Magicians and the Paranormal

If you fake magic, do you believe in real magic? Skeptic and paranormal researcher Dr Richard Wiseman has surveyed over 400 performers of stage magic to see what their opinion is of the paranormal, and written about the results in an interesting article for Skepchick (with more details on his own website).

Magicians make their living by performing the impossible. Night after night they employ sophisticated sleight of hand and technological wizardry to make objects vanish into thin air, read minds, and generally defy the laws of physics. So, when it comes to the paranormal, you might expect them to be somewhat skeptical. Even a brief glance at the history books would confirm such expectations, with several well known magicians taking time out from their busy schedules to pour cold water on psychic claims.

Dr Wiseman is playing to his audience somewhat here, as such a “brief glance at the history books” could perhaps give you completely the opposite impression – see George Hansen’s article “Magicians Who Endorsed Psychic Phenomena” for details.

The poll ended up showing that around 1 in 4 magicians believe paranormal phenomena may exist (and much the same number even said they had experienced paranormal phenomena themselves). The only surprising thing about this number really is that it is much lower than previous surveys have suggested. One might argue that this decrease is only natural in light of the ‘hipness’ of magicians (and skeptics) Penn and Teller, Randi etc at this point in time. (It would also be good to see a list of the sources employed by Dr Wiseman, to check for possible biases either way – he says only that “the link to the online survey was placed on various magic-related sites and discussion groups”.)

I did have to laugh though when I read this rather ironic short quote:

Of course, it is always possible that the answers given by some performers do not reflect their genuine beliefs and experiences (after all, this is a group that deceive for a living!)

Now, I’m assuming that Dr Wiseman here is offering a possible ‘out’ as to whether the performers really did have these paranormal “experiences”. But Richard Wiseman is himself a magician, therefore…