Back in September of 2007, I was invited to speak at the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference in Monterey, California. To do so, I had to literally get up out of a hospital bed in Florida – very much against the advice of my doctors – and fly off to address what is arguably the toughest, most influential, and savvy audience to be found anywhere. During that heady experience I met actress Goldie Hawn, neuroscientist Vilayanur Ramachandran, entrepreneur Richard Branson, and prominent skeptical author Stephen Pinker, all for the first time, along with literally dozens of other celebrities.
I committed homeopathic suicide during that lecture, a stunt I’ve done all over the world to make an important point about homeopathy, that it has no ingredients that will help or affect any ailment, symptom, or disease, and that it’s inane to take it seriously.
During my talk, which can be seen and heard here I opened and downed an entire bottle – 32 tablets – of homeopathic Calms Forte* sleeping pills, the main ingredient of which was “coffea cruda,” which is not made from instant coffee, nor brewed coffee, nor caffeine, but unroasted coffee beans, friends, but diluted – literally – billions of times, so that there isn’t even a single molecule of any active substance in a truck full of the tablets! I was confident that I’d not toss and turn that evening…
*which has since changed its formula to use “passion flower” rather than coffea cruda as the “active ingredient,” perhaps to invoke a more exciting reaction…?
Well, a Jack Myers was in that audience, and he was apparently not favorably impressed by my attitude or my opinions. Mr. Myers labels himself an “economist,” a media ecologist, author, documentary film producer, and publisher of economic reports on media, marketing and entertainment. Jack’s also a recipient of the George Foster Peabody Award, so I was surprised, following his attendance at TED, to read on his internet site a strong denunciation of me and my statements. In fact, he commented, ominously:
I found Mr. Randi's presentation, itself, to be very misleading and disingenuous.
Fightin’ words, I’d say, but that tirade – strangely – was deleted from his site shortly after it was published. With the aid of friends, I managed to find an account he’d sent to an Internet columnist who wanted to know more about what she’d seen. I’ll share that with you, and break in to comment. Rather often. It began:
First [Randi] told us not to believe anything he said.
Well, not quite. As I always do, I suggested to the TED audience that they shouldn’t merely accept blindly what I’d said, but should look into the situations for themselves. Jack misheard me, I guess. He continued:
Then he told us homeopathic products are worthless, which he "proved" by swallowing a bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills. There was no seal on the bottle but he presented it as if he was opening it for the first time, even removing the instructions. I don't believe they were, in fact, the original pills. I know many people who take those exact pills and they do work. I hope he doesn't prove his "theory" with people who might "try it at home" and potentially die.
Not to worry, Jack. As I said, I’ve done this “suicide” act all over the world for some twenty years now, and the only problem I’ve had has been people laughing to hear just how naïve and dense others can be when smooth-talked to by the operators who obviously also got to you…
Secondly, Randi denigrated those who use herbs and homeopathic products as part of a medical practice. My daughter is a practitioner of Oriental Medicine and studied four full years in an accredited master's program to gain her degree. She uses many herbs and remedies that have been handed down and have been effective for centuries that would be classified as homeopathic. I wonder who pays Randi – the medical institutions? The AMA? I would like full disclosure on his funding.
Rejoice, sir! That data is all available to anyone who asks for it, because the JREF is registered as a 501(c)3 charity, and by law must provide that information to anyone who asks for it. So, just ask, Jack! And no, we’ve never received a cent from Big Pharma, as you suggest, nor from those perfidious doctors who actually put real medicine into their patients’ bodies.
Next, Randi believes there is no afterlife. Again, he seeks to make anyone who does believe into a fool. He's entitled to his opinions, but why should it be at the expense of those who disagree with him? I like many others believe there is another level of existence – an afterlife.
No, Jack, though you may choose for yourself any title or definition you want, of course. If you wish to think of yourself as a total jackass, be my guest…!
I have seen someone who has the abilities Randi pooh poohed and am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that a true communication occurred. It changed my life and my beliefs and, by the way, cost me nothing. I don't feel he has a right to dismiss my beliefs as foolish and idiotic. I agree there are charlatans in every field – but that doesn't mean he has a right to dismiss someone's beliefs just because he doesn't agree with them.
Well, perhaps it did cost you, Jack. It appears that you witnessed a demonstration that quite impressed you and changed your basic opinions on how the world works. But just think, man! Now you’re potentially rich, a million bucks wealthier than you were before you revealed this to me, because my organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation [JREF], is prepared to pay your “someone” a million bucks upon the demonstration of that ability that I scoffed at! Wow! Now, this guru/saint/medium/gypsy/whatever may be shy – so many are, I’ve found – and may be so strongly spiritual that he/she shuns taking such easy money, but isn’t it worth a try…? C’mon, Jack, give the wheel a spin!
I wonder why… Jack struck me as a far more dependable and worthy opponent in this brouhaha, but just see up ahead how perfidious he actually proved to be. Read on, as he throws down his gauntlet…
Here's my challenge. I will meet Randi on any stage and bring a bottle of the same store purchased homeopathic sleeping pills he took, I will open the sealed bottle and he can take the full bottle there on the spot as he did at TED. If he can stay awake for 12 hours without getting sick, I will pay him $1,000. Secondly, Randi has set up an offer of $1 million to anyone who can prove through accepted observational methodology that an afterlife exists. I could make an equally compelling offer of $1 million to anyone who can prove through accepted observational methodology an afterlife does not exist.
