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Interviews: Ask James Randi About Investigating the Truth 386

Posted by samzenpus
from the I-aint-afraid-of-no-ghosts dept.
Better known by his stage name "The Amazing Randi", James Randi has made it his quest to "debunk psychic nonsense, disprove paranormal fakers, and squash claims of pseudoscience in order to bring the truth to the forefront." Randi worked as a popular magician most of his life and earned international fame in 1972 when he accused the famous psychic Uri Geller of being a fraud and challenged him to prove otherwise. In 1996 Randi founded The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) a non-profit organization whose mission includes "educating the public and the media on the dangers of accepting unproven claims, and to support research into paranormal claims in controlled scientific experimental conditions." He began offering $1000 in 1964 to anyone who could demonstrate proof of the paranormal. That amount has grown over the years, and the foundation's prize for such proof is now $1M. Around 1000 people have tried to claim the prize so far without success. Randi has agreed to take a break from busting ghostbusters and giving psychic healers a taste of their own medicine in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.
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Interviews: Ask James Randi About Investigating the Truth

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  • by mog007 (677810) <Mog007@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:32PM (#42738519)

    What's your favorite magic trick?

    • I had a girl try to come on to me, asking if I were "into" the para-normal.

      I said, "No. Just regular sex."

      • by Zeio (325157)

        What about para-hetero-normative?

      • by vlm (69642)

        Slightly on topic I recently visited a Barnes and Noble and they have an entire section for "paranormal romance". No not a shelf, not a bookcase, a section of bookcases.

        I wonder if trends over the decades have varied, like a graph of phone psychics in the olden days was low, then pretty high in the 80s/90s now low again (or is it?) vs a graph of vampire BS would seem to be an exponential growth over the last 20 years. Faith healers seem to have peaked in the 80s. What graphs would Randi draw?

        • by j-beda (85386)

          Slightly on topic I recently visited a Barnes and Noble and they have an entire section for "paranormal romance". No not a shelf, not a bookcase, a section of bookcases.

          Yeah, in many physical bookstores the "Fantasy and Science Fiction" section is now filled with romance novels and vampire detectives and zombie cheerleader series. Some of them might be good, but it does make it harder to find any "real" science fiction.

          • I've noticed this as well, and while it seems profitable in the short-term, it seems foolish in the long-term. From my experience, the typical reader of those pseudo-sci-fi romance novels are not "book readers" in the sense that reading is a habit for them. They will go through a phase where they purchase and read a few trendy novels, and then go back to not reading much for potentially several years. By alienating the "real" fantasy and sci-fi crowd, you are alienating habitual book purchasers/readers.
            • I think your disdain for the subject matter is clouding your judgement of the nature of book sales and the worth of 'real' readers.

              As with any market, there are different types/categories of buyers. You have some people who buy on trends, you have some people who purchase every scrap of paper published by an author but never touch other authors of the same genre. You have people who will only buy the book after the movie (but will always buy the book)...

              However, your statement struck me as remarkably snob

            • by Joce640k (829181)

              They will go through a phase where they purchase and read a few trendy novels, and then go back to not reading much for potentially several years. By alienating the "real" fantasy and sci-fi crowd, you are alienating habitual book purchasers/readers. Those dedicated readers are going to find their books elsewhere (most likely Amazon) and you lose a long-term customer.

              Doesn't matter. The stream of teenagers going through a 'phase' is endless because they're constantly being replenished. Why do they want stock that might not sell or to deal with demanding old farts who want special when they can just pile the latest vampire novel up to the ceiling?

              Back on topic, the endless replenishment of ignorance is Randi's biggest problem. I'd ask him what he can possibly do about that...

    • by Aggrajag (716041)
      "Not tricks, Michael, illusions. A trick is something a whore does for money"
  • query (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LokiSteve (557281) <primate_sNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:34PM (#42738555)
    What's the most dangerous lie perpetuated by the people you bust?
  • Best fraud? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:36PM (#42738573) Homepage

    Mr. Amazing,

    Of the various people who've tried for the prize, which one do you think would have made the best entertainer / carnie / whatever had he or she not been so serious about the reality of the trick?

