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Homeopathy, quackery and fraud

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    Good morning.
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    Happy to see so many fine folks out here
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    and so many smiling faces.
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    I have a very peculiar
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    background, attitude and approach
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    to the real world
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    because I am a conjurer.
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    Now, I prefer that term over magician,
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    because if I were a magician, that would mean
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    that I use spells and incantations
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    and weird gestures
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    in order to accomplish real magic.
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    No, I don't do that; I'm a conjurer,
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    who is someone who pretends to be
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    a real magician. (Laughter)
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    Now, how do we go about that sort of thing?
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    We depend on the fact
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    that audiences, such as yourselves,
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    will make assumptions.
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    For example, when I walked up here
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    and I took the microphone from the stand
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    and switched it on,
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    you assumed this was a microphone, which it is not.
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    (Laughter)
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    As a matter of fact, this is something
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    that about half of you, more than half of you will not be familiar with.
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    It's a beard trimmer, you see?
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    And it makes a very bad microphone;
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    I've tried it many times. (Laughter)
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    The other assumption that you made --
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    and this little lesson is to show you
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    that you will make assumptions.
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    Not only that you can, but that you will
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    when they are properly suggested to you.
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    You believe I'm looking at you.
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    Wrong. I'm not looking at you. I can't see you.
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    I know you're out there, they told me backstage, it's a full house and such.
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    I know you're there because I can hear you,
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    but I can't see you because I normally wear glasses.
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    These are not glasses, these are empty frames. (Laughter)
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    Quite empty frames.
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    Now why would a grown man appear before you
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    wearing empty frames on his face?
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    To fool you, ladies and gentlemen,
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    to deceive you, to show that you, too,
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    can make assumptions.
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    Don't you ever forget that.
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    Now, I have to do something -- first of all, switch to real glasses
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    so I can actually see you,
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    which would probably be a convenience. I don't know.
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    I haven't had a good look. Well, it's not that great a convenience.
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    (Laughter)
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    I have to do something now, which seems
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    a little bit strange for a magician.
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    But I'm going to take some medication.
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    This is a full bottle of
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    Calms Forte.
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    I'll explain that in just a moment.
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    Ignore the instructions,
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    that's what the government has to put in there
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    to confuse you, I'm sure.
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    I will take enough of these. Mm.
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    Indeed, the whole container.
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    Thirty-two tablets of Calms Forte.
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    Now that I've done that -- I'll explain it in a moment --
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    I must tell you that
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    I am an actor.
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    I'm an actor who plays a specific part.
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    I play the part of a magician,
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    a wizard, if you will, a real wizard.
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    If someone were to appear on this stage in front of me
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    and actually claim to be
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    an ancient prince of Denmark named Hamlet,
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    you would be insulted
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    and rightly so.
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    Why would a man assume that you would believe
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    something bizarre like this?
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    But there exists out there
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    a very large population
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    of people who will tell you
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    that they have psychic, magical powers
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    that they can predict the future,
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    that they can make contact with the deceased.
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    Oh, they also say
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    they will sell you astrology
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    or other fortunetelling methods.
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    Oh, they gladly sell you that, yes.
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    And they also say
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    that they can give you perpetual motion machines
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    and free energy systems.
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    They claim to be psychics,
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    or sensitives, whatever they can.
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    But the one thing that has made a big comeback
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    just recently
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    is this business of
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    speaking with the dead.
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    Now, to my innocent mind,
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    dead implies
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    incapable of communicating. (Laughter)
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    You might agree with me on that.
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    But these people, they tend to tell you that
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    not only can they communicate with the dead --
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    "Hi, there" --
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    but they can hear the dead as well,
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    and they can relay this information back to the living.
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    I wonder if that's true.
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    I don't think so, because
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    this subculture of people
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    use exactly the same gimmicks that we magicians do,
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    exactly the same --
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    the same physical methods, the same psychological methods --
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    and they effectively and profoundly
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    deceive millions of people around the earth,
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    to their detriment.
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    They deceive these people,
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    costs them a lot of money,
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    cost them a lot of emotional anguish.
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    Billions of dollars are spent
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    every year, all over the globe,
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    on these charlatans.
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    Now, I have two questions
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    I would like to ask these people
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    if I had the opportunity to do so.
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    First question: If I want to ask them to call up --
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    because they do hear them through the ear.
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    They listen to the spirits like this --
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    I'm going to ask you to call up the ghost of my grandmother
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    because, when she died, she had the family will,
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    and she secreted it someplace. We don't know where it is,
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    so we ask Granny, "Where is the will, Granny?"
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    What does Granny say? She says, "I'm in heaven and it's wonderful.
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    I'm here with all my old friends, my deceased friends,
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    and my family
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    and all the puppy dogs and the kittens that I used to have when I was a little girl.
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    And I love you, and I'll always be with you.
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    Good bye."
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    And she didn't answer the damn question!
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    Where is the will?
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    Now, she could easily have said,
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    "Oh, it's in the library on the second shelf, behind the encyclopedia,"
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    but she doesn't say that. No, she doesn't.
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    She doesn't bring any useful information to us.
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    We paid a lot of money for that information,
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    be we didn't get it.
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    The second question that I'd like to ask, rather simple:
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    Suppose I ask them to contact
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    the spirit of my deceased father-in-law, as an example.
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    Why do they insist on saying --
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    remember, they speak into this ear --
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    why do they say, "My name starts with J or M?"
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    Is this a hunting game?
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    Hunting and fishing? What is it?
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    Is it 20 questions? No, it's more like 120 questions.
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    But it is a cruel, vicious,
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    absolutely conscienceless --
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    I'll be all right, keep your seats (Laughter) --
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    game that these people play.
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    And they take advantage of the innocent, the naive,
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    the grieving, the needy people out there.
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    Now, this is a process
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    that is called cold reading.
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    There's one fellow out there,
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    Van Praagh is his name, James Van Praagh.
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    He's one of the big practitioners of this sort of thing.
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    John Edward, Sylvia Browne
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    and Rosemary Altea, they are other operators.
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    There are hundreds of them all over the earth, but in this country,
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    James Van Praagh is very big.
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    And what does he do? He likes to tell you
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    how the deceased got deceased,
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    the people he's talking to through his ear, you see?
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    So what he says is, very often, is like this: he says,
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    "He tells me, he tells me, before he passed,
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    that he had trouble breathing."
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    Folks, that's what dying is all about!
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    (Laughter)
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    You stop breathing, and then you're dead.
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    It's that simple.
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    And that's the kind of information they're going to bring back to you?
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    I don't think so.
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    Now, these people will make guesses, they'll say things like,
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    "Why am I getting electricity?
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    He's saying to me, 'Electricity.'
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    Was he an electrician?" "No."
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    "Did he ever have an electric razor?" "No."
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    It was a game of hunting questions like this.
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    This is what they go through.
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    Now, folks often ask us
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    at the James Randi Educational Foundation,
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    they call me, they say, "Why are you so concerned about this, Mr. Randi?
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    Isn't it just a lot of fun?"
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    No, it is not fun. It is a cruel farce.
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    Now, it may bring a certain amount of comfort,
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    but that comfort lasts
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    only about 20 minutes or so.
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    And then the people look in the mirror, and they say,
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    I just paid a lot of money for that reading.
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    And what did she say to me? 'I love you!'"
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    They always say that.
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    They don't get any information,
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    they don't get any value for what they spend.
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    Now, Sylvia Browne is the big operator.
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    We call her "The Talons."
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    Sylvia Browne -- thank you --
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    Sylvia Browne is the big operator
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    in this field at this very moment.
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    Now, Sylvia Browne -- just to show you --
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    she actually gets 700 dollars
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    for a 20 minute reading over the telephone,
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    she doesn't even go there in person,
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    and you have to wait up to two years because
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    she's booked ahead that amount of time.
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    You pay by credit card or whatever,
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    and then she will call you
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    sometime in the next two years.
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    You can tell it's her. "Hello, this is Sylvia Browne."
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    That's her, you can tell right away.
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    Now, Montel Williams is an intelligent man.
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    We all know who he is on television.
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    He's well educated, he's smart,
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    he knows what Sylvia Browne is doing
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    but he doesn't give a damn.
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    He just doesn't care.
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    Because, the bottom line is, the sponsors love it,
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    and he will expose her
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    to television publicity all the time.
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    Now, what does Sylvia Browne give you for that 700 dollars?
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    She gives you the names of your guardian angels, that's first.
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    Now, without that, how could we possibly function? (Laughter)
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    She gives you the names of previous lives,
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    who you were in previous lives.
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    Duh.
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    It turns out that the women
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    that she gives readings for
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    were all Babylonian princesses, or something like that.
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    And the men were all Grecian warriors
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    fighting with Agamemnon.
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    Nothing is ever said about
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    a 14 year-old bootblack in the streets of London
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    who died of consumption.
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    He isn't worth bringing back, obviously.
