Wednesday, 1 February 2012
The Other Side of James Randi
This article is based this David Icke Forum thread: http://forum.davidicke.com/showthread.php?t=5601
See here for background: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2011/07/skeptical-renaissance.html
As far as James Randi goes there's a sense that he is "The Last Word” on any Paranormal claim, even among those who are not among his closest of supporters. James Randi is wont to be the Alpha and Omega, The Final Arbiter, on them because he has his Million Dollar Challenge, and/or that all the scientists love him etc etc. He has a reputation of being "lily-white" in his conduct and totally above-board, transparent, honest-as-the-day-is-long and flawless; but is this justified, or is there another side to the one-sided Angel that Randi is supposed to be? Firstly it’s important to bear in mind that Randi is a showman, he has a lifetime’s experience in communicating with and entertaining the public on stage and screen; this will have given him a “way” with people. He is also a stage conjuror, an illusionist who can make rabbits pop out of hats, cards change suits and watches disappear. Who’s to say he may not even be capable of carrying out a few tricks under supposed “laboratory conditions”? Amidst the throngs of adulation, there are some voices raised that will hopefully give us a moment of pause; one is the book Randi’s Prize by Robert McLuhan which I recently read myself, see: http://www.skeptiko.com/randi-prize-exposed-in-new-book/ This is an excellent critique of the rarely-questioned “Skeptical Norm” that is accepted almost on the nod by millions around the world. If you listen to James Randi you’ll notice that he talks as if he’s the only real Paranormal investigator in the world. He occasionally refers to his peers briefly, but usually only to denounce them in an extremely patronizing manner as naive babes-in-arms who glide around haunted houses like Tolkienian Elves: "Ah, I'll put a camera there!... Ah, I'll put another camera there!... Ah, I'll put a crystal there!" It is he alone whom he regards as a streetwise “lean, mean gangsta”; to me he stinks of a “Hey-man-I’ve-been-there”- Poser, see: http://hpanwo.blogspot.com/2008/11/hpanwo-guide-to-being-ive-been-there.html , a bit like Project Avalon’s “Charles”, see: http://hpanwo-tv.blogspot.com/2011/03/charles-doing-washing-up.html I think this Randi Bubble needs busting! Let’s see if I can help do it...
Project Alpha was the scheme devised by James Randi in 1981 to expose what he saw as deficiencies in parapsychology investigations. For some reason he seems to enjoy doing tricks to make people look and feel like fools; he says his motives are benevalent, to get people thinking critically about their own beliefs, but are they? I wonder if there's a hint of sadism and intellectual oneupmanship behind his activities. Another example is the Carlos hoax, which starred the actor Jose Alvarez (who just happens to be the cousin of 9/11 Truth campainger Willy Rodriguez), see: http://www.skepdic.com/carlos.html Here’s an official video about Project Alpha: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1S5CRcqJQo Randi planted two illusionists in a parapsychology institute to see how far they could get pretending to have real supernatural powers, when all they were doing was stage magic. According to Randi, the scientists investigating them swallowed their claim hook, line and sinker. They declared unequivocally that this was the “real thing”. Then, at the moment the two were presented to the world, they came clean and admitted the whole thing was a hoax. Project Alpha has attained the status of D-Day or Trafalgar in the Skeptic community. However does it deserve to be so? This is what I found on a webpage that has now been removed:
Today a reader, Travis, asked me about Project Alpha, the famous episode from the early 1980s in which superSkeptic James Randi arranged for two young magicians to infiltrate a parapsychology lab in order to confound the researchers. Over the years, this strange incident has assumed almost legendary proportions in the minds of some Skeptics and reporters, who claim that the researchers were totally fooled. Here, for instance, is the way the story is told in Las Vegas Style magazine, with my comments and corrections in brackets and in bold font:
By 1979 BANACHEK [one of the magicians in question, whose real name is Steve Shaw] was starting to draw national attention as a gifted performer in extra sensory perception crafts. That was also the year that McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft awarded a $500,000 grant to Washington University in St. Louis for the establishment of the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research. [Incorrect - the grant was not bestowed by the corporation, but by James S. McDonnell as a private gift.] The lab was supposed to come up with evidence that things like bending a fork with your thoughts was a real thing. If the idea of spending half a million clams on fork bending seems just a little soft in the head, you're not alone. James Randi was an internationally known magician and an active investigator of paranormal claims when McDonnell-Douglas [sic] made the grant. He decided to send two young illusionists into the MacLab to debunk it. BANACHEK was one of the illusionists.