    Cheers,

    b&

  • I saw the show you did awhile ago on YouTube, where you had dowsers try and prove their technique. Did those people legitimately believe what they were doing worked or were they typical charlatans? How did they explain their failures? Hope your're staying in good health James!
    • by TheCarp (96830)

      Well really all he can answer is whether he thinks they believed it.

      I have known a few people who were genuinely convinced that they had some low level of "psychic power" who I genuinely believe believed it. I can see how it happens though compounding confirmation bias over time etc.

      On the other hand, I lived briefly with a sociopath who spun a truely amazing web of lies, far beyond anything I could believe that he believed, and which, even when faced with people who had seen evidence of some of his most eg

      • That's because the dowsing effect is due to the "Ideomotor Effect". They are genuinely self-deluded, and are not conscious liars or charlatans. Its a damn good trick of the mind that anyone can fall prey to.

        I think you'll find that Randi does not dismiss dowsers in the same way as cold readers like John Edward or Sylvia Browne. The supposed psychics are conscious deceivers rather than self-deceived like the dowsers.

    • Re:Your show! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:27PM (#42739267)

      Ultra short version: In your experience, whats the approximate crooks to nuts ratio? 50/50 or 10/90 or 90/10 ...

  • obsession (Score:5, Interesting)

    by j00r0m4nc3r (959816) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:38PM (#42738593)
    What do you think is the root cause of humans' obsession with believing in supernatural powers, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
    • My own answer (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The default state of the human brain does not include the scientific method, nor the critical think needed to recognize (let alone challenge) unproven assumptions, nor the collection of life-experiences that gives us good intuitions about what is and is not realistic.

      The default state DOES, however, include intuitions about every effect having a cause, and a readiness to believe whatever an adult says (this has obvious survival benefits, given the above-mentioned lacks). Also, there is a perchance for fant

  • Do you think there are parallels between the way the charlatans of the paranormal manipulate their victims and the manner in which some highly dubious, if plausible, technologies are promoted?

  • by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:39PM (#42738607) Homepage

    Most people know you for your work laying bare the schemes of fraudsters, and not enough people realize that you really are as good as your stage name. What's the best show you've ever performed that's been recorded and how can we see it?

    Cheers,

    b&

    • Randi,

      Did you know that you are the only real being in existence, and that the entire known universe - and every situation in it - are products of your singular imagination? You will always expose paranormal fraudsters, because that is the reality you are authoring.

      This message is a little, internal voice escaping from somewhere inside your mind, saying: "Unleash the skies full of winged unicorns! Zoom through space and time! This existence is a beautiful dream, not a day-job."

  • by Bananatree3 (872975) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:40PM (#42738625)
    Through your years of research on faith healing, homeopathy and other "magical" cures...have you found some of them more "effective" than others due to the Placebo Effect? Many people have superstitions, charms and other things they personally believe bring them good luck...and I wonder how much of this magical healing and luck bringing is real due to the Placebo Effect. Of course it is not "magic", but the power of a Placebo is still statistically valid in certain cases it seems.
    • by geekoid (135745)

      Maybe you should understand what a* placebo effect is before asking about it?

      a placebo effect doesn't cure anything.

      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-placebo-myth/ [sciencebasedmedicine.org]
      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-prostrate-placebo/ [sciencebasedmedicine.org]
      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/cam-the-beer-goggles-of-medicine/ [sciencebasedmedicine.org]
      http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-rebranding-of-cam/#more-18610 [sciencebasedmedicine.org]

      When something is 'not better then placebo' that means 'not better then this stuff we know has no e

      • Thanks for the clarification, I meant "a" Placebo effect. There are different kinds of effects that come from placebos, depending on a person's response. To quote your third link:

        " people believe these phenomena are real but they are only fooling themselves. The placebo effect is not an effect, but only a change in perception."

