James Randi Debunking the Paranormal

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James Randi
From Wikipedia



James Randi (born August 7, 1928), internationally billed as The Amazing Randi, is a stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a debunker of pseudoscience. Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, in Toronto, Canada, Randi is the creator of the James Randi Education Foundation's million dollar challenge offering a prize US$1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. He occasionally features on the television program Bullshit!, hosted by noted skeptics Penn & Teller.

His interest in debunking the paranormal started when he was in his early teens. He was present at a magic show when a magician asked for someone from the audience to help him with his performance. Randi, having experimented with magic tricks himself, raised his hand. The magician responded, "Ah, young man, you're a magician yourself, aren't you?", much to Randi's amazement. After the show, Randi approached the man and asked how he knew this. The man told Randi he did not. It was simply part of his routine and whenever he turned out to be right, he would credit his "magical powers" and whenever he was wrong, he would turn it into a standard quip.

Randi subsequently witnessed many tricks that were presented as being supernatural. One of his earliest reported experiences is that of seeing an evangelist using the "one-ahead" routine to convince churchgoers of his divine powers.

The Amazing Randi

Randi has worked as a professional stage magician and escapologist since 1946, initially under his birth name, Randall Zwinge. Early in his career, Randi was part of numerous stunts involving his escape from jail cells and safes. On February 7, 1956, he appeared live on The Today Show and remained in a sealed metal coffin submerged in a hotel swimming pool for 104 minutes, breaking what was said to be Houdini's record of 93 minutes.

Randi was the host of The Randi Show on radio in the mid-1960s. He also hosted numerous television specials and went on several world tours. Randi is noted for escaping from a straightjacket while suspended upsidedown over Niagara Falls on Canadian TV program World of Wizards.

Randi appeared as "The Amazing Randi" on a television show entitled Wonderama from 1967 to 1972. In the February 2, 1974 issue of Abracadabra (a British conjuring magazine) Randi defined the magic community saying, "I know of no calling which depends so much upon mutual trust and faith as does ours." Many new magicians and non-magicians are unaware of how the magic community holds him in very high regard. In the December 2003 issue of the The Linking Ring, the monthly publication of The International Brotherhood of Magicians, Points to Ponder: Another Matter of Ethics, p. 97, it is stated, "Perhaps Randi's ethics are what make him Amazing" and "The Amazing Randi not only talks the talk, he walks the walk."

During Alice Cooper's 1974 tour, Randi performed as the dentist and executioner on stage. Also, Randi had built and designed several of the stage props, including the guillotine. An incident where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police searched the band's lockers during a performance has been cited by Randi as leading him to apply for American citizenship.

Randi is author of Conjuring, (1991) a biographical history of noted magicians. The book is subtitled: Being a Definitive History of the Venerable Arts of Sorcery, Prestidigitation, Wizardry, Deception, & Chicanery and of the Mountebanks & Scoundrels Who have Perpetrated these Subterfuges on a Bewildered Public, in short, MAGIC!.

During his early career, Randi had a firm policy of not working for promoters who segregated audiences based on race. He would write into his contracts the promoter may not deny tickets to blacks or segregate the audiences in any way. Once while touring in Florida, he found the concert promoter ignored this stipulation in his contract. He discovered blacks were forced to watch a show from the balcony. He immediately walked away from the tour. Randi got paid in full for the balance of the tour.

Career as a skeptic

Randi entered the international spotlight in 1972 when he challenged the public claims of Uri Geller. Randi accused Geller of being nothing more than a charlatan using standard "magic" tricks to accomplish his allegedly paranormal feats, and he backed up his claims in the book The Magic of Uri Geller.

Randi was a founding fellow and prominent member of CSICOP, the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. Randi later resigned from CSICOP during the period when Geller was filing numerous civil suits against him. CSICOP's leadership, wanting to avoid becoming a target of Geller's litigation, requested that Randi refrain from commenting on Geller. Randi refused and resigned. He still maintains a respectful relationship with the group and frequently writes articles for its magazine.

