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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Randi, James (1928 - )
"Religion is based upon blind faith supported by no evidence. Science is based upon confidence that results from evidence -- and that confidence can be modified and/or reversed by further observations and experimentation. Science approaches truth, closer and closer, by hard dedicated work. Religion already has it all decided, and it's "in the book. It's dogma, unchangeable, and unaffected by reality and whatever facts we come upon in the real world."

-- James Randi


James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge in Toronto, Ontario), more often known as The Amazing Randi, is a stage magician, a skeptic, best known as a debunker of pseudoscience. He is perhaps most known for the One Million Dollar Challenge, in which his James Randi Educational Foundation will award a prize of one million USD to anyone who is able to demonstrate any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event, under test conditions agreed to by both parties. He has appeared on the television programs The Tonight Show and Bullshit!, which is hosted by fellow skeptics and magicians Penn & Teller.

His interest in debunking the paranormal started when he was in his early teens. He has also been credited with exposing Reverend Peter Popoff's fraudulent faith healing schemes in 1987.

Introduction to magic
He was present at a magic show when a magician asked for someone from the audience to help him with his performance. Randi, having experimented with magic tricks himself, raised his hand. The magician responded, "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 did not. It was simply part of his routine and whenever he turned out to be right, he would credit his "magical powers" and whenever he was wrong, he would turn it into a standard quip (an example of Cold reading).

Randi subsequently 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.

Career as magician
Randi has worked as a professional stage magician and escapologist since 1946. In 1955, he broke Houdini's record for survival in a sealed coffin (1 hour, 33 minutes) by 11 minutes. In his early career, Randi was part of numerous stunts involving his escape from jail cells and safes.

Randi was the host of The Amazing Randi Show on WOR radio in New York City from 1964 to January 1966. He took over the late night slot that had been vacated by Long John Nebel. He also hosted numerous television specials and went on several world tours. Randi is noted for escaping from a straitjacket while suspended upside down over Niagara Falls on the Canadian TV program World of Wizards.

Randi appeared as "The Amazing Randi" on a television 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."

During Alice Cooper's 1974 tour, Randi performed as the dentist and executioner on stage. He also designed and built several of the stage props, including the guillotine. An incident where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police searched the band's lockers during a performance has been cited by Randi as leading him to apply for American citizenship.

Randi is author of Conjuring (1991), a biographical history of noted magicians. The book is subtitled: Being a Definitive History of the Venerable Arts of Sorcery, Prestidigitation, Wizardry, Deception, & Chicanery and of the Mountebanks & Scoundrels Who have Perpetrated these Subterfuges on a Bewildered Public, in short, MAGIC!.

Career as a skeptic
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. The original edition contained a number of factual errors, including the claim that Geller had been convicted of fraud in a criminal trial, and misstatements about whether there was a clear view of the window in the room where Geller did his work, a place Randi admitted he had never been. Randi's critics have seized on these statements, claiming that they are deliberate and that they undermine Randi's credibility. Several publications that reprinted Randi's allegations were successfully sued by Geller, or they settled with him. Randi has since produced a new edition of the book with extensive corrections and revisions, and renamed it The Truth About Uri Geller.

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. 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. He still maintains a respectful relationship with the group and frequently writes articles for its magazine.

Randi has gone on to write several books analyzing and 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 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. Later, his "Carlos" hoax, in which he hired performance artist Josè Louis Alvarez to act as a psychic, pointed out the gullibility of New Age believers. "Carlos" performances began in Australia in 1988 as a story for an Australian newsmagazine show, and continued to take place for many years even after the hoax was voluntarily exposed.

Randi was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" award in 1986, drawing upon his conjuring skills to write and educate the public on superstition and pseudo-scientific matters.

Randi's comprehensive exposé of faith healer Peter Popoff in 1987 resulted in a sharp decline in Popoff's influence and popularity.

In the same year, Randi became a naturalized citizen of the United States. In 1996, Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Randi updates the JREF's website on Fridays with a written commentary titled Swift: Online Newsletter of the JREF. Randi also contributes a regular column, titled "'Twas Brillig", to The Skeptics Society's Skeptic magazine.

On Thursday 2 February 2006, Randi underwent emergency coronary artery bypass surgery. While he was recovering from surgery, Hal Bidlack took over writing the weekly commentaries for his website. Randi himself resumed writing the weekly commentaries on April 14, 2006.

Asteroid 3163 Randi was named after him.

Legal disputes
The rivalry between Randi and his opponents has ended up in court on several occasions. These episodes include the following.

