and lame premise, beginning it with this:

The impacts of climate change are among the environmental challenges facing Iran that helped spark protests in dozens of cities across the Islamic republic.At least 20 people have died in the uprising, driven by the sudden collapse of financial institutions, low wages and mistrust of national leaders. Rising temperatures are seen by some experts as an underlying condition for the economic hardships that led to the unrest. A severe drought, mismanaged water resources and dust storms diminished Iran’s economy in recent years, according to experts who study the region. While the protests are largely driven by resistance to the country’s hardline conservative government, such environmental factors might have contributed to the largest protests inside Iran in years.

That tells any objective reader all he needs to know: junk ahead.  The old “some experts” ploy, eh? You can find “some experts” who will say anything, especially on TV. We just went through weeks of unethical speculation on whether the President was suffering from dementia based on “some expert,” a Yale professor of psychiatry who breached the American Psychiatric Association (APA) ethics protocols and was revealed as not to be licensed to practice anymore.You know. An expert.

Waldman himself isn’t an expert on climatology or even science: he’s a reporter, and his degree was in journalism. Funny, I’m so old, I remember when the articles in Scientific American were written by scientists. How quaint. Continue reading

The Strange World Of Magic Ethics

A recent controversy surrounding a hit magic show on Broadway has resurfaced an ethics tangent I was aware of but had forgotten about: magician ethics.

Magician Derek DelGaudio accused another magician of surreptitiously recording a video of an effect during a performance last month of his one-man show, “In & Of Itself.” The rival magician denied the allegation—it’s complicated, and you should read the whole tale here-–but the basic problem arises from the nature of magic tricks. They can’t be patented, because the patent would reveal how the magic trick was done in a publicly available source. This means, however, that a magician whose unique illusion he or she labored on and developed at great expenditure of time and expense can be stolen by another magician with the illusion’s creator having no legal recourse.

For a field that is all about fooling and deceiving people (who have consented to being deceived), magic has old and well-developed ethical traditions. Houdini, who took his name from a french magician named Robert Houdin, later exposed his role model as an unethical magician whose most famous illusions were stolen from other conjurers without payment or credit. Still, if a magician can figure out how another magician’s trick is performed by simply watching it, nothing legally or ethically dictates that that magician can’t perform the illusion as well. However, since magic is practiced by people who deceive for a living, it should come as no surprise that unethical practices are rampant. Continue reading

The Irresponsible Dr. Oz, Softening The Public Up for Charlatans

Don't be skeptical! Dr. Oz says it's real.

When Summerlin Hospital had to step in to prevent first-time parents from endangering their infant by using “natural medicine” to treat their sick newborn, it may have been fighting the influence of Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah Winfrey’s health-care guru.

The popular “Dr. Oz” is a walking TV and book franchise, a Harvard-educated cardiovascular surgeon who has emerged as the nation’s most persuasive and trusted advocate for unconventional health care, or as Dr. Wallace Sampson, former chairman of the National Council Against Health Fraud, calls it,”faith healing for the masses.” He has testified before a Senate panel to condemn the mainstream medical profession’s failure to embrace “the natural healing power of our bodies,” and its hostility to “hypnotherapists, massage therapists, spiritual healers.” Dr. Oz has, shall we say, an open mind.

In his expose of the popular health talk show host, “Shamblog” writer Steve Salermo wrote in the New York Daily News, Continue reading

Ethics Hero Emeritus: Dorothy Young, Houdini’s Assistant

Dorothy Young knew how to keep a secret.

Dorothy Young, who died March 24 at the age of 103, was the last in a series of scantily clad magician’s assistants for Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist who ever lived and America’s iconic magician. She remained active in show business for many years after Houdini’s death in 1926. Young appeared several times on Broadway, including the  “New Faces of 1936.” Later, she was half the team of “Dorothy and Gilbert,”a touring nightclub dance act that specialized in a dramatic combination of rumba and bolero—the “rumbolero.”

Young married Gilbert, who was Gilbert Kiamie, heir to a silk underwear fortune. She wrote a novel about her career, “Dancing on a Dime,” that inspired a 1940 Hollywood musical of the same name. Young eventually became a successful painter, and in 2003 gave New Jersey’s Drew University $13 million to endow an arts center.

Why is she an Ethics Hero? Continue reading