Randi has gone on to write several books criticizing beliefs and claims regarding the paranormal. He has also been instrumental in exposing frauds and charlatans who exploit this field for personal gain. In one example, his Project Alpha hoax, Randi revealed that he had been able to orchestrate a years-long compromise of a privately-funded psychic research experiment. The hoax became a scandal and demonstrated the shortcomings of many paranormal research projects at the university level. Some said that the hoax was unethical, while others claimed his actions were a legitimate exercise in debunking poor research techniques.

Randi's comprehensive exposé of faith healer Peter Popoff resulted in a sharp decline in Popoff's influence and popularity.

Randi was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" award in 1986, drawing upon his conjuring skills to write and educate the public on superstition and pseudo-scientific matters.

In 1987, Randi became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1996, Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi updates the JREF's website on Fridays with a written commentary titled Swift: Online Newsletter of the JREF. Randi also contributes a regular column, titled "'Twas Brillig", to The Skeptics Society's Skeptic magazine.

Asteroid 3163 Randi was named after him.

In September 2006, he joined the cast of The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast with a weekly column titled "Randi Speaks".

Legal disputes

The rivalry between Randi and his opponents has ended up in court on several occasions. These episodes include the following.

* In an interview with Twilight Zone Magazine, Randi accused Uri Geller and Eldon Byrd of being the ringleaders in a criminal blackmail plot aimed at destroying Randi. Byrd sued Randi; the jury found that Randi's claim regarding Byrd was defamatory, but awarded Byrd $0 in damages (thus preventing further appeals by Byrd) apparently based on their rather low opinion of him.

* In an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Randi was presented as saying that Uri Geller had driven a close friend to "shoot himself in the head", which Randi afterwards claimed was a metaphor lost in translation. However, Randi made a similar statement ("The scientist shot himself after I showed him how the key bending trick was done.") in the August 23, 1986 Toronto Star that seemed to validate Geller's charge. Since the referenced suicide victim died of natural causes, Geller successfully sued both the newspaper and Randi in the Japanese courts. Randi could not participate in the trial, did not recognize the court's authority (since "insult", as opposed to "libel", is not a legally cognizable basis for a civil action in the U.S.), and refused to pay the $2,000 judgement that was awarded.

* Randi once commented that Uri Geller's tricks are of the same quality as those Randi read on the backs of cereal packets as a child. Geller sued both Randi and CSICOP. CSICOP disavowed Randi, pleading that the organization was not responsible for Randi's statements. The court agreed that including CSICOP was frivolous, and they were dropped from the action. Geller was ordered to pay substantial damages to CSICOP. The order specifically excluded Randi from receiving any of the damages. At this time, Randi and Geller had both run up huge legal bills amounting to hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars. In a private meeting they achieved an out-of-court settlement, the details of which have been kept private. This case, as noted above, was directly responsible for the decision of Randi to part company with CSICOP.

* Alleged psychic Allison DuBois, on whose life the television series Medium was based, and whose alleged abilities and other claims Randi has questioned, threatened Randi with legal action for using a photo of her from her website in his December 17, 2004 commentary without her permission. Randi removed the photo, and now uses a caricature of DuBois when mentioning her on his site, beginning with his December 23, 2005 commentary.

* Late in 1996 Randi launched a libel suit against a Toronto-area psychic/self-published author/entry-level web developer named Earl Gordon Curley. Curley had made a number of objectionable comments about Randi on Usenet. Despite constantly prodding Randi via Usenet to sue (Curley's implication being if Randi didn't sue then his allegations must be true), Curley seemed entirely surprised when Randi actually retained Toronto's largest law firm and initiated legal proceedings. The suit was eventually dropped in 1998 when Earl Curley died at the age of 51, allegedly drinking himself to death.

The $1 million challenge

James Randi Educational Foundation

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) currently offers a prize of one million U.S. dollars to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. In 1964, Randi put up $1,000 of his own money payable to the first person who could provide objective proof of the paranormal. Since then, the prize money has grown to the current $1,000,000, and the rules that surround claiming the prize are official and legal. No one has gotten past the preliminary test which is set up and has to be agreed upon by both Randi and the applicant.