        I politely disagree. That change in perception *is* an effect, even though it is highly subjective. An awesome song can affect someone who likes it, and produce a good feeling "effe

      • So.. as your proof of this, you offer up one guy's blog?? His (apparently) objectivist argument is flawed, and even his own subscribers take him to task over the first article.
        I'd argue that placebo does *not* mean "not better than stuff we know has no effect", because you have to consider patient bias - you are giving the patient something and telling him it's medicine (or could be medicine), and the fact is, that alone has had -a significant enough amount of the time- observed positive effects - certai
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        When something is 'not better then placebo' that means 'not better then this stuff we know has no effect'

        Which is measurably better than "nothing". How can a placebo not cure anything if it cures more than doing nothing?

        The term has been greatly abuses by SCAM practitioners for years, so it's actual meaning isn't know to many people.

        Indeed, but that doesn't mean you can take advantage of that by giving them an incorrect definition.

        The placebo effect is real, and non-zero. It does cure some things, and assist with others.

        The question is how to account for that ethically. One way NOT to do it is to charge exorbitant prices for sugar pills (I'm looking at you, homeopath shysters).

        One good thing is that there is some indic

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I think you're asking the wrong guy about this. The Million Dollar Challenge isn't about teasing out subtle effects like the difference between X and Y medicine and a placebo; it's about getting people to demonstrate abilities that should be overwhelmingly obvious in use.

      On the other hand I really would like to know if Randi keeps anything around "for luck", i.e. because of a comforting familiarity. We all have our totems.

  • Legacy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by abies (607076) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:47PM (#42738703)

    While we all hope you will live as long as possible and continue your work, do you think that somebody will pick up your legacy and continue to debunk the fraudsters when you are not longer able to? Do you have trusted people to whom you are willing to hand over the responsibility, both financially and skill-wise?

  • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:50PM (#42738729) Journal
    Sometimes when I see tabloids and crap at grocery stores I wonder if humanity is really making progress in the skepticism department. I think there are more people today that are skeptical of all things paranormal than there were years ago but I believe that only because the population has been increasing. Percentage-wise, I fear we may still be at the level humanity has been at throughout history. You can find writings dating way back of people who were "in the know" about what was fake and what was real. As science has increased our realm of knowledge, it seems that paranormal seekers have just found it in other mediums. So what is your opinion on humanity's track record for belief in the paranormal versus skepticism? Have we made progress? Are we forever doomed to deal with a percentage of the population who want to believe?
  • repercussions? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by poetmatt (793785) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:51PM (#42738737) Journal

    Have you ever had significant repercussions from debunking what is essentially garbage? Have people ever actually threatened you for supposedly crushing any livelihoods, which were then based on fraud?

  • by Thud457 (234763) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @12:59PM (#42738843) Homepage Journal
    Have you ever encountered any unusual phenomena you can't explain?
  • Slashdot followed briefly a seemingly miraculous device [slashdot.org] that was almost too good to be true. Have you yourself heard of Rossi's E-Cat machine [wikipedia.org]? Does your foundation also track the physics side of unbelievable things? What is your personal opinion of this device? Does it have all the hallmarks of a fraud?
  • You've undoubtedly investigated Autodesk Founder, John Walker's, long-running online experimental results from his Retropsychokinesis Project [fourmilab.ch].

    What is your Chi squared estimate applied to those results? That is to say, the probability that those results are due to chance?

  • Two part question:
    1) What, specifically, are you referring to as "psychic nonsense, paranormal, and pseudoscience?"
    2) What scientific, empirical evidence can you present that proves your contention that what you label as supernatural phenomenon is always fraudulent? I.e., have you yourself conducted sufficient experimentation to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no such thing?
    • Follow up question: Assuming you answered "no experimentation" for # 2 above, why should we believe your non-scientific claims over someone else's?


      This question can and should be ignored if sufficient experimentation has been performed.
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I'd say that the countless entries in the Challenge where people who do really well under non-controlled conditions suddenly fail spectacularly when possible mundane explainations are controlled for, is his answer to point 2.

      Point 1 is up to the person making the challenge, isn't it? It's not like he roams the world looking for things to label as paranormal.

      • I'd say that the countless entries in the Challenge where people who do really well under non-controlled conditions suddenly fail spectacularly when possible mundane explainations are controlled for, is his answer to point 2.

        I'd prefer to hear Randi's actual answers, rather than the responses people speculate he may have.

