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
The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism
James Randi’s Problem
James Randi’s Foundation
“Randi’s Prize” by Robert McLuhan
James Randi’s Skeptical “Challenge”
James Randi and The Ultimate Psychic Challenge
James Randi is Taken for a Ride
James Randi’s Dishonest Claims about Dogs
James Randi, A Skeptical Look
James “The Amazing” Randi and Dogs Who Know More Than He Does
James Randi’s Challenge a Big So What!
James Randi Reneges on the Randi Prize