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Richard Wiseman on the Skeptics Movement and Tricking People

November 14, 2019

Richard Wiseman is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in England. Richard began his career as a professional magician before pursuing a career in psychology, and developing a reputation for research into luck, deception, the paranormal, humor, and the science of self-help.

Wiseman joins Jim Underdown in London where they both attended the presentation of the Richard Dawkins Award to Ricky Gervais. Wiseman interviewed both Dawkins and Gervais on stage at the event. Jim talks with Wiseman on his history in the skeptics movement and how he got started, his work performing psychology experiments on the people of Britain, debunking the myths of misconceptions around positive psychology, and why he continues to be involved in the skepticism.

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“Cold” by Pictures of the Floating World / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

“Idle Ways” by Blue Dot Sessions / CC BY-NC 4.0


Hello, everybody, welcome to another edition of Points of Inquiry, I’m your host Jim Underdown for today’s episode.

I went all the way to London, England to talk to a couple of big names in the world of skepticism and critical thinking. I was over there for the presentation of the Richard Dawkins Award to Ricky Jr.

Vaisse this year, the Center for Inquiry in the Richard Dawkins Foundation splashed out for a big event in East London.

I interviewed Richard Wiseman in Conway Hall. That’s an old British humanist building right off of Red Lion Square, which has its own bit of history in central London. Richard Wiseman and I have been friends for about 20 years now.

Richard is a psychologist and a magician and an author and many other things. He’s written several books, including Rip It Up, Queer Ecology. Fifty nine seconds. Check out his books. They’re well researched and very interesting. One of my favorite stories with Wiseman is he actually broke the phone system in England during one of his experiments.

He was on TV doing an experiment to see if people could tell if someone else was lying and they had to call in to vote, which person was lying or or whatever it was. But anyway, they got so snowed under with phone calls that broke the British phone system.

So I did my I admire him for that. Richard Wiseman is a huge figure and skepticism and science based information about paranormal beliefs and just other ways we think he blends humor and groundbreaking research in his presentations and books and is really a fantastic ally in the quest to bring critical thinking to the masses.

So I give you now from downtown London, England, my conversation with Richard Wiseman.

We’re here with Richard Wiseman at Conway Hall. It’s amazing how this Heston does a lot of history and has built a lot of history much, which I don’t know.

I think it’s 1930s. I think. I think it’s best for that to go back for that maybe the decade before. Oh, I think it’s 1920s. That’s my feeling. Mount Zion formed and it’s atheists are free. Thought is humanism is it’s it’s great. I’ve spoken here many, many times. Where are you from? What’s your what’s your early history?

I’m from Luton in the U.K., which is a city town actually, I think about 30 miles north of London. Born big into magic, very young. And then join the magic circle. I lied about my age. I said I was in my mid 60s.

Hi, Joy. Buzz about 17.

And then because of magic, I got into psychology, came to University College London here in London, as the name suggests, because it was the closest university to the magic circle by a college degree, went up to Attenberg, Edinburgh, Scotland, to do a degree in parapsychology, then came back down this end. See investee half cheer I still am.

And now, all these years later, I’m a professor of psychology there and I’ve been voting yes skepticism throughout that whole kind of time.

So you went into psychology, never really pitching yourself as having a practice and having no.

I went in through ignorance. So which is the best way to go if any career? Actually, not just psychology. Yeah. So I read a book on magic and it said that there was a book on psychology called How to Win Friends and Influence People, which is that Dale Carnegie book, which is actually a fantastic book. But it’s nothing to do with experimental psychology. It’s Carnegie who’s a really good writer, just kind of saying things. I remember people’s names and smile and all this other stuff is really good.

And I got very excited about psychology when I was about 16. I think I read that book. So I thought, oh well, experimental psychology at university, that that must be like the Carnegie book when there is nothing like it at all.

It’s proper experiments, the stats and things like that. But that’s how I got interested in psychology. And then I think even now, just 10 onwards, if I find enough. I went home to my parents house quite recently and look at my old books when I was about ten or eleven and a skeptical stuff in there. Oh, it’s like. Yeah, Bermuda Triangle solved. Yeah. And all this stuff. So I was into that, that really young.

Well from a believer side or totally from now is always skeptical it that UFOs solved. We had a magazine this country called The Unexplained. And every every month that explain why didn’t explain things. I mean otherwise you could sue them if you’re a reader. So as Kathleen explained, and that’s the most sort of leverage thing I had. No, the rest of them was always wherever the phenomena phone was. Then the word explained underneath. So the. Of that stuff. Yeah.

Yeah. So I you hear so many stories about people in our world who Susan Blackmore being the most prominent example of people who had serious beliefs than these.

Yeah. So I go back a very, very long way and I never believed any of this stuff. And my parents are atheists, so I never went to church, that’s all. We have a Cub Scout movement in this country or the scouts in the States, I would think. But our ones are quite tied up with belief in God and the queen. And so I was asked to say that I’d left the Scouts for my own scout troop as I came out of that godless scout drew away ahead of the curve, way ahead of the curve, and that there’s only me in it. So it was a I don’t think troop was the right word. It wasn’t even group. It’s just an individual. So I did that.

And then one day when I was, I would think, 18 and soon I’ve spoken about this.

And as I turned on the television, we have a thing called open university in this country that used to broadcasts or lectures on on TV. And I turned it on and there was this person with shocking red hair talking about the paranormal. But she was looking at her research was into why people believe this stuff and experience it. And that, for me, was this incredible moment. I thought, wow, you could look at this stuff and you don’t have to look at whether it’s true. I didn’t think it was. But the fact you could look experiences and beliefs, and that’s Sue on TV. So without Sue, I wouldn’t have gone along that pathway.

Oh, how about that? I never realized you had the connection with her.

Yeah. And that you could do serious study about this and that it would be accepted by the academic community and eventually publications like.

Yeah, I know you’ve written for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Yes.

Published the law in a post all over the place. I published Both Sides of the Divide are published in the journal sorts of Psychic Research and Skeptic Inquirer in psychology journals, as I say might. My page was up in Edinburgh with Bob Morris, who was a believer because he was running the curse, that chair of parapsychology. And so actually I for years, as with all the parapsychologists, he really did believe I saw the word parapsychologist, which normally.

The rest of us in the skeptical world, the antenna, go on. Yes, girl, boy, here we go.

Trying to attach some sort of academic credibility to this crap. But you were it wasn’t Krabby. You could learn it. You could study it in a way that would be legitimate and credible.

Yeah, that’s what Bob was about. I mean, he passed away but such in the past tense. But Bob was a very nice guy. He’s been around the block many times. And so he knew a lot of mediums and psychics were frauds. And that’s why he brought me in to investigate that stuff. His real interest was in experimental parapsychology, which is these alleged novelistic effects. They’re very small. We have to get lots of people in the guessing or whatever it is. And he wanted to run studies that were as well controlled as possible as some of the lessons learned through doing those studies have fed directly into mainstream psychology. So some of the folks doing that parapsychology stuff are not pseudo scientists at all. They’re they’re doing fringe science because it isn’t a fringe area, but they’re trying to be as rigorous as possible. As I say, some of the lessons learned have then affected mainstream psychology. So there is a lot of kind of barking mad stuff out there. But there’s also some people doing good stuff.

And there’s there’s also stuff that looks like it’s legitimate, but it’s poorly done academically. I mean, we both know that any any paper can be poorly written, even if it ends up in the national news. That doesn’t mean it was well done in the first place. And I mean, can I assume that if Bob was doing these rigorous tests, that it’s it’s not going well? Forum in the Paranormal believes this is this is the thing.

And tell us the results. That stuff it it’s kind of check it. It’s it’s difficult. So you have this procedure, which is called Gance Felt, which is a century reduction procedure. And the claim is that that can help you be psychic. And there’s certainly some experimental work to support it. I do believe it, but it’s pretty well conducted. So right at the moment. So my partner is Caroline Walter, who is the current Kestler Fiserv of parapsychology.

We working together to do some Large-Scale Kansfield studies. So I have got one foot in that back camp in both my feet. Normally in skepticism. It’s a bit strange stance to have both feet and skepticism and one foot in the parapsychology camp, but it makes for an interesting life and quite difficult stance as well. And then you’ve published books. I have ten, eleven, eleven, eleven books.

I count them the other day. Far too many. What are your favorite ones?

Is that comes up. I mean, so I did about a decade of skeptical stuff.

And then how to investigate paranormal phenomena.

And that’s one of the investigating mediums, the psychics and going to psychology and all those sorts conventions and things.

And then in 2000, I was trying to pitch a book all about their skeptical book about the paranormal. My agent and I put this book out to all the publishing houses in London and no one was interested. And then we had this kind of mop up meeting. And by chance, I said, you know, one of things I’m interested in is any belief in the paranormal, but belief in luck, why we touchwood cross our fingers. And he said, what are you doing? I said, what we’re looking at. That the thoughts and behaviors of lucky people and unlucky ones, whether you could change your mindset to be lucky. Anyway, there’s a book in that. So we pitched it and that became the luck factor. It sold all over the world. That was about 2001, 2002. And then since then. And ecology and 59 seconds might scold and parrot normality most recently. Yeah. The Apollo book. So yeah, there’s been a whole string of them since, since then.

You run into people whose concept of luck and I’ve run into this is that it’s like this cloud that comes and lands on certain people here and there. What do you say?

Well, that’s how it feels.

I think we all know people who just seem to be very lucky, get through life through these lucky chance opportunities and other people who seem very unlucky that that whether they try ends in failure. And I think that is, in a sense, an illusion. I think that we creating much of our own good and bad luck, by the way we think and behave. Here I’m talking about luck in life. So nothing that I’ve written in terms of any intervention or exercise will make you any luckier when you go to Vegas. You’re up against chance there. You’re not going to win the lottery because you’ve read the Luck Factor book. Well, you might do that, but not systematically. However, when it comes to life, whether it comes to opportunities, who you meet, what what projects you start and so on. That isn’t charts. And that was the stuff I was interested in, how you got people to be in a more lucky, if you like, more positive what we would now call mindset. And so I was doing studies into that one of the first people to be doing studies into the idea of self development, self-help, of actually randomly assigning people to groups, to having them do different interventions and exercises and seeing the results. So that was the luck factor when it came out.

One of the things that stuck with me in that book were just very enjoyable to read. Was that lucky people? One of the conclusions was why do people try things that occasionally make you lucky? They they enter lotteries, maybe not so much, you know, big lotto tickets, words, 150 million to one to win. But if there a a door prize or something, they actually fill out a piece of paper because they think they could win it.

And that becomes a sort metaphor for the book. So the more people you talk to, the more likely you going to have a positive encounter. The more projects you try, the more likely someone is going to make you a million or whatever it is. And so it is about that idea of creating and noticing opportunities of acting on them. It is about being resilient when bad things happen. It’s about being optimistic to some extent, about trusting intuition. It’s older, these things. And so is a very early book into that genre. Now it’s quite crowded marketplace. But at the time it was this this kind of innovative take.

Yeah, so did Oprah’s the secret sort of the Z.

Well, that was interesting because I think that cain’t comes out a little bit later.

And of course, at fifty nine I write things which are fifty eight, fifty nine seconds later book about things you can learn in less than a minute. People misunderstand positive psychology. Positive psychology is about the things you need to do to lead a happier, better life. It isn’t just about being relentlessly positive.

So both of us and our heads would explode. Exactly. So it’s not if you just sit at home hoping to win the lottery.

That’s not going to help anyone. So it’s not just this thing about being relentlessly optimistic. If you saw thing I. Yeah, I’m so lucky. You are so positive. I’m not going to look both ways. My cross the road. You know, you can be now the gene pool fairly rapidly. So it’s about things that actually make a difference. Now the secret looks like it just about positive things.

You just visualizing positive things and thinking that that would that has a direct correlation to and creating things in your lives.

In fact, the literature shows that just being unread, positive and having those positive images actually decreases the chances of those things happening. Your brain kind of gives up motivation wise as well. I’ve imagined it. So that’s kind of an I can relax now. I can relax. So if you want to use visualization, you visualize process nine point. You visualize yourself doing what it would take to get to that point. So you visualize yourself thinks I’m revising, asking questions and so on. You don’t visualize yourself opening an envelope and taking out degree certificate. So it’s a very different take and it’s very nice to it’s a very empirical.

So in addition to the books, I’m amazed at the breadth of stuff you get to work on. And I think it’s it feels like it’s led to a fun life. Yes, it’s fun. So far, you’ve gotten a chance to do some really large scale experiments on the British public. Yeah.

Which was luck. It was all luck.

I was sitting in my office in half a chair about two weeks after I got the lectureship down there. And this email came.

Round for the BBC, and they sent it to all academics saying we’ve got prep British National Science Week. We’ve got our lead. Live television show. We’re going to turn it into an opportunity for all scientists to collect data. Anyone got any ideas? While I was working on lying at the time because interest in deception.

So I wrote in and said, he’s my idea. We get politicians, the leading political parties in the UK. Get them on TV. They lie and tell the truth. The public vote, which is the lie. And that way we can work out which political parties got the best liars. I like the idea. I wrote that idea. I still think that’s a great idea. It’s like a fool. I wrote it two weeks later. I get a call from the BBC. Yours is the chosen experiment. I don’t want McGuinness. And then we contacted all these leading politicians and they all said no. Of course, I’m not going to come on television and lie. And that well is openly saying that lies. So we ended up with them. A well-known political interviewer who is Robin Duddy, but not quite someone. The America equivalent would be like that pistol, like it might maybe a Walter Cronkite figure or something like that. You go back far enough. He told a lie Topix Truth about his favorite film. We played them at the top of this life show. About 30000 people called in. We had a result by the end of the show. We could show that people were not very good lives. Texas. And then we revealed actually, we just put the soundtrack out on national radio. We just published the transcripts in a national newspaper. And there the lie detection rates were much higher because the best cues for lying are in the voice and intonation and as we say, interesting. So we had this cut twist at the end. So became as great thing and it got published in Nature. And then, you know, the media’s like once you got a reputation for doing good things, they come back to you. So year on year, the BBC kept coming back and doing this other mass participation experiment. But then lots of them did.

I mean, when you did that experiment, though, then you crash the whole phone system.

Yeah, yeah. I mean, we honestly, I guess with Simon Singh, who wrote Fermat’s Last Theorem Break, a friend of mine, mazing science writer, and he was working as a I think a director on the, uh, on the show.

And we got no idea. No one had done a science phone. No, it wasn’t like the X-Factor or any of these shows where people used to phoning and voting. So we’re sitting there and it’s terrifying on the and I felt like three people I remember so funny. I’m a mom and that’s a.

You call it nature makes you all handy. That’s right. Yes. Because at least we’ll get ten of them off.

A thousand. And it was great. And it was sort of a talking point for the nation. And it’s still cited. Yeah. All this stuff today, actually. Funny enough, I got another article came through about luck factor work. So it’s amazing.

So what I’m interested in the fact that the the audible the people did better with audio because I just happened to be reading this book by this ex FBI guy called Joe Navarro about body language. And he uses a lot of visual body cues to try to read mostly tensioned, but also sometimes deception. Is it?

Is it more because we’re actually in a lot of ways, very good at lying when we’re lying on purpose.

It’s it’s pretty tough to tell. Yeah, well, basically, it’s normally when you’re watching videos of lies and truth tellers, it’s about 50 50. So we know better than chance. And part of the reason for that is we base our perceptions, our decisions on visual cues. And the problem with visual stuff, with the exception of some of those types, skews most of that Perry’s control.

