An Honest Liar: Upcoming Movie About James Randi

March 9th, 2012
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Here’s a trailer for an upcoming documentary, which is still in the works, on the life of well known skeptic James Randi. They were actually filming this when I was at The Amazing Meeting last year.


What can I say about Randi that hasn’t already been said? He’s been a giant in the skeptic movement, and over the years he has been personally responsible for toppling many scam artists and exposing charlatans around the world. Now in his 80′s, he’s still a dynamo who is always out there advancing the cause of empirical skepticism.

I’ve disagreed with Randi on many occasions. However, he has still been one of the most important mentors I have had in becoming an activist for good science and skepticism. Randi’s most striking feature is that, despite his status, he is never too busy to provide some personal guidance or help to any aspiring skeptic. He’s easily approachable and has endless enthusiasm for helping others get involved in the cause.

There is no doubt that Mr. Randi is largely responsible for the recent explosion of skepticism and expansion of skeptical advocacy to include those who had not previously been heavily involved. For many years, one of the biggest problems with skepticism is that it has been limited primarily to older white male academics. Randi, with his charisma, showmanship and understanding of the importance of inclusion, has helped transform it into a movement which now includes more young people and a greater diversity of gender, race and background than ever before.


This entry was posted on Friday, March 9th, 2012 at 12:01 am and is filed under Amazing Meeting, Bad Science, Culture, Good Science, Paranormal, personal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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21 Responses to “An Honest Liar: Upcoming Movie About James Randi”

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    Long overdue IMHO…


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  2. 2
    Floyd Says:

    James Randi has always been a personal hero for me. He is an inspiration!


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  3. 3
    L.Long Says:

    I watched as Randi not just debunk various psychics but show how applying the techniques of magic stops these people in their tracks. Putting the lie to their ‘skills’. Since then when something strange is worked I try to think of ways that a magician would do the same thing and have usually seen the deception.
    I owe him a lot for opening my eyes to methods of skepticism, as do many others.


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  4. 4
    Kit P Says:

    Never heard of James Randi. Can not be that well known.

    Telling the truth is a skill while telling a lie is an art. A good lie requires first you starting out with an obvious truth to relax the skeptics. This is followed by the author’s agenda. For example,
    “For many years, one of the biggest problems with skepticism is that it has been limited primarily to older white male academics.”

    Really? [\skeptical tone of voice] Is that true and how would you measure it? Even more important, does it matter?

    Under the category of ‘does it matter’ is the amount of radioactive material released by a coal plant. What matters if you are harming people.

    If you go to someplace to be entertained, does it matter if you are being lied to? James Randi, Penn & Teller, and the healing preacher are all putting on a show.

    James Randi does what we all do, define a morality and then look down at those who do not meet our morality. The trailer ends with James Randi standing next to his big house. Nothing wrong with that I think he has a great act.

    When it comes to voicing skepticism, I vote for Rush.


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  5. 5
    DV82XL Says:

            Kit P said:

    Really? [\skeptical tone of voice] Is that true and how would you measure it? Even more important, does it matter?.

    I am going to charitably assume that you are being facetious when you claim never have heard of Randi, if that’s not the case you have much to learn about the skeptic ‘movement’. (Although frankly it just reinforces by view that you have nothing to say)

    As to why it matters, there is a real difference between a true skeptic and those that can be lumped under the term ‘denialists.’ Skepticism is not the knee-jerk denial of all knowledge claims. A skeptic is first and foremost a rationalist: someone who believes that reason is the most reliable way to arrive at knowledge. Skepticism is not defined by the conclusion to a line of investigation, but the methodology of that investigation.

    Denialism is choosing to refuse to accept an empirically verifiable reality. In short a skeptic demands that there is proof of a novel hypothesis before accepting it, while a denialists demands that the hypothesis they hold as true be disproved, often an impossible task for technical reasons.

    While you are right that one is expected to suspend disbelief when being entertained, Randi and the others you mentioned, see it as their duty to expose those that use the techniques of their craft to promote lies in the real world. And yes that matters.


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  6. 6
    Johannes van Vuren Says:

    Dr Buzzo,
    What did you disagree about?