        Point 1 is up to the person making the challenge, isn't it? It's not like he roams the world looking for things to label as paranormal.

        Randi is the person making the challenge,so it stands to reason to ask what criteria he judges applicants by, does it not?

    • I'm going to quote an AC who replied here [slashdot.org], because I don't have mod points and he's made the point succinctly:

      3) What scientific, empirical evidence can you present that proves your contention that what you label as the flying spaghetti monster is fraudulent? I.e., have you yourself conducted sufficient experimentation to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no such thing?

      That's not how the burden of proof works. You don't have to entertain such claims unless there is proof, he doesn't need to supply the proof the ones making the claims do.

      Furthermore, you can't prove a negative. [wikipedia.org] Can you prove that bigfoot doesn't exist? How? Can you prove that there isn't a teapot sitting in the middle of a crater on Titan? Both those things, however, could very easily be proved - if they were true. Until then, it seems wise to assume that they aren't.

      • I'm going to quote an AC who replied here [slashdot.org], because I don't have mod points and he's made the point succinctly:

        3) What scientific, empirical evidence can you present that proves your contention that what you label as the flying spaghetti monster is fraudulent? I.e., have you yourself conducted sufficient experimentation to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no such thing?

        That's not how the burden of proof works. You don't have to entertain such claims unless there is proof, he doesn't need to supply the proof the ones making the claims do.

        The only point AC made there was to point out his lack of understanding between a specific example, and a category as a whole. I was speaking of the latter.

        Furthermore, you can't prove a negative. [wikipedia.org] Can you prove that bigfoot doesn't exist? How? Can you prove that there isn't a teapot sitting in the middle of a crater on Titan? Both those things, however, could very easily be proved - if they were true. Until then, it seems wise to assume that they aren't.

        Therein lies the lack of scientific reasoning that I am questioning; ironic, as you point it out yourself ("you can't prove a negative"), then jump right into doing just the thing you claim can't be done ("both those things... could very easily be proved - if they were true") - trying to prove a negative by citing the lack of evidence.


        Don't get me wr

        • by j-beda (85386)

          Furthermore, you can't prove a negative. [wikipedia.org] Can you prove that bigfoot doesn't exist? How? Can you prove that there isn't a teapot sitting in the middle of a crater on Titan? Both those things, however, could very easily be proved - if they were true. Until then, it seems wise to assume that they aren't.

          Therein lies the lack of scientific reasoning that I am questioning; ironic, as you point it out yourself ("you can't prove a negative"), then jump right into doing just the thing you claim can't be done ("both those things... could very easily be proved - if they were true") - trying to prove a negative by citing the lack of evidence.

          The whole point of Randi's challenge is to create actual tests of claimed effects. Randi may say things like "this entire field is bunk", but I believe that he has always acknowledged that his belief has no bearing on what the world is actually like. The challenge is much more limited than testing if an entire field has value - it tests the validity of specific claims. "I can dowse water", "I can read your mind", "I can predict the future" are the general types of claims that get tested, but the actual specific test is much more focused: "I can use these dowsing rods to pick the buckets of water from the buckets of sand more accurately than 70% of the time." Testing specific claims is vitally important in these sorts of fields, and is in now way intellectually dishonest. There is no need to invoke the "proof of a negative" issue, as the tests are always designed to be clear tests of a specific claim, with the claim and the testing protocol agreed to by Randi as well as the claimant.

          Don't get me wrong, I loathe charlatans who prey on people's scientific ignorance as-much-if-not-moreso than the next guy here - I'm just not so convinced Mr. Randi here isn't one himself.

          • by j-beda (85386)

            whoops, bad quoting. I should have said:

            Furthermore, you can't prove a negative. [wikipedia.org] Can you prove that bigfoot doesn't exist? How? Can you prove that there isn't a teapot sitting in the middle of a crater on Titan? Both those things, however, could very easily be proved - if they were true. Until then, it seems wise to assume that they aren't.

            Therein lies the lack of scientific reasoning that I am questioning; ironic, as you point it out yourself ("you can't prove a negative"), then jump right into doing just the thing you claim can't be done ("both those things... could very easily be proved - if they were true") - trying to prove a negative by citing the lack of evidence.

