Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

How to Squash a Paranormal Claim

The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.


Question:
What does the JREF consider a legitimate test of paranormal claims?

A test of any specific claim is going to depend entirely upon that claim.  If you say you can speak to dead people, I’ve got a whole load of questions I would like to ask certain dead people.  Answers to which I already have, and the dead people, since they are dead, I don’t believe they’ve got the answers any longer, but if you want to call them up and ask them the questions and come up with the right answer, hey, you could win the million dollars.  Now, many people say they can read minds, they can predict the future, they can interpret dreams and such, well, it all depends on the specific claim they make.  All they have to do is say what they can do, under what circumstances, with what accuracy. 

And some people have taken, literally, years.  One fellow, a PhD in California took four and a half years to answer those three questions, and finally when we got ready to enter into tests with him of "remote viewing," as he called it, and he actually gave courses in this at the university in California, he suddenly changed his email address and his telephone number.  We haven't been able to reach him since. Isn’t that strange?  I guess he doesn’t need the million dollars.

Question:
What has been the most difficult paranormal claim for the JREF to disprove?

James Randi: I’d like to say that there has been one particularly difficult one, but no, they’ve all been so easy.  They’ve been so easy because they’ve been so transparent. I’ve been in this business for a long, long time and I’ve seen everything.  Recently, I got a nice contract to go to South Korea and do a TV series, which I did there, testing South Korean "psychics," so-called.  And they told me before I left, they said, “Oh, Mr. Randi, you signed the contract, so I guess we should tell, we’ve got psychics in South Korea that you’ve never seen before.”  And I went off there with my assistant and we looked at them and turned to one another and said, “Wait a minute. This is the same thing that has been going on since the 1600s. It’s in all the books. It’s exactly the same thing. They’re serving kimchee at lunch instead of macaroni, or whatever, but in any different culture, in any differen... the costume is different, the language is different, but the same stunts are being done again, and again, and again.  They haven’t invented anything new since the early 1600s.
 
Question:
Do you believe supernatural thinking is ingrained in human cognition?

James Randi: Well, you’d have to ask a psychologist, and perhaps a few psychiatrists that question because technically I can’t answer that question.  But I will tell you, I suspect strongly that people need to have some more romance in their lives.  After all, look at the average kid who is male or female who was raised by their parents who believe that he or she will have children and will have a wife or a husband and they will be absolutely ideal people and everything will go... you will be a doctor, or lawyer, or you’ll be very wealthy, have a beautiful home.  It doesn’t work out that way all the time.  In fact, it seldom works out that way.  And so they look around and say, "What have I done wrong?"  And them somebody runs an ad on television saying, “Oh, I can solve your problems.  I can give you guidance to the future, and I can look into the crystal ball, or read the tarot cards,” or whatever.  They may tend to fall for that sort of thing because they say, "They wouldn’t’ say that if it weren’t true."  Oh, yes, they would.  And there’s a huge profit margin in this.  So people do fall for these things very, very easily.

Recorded April 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a "psychic" it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
Keep reading Show less

Why is everyone so selfish? Science explains

The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.

Credit: Adobe Stock, Olivier Le Moal.
Personal Growth
  • Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
  • New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
  • Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.
Keep reading Show less

How Hemingway felt about fatherhood

Parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.

Ernest Hemingway Holding His Son 1927 (Wikimedia Commons)
Culture & Religion

Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa," but what kind of dad was he?

Keep reading Show less

How DNA revealed the woolly mammoth's fate – and what it teaches us today

Scientists uncovered the secrets of what drove some of the world's last remaining woolly mammoths to extinction.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Surprising Science

Every summer, children on the Alaskan island of St Paul cool down in Lake Hill, a crater lake in an extinct volcano – unaware of the mysteries that lie beneath.

Keep reading Show less

The biology of aliens: How much do we know?

Hollywood has created an idea of aliens that doesn't match the science.

Videos
  • Ask someone what they think aliens look like and you'll probably get a description heavily informed by films and pop culture. The existence of life beyond our planet has yet to be confirmed, but there are clues as to the biology of extraterrestrials in science.
  • "Don't give them claws," says biologist E.O. Wilson. "Claws are for carnivores and you've got to be an omnivore to be an E.T. There just isn't enough energy available in the next trophic level down to maintain big populations and stable populations that can evolve civilization."
  • In this compilation, Wilson, theoretical physicist Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, and evolutionary biologist Jonathan B. Losos explain why aliens don't look like us and why Hollywood depictions are mostly inaccurate.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast