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Interviews: Ask James Randi About Investigating the Truth

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the I-aint-afraid-of-no-ghosts dept.

Science 386

Better known by his stage name "The Amazing Randi", James Randi has made it his quest to "debunk psychic nonsense, disprove paranormal fakers, and squash claims of pseudoscience in order to bring the truth to the forefront." Randi worked as a popular magician most of his life and earned international fame in 1972 when he accused the famous psychic Uri Geller of being a fraud and challenged him to prove otherwise. In 1996 Randi founded The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) a non-profit organization whose mission includes "educating the public and the media on the dangers of accepting unproven claims, and to support research into paranormal claims in controlled scientific experimental conditions." He began offering $1000 in 1964 to anyone who could demonstrate proof of the paranormal. That amount has grown over the years, and the foundation's prize for such proof is now $1M. Around 1000 people have tried to claim the prize so far without success. Randi has agreed to take a break from busting ghostbusters and giving psychic healers a taste of their own medicine in order to answer your questions. As usual, you're invited to ask as many questions as you'd like, but please divide them, one question per post.

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386 comments

I've always wondered (2)

mog007 (677810) | about a year ago | (#42738519)

What's your favorite magic trick?

Re:I've always wondered (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year ago | (#42738709)

I had a girl try to come on to me, asking if I were "into" the para-normal.

I said, "No. Just regular sex."

Re:I've always wondered (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42739331)

Slightly on topic I recently visited a Barnes and Noble and they have an entire section for "paranormal romance". No not a shelf, not a bookcase, a section of bookcases.

I wonder if trends over the decades have varied, like a graph of phone psychics in the olden days was low, then pretty high in the 80s/90s now low again (or is it?) vs a graph of vampire BS would seem to be an exponential growth over the last 20 years. Faith healers seem to have peaked in the 80s. What graphs would Randi draw?

Re:I've always wondered (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738735)

And which trick still fools you?

Re:I've always wondered (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739275)

What's your favorite magic trick?

Illusion, mog007. A trick is something a whore does for money...

Best fraud? (5, Interesting)

TrumpetPower! (190615) | about a year ago | (#42738573)

Mr. Amazing,

Of the various people who've tried for the prize, which one do you think would have made the best entertainer / carnie / whatever had he or she not been so serious about the reality of the trick?

Cheers,

b&

Your show! (1)

WGFCrafty (1062506) | about a year ago | (#42738589)

I saw the show you did awhile ago on YouTube, where you had dowsers try and prove their technique. Did those people legitimately believe what they were doing worked or were they typical charlatans? How did they explain their failures? Hope your're staying in good health James!

Re:Your show! (1)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year ago | (#42738981)

Well really all he can answer is whether he thinks they believed it.

I have known a few people who were genuinely convinced that they had some low level of "psychic power" who I genuinely believe believed it. I can see how it happens though compounding confirmation bias over time etc.

On the other hand, I lived briefly with a sociopath who spun a truely amazing web of lies, far beyond anything I could believe that he believed, and which, even when faced with people who had seen evidence of some of his most eggregious lies, denied every single thing till the moment he walked out the door.
(I mean we are talking about a guy who could claim to go to law school and tell you the courses he should be taking at the school he claimed to go to, even though they had never heard of him)

So, I could see this going either way, from case to case, and I am not convinced that such a determination can always be made easily, I knew this guy for a few months and lived with him for a month before it was obvious what he was.

Re:Your show! (1)

DiamondGeezer (872237) | about a year ago | (#42739163)

That's because the dowsing effect is due to the "Ideomotor Effect". They are genuinely self-deluded, and are not conscious liars or charlatans. Its a damn good trick of the mind that anyone can fall prey to.

I think you'll find that Randi does not dismiss dowsers in the same way as cold readers like John Edward or Sylvia Browne. The supposed psychics are conscious deceivers rather than self-deceived like the dowsers.

Re:Your show! (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42739267)

Ultra short version: In your experience, whats the approximate crooks to nuts ratio? 50/50 or 10/90 or 90/10 ...

obsession (4, Interesting)

j00r0m4nc3r (959816) | about a year ago | (#42738593)

What do you think is the root cause of humans' obsession with believing in supernatural powers, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

Paranormal and Dubious Technology - Parallels? (1)

Demerara (256642) | about a year ago | (#42738601)

Do you think there are parallels between the way the charlatans of the paranormal manipulate their victims and the manner in which some highly dubious, if plausible, technologies are promoted?

