PhACT Goes to School

-- by Eric Krieg

My younger daughter's middle school has an annual "career and interest day" where they invite parents or friends of the school to give presentations to students through out the morning. The students sign up for which class they want.
The introduction to my presentation on "secrets of the paranormal". The description was carefully worded to not betray my own inclination on the subject. According to my daughter, my ratings must have been high, because the ten kids she talked to had signed up for it and were disappointed to not make it in..

Right as kids were entering in, I had an assistant quickly select and groom a girl from the room to be "psychic girl". I'd do a quick overview of the common belief that people can read minds. Someone in the audience would be given a science text book, announce a random page number, while "psychic girl" would then concentrate and recite sentences from the page. Then after hearing the volunteers name, she would recite their phone number and address. My cell phone under her hair linked to my wife with copies of the science book and the student registry may well have been more useful than telepathy.

Another quick demonstration was of sensing human energy fields. After a good woo-woo talk on the wonders of TT, I'd have a volunteer come up and put their hand behind their back. About 8 samples of a simple "OK, is my hand above yours or not" test, the usefulness of TT was more apparent.

A volunteer was selected to use dowsing sticks to discern which of 10 numbered up side down cups obscured either a small plastic vial of birdseed or water. The 6th through 8th graders seemed to grasp the concept of results expected by random chance.

I did an astrology test that I saw Randi do on TV: I printed out a single general astrology reading with many good-for-everyone readings like, "you have a good sense of humor but you are sometimes worried about what people think of you". I had a stack printed up with different months written on them. People offered a general assessment (for most, it was along the lines of "wow, this sounds like me" A roomful of snickers followed the announcement that they were all the same. I found kids agreeing that if were there something to astrology, one would naturally expect to isolate predictive value with tests. They were interested to hear that endless astrological writing rarely bothers to admit that all such tests come up with negative results.

Another attention getting stunt was announcing that I was prepared to go to my bank that same day and bring back $10,000 for the first person who could read serial numbers one at a time that I was concentrating on from a dollar bill.

I got an enthusiastic response from question and answer time - typical questions were, "what about ghosts?", "do we know how pyramids were made?", "how to you explain the moving flag on the moon hoax show?", and "do you think there are aliens?". I had plenty of time to draw a distinction between knee-jerk nay-saying and true scientific skepticism as well as to explain how disingenuous money grubbing media frequently stoop to promulgating misinformation to make a buck.

I also had rapt attention with another choice bit of Randi shtick: I asked them a bit about the dangers of drug overdose and poured out a complete vial of drugs from a sealed container of medicine for hypersensitivity into my hand. I quick chugged them down and asked if anyone would have a rational explanation in the event that I would not shortly topple over. I then explained the whole concept of homeopathy and how it was unlikely that I had consumed even a single molecule of medication. In a world of short attention spans, showmanship can be a plus. My ultimate reward was having my daughter tell me some kids told her it was "pretty cool".

As another background piece of information, Our former speaker Anna Forbes also signed up and spoke on the topic of fighting AIDS.

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