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  7. 7
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Johannes van Vuren said:

    Dr Buzzo,
    What did you disagree about?

    Oh, mostly minor things on a personal level. For example, I thought he took way too harsh a tone in one of his posts about religion and I thought that this would be more prone to pushing people away than making them agree. I also had some issues with some decisions he made about some administrative things.

    The thing about Randi is that, while he’s usually enthusiastic and friendly, he can become a stubborn ole bastard (and I mean that in an endearing way) if you get him in an argument.


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  8. 8
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Kit P said:

    Never heard of James Randi. Can not be that well known.

    Telling the truth is a skill while telling a lie is an art. A good lie requires first you starting out with an obvious truth to relax the skeptics. This is followed by the author’s agenda. For example,
    “For many years, one of the biggest problems with skepticism is that it has been limited primarily to older white male academics.”

    Really? [\skeptical tone of voice] Is that true and how would you measure it? Even more important, does it matter?

    Yes, it is true because there are organized “Skeptic” groups, such as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, which is now the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. It was made up of all old white men. This modern movement goes all the way back to the 1960′s, although it existed before that.

    I’ve personally seen a change in Skepticism over the past few years. It’s been recognized that we really need grass roots activism and to expand the message to college students, young women, those outside a rather small circle etc.

    The internet has helped a great deal. So have media personalities like Penn and Teller, Adam Savage and others who can get a new demographic interested. There’s a lot more diversity, creativity and so on. There are skeptic meetings and get together now, and they get bigger each time. the North East Conference on Science and Skepticism, for example, has had to upgrade venues because it’s expanded so much.

            Kit P said:

    Under the category of ‘does it matter’ is the amount of radioactive material released by a coal plant. What matters if you are harming people.

    Oh, I never said coal plants present a radiological danger. Sure it’s greater than nuclear plants, but the radioactivity is the least of the things blown out the stack to be concerned about.

    If you go to someplace to be entertained, does it matter if you are being lied to?

    James Randi, Penn & Teller, and the healing preacher are all putting on a show.

    James Randi does what we all do, define a morality and then look down at those who do not meet our morality. The trailer ends with James Randi standing next to his big house. Nothing wrong with that I think he has a great act.

    Penn and Teller and James Randi don’t “lie” that’s the thing I kinda disagree with here. You go to a Penn and Teller show and they will tell you straight up there’s no magic going on. That’s not what a healing preacher does. People don’t go to a healing preacher to see illusions, they go to be healed.

    Mr. Randi really does not put on any major magic shows and hasn’t in some time. He does some great tricks, but really he spends his time doing investigations and advocacy and has for many years.

    I would not call him super rich. He’s perfectly comfortable. His home is an interesting design. It’s supposed to be a hurricane proof house. I don’t remember the whole story but I think he got it in foreclosure or had to repair it or something. IIRC, he snagged it on a good deal. But yes, he is financially comfortable. He has written quite a few books and done a number of other things over the years. He’s not rich enough to fly in private jets, but he is rich enough to fly first or business class. He drives a Miata (last I remember at least) not an Aston-Martin or Bentley.

            Kit P said:

    When it comes to voicing skepticism, I vote for Rush.

    I guess. The only thing is Getty Lee’s voice is in this really narrow band where there is a fine line between sounding good and like fingernails on a chalkboard. He sounds great in the studio albums, but if his voice is just ever so slightly off, it sounds horrible and I’ve heard some pretty terrible live recordings of them.

    So meh… I’m split on whether I’d pay to see them live, but they do have some great stuff out there.


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  9. 9
    Kit P Says:

    DV82XL and drbuzz0 thank you for the civil response. One of the things I like about the internet is the interesting things and the chance to bounce ideas off other people. One of things I notice about the blogs is that people say outrageous and provocative things and then get there feelings hurt when people respond it a way that a normal person would expect. So what would you expect about a normal response on the topic of being skeptical?

    A skeptic like me is going to say,

    “Really? [\skeptical tone of voice] Is that true and how would you measure it? Even more important, does it matter?”

