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Video Magician & Investigator James Randi Talks Directly to You (Video) 259

Last week James Randi answered your questions. But that was text, and he's a performer ("The Amazing Randi"), so you need to hear the man talk to get his full flavor. He's a good talker, too. So Rob Rozeboom (samzenpus) got on Skype with The Amazing Randi to talk about his exploits, including his debunking of a whole bunch of (alleged) frauds, ranging from Uri Geller to Sylvia Browne. The resulting interview was so long and so strong that we cut it in half. Today you see Part One. Tomorrow you'll see Part Two. (The video's here now; sorry about the delay.)

Rozeboom: For the few people who don’t know who you are, could you just give me a little background as to who you are and what you do?

Randi: When I was born at a very early age in a log cabin I helped my dad build, because we were poor and couldn’t afford to have children, so the people next door had me. This is an old routine I used to do. So we won’t bother with that.

My name is James Randi, and I am a magician by trade. At the moment, since the age of 60, I am now 84, going on 100 as I like to say. I have dedicated my existence to the James Randi Educational Foundation. This foundation started up quite some years ago, now in order to provide an alternative explanation of what people in the general public all over the world were considering to be paranormal events. And since this is very popular with the media, who generally speaking, don’t care whether or not what they report is true or not, they only want to know if it is going to give them enough time, 14 seconds or so on the evening newscast or on radio or whatever other medium they are involved with.

So we’ve had an uphill battle of it and we’re now well-funded, because of the fact that we hold a conference every year at Las Vegas called The Amazing Meeting. My title incidentally as a magician is the Amazing Randi, though I don’t use that anymore because I am not performing as a conjuror or a magician. I have dedicated my existence for what that’s worth to explaining to people when they ask or if they have any curiosity in that regard as to whether or not these things are genuine. And my conclusion so far has been, and as I say, I’m 85, that is a long time, a lot of experience in this field, I have never found any so-called paranormal event or ability or performance to be the real thing.

That doesn’t mean there won’t. I can’t prove a negative. I can prove some negatives. For example, I am not a giraffe. Because if you look up a definition of a giraffe, and you won’t do that in a dictionary, you should do that in a zoological source, because dictionaries don’t define, they only give common usage. I find that I have a much more attractive neck, I believe, although the giraffe has certain advantages over me. And I won’t get into all of those. But by definition, I am not a giraffe. So some negatives can be proven.

But to prove there is no God, that there is no telepathy, there is no ESP, there are no clairvoyant powers, or whatever is impossible to prove that there aren’t. So we offer our $1 billion prize which has been on offer for quite some years now. We offer that prize for evidence that there is such a thing, because we are not claiming there isn’t. We merely say if you say there is, establish the proof for it.

We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of applications for it over the years; no one has come anywhere near to winning it. And I must add that you can’t really come close to winning it; you have to win it or not win it. Because we design all the tests that we use for these people. We design them in a such a way that the conclusion is obvious. In other words, I can try by jumping out this window, go right ahead, oops you lose and all this kind of thing. We want it to be evident, self evident, without having to have any jury or panel or a set of judges. It doesn’t have to be any decision made, they either have done it, or they have not done it. So we design our tests that way.

Rozeboom: No problem, no problem.

Randi: I have a recording in the other room. I had to turn that off.

Rozeboom: So how many years did you work as a magician before you started the foundation?

Randi: Well, I started as a magician at the age of about 14 or so, I guess doing casual shows, nothing serious, and continued until the age of 60. And at that point, I decided it was time to hang up the straitjackets, so to speak, because I was doing an escape act largely. And I’ve been doing that ever since. So you can subtract 60 from 84, I will let you do the mathematics.

Rozeboom: So Houdini was pretty famous for exposing spiritualists back in the day as well. Do you think that magicians have a better chance or are better at finding fraud than most people?

Randi: Well, yes, because they know how it is done you see. Not only that, the magician has a very specific turn of mind. There are many magicians who don’t care about the work that I do at all, they think that it is negative, that they should be able to keep people ____6:45 and fake their results and say they are just the real thing, and they are the people that don’t associate with me, and I don’t associate with them. They are not very much in favor. Many of them are not very much in favor of what I do. But others are enthusiastic supporters, of course. So I’ve been at this for many years and I’ve sorted them out into the shut-eyes and the open-eyes and we won’t get into all the definitions of it.

Rob Rozeboom: Uri Geller was probably the one that’s most famous for you getting started; you talk to him anymore?

Randi: I haven’t spoken to him in quite some time. Though through intermediaries we have been in touch. He is not a psychic any more. I don’t know whether you knew that or not, he is now a mystifier.

Rozeboom: What is the difference?

Randi: You tell me. The point is that I suspect strongly that he is trying to get off the hook that he impaled himself on at the very beginning of his career. He told everybody that it is absolutely genuine. I’ve got about 60 examples of it in my forthcoming book which is A Magician In The Laboratory. And I just got to show that Uri Geller is still claiming that he doesn’t know how to do tricks and doesn’t do tricks. He simply has these wonderful paranormal powers. But he is trying to get off the hook. And he can’t do that. If he actually were ever to come out and admit that he is just doing tricks, and has always just done tricks, he would be sued by the populace of the world.

