James Randi

James Randi
Sgerbic [CC BY-SA]

James Randi was a conjurer and showman also known as “The Amazing Randi” who described himself as “the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims.” He died in October 2020.

Once a leading figure in CSICOP, he had to resign because of litigation against him. Carl Sagan, in his sympathetic introduction to Randi’s book The Faith Healers (1987), described him as an “angry man.”

Randi’s work as a debunker attracted lavish funding and in 1986 he was the recipient of a $286,000 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. In 1996 Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

Randi’s stock in trade as a debunker was “The Randi Prize” which promised a million dollars for the demonstration of “any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability” (more discussion here under the “The Randi Prize” section).

As leading CSICOP Fellow Ray Hyman has 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.”

— Ray Hyman

Randi’s fellow showman Loyd Auerbach, President of the Psychic Entertainers Association, is likewise skeptical about the “prize” and sees it as a stunt of no scientific value. More discussion of Randi’s prize can be found at Michael Prestcott’s blog.

Randi had an ambiguous attitude to scientific authority, deferring to it when it supported his beliefs and rejecting it when it did not. On his website he asserted:

“Authority does not rest with scientists, when emotion, need and desperation are involved. Scientists are human beings, too, and can be deceived and self-deceived.”

— James Randi

Randi was not afraid to attack scientists who took an interest in subjects such as telepathy like Brian Josephson, a Professor of Physics at Cambridge University. In 2001, on a BBC Radio program about Josephson’s interest in possible connections between quantum physics and consciousness, Randi said, “I think it is the refuge of scoundrels in many aspects for them to turn to something like quantum physics.” Josephson has a Nobel Prize in quantum physics. Randi had no scientific credentials.

Of his later work, Randi wrote, “We at the JREF are skilled in two directions: we know how people are fooled by others and we know how people fool themselves. We deal with hard, basic facts.” Yet in a review of his book The Supernatural A-Z: The Truth and the Lies his fellow skeptic Susan Blackmore commented that the book “has too many errors to be recommended.”

Lastly, Randi was shown to invent facts and make up evidence, as Biologist Rupert Sheldrake describes in this video. Fraud of this kind is unacceptable within the scientific community — but then Randi was no scientist.

On This Website

James Randi’s Problem

  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...

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The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism

By Mitch Horowitz Originally published on Boing Boing, Oct 26, 2020 James Randi Sgerbic [CC BY-SA] Several years ago I was preparing a talk on the life of occult journeyer Madame H.P. Blavatsky (1831–1891) for the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. Someone on Facebook asked sardonically: “Will James Randi be there?” My...

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James Randi’s Foundation

  “The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)”   From: Psi Wars: TED, Wikipedia and the Battle for the Internet: The Story of a Wild and Vicious Science Controversy… that Anyone Can Join! by Craig Weiler     JREF is a skeptical organization supposedly devoted to promoting critical thinking regarding claims of the paranormal. In reality...

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“Randi’s Prize” by Robert McLuhan

  Randi’s Prize: What Sceptics Say about the Paranormal, Why They Are Wrong and Why It Matters Robert McLuhan, Matador/Troubador, 2010. Journalist Robert McLuhan compares the views of James Randi and other leading sceptics against the investigative literature of parapsychology and psychical research.   “The ‘prize’ of the title is the Million Dollar Challenge offered...

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James Randi’s Skeptical “Challenge”

  James Randi’s Skeptical “Challenge”   Beware Pseudoskepticism by Sean (aka “Peebrain”)   Reproduced from PsiPog.net   On January 29th, 2005, we were talking about the James Randi $1 Million Paranormal Challenge in the chat room. If you don’t know what the Challenge is, the short version is that this ex-magician, James Randi, is willing...

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James Randi and The Ultimate Psychic Challenge

  James Randi and The Ultimate Psychic Challenge   Thoughts from a Respondent to the Discovery Channel’s Television Program “The Ultimate Psychic Challenge” by Montague Keen   Montague Keen was a psychic researcher, journalist, agricultural administrator, magazine editor and farmer. A member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research for 55 years, chairman...

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James Randi is Taken for a Ride

  James Randi is Taken for a Ride   Skeptics Can Be Fooled by Guy Lyon Playfair   British author Guy Lyon Playfair (This House is Haunted, Twin Telepathy, and 10 other books) is a longtime skeptic watcher.   “If a trick is well done, it doesn’t look like a trick. It looks real,” conjuror...

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James Randi’s Dishonest Claims about Dogs

James Randi’s Dishonest Claims about Dogsby Rupert Sheldrake 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...

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James Randi, A Skeptical Look

  A Skeptical Look at James Randi   by Michael Prescott   Michael Prescott is a New York Times bestselling novelist.   Years ago, when I was a full-fledged skeptic, atheist, and rationalist, I read James Randi’s 1980 book Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions. Randi is an accomplished magician and a professional skeptic,...

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

  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. For years, he...

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James Randi’s Challenge a Big So What!

  James Randi’s Challenge:   A Big “So What!” by Loyd Auerbach   Loyd Auerbach, M.S., is the Director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations. He is a Consulting Editor and columnist for Fate magazine, an adjunct Professor at JFK University and President of The Psychic Entertainers Association. He holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology...

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James Randi Reneges on the Randi Prize

  James Randi is a Charlatan by Dick Bierman   Dutch psychologist Professor Dick Bierman, University of Amsterdam, applied for the Randi Prize in 1998 for automated computerized tests of presentiment, following a procedure he had already used extensively with highly significant positive results. In these tests, subjects showed physiological responses to emotionally arousing pictures...

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Related Articles

James Randi: Debunking the King of the Debunkers
by Will Storr, The Telegraph, December 9, 2014

The Unstoppable Woo of The Fantasist James Randi
by Steve Volk, The Generalist, May 31, 2012

James Randi — Skepticism's Great Achilles
by Steve Volk, Daily Grail, March 11, 2012

The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi
by Adam Higginbotham, New York Times, November 7, 2014

James Randi's Disingenuous Legacy
by Shawn Alli, May 22, 2015

James Randi's Website