In the conditions and rules governing his $1 million challenge, Randi plainly states that both parties (himself and the party accepting the challenge) must agree in advance as to what conditions of the test constitute a "success" and what constitutes a "failure". He also refuses to accept any challengers who might suffer serious injury or death as a result of the test they intend to undergo.

Critics say that Randi has set up the system so that the million-dollar challenge cannot be passed, despite the fact that contestants are allowed to participate in setting conditions for success and failure. Randi himself states that "What if someone wins the million dollars? ... I think it's very highly unlikely.", but bases this on the unlikelihood of the paranormal. For details of the disputes, see James Randi Educational Foundation.

Randi's caustic style

Parapsychologists generally try to downplay the Randi challenge because of attacks on Randi's character, and also because of his harsh, uncompromising style of writing and presentation, which has won him enemies among those who claim to be paranormal experts. Randi's supporters note that there are other organizations of skeptics that have similar standing offers to prove the existence of paranormal abilities, and anyone claiming to be an expert in their field of the paranormal can apply for any of these other prizes, avoiding Randi altogether. In his weekly commentary, Randi often gives examples of what he feels is the nonsense that he deals with every day to explain his lack of patience.

In the book The Faith Healers, Randi explains his anger and relentlessness as arising out of compassion for the helpless victims of frauds. Also, in his weekly commentary, which he publishes every Friday, Randi often expresses dismay that he has to frequently expose various frauds because few others do so.

Recently, Randi has accused Sylvia Browne - a well-known, self-proclaimed psychic medium and author of numerous books on spirituality, who has performed thousands of one-on-one readings and assignments with a wide variety of groups and individuals - of avoiding the $1,000,000 challenge despite agreeing on Larry King Live in September 2001 to accept it. Randi keeps a clock on his website recording the number of weeks that have passed since Sylvia accepted the challenge without following through.

Private life

According to a special announcement on the JREF website, on Thursday February 2, 2006 Randi underwent emergency coronary artery bypass surgery. The circumstances surrounding his admission to the hospital were not clear at the time but it appeared to be unexpected. As of early February 2006, he was declared to be "in stable condition" and "receiving excellent care" with his recovery "proceeding well". The weekly commentary updates to his website were made by guests while he was hospitalized.

Awards

* MacArthur Foundation fellowship award, 1986
* Richard Dawkins Award, 2003 (inaugural award)


terms of use removal

These vids seems to have been removed.

Jeffrick's picture

try this

 

     James Randi Educational foundation, they have meny videos of Randi debunking  "psychics" .

"Very funny Scotty; now beam down our clothes."

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Vastet's picture

DerekK wrote:These vids

DerekK wrote:

These vids seems to have been removed.

Good point. Not all of them though. These:

James Randi and Doris Collins "Cold Reader"

James Randi exposes a fraud: James Hydrick

James Randi exposes Uri Geller and Peter Popoff

are the video's that have been removed due to "terms of use violation". If someone notices, maybe they'll be re-posted.

 

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.

Sapient's picture

Vastet wrote:DerekK

Vastet wrote:

DerekK wrote:

These vids seems to have been removed.

Good point. Not all of them though. These:

James Randi and Doris Collins "Cold Reader"

James Randi exposes a fraud: James Hydrick

James Randi exposes Uri Geller and Peter Popoff

are the video's that have been removed due to "terms of use violation". If someone notices, maybe they'll be re-posted.

 

I should have them back up in the same location within 3 weeks.

- Brian Sapient


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paranormal

don believe in paranormal??? try go to indonesia and meet some of the local villiagesblack magic witch...

Uri gellar

  I appreciate your work ,  but must tell you an experience  I had with Uri Gellar. I went to the Psychic Eye Book Store  in LA with

a friend after having dinner on Ventura Blvd.  Uri Gellar was in there making a throwing a hissy fit  because they did Not carry his book!