Whoa, Jack… That million-dollar offer is offered by the JREF for a much wider variety of phenomena, any sort of paranormal, supernatural, or magical power that can be demonstrated under proper observing conditions. It’s that simple. Do it, and collect US$1,000,000. However, it’s payable for proving something exists, not for doubting that it exists. Even you, Jack, should know that a negative cannot be proven, such as that no unicorns exist in Egypt, or that you can’t fly by flapping your arms…
In any case, I notified Mr. Myers weeeks in advance that I would be speaking for the New York Skeptics on the evening of Friday, October 10th, 2008, and offered to ingest the “fatal” dose of sleeping pills at 7 that morning and remain in the presence of Myers from that moment until my lecture. I expected that this would be satisfactory for Myers…
Upon receiving this challenge from Myers, I immediately – within minutes – sent off this response to him:
Mr. Myers: I have just now received a copy of your April 1/02 2:36 PM communication…
There is much in that text that needs to be addressed in detail – and will be – but at this moment, I will confine myself to your “challenge,” in which you accuse me of being a liar and of faking my ingestion of Calms Forte*** sleeping pills at TED. Sir, I enthusiastically accept your challenge. On an agreed-upon date and time, at a location of your choosing, I will swallow the contents of an entire bottle of Calms Forte sleeping pills supplied by you, followed by an adequate amount of water – which you will also supply – and I will submit to being constantly observed from that moment until twelve hours later.
Mr. Myers, I not only will not suffer any ill effects, I will not even feel drowsy. Following that, you will pay me the $1,000 you’ve agreed upon.
I am also prepared to sign any document you may wish to prepare, that releases you from any responsibility for my well being as a result of this voluntary action.
I trust that you will not have any problem if the media are in attendance, and if a complete video record is kept of the event…?
As I told my TED audience, I have done this stunt many times in several countries around the world. For you to decide that I had to be lying in that statement is attributable only to the conviction you must have that homeopathy works – which it does not. As I’ve done before, I’m betting my life on that. I am accustomed – you may have missed this point in my TED talk – to putting my money where my mouth is. I hope that you will not withdraw your offer…
My chance finally came. On January 4th, 2008 – a full five months in advance – I found that I’d be in Mr. Myers’ area, and I promptly sent him a note to that effect. I also simultaneously posted – publicly on our web site SWIFT – this notice:
I’ve been looking for a chance to pop that overdose of homeopathic sleeping pills, the demo for which Jack Myers offered the JREF $1,000 in 2007; the opportunity to do that will arise on May 12th of 2008, when I’ll be speaking for the New York Skeptics. Mr. Myers will of course be invited to be present to see that all is done in accordance with his challenge.
Myers then quickly informed me that he was unable to attend on that occasion, I set another possible date – October 10th or 12th – and was prepared to watch him start floundering about trying to figure out how he could get out of this new lion’s mouth before the jaws closed. He promptly reacted to what I figured he’d embrace as a great opportunity to make me swallow my own words – and pills – but this is the response that I received, published here and on my web page – as he specifically requested I do – “in full”:
I respect your willingness to undertake the challenge and I respect the sincerity with which you hold and present your beliefs. I am not in New York City on the 10th or 11th of October, but even if I were I would not accept your challenge. I will however, make a donation to a charity of your choice. I would prefer not to honor or further publicize many of your beliefs, not because I disrespect you, but because I disagree with you. I do not necessarily disagree with your facts, but I cannot in good conscience help advance a crusade in which I do not believe.
If you publish this, please do so in full.
In short: Jack Myers made very public, disparaging and insulting remarks about my integrity on his widely-read Internet site, offering me no opportunity to refute his lies, then he made me a challenge. I immediately responded affirmatively, he reneged, and then he failed to pay the $1,000 forfeit to the JREF that he’d promised. I must say that Jack Myers has met my every expectation.
As Mr. Myers would have learned from even a cursory examination of what I have actually said or written, I do not claim – nor have I ever claimed – that an afterlife does not exist. The million-dollar offer is made to those like him, who assert that an afterlife does exist, and upon presentation of evidence that there is an afterlife, anyone can collect the million-dollar prize. Yes, I know that I offend Myers – and others – by the use of the word “evidence,” but I’m driven to that usage. He knows full well that his “offer” cannot be answered, simply because it requires proving a negative, a logical impossibility… Jack Myers is a devout believer/vendor/promoter of woo-woo, and my 2007 talk at TED put his belief structure in peril. His accusations of dishonesty on my part are still out there, published, part of the electronic record. Even now, should he ever opt to go through with his challenge to me as he clearly promised, I stand ready to meet it. I have not backed out, but now his perfidy is well established. There is no time limit to my offer to take the pills as we agreed. And Jack, and I will not retreat…
Just listen to that loud silence…
James Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation.