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Humanist - May/June 1977



Geller, Gulls and Nitinol


Martin Gardner




Uri is certainly 25 percent fraud and 25 percent showman, but fifty percent is real. For example, the nitinol came back with a different structure...
Arthur Koestler, quoted by Adam Smith in New York magazine (Dec. 27, 1976).


 It would be hard to invent a more grandiose title for a book about Uri Geller than The Geller Papers. The image that floats in the mind is one of a monumental new development in science, so revolutionary that a world congress of experts has convened to discuss the phenomenon. Tecnical papers are delivered. Here they are, in one impressive volume, published last year by Houghton Mifflin, carefully edited by Charles Panati, former physicist, now a science writer for Newsweek.
 Panati's subtitle is even more pompous: "Scientific observations on the paranormal powers of Uri Geller." The phrase permits not the slightest crack of doubt. The scientific community, it implies, is not concerned with whether Uri Geller, the handsome Israeli stage performer, has paranormal powers. It has made up its mind. Uri's psychic abilities are not to be questioned. The task now, suggests the subtitle, is to observe those powers in the laboratory, analyze them, and develop viable theories to explain them. One opens Panati's book with trembling fingers.
 Among the twenty-two papers assembled in this volume, one stands high above all the others. This is Panati's own opinion. Over and over again on radio and TV talk-shows, he has said that the most important chapter in his book is Eldon Byrd's paper, "Uri Geller's influence on the metal alloy Nitinol." This is also the opinion of almost every review of the book I have seen. D. Scott Rogo's review in Psychic (September 1976) is typical: "Despite the fact that this book will probably not be too convincing to the confirmed skeptic," Rogo writes, "a few papers are included which offer, to my mind, the best evidence so far published supporting Geller's claims. These contributions do stand in striking contrast to the general run of accounts. One of these papers is Eldon Byrd's."
 Uri himself is exploiting Byrd's paper. A full-page advertisment for Uri in Variety (October 27, 1976) has four boxed testimonials beside Uri's picture: one by Werner Von Braun, one by Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ (the Stanford Research Institute physicists who claim they have certified Uri's ESP ability but not his PK powers); one by Friedbert Karger, of the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, in Munich; the fourth is a quote from Byrd: "Geller altered the lattice structure of a metal alloy in a way that cannot be duplicated. There is no present scientific explanation as to how he did this."
 Byrd, it appears, has written a paper of stupendous scientific value. Its importance is underlined by Panati in his introduction, and in briefer comments before and after Byrd's article. Byrd's paper, writes Panati, "appears here with the official approval of the Naval Surface Weapons Center ... The paper represents the first time parapsychological research conducted at a goverment facility has been released for publication by the Department of Defence."
  ...[Byrd] tells me he believes Geller to be "basically honest." He is open-minded on the question of whether Uri teleported himself from Manhattan to Ossining, New York, as Uri tells it in his autobiography My Story. He is convinced that "hundreds" of children, many of them in Canada, can now bend metals "better than Geller," and has agreed to serve on a commitee to test these children if funding can be obtained.
 ...Byrd's first meeting with Uri was on the evening of )ctober 19, 1973, at a laboratory in Silver Springs called the Isis Center. Panati identifies it as the "Isis Center of the Naval Surface Weapons Center." Is not Isis a peculiar name for a naval laboratory? The Egyptian mother-godess was worshipped by members of one of the many mystery cults that flourished in ancient Rome during the decay of traditional religious beliefs and before the fall. One thinks, too, of Madame Blavatsky's monumental theosophical treatise, Isis Unveiled.
 I asked Byrd how the Isis Center got such an exotic name. His reply quickly solved the mystery. The Isis Center, which became defunct in 1975, had no connection with the navy. It's full title was "The Isis Center for Research and Study of the Esoteric Arts and Sciences." It had been formed by a group of local occultists, headed by Jean Byrd (no relation to Eldon), who thinks she may be the reincarnation of Isis. The center, on Fenton street in Silver Spring, had booked Uri for a performance at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium. Byrd had asked the center to arrange a session with Uri before Uri left for his magic show.
 This is what happened. Byrd presented Uri with two pieces of nitinol wire and a small nitinol block. Nitinol is a curious alloy of nickel and titanium, developed many years earlier by a navy metallurgist. It has a "memory". Under intense heat, you can give a piece of nitinol a certain shape. When cold, you can alter its shape; but when it is heated again it goes back to its original form....
 Byrd was interested in seeing if Uri could alter any of nitinol's properties. He first handed Uri the tiny block. Uri "handled the block for some time," but was unable to change it. He had, he said, no "feel" for the material.
 Byrd pocketed the block and gave Uri a straight piece of nitinol wire about 1.5mm. in diameter. Again Uri "handled it for a while" but without results.
 Byrd then gave Uri a five-inch straight piece of nitinol wire 0.5mm. in diameter. Such wire is black, very thin, and extremely flexible. It is easily bent by the fingers into any desired shape. Uri went into his standard routine for bending keys, nails, spoons, and what have you. After twenty seconds of massage, he produced a small bump in the wire's center.
 Stirred by this dramatic paranormal event, Byrd had some boiling water brought to him. Normally a piece of nitinol wire, bent by hand, would spring back to its straight shape when immersed in boiling water, or even hot coffee. Instead, the wire lost its bump and assumed a right-angle shape. "This was an exciting finding," writes Byrd. "I lit a match and held it over the kink, but still the wire did not straighten out." (Byrd is ambiguous in his use of the term kink - sometimes he means the bump that first appeared, sometimes the sharp angle that resulted when the wire was heated. I will confine "kink" to mean the sharp angle.) Later Byrd tried to put a similar kink in a piece of wire. He was unable to do so, he writes, "without using Bunsen burner and pliers."
 I have no doubt that Byrd's description of what took place at the Isis Center is given to the best of his recollection. Unfortunately, a nonmagicians memory of a magic feat is notoriously unreliable. Even magicians can remember wrongly a trick they have seen for the first time. I consider myself a knowledgeable student of conjuring, yet I am frequently mystified by new tricks. Every time I have a session with Jerry Andrus, a creative magician who lives in Oregon, he completely fools me. After he tells me what he did, I am sometimes amazed at how faulty my memory was of what I had seen. However, quite apart from the untrustworthiness of Byrd's memory, his account contains several misleading assertions.