I said sarcasticly

"Hey Uri can you take a dent of my car?"  He said, " I dont know, let me have you car keys"   for some dumb reason I handed  over the key to my

Toyota Truck .  I watched  as he  bent my key in a matter of seconds.. then handed it right back. and said, "maybe your body shop can fix this!"

The key was HOT..Really too hot to hold, and  it was twisted .

He was wearing a short sleeved shirt , so he had nothing up his sleeve.

I was truley pissed and had to call and have my room mate bring my spare keys.  The guy was arrogent and i am convinced he is a

complete jerk... but not a fraud . As much as I would really like to see him debunked, this guy does have an ability to create heat

with his hands.

 

So he palmed the key to your

So he palmed the key to your car and gave you a bent one?

"I do this real moron thing, and it's called thinking. And apparently I'm not a very good American because I like to form my own opinions."
— George Carlin

BobSpence's picture

If he really could do what

If he really could do what he claims, that would not explain why he has not been able to do his magic in a public situation when someone aware of how these things could be faked made took special precautions to prevent him doing the sort of tricks he uses.

There was a good example I saw of this when he appeared on the Johnny Carson show, when they didn't allow him to supply any of his own props, and gave him spoons recommended by James Randi. He pleaded his mind-power had temporarily failed him, when he realized he couldn't do anything.

Favorite oxymorons: Gospel Truth, Rational Supernaturalist, Business Ethics, Christian Morality

"Theology is now little more than a branch of human ignorance. Indeed, it is ignorance with wings." - Sam Harris

The path to Truth lies via careful study of reality, not the dreams of our fallible minds - me

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Beyond Saving's picture

 What really bugs me about

 What really bugs me about Uri is most of the tricks that he does aren't even good magic tricks. Take the bent key for example, it is a remarkably easy trick to do that requires virtually no skill, yet all these sycophants are amazed. You can do it yourself, and with a little practice do it without anyone noticing the move. 

 

Take a key, any key, the longer the key the easier and more dramatic it will be but anything where the narrow part of the key is over 1.5 inches will be good enough. Grasp the key like you are about to use it with your thumb placed right where the key starts to narrow. Now press the key against something hard like counter top, cement, rock, metal or even a wood table or chair (although note you might risk scratching wood) apply a steady force against the hard object while pressing outward slightly with your thumb. You will be surprised at how quickly and easily the key bends. The only difficult part of the trick is doing this without your audience noticing but basic distraction/misdirection techniques that are used in any other magic trick work. Since you are already holding the key in a manner that people consider "normal" the sleight of hand necessary to pull off the maneuver is minimal.  

 

Once the key is bent, all you have to do is hold it so the blade of the key is perpendicular to the ground. It is quite natural to use the knuckle of your forefinger to cover up the bend in the key without looking suspicious. Then you simply rub blade of the key with a finger from the other hand and while rubbing do what is called a ratchet. Basically, with every stroke you will move the hand that is holding the key slightly so that the blade is pointing towards the ceiling. If you do it at a slow pace, the human eye will not notice that the hand holding the key is moving because it is distracted by the faster movements of the finger. With a little practice you will be able to pull off a convincing illusion of bending the key by simply stroking it with your finger. Sad that an illusion that can literally be learned in a few minutes and pulled off satisfactorily with an hour or two of practice has gotten so much attention.

 

I am skeptical that the above poster told a true story, but using the assumption that it is true, there are a number of ways that heat could be applied as well. There are several chemicals that can be used to create heat. I will leave it up to those with more extensive knowledge of chemicals as to which ones might be best to pull off that type of illusion. Since you are rubbing your hands all over the key, there is ample opportunity to apply a variety of chemicals that will create heat or a burning sensation when you touch the key.  

It was morality that burned the books of the ancient sages, and morality that halted the free inquiry of the Golden Age and substituted for it the credulous imbecility of the Age of Faith. It was a fixed moral code and a fixed theology which robbed the human race of a thousand years by wasting them upon alchemy, heretic-burning, witchcraft and sacerdotalism.-H.L. Mencken