Your best performance? (4, Interesting)

TrumpetPower! (190615) | about a year ago | (#42738607)

Most people know you for your work laying bare the schemes of fraudsters, and not enough people realize that you really are as good as your stage name. What's the best show you've ever performed that's been recorded and how can we see it?

Cheers,

b&

Re:Your best performance? (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year ago | (#42738689)

Randi,

Did you know that you are the only real being in existence, and that the entire known universe - and every situation in it - are products of your singular imagination? You will always expose paranormal fraudsters, because that is the reality you are authoring.

This message is a little, internal voice escaping from somewhere inside your mind, saying: "Unleash the skies full of winged unicorns! Zoom through space and time! This existence is a beautiful dream, not a day-job."

Re:Your best performance? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739393)

> Most people know you for your work laying bare the schemes of fraudsters

Most people know the Amazing Randi for being a stage magician. Debunking fraudsters hasn't led to equivalent fame.

a ? (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738619)

Are you the homosexual antichrist?

Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (4, Interesting)

Bananatree3 (872975) | about a year ago | (#42738625)

Through your years of research on faith healing, homeopathy and other "magical" cures...have you found some of them more "effective" than others due to the Placebo Effect? Many people have superstitions, charms and other things they personally believe bring them good luck...and I wonder how much of this magical healing and luck bringing is real due to the Placebo Effect. Of course it is not "magic", but the power of a Placebo is still statistically valid in certain cases it seems.

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738697)

faith healing works wonderfully only if the disease is just faith based...

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | about a year ago | (#42738773)

You're absolutely correct. The National Institute of Health has studies [nih.gov] that show the Placebo effect can actually be effective treatment for certain diseases in certain cases, such as certain forms of mild depression (in the head). There's a real fine line between what the brain can control and real, physical or biological issues that can't be controlled by the brain. Placebos are quite cheap compared to actual medicine,depending on what one considers a valid Placebo.

The laying of a Priest's hands is financially cheap, and might be just enough to help someone if they believe enough in the action to activate the Placebo Effect.

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#42739281)

The laying of a Priest's hands is financially cheap, and might be just enough to help someone if they believe enough in the action to activate the Placebo Effect.

Usually only Catholics capitalize the word "priest" and yet the Catholic Church is just as skeptical of faith healers as anybody else. It seems an injustice to imply a connection between them and faith healing.

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (1)

TheLink (130905) | about a year ago | (#42739405)

For many religions there isn't even a need for a priest if they could also ask their God/Gods for help. Hence the members of those religions would have a slight advantage over atheists in some scenarios since they have a higher chance of self-administering the placebo. This might have been significant enough back in the old days- say you're alone and badly injured but you need to do something critical for your tribe. The elimination/reduction of pain might allow you to be more effective and thus your tribe does better than it would otherwise (even if you end up dying anyway).

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (1)

geekoid (135745) | about a year ago | (#42738757)

Maybe you should understand what a* placebo effect is before asking about it?

  a placebo effect doesn't cure anything.

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-placebo-myth/ [sciencebasedmedicine.org]
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-prostrate-placebo/ [sciencebasedmedicine.org]
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/cam-the-beer-goggles-of-medicine/ [sciencebasedmedicine.org]
http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/index.php/the-rebranding-of-cam/#more-18610 [sciencebasedmedicine.org]

When something is 'not better then placebo' that means 'not better then this stuff we know has no effect'
The term has been greatly abuses by SCAM practitioners for years, so it's actual meaning isn't know to many people.

*note the 'a' and not 'the'

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (0)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year ago | (#42738965)

Nonsense! Placebos are actually some of the most effective known treatments for all psychosomatic illnesses.

I've got an aunt whose fibromyalgia was cured by a legendary Native American healer who happened to also bear a strong resemblance to a Hispanic actor who I knew from work.

