Every so often, people claim to be human magnets, able to attract and make metal objects stick to their bodies. It seems like a strange, physics-defying ability...but the perfectly simple explanation isn't quite so flattering to these supposed human magnets.
The latest claims of human magnetism have sprung up around a 7-year-old Serbian boy named Bogdan. In the MSNBC report that you can see above, young Bogdan displays his apparent ability to attract everything from metal cutlery to frying pans, plus non-metal objects like plates and remote controls. It's an amazing ability - except it has nothing to do with magnetism, as Natalie Wolchover of Life's Little Mysteries explains.
Wolchover enlisted the expertise of Skeptical Inquirer managing editor Benjamin Radford to explain what's actually going on in that video:
"A lot of times when you see these videos, the people are leaning back slightly. If there really is some magnetic attraction, the person should be able to lean over. If a magnetic force is overcoming gravity, we should see that. That's one strong clue that what we're seeing is not any sort of magnetism...Glass is not magnetic. If a smooth piece of glass is sticking to him and a smooth piece of metal, what do those have in common? A very smooth surface. Not magnetism...These people aren't magnetic, it's just that things that have smooth surfaces stick to skin. Often these magnetic people have smooth skin and hairless chests."
Indeed, no controlled experiment has ever revealed any evidence of human magnetism. There's a simple way to determine whether humans are even slightly magnetic - if a compass is hung around a magnetic person's neck, it should point towards them. The compass, however, always remains pointed straight at due north - and the magnetism needed to affect a compass is nothing compared to the huge amount of magnetic attraction one would need to hold spoons on one's body.
Ultimately, this has nothing to do with magnetism and everything to do with the skin's natural greasiness. The oily film that hangs over our skins - and no matter how hard we clean ourselves, it always comes back within a matter of minutes - creates a natural sticking point for foreign objects. The human "magnets" are probably slightly stickier than most people, which helps them "attract" all these various foreign objects.
There's a simple way to rob people of their "magnetism." Legendary skeptic James Randi demonstrated that covering people in talcum powder completely removes their supposed magnetic field. But still, even if it's not an otherworldly power, it still can be a neat party trick. Consider that a bit of free advice for all our readers out there who are unusually sticky and completely devoid of chest hair - just going on that description, I'm guessing it might be useful.