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“”We may disagree with Randi on certain points, but we ignore him at our peril.
James "The Amazing" Randi (Born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge) (1928–2020) was a Canadian-American former stage magician and a scientific skeptic perhaps best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. He was the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).
The foundation sponsors a challenge offering a prize of US $1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The prize has yet to be claimed. No one has ever produced any actual evidence for faith healing, telepathy, psionics, dowsing, precognative psychic friends with astral bodies, past life remembrance, or spectral manifestations of any kind.
He was also claimed as an enthusiastic member of the Brights Movement. Randi has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1986.
He also performed on stage both as a mad dentist and as an executioner during Alice Cooper's 1973–1974 Billion Dollar Babies tour. He also built several of the stage props, including the guillotine.
On October 20, 2020, Randi passed away due to age-related causes.
James Randi Educational Foundation
“”I regard Randi as a national treasure, and perhaps one of the remaining antidotes that may prevent the rotting of the American mind.
|—Arthur C. Clarke|
Randi started the James Randi Educational Foundation to monitor applications for the $1 million prize, and to serve as an organizing body to help promote skepticism and provide educational resources on claims of the paranormal.[note 1]
The foundation was headed by James Randi for many years before he retired from its presidency. From August 2008 to December 2009 astronomer, blogger, and pseudoscience debunker Phil Plait ran the organisation. Plait has been succeeded by D.J. Grothe, formerly of the Center for Inquiry. In 2013, former Foundation employee Carrie Poppy accused D.J. Grothe and to some extent, the entire Foundation of sexism and dishonesty and specifically of failing to heed women's warnings about potential threats. Ms. Poppy herself claims to have been assaulted at a Foundation event. Several noted female skeptics have suggested that though no formal charges have been brought, either in the criminal or civil system, given the problems that the skeptical community has had with women, the Foundation would be wise to address the accusations before the silence itself becomes a bigger scandal.
James Randi strongly opposed the pseudoscience of homeopathy. Homeopathy is water "with memory". Randi has testified before Congress as to the fakery and lies of homeopathy. He has lectured across the nation and made several videos and blogs educating the public about the uselessness of homeopathy (apart from removing that bulge in people's pocketbooks). Randi has promoted the 10:23 challenge, in which people across the world would purchase homeopathic products (we will not give them the credit of calling them medicines) and purposely overdose on them. No one has ever died from the 10:23 challenge, and that is the point. Overdosing on homeopathic pills is near impossible, because there is no medicine in them, and that is what the 10:23 challenge is all about: to educate the world what is in these products (read: essentially nothing) and how ineffective they are.
“”Paranormal phenomena have a habit of going away whenever they are tested under rigorous conditions. This is why the $1,000,000 reward of James Randi, offered to anyone who can demonstrate a paranormal effect under proper scientific controls, is safe.
The million-dollar challenge is a prize offered by the James Randi foundation to anyone "who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event."
Unsurprisingly, it has yet to be won, though there have been a vast number of attempts.
After Randi's retirement in 2015, the JREF board decided to temporarily discontinue the challenge, pending a revision of the preliminary testing protocol. They expected to have the protocols ready in early 2016, but as of August 2016, the challenge is still on ice. In the meantime, the challenge remains open for any established psychics.
Sylvia Browne's "attempt"
The James Randi Foundation offer of $1,000,000 prize to anyone who could prove any supernatural power has attracted many amateurs. However, Sylvia Browne is the only widely known psychic who has offered to take up the challenge. Sylvia was a popular television psychic (who was made famous when she began to appear as a frequent guest on The Montel Williams show) who claimed that she could communicate with the dead. On March 6, 2001, she agreed to take up the challenge.
On the Larry King Live show, Browne stated that she would take up Randi's challenge (that was on September 3, 2001. To her dying day she did not take the challenge. Sylvia's first excuse was because she did not know how to contact Randi. That is comical: a professional psychic who speaks to dead people cannot figure out how to reach Randi. Her following excuse was that she did not want to take the challenge because Randi is a godless individual — all the more reason to take the challenge, Sylvia. If the supernatural could be proven and demonstrated, and the $1,000,000 were claimed, it would be a tremendous blow to Randi and the skeptical and atheist community, and a tremendous boost to her career as a psychic.
The Pigasus Award was an annual "prize" for unscientific claims presented by Randi, in the shape of a flying pig and awarded on April 1; it was originally called the Uri trophy, after Uri Geller, and had the form of a bent spoon (it should not be confused with the Australian Skeptics' Bent Spoon Award, or the Flying Unicorn award given by COMCEPT, the Portuguese Skeptic Community.) They were first mentioned in his book Flim Flam!, awarded from 1979-81, then suspended until 1996. The prizes appear to have been last awarded in 2013.
Generally they were given in four categories, for the scientist, funding organisation, and media outlet with the worst claim or activity relating to parapsychology in the previous twelve months, and the psychic performer "who fools the greatest number of people with the least effort"; some years, a prize was also given for "refusal to face reality".
