Baby Magneto?

Magneto has 4 balls. That mean's he gets to go to first base.
Magneto has 4 balls. That mean's he gets to go to first base.
There are times I wonder how stupid people are and there are other times I know. Today is one of the latter. I recently had a nice e-conversation with Joey G. (scroll down after you click the link) from Squidoo.com about people who believe in the Ghost Hunters TV show. These people are, what we politely call, morons. He’s a very rational person, quite lucid and capable of completing a sentence without drooling on his keyboard. Heck, he even knows how not to type in ALL CAPS. In other words, he’s exactly our target audience. The kind of person who looks for the rational amongst the illiterate hyperbole.

Sadly he appears to be rare.

Even so, that does not mean we give up the fight. Nay, I say unto you, now is the time for us to redouble our efforts and demand that factoids not be substituted for facts. Just FYI, factoids are not little facts. The word means something that resembles, but isn’t, the primary noun. A chimpanzee is a humanoid, but it’s not human. That’s what the Grecian “oid” suffix was meant to convey. Any other use is stupid.

And wrong.

Benjamin Radford at Discovery writes about about a bunch of mindless tools who think they’ve found a boy with magnetic skin. Thankfully Ben, I feel safe using the familiar here today, is not a moron.

A 7-year-old Serbian boy named Bogdan is making international news for an apparently paranormal (though not terribly useful) ability.

According to several sources including MSNBC and The Daily Mail, Bogdan is magnetic. Household objects such as spoons, knives and forks cling to his skin with almost supernatural ease. The idea that a person could generate a strong magnetic field is bizarre, but what’s even stranger is that other things stick to him too, such as small plates, small flat glass objects and even a remote control.

Bogdan is only the latest in a long line of people who have claimed this ability. Yet there is no evidence that Bogdan, or anyone else, is “magnetic.”

The key to understanding this phenomenon lies not in magnetism nor in any sort of mystical ability but instead in the physics of friction. Skin is very elastic (that’s why they call it “plastic surgery”) and tends to conform to objects it comes in contact with. This is especially noticeable on hot days when bare skin attaches itself to leather or plastic seats. Skin can also be somewhat adhesive for the same reason.

It also has nothing to do with magnetism. Indeed, the fact that non-magnetic (non-ferrous) materials such as plates stick to his skin is proof of that. What do metals, glass and plastic have in common? All of them have very smooth surfaces.

So-called magnetic people have a few characteristics in common. First, they have very little hair on their bodies. Sometimes (as in the case of 7-year-old Bogdan) it’s because the person is an adolescent and has not reached puberty. Often the magnetic people are of Asian descent and thus not typically hirsute. This is important because any hair that comes between the skin and an object placed on the skin will reduce the friction.

Second, magnetic people seen in photographs and videos with objects on their body tend to lean back slightly, or stand more or less perpendicular to the ground. If there really was some sort of unknown or magnetic force holding the objects to the body, the person should be able to lean over. It’s also true that Bogdan is a bit chubby, and thus some of the weight of the spoons and other objects on his chest is actually resting on the upper part of his protruding stomach.

If the reason the objects are sticking to the “magnetic” person is because of magnetism instead of simple skin friction, there’s no reason they should only stick to bare skin. Magnetic attraction works even through a thin piece of paper, and if the magnetism is as strong as is claimed, the magnetic people should be able to do their trick with a shirt on.

There’s no real secret or mystery to it: Anyone who’s seen a child with a spoon on his or her nose has seen it before. So are these people faking for attention, or do they really believe they have these powers? Most likely, they really believe they have special abilities. The only reason it seems unusual is that very few people spend their free time sticking spoons, knives and small plates on their bare chests to see if they stick.

Furthermore, testing these supposedly magnetic folks is easy: Simply apply a light coat of oil to the skin and see how well things stick. With the natural adhesive properties of skin removed, the magnetism either works — or it doesn’t.

DAMN YOU BEN! How dare you use rational thought to deal with misguided beliefs?

Just FYI, I have an acquaintance who claims to be magnetic. Once oil was properly applied all of the spoons fell off. He insists that my test was a conspiracy prompted by President Obama.

As I note earlier, we (politely) call these people morons.

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