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James Randi's Latest Debunking Operation 498

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 Dan541 ( 1032000 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:17AM (#39071941) Homepage

    Have any evidence to backup your defamatory statement?

  • by RazzleFrog ( 537054 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:31AM (#39071995)

    It's not his job (or sciences) to disprove the extraordinary things people claim. It is their job to prove it. That's just a basic concept.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:37AM (#39072021)

    The problem with exposing religious frauds is that True Believers will ignore the evidence and carry on believing in them and sending money anyway. They will see it as a chance to "strengthen their faith" and ignore the evidence even harder.

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:44AM (#39072039) Homepage Journal

    As opposed to all the non-fraudulent religious organizations?

  • by Johann Lau ( 1040920 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:46AM (#39072047) Homepage Journal

    Then why not simply say "no, I don't have any evidence to back up that statement" -- ? It's shorter to read and makes you seem like less of a tool, too.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @05:54AM (#39072087)
    Randi has debunked numerous frauds, either directly such as Peter Popoff or by revealing how a common con trick is done, e.g. cold reading, spoon bending etc. I can understand his continuing existence serves as a constant nuisance to some people, especially those who prey off the gullible, or those so gullible and weak minded themselves that they leap to the defence of these transparent frauds.
  • by Johann Lau ( 1040920 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @06:18AM (#39072195) Homepage Journal

    "the one time he stumbled in to something interesting with the case against Water Memory he created a perfectly blind study without taking in the error factor.
    Then did not follow up to find out why the two studies differed and were both repeatable getting the same data along the two different testing technics."

    uhm, link? I'm sure that's described in parseable english somewhere. I like to read actually, very much so -- I just don't have much patience for empty words.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @06:19AM (#39072203)

    All he does is recreate an event or phenomena and then make an unsubstantiated claim that it was done that way without actually proving it was done that way. (Sorry I want the smoking gun)

    Well it's like this. One person demonstrates spoon bending powers which they say were bestowed by space aliens. Another person says "you bend the spoon when people are not looking" and demonstrates exactly the same effect by such means. So who is the burden of proof on? And then this second person offers the first person a million dollars to demonstrate their powers in a way that detects cheating (e.g. putting soot on the ends of the spoon) and the first person blusters, whines, prevaricates and ultimately refuses So who is making the unsubstantiated claim?

    The simple fact is that Randi has satisfactorily debunked all manner of so called paranomal feats (spoon bending, cold reading, dowsing, miracle smoke, psychic healing etc.) and in some cases exposed outright fraud such as with Popoff. The burden of proof is squarely in the court of those who accept such things to demonstrate it. Extraordinary proof requires extraordinary evidence. Given that there is a million dollars on the table for a very simple demonstration of their powers you'd think Randi would have a queue going round the block.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2012 @06:26AM (#39072239)

    You've left out patriotism.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @06:27AM (#39072247)
    There are organizations such as Oxfam, The Samaritans, Trocaire etc which have religious origins but offer valuable, impartial, non judgemental aid to people regardless of race, creed or colour.

    Sadly there are a lot of other organisations which are more interested in lining their own pockets or pushing Jesus and less in the whole helping people part. Scientology seems to specialize in such rackets.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @06:53AM (#39072371)
    I've said this elsewhere but it all boils down to this. If you claim that magic powers allow you to perform some feat and then someone else can perform the exact same feat without any magic at all, then the burden of proof is on you. If as a further incentive I offer you a million dollars you to perform your feat in a manner which prevents tricks (such as the way I just demonstrated) and you bluster, dodge, evade, make excuses, prevaricate, and otherwise attempt to run away from an easy test then any reasonable person might conclude you're cheating too.

    And that's the fact of the matter. Randi and cohorts have more than an adequately exposed the tricks behind all kinds of so called psychic phenomena. Why isn't there a queue stretching down the road to take the million off him by demonstrating such phenomena are real? How is it that all these psychics, faith healers and all the rest who are clearly not shy of publicity or averse to making money cannot find a single half a day in their schedule to pick up the easiest million dollars they'll ever make?

  • by ( 1706780 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @07:23AM (#39072469)

    I have to agree with you there. I know nearly nothing about Scientology, but I agree with you on principle.

    I don't see why it's so popular on Slashdot to hate people who believe in some sort of God. My faith teaches me to do nothing but good things, I may not always live my faith very well though.

    I also strongly disapprove of religions whose teachings include holy wars or science hating or things like that.