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    And the strange thing -- folks, you may have noticed this too.
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    You see these folks on television --
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    they never call anybody back from hell. (Laughter)
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    Everyone comes back from heaven, but never from hell.
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    If they call back any of my friends,
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    they're not going to... Well, you see the story.
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    (Laughter)
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    Now, Sylvia Browne is an exception,
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    an exception in one way,
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    because the James Randi Educational Foundation, my foundation,
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    offers a one million dollar prize in negotiable bonds.
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    Very simply won.
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    All you have to do is prove any paranormal, occult
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    or supernatural event or power of any kind
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    under proper observing conditions.
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    It's very easy, win the million dollars.
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    Sylvia Browne is an exception in that
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    she's the only professional psychic
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    in the whole world
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    that has accepted our challenge.
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    She did this on the "Larry King Live" show on CNN
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    six and a half years ago.
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    And we haven't heard from her since. Strange.
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    She said that, first of all, that she didn't know how to contact me.
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    Duh.
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    A professional psychic who speaks to dead people,
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    she can't reach me?
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    (Laughter)
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    I'm alive, you may have noticed.
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    Well, pretty well anyway.
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    She couldn't reach me. Now she says she doesn't want to reach me
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    because I'm a godless person.
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    All the more reason to take the million dollars,
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    wouldn't you think, Sylvia?
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    Now these people need to be stopped, seriously now.
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    They need to be stopped because this is a cruel farce.
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    We get people coming to the foundation all the time.
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    They're ruined financially and emotionally
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    because they've given their money and their faith
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    to these people.
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    Now, I popped some pills earlier.
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    I have to explain that to you.
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    Homeopathy, let's find out what that's all about.
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    Hmm. You've heard of it.
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    It's an alternative form of healing, right?
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    Homeopathy actually consists -- and that's what this is.
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    This is Calms Forte,
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    32 caplets of sleeping pills! I forgot to tell you that.
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    I just ingested
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    six and a half days worth of sleeping pills.
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    (Laughter)
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    Six and a half days, that certainly is a fatal dose.
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    It says right on the back here,
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    "In case of overdose,
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    contact your poison control center immediately,"
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    and it gives an 800 number.
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    Keep your seats -- it's going to be okay.
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    I don't really need it
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    because I've been doing this stunt
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    for audiences all over the world
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    for the last eight or 10 years,
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    taking fatal doses of homeopathic sleeping pills.
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    Why don't they affect me?
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    (Laughter)
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    (Applause)
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    The answer may surprise you.
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    What is homeopathy?
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    It's taking a medicine that really works
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    and diluting it down
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    well beyond Avogadro's limit.
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    Diluting it down to the point
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    where there's none of it left. (Laughter)
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    Now folks, this is not
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    just a metaphor I'm going to give you now, it's true.
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    It's exactly equivalent to taking
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    one 325 milligram aspirin tablet,
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    throwing it into the middle of Lake Tahoe,
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    and then stirring it up, obviously with a very big stick,
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    and waiting two years or so
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    until the solution is homogeneous.
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    Then, when you get a headache,
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    you take a sip of this water, and -- voila! -- it is gone.
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    (Laughter)
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    Now that is true. That is what homeopathy is all about.
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    And another claim that they make -- you'll love this one --
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    the more dilute the medicine is, they say,
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    the more powerful it is.
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    Now wait a minute, we heard about a guy in Florida.
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    The poor man, he was on homeopathic medicine.
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    He died of an overdose.
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    He forgot to take his pill.
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    (Laughter)
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    Work on it. Work on it.
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    It's a ridiculous thing. It is absolutely ridiculous.
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    I don't know what we're doing,
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    believing in all this nonsense over all these years.
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    Now, let me tell you,
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    The James Randi Educational Foundation
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    is waving this very big carrot,
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    but I must say, the fact that nobody
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    has taken us up on this offer
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    doesn't mean that the powers don't exist.
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    They might, some place out there.
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    Maybe these people are just independently wealthy.
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    Well, with Sylvia Browne I would think so.
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    You know, 700 dollars for a 20 minute reading
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    over the telephone --
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    that's more than lawyers make!
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    I mean that's a fabulous amount of money.
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    These people don't need the million dollars perhaps,
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    but wouldn't you think they'd like to take it
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    just to make me look silly?
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    Just to get rid of this godless person out there
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    that Sylvia Browne talks about all the time?
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    I think that something needs to be done about this.
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    We really would love to have suggestions from you folks
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    on how to contact federal, state
  • 14:29 - 14:31
    and local authorities
  • 14:31 - 14:33
    to get them to do something.
