Question: What first prompted your crusade against
James Randi: Well, for one thing. As a magician—someone who
professionally deceives people, but does it for entertainment purposes—I
know two things with great certainty. First, how people can be
fooled. And second, and that’s more important, how they can fool
themselves. And they do.
Now magicians know this and they allow people to fool themselves, but
for purposes of entertainment. But I see the charlatans out there, the
people on television who say they can talk with dead people. I too can
talk to dead people, but do they answer? I think Shakespeare asked a
question like that one time in Henry the something or other. The point
is, people can be misled into believing there is a supernatural world
out there. Now, there may be. I can’t say that there isn’t. But
certainly what is being shown us on television and through the media in
general by people like John Edward, for instance, and Sylvia Browne and
other performers like this who say they have these supernatural powers.
That is nothing like supernatural powers. There is nothing happening
there that the magician can’t explain. And that’s what got me so angry
about it because I saw lives being destroyed, I saw money being taken. I
saw emotional security being damaged desperately.
I had people coming to the James Randi Educational Foundation in
Florida, they sit in my library, and the sit down, they say, “But our
mother has control of the book. She has the power of attorney and she’s
given all the money away to the faith healer, or to the fortune teller,
the gypsy, or whatever, and what can we do? And the answer is, you
can’t do anything. If she’s got legal control of it, she has a right to
do what she thinks is right with it. Now, she’s wrong in that
supposition. That is not what should be happening, in my estimation.
People should be told the truth. They should be allowed to know that
they can be deceived. And the average person out there doesn’t realize
how easily they can be deceived by a clever operator.
Question: What prompted your crusade against Uri Geller in
James Randi: Well for one thing, he obtained a very high profile
back in the ‘70s, when he was [...], that’s Uri Geller, we’re talking
about—who says that he can bend spoons with his mind. Duh, every fool
can bend a spoon, but with his mind? That might be a different thing.
He attained a reputation because he was tested at Stanford Research
Institute. Now, after hours, it was informal, the institute had nothing
to do with actually testing him, but he was tested on the premises, and
that’s where that impression was given rise to.
Eventually, a scientific paper was written up for Nature magazine by the
two rather naïve scientists who fell for the simple tricks that Geller
did. He only has four tricks in his whole repertoire for the last 35
years that I know of. And yet he’s done very well on them. He’s
obviously made money in the trade over those years. And that’s okay,
hey making money as an entertainer... but he tried to tell people that
he really had supernatural powers. That he came from, of all things—and
this is his words and not mine—he came from a planet called Hoova,
which apparently is a place where they get vacuum cleanas. I’m not
sure. But he said this planet is way out there in the solar system, or
beyond the solar system, and that he came from that planet.
No he wasn’t. He was born in Israel just like everybody else was in
Israel. They are born the same way, of a mother and a father. He
didn’t come from any mystical planet. Nothing like that whatsoever.
But these scientists who saw him and who apparently tested him. They
actually didn’t test him, what they did was they allowed him to do
demonstrations of what he did best. They wrote a whole book on him, and
they reported to Nature magazine that it was the real thing.
Well, I objected to that and ever since then I have been pursuing Mr.
Geller. Now, he has changed his tune. He doesn’t want to be known as a
"psychic," he wants to be known as a "mystifier." Ho, ho, ho. What
does that mean? Well, it doesn’t fool too many people. You see, Mr.
Geller has a problem; his problem is that he cost tens of billions of
dollars in research funds all over the world, from countries, from
companies, from various corporations, and individuals and universities
who spent all kinds of money testing what they called “The Geller
Effect.” And they wasted all that research money, and time, and careers
as well. So, if Geller now comes out and says, "Oh, I was only
fooling. Yeah, that was a fib that I told you. I didn’t really come
from the planet Hoova, and I can’t really bend spoons with my mind, I
just simply do it when nobody’s looking, you see." But if he were to
admit that, I think that the law would probably come down on him pretty
heavily. Certainly some people out there would like some recompense for
their loss of time and effort.
Question: What pseudoscientific beliefs do you observe within the
James Randi: Oh, well, such things as free energy for example.
Zero-point energy. Getting energy from no place. That’s... we used to
call those perpetual motion machines, but now they’re given much more
highfalutin terms. But a lot of money is wasted on that. See, we have a
million-dollar challenge with the James Randi Educational Foundation,
and that challenge says, “Do something that is paranormal, supernatural,
or occult and you win the millions dollars.” The million dollars is
there, it’s with an investment house in New York City. All you do is
perform as you say you can perform and you collect the million dollars.
Now, Mr. Geller has never applied, for one thing. Sylvia Browne did
apply. She was forced into it on a major television show some years
ago, and she’s been looking for me ever since. She apparently can’t
find me. She talks to dead people, and I’m alive, and she can’t find
me. I’m in the phone book Sylvia, what’s wrong? But she says also that
I’m not a godly person.
Now, I would think that Sylvia would think, maybe I’ll take this godly
person to the cleaners and take his million dollars. Now, it’s not my
million dollars, it belongs to the foundation, but it is a million
dollars. It’s in investable bonds that is cashable, negotiable bonds.
You can change it into a million dollars overnight simply by selling the
shares. That’s all, and so it is there. It’s a million dollar prize
and it’s a big carrot to wave in front of these people. Where are
they? They should be knocking at that door right now, as a matter of
fact, I would think.
Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen