NEW YORK - Magicians, long irked by Uri Geller's alleged ability to bend spoons, repair watches and read minds through paranormal powers, have taken off their white gloves and branded the Israeli "psychic" an outright fraud who uses conventional magicians' tricks to mislead the public.
Several professional magicians, in a recent spate of books and public remarks, say they have duplicated virtually all of Geller's feats by using ordinary conjuring methods. They have also discovered major flaws in the procedures used by various scientists to test Geller.
Only a year ago a leading scientific journal, Nature, published a favorable report of tests on Geller conducted by the Stanford Research Institute in California. The article, widely reported by the press, lent strong support to the belief that the performer truly possessed psychic powers.
But now that suspicions of trickery have been raised by the magicians, as well as by two researchers from New Zealand, several of the scientists who once professed belief in Geller's authenticity have changed their minds.
A number of magicians have been studying Geller for several years because many of the feats he performs are standard parts of their stage acts.
The magicians, who take pride in creating a convincing illusion that impossible things are happening, believe that Geller is demeaning their craft by saying that his abilities are beamed to him from a spaceship sent by a superior civilization in outer space.
"Geller is a clever charlatan," said Milbourne Christopher, chairman of the Occult Investigations Committee of the Society of American Magicians. "A careful study of his career and observations of his act by magicians have turned up numerous instances of cheating."
Christopher, who became a consultant to the Stanford Research Institute after its experiments with Geller, has included a chapter on the young performer in his new book, "Mediums, Mystics & the Occult." In it he says:
"Geller is at his ingenious best in laboratories where he is being observed by scientists who believe he has extraordinary ESP ability and think – without justification – that they have ruled out every possibility of fraud. Unless an expert in deception is present while such tests are being conducted, these experiments are as valid as a four-dollar bill."
A more detailed examination of the purported psychic's career is in another new book, "The Magic of Uri Geller," by James Randi, the magician who has probably campaigned hardest against Geller.
The book describes numerous instances in which magicians watched Geller perform at close range and spotted the moment when they thought he diverted attention while, for example, bending a spoon by muscle power.
To all his critics, Geller has usually said he does not care what they say as long as they spell his name right.
"I couldn't care less," Geller said in a telephone interview about the new books. He added that the books contained lies about him but later said that he had not bothered to read them.
"I know that what I do is real and that is enough." Geller said.
Randi knows what he does is fake, but it was enough to persuade the editors of Psychic News, Britain's largest publication in the field, that Randi was at least as good a psychic as Geller.
Using his real name, James Zwinge, Randi was interviewed in London by the editor of Psychic News. He bent spoons, set clocks ahead, twisted filing cabinets and performed various other feats, all when no one was looking, so that it appeared as if his psychic powers were genuine.
Randi said that every one of his tricks was performed by ordinary means during moments when his observers looked away.
Among the "tests" of Geller that have impressed scientists are his making a Geiger counter click wildly, as it would if a radioactive object were near, and deflecting a compass needle. He performed both feats before researchers at the University of London's Birkbeck College.
Randi did the same, using nothing more than a magnet taped to his leg and a similarly concealed radiation source. The scientists did not search either Geller or Randi.
Dr. Jack Sarfatti, an American physicist who saw both men perform at Birkbeck and who once endorsed Geller's authenticity, has recently issued a public retraction.
The two New Zealand psychologists who studied Geller's "watch repairing" feats found that jewellers were not much impressed. They said that many supposedly broken watches had merely been stopped by gummy oil, and that simply holding them in the hand would warm the oil enough to soften it and allow the watches to resume ticking.
The researchers, Dr. David Marks and Dr. David Kammann of the University of Otago, tested the method and found that anyone holding a "broken" watch in his hand for a few minutes and then shaking it could start it about half the time. This is a slightly better rate than Geller achieves.
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