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | about a year ago | (#42739239)

Thanks for the clarification, I meant "a" Placebo effect. There are different kinds of effects that come from placebos, depending on a person's response. To quote your third link:

" people believe these phenomena are real but they are only fooling themselves. The placebo effect is not an effect, but only a change in perception."

I politely disagree. That change in perception *is* an effect, even though it is highly subjective. An awesome song can affect someone who likes it, and produce a good feeling "effect". Same thing goes one here.

The change in perception is the key here. Placebos are absolutely ineffective medically - I could snack on Placebo pills all day and not have much effect, if I didn't believe in their "power". Scam artists capitalize on this perception-changing affect unfortunately, but there is still a benefit to this perception changing if used to help the patient and the patient isn't being charged for it.

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739437)

If you read your first link, this is semantics. The author claims there is only a change of expectations. He then says there is no "placebo effect." Most people would disagree; they would say this change in expectations is the placebo effect.

Re:Placebo Effect-iveness of faith healing (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#42739033)

I think you're asking the wrong guy about this. The Million Dollar Challenge isn't about teasing out subtle effects like the difference between X and Y medicine and a placebo; it's about getting people to demonstrate abilities that should be overwhelmingly obvious in use.

On the other hand I really would like to know if Randi keeps anything around "for luck", i.e. because of a comforting familiarity. We all have our totems.

Comfirmed, Busted or Possible? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738657)

I take it that no paranormal claims have been confirmed as the prize is still there and a lot have been busted but have any claims made you think something is possible here? Something that while is not proof of the paranormal has not been dis-proven either?

Chinese/Oriental medicine (1)

HPHatecraft (2748003) | about a year ago | (#42738659)

Hello

What are your thoughts on acupuncture and the existence of chi?

Most practitioners of CMA (Chinese Martial Arts) and non-Western medicine , with few exceptions, believe in the idea of an energy that suffuses all matter, and can be stored and increased in living things. There are exceptions -- I'm thinking of a practice group in the UK that teaches tai chi, but doesn't believe in chi; their explanation for the skills thereof is relaxation and body mechanics, not mysticism.

To me, the health benefits of tai chi and chi kung are readily apparent, regardless of whether or not there is such a thing a chi. Do you have any thoughts on that and/or the benefits of acupuncture?

Re:Chinese/Oriental medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738727)

Excersize is obviously beneficial. Mystical "energy" bullshit is bullshit. Acupuncture is placebo effect bullshit.

Re:Chinese/Oriental medicine (2)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year ago | (#42739279)

That's a bit naive. Chi, prana, chakras, et. al. were models of perceptions using different epistemological assumptions. For example, I feel something "flowing" in my arm when I do a Chi Kung or Yoga exercise and afterwards, my arm feels better. Absent of any more sophisticated data, you theorize some stuff that accounts for the changes. When 20 others do the same thing and get the same result, you have inter-subjective confirmation. Today, we use instrument based confirmation. Of course, you have to assume that the instruments tell you something useful.

Mental modeling is a funny thing. We used to think of electricity as a liquid. You could substitute voltage for pressure, amperes for gallons, do the math and come up with the right answer. The theory had remarkable predictive power. Was it "wrong?" Well, we have better models today. Tomorrow, presumably we'll have better neurophysiological models of what happens with acupuncture, yoga, tai chi, meditation, dreams, color perception, consciousness, and so on.

Re:Chinese/Oriental medicine (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | about a year ago | (#42738779)

If you go to www.randi.org and do a search for acupuncture, you will find that Randi's thoughts on acupuncture and chi are the same as for faith healing, dowsing, psychics and all other supposed paranormal matters: they're bunk. There is no evidence to show acupuncture has any health benefit beyond the placebo effect.

Here, have a look [randi.org] at the numerous articles on the site.

As to tai chi and chi kung, since those are exercises, they would obviously have some health benefits and would not be considered in the realm of paranormal or woo.

Re:Chinese/Oriental medicine (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738821)

Just a thought, but didn't nuclear physics prove that there is an energy that suffuses all matter?

Orange (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738669)

Why are carrots oranger than oranges?

spelling gestapoo (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738699)

who's ==> whose

Legacy (3, Interesting)

abies (607076) | about a year ago | (#42738703)

While we all hope you will live as long as possible and continue your work, do you think that somebody will pick up your legacy and continue to debunk the fraudsters when you are not longer able to? Do you have trusted people to whom you are willing to hand over the responsibility, both financially and skill-wise?

