Friday, March 17, 2006

The Amazing Randi

Although he has been around for a long time I first became aware of James Randi a few years ago when he appeared on television in a programme about the paranormal. He was on stage in front of a room of people who all believed in psychics and clairvoyants. He began the show by picking people at random from the audience and accurately describing things about them that they believed a stranger could not possibly have known. He did this to rapturous applause from the crowd who all believed him to have psychic abilities. Part way through the programme however, he revealed that he was not a psychic after all and furthermore he believed the whole idea of the paranormal to be nonsense. He told the crowd that he happened to be adept at “cold reading” and had gleaned his information from the things they themselves had unwittingly revealed to him. The crowd went ape shit, booing him and deriding him, but I was cheering him at home for making them look ridiculous.
I recently came across his website and it makes for interesting reading. Randi himself is not participating in its upkeep at the moment due to ill health but I understand he will be back soon. One if the main features of the site concerns the American “psychic” Sylvia Browne. Apparently some years ago Randi laid down a challenge to all supposed psychics. He offered a $1,000,000 reward to anyone who can prove their psychic abilities in a scientific test environment with the parameters to be agreed by both parties. Not only has no one passed this challenge, but nobody has even taken him up on his offer. The only person to accept the challenge was Sylvia Browne who did so on live television in 2001. Despite promising to contact Randi she has not yet done so, claiming that she has been too busy. You would have thought that proving to the world that she is not a liar and a fake would be quite high on her “to do” list, but apparently not.
Also on the site is a fascinating story about a woman who has been appearing in churches up and down America as a guest speaker. Amongst her outlandish claims are some more disturbing ones. I won’t go into details here (you can see for yourself by visiting the site) but she appears to be trying to cash in on the 9/11 terrorist attacks! Do these people have any morals at all? It would appear not.
I would strongly suggest anyone reading this to visit Randi’s site. Apart from anything else he has had a long drawn out feud with Uri Geller, including writing two books denouncing his “powers”. If that doesn’t make you want to know more about him, nothing will. Randi’s site provides many good examples of why these people aren’t merely laughable fakes or self deluded weirdos, but nasty, self serving frauds who, in many cases, have amassed large fortunes by peddling lies to the unsuspecting. If they were in any other business they would be tried as criminals, and I find it abhorrent that they are allowed to get away with it without providing some kind of proof that what they do is in any way worthwhile.
That’s enough for now. Can someone fetch me a step ladder? I appear to be stuck on top of a large soapbox.


Matt said...

Good rant! I believe Houdini was the first to use his experience and fame to make people aware of con-men. Randi is doing an excellent job. I remember someone once asked him:
"Well, what makes you so different from psychics? People in your profession deceive the audience."
"Ah yes, dear lady," he confidently replied, "but the difference is that people come to see a magic act knowing that it's an illusion. The deception and how it is presented is the entertainment."
Randi also worked with a guy called Steven "Banachek" Shaw. Banachek is a "mentalist" magician who also works to expose fakes. This section of his site is worth a look at (Especially the John Edward link):

Simon said...

I like Derren Brown's TV series in which he exposed the fraud of religion and superstition. He used to be a Christian minister or something, until he realised it was all mind-tricks.