    Before asking that question I checked and knew the answer. See I am a trained skeptic, In the navy, we call it having a questioning attitude. I have had a nuclear trained officer, In the case, the main propulsion assistant lie to me face infront of witnesses. I was the engineering duty officer and the MPA was relieving me as EDO. I has been up all night dealing with issues. The MPA came in and stated that he relieved me without asking any status questions. I asked him if he had toured the plant and reviewed the logs. I knew the answer but he stated that he had. His first clue should have been the logs sitting in plain sight if front of me. The plant status has changed and I planned to have a discussion about. The MPA was going to do the wrong thing even after I explained it to him. He thought I was wrong but agreed for the moment until I was off duty. Then he proceeded assuming that I was going home after a long duty day.

    This turned into a pissing contest in my area of expertise. The captain could over rule me. However, there was two problems with call the captain on the weekend. The issue of the problem itself and the issue of not telling the truth. Fortunately, the engineer just happened to come in a quickly agreed with me.

    So again let me state the facts about Randi. He is not well known. He is not the leader of a ‘movement’. It might be accurate to say that he is a leader of a cult but he certainly is not doing any ground breaking work in the area of critical thinking. Certainly not an area that is important

    To be really, really, harsh. Debunking mystics and charlatans is not exactly heavy lifting. Randi may be an interesting character but that is about it.

    Let’s look at this concept.

    “does it matter if you are being lied to? ”

    What matters is making making the correct decision regardless of the method you use. It he EDO in the example above had walked in and ask ‘WTO’, then we would have a turnover. The MPA had made a decision based on yesterday’s facts. He had a mindset.

    Speaking of mindsets,

    “but the radioactivity is the least of the things blown out the stack to be concerned about. ”

    I am skeptical of such statements. As a trained environmental engineer I know that is a false statement. I have checked the facts at least for the US.

    In this case like many drbuzz0 has a mindset about coal-fired power plants. He allows himself to be lied to and passes on the gossip. To be fair, I suspect that drbuzz0 bases his mindset on yesterday’s facts that are not 20 years out of date.

    One of the reason I am skeptical about claim about coal-fired power plants is the number of false claims about nuke plant. At one time I was the responsible engineer for the systems that controlled air and water emission from a nuke plant in California. The facts I knew and the facts in the media were different.

    One of the personalities during the part of the day when few listed to AM radio was Rush who was an unheard of local guy back then. I did not think he would last because he had the audacity to voice many of the things I was skeptical about back then. I bring it up in this thread because I heard an NPR story about about him driving home from work. Rush is an example of a well know and influential skeptic.

    My sister is a California feminist. As Rush became more popular and went national, she expressed outrage over his views. I asked her if she listed to him. She said no. How did she know what his views were. A friend told her. Did her friend listen to Rush? No! So how do you know that you do not share his views.

    As a said earlier, Rush discussed many things I was skeptical about. On several occasions, my sister would be discussing things and I would change her views. I would stop talking and give the look. Then state, you now agree with Rush.

    On the topic of feminism one way for an old guy to escape is by asking if the feminist knows who Dixie Lee Ray is. If there should be an icon for feminism it would be Dixie Lee Ray. On environmental issues Dixie Lee Ray is the ultimate skeptic.

    Trashing the Planet
    http://www.booknotes.org/Watch/18418-1/Dixy+Lee+Ray.aspx

    Without electric power there would be not feminism. Watch the video.


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  10. 10
    DV82XL Says:

            Kit P said:

    So again let me state the facts about Randi. He is not well known. He is not the leader of a ‘movement’. It might be accurate to say that he is a leader of a cult but he certainly is not doing any ground breaking work in the area of critical thinking. Certainly not an area that is important

    To be really, really, harsh. Debunking mystics and charlatans is not exactly heavy lifting. Randi may be an interesting character but that is about it.

    You do your creditably a great deal of damage, and demonstrate deep ignorance by by making remarks of this sort. James Randi, (a.k.a. The Amazing Randi.) has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, He was locked in a sealed casket underwater for an hour and 44 minutes, which broke Harry Houdini’s record of one hour and 33 minutes, and was was encased in a block of ice for 55 minutes, a World record the still stands.

