One of the best-known pieces of media in the skeptical canon, is a video in which James Randi debunks faith healer Peter Popoff. In the 1980s, Popoff ran a scam where he called out people’s names in a crowd, described their diseases, and claimed to heal them by laying on hands. James Randi and his associates demonstrated that Popoff did not get these names from divine revelation, but instead got them from his wife, who had collected that information beforehand and was speaking to him through an earpiece.
Under media fire, Popoff’s ministry declared bankruptcy in 1987–but rebooted again in the late 90s. As far as I know Peter Popoff is still at large, now on the Black Entertainment Network.
I want to talk about a particular kind of miracle that Popoff is said to perform: allowing people in wheelchairs to walk again. Back when I was more invested in the skeptical movement, I had heard that they just had fully mobile people seated in wheelchairs, and thought “well that explains it”. This is the explanation currently offered by Wikipedia:
Critics later documented that the recipients of these dramatic “cures” were fully ambulatory people who had been seated in wheelchairs by Popoff’s assistants prior to broadcasts.
But years later, I had a quiet realization: such fraudulent tactics aren’t necessary, because many people in wheelchairs can in fact walk!