Credit Where It’s Due

MethaneWhen I was in graduate school, my thesis adviser was rightly proud of some of his scientific accomplishments. He was fierce in countering people who did not give him his due. Academia is like that. The saying goes that academic politics are so intense because the stakes are so low. When you are a college professor, all you have is your reputation.

Over the course of several years, my adviser proved the methane concentrations in the atmosphere were increasing. This was a big deal because the theory in the field of trace gas studies was that methane could not be increasing because it was created by natural sources: termites, cows, wetlands. While it was true that methane was generated by these natural sources, it was also true that humans were greatly increasing the number of cows and the acreage of rice fields.

But it wasn’t just this work that he was protective of. And while I worked for him, he would often rush things to press in order to establish primacy on a new finding. Often, these things were trivial. I never understood why these things were so important to a guy who had published upwards of 200 scientific papers.

I was doing some research recently, and I came upon the following video of Harry Lorayne doing his version of the “Ambitious Card”:

This is a very good trick. Lorayne has made enormous contributions to the magical arts. But seeing him reminded me of a time many years ago when I wrote to him. I asked if he was still publishing Apocalypse, because I had some effects that I was interested in publishing. It was a straight query letter; I did not send him any work. He wrote me back what I considered a very angry letter. Basically, he said I couldn’t even think of publishing anything without buying all of the collected issues of Apocalypse—which he was glad to sell me for something in excess of $500. He implied that I was necessarily ripping him off for the credit he deserved for all his many contributions to the magical arts.

Other magicians are the same way. In particular, Ed Marlo stands out. He was so consumed with establishing his primacy that he would sometimes publish 20 different variations of a single idea, just so that no one could come afterward and steal even the smallest amount of his glory. And here’s the thing: this meant that he often published horrible—useless—stuff. And it made the reader’s job so much harder, because he had to slog through a bunch of junk in order to find what’s good.

Michael Close is also very caught up in this credit establishment venture. But I have to defend him here. Close only publishes very polished work. In most cases, he deserves a great deal of credit. But not always. “The Pothole Trick”? Fantastic.[1] “Pink Floyd”? Not so much.[2]

I know that I’ve independently created a couple of dozen tricks and moves. In fact, the other night I came up with an excellent addition to an “Ambitious Card” routine. But I have little doubt that someone else has already published it. In the routine that Lorayne does above, there are several things that are his own innovations. And yet, I don’t think his routine is that good and none of the individual moves are particularly innovative. When you get right down to it, most magic moves are created to solve some particular problem; the best solution is often the most direct. I don’t see what the big deal is, especially for Lorayne who has received more than his fair share of acclaim and credit.

It is hard not to appriciate Daryl all the more. Daryl is an innovator, but he doesn’t make a big deal about it. His focus is always on entertaining audiences, which is what all of his prodigious talent and erudition is used to facilitate. See if you don’t think his take on the “Ambitious Card” routine is far superior to Lorayne’s:

But don’t get me wrong. I’m willing to give these men all of their due. But all the insistence on credit hurts them. I no longer think fondly of Marlo at all. I have a grudging respect for Lorayne. I think Close is brilliant, but difficult—no one I would want to see at a performance or lecture. And Daryl? He’s a really nice guy who just happens to be brilliant. After I get my advance on this book I’m finishing, I think I’ll buy something from him.[3]

[1] Here is Johannes (I don’t know, either) doing “The Pothole Trick” in Japan. It is a little hard to follow at first, but stay with it:

[2] Here is some guy doing “Pink Floyd” in from of his computer, in Hebrew. He doesn’t allow embedding: Pink Floyd.

[3] Another apparently nice guy was Larry Jennings. Also brilliant. I saw him when I was a kid. I had never seen someone do such beautiful work with cards and I still haven’t seen anyone better. Here he is doing “Oil and Water”:

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