  • 14:33 - 14:36
    If you find out -- now I understand.
  • 14:36 - 14:38
    We've seen people, even today, speaking to us
  • 14:38 - 14:40
    about AIDS epidemics
  • 14:40 - 14:42
    and starving kids around the world
  • 14:42 - 14:45
    and impure water supplies that people have to suffer with.
  • 14:45 - 14:47
    Those are very important,
  • 14:47 - 14:49
    critically important to us.
  • 14:49 - 14:52
    And we must do something about those problems.
  • 14:52 - 14:54
    But at the same time,
  • 14:54 - 14:56
    as Arthur C. Clarke said,
  • 14:56 - 14:58
    The rotting of the human mind,
  • 14:58 - 15:00
    the business of believing in the paranormal and the occult
  • 15:00 - 15:02
    and the supernatural --
  • 15:02 - 15:04
    all of this total nonsense,
  • 15:04 - 15:06
    this medieval thinking --
  • 15:06 - 15:08
    I think something should be done about that,
  • 15:08 - 15:10
    and it all lies in education.
  • 15:10 - 15:12
    Largely, it's the media
  • 15:12 - 15:14
    who are to blame for this sort of thing.
  • 15:14 - 15:16
    They shamelessly promote
  • 15:16 - 15:18
    all kinds of nonsense of this sort
  • 15:18 - 15:21
    because it pleases the sponsors.
  • 15:22 - 15:24
    It's the bottom line, the dollar line.
  • 15:24 - 15:26
    That's what they're looking at.
  • 15:26 - 15:28
    We really must do something about this.
  • 15:28 - 15:30
    I'm willing to take your suggestions,
  • 15:30 - 15:32
    and I'm willing to have you
  • 15:32 - 15:35
    tune in to our webpage.
  • 15:35 - 15:38
    It's www.randi.org.
  • 15:38 - 15:40
    Go in there and look at the archives,
  • 15:40 - 15:42
    and you will begin to understand much more
  • 15:42 - 15:44
    of what I've been talking about today.
  • 15:44 - 15:46
    You will see the records that we have.
  • 15:46 - 15:48
    There's nothing like sitting in that library
  • 15:48 - 15:50
    and having a family appear there
  • 15:50 - 15:53
    and say that Mum gave away all the family fortune.
  • 15:53 - 15:55
    She cashed in the CDs,
  • 15:55 - 15:58
    she gave away the stocks and the certificates.
  • 15:58 - 16:00
    That's really sad to hear,
  • 16:00 - 16:03
    and it hasn't helped them one bit,
  • 16:03 - 16:05
    hasn't solved any of their problems.
  • 16:05 - 16:07
    Yes, there could be a rotting of the American mind,
  • 16:07 - 16:10
    and of the minds all the way around the earth,
  • 16:10 - 16:13
    if we don't start to think sensibly about these things.
  • 16:14 - 16:16
    Now, we've offered this carrot,
  • 16:16 - 16:18
    as I say, we've dangled the carrot.
  • 16:18 - 16:20
    We're waiting for the psychics to come forth and snap at it.
  • 16:20 - 16:22
    Oh, we get lots of them,
  • 16:22 - 16:24
    hundreds of them every year come by.
  • 16:24 - 16:26
    These are dowsers and people
  • 16:26 - 16:28
    who think that they can talk to the dead as well,
  • 16:28 - 16:30
    but they're amateurs; they don't know how to evaluate
  • 16:30 - 16:33
    their own so-called powers.
  • 16:33 - 16:35
    The professionals never come near us,
  • 16:35 - 16:37
    except in that case of Sylvia Browne
  • 16:37 - 16:39
    that I told you about a moment ago.
  • 16:40 - 16:43
    She did accept and then backed away.
  • 16:43 - 16:46
    Ladies and gentlemen,
  • 16:46 - 16:49
    I'm James Randi,
  • 16:49 - 16:52
    and I'm waiting.
  • 16:52 - 16:54
    Thank you.
  • 16:54 - 16:57
    (Applause)
Title:
Homeopathy, quackery and fraud
Speaker:
James Randi
Description:

Legendary skeptic James Randi takes a fatal dose of homeopathic sleeping pills onstage, kicking off a searing 18-minute indictment of irrational beliefs. He throws out a challenge to the world's psychics: Prove what you do is real, and I'll give you a million dollars. (No takers yet.)

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
16:59
TED edited English subtitles for Homeopathy, quackery and fraud
TED added a translation

English subtitles

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