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Interviews: James Randi Answers Your Questions

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the you-can't-handle-the-truth dept.

Science 217

A while ago you had the chance to ask James Randi, the founder of The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), about exposing hucksters, frauds, and fakers. Below you'll find his answers to your questions. In addition to his writings below, Randi was nice enough to sit down and talk to us about his life and his foundation. Keep an eye out for those videos coming soon.Human Progress?
by eldavojohn

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?

Randi: It's hard to say, but I think that yes, we're always going to have irrational attitudes to deal with. It is what I’ve called the whack-a-mole problem of skepticism. You have to keep fighting back the nonsense every time it pokes its head out. Judging by the mail and email we receive, I believe we're making substantial progress, however.



query
by LokiSteve

What's the most dangerous lie perpetuated by the people you bust?

Randi: Spurious claims of healing, which directly misdirect and misinform those who are most vulnerable. This is why we support the important work of the Science Based Medicine project and Dr. Steve Novella and the rest of the doctors. The JREF just came out with books on pseudoscientific medical claims, so-called “complementary and alternative medicine,” or CAM, in coordination with them. These are topics like homeopathy and naturopothy. Many other titles on other CAM topics are forthcoming in the months ahead.



Best fraud?
by TrumpetPower!

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?

Randi: None of them have been very entertaining except Uri Geller, who has gone a long way on a 4-trick repertoire...



risks of cash rewards?
by Jodka

When offering 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?

Randi: I have never been very concerned about that. The "means of deception" have never been especially difficult to solve, though I rather wish that a really clever operator would come my way just to provide a bit of a challenge.



Placebo Effectiveness of faith healing
by Bananatree3

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.

Randi: Re the placebo effect, it only makes you feel better momentarily. The question I ask: "do you want to actually BE better, or only FEEL better?"



Can a Christian or theist be a skeptic?
by irenaeous

I ask this because I used to regard myself as a Christian skeptic. While I support what you do and much of the work of the skeptical movement, I now no longer make that claim because current skepticism seems joined at the hip with atheism. I am sure you know, one of the early leaders of the skeptic movement, Martin Gardner, was a theist and a self professed liberal Christian. Are people like Martin Gardner welcome in the movement today. And, as a Christian I thank you for exposing the televangelist faith healing frauds.

Randi: First, I never knew of Martin as a Christian, though he was a theist. He told me that he had no evidence at all for his theism, but it simply made him feel better - which I granted him, easily. You certainly do not need to be an atheist to be a good skeptic, as JREF president D.J. Grothe has argued before on randi.org.



Is it true
by Intrepid imaginaut

Is it true that your organisation is a front to attract the mystically endowed and drain them of their powers to feed the unholy appetites of a cabal of dark theurgists and further their quest to challenge the illuminati for control of the mortal world, leading ultimately to human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, and mass hysteria?

Randi: How did you ever figure that out? I thought we were doing such an effective job at the cover-up.



repercussions?
by poetmatt

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?

Randi: No, and yes. Lots of threats over the years, but no action...



Is it possible to eliminate magical thinking?
by iris-n

Have you ever succeeded in changing someone's beliefs in pseudoscience? Do you think that it is possible to do so in a large scale, to move humanity towards a more rational way of thinking? Sorry for the down tone, but I have plenty of experience in failing to convince people of the falsehood in astrology, homeopathy, acupunture, etc., and very little in succeeding.

Randi: 3 questions... #1, no, it will always be with us to a greater or lesser extent. But so will many other problems, and that doesn’t mean we just give up and ignore them. Firefighters never give up because there will always be a new fire to put out. #2, yes, frequently, judging from the responses we receive. #3, eventually, and that is why I started The James Randi Educational Foundation, in order to continue and expand on the work I have been doing for decades...



I've always wondered
by mog007

What's your favorite magic trick?

Randi: This is one of those "what's your favorite color" questions... Or "favorite movie, favorite country, favorite song..." If I answered it, would you know what I was talking about? I guess my answer would be “the next trick that would work!” Seriously though, it is probably a mindreading trick I invented involving any book randomly chosen from a bookshelf, and that could be at a bookstore, a library or someone’s home. I have been performing it for many decades.



Your best performance?
by TrumpetPower!

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?

Randi: I've no idea, really. I've been performing for more than 75 years, and I've done thousands of performances, of which only a very small fraction were recorded. I guess that favorites would include my appearance on Happy Days, or performing the first card trick from outer space with astronaut Ed Lu. But again, there were so many that it is hard to say.



Tell a good anecdote
by vlm

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.

Randi: I am happy to say that I share a number of such anecdotes in the new feature length documentary being made about me called An Honest Liar. Take a look!



Legacy
by abies

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?

Randi: I'll depend on my team at the JREF continuing after I'm no longer here, and I trust that it will. (It needs your support to do so, and I’m unapologetic saying so.) The JREF is a great group of people who are in line with my way of thinking, and care about continuing the unique work, including JREF president D.J. Grothe who is helping take the organization to new heights; my longtime friend the magician and skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, who is a JREF Senior Fellow; Banachek who runs our Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge (video), and the rest of our wonderful staff, volunteers and supporters. And there are many others, like the great Penn and Teller, skeptic Michael Shermer, and the people who come to The Amaz!ng Meeting each year.

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Wow great insight. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304509)

No, nope, never. People are stupid. Thanks for your time. At least Jack Horner had a cool story.