Human Progress? (2)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year ago | (#42738729)

Sometimes when I see tabloids and crap at grocery stores I wonder if humanity is really making progress in the skepticism department. I think there are more people today that are skeptical of all things paranormal than there were years ago but I believe that only because the population has been increasing. Percentage-wise, I fear we may still be at the level humanity has been at throughout history. You can find writings dating way back of people who were "in the know" about what was fake and what was real. As science has increased our realm of knowledge, it seems that paranormal seekers have just found it in other mediums. So what is your opinion on humanity's track record for belief in the paranormal versus skepticism? Have we made progress? Are we forever doomed to deal with a percentage of the population who want to believe?

A Catch-22 for the charlatans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738731)

Imagine a supposed charalatan came along and produced something that actually worked. Consistently, repeatably, under the controlled conditions you require. And agreed to publish their methods, thereby allowing other people to do the same thing reliably in their own labs. But if they do all of that, what they've come up with isn't pseudo-science, it's actual science. Doesn't that mean you wouldn't have to pay them? :-)

repercussions? (5, Interesting)

poetmatt (793785) | about a year ago | (#42738737)

Have you ever had significant repercussions from debunking what is essentially garbage? Have people ever actually threatened you for supposedly crushing any livelihoods, which were then based on fraud?

Deep down (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738741)

do you hope to see someone claim the $1M prize or not?

Chynggyz (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738743)

Slashodot comment system sucks!

Do tricks fool you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738763)

Does this trick fool you? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8cCXBCD6Ols

Re:Do tricks fool you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739321)

9:19?? TL;DW

Future Uri Gellers / Peter Popoffs? (1)

lammy (1557325) | about a year ago | (#42738775)

Do you think that, as time goes by, it's becoming harder for individual performers to hoodwink large sections of the population for financial gain in the way that Peter Popoff and Uri Geller did, in their respective heydays? Do you think the internet could be helping to keep such charlatans at bay through unhindered discussion and criticism? Or are we just as vulnerable as ever?

Re:Future Uri Gellers / Peter Popoffs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738985)

Silvia Brown seems to be doing quite well for herself unfortunately.

changing minds (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738805)

So would love to have your insight on is, how does one effectively change the minds of people who do not agree? For example say there's someone on facebook who posts positive things about god. I feel like disagreeing and pointing out fallacies just winds up coming off snipey and hurts a friendship. Posting, for example, things of the opposite nature always seems to get people who already agree with me... to agree still, but doesn't change the minds of people on the opposite side.

Thanks! You, Penn & Teller, and Michael Shermer have changed the way I think.

Difference between deception and ignorance? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738809)

If you ask me, most of the world's ills can be divided between stupid and evil, most of them of human invention.

Do you feel like you can spot the difference between a stupid mistake and an evil deception? What are the tell-tale signs of active deception versus simple, ignorant people defending a stupid belief? Do you have a favorite logical tool that you use to determine whether or not a person's claim spawns from ignorance, or maliciousness?

How did you get your woo so strong? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738845)

Did you make a deal with the Devil? It is obvious that you are only able to debunk all these people by disabling them with your own woo. Have you considered the karmic implications of this?

Your Opinion of Rossi's E-Cat Machine? (1)

eldavojohn (898314) | about a year ago | (#42738855)

Slashdot followed briefly a seemingly miraculous device [slashdot.org] that was almost too good to be true. Have you yourself heard of Rossi's E-Cat machine [wikipedia.org]? Does your foundation also track the physics side of unbelievable things? What is your personal opinion of this device? Does it have all the hallmarks of a fraud?

Dear James (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738875)

Do you more often debunk people who believe in what they're doing, or are they obvious tricksters?

Scientific Evidence (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42738903)

Two part question:
1) What, specifically, are you referring to as "psychic nonsense, paranormal, and pseudoscience?"
2) What scientific, empirical evidence can you present that proves your contention that what you label as supernatural phenomenon is always fraudulent? I.e., have you yourself conducted sufficient experimentation to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no such thing?