    In the absence of that though, I really feel we should all just live and let live. If you don't believe in God? Fine. I don't hate you for it. My best friend is an Atheist. He doesn't hate me because I do though, he realises that it makes me happy, and he's happy with that.

  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @07:31AM (#39072489)

    Correct, but Randi has nothing to do with this. He hasn't shown anything general - e.g. cold-reading techniques - which hasn't already been shown by others before him, and where he's identified individual fraudsters he's used no more technological or detective skill than isn't employed, say, by an enthusiastic radio amateur. All Randi offers is a marketing machine plus...

    Randi has very publicly debunked Uri Geller, Peter Popoff, Sai Baba, Sylvia Brown, John Edward, John of God and various others specifically as well as various other less prominent faith healers, psychics etc. He has also contributed enormously to the skeptical movement by his participation in CSI/CSICOP, the annual Amazing Meeting and so forth. To pretend he's done nothing or that his efforts are meaningless is complete nonsense. Even this documentary features interviews from some of the major speakers from the skeptic movement and they all acknowledge him for his efforts and as a leading figure. Even Carl Sagan when he was alive.

    ...the nonsense that argument X against person Y is any stronger just because Y cannot or will not disprove X under Z's terms after being offered $1,000,000 by Z.

    Sorry but it's not under Z's terms. It's under mutually agreed terms. If I claim I can see pictures inside envelopes then I propose a test along those lines. This other person | has a million dollars riding on the result, so their interest is in ensuring that I cannot cheat but also ensuring the result is transparently obvious so there is no doubt which way it fell. So might require the contents cannot be picked up, held to the light, that a particular grade of paper be used etc. They might also suggest that the test is over 20 envelopes with a particular and obvious criteria for pass or fail. They might also provide me with the actual pictures to place over each envelope to relieve me of the ambiguity caused by drawing what I see. I might also have requirements of my own which can be reasonably accommodated (e.g. skeptics stay 50 meters back because of their negative brainwaves) or the colour of the room or distance that each envelope is space from the next or whatever. Eventually the terms of the test are defined and then mutually agreed upon. Then I perform what I say. Or don't.

    You appear to think this is somehow unreasonable.

    Please just spend a moment imagining what real science would be like if it were based on 1 and 2.

    Who says it's science? It's a challenge with a substantial cash prize for the person who succeeds. The science can come later. Scientists would be falling over themselves to test the successful applicant.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2012 @07:32AM (#39072493)

    And Christianity.

    Actually, what's the difference between a pseudo-Religion and a Religion?

  • by Barsteward ( 969998 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @08:43AM (#39072803)
    "My belief is:" well, that sort of says it all
  • by billybob_jcv ( 967047 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @09:08AM (#39072903)

    Dousers claim to be able to find water, oil, gas, gold and precious gems buried hundreds of feet below ground. Why would an air gap of 15 feet be unreasonable??

  • by dkf ( 304284 ) <> on Friday February 17, 2012 @09:26AM (#39073041) Homepage

    Actually, what's the difference between a pseudo-Religion and a Religion?

    Number of adherents, especially relative to overall population size.

  • by Internetuser1248 ( 1787630 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @09:26AM (#39073051)
    I had a friend who claimed to be able to drink glass of beer with his hands tied behind his back, i tested that claim and he failed. I have thereby debunked the theory that drinking beer is possible at all... wait what? He proved that those particular dousers claims were fraudulent. Any douser that claims to be able to find oil, gas, gold, gems (or explosives as the wiki page says) is automatically fraudulent. Scientists who support the idea that dousing may be something other than bunkum only support the theory for running water and ferromagnetic metals. Dousing is not the point however. Randi's methods are unscientific, his results are claimed to be scientific... = pseudoscience. I refer to such people as pseudoskeptics personally to separate them from the type of pseudoscientist who believes too much. Pseudoskeptics believe too little but use the same methodology to 'prove' their skepticism. You could use Randi's methods to prove that there is no such thing as cancer by finding ten people who claim to have cancer and showing that they actually don't. You could use this method to prove that there is no global warming by taking measurements in your own back yard and saying 'look the temperature is going down'

    In short, Randi is a passable entertainer, if you watch his shows and are entertained, good for you. If you take anything he says or does as scientific evidence of anything whatsoever, you are as gullible as any scientologist astrologer.
  • by errandum ( 2014454 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @09:27AM (#39073069)

    Homeopathy? The fact that he takes a whole box of sleeping "medicine" before each presentation and never, ever, did they work?

