Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Monday, December 20, 2004

James Randi Bio

James Randi Bio

Detail Biography

Recognized internationally for his tireless and successful investigations of psychic, supernatural, and "magical" claims, and dealing with subjects that border on both science and mythology, James Randi has become known as one of America's most original and fearless thinkers, winning him the prestigious MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Fellowship.

As an investigator of unusual claims on the brink of the new Millennium, he has become accustomed to incredible examples of medieval thinking. In 1972 two scientists from the Stanford Research Institute validated Uri Geller's claims of paranormal powers. As a result, Geller quickly became an international celebrity using his "psychic" abilities to bend spoons and move objects. In a effort to expose the truth about Geller, Randi went to Johnny Carson. Geller squirmed and fumbled through a disastrous 22 minute appearance. Try as he might, he was unable to perform a single feat. Unbeknownst to him, Carson's producers, consulting with Randi, had set up safeguards against cheating.

This direct assault to scientific truth appalled Randi and many in the scientific community. He became a founding fellow of CSICOP, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, that included such luminaries as astronomer Carl Sagan, Nobel Laureate physicist Murray Gell-Mann, psychologist B.F. Skinner, and noted science and science-fiction author Isaac Asimov.

So what drives James Randi to lead the search for scientific truth? "Acceptance of nonsense as a harmless aberration can be dangerous to all of us," declares Randi. "We live in a society that is enlarging the boundaries of knowledge at an unprecedented rate, and we cannot keep up with much more than a small portion of what is made available to us. To mix that knowledge with childish notions of magic and fantasy is to cripple our perception of the world around us. We must reach for the truth, not for the ghosts of dead absurdities."

"I regard Randi as a national treasure, and perhaps one
of the remaining antidotes that may prevent the rotting
of the American mind."
-Arthur C. Clarke

In his never-ending search for truth he has exposed a parade of would-be psychics, mediums, faith healers and the like. In 1986 he exposed Peter Popoff, a TV evangelist with self-proclaimed divine powers. With help from volunteers, a video camera, and a radio scanner, he showed the world that Popoff's "power" was actually nothing more than a miniature receiver hidden in his ear, through which he received instructions from his wife Elizabeth backstage, who had previously pumped chosen members of the audience for information.

Randi is a prolific writer, having authored nine books, and numerous articles and essays for publications such as Time Magazine, Scientific American Magazine, Technology Review, The New York Times, and many other scientific and popular journals. He has written articles and definitions for Encyclopaedia Britannica Medical & Health Annual, Encyclopedia Americana, and Compton's Encyclopedia. Randi is also regularly featured on television nationally and internationally, most recently on shows such as NOVA, DateLine, 20/20, and Larry King. He has even had his own television specials in nine different countries.

"Perhaps nobody in the world understands both the virtues
and the failings of the paranormal as well as Randi does. His
qualifications as a rational human being are unparalleled"
-Isaac Asimov

He is a regularly requested speaker, having lectured and/or performed at such places as The White House, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. He has been a speaker at such organizations as the Exxon Research Club, General Electric, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Mensa, NASA, the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, and The Smithsonian Institution, to name only a few.

Our universe and our lives are filled with mysterious and magical things yet to be discovered. Randi does not object to faith in these wonders as long as that faith does not insist on being taken as proven. But when blind belief refuses scientific inquiry, he bristles, "We have fought long and hard to escape from medieval superstition. I, for one, do not wish to go back."

Full-length profiles of James Randi appeared in the 1998 World Encyclopedia's Annual Science Supplement, Scientific American Magazine, July, 1995, and in Time Magazine, June 13, 1988. More information can also be found in most biographical listings, including the current "Who's Who in America," "Who's Who in Entertainment," "Who's Who in the East," and the Cambridge "Men of Achievement."

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