Scientific Evidence: Follow-up (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42738919)

Follow up question: Assuming you answered "no experimentation" for # 2 above, why should we believe your non-scientific claims over someone else's?


This question can and should be ignored if sufficient experimentation has been performed.

Re:Scientific Evidence (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738969)

3) What scientific, empirical evidence can you present that proves your contention that what you label as the flying spaghetti monster is fraudulent? I.e., have you yourself conducted sufficient experimentation to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no such thing?

That's not how the burden of proof works. You don't have to entertain such claims unless there is proof, he doesn't need to supply the proof the ones making the claims do.

Re:Scientific Evidence (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#42739139)

I'd say that the countless entries in the Challenge where people who do really well under non-controlled conditions suddenly fail spectacularly when possible mundane explainations are controlled for, is his answer to point 2.

Point 1 is up to the person making the challenge, isn't it? It's not like he roams the world looking for things to label as paranormal.

Re:Scientific Evidence (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42739259)

I'd say that the countless entries in the Challenge where people who do really well under non-controlled conditions suddenly fail spectacularly when possible mundane explainations are controlled for, is his answer to point 2.

I'd prefer to hear Randi's actual answers, rather than the responses people speculate he may have.

Point 1 is up to the person making the challenge, isn't it? It's not like he roams the world looking for things to label as paranormal.

Randi is the person making the challenge,so it stands to reason to ask what criteria he judges applicants by, does it not?

Re:Scientific Evidence (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#42739377)

I'm going to quote an AC who replied here [slashdot.org], because I don't have mod points and he's made the point succinctly:

3) What scientific, empirical evidence can you present that proves your contention that what you label as the flying spaghetti monster is fraudulent? I.e., have you yourself conducted sufficient experimentation to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no such thing?

That's not how the burden of proof works. You don't have to entertain such claims unless there is proof, he doesn't need to supply the proof the ones making the claims do.

Furthermore, you can't prove a negative. [wikipedia.org] Can you prove that bigfoot doesn't exist? How? Can you prove that there isn't a teapot sitting in the middle of a crater on Titan? Both those things, however, could very easily be proved - if they were true. Until then, it seems wise to assume that they aren't.

A James Randi reality show? (2)

crazyjj (2598719) | about a year ago | (#42738905)

It greatly saddens me that in the 21st century, there is still this spate of "ghost hunter" and paranormal reality shows, even on once respectable networks like the History Channel and other cable network channels. But has there ever been talk of doing a James Randi or skeptic-based reality show (akin to Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t)?

Re:A James Randi reality show? (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42739113)

Hanging out with the mythbusters would likely be hilarious. So they try to build an apparatus to remotely move stuff using magnets, and at the end of the show blow it up (because they always blow something up in every episode). Well that was a lame example but there must be some "myth" that would be amenable to being tested on mythbusters.

Elaborate on the Harm (2)

anorlunda (311253) | about a year ago | (#42738933)

You chose to devote a big chunk of your life to debunking rather than just ignoring those people. You must feel that they do a lot of harm to make it worth your efforts.

Aside from the obvious, stealing money, please elaborate on the kinds of harm these fraudsters cause.

Re:Elaborate on the Harm (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739171)

As a cancer patient, I can tell you to ask Steve Jobs [today.com] about such risks if he were still alive. Surgery 9 months earlier may have well saved his life and he would still be around today.

Definition (2)

Internetuser1248 (1787630) | about a year ago | (#42738941)

Do you accept the following definition of the word 'paranormal' from wikipedia?:

paranormal
Adjective
Paranormal is a general term that designates experiences that lie outside "the range of normal experience or scientific explanation" or that indicates phenomena understood to be outside of science's current ability to explain or measure

Favourite fictional sceptic? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#42738947)

Sceptics are usually depicted in popular ficton as grumpy sods wh continue to hold onto their ideas in spite of overwhelming evidence that, in their fictional world at least, the paranormal is going on. (Usually this ends with them being eaten by an alien or knocked out a window by a ghost.) Yet in my experience, sceptics are gregarious and engaged.

What is your favourite, or least-unfavourite, sceptic in popular fiction?

(I was fond of the characters in "Red Lights", although I'm in two minds about the ending.)

