Argument # 30: The James Randi Million Dollar Psychic Challenge argument
In case you don’t know, James Randi is the most celebrated of the organized skeptics who founded the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). Skilled and versed in the art of stage magic, Mr. Randi claims to be better able to detect fraud and trickery from psychics and mediums better than scientists can. He gives speeches attempting to “educate” (or brainwash rather, in my view) the public about psychics and paranormal phenomena, which he claims is all deception or self-delusion. He has written books such as An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural and Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions, made a PBS documentary called “Secrets of the Psychics”, attacked the reputation of psychics and healers such as Israeli-born spoon bender Uri Geller, debated with psychics on CNN’s Larry King Live, etc.
In the original version of this book back in 2001, I decided not to address this argument because I didn’t like to create whole arguments against specific individuals. However, at this point the infamous James Randi and his supporters have made it practically unavoidable. He is so deeply publicly involved in debunking parapsychology in the media, that to ignore him would be tantamount to ignoring Darth Vader in Star Wars. Paranormal debunkers now commonly use Randi’s psychic challenge to argue that there are no genuine paranormal or psychic abilities, else they would apply for the challenge and win. Therefore, in this new edition of this book, I’ve had to add a section on it as it is one of the most often mentioned arguments by organized skeptics.
There are many obvious problems with this argument of course, since one magician with an axe to grind and hosting a publicity stunt does not debunk all the paranormal experiences in the world. They still happen everyday to people all over the world. Randi’s critics claim is mostly a publicity stunt for his career due to the fact that 1) Randi is extremely selective in who he tests, preferring to only test famous names to boost his own career, and that 2) there are many applicants who received no response after applying. Plus, based on numerous testimonials from challenge applicants and para-researchers, there is much circumstantial evidence that Randi is not that honest, for he has used plenty of deceptive and dishonest tactics in the past. There are many reports and analyses of him that indicate this and damage his credibility. I’ve provided a list of them below so you can research them yourself.
A cursory look at Randi’s articles on his website www.randi.org will reveal to any objective observer that although this man is very good at playing intellectual gymnastics in his commentaries and debates. He will do whatever it takes to win, even committing foul play. There is no question that his mind is made up and that he has an axe to grind.
In addition, Randi seems to have a tendency to distort facts for his purposes. For instance, Harold Puthoff, a researcher at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) which is famous for conducting experiments on remote viewing and Uri Geller’s psychic abilities, told me in an email:
“<< All the skeptics I've debated said that the SRI tests were totally discredited and debunked already. Is this true? >>
Not true at all. They just quote Randi and his pronouncements, e.g., in his book Flim Flam. In Flim Flam, he gives something like 28 debunking points, if my memory serves me correctly. I had the opportunity to confront Randi at a Parapsychology Association conference with proof in hand, and in tape-recorded interaction he admitted he was wrong on all the points. He even said he would correct them for the upcoming paperback being published by the CSICOP group. (He did not.)
In case one thinks that it was just a case of our opinions vs. his opinions, we chose for the list of incorrect points only those that could be independently verified. Examples: He said that in our Nature paper we verified Geller's metal-bending. Go to the paper, and you see that we said we were not able to obtain evidence for this. He said that a film of the Geller experiment made at SRI by famed photographer Zev Pressman was not made by him, but by us and we just put his name on it. We showed up with an affidavit by Pressman saying that indeed he did make the film. Etc., etc.
And telepathy researcher Rupert Sheldrake caught Randi lying on several instances about him:
“James Randi - a Conjurer Attempts to Debunk Research on Animals
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.
I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information too.
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, 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."
Randi also claimed to have debunked one of my experiments with the dog Jaytee, a part of which was shown on television. Jaytee went to the window to wait for his owner when she set off to come home, but did not do so before she set off. 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." This is simply not true, and Randi now admits that he has never seen the tape.”
So, if he lies, then why should anyone trust him in playing fairly in a million dollar challenge?
