James Randi
Challenger of Paranormal Claims and Pseudoscience



 
James Randi
Challenger of Paranormal Claims and Pseudoscience
 

 
James Randi is a Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic best known as a challenger of paranormal claims and pseudoscience. Randi is the founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

Randi began his career as a magician, as The Amazing Randi, but after retiring at age 60, he began investigating paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims, which he collectively calls "woo-woo."


Although often referred to as a "debunker," Randi rejects that title owing to its perceived bias, instead describing himself as an "investigator." He has written about the paranormal, skepticism, and the history of magic.

He was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and was occasionally featured on the television program Penn & Teller: Bullshit!.

The JREF sponsors The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge offering a prize of US$1,000,000 to eligible applicants who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.


Randi entered the international spotlight in 1972 when he publicly challenged the claims of Uri Geller.

Randi accused Geller of being nothing more than a charlatan and a fraud who used standard magic tricks to accomplish his allegedly paranormal feats, and he supported his claims in the book The Truth About Uri Geller.

Geller unsuccessfully sued Randi for $15 million in 1991.

Geller's suit against the Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) was thrown out in 1995, and he was ordered to pay $120,000 for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

Randi was a founding fellow and prominent member of 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. However, 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 demonstrated flaws in studies suggesting the existence of paranormal phenomena; in his Project Alpha hoax, Randi revealed that he had been able to orchestrate a three-year-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.

Randi has appeared on numerous TV shows, sometimes to directly debunk the claimed abilities of fellow guests. 

 
James Randi took up magic after reading magic books while spending 13 months in a body cast following a bicycle accident. He confounded doctors who expected he would never walk again.

He dropped out of high school at 17 to perform as a conjurer in a carnival roadshow.

In his twenties, Randi posed as a psychic to establish that they were actually doing simple tricks and briefly wrote an astrological column in the Canadian tabloid Midnight under the name "Zo-ran," by simply shuffling up items from newspaper astrology columns and pasting them randomly into a column.

In his thirties, Randi worked in Philippine night clubs and all across Japan. He 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.





 

Here you see James Hydrick perform his "miracle" and 10 minutes later fail at the same miracle when cheating is taken out of the equation.

James Randi exposes James Hydrick

In a 1981 appearance on That's My Line, Randi appeared opposite psychic James Hydrick, who claimed that he could move things with his mind and demonstrated this ability on live television by apparently turning a page in a telephone book without touching it.

Randi, having determined that Hydrick was surreptitiously blowing on the book, arranged packaging peanuts (polystyrene foam shapes) on the table in front of the telephone book for the demonstration, preventing Hydrick from demonstrating his abilities, which would have been exposed when the blowing moved the packaging.

Many years later, Hydrick admitted his fraud.

Randi was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius award in 1986.

The money was used for Randi's comprehensive exposé of faith healers, including Peter Popoff, W.V. Grant and Ernest Angley.

When Peter Popoff was exposed, he was forced to declare bankruptcy within the year.



 

In this episode, Randi recalls the phenomenon that was "Carlos," and how the media is often responsible for creating phenomena simply by reporting it in a credulous fashion.

James Randi Speaks: The Carlos Hoax

In 1988, Randi tested the gullibility of the media by perpetrating a fraud of his own. By teaming up with Australia's 60 Minutes program and by releasing a fake press package, he built up publicity for a spirit channeler named Carlos who was actually artist Jose Alvarez, a friend of Randi's.

Randi would tell him what to say through sophisticated radio equipment.

The media and the public were taken in, as no reporter bothered to check Carlos's credentials and history, which were all fabricated.

The hoax was exposed on 60 Minutes; Carlos and Randi explained how they pulled it off.

In the book The Faith Healers, Randi explains his anger and relentlessness as arising out of compassion for the helpless victims of frauds. Randi has also been critical of João de Deus (John of God), a self-proclaimed psychic surgeon who has received international attention.

Randi observed, referring to psychic surgery, "To any experienced conjurer, the methods by which these seeming miracles are produced are very obvious."


In 1982, Randi verified the abilities of Arthur Lintgen, a Philadelphia physician who is able to determine the classical music recorded on a vinyl LP solely by examining the grooves on the record. However, Lintgen does not claim to have any paranormal ability, merely knowledge of the way that the grooves form patterns on particular recordings.


James Randi stated that Daniel Dunglas Home, who allegedly could play an accordion that was locked in a cage, without touching it, was caught cheating on a few occasions, but the episodes were never made public, and that the accordion in question was a one-octave mouth organ that Home concealed under his large moustache.

James Randi writes that one-octave mouth organs were found in Home's belongings after his death.

According to Randi 'around 1960' William Lindsay Gresham told Randi he had seen these mouth organs in the Home collection at the Society for Psychical Research. Eric Dingwall, who catalogued Home's collection on its arrival at the SPR does not record the presence of the mouth organs. According to Peter Lamont, the author of an extensive Home biography, "It is unlikely Dingwall would have missed these or did not make them public."

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) currently offers a prize of one million U.S. dollars to eligible applicants who can demonstrate a supernatural ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. Similar to the paranormal challenges of John Nevil Maskelyne and Houdini, in 1964, Randi put up $1,000 of his own money payable to anyone who could provide objective proof of the paranormal.

Since then, the prize money has grown to the current $1,000,000, and has formal published rules. No one has progressed past the preliminary test, which is set up with parameters agreed to by both Randi and the applicant. He refuses to accept any challengers who might suffer serious injury or death as a result of the testing.


James Randi on Larry King Live

On Larry King Live, March 6, 2001, Larry King asked Sylvia Browne if she would take the challenge and she agreed. Then Randi appeared with Browne on Larry King Live on September 3, 2001, and she again accepted the challenge.

However, she has refused to be tested and Randi keeps a clock on his website recording the number of weeks that have passed since Browne accepted the challenge without following through.

During Larry King Live on June 5, 2001, Randi challenged Rosemary Altea to undergo testing for the million dollars.

However, Altea would not even address the question. Instead Altea, in part, replied "I agree with what he says, that there are many, many people who claim to be spiritual mediums, they claim to talk to the dead. There are many people, we all know this. There are cheats and charlatans everywhere."

Then on January 26, 2007, Altea and Randi again appeared on Larry King Live. Once again, she refused to answer whether or not she would take the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.

Starting on April 1, 2007, only those with an already existing media profile and the backing of a reputable academic were allowed to apply for the challenge. The resources freed up by not having to test obscure and possibly mentally ill claimants will then be used to more aggressively challenge notorious high-profile alleged psychics and mediums such as Sylvia Browne, Allison DuBois and John Edward with a campaign in the media.

JREF maintains a public log of past participants in the Million Dollar Challenge.