Item 1: Byrd writes that at the time of his test with Uri "Nitinol was not generally available to the public." His point is that Uri, who might have known in advance (through mutual friends) of Byrd's interest in nitinol, would have had great difficulty obtaining samples. Not true. The Edmund Scientific Company, which advertised then, as now , in popular magazines, listed a "nitinol kit" for five dollars in its catalogs fro 1971, 1972, and 1973. For an additional dollar you could get a 96-page NASA Nitinol Book that went into details about the alloys properties. samples of nitinol wire were distributed free during those years by the Naval Ordnance Laboratory at their lab exhibits to people who toured the lab and in response to written requests.
 Not only that but magicians were familiar with nitinol. In 1972 a New York amateur, Charles Kalish, was mystifying friends with trick he had invented, which was later sold by a London magic store. A spectator selects a digit from one through nine. A paperclip (actually made of nitinol) is placed in an envelope and the envelope burned. Searching the ashes, one finds that the wire has assumed the shape of the chosen numeral.

Item 2: Byrd's brief account of the Isis tests gives no indication of the confusion that reigned in the Isis "laboratory" when Geller bent the wire. In addition to Byrd and Uri, those present included Jean Byrd, two of her secretaries, Andrija Puharich, and Shipi Shtrang. Shipi is Uri's frequent companion. According to Shipi's sister Hannah, she and Shipi were confederates who signaled information to Uri during his Israeli stage shows [1]. Uri himself is on record that his powers improve when Shipi is around. Magicians agree. They believe that on many occasions it is Shipi who secretly aids Uri; for example by "putting in the work" before Uri bends a spoon.
 Byrd has freely admitted in letters to me that at the Isis Center conditions were so uncontrolled that "almost anything" could have happened. Distractions were so great, he wrote, that even "wire swapping" could have occured.