    It might not be scientific method, but it's enough for me.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2012 @09:46AM (#39073265)

    Did he declare result to be "Dowsing is a fraud" or "The dowser's a fraud, come and get the prize if you can do better"?

  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @10:15AM (#39073645) Homepage Journal

    It's called a controlled test environment.

    The dousers, from what I know of this particular case, did not mind the test conditions and claimed they could easily get their claimed results under those conditions. At least prior to the test.

    Watch the video of him debunking James Hydrik. Where he asks multiple times if this material is ok, if that method is acceptable, if this would interfere in any way with the claimed psychic power.

    Or the one where he debunks the aura seer. Where he explicitly asks him if he can clearly see the auras through the screens he put up, and the poor deluded fool says "yes, I can see them quite clearly".

    If anything, Randi make really sure that he doesn't leave them a way out. And that means doing the tests according to whatever they claim to be the limits of their abilities. If the dousers had said that there can be 50 feet of rock inbetween, but somehow 5 feet of air block their sensing, I am sure Randi would've set the experiment up so it fits.

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @10:26AM (#39073793) Journal

    You can't prove a negative. There's always a chance that the leprechaun is really under the next rock. Randi knows this, and his audience knows this. There's nothing unscientific about acknowledging that you can't test every possibility in the world. If that was what science was, scientists would spend all their time repeating the negative results from the past hoping for a positive result. We have better things to do.

    The fact that you can't prove a negative is why the burden of proof is on the person making the positive claim. That is, the person claiming that dousing exists. If you claim cancer exists, you should have no problem finding people with cancer and demonstrating it. If you claim dousing exists, you should have no problem finding people who can douse and demonstrate that. If you can't, why should I care what your opinion of Randi is?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2012 @11:14AM (#39074461)

    You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of "science".

    No ones needs to "take anything he says or does as scientific evidence". Scientific evidence is evidence that has been collected though the scientific method. Your "take" is just a grammatically ugly synonym for "believe".

    Randi, with the challenging party and third parties ranging from bankers to scientists whose livelihood is dependant on their reputation, apply the scientific method to the challenger's claims. Anything that comes out of that is inherently scientific evidence. Whether you "take" anything or not is meaningless.

    Furthermore, if the challenger is correct, everyone is very rich; if the challenger fails, everyone loses. And I mean "everyone". The media don't care anymore; nobody's paying Randi or the observers; the bankers, I suppose, are protecting their right to "manage" the money.

    Your argument, as your example, is ill thought out.

  • by Supermike68 ( 2535978 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @11:16AM (#39074495)
    No. What he's saying is your analogy is wrong. The default position on the existence of cancer is cancer exists as there is more than enough sufficient evidence to support the theory that cancer exists. Therefore it would be nearly impossible to prove that did not exist.

    The default position on the existence of ghosts is, ghosts do not exist, because there is no empirical evidence to support the contrary. Therefore if one is making a positive claim, like ghosts do exist, then the burden of proof is on them. If they are unable to provide sufficient evidence to support their claim then the scientific community will stay with the default position.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 17, 2012 @11:31AM (#39074691)

    Your "faith" is no problem. Faith is a firm belief in something for which you have no proof either way. Fine, no problem there. You are obviously correct in saying that there is no proof that there is no god. But neither is there proof that there is a god. If we knew for sure either way, then your "faith" and my "scepticism" would be redundant - this would be a 'fact' that we could all subscribe to.

    The problem is that if you start believing in things for which there is no proof (which is what your "faith" is) then there are an infinite number of things that you might choose to have faith in. Why (for example) do you have no faith that there are ten blue piano-playing aardvarks living on the dark side of the moon? There is exactly as much evidence for that idea as there is for your god idea. Why one and not the other? If you had started with a blank slate - why would you have picked on this particular random idea of a "god" to believe in?

    I think the problem here is that the sceptics and atheists here find it irrational (at best) to base your life on one particular unfounded belief when there are a literal infinity of other possibilities. You could never have come up with this god idea on your own - the only possible reason to believe in it is because someone else suggested it to you. Where did they get the idea from? Essentially, this "god" concept is nothing more than a self-perpetuating meme which has passed down the generations as it infects one human mind after another.

    Sceptics (mostly) hate this stuff because it adversely affects our lives. If your randomly-chosen un-provable (and un-falsifiable) belief were just yours and did not impact us - then we'd be OK with it. The problem is that people who are infected with the same meme as you have done unspeakably terrible things. The loony religious wing of our society are behind things like the rejection of evolution - the attempt to suppress valid medical treatments such as stem cell research - the outright rejection of the threat of global warming. Religion is responsible for terrorism - most wars have some kind of religious undertones. Many, many evils can be laid at the feet of religion.

