A while ago I wrote a post about Project Alpha, a ruse concocted by James Randi in which two magicians pretended to be psychics in order to fool some parapsychologists. One of the magicians went on to a professional career, using the stage name Banachek.
Today, Banachek wrote to me. He very politely pointed out that the article I relied on when writing my post - "Science Versus Showmanship: A History of the Randi Hoax," by Michael A. Thalbourne (PDF file) - is inaccurate in important respects.
I asked Banachek for permission to publish his email message here, and he kindly consented. As I said to him, I wasn't there, so all I can do is present both sides of the story.
Here is the email, complete except for a brief paragraph that included some personal contact info that I don't want to make public.
I was surfing the net and found your blog. Great stuff by the way. However, here are a few mistakes in your blog about Alpha.
Phillips did indeed present a tape to the parapsychology community and in it he states that Schaefer was able to corroborate his findings and even found more abilities in reference to our "powers". This is direct evidence of him stating he believed what we did was real.
Also the fact about them having suspected us was not true at all. They did not and they did not stop the testing. The testing became tighter after the convention due to the feedback they received. They were surprised that others did not accept their findings and wanted to produce the phenomena in such a way to convince others of what they believed. This was a hard one for Phillips due to the fact he felt that the powers would only manifest themselves in a relaxed atmosphere.
The Thalbourne article is riddled with mistakes and accusations that are just not fair. I think he was trying to save his own reputation. In fact Thalbourne did not come around till the end of testing.
In fact after we announced the fact it was all a hoax, Phillips and Schaefer would not answer their phones until they heard from Edwards and myself. They then proceeded to keep asking, "well what about this," and "what about that," desperately trying to hold on to one shred of evidence that might be real.
There is so much wrong in the cover up at the end. For instance, we were never ever asked if we were fakes. We were told about a rumor, (one Randi started by the way) and also told about a second rumor. The first was the truth that we (Mike and I) were working with Randi to fool them, and the second was that Randi and Mike and I were working with the MacLab to fool the rest of the Parapsychology world. They laughed at both as being ludicrous and we joined in, relieved as for a moment we thought it was all over with.
In case you did not know, I have been the magic producer for Criss Angel Mindfreak for the last four seasons, now we have parted ways. I may have a psychic investigation show on A&E. Up in the air now due to my parting with Criss.
Also right now there is a screenplay on Project Alpha being written. It would make a great book if interested :-)
All the best my friend and look forward to talking to you if so inclined.
Oh here is a PDF of a recent article on me.
In thoughts and friendship
College Performer of the year, 2 years
Novelty Entertainer of the Year
PEA Creativity Recipient