In an interview with Twilight Zone Magazine, Randi accused Uri Geller and Eldon Byrd of being the ringleaders in a criminal blackmail plot aimed at destroying Randi, and that Byrd was a convicted child molester. Byrd sued Randi; the jury found that Randi's claim regarding Byrd was defamatory, but awarded Byrd $0 in damages (thus preventing further appeals by Byrd) apparently based on their rather low opinion of him (see news story).

In an interview with a Japanese newspaper, Randi was presented as saying that Uri Geller had driven a close friend to "shoot himself in the head", which Randi afterwards claimed was a metaphor lost in translation. However, Randi made a similar statement ("The scientist shot himself after I showed him how the key bending trick was done.") in the August 23, 1986 Toronto Star that seemed to validate Geller's charge. Since the referenced suicide victim died of natural causes, Geller successfully sued both the newspaper and Randi in the Japanese courts. Randi could not participate in the trial, did not recognize the court's authority (since "insult", as opposed to "libel", is not a legally cognizable basis for a civil action in the U.S.), and refused to pay the $2,000 judgement that was awarded.

Randi once commented that Uri Geller's tricks are of the same quality as those Randi read on the backs of cereal packets as a child. Geller sued both Randi and CSICOP. CSICOP disavowed Randi, pleading that the organization was not responsible for Randi's statements. The court agreed that including CSICOP was frivolous, and they were dropped from the action. Geller was ordered to pay substantial damages to CSICOP. The order specifically excluded Randi from receiving any of the damages. At this time, Randi and Geller had both run up huge legal bills amounting to hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars. In a private meeting they achieved an out-of-court settlement, the details of which have been kept private. This case, as noted above, was directly responsible for the decision of Randi to part company with CSICOP.

Alleged psychic Allison DuBois, on whose life the television series Medium was based, and whose alleged abilities and other claims Randi has questioned, threatened Randi with legal action for using a photo of her from her website in his December 17, 2004 Commentary without her permission. Randi removed the photo, and now uses a caricature of DuBois when mentioning her on his site, beginning with his December 23, 2005 Commentary.

Late in 1996 Randi launched a libel suit against a Toronto-area psychic/self-published author/entry-level web developer named Earl Gordon Curley. Curley had made a number of objectionable comments about Randi on Usenet. Despite constantly prodding Randi via Usenet to sue (Curley's implication being if Randi didn't sue then his allegations must be true), Curley seemed entirely surprised when Randi actually retained Toronto's largest law firm and initiated legal proceedings. The suit was eventually dropped in 1998 when Earl Curley died at the age of 51, allegedly drinking himself to death.

The $1 million challenge
The JREF currently offers a prize of one million U.S. dollars to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. In 1964, Randi put up $1,000 of his own money payable to the first person who could provide objective proof of the paranormal. Since then, the prize money has grown to the current $1,000,000, and the rules that surround claiming the prize are official and legal. No one has gotten past the preliminary test which is set up and has to be agreed upon by both Randi and the applicant.

In the conditions and rules governing his one million U.S. dollar 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.

Recently, 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 the $1,000,000 challenge despite agreeing on Larry King Live in September 2001 to accept it.

Randi keeps a clock on his website recording the number of weeks that have passed since Sylvia accepted the challenge without following through.

Criticism
Some critics see Randi's contempt for many applicants and outright dismissal of some applications as evidence of insincerity of the million dollar challenge. For example, one applicant, Rico Kolodzey, applied by claiming he is able to live only on water (breatharianism). Randi didn't answer at first and, when pressed, he answered in a June 18, 1999 email:

“Please don't treat us like children. We only respond to responsible claims. Are you actually claiming that you have not consumed any food products except water, since the end of 1998? If this is what you are saying, did you think for one moment that we would believe it? If this is actually your claim, you're a liar and a fraud. We are not interested in pursuing this further, nor will we exchange correspondence with you on the matter. “

Despite questions raised on the JREF Forum, Randi himself confirmed the authenticity of this letter, elucidating on why he stopped accepting these kinds of claims:

Please, this matter of living-without-eating is just such nonsense, that I find it hard to believe it's earned such a large amount of attention. That letter is quite real, not faked, I meant it and I still mean it. Many years ago, we tested a chap in San Francisco who'd made the same claim. We camped outside the Holiday Inn where we'd placed him, and at about 2 in the morning, he left for the local all-night MacDonald's and returned with a huge bag of cheeseburgers. He said he only intended to inhale them, not eat them. Now, that makes him look silly, of course, but it also makes us look silly, for having organized a test in the first place!

Cloud-busting and living-without-eating are off the JREF list, because they're just so damn silly and juvenile.

