Clock Watching

The following message from James Randi was posted to the Usenet newsgroup sci.skeptic on February 4th by Jim Kutz.

A few years back, Philadelphia “psychic” Judith Richardson Haimes was awarded US$1.6 million by a less-than-bright jury when she claimed she’d lost her powers from poor medical treatment. The attorney for the defendant hospital was instructed by the amazed judge to appeal that verdict, and Haimes summoned up all her psychic powers to predict to the press that the appeal would lose. The appeal was successful. Exit Haimes.

I recall that “psychic” Uri Geller said, on a live CBS-TV show a couple of years ago, that his psychic powers enabled him to predict that he’d win the case against me. So far, that prediction looks as if it might not be fulfilled, with $200,000+ in sanctions presently against Mr Geller… But these powers work in strange ways, we’re told. Take the example of Big Ben.

Yes, that’s the actual name of the famous London clock, though originally it was the name of the bell that was to have struck the hour. That bell broke and was re-cast. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that the clock itself is now properly named Big Ben, so I’ll go along with that. The clock is stopped regularly twice a year for maintenance, and it has stopped periodically over the years from simple mechanical defects.

Enter Uri Geller. On November 2nd of 1986, he announced that he would stop the mighty clock by his psychic powers. It ticked (boomed?) on and the public yawned; seems Mr Geller had failed to announce just when the miracle would take place. A couple of years later, it stopped, and Mr Geller claimed credit for the event. More yawns. Then on December 18th, 1989, he declared that he would be “laying off Big Ben” because he might have to pay the enormous repair bill if his powerful psychic energies twisted the innards.

Alas. Last week the clock stopped again, and Mr Geller said he did it. Will he get a bill from Westminster? Will anyone believe that he really did it. Answers: No and yes. You see, Mr Geller missed his big opportunity back in August of 1976, when the clock stopped and remained stopped for almost nine months. He doesn’t seem to now have much luck with timepieces; he lost the very large suit he had against the Timex watch company, and now he can’t seem to time his Big Ben stoppings. Do you suppose that all those psychically-changed watches all over the world are putting out a general psi signal to get revenge?

Nahhhhhhh. The psychic superstar appeared by phone on the Ron-and-Ron radio show here in Florida a few days ago, and they bawled out their producer, on-air, for having put him on at all. They declared that he’d been —— as a —— “15 years ago” and they did not treat him at all nicely. (Vetting done to avoid legal problems, though that’s what they actually did say.)

I’m indebted to my crack UK researchers, Lewis Jones and Michael Hutchinson, for their work on this item. Dependable chaps. And a smaller piece may follow this after I get further data. Stay tuned.

James Randi