Countries, organizations, institutions, schools, colleges, universities, what not and private individuals have spent literally millions of dollars investigating what became known as the Geller Effect. And he has said consistently that he doesn’t do tricks, doesn’t know to how do tricks. That means that he has taken money under false pretexts because most of these people, in one way or the other have paid him for his services. Now there is nothing wrong with paying someone for his or her services. Of course, that is what is called business. I am all in favor of it. People do it with me as well. So that is all very fair and good, but swindling people by fakery, by lying to them, and blatantly saying this is real when it is not real, that is reprehensible to me, and I fought that for many years.

Now because he did cause a lot of grief. A lot of grief for individuals who put money out with psychics and such because they saw his example and said, oh well he is only ____9:44 advertising and they will go for their fake ministers, preachers out there who say they can heal people by touching them on the forehead or gesturing at them or saying be healed or some such thing. They go for all that sort of thing. And largely because he has created an atmosphere in which people have him as an example of something that they believe to be genuine. And scientific organizations have spent a lot of money on this sort of thing too. I think they would be in their lawyers’ offices within 20 minutes.

Rozeboom: Besides Uri, have you dealt with other sort of famous psychics?

Randi: Don’t call him Yu ri, that is the Russian version, his name is Oori.

Rozeboom: Oori. How about Mr. Geller?

Randi: Okay.

Rozeboom: Besides him have you dealt with other famous psychics?

Randi: Oh yes. John Edward, Sylvia Browne. The whole gamut of them. It is a vast spectrum of these people who like to pretend that they have psychic powers, and people like to believe that they have. And Sylvia Browne is, by her own admission she is booked up until the middle of next year. Next year. 2014. As she can’t accept any more claims on her talent. She gets $800 to talk to someone over the telephone for 20 minutes, and she does a reading so called over the telephone. Now most of that reading consists of giving them things like, we should take less of ____11:26 I can sense from the vibrations that you need this. This is not only improper in several aspects; legally you can’t prescribe things to people who are paying a sum of money for it, unless you have a medical degree, and I don’t believe that Sylvia Browne has a medical degree. Or a degree of any kind as a matter of fact. But she does see things, she makes a great deal of money in it, at $800 a pop, and she is on the phone with you for 20 minutes, and she has got all day to do it, except when she is out lecturing some place and making hard cash; she doesn’t have to wait for the credit card to come through. You can imagine the money that she has amassed over the years, and continues to amass because she is giving people the impression that it is the real thing.

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Magician & Investigator James Randi Talks Directly to You (Video)

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  • Re:Damn, I missed it (Score:5, Informative)

    by dingen ( 958134 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @03:31PM (#43341067)

    He says "I don't know" all the time. He also explicitly doesn't say he knows supernatural stuff doesn't exist. He just asks that if you say you have a supernatural ability, you have to be able to prove it. Many have tried, but so far nobody has ever been able to do so.

  • Re:Damn, I missed it (Score:4, Informative)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @04:06PM (#43341459) Homepage

    I have the "ability" to affect *some* street lights. It's always the same ones *but* it doesn't always work.

    *facepalm* Otherwise known as dodgy street lights which would be going on and off even if you weren't around, only then you're not around to see it.

  • Re:Damn, I missed it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Xtifr ( 1323 ) on Tuesday April 02, 2013 @06:05PM (#43342683) Homepage

    No one has ever taken the official challenge.

    Because no one has ever passed the preliminaries.

    The JREF is also suspiciously silent on the number of preliminary tests conducted every year.

    No they're not. Nobody has taken the preliminary since they introduced the "you must have reasonable documentation of something worth testing" requirement a while back. There are plenty of ways to provide documentation: letters from a local college or university, passing the tests offered by many smaller skeptic groups (which will give you some cash to continue your efforts), or even mainstream media news coverage. I only looked into it briefly out of curiousity, and I was able to find that out with just a little bit of investigation. The fact that you think it's some great mystery doesn't speak well to your investigative powers.

    They do, however, try to run at least one informal test each year at TAM.

    He's already shown that he's willing to defraud the federal government (example: Jose Alvarez).

    A publicity stunt designed to show that people are still too gullible, perpetrated on Australian media somehow magically becomes "defrauding" the "federal government"? Not only are your facts wrong, but your butt-hurtedness is showing. Which sacred cow of yours did he gore?

    That they're completely silent on the activities related to their most well-known and well publicized function speaks volumes.

    A) They're not completely silent on it, and B) however well-known the million-dollar-challenge, it's still nothing but a publicity stunt that has little or nothing to do with the Randi Foundation's primary purpose of educating the public. It serves its purpose quite well just by sitting there, unchallenged. The Randi Foundation's actual activities are well-documented and publicized. If they weren't, the Foundation would be in serious legal hot water.

BLISS is ignorance.