Liveblogging TAM2013: Magicians vs. Psychics Throwdown

Magicians vs. Psychics

Panelists: Banachek, Mark Edward, Max Maven, James Randi and Jamy Ian Swiss

Moderator: D.J. Grothe

When I realized that the title of the talk was “Magicians vs. Psychics” instead of “Magicians vs Physics” (My brain is pretty tired) I was slightly disappointed, and then excited again. Interesting topic, interesting panel, should be an interesting talk.

This is, like, 10 seconds before that table just disappeared.

I was right, but I had to wait for a while. I actually wasn’t over at the press table for this, either. Like I said, my brain is kind of fried so I thought I would just sit in on this panel and enjoy it, but some crazy debate got going that I just have to share.

The first 45 minutes or so were pretty dry–  they spoke a lot about Uri Geller, but I’m not terribly familiar with his story so the minutia of what they were discussing  was going a bit over my head. They also brought up the idea of whether or not magicians had the duty to disclose the fact that they aren’t actually magical, which I thought was an interesting concept.

One of the things that was kind of off-putting was the fact that Grothe kept asking these kind of weird questions about the moral implications of psychics giving unfounded advice to people. He posed it in kind of various forms maybe three times, and no one really had a decent answer. Then, we figured out what he was working toward.

Almost 25 years ago, Mark Edward set out to infiltrate the world of those who make their living as psychics by becoming one himself. Apparently, there is some controversy within the skeptical community about what he did, what he does and why.

Full disclosure: I have not read Edward’s book about his experiences, I don’t know a whole lot about him personally and I really don’t have a dog in this fight.

From his point of view, he was doing investigative journalism, plain and simple.

Not everyone is okay with his motives.

Especially Jamy Ian Swiss.

Swiss, in no uncertain terms, called Edward right out. He accused Edward of being a bad skeptic. A “little s” skeptic, in fact. He didn’t think Edward was working the 900 psychic lines to promote skepticism, he did it to make a living, and Swiss made it clear that he does not consider Edward to be a part of his skeptic movement.

Edward certainly fought back and stood his ground, asserting that he did important work to debunk the world of psychics. He also reminded Swiss that Randi himself wrote the forward to his latest book, so obviously Randi is of the opinion that he is a proper skeptic.

The only thing that rubbed me the wrong way about what Edward did and continues to do is the fact that he still makes at least part of his living as a psychic– he gets hired to do “psychic readings” for various events and, in his own words, “lets the audience come to their own conclusion” about whether or not he has some supernatural abilities.

It got quite heated, to say the least. It was pretty fun for us to watch an actual debate between two panelists.

I’m sure I left stuff out– I’m writing this about an hour after the fact– so if anyone was there and can fill in some of the blanks, please do!

About Jessica Bluemke

Jessica Bluemke grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and graduated from Ball State University in 2008 with a BA in Literature. She currently works as a writer and resides on the North side of Chicago.


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