            The whole point of Randi's challenge is to create actual tests of claimed effects. Randi may say things like "this entire field is bunk", but I believe that he has always acknowledged that his belief has no bearing on what the world is actually like. The challenge is much more limited than testing if an entire field has value - it tests the validity of specific claims. "I can dowse water", "I can read your mind", "I can predict the future" are the general types of cla

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:02PM (#42738905)

    It greatly saddens me that in the 21st century, there is still this spate of "ghost hunter" and paranormal reality shows, even on once respectable networks like the History Channel and other cable network channels. But has there ever been talk of doing a James Randi or skeptic-based reality show (akin to Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t)?

    • by vlm (69642)

      Hanging out with the mythbusters would likely be hilarious. So they try to build an apparatus to remotely move stuff using magnets, and at the end of the show blow it up (because they always blow something up in every episode). Well that was a lame example but there must be some "myth" that would be amenable to being tested on mythbusters.

  • by anorlunda (311253) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:06PM (#42738933) Homepage

    You chose to devote a big chunk of your life to debunking rather than just ignoring those people. You must feel that they do a lot of harm to make it worth your efforts.

    Aside from the obvious, stealing money, please elaborate on the kinds of harm these fraudsters cause.

  • by Internetuser1248 (1787630) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:07PM (#42738941)
    Do you accept the following definition of the word 'paranormal' from wikipedia?:

    paranormal
    Adjective
    Paranormal is a general term that designates experiences that lie outside "the range of normal experience or scientific explanation" or that indicates phenomena understood to be outside of science's current ability to explain or measure
  • Sceptics are usually depicted in popular ficton as grumpy sods wh continue to hold onto their ideas in spite of overwhelming evidence that, in their fictional world at least, the paranormal is going on. (Usually this ends with them being eaten by an alien or knocked out a window by a ghost.) Yet in my experience, sceptics are gregarious and engaged.

    What is your favourite, or least-unfavourite, sceptic in popular fiction?

    (I was fond of the characters in "Red Lights", although I'm in two minds about the endin

    • The first character that came to MY mind in this question is Doctor Who. A good chunk of storylines start off with the local populace being terrorized by ghosts/vampires/curses/etc. and the Doctor always shrugs off these ridiculous superstitions in order to find out what's really going on. Of course in the end it's aliens, but the point still stands - "supernatural" is given a grain a salt and the investigation begins.

      • by mcmonkey (96054)

        The first character that came to MY mind in this question is Doctor Who. A good chunk of storylines start off with the local populace being terrorized by ghosts/vampires/curses/etc. and the Doctor always shrugs off these ridiculous superstitions in order to find out what's really going on.

        I think you're confusing Doctor Who with Scooby Doo.

  • by vlm (69642)

    Ever done work, or seriously considered doing work against other money making fraud areas like financial / real estate / religion / politics?

  • What's your opinion of PEAR [wikipedia.org]'s work?
  • Randi,

    Do you believe the Surgeon General's 1986 (and subsequent 2006 updated) claims about the dangers of second hand smoke, in spite of the lack of evidence supporting the claims*? If so, how can you criticize others for believing unscientific bunk, when you yourself do?



    *Most people don't think about it (probably because they don't smoke, and thus see no issue with the demonization of smokers), but if you actually read the reports, [surgeongeneral.gov] you'll notice a distinct lack of defining words like "definitely ca
    • but if you actually read the reports, [surgeongeneral.gov] you'll notice a distinct lack of defining words like "definitely causes" or "is a factor;" instead, they use 'weasel words' such as "may cause" and "estimated" or "could be a factor" to create an illusion of fact, when in reality it's all pure speculation.

      It would be scientifically incorrect of me to say that jumping from the 10th floor of a building will definitely result in death. That doesn't mean I don't have a pretty good grasp on how dangerous it would be to try. This is how scientists talk. Anyway, I only had to go as far as halfway through page 4 of the linked report to find this:

      It is harmful and hazardous to the health of the general public and particularly dangerous to children. It increases the risk of serious respiratory problems in children, such as a greater number and severity of asthma attacks and lower respiratory tract infections, and increases the risk for middle ear infections. It is also a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent). Inhaling secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and coronary heart disease in nonsmoking adults.

