James Randi

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James Randi
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James Randi

James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, August 7,1928 in Toronto, Canada), more often known as The Amazing Randi, is a stage magician, skeptic, and opponent of pseudoscience (including homeopathy). He is perhaps most known for the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, in which his James Randi Educational Foundation will award a prize of one million USD to anyone who is able to show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties.

His interest in debunking the paranormal started when he was in his early teens. He was present at the show of a magician who asked for someone in the audience to help him with his performance. Randi of course wanted to do that, having started with magic tricks himself. When the young Randi raised his hand, the magician said '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 didn't. It was simply part of his routine and whenever he turned out to be right, he'd credit his 'magical powers' and whenever he was wrong, he'd turn it into a standard quip he had.

He also witnessed many tricks that were presented as being of a supernatural nature. One of his earliest reported experiences is that of seeing an evangelist using the 'one-ahead' routine to convince churchgoers of his divine powers.

Contents

Professional career

Randi has worked as a professional stage magician and escapologist since 1946 (he appeared as "The Amazing Randi" on a TV 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." 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. Geller's supporters state the book contained numerous factual errors and misleading statements, but such has never been proven. In an interview with Twilight Zone Magazine, Randi accused Geller of being the ringleader in a criminal blackmail plot aimed at destroying Randi, charges that since, seem more accurate than false [1] (http://www.uri-geller.com/eldon.htm). Geller responded to Randi's claims by filing a number of lawsuits against him and various journals that reprinted his claims; All of those brought against Randi failed, were dismissed or were later dropped. Geller's rivalry with Randi has continued for more than three decades.

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 Uri Geller was filing numerous civil suits against him (most of which were later dismissed as frivolous by the courts or dropped by Geller himself before such dismissals were ordered). CSICOP's leadership, wanting to avoid becoming a target of Geller's lawsuits, had 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 and complete 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 expos of faith healer Peter Popoff resulted in a sharp decline in Popoff's influence and popularity.

In 1987, Randi became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1996, Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). This supports research into paranormal claims and attempts to test them in controlled experimental conditions, offering a prize of one million US dollars to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. No one has passed a preliminary test, which is set up and agreed upon between both Randi and the applicant. Randi updates the JREF's website with written commentary on Fridays.

Randi contributes a regular column, titled "'Twas Brillig", to The Skeptics Society's Skeptic magazine. Asteroid 3163 Randi was named after him.

The $1 million challenge

In the conditions and rules governing his one million US dollars 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.

Some of Randi's detractors claim that the challenge is insincere, and that Randi will ensure he never has to pay out. In the October 1981 issue of Fate magazine, Dennis Rawlins quoted him as saying "I always have an out" [2] (http://cura.free.fr/xv/14starbb.html). Some critics interpret as meaning he will never let his organization lose such a challenge. Others, noting this magazine article grew out of political infighting among the members of CSICOP, believe this quote is being misapplied, and that it refers to the fact that Randi employs safeguards against cheating.

The challenge has been criticised for giving Randi too much control in determining if a claim is successful or not. It has been noted that a potential applicant may well be wary of taking the challenge on the basis that Randi may insist upon conditions that are impossible to meet. There is, however, no evidence of this ever occurring. The discussions between the JREF and applicants are currently posted on a public discussion board for all to see (see the external links section below).

Another objection made by critics of the challenge is that the rules prohibit independent judging, making the success or failure of the challenge dependent on whether Randi agrees that the test has been passed (it should be noted however that Rule 8 of the challenge places an independent person in charge of a $10,000 personal cheque from Randi, to be delivered to the claimant immediately on success of the challenge, to be followed within 10 days by the payment of the full prize). This is often countered by Randi and others by pointing that tests are designed so that no judging is needed. Such critics claim that Randi's degree of control over the challenge's outcome may be a sufficient to prevent a serious applicant from undertaking it. Supporters point to the lack of evidence of this happening.

Objections to the nature of the test and its rules include:

  • No independent judge will be used, and the tests are designed by the JREF without scientific peer review.
... JREF points out that the rules for each test are to be designed such that the results will be completely obvious and unambiguous when deciding whether or not the applicant demonstrated any paranormal abilities. The judges involved in preliminary tests are usually scientists or skeptics unaffiliated with JREF whom they trust to be accurate observers.
  • Randi has rejected at least one applicant, with the rejection letter stating this was because the applicant was "a liar and a fraud." The applicant in question claimed to survive without food via breatharianism. [3] (http://www.alternativescience.com/randi-retreats.htm)
...Randi and the JREF have repeatedly stated that they will reject any applicants putting themselves in grave physical danger, which the JREF would not want to be responsible for. Randi has also twice commented on the specific case raised by the Alternative Science web site: see [4] (http://www.randi.org/jr/070502.html) and [5] (http://randi.org/jr/111204hot.html#9).
  • As of Jan 2005, no offers to conduct a formal test have yet been extended by the JREF to an applicant. [6] (http://www.randi.org/research/)
The JREF replies that this is because they have determined that none of the applicants have ever demonstrated any paranormal abilities during preliminary testing; hundreds of preliminary tests have been carried out.
  • Some claim the one million dollars does not exist, or is in the form of pledges or promissary notes.
The JREF states that the million dollars is in the form of negotiable bonds within a "James Randi Educational Foundation Prize Account" and that validation of the account and the prize amount can be supplied on demand. The money is said to be held in a Goldman, Sachs & Company account. A copy of the JREF bank statement is viewable at investmentaccount.gif.

Randi's caustic style

Parapsychologists generally try to downplay the Randi challenge because of these 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 skeptical organizations that have their own 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 the sort of nonsense he has to deal with every day. The sheer quantity explains why Randi often has little patience.

Although some find Randi abrasive or even aggressive, the book The Faith Healers explains his anger and relentlessness arising out of compassion for the helpless victims of frauds. Also, in his weekly commentary, Randi often expresses dismay that he has to frequently expose various frauds due to no one else doing it.

Recently, for instance, 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 to take the $1,000,000 challenge despite agreeing on Larry King Live in September 2001 to do so. Randi keeps a clock on his website (http://www.randi.org/sylvia/) recording the number of days that have passed since Sylvia accepted the challenge without following through.

See also

Bibliography

External links

On the Randi Challenge

es:James Randi fi:James Randi nl:James Randi ja:ジェームズ・ランディ sv:James Randi

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