Debunking Debunkers

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Debunking BannerHere’s a fabulous and fascinating talk from Dr. Rupert Sheldrake in which a true scientist takes Fundamentalist Materialism’s cadre of professional skeptics out to the woodshed to wittily rip them a new one.

Of special interest is the way Randall Zwinge (aka The Amazing Randi) reveals himself as an out-and-out liar, particularly when cornered with facts.

For more on the blatant fraudulence, duplicity, deceitfulness, and deception of the charlatan Zwinge, including his phony “Million Dollar Challenge,” see my own book on telekinesis… Bending Spoons With Your Mind (And Other Miracles of Mind Power)

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And now enjoy Rupert Sheldrake’s engrossing and engaging talk that exposes the fakery of the people who ignore science and shout “fakery” whenever they cannot fit obvious facts into their drastically dogmatic belief system.
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The Late Randall Zwinge, A Man Who Conned Millions Of Dollars Out Of Followers…


James Randi’s Problem

The problem with James Randi and his foundation on the paranormal, pseudoscientific and supernatural.

by Skylaire Alfvegren

Dogmatists of any stripe are fundamentally wounded, whether they’re Islamic terrorists, Christian abortion-clinic bombers or magicians with an axe to grind.

Picture this: A little boy with an imagination and a sense of wonder begins futzing with a deck of cards, sleight of hand … as that boy delves deeper into magic, it’s revealed to be nothing more than a world of smoke and mirrors, of “cons” and “marks.” Stage magicians, like lawyers and secret agents, make a living from deception, so perhaps they assume everyone else does, as well. From that perspective, the connection between stage magic and skepticism makes sense.

What’s more important, what science knows or what it doesn’t (yet)? What’s more beneficial to scientific inquiry, an open mind or a sense of self-importance? These are questions that beg to be asked of the skeptical movement, which convenes in Las Vegas this weekend for The Amazing Meeting, a benefit for the James Randi Educational Foundation. (The conference takes place at the Stardust and features Murray Gell-Mann, Nadine Strossen, the Mythbusters, Penn & Teller, Mac King, Jamy Ian Swiss, Phil Plait, Julia Sweeney, and Michael Shermer.) After all, while it’s true that opportunists profit from the murky worlds of the paranormal and the unknown, and that some people will believe anything, it’s also true that scientists have falsified data to get grants or overlooked inconvenient phenomenon to maintain the status quo in their field.

Well, as iconoclastic writer Charles Fort once noted, “Witchcraft always has a hard time, until it becomes established and changes its name.”

But let’s not generalize. Let’s examine the contributions made by Randi, the skeptical movement’s leading figure, to science and objective thought.

Randi can be eloquent and is quite the showman; he is also wildly intelligent—he got a MacArthur genius grant in 1986. But according to his detractors, Randi’s main qualities are his malice and hypocrisy. He’s hell-bent on tearing apart anyone he deems a kook, including distinguished scientists and Nobel Prize-winners. This is amusing, as Randi has no scientific credentials whatsoever (although he did once write an astrology column for a Canadian tabloid and host a paranormal-themed radio show).

In 1997, Randi threatened to fly to Sri Lanka to persuade Arthur C. Clarke to stop advocating cold fusion. (Clarke, a genuine scientific visionary, inventor of the communication satellite and award-winning author, received degrees, with honors, in physics and mathematics.) In 2001, on a BBC Radio program, Randi attacked Brian Josephson, Nobel Prize-winner and professor of physics at Cambridge University.

Why? Josephson was interested in the possible connections between quantum physics and consciousness. Randi also has a penchant for lawsuits—he once tried to sue a writer known for covering the UFO beat, simply because he printed some unflattering but verifiable information about the magician. Randi left the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) because of all the litigation against him.

Charismatic psychic Uri Geller, whose abilities have been tested by a number of prestigious laboratories, has probably been Randi’s biggest target. In the process of attempting to discredit the psychic, Randi has also attacked institutions, like Stanford, intrigued by Geller’s alleged abilities. He defamed two eminent scientists, Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, calling them “incompetent.” At the time, author Robert Anton Wilson wryly observed, “Randi was not there, yet he claims to know what was going on [during the experiment] better than the two scientists who were supervising it. The only way he could know better … is if he had 100 percent accurate telepathy.”

Randi is probably best known for his infamous million-dollar challenge to “any person or persons who can demonstrate any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability of any kind” under what Randi refers to as “satisfactory observing conditions.”