So how much you just you with you not and I’ll be the blink. Eye contact, eye contact. All that stuff. It’s a very controlled channel. When you go to the words you say and how you say them. It’s much harder. And so lies tend to drop down in detail. They tend to be you could emotionally distance. They won’t use I we may. And so on this entry, more pauses and hesitations in there.

And when you put people’s attention onto those cues, it’s obvious they’re lying. And that was at the root of what was the truth test then in about 2000. I don’t just wait for that. That’s about early 1990s.

We did that because people who are lying and feel like they need to keep track of their lies keep it simpler.

Yeah. I mean, lying is cognitively really demanding. You have to think what’s plausible was the person already know what I already said. What could they find out? And you start to slow down when you start to think like. Is it consistent with what I said five minutes ago? Absolutely. Yes. Yeah.

Now, you’ve got a couple of nights ago, you were the interlocutor with Richard Dawkins and Ricky to raise one, the Richard Dawkins Award this year. And I actually thought you were a great choice to do this. We talked about this last night at dinner a little bit that here you have on one end here Ricky Gervais, who uses humor. Masterfully to inject skepticism. I only trained for laughs is not trying to sell skeptical books, but he are the end result is he’s a good critical thinker and a challenge is a lot of beliefs and dogma and things like that totally through humor. Richard Dawkins arguably does the same thing from the completely opposite end of the piece of the spectrum, and that is using science and argumentation and evidence. And here you are in the middle who I mean, because of partially because of your magic and performing background, you have some appreciation for a little bit of entertainment, but you still have this passion for the novel.

Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, both of them are obviously way more famous, influential than I am, and more, as you say, on those extremes. I mean, richest books are so phenomenally written that I mean, you read so Gene, my goodness, the writing is good in that. And I see the situation at the office and afterlife and and so on. So it was a fun evening.

And the challenge for me is that I saw a host was to kind of glue those two together because they’re not natural bedfellows. Make dawkins’ funny. Really incredible. Yeah.

And then end to make it all into one conversation. And I thought it was great. I thought they were they were really good together, you know, and they complemented one another. You’re talking about animals that didn’t exist. I think the Crocket Duck came up one of my favorites. Yeah. So it was a fun. It was nerve wracking as big audience. But two and half thousand people in the whole box. People seem to enjoy it. So that was fun.

Yeah. I think we actually did see the other side of both of them too, because Dawkins’ is pretty ghetto, pretty good, witty sense of humor.

Yeah. Times. And Jouvet says he’s a philosophy major.

I mean, he his logic is so that if you provide the right frame and everyone’s comfortable and everyone’s confident in the event, then people do start to come out. I mean, it’s like the whole thing is if you go to a party and you meet somebody and they say, oh, I’m, you know, an introvert, like staying at home, you’re going to go, well, what was the latest book you read that you’ve read?

And they asked, like, did you create them? Why your questions give them an opening to. Yeah. Did we say Richard Dawkins? People don’t normally sort of ask him to be funny or give him an opportunity to do the same, say, Ricky Gervais separately asking questions about comedy. Not an opportunity to be a bit more serious. So it’s nice to do that to break frame a little bit.

Talk a little bit about cork allergy. Is it a YouTube channel? What do you call it? Well, it was a book originally. Right.

I was doing, I think, a gig with Michael Shermer. I think he drove me to the airport. This is my memory. And we talked about Freakonomics and he said you should do something on psychology. And I said what I would do quirky psychology. I’d call it quick ology. And a good word. I sat in the airport lounge. I wrote down all the topics or the chapter headings in the back of some novel, some Dan Brown novel I’ve got with me.

And that page from that novel, I ripped out my back pocket and it’s now in my house framed because that is the exact chapter by chapter break. Oh, what a college. I was right on there. Absolutely.

But then I think as I like Apple and so you can book and then to promote the book, the time YouTube was just kind of getting off the ground with so starched here and superb about this video sharing channel.

