D. J. Grothe pushes back on the NYT for romanticizing Uri Geller and calling him a “victor”

July 11, 2023 • 1:00 pm

In the Nooz two days ago both Greg Mayer and I weighed in on a very weird article in the New York Times declaring that swindler Uri Geller (you’ll know him as the “spoon bender”) had come out victorious over his critic James Randi, who exposed Geller’s “psychic” manipulations as pure hokum. Nevertheless, the NYT extolled Geller. Here’s what both of us said:

*From Greg:

The New York Times‘ fondness for woo continues to grow: a big homepage article today declares that Uri Geller has “emerged the victor“. The evidence for this: Geller is rich and has opened a museum about himself; an Australian has written a coffee table book about him; and he has outlived his critic James Randi (who was 18 years older than Geller, and died in 2020 at the age of 92). And besides, what harm can there be in cultivating the habits of mind that allow people to believe in telekinesis? The Times used to be a little less credulous about such things, and the harm they can cause.
The article is in the “Business” section, so I guess how much money you have is the right way to judge who ‘wins’. But there’s nary a mention of the size of Randi’s estate– how can we be sure who really won?
From the NYT:

It’s a fortune he might have never earned, he said, without a group of highly agitated critics. Mr. Geller was long shadowed by a handful of professional magicians appalled that someone was fobbing off what they said were expertly finessed magic tricks as acts of telekinesis. Like well-matched heavyweights, they pummeled one another in the ’70s and ’80s in televised contests that elevated them all.

Mr. Geller ultimately emerged the victor in this war, and proof of his triumph is now on display in the museum: a coffee-table book titled “Bend It Like Geller,” which was written by the Australian magician Ben Harris and published in May.

My take:  The victor? The VICTOR?  The NYT then admits that Geller wasn’t really banding spoons or was psychic; it was all trickery:

And the point is that Mr. Geller is an entertainer, one who’d figured out that challenging our relationship to the truth, and daring us to doubt our eyes, can inspire a kind of wonder, if performed convincingly enough. Mr. Geller’s bent spoons are, in a sense, the analog precursors of digital deep fakes — images, videos and sounds, reconfigured through software, so that anyone can be made to say or do anything.

That’s bad writing, and is in fact not true, since Geller never admitted he was doing trickery (see below).

And get a load of this from the NYT:

If Mr. Geller can’t actually bend metal with his brain — and civility and fairness demands this “if” — he is the author of a benign charade, which is a pretty good definition of a magic trick. Small wonder that the anti-Geller brigade has laid down its arms and led a rapprochement with the working professionals of magic. He is a reminder that people thrill at the sense that they are either watching a miracle or getting bamboozled. And now that fakery is routinely weaponized online, Mr. Geller’s claims to superpowers seem almost innocent.

My take: No,  civility and fairness don’t demand the “if”—the possibility that he really was bending spoons with his brain. His followers now more or less admit it, and magicians like Randi could do it regularly.  By saying that Geller “won”, and putting in that “if”, the NYT is once again pandering to woo. And if it wasn’t woo, but just magic, then Geller lost and Randi won. Oh, and the NYT also lost.

Now D. J. Grothe, whom you may remember as a voice in the “new atheist movement” as well as a magician and a good friend of James Randi, takes out after the NYT for its extolling of Randi. Click below to read Grothe’s Substack post:

First, the take of reader Stephen, who brought this link to my attention

Mr. Grothe is criticizing The New York Times for the way they’re telling the story of a swindler, quote: Geller’s history of fraud is surreally romanticized in the New York Times profile — he’s audaciously portrayed as a mere magician somehow performing his deceptions in the public interest! and the NYT article treats James Randi as “little more than a footnote”, dismissing him as just spewing “vitriol” against a poor Uri Geller, who is portrayed as just an “almost innocent” fellow entertainer, a mean-spirited and joyless Randi tilting at the inocuous windmill of Uri Geller.
I’m surprised that a serious newspaper publishes something about a crook, but trying to convince us is not.

Indeed, Grothe admits that Geller has bamboozled people because he has an amiable and endearing personality, but he still bamboozled them:

He built his valuable brand on this falsehood that he was real, and in the process, offended many in the magic community, skeptics, and anyone else who values the truth and cares when the cognitively vulnerable are being defrauded by charlatans. This offense his critics felt — a kind of moral outrage — has led them to debunking Geller countless times, and yet he’s always remained undeterred. And his unscrupulous deceptions weren’t confined to the stage; I think it was and continues to be his very identity, a dangerously misleading persona ethically identical to conscienceless faith healers and psychic charlatans who knowingly dupe the gullible for personal gain.