Leap of faith? (1)

arnodelorme (2800995) | about a year ago | (#42738957)

There are certainly things we do not understand in physics. New physics is being made every day with quantum processes now appearing to play a role in biological reactions. Or messages can now be passed on using Neutrinos (no electromagnetic spectrum). This would have seem like science fiction 1 decade ago but it is now real. How can you be so sure that all the effect reported by the researcher in parapsychology, some of them published in major peer reviewed journal, are wrong. Henry James, a major philosopher and Harvard professor at the turn of the 20th century, was talking about radical empiricism were unexplained phenomena should be studied with the scientific method. It seems that you are taking a leap of faith that this is not necessary. Am I right?

Re:Leap of faith? (1)

Sockatume (732728) | about a year ago | (#42739155)

I think the issue isn't "unexplained phenomena" but "undemonstratable phenomena". If you can make a car fly without wires or engines it doesn't matter what the explanation is, but if you claim you can then mysteriously cannot when the car is sitting in a field...

branch out (1)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42738967)

Ever done work, or seriously considered doing work against other money making fraud areas like financial / real estate / religion / politics?

Most Rewarding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42738983)

James; you are my personal hero and your contributions to the world are immeasurable. What have you taken away from the decades of experience that you find the most rewarding?

The Surgeon General (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42739009)

Randi,

Do you believe the Surgeon General's 1986 (and subsequent 2006 updated) claims about the dangers of second hand smoke, in spite of the lack of evidence supporting the claims*? If so, how can you criticize others for believing unscientific bunk, when you yourself do?



*Most people don't think about it (probably because they don't smoke, and thus see no issue with the demonization of smokers), but if you actually read the reports, [surgeongeneral.gov] you'll notice a distinct lack of defining words like "definitely causes" or "is a factor;" instead, they use 'weasel words' such as "may cause" and "estimated" or "could be a factor" to create an illusion of fact, when in reality it's all pure speculation.

Re:The Surgeon General (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739355)

in spite of the lack of evidence supporting the claims

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_smoking#Evidence

Tell a good anecdote (2)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42739023)

I ask all the "computer programmer" interview types for their proudest chunk of code, in your case I'm just asking for the coolest anecdote / story / bust / event. Not a one liner and not a novel, just a paragraph or so about the coolest most interesting single incident / anecdote you were involved in. Here's one paragraph on your coolest/favorite single incident.

What's your take on god? (2, Interesting)

turp182 (1020263) | about a year ago | (#42739025)

That's it.

Re:What's your take on god? (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | about a year ago | (#42739443)

Your sig is wrong. One cannot choose to be rational. One can choose to act irrationally, but human beings are by their very nature rational creatures. With regards to belief in a deity or not, that is a choice. As such, your sig, if it is to make any logical sense should read "Rational by nature. Atheist by choice." unless your point is that you sig is not rational, which would mean neither is your choice.

Work with others? (2)

vlm (69642) | about a year ago | (#42739065)

Ever work with others in the popular science / journalism community like the "bad astronomy" guy or bill nye (the science guy) or semi-famous real scientists and if so drop some commentary. Not reality show trash talking (unless you really want to, I guess) but do you have any interesting stories?

Re:Work with others? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739365)

All of them have at one point or another been to TAM [wikipedia.org]. Phil Plait ("The Bad Astronomer") is a regular there.

Waste of a life (0)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year ago | (#42739067)

If there is one thing sadder then someone spending their life looking for ghosts or claiming psychic powers is someone dedicating their life to debunking it.

Re:Waste of a life (2)

fredrated (639554) | about a year ago | (#42739181)

So in your world, the truth and the search for it are a waste of time?

Re:Waste of a life (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42739325)

I think OP's point was to state their belief that dedicating one's life to reminding idiots that they are, in fact, idiots, is quite idiotic in it's own right.

Do you actually believe in the paranormal? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739101)

You have spent a lifetime debunking charlatans and fraud, but there is a difference between someone faking paranormal and psychic capabilities, and those things actually existing. Do you believe such things do exist?

The Battery Man (1)

Khyber (864651) | about a year ago | (#42739127)

You want to debunk paranormal things, please tell me, what is your take on 'The Battery Man' Slavisa Pajkic?