Item 3: In his paper, Byrd says that "several metallurgists" at the naval center tried to remove this right-angle kink in the Gellerized wire by putting the wire "under tension in a vacuum chamber" and heating it until it glowed. When the wire cooled, the kink returned. "They had no explanation for this behaviour."
 According to the Naval Surface Weapons Center, this test was never made. Indeed, the center was so annoyed by Panati's false assertion that the Isis Center was a government laboratory that they asked their public affairs office to prepare a four-page memorandum (dated July 19, 1976) to send in resonse to serious inquiries. The memorandum stated that the experiments with Uri "were undertaken by Mr. Byrd as a personal interest, on his own time, and at no cost to the government."
 On page 4 of his introduction, Panati writes that Geller demonstrated his psi powers "for physical scientist Eldon Byrd at the Naval Surface Weapons Center," and on page 5, "Geller arrived at the Naval Surface Weapons Center in October of 1973." "This is in error," the memorandum states. "Geller has never been on the premises of the Naval Surface Weapons Center." Byrd's chapter had been reviewed by the Naval Ordnance Laboratory only from the standpoint of accuracy about the properties of nitinol and for compliance with military security. The laboratory, says the memo, "assumed no responsibility for the outcome or implications of Mr. Byrd's experiments." Approving the release of Byrd's paper "neither confirmed nor denied the parapsychological aspects" of the paper.
 As for Byrd's claim that "several metallurgists" tried to remove the kink in a vacuum chamber, the memo states: "The occurrence of that test could not be confirmed by laboratory records or by metallurgists at the laboratory." Dr. Frederick E. Wang, the navy's top nitinol expert, was the man who Byrd thought had made such a test. Wang cannot remember making it.
 Since no magicians were present during the chaotic session at which Uri bumped and kinked one piece of wire, it is impossible to do more than speculate on possible nonparanormal explanations. One scenario is that Uri came prepared with samples of wire to which he had previously given permanent kinks (in a way to be explained below) and then straightened [2]. He passed up the wire of lager diameter because he had not brought wire of that size. The smaller-diameter wire was then switched, by Uri or Shipi, for Byrd's sample. Uri bumped the wire while stroking it - easily done by a push with the thumbnail. Then when Byrd heated the wire it naturally lost the bump and assumed its permanent kink.
 However, it is not necessary to suppose that Uri came with prepared wire. Nitinol wire is now harder to get than in 1973, but I finally obtained a sample about a foot long of the 0.5mm. wire. I cut off a small piece, and I swear by all that is holy that my very first experiment was a whopping success. Using two small pairs of pliers I bent the wire at a sharp angle. I straightened the wire, then by holding the wire between thumb and first two fingers, and pressing with my thumbnail, I created a bump at the wire's center. I put the wire in a bowl and poured boiling water over it. The bump vanished and the wire assumed the shape of an angle, almost 90 degrees, with a sharp vertex. The angle was unaltered by applying a match flame.
 Excited by this unexpected success, I tried producing a sharper angle (about 3 degrees), but when I straightened the wire it snapped in half. I then repeated the experiment with a third piece, this time using nothing more than two pennies to grip the wire, and a third penny to force an acute angle. I straightened the wire, letting the angle remain as one side of the bump. When boiling water was poured over this wire the bump disappeared and the wire assumed an angle with a sharp vertex of about 75 degrees. I have it before me as I type. It is indistinguishable from the wire in plate 4 of Panati's book.
 There are no signs of scratches on the wire. A cloth over the wire will, of course, eliminate all possibility of scratching. A close look at the more obtuse kink in the first wire I bent shows the kink to be indistinguishable from the shadowgraph of Panati's plate 5. Again, a match had no effect on the 75 degree kink, although the wire glowed red in the flame. In less than ten minutes of experimentation, without a bunsen burner, I had permanently altered the memory of two nitinol wires!
 But, you may say, how could Geller have prepared a wire in this way under Byrd's eagle eyes? There are several scenarios. While Uri tries unsucessfully to alter one piece of wire, Shipi surreptitiously picks up the other piece, excuses himself to go to the bathroom, prepares the wire, straightens it, then returns and leaves the wire where he found it. Uri discards the wire for which he has no "feel", picks up the other one, and creates the bump while stroking it. When Byrd puts the wire in boiling water, it kinks.
 Another possibility: Byrd had obtained the five-inch piece, his paper says, by snipping a longer piece of wire into three parts. Assume that while he is working with Uri the other two pieces are at spot X. Shipi picks up one, takes it to the washroom, where he puts in the work, returns, and at a suitable moment switches it for the wire near Uri. He then replaces the wire he now has at spot X.
 A third scenario: A sharp angle kink cannot be put into nitinol wire with the fingers because the wire forms a rounded hump that must be squeezed together by two hard surfaces. This is easily done by the teeth, but fingers are not sufficiently firm. It would be possible, however, to make a tiny device, readily palmed, do the job. All you need is a hinged piece of hard plastic, its surface grooved to keep the wire from turning. Twist the wire's center to form a small loop, give the rounded bend a pinch, and the deed is done.