    He was the subject of a PBS-TV “NOVA” program dealing with his life’s work. He was the recipient of a Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as well as the Joseph A. Burton Forum Award from the American Physical Society. His One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge offering a prize of US$1,000,000 to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of any paranormal, supernatural or occult power or event under test conditions has prompted some important work in quantum information theory. As well the James Randi Education Foundation that he founded works tirelessly to expose charlatans and helps people defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.

    This is hardly the profile of a nobody. Apparently there are a number of people and organizations that hold this man in high esteem, and you dismissal of him simply demonstrates that you are an ignoramus.

    Your infatuation with Rush Limbaugh only deepens that view. Limbaugh is a sexist, and a racist who makes a living inflaming the ignorant and the bigoted, and who has been exposed as a criminal and a hypocrite. He has contributed nothing to American culture or its politics other than the destruction and alienation of the moderate Right, and any real bipartisan accommodation. While he is not solely culpable in this regard, he has been a major contributor. In my opinion he is a seditionist who’s acts boarder on treason.

    As to your misogynistic view of women, I need not comment – it speaks for itself.

    It is hardly worth the effort to oppose you in a discussion, as you do a tremendous job of trashing yourself.


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  11. 11
    JasonC Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    I guess. The only thing is Getty Lee’s voice is in this really narrow band where there is a fine line between sounding good and like fingernails on a chalkboard.

    He sounds great in the studio albums, but if his voice is just ever so slightly off, it sounds horrible and I’ve heard some pretty terrible live recordings of them.

    So meh… I’m split on whether I’d pay to see them live, but they do have some great stuff out there.

    I think he meant the other “Rush”. The one who was just told by the band not to play their music as bumper music on his show.

    You go to a Rush show to see Neil Peart play the drums and do your best to filter out Getty Lee. :)


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  12. 12
    Kit P Says:

    Before anyone else suggests I am ignorant, maybe they can provide their definition of ‘very well known’ compared to ‘not well known’

    If you have to look up on the internet that someone appeared on the ‘Tonight Show’ that would suggest that they fall into the ‘not well known’ category.

    In any case, James Randi does not make my list of of people to respect. Dixie Lee Ray does make my list, as a scientist, feminist, and as an example of skeptical thinking.


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  13. 13
    DV82XL Says:

            Kit P said:

    In any case, James Randi does not make my list of of people to respect.

    Then you are exposed as an idiot, as well as ignorant and have established that you cannot be taken seriously. Your weak attempt at justification using the ‘Tonight Show’ isolated from the rest of James Randi’s list of accomplishments is pathetic, and shows that you are someone that hasn’t got the courage to face up to being wrong.

    This is not to take anything away from Dr. Ray, but the two are not comparable; they both contribute in different ways. It is the ultimate in false dilemma to try and confound the two, and yet another example of intellectual bankruptcy on your part that you would attempt to deflect attention from your own ignorant assertions about Randi by doing so.


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  14. 14
    Kit P Says:

    I must admit to being ignorant of the existence of James Randi along with about seven billion other people. That is what it means to be ‘not well known’.

    I an no longer ignorant of the existence James Randi but somehow that knowledge does not enrich me in the least. I do have the courage to standup to people who think I am wrong. I love being wrong especially when in it is about safety is concerned. One the things that is necessary is to make it ‘safe’ to bring up concerns even if one is wrong.

    “hasn’t got the courage to face up to being wrong ”

    This is an example of the opposite of critical thinking. I would call it a form of manipulations. However, it would not take much to admit I was wrong about James Randi but he is not very important in the big picture. I would rather be wrong about Obama on energy.

    When someone starts throwing words like, racist, ignorant, bigoted, criminal, hypocrite, and seditionist but then says I am a coward all I can do is apply skeptical thinking. What are the facts?

    I suppose that I have a different set of heroes. It is all those people who worked night shift at power plants and hospitals to keep us warm and safe while we are sleeping. My heroes are the folks who work hazardous jobs such as fishing, framing, and mining.

    My heroes will never have an Wiki entry or appear on the Tonight Show. Everyday my heroes must exercise critical thinking. There is a certain rate at which people make mistakes and are wrong. Part of
    critical thinking is the process of the critique. How could you do it better next time?


