The Amazing Meeting 2014

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Written by James Randi   

steinerI must report here the death of Robert Steiner, president of the Society of American Magicians – SAM – from 1988 to 1989, an excellent friend of mine who at one time was my accountant, helped me in several investigations of so-called "psychics" both here and in other countries, and was always in full accord with the goals of the JREF. Bob will be very greatly missed.

He was a very spirited writer and performer. In 1982 he summoned up his nerve and denounced Santa Claus in the "American Atheist" magazine, and in 1984 he visited Australia and created a very singular hoax when for two weeks he appeared on television and radio as "Steve Terbot,” playing the part of a psychic, with great success. When he revealed his imposture, the opinion of the Australian media was that his actions had brought serious attention of the public to the problem of "psychics" in that country who, as around the rest of the world, were seriously deceiving and cheating so many innocent people.

Bob was inducted into the SAM Hall of Fame shortly before his death, which unfortunately followed several years of dementia during which he was unable to recognize his friends and was seriously out of touch with reality. However, thanks to the support of several good friends in the skeptical community, he was well cared for in his last days.

In missing Bob, we will also remember his substantial contributions to the art of magic and his very active participation in skepticism as well as the personal joy that he brought to so many of us. Farewell, good friend.

James Randi.


James Randi is founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation

Comments (4)Add Comment
written by Loxton, January 04, 2013
This is very sad news indeed. Another pioneer passes from the stage.

For a sense of Steiner's skeptical activism, consider his description of his involvement in a famous investigation of faith healer Peter Popoff:

Randi had discovered Popoff's methods, but he needed proof.

He requested that I round up a number of trusted people. We would go to Popoff’s presentation in an attempt to gain further information and have one of our people chosen for a “healing.” To obtain proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, would be a monumental job. To have one of our few people chosen from among the more than 1,000 who would attend was a long shot. I accepted the assignment and got to work.

On that Sunday morning, 25 people convened at my house. These trusted, dedicated individuals were enlisted from the Bay Area Skeptics and the Society of American Magicians. After a briefing by Randi, we were on our way to the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, where the Reverend Popoff and attempt to be accepted for healings.

While the others in our group were finding strategic places in the auditorium, I joined Alexander Jason, an electronics expert. Alec had brought with him $20,000 worth of equipment and a million dollars worth of knowledge and experience. He and I set up a table in the hall on the second floor, behind the balcony of the auditorium. As people passed by, they saw Alec wearing headphones as I listened intently to an earphone plugged in my ear. We tried to keep the scanners, tape recorders, aerials, and other equipment under cover.

There we sat, listening, scanning, searching, and adjusting. While Alec worked with the equipment, I kept a watchful eye for anyone who might interfere. The time dragged. Now the service inside the auditorium was about to start; we had searched for more than an hour, and we still hadn’t found what we were looking for.

Then Alec got excited. He literally jumped out of his seat and then gave me the thumbs-up sign. What he had tuned into, and what we have on tape (and what was subsequently revealed by Randi nationwide on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show) was a behind-the-scenes broadcast from Elizabeth Popoff to her husband. It began: “Hello Petey. I love you. I'm talking to you. Can you hear me? If you can’t, you're in trouble.”

—Steiner, Robert. “Exposing the Faith-Healers.” Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 11, No. 1. (Fall 1986.) pp. 28–29
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I had the priviledge of meeting Bob Steiner once
written by SkepticScott, January 04, 2013
I met Bob Steiner at the World Skeptics Conference in 2002, where I was able to watch him perform an 'invisible deck' trick for the small crowd speaking with him. *sigh* He will be missed.
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written by Ian Morris, January 05, 2013
I had the pleasure of being introduced to Bob Steiner by Randi. A bit over twenty years ago Randi asked me to come with him to the airport to pick Steiner up. All I knew of Steiner then was what I read in "The Faith Healers"; it was only over the next couple of days that Steiner told me about his more recent work in Australia. He liked to take a walk each night after dinner for exercise. We went together, and he was good at conversation.
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written by markhodes, January 06, 2013
I also was among the 25 San Francisco area skeptics who accompanied Bob and James to the Popoff performance at which Popoff's transmissions were intercepted. I remember Bob as a passionate, combative campaigner with a gift for involving others in his projects. Among our projects, I organized a meeting in Palo Alto on medical fraud in which hundreds packed a school auditorium for a lecture by Wally Sampson, M.D. on cancer treatments culminating with a demonstration by Bob of "psychic" surgery, in which he demonstrated the illusion and then revealed the method of creating it.
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