Faith healing needs to stop (2)

BlkRb0t (1610449) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304537)

I've seen many people fall for this trap, and some have lost their lives too. There are some who're even propagating that just thinking that you will be healed will absolve you of the disease, and you will be leading a happy life all again. But what irks me the most is that most of these people I know are Engineers and Doctors, people who've studied Science and know how it works.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (4, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304663)

I've seen many people fall for this trap, and some have lost their lives too. There are some who're even propagating that just thinking that you will be healed will absolve you of the disease, and you will be leading a happy life all again. But what irks me the most is that most of these people I know are Engineers and Doctors, people who've studied Science and know how it works.

Why? While I oppose the idea of "faith healing" and see its dangers; I can understand why people who would normally be rational would fall for it. Faith is a very powerful POV; and often people who fall back on "faith healing" are suffering from something that is incurable or very serious and "faith healing" provides the the hope of getting better. Hope, as is said, is the last to die and so people ignore the rational in order to hope.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304693)

who would normally be rational

I think you meant "irrational" there. Most people are imbeciles, in case you haven't noticed.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304833)

He was referring to scientists and such, if you haven't noticed. I suppose you make a great point about imbeciles, though.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43305011)

If they believe in that nonsense for even a moment, then I don't believe they're normally rational people.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (3, Funny)

JWSmythe (446288) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304843)

"Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that"
- George Carlin (1937 - 2008)

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (0)

hedwards (940851) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305033)

There's a fair degree of hypocrisy there. Yes, I totally agree that it's foolish to pass up a perfectly good medical treatment or cure because of potential harm, but medical research tends to be of relatively low quality and usually contradictory. Yes, the conclusions are generally sound, but there are times when it would have been better off to take a alternative treatment than the medically approved of treatment. I think that Vioxx comes instantly to mind where it was worse than nothing.

But, for a good number of things there just isn't a particularly good way of drawing the line. Psychotropic medications are dubious in terms of science, but those are regularly prescribed my mainstream doctors, and peppermint used to be a common remedy for abdominal cramping which has fallen out of favor.

What's more, the placebo effect is a lot stronger than a lot of people realize. It can easily outweigh the results of some classes of treatment entirely.

As for Randi, I wish people would ignore him. I admire the goal, but despise the tactics he goes to. I've personally seen and done things which require explanation as the rational explanation doesn't work, but I've got no interest in going to him to see what's going on. I'm not interested in it.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (4, Informative)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305675)

What's more, the placebo effect is a lot stronger than a lot of people realize. It can easily outweigh the results of some classes of treatment entirely.

To cure a headache or lower a mild fever? Sure. Pancreatic cancer? Not so much.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43306399)

as the rational explanation doesn't work

Then either your rational explanations weren't so rational after all or you're ignorant and don't know the rational explanation yet. Things that have yet to be explained happen, I suppose. Religious people tend to be very good at filling in their gaps in knowledge with unproven theories, and that is something that must be avoided.

Re:Faith healing needs to stop (3, Insightful)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306437)

The placebo affect will not cure you of AIDS. Faith healing, homeopathy, and other bullshit cures might save a few people from getting unnecessary treatment of the common cold or taking antibiotics in an inappropriate time... but it also kiils people. And you are killing people for promoting it.

The big question (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304585)

You die, and it turns out you were wrong and there is a God. What do you say?

Re:The big question (4, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304681)

Shit, I am surprised Zues really does exist.

You die, and it turns out your were wrong there is a god other than the one you pray to. What do you say?

Re:The big question (3, Funny)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304763)

That's pretty easy, you say:

"Well, fuck..."

Assuming that you have the chance to actually comment before you end up as the main course in a supernatural luau, that is.

Needless to say, I'm hoping that if the answer to the multiple choice question is "D. None of the Above", that they at least let me show my work and give me partial credit for trying.

Re:The big question (4, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304829)

I am surprised Zeus really does exist.

I wouldn't be: A few years ago there was a large statue of Jesus [wikipedia.org] near Monroe, OH struck down by a bolt of lightning, so clearly Zeus exists and decided to smite that statue.

Re:The big question (2)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306629)

Or it might've been Thor [wikipedia.org] . ;)
Asatru and Odinism are gaining adherents in the US (and abroad)

Re:The big question (1)

Rob Riggs (6418) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304867)

You die and find out this was a class project; there one god per boson. What do you say? "Sorry Z?"

Re:The big question (2)

jeffasselin (566598) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304993)

Re:The big question (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305757)

LOL mod funny XD

Re:The big question (1)

geckoFeet (139137) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306443)

You ask for a do-over.

Re:The big question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43306449)

I disbelieve!

Re:The big question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43306491)

The Pope's Reward [thepaincomics.com]

Re:The big question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43306653)

You should say: "Oh great Zeus, I apologize for misspelling your name!"

Re:The big question (2)

chill (34294) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304743)

So, this is what Valhalla looks like. Impressive.

Re:The big question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304959)

Valhalla is reserved for a low number of skilled warriors. Niefelheim is for all other warriors and civilians.

Re:The big question (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306457)

Who is to say that GP is not a skilled warrior?

Re:The big question (1)

daniel.garcia.romero (2755603) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304823)

You die, and it turns out you were wrong and there is a God. What do you say?

-So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!