Winners in the scientist category include Gary Schwartz (2001) for parapsychology, Rupert Sheldrake (2006) for telepathy research, Mehmet Oz (2009) for promoting reiki, and the Kansas State Board of Education (1999) for stopping the teaching of evolution.
Funding organisations receiving the prize include the Pentagon, the US Air Force, the George W. Bush White House, and other august institutions.
Winners of the performer prize include Dorothy Allison, Tamara Rand, Sheldan Nidle, Nostradamus (awarded posthumously), John Edward, Sylvia Browne, Allison DuBois, Uri Geller, Jenny McCarthy (for her anti-vax campaigning), Chip Coffey, Peter Popoff, Theresa Caputo, and Alex Jones.
The dark side of Randi
Randi's challenge and life-long fight against the charlatans of the world has made him a target for a wide range of kooks, particularly on the Internet, claiming that they have demonstrated supernatural abilities and that he therefore owes them money, but that Randi has cheated them out of it in various ways, and so on. Being attacked by crazy assholes is one of the standard work hazards of being a loud and proud rationalist in our current society, as we here at RationalWiki know all too well.
That being said, however, that doesn't mean that the great Randi was somehow infallible. For one thing, Randi was an overt supporter of both social Darwinism and of actual eugenics, combining the callousness of vulgar libertarianism with calls for (somebody; presumably the government) quarantining and re-educating, en masse, those of our fellow human beings that are judged not to be of good enough stock to be allowed to reproduce, e.g. in order that they don't spread their insufficient IQ's.
In an interview conducted by journalist and author Will Storr at the 2013 The Amaz!ng Meeting in Las Vegas, the following exchange took place between the two — statements which Storr recalls "left him quietly stunned":
I quote some of [Randi's] comments that have concerned me, about his wish for drugs to be legalised so that users will kill themselves. But, to my surprise, he does not dismiss them. Not even slightly.
- "I think exactly the same thing about smoking," he says. "They should be allowed to smoke themselves to death and die."
- "These are quite extreme views," I say.
- "I don't think so."
- "But it's social Darwinism."
- "The survival of the fittest, yes," he says, approvingly. "The strong survive."
- "But this is the foundation of Fascism."
- "Oh yes, yes," he says, perfectly satisfied. "It could be inferred that way, yes. I think people should be allowed to do themselves in."
- "These are very right-wing views."
- "I don't look at them that way," he says. "I'm a believer in social Darwinism. Not in every case. I would do anything to stop a twelve-year-old-kid from doing it. Sincerely. But in general, I think that Darwinism, survival of the fittest, should be allowed to act itself out. As long as it doesn't interfere with me and other sensible rational people who could be affected by it. Innocent people, in other words. These are not innocent people. These are stupid people. And if they can't survive, they don't have the IQ, don't have the thinking power to be able to survive, it's unfortunate; I would hate to see it happen, but at the same time, it would clear the air. We would be free from a lot of the plagues that we presently suffer from. I think that people with mental aberrations who have family histories of inherited diseases and such, that something should be done to seriously educate them to prevent them from procreating. I think they should be gathered in a suitable place and have it demonstrated for them what their procreation would mean for the human race. It would be very harmful. But I don't see any attempt to do that because everyone has the right to do stupid things. And I suppose they do," he concedes. "To a certain extent."
Global warming flap
In another notable case of a skeptic being unskeptical, Randi caused a tempest in a teacup by mouthing off about global warming on his blog. His sins included citing the Oregon Petition and pulling the "science was wrong before" gambit. Randi retracted his earlier comments and included a link to eSkeptic's debunking of the Petition.
- The Truth About Uri Geller
- The Faith Healers
- An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural
- Stuart Landsborough
- Michael Shermer
- Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence
- Kent Hovind
- Therapeutic touch
- Sylvia Browne
- Derek Ogilvie
- Dennis Markuze
- Sally Morgan
- James Randi's JREF website
- Forums at JREF
- JREF youtube channel
- Wikiquote's collection of James Randi quotes
- Entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary
- Randi's TED talk
- An Honest Liar, A Documentary on James "The Amazing" Randi Available on Netflix!
- We have not yet received a check from the foundation, although we expect it soon!
- James Randi debunks Peter Popoff
- Carrie Poppy tells all
- James Randi on homeopathy
- The Challenge
- List of applicants
- Sally Morgan avoids million dollar challenge
- JREF Status
- See the Wikipedia article on Bent Spoon Award.
- Flying Unicorn Award 2015 Winners, COMCEPT, 2015
- See the Wikipedia article on Pigasus Award.
- Dr. Oz, Andrew Wakefield and others, um, 'honored' by James Randi, LA Times, April 01, 2011
- Will Storr, The Heretics — Adventures With The Enemies Of Science (2013), ISBN 978-0-330-53586-1, p. 362-364.
- It Wouldn't Be Fair to Call James Randi a Pseudoskeptic, But... Island of Doubt
- James Randi, Anthropogenic Global Warming, and Skepticism, Respectful Insolence
- I Am Not "Denying" Anything, Swift Blog