 Such a kink is permanent in the sense that it becomes the wire's new memory. However, it is always possible to put such a kinked wire into a vacuum or gas chamber and under extreme heat reanneal the wire so that its memory is straight again. This is the test that Byrd mistakenly thought Dr. Wang had performed. Had this been the case, Uri would have altered the wire's memory in a way that is, in Byrd's phrase, "beyond technology" - in other words, a feat unexplainable by science even on the assumption that Uri may have cheated. Dr. Wang was unwilling to make such a test without funding, so Byrd sent the wire to his friend Ronald S. Hawke at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, in Livermore, California.
 The great test was finally made on January 31, 1977. Hawke removed the kink. Thus the most sensational claim in Byrd's paper - indeed the most sensational "fact" in Panati's book - proved to be an error. Geller had done nothing "beyond technology." The kink he put in the Isis wire was no different from the kind of kink a child can put in nitinol wire by biting it.
 Did Uri or Shipi bring prepared wires to the Isis Center, or did Uri or Shipi kink a wire while Byrd's attention was on something else? Who knows? Since Byrd himself regards the Isis test as uncontrolled, we need waste no more speculations on it.
 Byrd's second experiment with Uri occured a month later. This time Uri produced permanent memory changes in two pieces of nitinol wire. Plates 6 and 7 in Panati's book show how the wires looked after being "rubbed gently by Uri Geller" as the caption has it. Any reader of the book would assume, from Byrd's text and Panati's photo captions, that Byrd himself had witnessed this paranormal feat.
 Being curious to know who else was present during this second miracle, I wrote Byrd for details. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read his answer. Byrd didn't know! He had given samples of wire to Uri when he was at the Isis Center. Uri took them home, then later brought two back in the distorted forms shown in the plates. How did Byrd and Panati know that the wires had altered when Uri gently rubbed them? Because that's what Uri said had happened!
 Not to tell the reader that Uri had taken these wires home with him is the kind of omission that, in any report claiming to be scientific, stamps the author as naive, disingenuous, or both... Since this second test obviously had no controls, we may dismiss it at once.
 Let us move on to test three, the climax of our comedy. It is the only test, insists Byrd, that had controls of utmost rigidity. This great experiment took place in October 1974, one year after the Isis test. In what laboratory? Well, not exactly a laboratory. It took place at the Connecticut home of the writer John G. Fuller. As all Geller watchers know, Fuller is the leading author of books on the occult.
 Who was present on that memorable day at Fuller's house? Uri Byrd and his wife, Fuller, Ronald Hawke, and two of Uri's lady friends, Solvej Clark and Melanie Toyofuko. Hawke is the paraphysicist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratoy who recently did the reannealing test on the Uri kinked wire. He, too, contributed to Panati's book; a short paper about a test in his laboratory in 1974, when Geller erased a pattern on a magnetic program card. At Fuller's house, only Byrd and Hawke witnessed the nitinol tests with Uri.
 Byrd had brought with him three pieces of 0.5mm. nitinol wire, each about four inches long. In his paper he writes that he cut these wires before he left for Connecticut. This conflicts with what Byrd told Klass in a phone conversation on October 11, 1976. Byrd then said several times that the wire was cut into four pieces at Fuller's house. When Klass asked if Uri had been in the room when the wire was cut, Byrd said he could not recall. In a second phone conversation with Klass, November 29, 1976, after being reminded of what he had said in his paper, Byrd went back to the story that the wire had been cut before going to Connecticut.
 As Byrd recalled it in November, the original wire was about twenty inches long. He cut off one four-inch piece, which he left at hsi laboratory as a "control". In New York, where (as we shall see) he spent the night before going to Connecticut, he cut the remaining piece of wire into four pieces. One of these was then put aside as a second control piece. It remained in an envelope in his suitcase.
 Byrd's paper makes no mention of a second control piece. "Prior to leaving for Connecticut," he writes, I had cut the wire into four pieces......One piece was used as a control and was not taken to Connecticut." As he now recalls it, there were five pieces of wire, two of which were controls. One piece was left at Silver Spring. One was taken to Connecticut, but not touched by Uri. These are not trivial details, because they show how carlessly Byrd wrote up the"experiment," and how confused his memory of the details became.
 At Fuller's house, Uri stroked the three wires in his usual manner and produced sharp kinks in each. Byrd reports no bumps this time - just kinks. But in a letter to me, Byrd explicitly states that a bump formed each time in the wire, exactly as at the Isis Center. The bump turned into a kink when Byrd applied a match flame. In his paper, Byrd says he held the first wire at both ends, the second wire at one end, and the third "was given to Geller to do with as he pleased. He rolled it between his thumb and forefinger and it kinked sharply (see plate 4)." The three kinks, he told Klass, were about 60 degrees, 90 degrees and 110 degrees. We are not told how much time elapsed during this test.
 "How did Geller achive such results?" Byrd asks in his paper. "At the present I have no scientific explanations for what happened ... I can say that the possibility of fraud on Geller's part can be virtually ruled out."
 Byrd's account of this test is notable mainly for his failure to supply any details about controls. His descriptions of tests 1 and 2, which gave no clue to the chaotic conditions prevailing at the Isis Center and no indication that he had not observed what Uri did in test2, hardly inspire confidence that he is giving an accurate account of what went on at Fuller's house. He simply assures us he took "extra precautions." The entire session was audio taped. This isn't much help to magicians trying to reconstruct nonparanormal explanations. Hawke refuses to discuss the controls with anyone, having agreed to let Byrd be the sole spokesman. Once more, we are forced to rely on the easily distorted memory of one physical scientist who firmly believed before the test began that Uri had paranormal powers and who was as anxious to vindicate that belief then as he is now to defend his controls.