Re:The big question (2, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304893)

They wouldn't say anything, because the existence of something we'd call a god doesn't necessitate an afterlife, and he'd still be dead? What you're really trying to say is "What if a particular sect of a particular branch of a particular religion has exactly the correct interpretation of the nature of the universe, and you were faced with the consequences thereof?" To which the inevitable question is "Which one?" That would dramatically influence my perspective.

Re:The big question (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43305223)

They wouldn't say anything, because the existence of something we'd call a god doesn't necessitate an afterlife, and he'd still be dead? What you're really trying to say is "What if a particular sect of a particular branch of a particular religion has exactly the correct interpretation of the nature of the universe, and you were faced with the consequences thereof?" To which the inevitable question is "Which one?" That would dramatically influence my perspective.

You know which one, it is written on your heart. You choose to try and convince yourself otherwise though. Remember that.

Re:The big question (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305597)

God is cholesterol? Good to know. "Diets high in soluble fiber shown to reduce God".

You should know that false certainty doesn't actually make your beliefs accurate.

Re:The big question (2)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304937)

"You did a pretty shitty job with all the diseases and psyche-destroying pain levels. And what the fuck with the high gravity so we break falling just a few feet?"

Re:The big question (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305377)

And what the fuck with the high gravity so we break falling just a few feet?"

Would you rather break a leg by being a clumsy oaf or have everyone die from breathing vacuum? (Gravity is a prerequisite for an atmosphere, you know.)

Re:The big question (4, Insightful)

green1 (322787) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305927)

You'd think an omnipotent being could get around such little issues... or is he not "all powerful" after all?

Re:The big question (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305537)

You die, and it turns out you were wrong and there is a God. What do you say?

"Dammit, Bob, you had better be here at the gates with double my money back!"

Re:The big question (1)

hawkinspeter (831501) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305605)

What does God need with a starship?

or

What the fuck was that all about? I can do a better job than you - here give me a go.

Re:The big question (1)

RatBastard (949) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305879)

"You die, and it turns out you were wrong and there is a God. What do you say?"

There's nothing to say. God knows everything.

Re:The big question (1)

cyberchondriac (456626) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306663)

"Ummm.. please reincarnate me as a Koala bear."

They have the life, sleeping nearly all day and getting high on eucalyptus.

Slashdot fraud and abuse alert... apk (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304591)

A corrupt slashdot luser has infiltrated the moderation system to downmod all my posts while impersonating me.

Nearly 170++ times that I know of @ this point for all of March 2013 so far, & others here have told you to stop - take the hint, lunatic (leave slashdot)...

Sorry folks - but whoever the nutjob is that's attempting to impersonate me, & upset the rest of you as well, has SERIOUS mental issues, no questions asked! I must've gotten the better of him + seriously "gotten his goat" in doing so in a technical debate & his "geek angst" @ losing to me has him doing the:

---

A.) $10,000 challenges, ala (where the imposter actually TRACKED + LISTED the # of times he's done this no less, & where I get the 170 or so times I noted above) -> http://it.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3585795&cid=43285307 [slashdot.org]

&/or

B.) Reposting OLD + possibly altered models - (this I haven't checked on as to altering the veracity of the info. being changed) of posts of mine from the past here

---

(Albeit massively repeatedly thru all threads on /. this March 2013 nearly in its entirety thusfar).

* Personally, I'm surprised the moderation staff here hasn't just "blocked out" his network range yet honestly!

(They know it's NOT the same as my own as well, especially after THIS post of mine, which they CAN see the IP range I am coming out of to compare with the ac spamming troll doing the above...).

APK

P.S.=> Again/Stressing it: NO guys - it is NOT me doing it, as I wouldn't waste that much time on such trivial b.s. like a kid might...

Plus, I only post where hosts file usage is on topic or appropriate for a solution & certainly NOT IN EVERY POST ON SLASHDOT (like the nutcase trying to "impersonate me" is doing for nearly all of March now, & 170++ times that I know of @ least)... apk

Re:Slashdot fraud and abuse alert... apk (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304635)

> I wouldn't waste that much time on such trivial b.s. like a kid might...

Exactly what you're doing

go away

P.o.H. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304787)

James Randi debunked the evil lie of the 4-dimensional cubic hosts file. MyCleanPC is the true way.

I do not avoid women, Mandrake...but I do deny them my hosts file.

Placebo effect (5, Interesting)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304611)

Re the placebo effect, it only makes you feel better momentarily. The question I ask: "do you want to actually BE better, or only FEEL better?"

This is the one place I disagree with Randi in this interview. The placebo effect has been repeatedly scientifically proven to be pretty amazingly effective at making people better, by objective measures of health/recovery. It's the gold standard against which "real" medicine is compared (and sometimes fails to do much better, while adding more side effects). Of course, when there is a real treatment that performs better than placebo in blind trials, people should be getting that. Using placebos dishonestly --- raking in tons of money while keeping people from known effective cures --- is the problem. But it's a worthwhile area of study to learn (possibly by observing the quacks) how *real* doctors can best harness the power of placebo effects in their patient care procedures, bolstering the effectiveness and reducing side effects of actual medications.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

BlkRb0t (1610449) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304665)

I shall please you.

Re:Placebo effect (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304779)

The placebo effect has been repeatedly scientifically proven to be pretty amazingly effective at making people better, by objective measures of health/recovery.

Not it hasn't. There has never been a study the proves the efficacy of placebo medicine. Using it for warm and fuzzy subjectinve feelings rated 1-10 on a exit questionnaire can be replaced by any number off things. E.g. young males would feel better being allowed to grope the young blonde on reception. The elderly feel better when they've had 3 people listen to them prattle on about their hurt kitty. Same thing.