Clarke (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739145)

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Do you see anywhere, science being passed off as magic?

Long Island Medium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739149)

There is currently someone making quite a bit of money on the supposed "learning channel" by being a psychic. What are you doing to disprove this fraud and why does she still have a show?

Methods of deception in claiming the prize (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about a year ago | (#42739177)

What's the most common method used to try to deceive you and claim the JREF prize?

Prize Rules - A Copout? (4, Interesting)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#42739179)

Rule #4 of the Applicant Rules for your prize reads:

In all cases, the Applicant will be required to perform a Preliminary Test in a location where a properly authorized representative of the JREF can attend. This Preliminary Test is intended to determine if the Applicant is likely to perform as promised during the Formal Test, using the agreed-upon protocol. To date, no applicant has passed the Preliminary Test, and therefore no Formal Test has yet been conducted. At any time prior to the Formal Test, the JREF reserves the right to re-negotiate the protocol if issues are discovered that would prevent a fair and unbiased test. After an agreement is reached on the protocol, no part of the testing procedure may be changed in any way without an amended agreement, signed by all parties concerned.

Couldn't this be construed as an attempt to prevent any potentially legitimate applicants from being considered for the prize?

Is there any way you can prove that your organization is not falsely debunking claims during the "Preliminary Tests," in order to prevent the prize from being claimed?

risks of cash rewards? (3, Insightful)

Jodka (520060) | about a year ago | (#42739205)

When offerring a $1 million reward to anyone who successfully demonstrates proof of the paranormal you risk failing to debunk some paranormal claims, not because paranormal activity actually exists, but because the ruse is either so technologically advanced or clever that investigators fail to identify the means of deception. How concerned were you about this possibility and have you ever had any "close calls" where you almost failed to discover the trick?

 

Does it get tiring? (1)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year ago | (#42739287)

Does it get tiring demonstrating to people that the magic powers they claim to have are bunk? Or is it still fun?

And speaking of those wild claims, what's the goofiest one you've ever seen?

Disturbance in the Force: How do you create it? (1)

Aguazul2 (2591049) | about a year ago | (#42739363)

How do you manage to create such a strong disturbance in the Force? It is like 100s of psychic voices crying out and then being immediately silenced.

What qualifies as being too skeptical? (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year ago | (#42739381)

When I think of skeptics, the first thing that comes to mind is a little story that Dilbert came up with years ago of Ratbert's psychic powers: Ratbert started off by predicting coin flips [dilbert.com] (as landing on the edge!), and the skeptic debunks [dilbert.com] him by arguing that Ratbert's description of a hidden drawing, while remarkably similar to what it actually was, was not quite correct.

So what do you to handle people who disbelieve a claim even in the face of positive evidence of that claim, arguing that their position is one simply of skepticism? Or do you not consider that a problem?

Limited perspective (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739387)

Could it be that certain paranormal occurences you debunk as not being grounded scientifically or are just fraudulent are in fact just beyond our ability to measure?

I use acupuncture and the manipulation of qi as an example. Acupuncture is difficult for Westerners to accept because it is hard to measure it with the scientific method, however it is also a medicinal practice that is thousands of years old; one would expect a system with no effect beyond the placebo effect would eventually die out as ineffective in favor of more effective medicine, so it would seem just by the fact that it has existed so long that there is some validaton to it.

Personal Beliefs (1)

merlin262 (677269) | about a year ago | (#42739411)

I've found over the years that a great many skeptics have some area in their life, where their personal beliefs come at odds with scientific consensus or their skepticism. These would include a great many things you/others write against as bunk: chi, anti-vaccination views, global warming "debate", acupuncture, raw diets, chiropractic, good luck charms, or personal rituals.

What beliefs (if any) do you hold or practice that might not be well based in science (good luck charm, personal ritual, unproved frontiers of "science" such as singularity theory)?

How do we reconcile psychological tools (chi in martial arts, good luck charms, placebos for psychosomatic illnesses / pain management, etc...) with the need to inform the public of their basis (or complete lack thereof) in reality?

Qdick (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42739427)

end, we need you Alread7 aware, *BSD
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