Some things do change

It always helps keep matters in perspective to read about skeptical episodes from days gone by. I’ve recently been reading The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero, by William Kalush and Larry Sloman; Houdini, of course, is regarded as one of the godfathers of the modern skeptical movement. Though he made his reputation from his magic act and, particularly, his miraculous-seeming escapes, he devoted much of his later life to an ongoing battle with fraudulent mediums. Always open to the possibility of communicating with the dead, he nevertheless knew better than anyone, from his background in magic, how easy it was to fool an observer unversed in the techniques of deception. Indeed, in his early years, struggling to put food on his table, he had performed a spiritualist act himself, before developing a full appreciation of the ethical issues involved with preying on the bereaved.

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