In his article CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview George Hansen cites in his footnotes a damaging admission from Randi:
“25 Randi’s antics should have come as no surprise to members of CSICOP because he has engaged in similar behavior in relation to psi research. Krippner (1977), Rao (1984), Targ and Puthoff (1977, pp. 182-186), and Tart (1982b) have all documented glaring errors of Randi. Dennis Stillings has demonstrated that “Randi is capable of gross distortion of facts” (Truzzi, 1987, p. 89). Randi has been quoted as saying, “I always have an out” with regard to his $10,000 challenge (Rawlins, 1981, p. 89). Puthoff and Targ (1977) documented a number of mistakes. In a published, handwritten, signed letter, Randi replied offering $1,000 if any claimed error could be demonstrated (see Fuller, 1979). Fuller proved Randi wrong. In a rejoinder to Puthoff and Targ (1977), Randi reversed himself (for a clear example, see point number 15 in Randi, 1982, p. 223). Randi should have paid the $1,000, but he never did.”
In response to Mr. Randi’s million dollar psychic challenge charade, Dr. Zammit has issued a million dollar counter-challenge to skeptics to disprove the afterlife evidence detailed in his book A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife. You can read the details of this challenge at: http://www.victorzammit.com/skeptics/challenge.html
In any case, I would say in conclusion that regardless of whether Randi’s psychic challenge is legit, I do not believe the fact that it is officially unwon to constitute proof that paranormal and psychic phenomena don’t exist, as some debunkers claim. Simply put, there are a variety of reasons why it would still be unwon, ranging from Randi’s own dishonesty and less than sincere motives, to tricks like perpetually raising the bar, as well as the spiritual principle that psychic abilities used for selfish motives or profit disconnect one from the higher source they emanate from. Furthermore, if you also pit the argument of the unwon challenge against the overwhelming anecdotal (majority population) and scientific evidence for psychic phenomena, it’s nothing in comparison. Simply put, one unwon public challenge by a debunker and magician does NOT invalidate the countless millions of paranormal experiences throughout world history, nor does it refute the years of replicable psi research done by Ganzfeld or PEAR experiments, among others.
Finally, in regard to CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal), one revealing thing needs to be said. Former CSICOP staff member Dennis Rawlins resigned after finding hard evidence of CSICOP intentionally suppressing its own findings which supported astrology (known as the "file drawer effect") during one of their initial investigations of Michel Gauquelin’s statistical research, thus proving the organization's true agenda was simply to discredit/debunk in any way possible rather than to find the truth, in order to appease its subscribers. You can read Rawlins' report “sTARBABY” at http://cura.free.fr/xv/14starbb.html. CSICOP has maintained of course, that it was all just a big misunderstanding. But what else do you expect them to say? Mr. Rawlins’ findings seem to be very sincere and unambiguous.
Also, for an in-depth analysis of CSICOP, see this article: http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/CSICOPoverview.htm
And speaking of astrology, skeptic and debunker Michael Shermer set up a double blind test for Astrologer Jeffrey Armstrong, who passed with flying colors, scoring a major victory for the validity of astrology. You can see the video clip of this test here, which includes a surprise twist at the end: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3N1dIUTbZTo
James Randi, Michael Shermer and the CSICOPers are highly selective with their skepticism. Not only do they not question their own beliefs, but they never challenge or apply skepticism to the status quo. Instead, they have a fanatical allegiance to it, evidenced by their behavior. A true skeptic examines all sides, including his own. But pseudoskeptics only point their skepticism at what they don't believe in, which everyone else does too. So what makes them different than anyone else then? Only one thing: The SIDE they're on. In this case, they are on the side of authority, orthodoxy and materialism. That is why their skepticism and critical examination is ONLY directed at anything and anyone that challenges the status quo, but NEVER at the status quo itself. In essence, that makes them "establishment defenders" (or establishment whores), not real skeptics.
