Two great debunking stories.

psychis oooohhhhhA recent panel of skeptics spoke on a panel at DragonCon, recorded and presented on the Sketpic’s Guide to the Universe, features a couple of great stories about debunking. I urge you to listen to them in their own words.

The first story is how the SGU group, early in its career, sought to investigate the Warrens (a famous couple, one a “psychic” and the other a “scientist” who made their claim to fame by creating the entire mythology around the “Amityville Horror” house). The Warrens were very charming and charismatic, and eager to participate. They gave the SGU crew a tape that was their one biggest most fantastic piece of evidence for the supernatural: a video tape of a person “dematerializing.”

So using a video editing deck which allows one to see a wider field of view and various data that you don’t see on the TV, including timecodes, on the tape you could see the person in question in the distance. Then a finger you can’t see on the television framed image approach the camera. Then when the “disappearance” happens, the timecode instantly jumps. The obvious verdict: someone paused the camera and restarted it once the person had moved away. Simple as that.

But once this was pointed out, the Warrens became upset and angry, quoted as saying, “I don’t care what you say, that kid disappeared!” Not even actual hard evidence to the contrary can dissuade some people from their embedded beliefs.

Then, James Randi told a story of how he was asked by a TV station to go out with a “medium” and investigate the Amityville house. The psychic told him once she steps foot on the property, she’ll sense “vibrations” from the spirits on the land. So, they get out of the car, she steps on the house’s lawn, and instantly goes into fits and rolls around from the power of the spirits.

Meanwhile a police car had been hanging back, watching the crew. Once the psychic started her gyrations, the police approached and asked what was going on. Once informed they were investigating the Amityville house, the police told them, “Oh, that’s two blocks down that way.”