Go and dig out a legitimate proof positive placebo publication from a reputable medical journal. I'm waiting...

Re:Placebo effect (2)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305021)

You can start with the Wikepedia page on Placebo [wikipedia.org] , which is loaded with reputable citations. Indeed, there's a big class of medical issues for which placebos aren't helpful. But there's also a range --- as one might expect, tied to issues closely connected to what goes on in the brain --- where placebo works out pretty well; not just measured by exit questionnaires, but according to fMRI studies of brain activity. See also the section on "Gastric and duodenal ulcers," indicating improved results from doctors who are "better" at administering placebos. And heck, if having people listen to you helps your painful condition, that's a perfectly valid variety of placebo (which don't have to come in the form of a sugar pill), and deserves to be studied and incorporated into treatment plans.

Re:Placebo effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43305347)

Stop feeding the trolls.

Captcha: disjoint

Re:Placebo effect (1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305073)

Then how do you explain all the times where there's an effect despite the test subjects being given no treatment? By definition the placebo effect is what we use to describe those instances where there is no treatment given, but the results are like that of a treated patient.

Yes, there presumably is some explanation possible, but at present, that's the best we can do.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

LateArthurDent (1403947) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305807)

Then how do you explain all the times where there's an effect despite the test subjects being given no treatment? By definition the placebo effect is what we use to describe those instances where there is no treatment given, but the results are like that of a treated patient.

Diagnosing medical conditions relies on having the patient explain to you how he's feeling. That's not an accurate and objective form of measurement. The placebo effect is merely a way to account for the imperfect measuring tools.

Now, that's not to say the placebo effect doesn't have an use. If you're dealing with a hypochondriac, he's not lying to you about what he's feeling. He just has so much anxiety that it's causing real symptoms. So you give them a sugar pill, they think they're being treated, the anxiety goes away and so do the symptoms. Everybody wins. This is also helpful for real diseases where stressing out will interfere with the healing process (stress has real physiological consequences, such as raised blood pressure). If you can get somebody to feel better, it knocks that stress down a level, and has real positive consequences. But the placebo effect is not some magical thing that cures people of their ills.

Re:Placebo effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43306527)

Patients explaining how they feel is only one part of diagnosing a patient.
It gives the doctors a starting point.
Patients (usually) don't show up saying they have ulcers, or cancer or whatever.
They just complain about pain somewhere.

Also you last couple of sentences contradict each other.
First you claim that placebos can and do help people, and then you conclude that they don't.
So which is it?

Re:Placebo effect (3, Informative)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305327)

Would you agree that stress has been implicated in many serious conditions from ulcers to heart related?

If a placebo reduces stress, then how can it not improve conditions that are created by that stress? Yes, it is tricking someone into reducing that stress level, but isn't tricking someone into eating their healty vegetables still getting them to eat healthy vegetables?

Re:Placebo effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304835)

The placebo effect does an amazing job on pain, nausea, and suckers when you sell out of LSD.

It does a shitty job on broken bones, evisceration, and being thrown into vats of acid.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304963)

Right, which is why we use *science* to figure out what kind of things placebo is good for and what not, and use it where it's good. For health problems in the class of pain and nausea, studying how to maximize placebo effectiveness (combined with proper treatment for underlying non-placebo-amenable causes) is a worthy cause.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306513)

The placebo effect does an amazing job on pain, nausea, and suckers when you sell out of LSD.

It does a shitty job on broken bones, evisceration, and being thrown into vats of acid.

Wait.

Re:Placebo effect (2)

WGFCrafty (1062506) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305229)

The problem is the use of placebo in practice is dishonest. A doctor you are supposed to trust inherently is essentially lying to you, this is the problem. Now when testing new drugs it is ok because you are not yet sure of the new substances efficacy. Now, if that drug is dramatically beating placebo it becomes unethical to continue. The Tuskegee syphilis studies became unethical as penicillin was discovered to be effective, and was withheld.g

Re:Placebo effect (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305383)

Dishonesty is troublesome. However, in many cases, I think *honest* forms of placebo can be developed. Placebos don't operate on the rational/analytical levels of the brain --- so, in theory, it should be possible to simultaneously directly inform a patient how placebo is being used in their treatment (when not being used in a blind trial), while triggering subconscious feelings of well-being and trust in the treatment. I think I've heard about trials (I can't dig up specific references) where patients are told they are being given a placebo (including explanation of what than means), and *still* get beneficial placebo benefits (from being, honestly, told that the placebo can provide such and such benefits to many patients).

Re:Placebo effect (1)

arkhan_jg (618674) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305253)

The funkiest part for me is that you can have a more or less effective placebo. A sugar pill painkiller in a 'name brand' box is a more effective placebo than one in plain packaging, and both are more effective at the apparent relief of mild pain than doing nothing. Also, having a sit down consult with a doctor followed by placebo is more effective than a placebo just given by a pharmacist. When it comes to mild depression, most anti-depressants are barely more effective than placebo (though severe depression responds significantly better to meds). Of course, talk therapy is also effective in many cases, and you could argue that itself is a form of placebo.

Obviously there are many illnesses, diseases and damage where placebos are ineffective, and using them instead of actual treatment is downright dangerous - Steve Jobs being a recent example - but the effect of placebo making you feel better where feeling better with no serious physical underlying cause is the goal, should definitely not be dismissed.

