Randi's Wrong Again...

Legendary 'skeptic' James "The Amazing" Randi has recently been posting videos to YouTube, in which he gives his thoughts on certain topics. A couple of weeks ago, he discussed the "woo-woo" area of parapsychology:

I've remarked previously about Randi's verbal sleight-of-hand, and there's plenty in this particular vodcast. Considering that it has had over 10,000 views, it might be worth pointing out some of his best work.

First off, we are informed that there are just two types of parapsychologist:

One kind, goes through life constantly deceiving themselves, making excuses and rationalizations for failures, and yet turning out many books and papers on their work, always promising further progress - if only sufficient funding were to be provided! And that usually follows, because there are lots of wishful thinkers out there...with money.

The other kind of parapsychologist spends some time at it, then looks at the evidence more closely, and opts to take up another profession. Sterling examples of this reversal can be found in Dr Susan Blackmore, and Dr Chris French - UK scientists who saw the train wreck they could have been part of, but left the track in time to avoid the inevitable collision with the real world.

So, basically if a parapsychologist has not become a 'skeptic', then they are self-deceiving and seeking money. Simple. I do find it odd that Randi considers Dr Chris French to have taken up "another profession", considering he's currently working with Rupert Sheldrake on telephone telepathy research and recently published research into possible causes of haunted houses. He certainly may have modified his opinion, but he has not changed profession. And we've discussed Susan Blackmore's Damascus-road experience previously here on TDG.

Furthermore, I'd imagine a few parapsychologists would have choked on their coffee reading that requests for funding are usually met by wishful thinkers with money...

Randi goes on to illustrate the lack of positive results in parapsychology:

In fact, both Duke University and Stanford, in the USA, gave up their many years of involvement in parapsychology, simply because they had no positive results to support their continued involvement. And the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab, known as P.E.A.R, the 'Pear Lab', closed down operation just recently, after almost 30 years in business. And for the same reason

Randi is either uninformed on the issue, or being deceptive - he can choose either horn of that dilemma. Duke University's parapsychology lab certainly closed down decades ago, but not because of a lack of results. Joseph Rhine moved DU's parapsychology lab off-campus, and continues to this day as the Rhine Research Centre. Rhine's research reported positive results. Stanford University's interest in parapsychology was disrupted when the Stanford Research Institute separated from the University and became SRI International. SRI International was the nursery for the Stargate remote viewing project, of which statistician Jessica Utts concluded: "Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well-established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance...there is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof, since there is little more to be offered to anyone who does not accept the current collection of data." That's a little hard to reconcile with Randi's statement of "no positive results"...

Randi finishes by mentioning PEAR, claiming they closed for the same reason (that is, no positive results). That's a little at odds with the comments of PEAR founder Dr Robert Jahn:

For 28 years, we've done what we wanted to do, and there's no reason to stay and generate more of the same data. If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will... It's time for a new era; for someone to figure out what the implications of our results are for human culture, for future study, and - if the findings are correct - what they say about our basic scientific attitude.

James Randi has a history of similar mis-statements of fact in regards to parapsychology - last year in a newsletter he referred to Dr Dean Radin's experiments in presentiment as "his latest distraction", after negative results in other experiments. Radin had in fact been investigating (and publishing positive results) on presentiment for 10 years. Additionally, Radin had reported positive results in his other areas of research. Again, either Randi has no idea of the scientific research being published by parapsychologists (in which case he has no authority to criticise it), or he is deliberately misleading readers/viewers.

And yet the 'defenders of science and truth' admire him so. Quite amusing really.

Previously on TDG:

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jupiter.enteract's picture
Member since:
21 January 2005
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1 week 21 hours

Good research, Greg. It's interesting that Randi keeps up with this sort of behavior after being called out on it after all these years, even by some colleagues. One has to wonder what the psychology behind this could be. I'd be curious to know more about his upbringing--especially its religious side.

(Interesting, too, that Randi and Radin are anagrams of one another, eh?)

Ray G.

bladerunner's picture
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1 May 2004
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22 weeks 4 days

About his religion and funding. He's really gone off track over the years. Over and over. Is there more to Randi then meets the eye, or has he become a "Crackpot" himself.

pacificwhim's picture
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21 June 2007
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1 year 22 weeks

I honestly think that after all these years, Randi believes to a great extent the misinformation that he is spreading about Stanford, Radin, and all the rest. I suspect he's developed a sort of "perceptual blindness" about areas that contradict his cherished skeptical beliefs. Let's face it, he's like any adherent of any religion: he has a great deal of personal investment in his beliefs and will go to any length to ensure that he never encounters cognitive dissonance. So while it's tempting to get angry at his falsehoods, I feel sorry for the old man. I really don't think he can help himself.

RonB's picture
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19 August 2004
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4 years 25 weeks

When Randi first started he was trying to point out crackpots such as Yuri Geller (who is a crackpot) and he has pointed out some that are rightly better seen in the light of day. Then it seems as time went on he started on a holy war against all things that go against basic common sense. The problem is that basic common sense isn't always reality.

He's not a scientist and he started stepping into areas where he is not an expert. If he had stayed in the areas of slight of hand and magic, he would have been fine I think. He's way way out of his appropriate knowledge zone and he's covering it over with misinformation. It's really sad, he's not stupid. It's something else. Bravado? Money? I don't know. But it's certainly not reality or common sense any more.

AlphaMale's picture
Member since:
25 January 2009
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5 years 6 weeks

Greg,
Do a rebuttal video of his. Take the guy head on. Obviously he's willfully deceiving people, I wouldn't offer him the benefit of the doubt. And even if it's ignorence on his part that's no excuse.

speculacrum's picture
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3 February 2009
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3 years 3 weeks

He simply DOESN'T BELIEVE Radin ever got any true positive results, he DOESN'T BELIEVE PEAR's nor Rhine's results.
He's not at all oblivious, he's just so certain they are either invalid by false methodology or experimenter's effect, or even plain lies (and has the support of some prominent Ph.D's), that he thinks:
"They manipulate the results of their own experiments, manipulate the naive and lie to the public. And they do it for the money. Why should I respect what they report or say or do?"
As a smart older man with a conscience of a lifetime deceiver, he has a hard time (don't we all sometimes) to make a distinction between true explorers and infiltrating crackpots, and sincerely finds it to be a kind of his little personal war.
"They're playing it rough. Why shouldn't I?"
That's his POV and his motive.
We all must kind of understand him. He's actually precious, but that aspect is fading year after year.

(Greetings from Serbia! I'm all new here.)

jupiter.enteract's picture
Member since:
21 January 2005
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1 week 21 hours

You may be right--but I think it's also possible that some skeptics become so invested in their viewpoint because it's become their CAREER--and thus supports them financially. So acknowledging the reality of PSI would essentially be undercutting their entire livelihood.

By way of contrast, one often hears skeptics, and or even newscasters in the media, question the integrity of certain people or places on the basis of "profit motive"--e.g., the people of Roswell stand to make money off of aliens, hence it's in their interest to support the extraterrestrial hypnothesis, so their opinions on the subject can't really be trusted, etc., etc.

But that sword cuts both ways. For example, Randi and Michael Schermer make their living off of unyielding skepticism, so this automatically compromises their objectivity, and likely precludes them from judging these phenomena honestly. So, there are many things which go into being a "true dis-believer," but this is certainly one we have to take into account.

Ray G.

speculacrum's picture
Member since:
3 February 2009
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3 years 3 weeks

well, absolutely

as another twist, one needs to believe in whatever he does for serious profit. We all need that much self-respect. And the bigger the money, the stronger the faith. If the job happens to be a viewpoint, it inescapably gets rigid and eventually cracky.

RonB's picture
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19 August 2004
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4 years 25 weeks

Just to add to my comments earlier...

In recent years the rhetoric coming from Randi and now Phil Plait is something other than just invested viewpoint. It really seems to be a directed and planned method of gathering people to a cause. It's, "cammon everybody march along with us!" It used to be just someone pointing out an injustice or something that wasn't true. But suddenly they are using the same phrases over and over and the same rhetoric...it just seems fishy and focused. With Randi it's either invested viewpoint, bravado, or money. But I have a sneaking suspicion that money has become the main thrust as of late.

I think Phil Plait is there for the money short and simple. He's been indoctrinated, he's not the same guy he was when it was Bad Astronomy.