And so I saw the crazy videos and the first one we did was the color change in card trick and boom. Overnight we’ve got a viral video and I work out detail about what that video is, but it’s our millions of hits.

And so I started to create more, which were illusion based and often in magic, what’s called the effect, the impossible thing. The person levitating is more interesting. The method. How is it done? The wires or whatever. And I started create illusion pieces where the method is more interesting than the effect. And therefore you can explain to people what the effect is and then still hold their attention.

So that’s creating those. And there was some point we started about collusions and then we started out batcheller ways win. And who knew? You show people ways of making easy money then. People love those videos, has been there for a long time. So I’m teaching students who grew up with that quickly channel, which is lovely and depressing at the same time.

Was it caught, Khalaji that we we measure the fingers on the Hollywood walk?

Yes, of course that’s right.

You were out there measuring the arts and I. Yeah, with a calibers which drew some attention, by the way, because the belief is that your if you’re second finger is longer than this, which way round it.

It’s the testosterone levels isn’t it. If you ask one finger is longer than the other. I think it’s a second finger is longer than the first and therefore that should be correlated with how successful you are. If you take a group of people who are very successful, then they should just shy, show a particular finger.

And I seem to remember doing some comparison between leading men and comedians. Well, it has rise faster and higher in the last wave.

That’s us. That’s right. Because it’s also supposed to correlate with culture success in general. And so that’s why I think that’s in the revised edition, that data. So course quickly. So I can come back home. Yeah.

Do you see a difference in the US and UK landscape? Is there a difference in our approach?

I have my feeling, sunny intel science reporting over in the UK, we have a much more lighthearted approach to it. And so we have science shows that do combine science and comedy. In fact, we were that one last night with a monkey cage recording. It’s a very good example of radio for BBC Radio four and Robyn Instant Brian Cox about combining science and comedy.

So we’ve always had this slightly lighthearted approach to science. And that’s Simon singing. I did at that stage. Yet for science many years goes by exactly that in the US. My perception is that science has taken a bit more seriously actually, and that combination doesn’t happen quite as much with with comedy in terms of skepticism. I, I feel that’s kind reflected a bit. I think over here we’re a bit more lighthearted about it. But then of course in the US Tam came along and that was very different because at the celebrity fail because of Randy. So I think that shifted the landscape a bit. But I think in both countries something happened because when I was. I put my 20s, mid 20s. You know, you’ve got to accept the world leading skeptics convention. It was like, you know, twelve of us in the room. And you still thought, given the age of everyone, this room, there won’t be skepticism here in 10 years time.

You’ll be Dave, literally.

And then something happened. And I think that’s something to some extent was was.

Now, say, if I was starting a larger events and time and something that happened and Tim Minchin and Richard Dawkins and these big names were coming through and face as well, starts to make it kind of cool, as it were.

And you saw this huge kind of rise in rationality and skeptical thinking.

The skeptic and atheist world was separated out a little bit from each other. But the atheist world got the Four Horsemen books and people like George Carlin talking real openly about an anti about religion, which I think was the first time that really broke free in culture. So it allowed people even in the US, which is much more religious than the UK, which is odd because you don’t have in schools.

I mean, we have prayer in schools.

Yeah, well, that was our CEO, Robyn Blumner’s joke last night.

But you have the Church of England, so you have the great advantage in creating atheists, because there is there’s probably some truth to it, because I mean, I learned that from other Brits because they’re like, yeah, that just kills it on.

Oh, it’s it becomes like math or anything else you don’t want to do. Go. Yeah. And so I used to hate prayer in schools twice to do as small group of us was to hum during prayer in assembly so they’d be like Strattera kids and good. Now we can say the Lord’s Prayer. We can.

Who was that. Who’s who’s coming. And we were know. And the thing I got right into the Lord’s Prayer is drive the mat. So we were doing a little bit direct action.

Of course, you have to be one of the ones looking around trying to figure out who’s home.

