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Interviews: Ask James Randi About Investigating the Truth 386

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 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?


  • My own answer (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 30, 2013 @01:57PM (#42739691)

    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 fantasy and the surreal, largely because that is more interesting.

    Belief in magic is a natural enough consequence of this state. The correction of this belief requires a combination of:

    1) Inculcation of the scientific method.
    2) Evocation of critical thinking skills.
    3) Provision of facts and life-experiences that reinforce sound intuitions about how reality works.

    These things do not happen automatically. A very directed education is necessary to instill these, and without them, most people are very ill-equipped to protect themselves against nonsense. Old superstitions and charismatic charlatans can therefore easily keep belief in magic alive.

  • 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?
  • 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.

"You can have my Unix system when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers." -- Cal Keegan