James Randi is a conjurer (“The Amazing Randi”) and showman who describes himself on his website as “the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims.”
Once a leading figure in CSICOP, he had to resign because of litigation against him. Carl Sagan, in his sympathetic introduction to Randi’s book The Faith Healers (1987), described him as an “angry man.”
Randi’s work as a debunker has attracted lavish funding and in 1986 he was the recipient of a $286,000 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
In 1996 Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).
Randi’s stock in trade as a debunker is his offer of a million dollar “The Randi Prize” for a demonstration of “any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability” (more discussion here under the “The Randi Prize” section).
A leading Fellow of CSICOP, Ray Hyman, has pointed out that this “prize” cannot be taken seriously from a scientific point of view: “Scientists don’t settle issues with a single test, so even if someone does win a big cash prize in a demonstration, this isn’t going to convince anyone. Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments.”
Randi’s fellow showman Loyd Auerbach, President of the Psychic Entertainers Association, is likewise skeptical about the “prize” and sees it as a stunt of no scientific value.
(More discussion of Randi’s prize can be found at Michael Prestcott’s blog.
Randi has an ambiguous attitude to scientific authority, deferring to it when it supports his beliefs and rejecting it when it does not. On his website he asserts: “Authority does not rest with scientists, when emotion, need and desperation are involved. Scientists are human beings, too, and can be deceived and self-deceived.”
Randi is not afraid to attack scientists who take an interest in subjects such as telepathy; for instance, Brian Josephson, a Professor of Physics at Cambridge University. In 2001, on a BBC Radio program about Josephson’s interest in possible connections between quantum physics and consciousness, Randi said, “I think it is the refuge of scoundrels in many aspects for them to turn to something like quantum physics.” Josephson has a Nobel Prize in quantum physics. Randi has no scientific credentials.
Of his current work, Randi writes, “We at the JREF are skilled in two directions: we know how people are fooled by others and we know how people fool themselves. We deal with hard, basic facts.” Yet in a review of his book The Supernatural A-Z: The Truth and the Lies his fellow skeptic Susan Blackmore commented that the book “has too many errors to be recommended.”
Randi has also been shown to invent “facts” and to make up evidence (see James Randi’s Dishonest Claims about Dogs).
Fraud of this kind is unacceptable within the scientific community – but Randi is no scientist.
Also see on this website:
- “Randi’s Prize” by Robert McLuhan
- James “The Amazing” Randi and Dogs Who Know More
Than He Does
- James Randi and The Ultimate Psychic Challenge
- James Randi is Taken for a Ride
- James Randi’s Challenge a Big So What!
- James Randi’s Dishonest Claims about Dogs
- James Randi’s Foundation
- James Randi’s Problem
- James Randi’s Skeptical “Challenge”
- James Randi, A Skeptical Look
James Randi: Debunking the King of the Debunkers
Will Storr, The Telegraph, December 9, 2014
“James Randi, star sceptic and subject of the documentary An Honest Liar, is dedicated to exposing magicians and spoonbenders. Is he guilty of a little sleight of hand himself?”
James “The Amazing” Randi And Dogs Who Know More
Than He Does
Rupert Sheldrake, excerpted from Appendix 3 of: Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, Broadway Books, 2011.
Patron Saint of Skeptics?
Rupert Sheldrake comments in Skeptic on a disappointing interview of James Randi by Chris French.
The Unstoppable Woo of The Fantasist James Randi
Steve Volk, The Generalist, May 31, 2012
James Randi — Skepticism’s Great Achilles
Steve Volk, Daily Grail, March 11, 2012
The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi
Adam Higginbotham, The New York Times, November 7, 2014
An uncritical essay of Randi in The New York Times.
“Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds”
BBC Four Storyville, first broadcast November 2, 2014.
“How magician James Randi has debunked faith healers,
fortune tellers and psychics.”
Uncritical exposé of Randi’s work on the BBC in 2014.
James Randi’s Disingenuous Legacy
Shawn Alli, May 22, 2015
Photo credit: Wikipedia