This post is by Jesse Galef
Two days ago, Hemant posted the interview in which Scientologist spokesman Tommy Davis walked off set instead of answering a question about his belief. We can criticize him for being unwilling to admit his own beliefs, but it’s not as if he’ll suffer much. His stunt has gotten him and his church more attention. Most of the publicity is negative, and yet some people are still convinced.
Publicly revealing someone to be a fake/idiot doesn’t hurt them as much as we think. It’s something James Randi has discovered countless times, from his battles with Uri Geller to his exposé of Peter Popoff (who, by the way, is back to his old tricks scamming people in need). But Randi has made unique use of the dramatic insult and walk off technique, and his “Carlos Hoax” came to my mind.
In 1988, James Randi and 60 minutes hatched a plan to show how easy it is for con men to exploit the media. Randi created a fake spirit-channeler named Carlos and pitted him against the Australian media – a group known for their harsh interviews and skepticism. In one week they had gained a following and booked a packed show at the Opera House. During an interview in which Carlos’ methods were being challenged, his manager threw water on the host and stormed off. That in turn sparked more media attention. This is a long video and I’m starting it at the most relevant part, but if this sounds interesting to you (I was fascinated) I recommend the whole thing:
[Around 8 minutes, before I started this clip] One of the roles the Australian media prides itself on is to protect the public from frauds and charlatans. But it does give rise to a problem: in pursuing a questionable character like Carlos, do you end up playing into his hand by giving him too much free publicity? After all, even if you do the best job you can in exposing him, there will still be people vulnerable enough to be taken in.
[end of clip] Why should such a phony care if he had to go through such grillings on TV? He was able to gain access to vulnerable minds who otherwise wouldn’t have heard of him.
I worry that Tommy Davis won some people over by storming off with an outraged air. Creating a “controversy” can give people the impression that there must be something to the argument. That’s why so many scientists refuse to debate creationism – the very debate will lend undeserved credibility to nonsense. Of course, if a topic isn’t publicly debunked, it can fester in the dark.
I tend to come down on the side of public skepticism and scrutiny of ideas, but I’m young and idealistic. I believe that honesty is the best policy and open conversation will tend to expose the truth. I do, however, see the argument for the other side. What do you think?