Of course, knowing that what you're getting is a placebo destroys the effect, which makes it hard to study with informed patient consent...

Re:Placebo effect (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305471)

Of course, knowing that what you're getting is a placebo destroys the effect, which makes it hard to study with informed patient consent...

I'm not certain this is true, as I responded to another post above. I think you can rationally know that a treatment is a placebo --- but, so long as you subconsciously trust that placebos are themselves effective treatments, you can still get the benefits. The conscious level of the brain that worries about distinguishing between the chemical formula for sucrose and $EXPENSIVE_DRUG, and their relative biochemical pathways, isn't the same as the subconscious part that needs treatment for pain/depression.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

darkstar949 (697933) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305633)

I remember reading or hearing something about placebos awhile back where they were discussing that the efficacy of placebo was apparently directly tied to the amount of time that was spent preparing the placebo for use by the patient. They actually tied this back to homeopathy and why it has persisted for as long as it has by pointing out that if you go to practitioner that they are going to sit with you for a couple minutes, get to know your problem, and then prepare the tincture for you to take. The argument was that all of this reinforces the placebo effect with the patient (i.e. "I want to be better, they want me to be better, this treatment will make me better") which could lead to better outcomes than getting a quick script from a harried doctor along with a bill which might not have the same mental impact as the approach that homeopathy takes.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43305669)

The funkiest part for me is that you can have a more or less effective placebo. A sugar pill painkiller in a 'name brand' box is a more effective placebo than one in plain packaging

That's only in the USA. In Canada we're used to taking a generic placebo.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305721)

Unfortunately, here in the US, the drug lobby has made sure we can't import your cheaper and equally effective generic placebos from Canada (using baseless fear-mongering that they might be watered down to the wrong dose, or a placebo for some entirely different disease altogether).

Re:Placebo effect (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306539)

The funkiest part for me is that you can have a more or less effective placebo. A sugar pill painkiller in a 'name brand' box is a more effective placebo than one in plain packaging, and both are more effective at the apparent relief of mild pain than doing nothing

Sometimes I wish I was stupid enough for placebo's to work on me. instead I have a medical professional explain every unknown medicine and procedure to me each time I receive one. It sucks the magic out of it, but I would like to think this makes me healthier as I have a much better knowledge of what treatment my body is getting.

Perhaps my comfort of knowing just what the treatment is doing to/for me is my placebo.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

cybaz (538103) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305357)

There is an interesting article in wired that shows that placebos are actually becoming "more effective" or at least more difficult to make drugs that are significantly more effective than placebo's. It appears that since medicine is so much more trusted now than it was 50 or so year ago, that just believing they are being treated triggers some people's body to fight of the illness. http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/17-09/ff_placebo_effect?currentPage=all [wired.com]

Re:Placebo effect (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306083)

The placebo effect has been repeatedly scientifically proven to be pretty amazingly effective at making people better, by objective measures of health/recovery.

Mind over matter only works when there is a mental component to the disease. Placebos work great at alleviating pain, which is well known to be modulated by descending afferant neurons in the spinal cord. Placebos work great when stress is part of the pathology. Stress releases cortisol that aggravates gastric ulcers, so placebos help with ulcers.

However when the pathology is purely mechanical, say a broken bone, or a tumore, placebos do nothing at all.

Re:Placebo effect (4, Informative)

femtobyte (710429) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306273)

Even in "purely mechanical" pathologies like broken bones, scientifically studying and implementing "placebo" components of treatment can have beneficial effects. While the underlying cause of such pathologies is not amenable to placebo treatment, they carry along a lot of pain, stress, and anxiety, too. A good doctor should know both how to set the bone and apply the cast, and how to minimize the suffering of the recovering patient (so they don't spend the next few weeks intently focusing on their pain and how much they want to scratch itchy spots under the cast). Use of placebo doesn't necessarily mean giving the patient some additional magic-woo-woo tincture; it's things that can be built in to the bare technical process for slapping on a cast. What sort of "bedside manner" framing of the medical procedure can the doctor present, so the patient leaves subconsciously satisfied that they will have a relatively easy and painless recuperation (with better long-term results than hooking them on massive addictive painkiller drug doses)? Success in this aspect of care is amenable to scientific scrutiny, perhaps even by learning from and systematizing what successful quacks do to con their patients into feeling cured.

Re:Placebo effect (1)

nitehawk214 (222219) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306495)

... But it's a worthwhile area of study to learn (possibly by observing the quacks) how *real* doctors can best harness the power of placebo effects in their patient care procedures, bolstering the effectiveness and reducing side effects of actual medications.

Agreed, something as simple as a bit of bedside manner can make a world of good to an ill patient. But this does not replace real treatment for real diseases. All the feel-good-placebo in the world is not going to do you a damn bit of good when you get cancer.

It will always be here, but.... (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304637)

Although it is probably true that there will always be a fraud in need of skeptics, I do think that his work shows that perhaps we may someday be able to mitigate it to the extent that we can limit the danger to only the most credulous of individuals. And maybe we can limit the damage that these frauds do to those people. So, in that regard, having an organized group like JREF is a real step forward for humanity, and I hope it receives the support it needs to continue the work.

