Electric Monk

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Panel Discussion #2 - Skepticism & the Entertainment Industry

Next was our second and final panel discussion of the conference. This one was composed of many of the performers and entertainers among our speakers. Teller was unable to attend because he was not feeling well.

Second Panel
Second Panel (l to r): Randi, Penn, Andrew Harter, Julia Sweeney, Jamy Ian Swiss, Ian Rowland, and Dean Cameron

Julia Sweeney remarked that she had found meditation to be a good replacement for some of the personal religious experiences she misses.

Randi described how, in his personal experience, a funeral service, even if religious, served a vital secular social function, allowing the mourners a time to say goodbye, and to close the door on a life, and bring some relief.

On being asked about media bias against the skeptical viewpoint, Penn responded that every group thinks that Hollywood is against them, (an observation that I agree with). Penn continued by pointing out the existence of several humanist/skeptical programs and movies.

Julia was asked if her skepticism has hurt her career. She responded by saying that if Shirley MacLaine can say she lived seven past lives and still have a career, then how much could being a skeptic hurt?

Penn responded to the question by saying that he was thrown off the set of Murphy Brown, probably because of being an outspoken unbeliever, but possibly because of something else.

When asked about how to promote more skepticism on television, Andrew Harter recommended that since ratings were the only thing that mattered to the TV execs, skeptics should lend support to those keeping the most skeptical views. For example, watching John Stossel instead of Larry King, and writing letters in to applaud a skeptic-friendly story.

Second Panel
Julia Has Something To Say, Is Penn Listening?

Julia recalled that during her brother's illness, Penn called her to express his support. Julia told him how much she was emphasizing the power of positive thinking on health. Penn responded that she shouldn't add the burden of guilt on her brother, that if he did not get better, it was partly his own fault. Julia said that hearing this made it easier for both of them.

Jamy Ian Swiss said that the most important lesson to be learned from magic is that if you want to learn about deception, you need a deceiver. Even arch skeptics, like Paul Kurtz can be taken in by someone like Kreskin.

At that point, Randi chimed in with an anecdote about Kreskin. Apparently, he tried to fool Johnny Carson in the Tonight Show dressing room by using a trick to levitate a table, and pass it off as the real thing. Kreskin was never on the Tonight Show again after that.

The question of how to reply to the "What harm does it do?" defense of cold readers, like John Edward, drew heated responses from both Ian Rowland and Jamy Ian Swiss. Rowland called it a "defense for being lying, cheating, theiving, deceiving scum." Swiss said that the "notion that John Edward is doing grief counseling is on par with the notion that he can talk to the dead. He tells people to hold on, and traps them in their grief for the rest of their lives."

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