I’ve only met Uri Geller twice, and I can confirm others’ accounts: he is a beautiful huckster. When I first met him, he made me feel like the center of the universe — he was so warm and attentive, even affectionate, and he honestly seemed like a genuinely nice guy.  I found him to be extremely likable. Even though I knew his history of destructive fraud and deceit. It should be no wonder that someone with his history could be so beguiling.

Two things in this piece surprised me. First, Geller has never admitted that his psychic ‘tricks’ were a form of magic (i.e.,deception): (Bolding is mine.)

That the magic community, with some notable if rare exceptions, has recently turned a blind eye to Geller’s history is not at all due to the fact that Geller has finally confessed to being a fraud, and to bilking his victims out of literal fortunes over the years, because Geller has never confessed to this, nor has he ever tried to make good, nor tried to make his victims whole. Instead, I think magicians have welcomed Geller into their community because magicians as a group are charmed by his personality and especially by his celebrity — magicians are nothing if not starfuckers, and ethics aside, Geller is a bona fide very charming celebrity.

Second, I didn’t know that Geller loaned his name to various scams that did hurt people, including medical misinformation:

But Geller wasn’t — and isn’t — any sort of noble Carl Sagan type. He was a con man who hurt people. And his scams were not just confined to lucrative pseudoscientific oil prospecting cons, as the Times article suggests. In the 90s, Geller’s magazines in England were promoting things like dangerous spiritualistic healing of very physical medical ailments. Found on the magazine racks throughout the country (I bought one in person on my first trip to London in 1996), issues were packaged with “Uri Geller Empowered Quartz Crystals,” with step-by-step instructions for supposedly curing very real diseases. He didn’t perform benign magic tricks merely refusing to disclaim them as mere tricks. In my opinion, he was a spiritualistic fraud. And continues to be.

If Geller is still deceiving people by pretending he has spiritual or psychic powers, we should feel sorry for those credulous folks. But we shouldn’t feel sorry for the New York Times, which actually makes a kind of hero out of Geller, declaring him victorious over James Randi, who in my view is the real hero, or at least a thoroughly admirable man. Why is the Times so eager to push woo?

Another predatory journal in “deadly need” of a paper

June 17, 2020 • 8:30 am

I doubt that there’s a scientist alive who doesn’t get one of these predatory journal pleas on a regular basis. They’re never in my field (this one is in agriculture and soil science!), and they are in deadly need of a 2-page opinion piece for the next issue of their sub-sub-substandard journal.

I’d be tempted to submit something humorous, but a. it’s work and b. it would debase the scientific enterprise. Instead, I’ll show you the email for your delectation.

If you look up the location of the journal’s “offices” in San Francisco, you’ll find they are virtual offices, providing only the appearance of an office with a mailing address and someone to answer the telephone.

In other words, although the journal is real, it’s a predatory journal that exploits scientists who need papers on their c.v.s, making money by charging exorbitant publication fees. I suspect the real offices are overseas given the fractured English in the email (“deadly need”, “please tack the below link”, probably meaning “tick”), which of course means the email is lying.

Perhaps an enterprising reader would want to call up “Emma Megan” at the number and see what transpires.

World Journal of Agriculture and Soil Science <agri@irissciences.com>
Wed 6/17/2020 5:38 AM
To: Jerry Coyne

Dear Dr. Jerry A Coyne,


Hope you are doing very well!

Well, we are in deadly need of only one article to release Volume 5 Issue 2 before End of this Month. Is it possible for you to support us with your 2-page Opinion or Mini Review for this issue?

Please tack the below link to visit on our journal website

Please acknowledge this email to submit your manuscript.

Emma Megan | Managing Editor
World Journal of Agriculture and Soil Science (WJASS) | [ISSN: 2641-6379]
Iris Publishers LLC,315 Montgomery Street, San Francisco, CA 94104, USA.
Web: irispublishers.com| Email Id: agri@irispublishers.com |Tel no: +1-628-201-9788

Gwyneth Paltrow’s medical woo gets demolished

July 17, 2017 • 9:00 am

Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop site (“Elevated Essentials for Life”) has been promoting pseudoscience and quack remedies for years, but somehow she manages to shake off criticism, like Trump or Deepak Chopra. Most notorious was her $66 “jade vagina egg“, which, inserted into that orifice, was claimed to do these things:

  • harnesses the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice
  • cleanses, clears, and detoxifies the vagina
  • removes negativity
  • increases chi, orgasms, vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance, and feminine energy.

Did I mention that you could “recharge” the egg by putting it in the light of a full moon?

Despite the weaselly disclaimer, these benefits were touted not by a doctor, but by a quack named Shiva Rose. A real doctor, a gynecologist named Jen Gunter, took apart these claims, pointing out not only that the egg had no vaginal benefits, but could, by carrying bacteria in its pores, cause infection. And yet the egg is still on sale.

Over the years, goop has offered a number of bogus products and health advice, including taking megavitamins (useless), steaming your vagina (useless and dangerous), detox regimens (useless), crystal healing (ditt0), and skin stickers purported to recharge and heal your body by being programmed with different “frequencies” (useless and expensive).

The stickers, I think, were the last straw. They were touted as incorporating material used by NASA, but NASA denied it, and one ex-NASA official said they were “bullshit.”  Although Paltrow has made millions from this quackery, the pushback from the vagina eggs and quack stickers clearly stung her, and her reputation was at stake. She had to do something.

What she did last week was to have her team write a defense of her practices, and enlist two of her advising doctors to tout their credentials and justify their woo, It’s all on view on the goop site: “Uncensored: A Word from our Doctors.” But the goop commentary does not go well, not only questioning the motivations of her critics but also arguing that criticism of her woo is dangerous (my emphasis):

As goop has grown, so has the attention we receive. We consistently find ourselves to be of interest to many—and for that, we are grateful—but we also find that there are third parties who critique goop to leverage that interest and bring attention to themselves. Encouraging discussion of new ideas is certainly one of our goals, but indiscriminate attacks that question the motivation and integrity of the doctors who contribute to the site is not. This is the first in a series of posts revisiting these topics and offering our contributing M.D.’s a chance to articulate theirs, in a respectful and substantive manner.

We always welcome conversation. That’s at the core of what we’re trying to do. What we don’t welcome is the idea that questions are not okay. Being dismissive—of discourse, of questions from patients, of practices that women might find empowering or healing, of daring to poke at a long-held belief—seems like the most dangerous practice of all. Where would we be if we all still believed in female hysteria instead of orgasm equality? That smoking didn’t cause lung cancer? If every nutritionist today saw the original food pyramid as gospel?

. . . Asking questions is the job of all of us; it is also the job of the doctors and scientists who collectively move our health forward. There is much that we do not know. It is unfortunate that there are some who seem to believe that they already know it all, who pre-judge information before they’ve even taken the time to read or understand it, who believe that there is actually nothing left to learn, who believe that they, singularly, own the truth. That is troubling, and that is dangerous.

I’d enact the onerous emotional labor of going after this stuff , but fortunately, ArsTechnica has done it all, saving me the trouble. Read Beth Mole’s piece, “Defense of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Good offers case study on how to sell snake oil.“, which goes after goop‘s defense, though not the doctors’. It details eight rhetorical tactics the site uses to defend its woo, as well as detailing a number of goop products that make bogus medical claims. Somehow I’d missed this product, which offers semiprecious pebbles that would cost you about $10 at a rock store:

With these claims!:

For a critique of the two goop doctors themselves, there’s no better place to go than surgeon Orac’s new post at ScienceBlogs, “Gwyneth Paltrow’s quack empire goop strikes back against Dr. Jen Gunther.” Here’s a sample from Orac:

Of course, Dr. Gundry will have none of it. He has a peculiar level of tunnel vision. He paints himself as a science-based doctor at the very highest level of his profession. Arguably, he was, at least until 15 years ago, when, as he brags, he resigned a “Professor and Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at a major medical school to devote myself to reversing disease with food and nutraceutical supplementation, instead of bypasses, stents, or medications, just like Hippocrates asked you and me to do when we took our oath: ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ And he works so, so hard at it. So hard. So very hard that he has to brag:

“And finally, he taught that a physician’s job was to search out and remove the obstacles that are keeping the patient from healing themselves. For the last fifteen years, I’ve been doing just that seven days a week (yes, you read that right, Saturday and Sunday as well, just ask my overworked staff).”

Poor baby. Such dedication. And, he assures us, even though he has concierge patients, he also takes Medicare and Medicaid! He’s also a condescending dude as well [example follows]. . .

I know that people follow celebrities’ fashion and tastes, hoping that some of the stardom rubs off on them, but it’s beyond me why someone would take medical advice from Gwyneth Paltrow over that of their doctor. For crying out loud, you could at least call your gynecologist before you stick a jade egg in your vagina!

And I’m equally puzzled why the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t crack down on specious health claims, and make sure that any disclaimers are BIG and BOLD—or better yet deep-six those claims altogether. After all, the FTC recently required homeopathic “remedies” to have scientific evidence backing their health claims, and if not they simply couldn’t make such claims. Why isn’t goop subject to the same regulations?