 In my correspondence with Byrd, and in going over careful notes taken by Klass of his phone conversations with Byrd, many facts have come to light that cast grave doubts on the adequacy of Byrd's controls. These are facts which should have been in Byrd's paper but that he did not think important enough to mention.
 The night before the test, Byrd and his wife and Ms. Toyofuko slept in a Manhattan appartment belonging to a friend of Melanie's who was out of town. The test wire (or wires) was in a suitcase. It would have been a simple matter for Melanie to switch the wires for previously prepared wires of the same length, diameter and die marks [3]. It would also have been easy for Melanie to borrow the wires and put in the work herself. When Byrd and his wife left the appartment with Melanie, to have dinner out, the suitcase remained unguarded at the appartment. What was to prevent Shipi from entering the appartment and putting in the work? Byrd is, of course, persuaded that Uri's friends would never take part in such skulduggery. But according to Shipi's sister, Shipi is quite capable of such things; besides, the mere possibility proves how weak Byrd's "extra precautions" were.
 Byrd tells me in a letter that his procedure at Fuller's house called for a close watch on Uri to make sure he did not get to the test wires in Byrd's briefcase. Did the procedure also call for carfully monitoring the two young ladies? Did Hawke and Byrd watch like hawks and birds the paths followed by Ms. Toyofuko and Ms. Clark whenever one of them went to the bathroom? I asked Byrd if his protocols included this. He never answered.
 Byrd has not a line in his paper about testing the straight memory of each wire before allowing Uri to handle it, but in letters to me he strongly maintains that he did test each wire with a match flame. How trustworthy is Byrd's memory on this score? I tried to obtain confirmation of the pre-kink testing form Hawke, but he did not reply to my letter.
 Let us give Byrd the benefit of the doubt and assume that he did indeed test each of the three wires with a lit match flame before allowing Uri to touch it. Such testing would have been advisable, not only to make sure the wires had not ben switched, but also to put the wires (which get slightly bent when carried about) in a perfectly straight condition. Uri would surely have anticipated this. His plan would be to switch each wire after it had been straightened by a match flame. What are the most likely scenarios?
 One obvious scenario is that the night before, While Byrd and his wife were having dinner out with Melanie, someone went into the appartment, opened Byrd's suitcase, and replaced his wire samples with duplicates - all with straight memories. Byrd's wires were carefully given a permanent kink by mechanical means, then either straightened, or straightened with a small bump in the center.
 When Ms. Clark drove the Byrd's and Melanie to Fuller's house the next morning, she could have carried with her these wires that contained "the work" and secretly passed them to Uri. Uri had been swimming in the river in back of Fuller's house when the Byrd's arrived and, (according to what Byrd told Klass) came into the house wearing only bathing trunks. Uri now has Byrd's original wires with him, concealed under the belt of his trunks or perhaps in his hair.
 I have no doubt that Byrd and Hawke will vigorously deny that Uri could have switched the wires that were flame tested by Byrd for the wires with the altered memory. They would be less sure of their ability to detect such a switch if they would spend several hours watching a good close-up magician do some tricks that involved switching.
 Imagine that Byrd has taken the first test wire from its envelope. It is not his original wire, but there is no way he can tell without an electron microscope; and even a similarity of die marks would not guarantee it to be the original. He tests the wire with a match flame, allows it to cool, then without letting go of both ends he permits Uri to stroke the wire. But nothing happens. Uri pretends to be tremendously disappointed. He doesn't yet "feel" for it. Could he have a glass of water? Byrd momentarily allows Uri to hold the wire while he reaches for the glass at the end of the coffee table. At that moment of distraction - a moment of what card hustlers call "shade" - Uri makes the switch. There is no reason on earth why Byrd would remember he had momentarily released the wire. At the time it would have seemed totally irrelevant, and he is now completely honest when he says that, to his best recollection, he "never let go of the wire." Hundreds of people whose keys Randi has bent will tell you the same thing: that they never let go of the key, when actually they did. Seemingly irrelevant details fade quickly from the memory. Uri is a master at precisely this kind of "one ahead" timing, followed by remarks carefully designed to leave a false memory of what happened.
 Magicians have devised dozens of ways for switching small objects. I do not care to get into trouble with my magician friends by saying too much here, so let me give only one simple way Uri could have handled it. He had the duplicate wire palmed in the same hand he had used for stroking the wire. When Byrd did whatever Uri requested to get his moment of shade, Uri's hand momentarily lowered and the unprepared wire was simply dropped on the floor. In my experiments with nitinol, I accidentally dropped a four-inch piece on a rug. It fell noiselessly, bounced, and it took me five minutes to find it again. Nitinol wire of 0.5mm. is finer than a hairpin. A vacuum cleaner picks it up like a piece of thread.
 Byrd immediately seized the wire again, and today has no memory of having released it. He was now holding one of his original wires, but one with a kinked memory. It may also have had a bump in the center. Without letting go of the wire, Byrd applied a match flame and the wire went into its kink.