Ray Hyman, a leading Fellow of CSICOP, has pointed out that Randi’s challenge is illegitimate from a scientific standpoint. “Scientists don’t settle issues with a single test … Proof in science happens through replication.” If Randi’s challenge was legitimate, he would set up a double-blind experiment which he himself wouldn’t judge. But considering his hostility toward scientists receptive to paranormal phenomena, this doesn’t seem likely. His “challenge” is rigged, yet he can crow that his prize goes unclaimed because paranormal phenomena simply does not exist.

Compare this outlook to the philosophy adopted by followers of Charles Fort. Forteans (a term coined by screenwriter Ben Hecht, who, along with Theodore Dreiser, H.L. Mencken and Oliver Wendell Holmes, was a member of the original Fortean Society, formed upon Fort’s death in 1932) entertain the notion that anything is possible until proven otherwise.

Some are scientists, some are street musicians. They are neither gullible nor pompous, neither “true believers” in — nor coldly dismissive of—anything. And they have a sense of humor largely missing from Randi’s crowd.

“In and of itself,” says a man once denigrated by the skeptical movement, “skepticism has made no actual contribution to science, just as music reviews in the newspaper make no contribution to the art of composition.”

The universe is full of mystery, as well as charlatans. It is up to the individual to weigh evidence objectively. Just don’t use your intuition to do so, or you could be the skeptics’ next target.

This article appeared at on January 26, 2006

Scientist Rupert Sheldrake On James Randi

James “The Amazing” Randi
And Dogs Who Know More Than He Does

by Rupert Sheldrake

Excerpted from Appendix 3 of:
Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
by Rupert Sheldrake, Broadway Books, 2011

James Randi is a showman, conjurer and a former Principal Investigator of CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). For years, he frequently appeared in the media as a debunker of the paranormal. He was named “Skeptic of the Century” in the January 2000 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, and in 2003 received the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance International.

In 1996 he founded the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and is most famous for offering a $1 million “paranormal challenge” to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of a paranormal event under conditions to which he agrees.

Randi has no scientific credentials, and has disarmingly said of himself, “I’m a trickster, I’m a cheat, I’m a charlatan, that’s what I do for a living.”

In January, 2000, Dog World magazine published an article on the sixth sense of dogs, which discussed my research. The author contacted Randi to ask his opinion. Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, “We at the JREF have tested these claims. They fail.” Randi also claimed to have debunked one of my experiments with Jaytee, in which Jaytee went to the window to wait for his owner when she set off to come home at a randomly-selected time, but did not do so beforehand. In Dog World, Randi stated, “Viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by.”

I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information. 

I then asked members of the JREF Scientific Advisory Board to help me find out more about this claim. They advised Randi to reply.

In an email on February 6, 2000 Randi told me that the tests with dogs he referred to were not done at the JREF, but took place “years ago” and were “informal”. He said they involved two dogs belonging to a friend of his that he observed over a two-week period. All records had been lost. He wrote: “I overstated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained.” 

I also asked him for details of tape he claimed to have watched, so I could compare his observations of Jaytee’s behaviour with my own. He was unable to give a single detail, and under pressure from the JREF Advisory Board, he had to admit that he had never seen the tape. His claim was a lie.

For many years the million dollar “prize” has been Randi’s stock-in-trade as a media skeptic, but even other skeptics are skeptical about its value as anything but a publicity stunt. For example, CSICOP founding member Dennis Rawlins pointed out that Randi acts as “policeman, judge and jury” and quoted him as saying “I always have an out.” Ray Hyman, a professor of psychology and Fellow of CSICOP, pointed out, this “prize” cannot be taken seriously from a scientific point of view: “Scientists don’t settle issues with a single test, so even if someone does win a big cash prize in a demonstration, this isn’t going to convince anyone. Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments.”

Nevertheless I asked the Smart family if they would be willing to have Jaytee tested by Randi. But they wanted nothing to do with him. Jaytee had already taken part in some tests organized by a skeptic, Richard Wiseman, as discussed below, and the Smart family were disgusted by the way he had misrepresented these tests in the media.

In 2008, Alex Tsakiris, who runs a U.S.-based “Open Source Science Project” and a podcast called Skeptiko, started replicating experiments with dogs that knew when their owners were coming home, posting videos of tests on the internet. Tsakiris asked Dr. Clive Wynne, an expert on dog behaviour at the University of Florida, to participate in this research, and Wynne agreed. Randi challenged Tsakiris to apply for the Million Dollar Challenge, Tsakiris took him up on it, and asked Randi by email if Dr. Wynne’s involvement was acceptable to him. Randi eventually replied, “You appear to think that your needs are uppermost on my schedule. What would give you that impression? Looking into a silly dog claim is among my lowest priority projects. When I’m prepared to give you some time, I’ll let you know. There are some forty plus persons ahead of you.”

For me, the most surprising feature of the Randi phenomenon is that so many journalists and fellow skeptics take him seriously.

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