Re:It will always be here, but.... (1)

narcc (412956) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306651)

I do think that his work shows that perhaps we may someday be able to mitigate it

What are the fruits of JREF's labor? Randi has had virtually no impact on even his most high-profile targets. Silvia Brown is still making millions and Uri Geller is still at it -- his recent T.V. show ran for three seasons, on networks across Europe. (He bought a freakin' island as recently as 2009.)

Even Peter Popoff, Randi's only notable success, is back at it. You'll be disappointed to know that Popoff is making millions upon millions every year.

Further, JREF doesn't seem to do anything related to education or outreach.

I hope it receives the support it needs to continue the work

What work? The whole of the organizations output seems to consist of TAM (which gets less press than high-school basketball game) and a newsletter.

I'm skeptical (4, Interesting)

dkleinsc (563838) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304755)

What proof do we have that this was really James Randi answering the questions, and not just somebody (say, someone else at JREF) claiming to be Randi?

Re:I'm skeptical (1)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304973)

The dry wit, perhaps? Hard to match the exact tone of a Randi joke. Not impossible, but certainly evidence against an imposter.

Fun fact (-1, Troll)

narcc (412956) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304809)

No one has ever taken the formal test. Not one person.

How many have taken the preliminary test? JREF doesn't know -- they're that badly organized.

There have been a few cases reported where JREF has killed applications by requesting changes to the protocol that effectively changing the nature of the claim made by the challenger. That makes for some great posts on the JREF forum, but otherwise hurts the reputation of the challenge itself.

In short: Randi is a fraud. He does a disservice to the skeptical community.

Re:Fun fact (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43305101)

No one has ever taken the formal test. Not one person.

How many have taken the preliminary test? JREF doesn't know -- they're that badly organized.

There have been a few cases reported where JREF has killed applications by requesting changes to the protocol that effectively changing the nature of the claim made by the challenger. That makes for some great posts on the JREF forum, but otherwise hurts the reputation of the challenge itself.

In short: Randi is a fraud. He does a disservice to the skeptical community.

Wow. I suggest you begin by educating yourself at: http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/component/content/article/37-static/254-jref-challenge-faq.html [randi.org] And don't take my (or Randi's site) word for it. All of the information there is independently verifiable, if you do a little work. Somehow, I don't think you're eager to.

Re:Fun fact (5, Informative)

Xtifr (1323) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305111)

No one has ever taken the formal test. Not one person.

That's right. Not one person has been able to pass the preliminary testing, which is designed to see if there's enough of an effect to warrant full-scale testing. So?

How many have taken the preliminary test? JREF doesn't know -- they're that badly organized.

Why should they keep track of every idiot with ridiculous claims who can't even show plausible evidence that there's something possibly worth investigation?

There have been a few cases reported where JREF has killed applications by requesting changes to the protocol that effectively changing the nature of the claim made by the challenger.

Citation, please? This claim has been making the rounds, and it seems to be based on one case where the applicant violated the agreed-upon protocol by using her cell-phone during the testing. She claimed she was just answering a text, but refused to continue testing without the cell phone. Yes, her preliminary results would have warranted further investigation if she had followed protocol, but the fact that she refused to continue without her phone is quite suspicious (and cannot be blamed on JREF).

If you've got something more substantial than that, please present it.

Re:Fun fact (-1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305117)

That's my feeling, I admire his aims, but I don't respect the hypocrisy with which he aims to meet them. Ultimately, skepticism without an open mind is lacking in value. One must have an open mind when being skeptical because there's a ton of weird things over the years that have proven to be true, even though they seemed to be completely insane at the time.

The whole idea that cells are made up of even smaller particles would have seemed to be astonishing when it was first postulated, and scientists are still finding smaller particles many decades later.

Or, perhaps those blind spots where the optic nerves prevent vision, I'm sure that seemed very strange when discovered. Or the ability of humans to see polarization in light, even now that seems relatively strange, even though it's true.

Don't get me wrong, charlatans aren't any better, but at least they're not usually hypocritical.

Re:Fun fact (1)

paiute (550198) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305287)

That's my feeling, I admire his aims, but I don't respect the hypocrisy with which he aims to meet them. Ultimately, skepticism without an open mind is lacking in value. One must have an open mind when being skeptical because there's a ton of weird things over the years that have proven to be true, even though they seemed to be completely insane at the time.

The whole idea that cells are made up of even smaller particles would have seemed to be astonishing when it was first postulated, and scientists are still finding smaller particles many decades later.

Or, perhaps those blind spots where the optic nerves prevent vision, I'm sure that seemed very strange when discovered. Or the ability of humans to see polarization in light, even now that seems relatively strange, even though it's true.

You are confusing discoveries which can be proven upon investigation with alleged discoveries for which no proof is ever offered.

Re:Fun fact (1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306113)

No, I'm not. You seem to be under the impression that these ideas had proof prior to the experiments being done. Minds like Randi's are problematic because they sprout from the diea that there's nothing to it, rather than from the possibility that there's something to it. You can't do good science starting with the belief that there's nothing to it. You have to start from the point of view of, well, if this is real, what would it be like, and how can I test to see if that's the case. If you're view is that the only acceptable answer is that it's bunk, you're experiments will be just as flawed as people who take the opposite tack.

BTW, I do have a degree in the Natural Sciences, and there's no way in hell that I would ever assume that things like this were proven before the experiments were done.

What's more, have you been following the bullshit in String Theory lately? They have yet to come up with even one testable hypothesis in over 2 decades of work.

Re:Fun fact (1)

OakDragon (885217) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305123)

In short: Randi is a fraud. He does a disservice to the skeptical community.