Indeed, the JREF application makes this rejection of some claims explicit:

IMPORTANT: Only claims that can be verified by evidence under proper observing conditions will be accepted. JREF will NOT accept claims of the existence of deities or demons/angels, the validity of exorcism, religious claims, cloudbusting, causing the Sun to rise or the stars to move, etc. JREF will also NOT test claims that are likely to cause injury of any sort, such as those involving the withholding of air, food or water, or the use of illicit materials, drugs, or dangerous devices.

Such dismissals make it possible for critics to complain of Randi "running away" from claim tests.

Randi has also been criticized for inconsistencies in his statements. In a July 2005 Swift commentary, despite the earlier dismissal of such claims, he offered to test Ellen Greve, aka "Jasmuheen", another breatharian, three of whose followers had died following her practices. Randi said of his decision:

I won't allow the test to be terminated unless Jasmuheen herself says she wants it to be stopped! Jasmuheen said of one of those dupes who died, that she was "not coming from a place of integrity and did not have the right motivation." I believe that Jasmuheen should be allowed — even encouraged — to demonstrate that she herself has both the required integrity and the correct motivation.

This apparent inconsistency actually is consistent with another principle — concern for the lives harmed by claimants — that he states in an earlier commentary about Kolodzey:

We are often criticized for going after only the silly people, the "easy" targets: dowsers, homeopaths, "applied kinesiology" practitioners, magnet gurus, etc. But these claims cost lives and tax dollars, so must be dealt with.

Another criticism levelled at Randi has been that he "rigs" the tests so that he knows the results ahead of time. This assertion actually confounds two separate issues: that he somehow controls the tests, and that he freely admits that he knows the results ahead of time. His response to this recurring criticism is that he uses scientific, double-blind tests and states, "...my tests are designed and approved independently from me, and are, and must be, accepted without reservation by the applicant, after which the tests are carried out by an independent party, I remove myself entirely from any part of the process... The test protocol is satisfactorily developed and agreed upon by JREF, Randi and the testee. Here's an example of how the initial application process might take place: . It is then judged and binding by an independent third party.

This "test rigging" criticism is based upon a quote by Randi that is often taken out of context: "I always have an out." According to Randi, the full quote "I always have an out — I'm right!" refers to the fact that his tests are always designed to be cheat-proof. He's also said it in reference to his magic show.

The issue of "controlling" the tests is often expressed by criticizing Randi's insistence that each test must be customized for each applicant, leading to the charge of "changing the rules." Randi counters that a test for someone who dowses for gold or water cannot be anything like a test for living without food, seeing while blindfolded, or reading people's minds. In JREF's words "Applicant must state clearly in advance, and applicant and JREF will agree upon, what powers or abilities will be demonstrated, the limits of the proposed demonstration (so far as time, location and other variables are concerned) and what will constitute both a positive and a negative result.

Awards
Randi has received awards in recognition of his efforts to promote skepticism and humanism, including:

MacArthur Foundation fellowship award, 1986
Richard Dawkins Award, 2003 (inaugural award)
The American Humanist Association gave Mr. Randi their Humanist Distinguished Service Award in 1990
CSICOP Fellow
He has also been handing out his own annual "Pigasus Awards" (originally known as "Uri Awards") to mock parapsychological frauds and credulous acceptance or promotion of pseudoscience.

Quotations

"No amount of belief makes something a fact."

"To recognize that nature has neither a preference for our species nor a bias against it takes only a little courage."

"I am in a very peculiar business: I travel all over the world telling people what they should already know."

"Science is best defined as a careful, disciplined, logical search for knowledge about any and all aspects of the universe, obtained by examination of the best available evidence and always subject to correction and improvement upon discovery of better evidence. What's left is magic. And it doesn't work."

"Religion is based upon blind faith supported by no evidence. Science is based upon confidence that results from evidence -- and that confidence can be modified and/or reversed by further observations and experimentation. Science approaches truth, closer and closer, by hard dedicated work. Religion already has it all decided, and it's "in the book. It's dogma, unchangeable, and unaffected by reality and whatever facts we come upon in the real world."

"There was a small boy on crutches. I do not know his name, and I suspect I never will. But I will never forget his face, his smile, his sorrow. He is one of the millions robbed of hope and dignity by charlatans discussed in this book. Wherever and whoever he is, I apologize to him for not having been able to protect him from such an experience. I humbly dedicate this book to him and to the many others who have suffered because the rest of us began caring too late."

 
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The information on which this page is based has been drawn from research on the Internet. For example, much use has been made of Wikipedia.org, to whom we are greatly indebted. Since the information recording process at Wikipedia is prone to changes in the data, please check at Wikipedia for current information. If you find something on this page to be in error, please contact us.
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