      Not a single weasel-word. Shall I continue?

      Secondhand smoke is a major case of disease, including lung cancer and coronary heart disease, in healthy nonsmokers.

      Exposure to secondhand smoke causes excess deaths in the U.S. population from lung cancer and cardiac related illnesses.

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:12PM (#42739023)

    I ask all the "computer programmer" interview types for their proudest chunk of code, in your case I'm just asking for the coolest anecdote / story / bust / event. Not a one liner and not a novel, just a paragraph or so about the coolest most interesting single incident / anecdote you were involved in. Here's one paragraph on your coolest/favorite single incident.

  • That's it.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      Your sig is wrong. One cannot choose to be rational. One can choose to act irrationally, but human beings are by their very nature rational creatures. With regards to belief in a deity or not, that is a choice. As such, your sig, if it is to make any logical sense should read "Rational by nature. Atheist by choice." unless your point is that you sig is not rational, which would mean neither is your choice.

    • He answered that in this video:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1YiDN8MT9w [youtube.com]

  • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:15PM (#42739065)

    Ever work with others in the popular science / journalism community like the "bad astronomy" guy or bill nye (the science guy) or semi-famous real scientists and if so drop some commentary. Not reality show trash talking (unless you really want to, I guess) but do you have any interesting stories?

  • You want to debunk paranormal things, please tell me, what is your take on 'The Battery Man' Slavisa Pajkic?

  • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:22PM (#42739179) Homepage Journal
    Rule #4 of the Applicant Rules for your prize reads:

    In all cases, the Applicant will be required to perform a Preliminary Test in a location where a properly authorized representative of the JREF can attend. This Preliminary Test is intended to determine if the Applicant is likely to perform as promised during the Formal Test, using the agreed-upon protocol. To date, no applicant has passed the Preliminary Test, and therefore no Formal Test has yet been conducted. At any time prior to the Formal Test, the JREF reserves the right to re-negotiate the protocol if issues are discovered that would prevent a fair and unbiased test. After an agreement is reached on the protocol, no part of the testing procedure may be changed in any way without an amended agreement, signed by all parties concerned.

    Couldn't this be construed as an attempt to prevent any potentially legitimate applicants from being considered for the prize?

    Is there any way you can prove that your organization is not falsely debunking claims during the "Preliminary Tests," in order to prevent the prize from being claimed?

    • Rule #4 of the Applicant Rules for your prize reads:

      In all cases, the Applicant will be required to perform a Preliminary Test in a location where a properly authorized representative of the JREF can attend. This Preliminary Test is intended to determine if the Applicant is likely to perform as promised during the Formal Test, using the agreed-upon protocol. To date, no applicant has passed the Preliminary Test, and therefore no Formal Test has yet been conducted. At any time prior to the Formal Test, the JREF reserves the right to re-negotiate the protocol if issues are discovered that would prevent a fair and unbiased test. After an agreement is reached on the protocol, no part of the testing procedure may be changed in any way without an amended agreement, signed by all parties concerned.

      Couldn't this be construed as an attempt to prevent any potentially legitimate applicants from being considered for the prize?

      Is there any way you can prove that your organization is not falsely debunking claims during the "Preliminary Tests," in order to prevent the prize from being claimed?

      And as a corollary, how to you justify that a "supernatural" phenomena--should it exist--be expected to follow natural laws and therefore suitable for reproduction? It would seem that, by definition, it is going to be unexplainable by natural law and may be, by extension, "supernaturally" unsuitable for reproduction.

      • I'm a firm believer that everything can be explained scientifically (and, by extension, mathematically); however, I also understand that our current understanding of science is not a complete understanding, and thus, to claim that a concept is fraudulent without giving consideration to our collective lack of topical understanding is just as non-scientific as, say, insisting on the existence of Bigfoot despite lack of evidence.