 Since we are doing no more than speculating on possible scenarios, let's try a different tack for the second wire. Fushed with success, Uri bumped the second wire (which Byrd held at only one end) almost immediately. Byrd was eager to apply a match flame. Now surely it takes two hands to open a match folder, take out a match, close the folder, and strike the match [4]. Where was the wire? Was it on a table? in Uri's hand? Did Uri hand the wire to Hawke? In each case the opportunity for a switch is apparent. Byrd applied the flame, the wire kinked. It was put into another envelope for lab testing.
 As for the third wire, there is no problem about when Uri made the switch, because Byrd himself wrote in his paper that this wire "was given to Geller to do with as he pleased." Our scenario contains nothing beyond the ability of a clever magician. It accords completely with the facts as Byrd recounts them. Is this how Geller handled it? That is not the point. The point is that such scenarios make nonsense of Byrd's claim that the tests at fuller's house were carefully controlled.
 The possibility of distractions that would permit switching rises when we learn that much more went on during that fall afternoon at Fuller's than we are told about in Byrd's paper. In talking to Klass, Byrd has mentioned four other tests that took place, and perhaps there were still others he has not yet seen fit to mention. The first experiment of the day, he told Klass, involved a germanium crystal about the size and shape of a Hershey chocolate kiss. A piece of it broke off in Uri's hands, but this happened when neither Byrd nor Hawke were looking. This tendaency of things to Gellerize when no one is looking is so common that John Taylor, the eminent British Gellerite, calls it the "syness effect." "Oh, look! Uri exclaimed. "It's broken!" Later lab tests showed no change in the crystal. The test was declared a failure.
 Another test was with a very thin silicon wafer. It had previously been smashed into thousands of pieces, which had been put in a "poly" bag. One piece had been kept out as a control. "What do you want me to do?" Uri asked. "Well," said Byrd, "if you can put these pieces together again, that would be pretty cool." Uri, said Byrd, smiled faintly. Nothing happened to the pieces. Later lab tests showed them unchanged. This test was failure number two.
 A third test, which Byrd reported to both Klass and me, used Byrd's large brass office key. Hawke held one end. After Uri rubbed the key, its shank was seen to have been slightly curved. The key was placed on a sheet of white paper on a piano bench, where Byrd and Hawke watched it for half a minute. Byrd tells me that the key continued to bend "visibly" while they watched.
 This phenomenon has often been reported. After bending a key, Uri usually puts it aside, points to it, and shouts: "Look! it's still bending!" This is exclaimed so convincingly that people actually imagine they see the key continuing to bend. Randi has had exactly the same results when he bends a key for anyone who is strongly suggestible and who believes Randi has bent it by some mysterious force that continues to act on the key. If the reader has any doubts about the effect of belief on what even a trained scientist "sees," I suggest he looks into one of astronomer Percival Lowell's books about the canals on Mars that he "saw" so clearly that he was able to sketch detailed maps of them.
 Success with the key inspired Uri to declare that he was getting "hot" and was now eager to try the nitinol. We do not know how much time elapsed before the wite tests were made or how much time elapsed during the wire tests. Byrd told Klass he was with Uri for about five hours, of which about three were recorded on cassette tape. We do not know if the room in which the nitionol tests were made was locked. We do not know how often Byrd, Hawke, and Geller were interupted by others looking in or wandering in and out of the room.
 We do know, from Byrd's converations with Klass, that sometime during those five hours Uri executed another little miracle. He bent the tweezers of Hawke's Swiss army knife. This time Uri used his familiar "under water" bit. When people are watching too closely, Uri often says that objects sometimes bend better under water. In moving to the nearest sink he gets his needed shade. As Byrd tells it, Uri held the tweezers under a faucet, and the blades could be seen to "curl up" under the running water.
 Until now, I have given only scenarios that require switching, but perhaps we are underestimating Uri's dexterity. Almost a year had passed since Byrd had given Uri samples of nitinol to take home. Geller had plenty of time to construct a small device, such as I described earlier, but more ingeniously made. We must now consider the possibility that Uri, in the very act of stroking a wire, used such a gimmick to put in the work.
 "Gimmick" is a magicians term for any small device that is kept concealed from the audience but is essential to a trick's working. That Uri sometimes uses gimmicks is beyond doubt. Bob McAlister, a New York magician, spotted a palmed magnet in Uri's hand on one occasion when Uri altered the time on a digital watch. When Uri made a compass needle jump, on a television show, it was obvious from his head movements that he had a magnet either in his mouth or on his clothing hear his chin. When he produced a Geiger-counter burst at Birkbeck College, in London, his gimmick was probably a concealed source of beta radiation. We cannot, therefore, rule out the possibility that Uri used a palmed gimmick to kink the wire while massaging it.
 ... My personal opinion, however, is that Uri did not use a gimmick. He has enormous skill at psychological misdirection. If his spectators are believers, he can get away with things no magician would dare attempt...
 Let me sum up, Byrd describes, eliptically and inadequately, three sloppily designed, informal tests of Geller's ability to influence nitinol. The first test had almost no controls. The second had no controls of any sort. The third, which Byrd naively suggests had rigid controls, turns out to be as crudely controlled as the first. Almost everything Panati says about Byrd's paper is wrong, nevertheless he is right about one thing. Byrd's paper is the most impressive in the book.


