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Sheldrake vs Randi: The Letters

A couple of weeks ago I noted a minor brouhaha developing between James Randi and Rupert Sheldrake: in a post titled “Bull**** Artist?“, one of Randi’s underlings described a “rawtha angry letter” written by Sheldrake to The Skeptic. At the time I asked Rupert Sheldrake if I could publish the letter (given that he’s one of the least “angry” individuals you’re likely to meet), but after conferring with Chris French (prominent UK skeptic, scientist, and editor of The Skeptic), Rupert suggested that we just wait for Chris to publish his letter (and Randi’s reply) on the website of The Skeptic.

Chris French has now published the letters as promised. As I expected, Rupert Sheldrake’s letter is not “angry” in tone (“disagreeing” does not equal “angry”). What he does do is question Chris French’s “reverential” interview questions when talking to James Randi, with no challenging of his qualifications or approach to skepticism:

Randi is often rude and offensive. Unfortunately many of his fellow sceptics let him get away with it, and treat him with adulation. His presence on the cover of the new-look Skeptic together with Chris French’s uncritical interview helps to build up this iconic status. Randi may have done a useful job in exposing fraudulent showmen, but he has no scientific credentials, and has made fraudulent claims himself. (For one example, see

One of Sheldrake’s more incisive points is that Randi “awarded” him a ‘Pigasus Award’ in 2007 for his research into telephone telepathy, saying “this man’s delusions increase as time goes by, and he comes up with sillier ideas every year.” The point to note being that Chris French has worked with Sheldrake on that very same research.

Randi’s response is odd. It goes on at length about Sheldrake misquoting him (referring to a brochure handed out during a workshop at The Amazing Meeting, when Sheldrake doesn’t seem to attribute the quote to him apart from a minor link (which is probably justifiable given that Randi handed out the brochure at a workshop he was hosting). He then explains how Sheldrake misrepresented his lack of research into animal ESP, failing to mention that he has previously apologized for his lack of research (“it was rash and improper of me to do so”) after being advised to present his evidence by the JREF Scientific Advisory Board. He follows that up by saying that Sheldrake’s accusation that he (Randi) hadn’t watched the tape of his canine telepathy research was “not true”, going on to say that “A colleague of mine in Europe told me that he’d seen the tape record.” WTF?

Sometimes I think Randi counts on his readers just taking his word for things, rather than actually reading background information (borne out by the comments to this story in which a number seem to think that Sheldrake didn’t account for long-distance hearing in his experiments). Also see my comment below pointing out specific examples.

  1. Taking Randi at his word…
    “Sometimes I think Randi counts on his readers just taking his word for things, rather than actually reading background information”

    Reading? Who could be bothered doing that? Dude, that’s words an’ shit! Heaps of them! Then there’s all that thinking, maybe a little cognitive dissonance, maybe a little questioning your own trajectory in life. Screw that!

    I’m just gonna let JREF do all the thinking for me. The same way Pat Robertson’s clergy let him take care of making up their minds.

    *goes back to playing Halo and punching cones*

  2. Sleight of hand
    Reading over this all again, including the infamous TAM document, it has become clear that Randi has a simple MO. He bull****s. He gets caught out. He then actually brings the focus on the evidence which clearly shows that he was bull****ing, while saying “despicable lies!”. His minions apparently put Randi’s words above the actual evidence, because they seem to miss it completely.

    For example, in his letter he actually links directly to Sheldrake’s page which shows that he is bull****ing, as he is in the process of doing it. Balls.

    Specific examples follow (match numbers of bolded sections):


    Randi’s letter:

    Let me briefly explain the grudge that Rupert Sheldrake has going against me. First, from his article at

    The January 2000 issue of Dog World magazine included an article on a possible sixth sense in dogs, which discussed some of my research. In this article Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, “We at the JREF [James Randi Educational Foundation] have tested these claims. They fail.” No details were given of these tests.

    Clever. This implies that I was referring to the specific tests that Sheldrake has claimed to have done. I was referring to general tests that the JREF has done over many years involving animals, particularly dogs**1**. To have gone into details of all these tests, would have been very extensive. A search of our site would have supplied him with all the details he could possibly wish, or I’d have supplied them to him for a simple request.**2** That’s what we do at the JREF.


    From the Sheldrake link that *Randi mentions* in his letter:

    I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information too.**2**

    I then asked members of the JREF Scientific Advisory Board to help me find out more about this claim. They did indeed help by advising Randi to reply. In an email sent on Februaury 6, 2000 he told me that the tests he referred to were not done at the JREF**1**, but took place “years ago” and were “informal”. 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. It was rash and improper of me to do so.”

  3. What’s amazing about Randi?
    I really do not understand what is so special about this guy(Randi) in the scientific community. His minions are really nothing more than a bunch of psuedo-skeptical followers that he has somehow turned into something of a cult, while the JREF appears to be nothing more than a bastion of psuedo-skeptical science, at best. I’ve read a bunch of articles about Randi at (hope you don’t mind me posting the link) and all in all, as Greg pointed out, Randi comes across as a BS artist, adept at twisting the truth, and his statements when he gets busted publicly. How could anyone really accept what this man has to say, much less his uneducated opinion (in regards to his lack of scientific degrees), after he seems to consistently gets caught distorting the facts? He strikes me as shady at best…he should take his money and put it towards running for government as a politician, a job he seems made for.

    Good article Greg!

    1. To GaryP
      I sincerely hope Randi doesn’t read your comment and succomb to the idea of running for politics!! Perhaps he hasn’t thought of it yet, and we’re in enough trouble now!

      Regards, Kathrinn

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