        FWIW, this is coming from a guy who has personally witnessed some hardcore une
  • by Jodka (520060) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:23PM (#42739205)

    When offerring a $1 million reward to anyone who successfully demonstrates proof of the paranormal you risk failing to debunk some paranormal claims, not because paranormal activity actually exists, but because the ruse is either so technologically advanced or clever that investigators fail to identify the means of deception. How concerned were you about this possibility and have you ever had any "close calls" where you almost failed to discover the trick?

     

  • $1M prize (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Velex (120469) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:25PM (#42739237) Homepage Journal
    What's the closest you've come to giving out the $1M prize?
  • Does it get tiring demonstrating to people that the magic powers they claim to have are bunk? Or is it still fun?

    And speaking of those wild claims, what's the goofiest one you've ever seen?

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:36PM (#42739381) Homepage

    When I think of skeptics, the first thing that comes to mind is a little story that Dilbert came up with years ago of Ratbert's psychic powers: Ratbert started off by predicting coin flips [dilbert.com] (as landing on the edge!), and the skeptic debunks [dilbert.com] him by arguing that Ratbert's description of a hidden drawing, while remarkably similar to what it actually was, was not quite correct.

    So what do you to handle people who disbelieve a claim even in the face of positive evidence of that claim, arguing that their position is one simply of skepticism? Or do you not consider that a problem?

  • Better known by his stage name "The Amazing Randi"

    I think at this point he's really better known as James Randi. Maybe back in the 60s and 70s when he was actually performing, but many Slashdotters may not have even been born then.

  • Why haven't you actively encouraged religious leaders to accept your challenge? Seems to me they are the biggest paranormal fraudsters on the planet but you seem to give them a pass. I'd pay cold, hard cash to see you and Richard Dawkins tag-teaming Ratzinger and Khamenei...
  • Mr. Randi,

    Of the people you have debunked, how many of them admit to deception verses how many continue with the charade, either by moving the goalposts or somehow attacking the validity of the test?
  • Scientists usually have a degree behind their authority so that they have credibility and are recognized as authoritative experts in their domain.

    What degree(s) (Bachelor, Masters, Doctoral) do you have? If none, why not?

    Newton didn't have a degree in Alchemy yet spent the majority of time researching it. Why is it not "legitimate" research for someone who gave us the basics of Physics (until Einstein came along) to investigate if there is a basis of truth for things outside the domain of Science?

  • You came out as a gay man in 2010. Can you elaborate on how that impacted your life and work?

    Do you think the bias around homosexuals unfairly hurts your credibility? Now that you've had a few years living "out," do you still think you chose the right time to do so?

  • The fact that so much of the world has so little understanding of science, that they feel the choice is between belief in religion and belief in science.

    I'd much prefer a world where belief was protected over in one corner, and knowledge was protected over in the other - and the population as a whole understood the difference.

    How would you realistically track our societies on this path ?

  • by irenaeous (898337) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:01PM (#42739729) Journal

    I ask this because I used to regard myself as a Christian skeptic. While I support what you do and much of the work of the skeptical movement, I now no longer make that claim because current skepticism seems joined at the hip with atheism. I am sure you know, one of the early leaders of the skeptic movement, Martin Gardner, was a theist and a self professed liberal Christian. Are people like Martin Gardner welcome in the movement today?

    And, as a Christian I thank you for exposing the televangelist faith healing frauds.

    • by Kiuas (1084567) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @09:57PM (#42745863)

      I used to regard myself as a Christian skeptic

      I'm sorry but that's just silly. Christianity (and pretty much all religions for that matter) is a belief system which rests on accepting stuff on faith, ie.without proper evidence to support them.

      Anybody can label the as "skeptic" but if one is wiling to believe in virgin birth, non-existent floods, angels, walking on water and people rising from the dead (just to name a few) all because it says so in an old book then one hardly fills the criteria of a skeptic.

      That is not to say that belief in a god/gods is altogether incompatible with skepticism. It's possible to be a deist and a skeptic but believing in any religion that makes testable claims about the universe around us means that if you want to truly be skeptic you need to apply same standard of evidence to those claims as to all others - and failing to do so and reverting to "well this is what I believe so I don't question it" -mentality is intellectually dishonest.

