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James Randi's Latest Debunking Operation 498

Posted by samzenpus
from the liars-and-cheats dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The pair of documentarians behind An Honest Man — The Story of the Amazing James Randi will not only talk to the likes of like Adam Savage, Bill Nye, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Penn and Teller about the life of the famous magician/skeptic, but they'll also follow Randi's latest operation as he assembles 'an Ocean's Eleven-type team for a carefully orchestrated exposure of a fraudulent religious organization.'"
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James Randi's Latest Debunking Operation

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  • by Erect Horsecock (655858) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:41AM (#39072033) Homepage Journal

    Randi has gone after a lot of pseudo-religious organizations and they're still lots more to go before you can narrow it down to Co$.

    http://www.vediccity.net/ [vediccity.net] - An entire city and school bought and controlled by Maharishi Mahesh's Transcendental Meditation organization

    The Mormon Church - Self explanatory

    Raëlism - Wacked out UFO cult founded by a Frenchman in 1974 with anywhere from 2000-5000 followers globally

    Moonies - Sun Myung Moons private church where he claims to be Christ (and about every other major religious character) that owns The Washington Times, Kahr Firearms, and many other companies. Personal audience has been given to a few POTUS

    Harold Camping's Family Radio - The guy who predicted the rapture a few times in the past couple of years

    Lots and lots of possibilities. Co$ would be interesting for Randi to take on but it would be cool to see him deal with any of the above as well

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2012 @06:27AM (#39072249)

    Let me repeat what I said:

    They deliberately attract those "in it for the money" by huge cash reward (while biasing the audience to those impressed by money), seem to filter to select a high number of high profile fraudsters, and choose their own tests rather than involving independent third parties.

    Randi obtains results on the various fields he's interested in debunking not by collecting a representative sample through the offer of independent testing but by dangling the offer of $1,000,000 under the assumption that any opponents he selects will be misguided or fraudsters. This creates an obviously biased self-selecting sample and provides that justice is not seen to be done. Do you deny this?

    Randi does not bring independent third parties to establish the tests but finalises his own terms for the tests. After all, this isn't an exercise is proving what's correct but in protecting his own money.

    Even though Randi chooses his own terms, there is no peer review process for his work - e.g. through stringent analysis before publication in some third party journal with a reputation for adherence to academic standards.

    Nor are the experiments repeated independently (especially not with a representative sample).

    IOW, Randi adheres to few of the practices of modern scientific scholarship. He catches out the occasional deliberate fraudster (as anyone could, with half a brain!) but his "no-one's claimed my $1,000,000!" has nothing to do with the strength of his underlying claim.

  • by Fished (574624) <amphigory@ g m ail.com> on Friday February 17, 2012 @10:09AM (#39073567)

    Meh. Randi has a couple of youtube videos attacking the Bible, and as a trained professional in the field (Ph.D. in New Testament from University of Virginia) i was not impressed. His opening attack in one of the youtube videos I watched is to attack the location of Nazareth, with lots of chuckles about the tourist industry there and the implication that the town didn't exist. What this really demonstrates is that Randi doesn't have any understanding about the ancient world or the challenges presented by the paucity of evidence for things in the first century. The funny thing is that skeptical claims regarding the New Testament keep being disproven by subsequent archaeological evidence. For example, 100 years ago skeptics told us that Quirinius was never governor of Judaea (or was it Licenius? Can't remember and too lazy to look it up) because there was no extra-Biblical attestation. When extra-Biblical attestation was found, they switched up and started attacking something else. What skeptics generally ignore is that the books of the New Testament are themselves first-century documents, offering compelling evidence for many elements of the first-century, from people enormously better prepared to separate "truth" from "fiction" than we are 2000 years later. They want to dismiss the evidence offered by the New Testament out of hand, because the documents are "religious" and therefore not trustworthy even in very ordinary claims (there was a town called Nazareth, for example) without external verification. If questioning the existence and location of Nazareth is the best Randi's got, I'm not at all impressed.

  • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Friday February 17, 2012 @10:10AM (#39073581) Homepage

    As a fellow computer engineer, I point you toward the field of registry cleaners, fake antivirus, and far too many consulting firms. Just enough of a success rate to make people swear there's an improvement, until a competent admin comes in and finds that swapping was disabled, and that's why everything runs so much faster until it locks up.

    James Randi's tests are based on the assumption that supernatural powers are consistent, or at least repeatable upon demand. This is an acknowledged shortcoming. However, Randi's goal is not to disprove all possibility of supernatural phenomena. Rather, it is to promote critical thinking, to protect people from fraud. He thus attracts con men, and designs tests to directly measure their professed abilities. The test conditions are agreed upon by the participants, except of course for those high-profile frauds that are already actively scamming people.

    Again, the point is to promote critical thinking. Even if supernatural phenomena are real, there are still hucksters out there who will use sleight-of-hand and cognitive bias to take advantage of the general public. James Randi uses his own knowledge of these tricks to highlight the techniques used in fraud, and show them to the public.

    Similarly, competent system admins can disprove many of the scam software tricks, too. Make several junk entries in the registry, and see if the cleaner program finds them. Stick some viruses in a folder, and see if they're caught. As with James Randi, that's not the real fight, though. The real goal is to convince the public/managers to think critically about any promised easy fix.

  • by b4dc0d3r (1268512) on Friday February 17, 2012 @11:05AM (#39074331)

    Science says the same thing. Facts make people believe even more, especially when they contradict belief.

    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2010/07/11/how_facts_backfire/ [boston.com]

    Sorry if it seems I have posted this before, you'd think more people would just let it go implied at this point, as common knowledge.

  • by Darinbob (1142669) on Friday February 17, 2012 @04:33PM (#39078791)

    The thing is, many of these psychics and others absolutely believe in their own abilities. They accept the test conditions because they don't believe they will fail. Not all of them are consciously frauds, but many actually fool themselves.

    This is especially true with the sort of psychics-as-therapists type of people; astrologers, palm readers, etc. All day long they get positive reinforcement from their customers who say "wow, that's amazing" or "you're really helping me out". No one ever comes in and pays for an astrological reading while being skeptical.

    One interesting story I heard was the palm reader who was asked to give the opposite readings from what he actually saw for one day. He said he was amazed to discover that the customers were still responding to the opposite readings exactly as they normally did with the correct readings. He'd use the opposite readings to suggest things about the customer's personality or life and the customer would agree and say it was accurate (you know, those typical psychic things like "I sense some sorrow in the recent past", "oh ya, I just broke up with my boyfriend, how did you know!"). So this palm reader now believes it was all fake and that he never was psychic after all.

What ever you want is going to cost a little more than it is worth. -- The Second Law Of Thermodynamics

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