Yes. Looking at the Christian kids kind of guy, I wouldn’t harm if I were you. Yes. God’s watching and listening features may not know, but God does.

Watch yourself.

Why do you continue with this? I don’t know why continue? There’s nothing there’s nothing left and there’s nothing else to do. I’ve gone down this pathway and it’s obviously it’s leading, though. But it’s there. It’s the only path I’m on. What I continue, i.e., as an interview a couple of weeks ago, and they said, oh, what’s great about doing skeptical stuff is you’re changing people’s minds or beliefs or whatever. And I said, you know what? It’s like the old saying there’s two reasons for anything you do. There’s the noble one and the real one. And of course, I could sit here and go because skepticism is very important. I change minds and young people come up to me and say, well, of course I can do that. And to some extent it’s true.

Real reason, a giggle. I get to these crazy projects. You get to go out and measure the handprints on Hollywood Boulevard. So it’s it’s it’s mad and it’s fun. And we go to these meetings and it’s a giggle and you get to interview Ricky Gervais in front of it and we will have a laugh of an evening. Yeah. So I think that’s the real reason is is no border.

And that is, of course, to some extent I wouldn’t be doing it. That’s part of things I didn’t believe in. But I think the second part of that is actually what drives the passion as much as anything else is that it’s very, very silly and it stays interesting all the time.

You’re never shoveling.

Man, it’s his day. My dad went to work as an engineer, doing the same job every day of his life. And my goodness, I wake up in the mornings. I think what we’re doing today also radio into that. I’m seeing tube later on for a podcast. This is madness. Yeah, it’s lovely madness.

Well, you’ve been doing this long enough now, and I did want to talk to you in private about this, but maybe we’ll bring it up now.

The landscape has changed. I mean, the olden days, you know, in the Paul Kurd’s Raymond James Randi, Jim Alcock, early days of skepticism. John Nichol, they’re looking in to big Bigfoot and Roswell and crop circles and all this stuff. And so, you know, he would go out. Do you do an investigation together? Evidence. It’s like Sherlock Holmes. You come up with some ideas and oftentimes solve a mystery. Today, we’re dealing with flat earth years. We’re dealing with massive conspiracy theories and people in the highest offices in the world just making shit up as they go along. And and and completely sucking the life out of the value of good evidence and logic. How does that affect you? Would it.

What do we do? I most of my stuff actually isn’t straight skepticism in the sense of ghost hunting or debunking psychics. I did some stuff early on. And the problem is you’re always on the back foot. You should be a voice on the Bigfoot. Now you’re raised on the back of her in that someone else has got a fascinating, interesting claim.

And you come along saying that claim is not true. And so if you look at the way TV documentary is made, of course, they’re going to spend a lot time with the fascinating, colorful little lady. Right. That maybe, just maybe the UFO does exist, whoever is.

And then you get this shirt and tie skeptic sit. Thank as I actually know, I’ve investigated this ultra anonymous Triple Crown Santa Claus.

Unlikely. I know. Find a path of personal word blaggard. I heard it once. Yeah.

So it. And that didn’t work for me. It didn’t. Yeah. And the question is, how do you shift yourself so that you are the center of that story and you’re doing the positive thing. And for me it’s about science, communication and the bit of science I know is psychology. So you tell people how wonderful psychology is and that’s quite easy. But why? Because it’s normally about them. You tell them between their ears they’ve got one the most fascinating, amazing objects in the entire universe that we don’t know very much about it. That is counterintuitive, that they can do incredible things in their lives. And I think that’s a very persuasive message. And to me, that’s the only antidote to what you’re talking about, which is that let people know how incredible they can be, how they’re capable of doing amazing things and how they’re capable of being rational and celebrate that. I think what we’re looking at the minute is a blip. I think he’s gonna go away. I think it’s new. And so it’s newsworthy. I think he’s gonna get us into trouble in various ways in terms of history. And I hope it will fade away and we’ll be slightly embarrassed about where we are at the moment in terms of world history.