      The only christian skeptics in the true sense of the word are ex-christian skeptics.

  • by iris-n (1276146) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:02PM (#42739747)

    Have you ever succeeded in changing someone's beliefs in pseudoscience? Do you think that it is possible to do so in a large scale, to move humanity towards a more rational way of thinking?

    Sorry for the down tone, but I have plenty of experience in failing to convince people of the falsehood in astrology, homeopathy, acupunture, etc., and very little in succeeding.

  • I often notice that amongst the so-called educated they quote science that leans in their favor, and then outright dismiss science that challenges their beliefs. I'm not talking about creationists or global warming deniers. I mean something less obvious and more insidious that can be found across political spectrums. A friend of mine who teaches history is oft to mention his belief that we are leaving an era of reason behind in favor of an era where 'gut' feelings and authenticity rules supreme. These peopl

  • Most impressive (Score:4, Insightful)

    by meerling (1487879) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @02:39PM (#42740205)
    Of all the fakes you've seen, which was the most impressive and why?
  • Is it true (Score:5, Funny)

    by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @03:21PM (#42740717)

    Is it true that your organisation is a front to attract the mystically endowed and drain them of their powers to feed the unholy appetites of a cabal of dark theurgists and further their quest to challenge the illuminati for control of the mortal world, leading ultimately to human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria?

  • Your Axioms... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by under_score (65824) <mishkin-slashdot&berteig,com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @03:28PM (#42740831) Homepage

    I was wondering what axioms you hold to be true? Any rational system has a set of axioms that are the unprovable foundation of that rational system. What do you believe on faith?

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @04:05PM (#42741427) Homepage Journal

    I've read several of your books, used to have a subscription to "Skeptical Inquirer" [csicop.org], and generally support your activities and those of other skeptics. (I sometimes point out that the emperor has no clothes on this very site :-)

    Your books, and transcripts and stories of skeptic investigations, hold a generally belittling attitude towards the people you're investigating. Not at all the dispassionate, "here's the evidence, here's our conclusions" type of prose that is customary in scientific literature.

    Regarding this tone of voice, what advice can you give to someone who does public writing? Has this attitude helped your cause, or served to impede it? If you were given the chance to start over, would you take the same attitude?

    Basically, is "snark" a good writing style?

    Nota Bene: For those who think this is a troll (it's not), I grabbed "Flim Flam" [amazon.com] by James Randy off of my bookshelf (the first of his books I could find). Opening at random and starting from chapter 6 (Erich von Daniken &c) reads sentences/fragments such as: "The only facts in his four books [named] that I depend on are the page numbers", "perpetrated ... a literary diddle of enormous scope", [Chapter 8] "Along with Freudian psychiatry, this madness has persisted to the present day".

    I found the book informative and interesting, but the tone, sometimes nuanced and sometimes explicit, fairly screams "prejudice!" to the reader. To my mind, the style detracts from the credibility.

    Online, tone of voice is everything. We have an opportunity to find out whether snark writing is more effective than dispassionate, and perhaps that will inform online writing.

  • by hduff (570443) <hoytduff AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @04:15PM (#42741597) Homepage Journal

    Why are some people so willing to accept a supernatural explanation when trickery or fakery is involved and easly proved?

  • by hduff (570443) <hoytduff AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @04:18PM (#42741651) Homepage Journal

    What epiphany led you to your current role in debunking false claims?

  • by phozz bare (720522) on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @05:15PM (#42742395)
    Most people have seen spoon bending on TV or in stage acts - I've seen it done right before my eyes, in a completely improvised setting, with an ordinary spoon taken from the kitchen. There was no sleight of hand involved - the spoon was bending while in this man's hand, being visible all of the time. The handle remained rigid in his hand while the spoon's bowl actually rotated with no apparent force being exerted on it, so that the spoon basically twisted by about 120 degrees. (I've kept the spoon as a souvenir. It remains twisted, not cracked, and will not bend in any direction with any amount of force I can apply with my hands.)

    My question to you is: if this is no more than a magic trick, how was it done? The various trick methods described here [wikipedia.org] could not have been employed.

Natural laws have no pity.

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