James Randi, famous skeptic of the paranormal, brought his own unique brand of criticism, humor and showmanship to campus last night in 112 Kern.
Randi's speech was sponsored by the University Park Allocation Committee (UPAC) and hosted by the Penn State Atheist/Agnostic Association. About 150 people attended the event.
Club President Nat Jackson (senior-anthropology) thinks his club's ideals and Randi's beliefs are a natural fit.
"Randi represents skeptical, critical thinking as paramount importance, and that is way in line with our mission statement."
Randi has been on television shows such as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, NOVA, and Larry King Live. He's also written a number of books and runs a Web site, which he said receives 9,000 hits per day.
Randi also runs the James Randi education foundation, which promises to give $1,000,000 to anyone who can prove a paranormal phenomenon.
He said people are easily fooled because they make assumptions. "Magicians and tricksters take advantage of the fact that people believe the world always works the same."
Randi was very critical of Paranormal State and the Paranormal Research Society (PRS). He claims that he has offered to assist the PRS in their investigations, but he has received no response.
Randi exposed various frauds such as the "counterfeit pen", which is supposed to help identify counterfeit money. "According to the Secret Service, no counterfeit bill has ever been found by one of those pens," Randi said.
He was also upset about the use of homeopathy, which claims to put trace amounts of healthful ingredients in pills. " I would have to eat 16 swimming pools of these pills just to get one molecule of the active ingredient," he said while referring to homeopathic sleeping pills.
Although Randi's speech had mostly been light-hearted and amusing, he ended it by expressing his disgust with people who use deception to take advantage of others. "I'm angry; this is not right," he said.
Randi took questions at the end of his speech, and the audience was interested in more than just Randi's professional life. Many attendees were interested in Randi's personal life as well, asking where he was from and what his childhood was like. One audience member even asked how long Randi had been growing his long, white beard. "I'm only asking because I really like it," he added.
Aleksandra Gontaryuk (senior-international politics), who attended the speech, considers herself a skeptic, and enjoyed Randi's speech.
"He's not only a good speaker, he's entertaining too," she said.
This speech marks one of the first major events for the Atheistic/Agnostic Association, which was revived with Jackson's help last fall after a two-year hiatus. Jackson said he's happy with the progress the club is making.
"We're getting more and more members, and we've set up our first big event," Jackson said.
What does Jackson want people to take away from this speech?
"I hope that people try to understand Mr. Randi's viewpoint," Jackson said. "Maybe they won't accept it, but at least they'll understand it."