Whuuut? [soundjax.com]

Re:Fun fact (3, Insightful)

JBMcB (73720) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305241)

No one has ever taken the formal test. Not one person.

That's because nobody has passed preliminary testing.

How many have taken the preliminary test? JREF doesn't know -- they're that badly organized.

Check their web site - they have dozens of writeups on preliminary tests.

There have been a few cases reported where JREF has killed applications by requesting changes to the protocol that effectively changing the nature of the claim made by the challenger.

Reported by whom? I've seen examples where they ask for changes to the claim because the claim was untestable. For example, there was a guy who said he could talk telepathically to aliens. He could describe their homeworld and technology and everything. Of course, he could be making it all up, so they asked him if he could provide anything that could be testable.

Is it unfair to be disappointed? (1)

addie (470476) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304813)

I respect Randi and the work that he does, but I'm sadly disappointed with this interview. I was really hoping for more involved answers here; there's barely anything resembling a thought-provoking response among the bunch. Perhaps I was spoiled by the recent Dr. Bakkar Q&A.

Re:Is it unfair to be disappointed? (1)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305127)

Given that Dr. Bakker got a ton of crap for "omg wall of text you didn't answer any of our questions!" I'd wager that you're in the minority, unfortunately.

Re:Is it unfair to be disappointed? (1)

Spottywot (1910658) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305991)

I found that a strange response from Slashdotters, considering the extra effort it took. It was far more interesting in my mind than a simple q + a. I think it was more to do with attention seekers wanting their question answered directly in the article giving them a namecheck than any legitimate criticism.

Re:Is it unfair to be disappointed? (1)

SQL Error (16383) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306575)

The problem was, it didn't actually answer the questions.

Re:Is it unfair to be disappointed? (1)

JBMcB (73720) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305407)

No, they do seem somewhat perfunctory.

Re:Is it unfair to be disappointed? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43305513)

That's because his involvement here is a sales pitch to drum up business. He doesn't want to answer your questions here....he wants you to remember that he might just be relevant and either buy or donate something. Nothing wrong with that IMO, but I do wish people would be a bit more forthright with that kind of behavior.

Martin Gardner (5, Informative)

irenaeous (898337) | about a year and a half ago | (#43304841)

I asked the question regarding whether a Christian could be a skeptic. I called Martin Gardner a "self-described liberal Christian" which I tried to correct in a comment to my original post. He was a theist and was raised as a Christian, but my thinking of him as a liberal Christian was based on a misreading of one of his books where he appealed to "Liberal Christians" or "Philosophical Theists" using both terms. So I confounded them. On further reading it seems clear to me that he rejected religious traditions including Christianity while retaining as stance as a philosophical theist. Randi's answer was both accurate and charitable. He is a great man.

Re:Martin Gardner (3, Insightful)

Teckla (630646) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306571)

I asked the question regarding whether a Christian could be a skeptic. I called Martin Gardner a "self-described liberal Christian" which I tried to correct in a comment to my original post. He was a theist and was raised as a Christian, but my thinking of him as a liberal Christian was based on a misreading of one of his books where he appealed to "Liberal Christians" or "Philosophical Theists" using both terms. So I confounded them. On further reading it seems clear to me that he rejected religious traditions including Christianity while retaining as stance as a philosophical theist. Randi's answer was both accurate and charitable. He is a great man.

I really liked your question. Thanks for asking it. Unfortunately, I didn't feel the answer fully addressed your question.

I started out as a Christian [1], and throughout my life have switched between generic (non-Christian) theist, agnostic, and atheist several times. I've kind of settled on agnostic as the most intellectually honest place to be. As an agnostic, I feel downright unwelcome in the "skeptical community" which, as you say, seems joined at the hip with atheism. Their position (spoken or unspoken) seems to be that if you're not an atheist, you're a dummy. As much as I enjoy and appreciate all the things the "skeptical community" does, I'm not really eager to join their ranks when they think I'm a dummy for being agnostic rather than atheist. Oh well...

[1] I was a child at the time, so it's probably more accurate to say that I was the child of Christian parents, and far too young to make my own decision about what I was or was not.

Why did I read this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43304863)

No, seriously why...

Ha! (1)

Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305121)

I knew it.

If Randi is reading this, (1)

iplayfast (166447) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305381)

I've got a question that I didn't think of to ask in time for the interview.
Have you ever gone into a situation where you thought you would be debunking something only to find out that the person was on the level?

I'm thinking if a debunker had heard of penicillin (being cured of small pox by using bread mold!?!) he would have been able to cast dispersions on Fleming etc. Is there ever a case where you were debunking actual advancement and decided that it didn't need to be debunked after all?

Re:If Randi is reading this, (1)

Microlith (54737) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306227)

Totally not Randi here, but what the hey!

Have you ever gone into a situation where you thought you would be debunking something only to find out that the person was on the level?

Given the crackpots and claims that are tested, I think we'd have heard about someone winning the million dollars by now.

if a debunker had heard of penicillin (being cured of small pox by using bread mold!?!

Well, then said debunker would have been dead right quick as smallpox is a virus, and we know all about viruses and antibiotics...

Is there ever a case where you were debunking actual advancement and decided that it didn't need to be debunked after all?

I suspect an actual case of advancement (whatever that means in this context) would probably have an easier time getting a research grant by providing actual, testable evidence rather than having to go through Randi's screening and winning his million dollars. After all, if it could survive that it isn't hocus pocus quackery but something real.

