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Psychic Surgery
Believers wowed by our fake demo

Based on "Magician shows how to operate" by John Dilley in Weekend News 15-16 January 1983, page 5, and "Skeptics show psychic trickery" by Jim Pollard in Sunday Times 16 January 1983. It was also reported in the Skeptic, 5(1), 4, March 1985.

The girl seemed calm and relaxed as the psychic surgeon pushed his finger into her stomach and the blood oozed out. She did not blink an eyelid when he pulled out malignant tissue with a loud popping sound and then mopped up the mess. She was braver than I. It was the first time I had ever witnessed an operation, let alone one carried out by a psychic surgeon who claimed to remove malignant tissue without anaesthetic or medical instruments.

The Australian Skeptics, an organisation which examines claims of paranormal phenomena, had introduced psychic surgeon Dr Barney Daniels to a large crowd. Clips were shown from a recent television documentary on psychic surgeons in the Philippines entitled "I Am No God". Then Dr Daniels did his stuff. It was very convincing. Afterwards Dr Daniels showed there was no scar. People from the audience were invited to inspect the blood and tissue.

Magician shows how to operate It was incredible, unbelievable -- and yet I was
very. very sceptical. And rightly so, because the
"operation" was a hoax staged by Perth magician
Danny Varney (alias Dr Barney Daniels) for an
audience who believed they were going to see
the real thing. The aim of the Murdoch University
meeting was to explain the mystery behind the
power of Filipino psychic surgeons to con sick
people out of thousands of dollars. Main picture
shows the "operation" in progress. Bending the
fingers when in contact with soft areas makes
them appear to penetrate flesh. Inset top left
shows the removal of "malignant tissue".

Trickery not surgery
During their investigations the skeptics say they discovered the surgeons use slight of hand and joke-shop aids to earn their money. Magician Danny Varney used the same well-worn tricks to carry out his operation. Wearing a plastic thumb filled with blood and pieces of animal tissue he appeared to push his fingers into the stomach. As he pulled off the fake thumb under the guise of kneading the woman's stomach, a loud plopping noise was heard and the blood oozed out between his fingers. There were loud gasps from the audience. Then he gradually pulled out the pieces of tissue and mopped up the bloody mess. It was extremely effective. Believers in the audience were clearly convinced they had witnessed a miracle.

The president of Australian Skeptics, Mark Plummer, here on a visit from Melbourne, then told the audience they had been tricked and that Dr Daniels was actually a magician. He read out passages from the official transcript of the US Commission into psychic surgery held several years ago. Sick Americans who went to the Philippines to seek the help of these psychic surgeons, in some cases as a last resort, had often died because of the long journey. Many lost thousands of dollars and said later they had no diagnosed benefit from their supposed treatment. Mr Plummer then screened slow motion replays of the television documentary that showed the Filipino healers using trickery. Once you knew where to look the evidence for trickery was plain to see.

As well as a false thumb, Mr Varney had used the art of palming and sleight-of-hand to fool his audience. He was given special permission from the WA Society of Magicians to perform, and said later he didn't like people being misled by magic. "If I see magic arts being used to rob people then I think I should speak out".

Mr Plummer said: "Some people believe in psychic surgery, and we are not out to ridicule their beliefs. I just ask them to apply strict tests before handing over any money. All the evidence we have gathered indicates that trickery is the only power that psychic surgeons have. We know that many people have been conned out of their money in exchange for false hopes".

Follow-up court case
Late in 1984 the Australian Skeptics sent two volunteers separately to a visiting Filipino psychic surgeon in a Melbourne suburb. The police wired both volunteers for sound and afterwards arrested the psychic surgeon and his spiritualist helpers on a charge of obtaining money by deception. After a hearing described in the Skeptic 5(1), 1-3, March 1985, the judge ruled that, since the volunteers knew that psychic surgery was a fraud and had expected to receive fraudulent treatment, there was no criminal deception, therefore the charges were dismissed. In other words you cannot be prosecuted for deception provided you tell your clients beforehand that they are about to be deceived. Provided the paying client knows this, no offence is committed.

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