    Sure, YOUR take on this stuff may not be directly evil - but in general, this meme has an evil overall effect and your continued support for it is certainly not helping. The more people who believe in this stuff - the more it'll be passed on to the next generation and the more evil will ultimately stem from it.

  • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Friday February 17, 2012 @11:41AM (#39074839) Homepage Journal

    Where as a RELIGION I would state has a dogma, a leader, followers, and have no requirements to join other than maybe a ritual.

    Many religions are like that, probably all the real ones. In a real Christian church (and Bhuddists and Hindus are probably the same) you can walk right in, be greeted with a smile, maybe get a free cup of coffee and donuts, watch the show (music and sermon, a good preacher will have you laughing), and not be required to contribute a penny or do anything else. When they pass the collection bag you're not required to put anything in at all. Even the rituals are voluntary (baptism and communion).

    If you have to pay to get in, it isn't a church. If it doesn't give almost all the money that's donated to it away it probably isn't, either.

    BTW, don't worry about the meds, you're perfectly lucid.

  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @11:57AM (#39075037)

    Ph.D. in New Testament

    This is both the funniest and saddest thing I've seen on the web in a while.

  • by Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @01:12PM (#39076081)
    "It's not science, ..."

    Yeah, it is. Disproving bogus test results is the foundation of science. Falsifiability.

    Just because he entertains at the same time isn't relevant. Each time he disproves a claim, the pile of bullshit that claim rests on is lessened and knowledge of our reality is made a bit more clear. That is indeed science. Just not in a "lab".
  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <> on Friday February 17, 2012 @01:46PM (#39076551) Journal

    You can't prove a negative.

    This is false. Quite provably so, in fact.

    For example, take the premise of trying to find two positive numbers whose sum is less than either number. It can trivially be proven that no such pair of positive numbers exist, effectively proving a negative.

    When the domain of what you are trying to find is restricted enough, you can indeed disprove the existence of something. It does not disprove the existence outside of that domain, of course... but then that is, even at best, an entirely different supposition.

  • by Rimbo ( 139781 ) <rimbosity&sbcglobal,net> on Friday February 17, 2012 @01:55PM (#39076679) Homepage Journal

    Depends on what you mean by the terms. If you're talking about destructive sham cults vs. non-destructive, non-sham cults ("legitimate religions"), a few of the notable differences are:

    • Cults will typically require you to sign up or pay a fee in order to learn their teaching. Legitimate religions are up-front about all their beliefs.
    • Cults typically isolate their members from "non-believing" friends and family members, requiring you to break ties with "unbelievers."
    • Cults require you to believe precisely what the leaders tell you to believe; dissension is not allowed. Legitimate religions have congregations where you may experience a great variety of opinions, sometimes with only a handful of topics where you could find everyone agreeing.
    • Legitimate religions tend to expect their clergy and leadership to be held to a higher standard of behavior than their members, while cult leaders are not to be questioned ever.
    • Cults typically make it difficult, if not impossible, to leave; with religions, you just stop.
    • Cults will typically demand that you give up your "material wealth" to the founders. Religions may point out the value of tithing or pass the hat around, but they'll never kick you out if you show up every week and never contribute a thing.

    The above looks almost like a point-by-point rebuttal of Scientology, but that's just an odd coincidence; Scientology is far from the first or only destructive cult to fit that definition. You can find mainline Christian churches that fit into both categories, although I think you'll find that most of them don't.

    By "pseudo-religion" you could also mean something that has all the trappings of religion but claims to be anti-religion, e.g. Maoism in China.

  • by green1 ( 322787 ) on Friday February 17, 2012 @04:54PM (#39079073)

    Of course if someone does dowsing for free or for fun, then no big deal.

    No, No, No, A thousand times No! Doing something for free does not mean doing it without harm. To take your example, imagine someone offers to locate all the buried pipes and wires in your yard for free before you begin construction, you let him, and he gets it all wrong. Now when the backhoe cuts the gas line and there is a very real possibility of property damage, injury, or even death, was it "no big deal". The harm isn't if they charge for the locate, the harm is if they don't do it right and you believed that they would.

    The harm being done is not by the charging of money for the service (thought I'll admit that too is slightly harmful) The REAL harm in the vast majority of pseudo-scientific cases is either damage caused by the procedure, or the procedure being used instead of a real and proven procedure. Neither of which has anything to do with the cost charged by the pseudo-science practitioner.

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"