Just how powerful *IS* faith? (1, Interesting)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43305441)

I personally know 3 religious people who have each had, at one time in their lives, a medically diagnosed condition which was being monitored carefully by their physician after discovery, and that spontaneously disappeared from existence after a period of time ranging from a few weeks to almost a year with absolutely no evident medical explanation (for one of them, in particular, one of the last ultrasounds they were to have had before an upcoming surgery was unable to find any evidence of the condition for which they had supposedly needed the operation in the first place, where previous ultrasounds had apparently confirmed it... the condition was suddenly simply gone). In all 3 cases, the doctors they had could offer no reasonable explanation, and only encouraged their patients to be grateful, and all 3 of these people that I know attribute it to having been healed by God.

Is it possible that they were just misdiagnosed the first time, and as further tests were performed, ultimately more reliable results obtained? I dunno... but if that's not the case, then human faith in something has considerably more influence than I think science can reasonably explain.

Re:Just how powerful *IS* faith? (3, Insightful)

green1 (322787) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306027)

That would be interesting... except that the exact same thing happens to athiests too. Medical misdiagnosis are unfortunately common, and along with the body's own natural healing ability, account for every one of these cases. When it comes to minor aches and pains, mental condition and the body's own healing ability can handle a lot. When it comes to the larger issues, ones that would require surgery to solve, in every one of these cases that has ever been investigated and the claims are properly analyzed, it turns out the initial diagnosis was wrong.

Re:Just how powerful *IS* faith? (1)

FrankSchwab (675585) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306111)

Why is it so difficult to believe that a disease that comes on suddenly and without explanation, can cure itself the same way?

I personally wouldn't put my faith in pancreatic cancer spontaneously disappearing, but I certainly put my faith in a head cold, the flu, the mumps, chicken pox, etc. going away spontaneously. We view diseases as either self-curing, or not - but certainly there is a spectrum ranging from 99.9% of the time self-curing, to 0.0001% of the time self-curing (or worse). If you have a disease in the modern world that's seen as "non-self-curing", you're likely to get professional medical treatment, and a spontaneous self-cure would be attributed to the treatment. We don't see it as ethical (well, at least since the Tuskegee syphilis experiment ended in the 1970s) to actively study hundreds of people with a treatable disease and refuse to treat them to watch the progression of the disease and see if any of them are spontaneously cured. /frank

Re:Just how powerful *IS* faith? (1)

Rhacman (1528815) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306141)

No medical diagnosis can be made with 100% confidence. Additionally, current medical science does not give us the ability to know exactly how a condition will affect a specific individual and to what extent that individual's body can recover by its own means. It is possible they were misdiagnosed, it is possible their bodies naturally overcame their conditions by means the observing doctors couldn't explain, and it is possible that the Flying Spaghetti Monster cured them with his noodly appendage, we simply don't know and without objective evidence it would be foolish to speculate.

Re:Just how powerful *IS* faith? (1)

mark-t (151149) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306733)

No medical diagnosis can be made with 100% confidence

True... but when you see things like tumors or cysts when you're doing an examination, which is later confirmed by ultrasound, and they don't seem to be of a type that would naturally just go away, and their presence is supposedly confirmed by a second technician's examination, and when a followup is done several months later, so that the surgeon will know the full extent of material that needs to be removed in case there was any change, there's suddenly no trace of them sort of makes you go... "huh"?

I'm certain that there's a perfectly natural explanation for stuff like this, but when it happens to somebody you personally know and you watch them go through this whole ordeal, in the end, while you're certainly happy for them in how things turned out, there's still that nagging question left in your mind of "how the fucking hell did that happen?"

Re:Just how powerful *IS* faith? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43306501)

The moment you try to explain it, you're doing science.
It's just that some scientific theories (god did it) are rather weak, and some scientific theories (eg. X disease sometimes dies off to immune system) are rather strong.

Re:Just how powerful *IS* faith? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#43306615)

ooh, a whole, whopping three? You might want to look up "anecdotal evidence."

Re:Just how powerful *IS* faith? (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306761)

The experiments have been done. Spontaneous remission of disease occurs at exactly the same rate in believers and non-believers, and in those who pray or do not pray. That you know three such people who happen to be religious is coincidence, and probably a bit of selection bias.

Randi=Nut Case (1)

hackus (159037) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306291)

"Never Trust Anyone who Claims to be a keeper of truth."

"Always remember to seek truth."

"Truth is a Three Edged Sword. Your Truth, my truth and the truth itself."

-Hackus

Not all good things are provable (2)

Peter (Professor) Fo (956906) | about a year and a half ago | (#43306357)

Randi is a good-egg and we need more people like him who are alert to frauds. I'm also appalled at irrational rejection of medical treatment on the basis of quackery. But there's one little bit of good that can come from an, ahem, 'healer' if they have confidence that the patient can catch onto. To go with many medical conditions is a load of mental baggage and even legit pills that fuzz thinking. It helps enormously if the patient leaves their complex regrets, hang-ups and attention to trivial detail behind to focus instead on getting better. This applies to school kids worried about exams, artists losing their muse and general depression, de-motivation and relationship problems. Often a ludicrously unqualified but persuasive person can achieve that. Unfortunately letting such 'enthusiasts' near vulnerable people can be bad news as altruism turns to exploitation. Ughh! Here's hoping someone can square that circle.
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