"Skeptically Speaking" Column #1 -- Aug. 1991

By Gary P. Posner


Flim-Flam?!?

This is my first in a series of "Skeptically Speaking" columns for Tampa Bay Mensa's newsletter, "The Sounding," relating to my activities as Coordinator of the "Skeptic" Member-to-Member Service for my fellow Mensans, and as founder of the Tampa Bay Skeptics. While my next column will deal more directly with those two hot potatoes, I prefer now to get right to some Mensa meat.

James "The Amazing" Randi, who resides in Florida, is a world-renowned conjurer. The author of such books as "The Truth About Uri Geller," "The Faith Healers," and most recently "The Mask of Nostradamus," Randi in 1986 was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" for his decades of investigating and debunking paranormal claims. In his 1982 book "Flim-Flam," Randi had the following to say about Mensa:

"Belief in the paranormal is not restricted to persons of lesser intellect . . . [but] what surprised me in the extreme was to find that an organization comprised of the intelligentsia seems overly committed to this brand of nonsense! The group is known as Mensa. . . . Like a scalpel that is never put to use by a skilled hand in a good cause, brainpower is often not put to work."

Randi then went on to briefly discuss such Mensa Special Interest Groups (SIGs) as "Psychic Science," which is still in operation. Other current pro-paranormal SIGs and Services include another "Parapsychology" group, as well as those devoted to "Astrology," "Fortean Mysteries," "Pagan/Occult/Witchcraft," "Spiritual Healing," and "UFOs," among others.

Randi noted that "The lead article in the April 1978 Mensa Bulletin was entitled 'Psi-Q Connection' and asked the pregnant question, 'Is there a psychic component to IQ?' The author ["Psychic Science" SIG Coordinator] . . . wondered if high IQ scores could be due to ESP rather than intelligence -- a disturbing thought indeed for Mensa, which may be composed [if the thesis is sound] of ordinary folks who cheat and pick up their smarts from others, a sort of cerebral shoplifting!"

Though I (not being a professional showman) generally employ less flamboyant rhetoric than does Randi, I am his soulmate with respect to the argument that, within the arena of science, there is at present insufficient evidence to justify a belief in the reality of any of the phenomena enumerated above, or in any other manifestation of the so-called "paranormal."

Randi has been carrying a $10,000 check in his wallet for about 30 years, and is prepared to hand it over to anyone who can demonstrate, under proper observing conditions, any paranormal power whatsoever. Hundreds have tried, and all have failed. Two years ago the Tampa Bay Skeptics and I issued our own "$1,000 Challenge." But more about that next time.

[1997 Addendum: Randi's challenge is now worth $1,000,000.]


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