Notes




  • 1 - The best accounts of Uri's methods of bending things are in The magic of Uri Geller, by James Randi (Ballantine paperback, 1975); Mediums, Mystics, and the Occult, by Milbourne Christopher (Crowell, 1975); and Confessions of a Psychic, by Uriah Fuller, 1975 (obtainable from the publisher, Karl Fulves, Box 433, Teaneck, N.J. 07666).
  • 2 - Hannah gave this information to an Israeli Journalist. A translation of his article can be found in Randi's book, The Truth About Uri Geller. Uri has since said that Hannah made up her story to spite him because he had ceased to consider her his number-one girlfriend.
  • 3 - On March 25, 1974, Philip Klass asked Byrd if he had told Uri in advance that he was bringing nitinol wire to the Isis Center. Byrd replied: "I don't think I mentioned it was nitinol. I just said it was a metal with a memory."
  • 4 - Die marks are striations produced on nitinol wire when it is drawn through a die. They are similar to ballistic marks on a fired bullet and can be seen only under high magnification, preferably by an electron microscope. One of the most confusing aspects of my correspondence with Byrd is that, like nitinol wire stroked by Uri, his memory keeps altering. When I first suggested (May 1976) that Uri might have come to the Isis Center with a prepared wire, Byrd replied that this was ruled out because, had Uri switched wires, the kinked wire would not have shown the same die marks as the wire from which it had been cut. In a later letter (December 1976), I asked Byrd if it was he who had checked the correspondence of die marks on the Isis wire and the control wire. No, he answered, it was Hawke. I also asked if I could purchase photomicrographs showing the correspondence of die marks on the three Fuller wires and the control wire. He had earlier written (June 1976) that although Uri could have brought prepared wires to Fuler's house, no switching was possible because "the die marks on the Uri-bent piece were the same as the control piece. The probability of his being able to obtain wire from the same die as I got my piece from is almost nil...(my italics).
     To my vast surprise, Byrd responded to my request for photomicrographs by saying that no check had been made yet of die marks on the Fuller wires! Since in our best scenario Byrd gets his original wires back, one would expect the marks to match. If they did not, it would be positive proof of switching, and one of the other scenarios would become more viable. I wondered why a control wire had been kept at all if no checks of the die marks had been made.
     I then asked Byrd if he would mind checking the die marks on the Fuller wires and let me know the results. His next letter was an even greater surprise. He had been mistaken in his previous letter, he said. One Fuller wire had been checked by electron microscope and "appeared to be from the same die."
     And the Isis wire? Byrd now recalled it had not been checked at all! Since this wire was sent to Hawke for reannealing, it will not ever be possible to check its former die marks.
     An exchange of letters with the Public Affairs Office of the Naval Surface Weapons Center disclosed that any correspondence of die marks is virtually meaningless. Byrd obtained all his wire from the Public Affairs Office, where samples have always been available upon request. The office maintains one reel from which it dispences samples, and each reel lasts many months. Had Uri (or a friend) obtained samples at about the same time Byrd did, the probability that all the samples would have the same die marks is extremely high - not "almost nil."
     In January 1977, I asked Byrd if he could check the die marks on all the Fuller wires with an electron microscope. He replied: "This can be done but what would it prove? Most nitinol from this lab comes from the same die, therefore, I do not place a lot of emphasis on the fact." So much for die marks, and Byrd's "rigid controls"!
  • 5 - To this day, concealing small objects in the hair is a common practice of East Indian psychics who specialize in "materializations."  The hidden object is palmed under cover of a casual brushing of the hair with the hand, then the object is produced as if it came from another world. Uri, too, specializes in the materialization of small objects. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell is firmly convinced that one day in a Stanford cafeteria the head of a tiepin he had lost four years earlier suddenly materialized in a spoonful of ice cream that Uri was about to swallow.
  • 6 - On December 31, 1976, Byrd played for Klass, on the telephone, the portion of the tape dealing with the nitinol tests. It was, Klass tells me, unintelligible. Machines have a way of malfunctioning when Uri is around, Byrd explained, and for some reason the voices on the tapes are so garbled that it would be impossible to obtain a transcript. Apparently the recorder (which had been brought by Hawke) was continually binding. There is no way to tell if the recording is continuous, or if the machine was stopped at certain points. Nothing can be heard about when or how the wires were pretested with a match flame, or when and how the flame was applied to kink them. The portion of the tape heard by Klass ends when Fuller enters the room.
     Klass asked Byrd where each of the first two wires were at the moment he lit the match that produced their kink. Byrd said he recalls holding both wire and match folder in one hand while he struck a match with the other. Accurate memory or wishful memory?





    Humanist   -   September/October 1977


    Letters: Eldon Byrd replies to Martin Gardner



     I almost ignored the invitation to respond to Martin Gardner's article "Geller, Gulls, and Nitinol," but decided that it needed to be on record that I did not 100 per cent agree with it... There were many errorsin Mr. Gardner's article. A few were easy to make, such as referring to me as an operations analyst instead of a physical scientist and spelling Ordnance, "Ordinance." However, others were made on purpose to mislead the reader. Most of your readers are probably unaware of Martin Gardner's journalistic techniques because they may share his viewpoints. I feel that Martin Gardner believes that if he can discredit the work of anyone who supports the possibility that Uri Geller or anyone like him can produce "paranormal" events then the end justifies the means. (Be it journalistic "licence" or enlisting the aid of a third party like Mr. Klass to act as an intelligence gatherer.)
     I had an opportunity to ask Hannah (Shipi Shtrang's sister) if she ever said that she assisted Uri dupe an audience. I doubt that Martin Gardner asked her directly about it, relying on third party information. It is my understanding that when Hannah was approached by the reporter from Israel she wouldn't even talk to him. Therefore an alternative possibility to footnote#2 in Mr. Gardner's article is that the reporter made up the story because Hannah wouldn't talk to him.
     Another error was made in referring to Dr. Hawke as a paraphysicist. Still another was that I told Mr. Klass that I may have told Geller that I had metal with a memory, but did not recall if I specifically said it was Nitinol. I never had any contact with Uri Geller prior to the October 1973 meeting at the Isis Center.
     However, there exists a third type of error in the article by Mr. Gardner that is inexusable. Mr. Gardner knew that Charles Panati's editorial comments in The Geller Papers were in error, yet he deliberately made it appear to the reader that I condoned them. There are other errors I could cite but they would only serve to add more of the same.
     I am not trying to prove to the world that Uri Geller is "real," nor am I trying to say that my scientific techniques are flawless. It is apparent that there are those, however, who are vigorously persuing a course of action similar to the Salem witch-hunts to try to convince people that the Uri Geller's of the world and their friends should be drowned.

    Eldon A. Byrd



    Humanist   -   September/October 1977



    Letters: Martin Gardner replies to Eldon Byrd



     Mr. Byrd speaks of "many errors" in my article. He lists what I presume are the six he considers the most horrendous. I will comment briefly on each:
    1. Mr. Byrd is frequently referred to in the parascience literature as an "operations analyst." I cite one instance from Peter Thomkin's great scientific work, The Secret Life of Plants (page 40): "Eldon Byrd, an operations analyst with the Advanced Planning and Analysis Staff of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory at Silver Spring."
    2.Yes, Ordnance is spelled "Ordnance."
    3. Uri himself has explained Hannah's interview as the result of her being mad at him at the time. Readers should check the interview in James Randi's book The Truth About Uri Geller and should decide for themselves if the reporter is lying. Apparently Mr. Byrd believes anything that Uri, Shipi, or Hannah tells him.
    4. A paraphysicist is a physicist who investigates the paranormal. Dr. Hawke is a physicist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. He contributed to Panati's book a paper on his investigation of Geller's paranormal ability to erase magnetic patterns. If he isn't a paraphysicist, what does the term mean?
    5. When Mr. Byrd says he "never had any contact with Uri Geller," he must mean that he had not previously met him in the flesh. Does he wish to deny that he communicated with Geller, through a third party, prior to the October 1973 meeting? If so, I have information to the contrary.
    6. I did indeed know that Panati's editorial comments were in error, but not until Mr. Byrd told me. Nowhere did I suggest that Byrd condoned those errors.
     Byrd writes: "I am not trying to prove to the world that Uri Geller is "real," nor am I trying to say that my scientific techniques are flawless." This is a doubly false statement. His paper is the strongest arguement in Panati's book for the genuineness of Geller's powers. In letters to me, he repeatedly referred to his tests with Uri at John Fuller's house as "rigidly controlled." To this day he has not admitted to the slightest flaw in his experimental design.
     The sad truth is that Mr. Byrd is another of Uri's casualties. Geller has used him the way he has used many other sincere but highly gullible scientists, and it is a tragedy that Mr. Byrd does not yet have the courage to admit it.


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