Last Friday, Unfair Park treated you to a video of Dr. Colin A. Ross demonstrating his professed ability to shoot beams of energy out of his eyes. But every guy with superpowers knows he’s only as good as his arch enemy.
This week, we were contacted -- several times -- by the staff of the James Randi Educational Foundation, which is offering up the million-dollar prize for which Ross is competing. Seems they Googled around, read the post, watched the video of Doc Ross and then -- like many of you – were more than a little dubious. The weird, wonderful saga of the magic eyeballs gets a lot weirder and a little more wonderful after the jump.
It started Wednesday morning with a call and an e-mail from Sean McCabe. McCabe is the personal assistant to James “The Amazing” Randi. “We found your article and the attached video very interesting,” McCabe said. “And since we’re running the Million Dollar Challenge, we’ve been using it for analysis of his techniques and methods.”
When we dialed the Randi Foundation’s Fort Lauderdale offices trying to reach Randi, McCabe answered. “Sorry, he’s not available," he said. "He’s heavily engrossed in something.”
Apparently, being the assistant to a former magician is more about taking phone calls and talking to the media than about getting sawed in half.
“We have no idea what Dr. Ross is doing,” McCabe told Unfair Park. “We have insufficient evidence, which is one of the reasons we want the video.” Our Vimeo clip wasn’t good enough for them. The Randi Institute wanted a copy of the original video so they could, as McCabe put it, “Reap it for as much information as we can.”
“You sure Randi’s isn’t available right now?” I asked.
“I can promise you an interview after the challenge,” McCabe said.
“You wanted to get that video as fast as possible, right?”
“Um, let me put you on hold.”
Seconds later, the line crackled and a warm voice said, “Hellllooo, this is James Randi.” Eighty-year-old Randi has been debunking the paranormal, supernatural and pseudoscientific since he was 15. A former regular on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, he offered only $1,000 when he initiated his first challenge in 1964. Over the years, he’s seen a lot of crackpots, psychics and homeopaths, but not one of them has ever won the challenge.
“I’m a million dollars worth of willing to be shown,” Randi said. “It’s always hanging there like a carrot, and we’re waiting for them to come and take a bite.”
He and Dr. Ross are still negotiating the protocol for how and when the “eyebeam” challenge will go down. Randi said the hold-up was because “Ross was trying to play cutesy with me and try to get some semantic advantages that I was not about to fall for, and, I got a little, what’s the expression…oh, yes, pissed off. I don’t want to hear the theoretical discussions about what is supposed to be happening. I just want him to get down to the nitty-gritty and do it.”
As the video shows, Dr. Ross can do something, but what the hell is he doing? And, why?
Basically, Ross has concocted a claim that met all of the Foundation’s criteria for the supernatural or paranormal. And part of that criterion is that he doesn't have to explain to Randi how he emits the beam -- only that his "eyebeam" is reproducible under observation, which it is.
After speaking with Randi, we called Dr. Ross.
“We’re past the stage of secrets now,” he told Unfair Park over the phone. “Now is the time for full disclosure with everything out in the open. There are no tricks. All I said was, ‘I have an energy beam that comes out of my eyes.’ And Randi doesn’t require me to say what kind of energy beam.”
Seems like Randi hurriedly accepted the challenge before he fully understood what kind of energy beam Dr. Ross was claiming to shoot out of his eyes. Ross explained to Unfair Park that his “eyebeams” are “a detectible EEG signal -- delta waves of approx. 1-4 HZ in the range of 50-120 microvolts.”
So, Dr. Ross’ eyebeams are actually, um, “brainbeams.”
What makes his claim paranormal is that science disallows any type of energy beam emitted from the eyes -- including energy emanating in the brain.
Dr. Ross isn’t claiming to have Cyclops-like optic blasts, he is claiming that: “The energy that comes out through my eyes is the same energy that is measured when you get an EEG. It’s the brainwaves that come out through your skull. But when they come out through your eyes they are stronger because they aren’t weakened by the skull. That’s why when you close your eyes your brainwaves go up in intensity. There’s nothing mystical or paranormal about it.”
Ross explained that he sets his computer’s software to measure the delta waves when they come in contact with the electrode mounted in the foil-wrapped goggles, which then makes the tone sound.
Receiving the same explanation in an e-mail sent by Dr. Ross, Randi said, “I’m pretty well convinced that Dr. Ross is probably fooling himself. And people will say, ‘Come on, this guy’s well-educated, got the PhD,’ but that doesn’t make any difference. Education doesn’t mean people are smart. Dr. Ross has talked himself into believing that there is a response to this system he has set up to detect this ray from his eyes. But I’m always willing to be shown otherwise.”
This story ain't over, not by a long shot of the eyebeams from Dr. Ross' skull. --Daniel Rodrigue