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.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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