For three years [he] was subjected to every test the pros could come up with to prove he had authentic psychic powers. He bent things, burned things, moved things and knew things. He passed every test with flying colours [false - see Thalbourne's article, linked below] and at the end of the three year period the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research proudly announced to the scientific community that they had the real thing in the form of BANACHEK [false - no such announcement was made]. OMNI Magazine did a spread on BANACHEK. Discover Magazine said "...his demonstrations were just phenomenal." Even the National Enquirer called him a "Prodigy. Nobody like him in his field."
Mid bow for the McDonnell folks James Randi drops his bomb that BANACHEK had been working for him for the past three years and what's more everything he did was an illusion. Remember? Illusions are ideas creating misleading appearances. And mislead BANACHEK did. You know you have a major coup in your pocket when you sting the National Enquirer. [Really?] The guys at the Laboratory for Psychical [Research] were crushed. [False - they had already suspected Shaw and his partner of fraud, and had dismissed them both more than a year earlier.]
I guess Las Vegas Style subscribes to the motto "print the legend." The actual facts behind this case are thoroughly presented in a paper I found online in PDF (Adobe) form: "Science Versus Showmanship: A History of the Randi Hoax," by Michael A. Thalbourne.
Originally I had thought of summarizing this article, but there's no need to do so because it speaks for itself. Thalbourne, who was a participant in some of the events, writes in a straightforward, engaging style and lays out the key facts and timeline in the clearest possible way.
The case is also covered, in less detail, by John Beloff in Parapsychology: A Concise History.
As both Beloff's and Thalbourne's accounts make clear, there is much less to Project Alpha than its cheerleaders would have us believe. Regardless of what the National Enquirer may have said, the researchers never publicly committed themselves to the view that the phenomena they observed were genuine. They remained properly cautious in their published remarks. Indeed, they privately came to the conclusion that the two test subjects were not worth studying any further, and politely terminated the experiments. Even so, Randi had the chutzpah to hold a press conference claiming that the lab had been successfully duped - a story that is repeated to this day.
To nail down this point, I direct your attention to the appendix that follows the bibliography in Thalbourne's paper, where the published conclusions of the researchers are reproduced. This document is dated September 1, 1981, more than one year before Randi's January, 1983, press conference exposing the hoax. Regarding the test subject Mike Edwards (Shaw's partner in trickery), the researchers write:
The outcome of this research is suggestive of psychokinesis but inconclusive; due to its exploratory nature ... ordinary explanations exist for these effects, given the conditions under which they have been observed. Thus, although several events of interest have transpired, we do not claim that evidence conclusive of "psychic ability" has yet been demonstrated in our research. [Emphasis added] [Thalborne article: http://www.aiprinc.org/para-c05_Thalbourne_1995.pdf Source: http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2007/03/project_alpha.html
A very prominent critic of James Randi, Rupert Sheldrake, who was mysteriously attacked by a man wielding a knife several years ago, has spoken publically about his misgivings to do with Randi here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YB3SAD-gHTc . He says unequivocally that Randi is a liar. Not only is his Million Dollar Challenge far from being the bottom line on the issue of the Paranormal, but Randi has misrepresented Sheldrake’s own work. No doubt Randi regards (or says he regards) Sheldrake as being one of these white dress-wearing, wide-eyed flower-children who make up the entire world of Parapsychology, apart from himself.
These critiques and accusations may be true or they may be false; they involve details of investigations and commentaries that I myself have not had a part in. This article is not intended to be a one-sided and unequivocal disparagement of James Randi; I merely wish to provide a leaning-post of balance from the one-sided and unequivocal worship and adoration he has had showered upon him in abundance over his 50 year career of Skeptic debunking. I encourage all HPANWO-readers to research for themselves and make up their own minds.
Latest HPANWO Voice articles: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.com/2012/01/life-on-venus.html
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