South African preacher claims he went to heaven—and took photos with his cellphone

April 2, 2016 • 10:00 am

There’s a reason they call religious believers a “flock”—because they’re so easily fleeced. In this case, though, the attempted removal of wool met with pushback. The miscreant here is one Pastor Paseka Motsoeneng of Incredible Happenings Ministries in Katlehong, South Africa.

The pastor, also called “Prophet Mboro,” is said to have healed many people, and delivered stones and fish through the private parts of women impregnated by demons. Here are two headlines (go to screenshots to see original articles):

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 7.05.33 AM


Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 7.14.27 AM

Here’s a video of the Prophet delivering stones from a woman apparently impregnated by a demon. It’s very convincing, no?

Motsoeneng has a long history of this kind of chicanery, and I feel sorry for the helpless people who believe his scam. In fact, they believe it to such an extent that they’ve enriched him considerably. As the BBC reports:

The pastor, reportedly a multi-millionaire who owns a fleet of luxurious cars and was once the subject of a BBC documentary, is no stranger to scrutiny over his financial affairs. In 2015, he was questioned by a public commission investigating the commercialisation of religion. He denied all wrongdoing, remained defiant, and told his supporters that he was determined to go to jail if that is was is necessary to protect his church’s image.

His methods are, let us say, somewhat unsettling. From iol.co:

According to the Sunday World newspaper, the pastor acts out carefully staged and managed situations on his weekend television show.

Motsoeneng has also been labelled as a “pervert” because of the unusual way he heals people, as well as a “thief” who steals the church’s money.

The newspaper reported that thousands of people had attended his service in Katlehong last week to witness his miraculous demon-banishing service which “resembled a porn movie”, rather than a religious service.

The self-styled prophet Motsoeneng put his fingers into the vaginas of two female congregants as part of a ritual to expel the demons that had allegedly possessed them.

Motsoeneng’s unorthodox demon-banishing methods, which may constitute indecent assault, alarmed other miracle-seekers who attended.

Sitting on the lap of a 17-year-old girl, Motsoeneng placed his hand on her head, and started praying for her.

Motsoeneng told the congregants her tummy had swelled up because some sorcerers had cast an evil spell on her.

As he was praying for her she collapsed. Motsoeneng then told the teenager to open her legs, which she did.

He then plunged his fingers into her vagina.

As he was busy with his “healing process”, Motsoeneng ordered her to call him by his nickname, Mboro.

“Mboro” she said, with a stifled cry.

He was interrupted by a female congregant who brought him a glassful of what looked like ice-cream, which she spoon-fed him. He was still sitting on the woman’s lap.

Despite the huge outcry following Motsoeneng’s “demon banishing” service last weekend, Katlehong police say they are not investigating the matter.

Now, however, comes a scam of epic proportions. According to the same report by the BBC, Motsoeneng actually visited heaven and took pictures with his cellphone:

But Motsoeneng, popularly known as “Prophet Mboro”, may have gone a bit too far with his latest otherworldly boast.

A South African news site quoted a church spokesperson on 30 March saying that “the prophet did go to heaven” during an Easter church service and that while there “he took pictures” using his smartphone.

But here’s the rub: you don’t get to see those photos for free.

Those eager to see photographic proof of the afterlife will have to open their wallets though. Mboro has asked those who wish to view the pictures for a donation of 5,000 rand (about £240 or $340).

This has, predictably, led to a spate of mockery on social media. Here are a few tw**ts reproduced by the BBC (more at the site):



There are none so blind as those who cannot see—or who wish to see only what they believe. I hope someone manages to reproduce those pictures taken by Motsoeneng during his sojourn in Heaven.

h/t; Barry


Godonomic$: another Hovind scam

July 17, 2013 • 11:41 am

Hear all about it! God wants you to be rich, and we know it because the Bible, although not a science textbook, is really a manual for free-market enterprise! Mike Huckabee endorses it! Glenn Beck endorses it! With those imprimaturs, and God’s, how can you possibly go wrong?

The huckster Chad Hovind is the son of disgraced Kent Hovind, the young-earth creationist evangelist who bilked millions of dollars out of his flock and is serving ten years in prison for tax fraud, obstructing federal agents, and other crimes.  Chad seems to be following in his footsteps.

As you might expect, you’re gonna have to give the Lord some dosh before he blesses you manyfold in return.  Hovind will be glad to sell you any number of Godonomic$ DVDs and books, including the “Big Six Package” for only $294.99 (regularly $377.80).

My two questions.

1. How does this differ from the “prosperity theology” of Creflo Dollar?
2. Is this organization a tax-exempt church?

Picture 1

h/t: Chris