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  15. 15
    DV82XL Says:

    Keep digging man, you just are making it worse. Its not necessary to respond in detail to you anymore, you have done more damage to your position than I could hope to. Your pathetic attempt to invoke argumentum ad populum is laughably transparent dodge, given that you were previously holding out Dixie Lee Ray prior as a counter example.

    You are not a skeptic; you are a reactionary masquerading as one. You are no more a rational skeptic than any random flavor of denialist. That and you couldn’t argue your way out of a paper bag.


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  16. 16
    Gordon Says:

    James Randi is probably not the most accomplished person ever to be and I’m sure what he has done for the world pales in comparison to Isac Newton. None the less, I don’t see why he should be excluded from the list of respected people. He has done most than most of us. He did more than me and surely more than Kit P.

    The one thing that sticks out in my mind as a memory of James Randi making a big splash that helped a lot wa more than 20 years ago. I remember seeing him on the Carson show when he did a huge job outing a faith healer who was wearing an earpiece with a two way radio. I almost had to pick my jaw off the floor. It was great and if that’s his only acomplishment I’d take my hat off to him.

    That was only part of it though. He also really tore that Yuri Geller to pieces before that. It put a lot of egg on the faces of the researchers who was fooled by him. Again, a good service.


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  17. 17
    Kit P Says:

    Gordon you seem to have very low standards as far as who you respect. I have very little respect for the entertainment world. It is mostly about self promotion and not making the world a better place. This would be particularly true for James Randi. If his chosen field is critical thinking I think he has done a better job of self promotion. Telling me that TV personalities are fakes and he is just more honest about being a fake is not really a service that I need.

    I am also skeptical that Gordon has seen my resume so he has no idea what I have contributed to the world but think about this. After you leave work, some minimum wage worker comes in a cleans the bathrooms. This is a service that deserves recognition.

    One of my heroes is Willy Mays. I worked with a guy who made it to the majors for one week. He said that when he arrived at the hotel the team was staying, Mays and McCovey met him and carried his bags to his room. Little things count too. While I can not hit a home run on field bigger than a school lot, I can hold the door open for others.

    Anyhow Gordon if we sat down and BS for a while I bet we could find lots of honorable things you have done in life that would earn more respect than James Randi. Live to you standards not the shallow ones Hollywood makes up. I am not saying they are mutually exclusive. There is not reason an actor can not read bed time stories to their kids and win an Oscar too.


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  18. 18
    David Says:

    Kit. I would posit that, as they’re making a movie about him, he’s fairly well known. If you take “well known” as a list of people, and you look at the people in the world that are known by X people, he’s probably in the top 10%. Mainly because, hardly anyone knows about the other 6.3 billion other people (each one) that makes up the rest of the world. So there’s that. It’s a relative term, so neither side is going to win without a rigorously defined definition. And I just gave you one.

    Second, You may have little respect for “entertainment” but there are people that aren’t you, and they respect them. I am an Engineer by trade, and I find it to be a field not afforded the respect it deserves. By that same token, I do think the Janitors of this world deserve way more respect than they receive as well. But that’s me. I may not respect your heroes and you may not respect mine, that’s fine…. Their accomplishments, again, cannot be measured without a proper system in place, and people will always have different systems of measure for things that aren’t mathematically quantifiable (which would be inarguable).

    I didn’t know about the Amazing Randi before this post, and not because he’s a nobody… There’s a whole world of people out there that I still don’t know about, but I’m not going to discount them because I don’t know them. Nor based on the business they work in. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think you’re being too harsh. Keeping people from being cheated is a pretty good thing to do in the world.


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  19. 19
    George Simpson Says:

    Randi is a phony. He refuses to follow up with my application for his $1Million challenge — for one simple reason, he knows I will win. See: http://ufoetblog.com/?p=5506


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  20. 20
    Anon Says:

            George Simpson said:

    Randi is a phony. He refuses to follow up with my application for his $1Million challenge — for one simple reason, he knows I will win. See: http://ufoetblog.com/?p=5506

    So why don’t you sue Randi to force him to let you take the challenge?


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  21. 21
    George Simpson Says:

            Anon said:

    So why don’t you sue Randi to force him to let you take the challenge?

    I will.


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