That is why you will never see Randi, Shermer or the CSICOP crowd apply any skepticism, criticism or condemnation toward orthodoxy or establishment. They hold that side to be blameless and infallible, not overtly, but by their selective skepticism. And they take on faith anything that the establishment says as true, with zero skepticism. In other words, the official version of everything is ALWAYS the truth to them, and never to be questioned. You can see this in ALL their publications, writings, interviews and speeches, where the official version of anything is NEVER questioned. Instead, one side is always right to them (the official version, materialistic paradigm) and the other always wrong (paranormal or conspiratorial claims). Simply put, their skepticism can never be used to question the status quo, only to defend it.
Now, what kind of skepticism or critical thinking is that? Is that the mark of a freethinker or truth seeker? I don't think so.
This is why not only are they against all validity of the paranormal, but also against all claims of conspiracy as well, which are not even paranormal in nature. In their view, anyone that challenges the system or the official version is automatically discredited, regardless of whether their claims are true, credible or backed by evidence. And this includes former high ranking government officials as well.
For those of you who have followed the work of Randi, Shermer or CSICOP, ask yourself this: Have you ever seen them criticize anything of the establishment, including crimes, murders, lies, conspiracies, evil plots, etc?
I'll bet not.
Consider the following documented facts and let me ask you:
Do they ever speak out against the senseless killings in the Iraq War for power and profit?
Do they ever admit that the US Navy was wrong to fake the Gulf of Tonkin Incident in 1964 (which has now been exposed) which resulted in the deaths of 60,000 Americans and millions of Vietnamese, making the war and their deaths a FRAUD?
Are they outraged with the fact that the CIA has been involved in drug trafficking for many years, which even some in the mainstream media have reported? Or the CIA assassinations of foreign leaders who refused to abide by US policy?
Are they outraged that the EPA lied after 9/11 that the air was safe to breathe, which caused thousands of First Responders to develop cancer from the toxic air and slowly die?
Are they outraged that upper levels of government have concocted secret plots to sacrifice innocent lives to stage terrorist activities and blame it on others to start wars, such as Operation Northwoods and Operation Dirty Trick? (Google them for more info)
Do they speak out against the thousands of people that die from pharmaceutical drugs every year?
But will they go ballistic if ONE person allegedly dies from alternative treatment such as homeopathy?
So, what does it say about them then if they have no problem with lies and evil plots that result in the death of millions, yet have a big problem with the death of a few if alternative medicine is involved?
It tells you that they are one sided with an axe to grind, rather than fair, honest or objective. They are fanatical defenders of establishment and orthodoxy, holding that side to be blameless. As such they are totally blind to the faults of authority, or deliberately ignore them at least. Their critical thinking and skepticism can ONLY be directed at anything AGAINST the establishment, and NEVER at anything FROM the establishment.
Tell that to the pseudoskeptics. And when they deny it, challenge them to produce a publication from a media skeptic or skeptic organization that openly condemns or criticizes the above crimes of the establishment (elite or shadow government, whatever you want to call it). When they come up empty handed, then you've got them. From that point, it does not matter if they continue in their denial, for the facts speak for themselves.
Now, is that true skepticism to you? Is that objectivity, logic and science? Is that the mark of a freethinker independent of authority or bias? Or is that fanaticism from a programmed mind who has given up his intellect to become an intellectual slave of authority?
You tell me.
A REAL skeptic is able to apply skepticism to ALL SIDES, including their own. They do not hold one side to be blameless and the other to be always wrong, like the Randis, Shermers and CSICOPers do. Fanatics are always one-sided, independent free thinkers aren't.
The ability to independently assess all sides, including your own, is the mark of a true freethinking at a higher level of consciousness. These folks clearly do not fit the bill.
You gotta remember that "actions speak louder than words". Anyone can claim to be a skeptic or critical freethinker. But if their ACTIONS do not show the hallmark of one, then they aren't. And by their actions, the Randis, Shermers and CSICOPers aren't.
See my video rant about this here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0aPN3R3vPw