I mean, a lot of it was talking about the context of history. It’s this availability of bad information like no other time in history, but also the availability of good information.

Well, skepticism always struggled to get his message out.

And you look on YouTube now and there are incredible channels out there, you know, and no file if you want to learn about math and science is incredible. So it shows at the Edinburgh Festival where some of these no file people are then and then kids are turning up to see that star. You know, this is this is incredible. Amazing channels about quantum physics and so on.

So, yeah, we can point to those other ones and go, you know what? There’s the video here about the flat earth. But the other side of it is there’s incredible stuff out there. We can now directly talk to audiences. We could never do that before. You were always going via a director on TV or a book editor or whatever. Right.

So it’s it’s you know, it’s it’s a brave new world. It’s complicated. To me, it’s like that analogy. We have a bath and you throw in the big pile of water and it’s all going all over the place. That’s where we are at the minute. It will settle down at some point now some sort of status.

I wish I had a nickel for every TV producer that we’ve talked to. The staff require investigations group has two hundred fifty thousand dollars to give out. We deal with real interesting, often very nutty, sometimes mentally ill people all the time who say they have supernatural powers. And everyone seems interested in this until the producer says how long till somebody wins the money? And I’m told that the farm on that happening, the story is in why these people are having these experiences, that there are characters that were trying to be good with the science. All those things are still interesting enough to be on TV, I think. And they mostly don’t think so.

I think, though, that they’re assuming their audience are kind of believers or least want to believe. And of course, they never test that assumption. Right. And so it took Richard Dawkins and a couple hours to get the God delusion, because otherwise every editor was telling you no one’s going to buy a book. All right. Which is telling you God isn’t true in the books, right? That’s right. So no one. Karen. And then it goes out, son is a huge hit. And of course, publishing or TV being what it is once is one huge hit. Now they want everyone to do that type book.

So these things are of a faddish but I’m sort of, I think to the heart of it, quite optimistic. I do think we’re all kind of remarkable. And I do think. Just give it time. Don’t overreact. I think it will be all right.

What’s next? What are you working on now? What’s coming?

I’m pretty nuts. The book was the 11th book, and I don’t think I’ll be doing any more books like that, partly through popular demand. They’ll be doing anymore kind of straight books learn and that Shondra. I’m doing five projects, the minutes, and they are all magic projects. Most of them for Albert Folkman’s.

It was facing so public, but they’re all about the celebration of magic and why I love it and why is the most complicated, wonderful things in the world. And so I think I’m sort of coming full circle and returning to that initial eight year old Weismann sitting there playing these little deck of cards. There’s something very vague on detail, his little secret at the moment. But in the next kind of like three or four months, they’ll be out there.

There’s a good magic or should be that last minute. Exactly. That’s right. And one is a book. So he and others a slight different. But that’s I’ll be doing some more performing stuff as well.

Always enjoy that. And I probably will be doing the same jokes at the same conferences that I’ve been doing for at least 30 years, because there’s it to me. I look an audience, maybe a few hundred. There’s one person there.

Never heard those jokes before. I know the pained expression on the other two hundred ninety nine cases.

How unfair would it be for that person to leave without hearing their General Shackley?

What’s it matter? The rest of us suffer.

Guys, we do due to have to write a new journal. Richard Wiseman, thank you for being with me. I look forward to seeing in the US next time we come on.

It’s always a joy. Thank you very much.

Thank you for listening. Point of Inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry.

The Center for Inquiry is a five or one, two, three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence, science and compassion rather than superstition, pseudoscience or prejudice guide public policy. You can visit us at point of inquiry. Oh, R.G., there you can listen to all of piecewise archived episodes were available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and your favorite podcast app of choice. Special thanks to Pamela Crosslin of Crosslin Law, located in The Miracle Mile in Los Angeles.

She does business and intellectual property law and helped us out with some of the valuable intellectual property information for this program. Thank you. And see you again in two weeks.

Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown

Jim Underdown is executive director of Center for Inquiry–Los Angeles, and the founder of the Independent Investigations Group.