James Randi (born Randall James Hamilton Zwinge, August 7, 1928), more often known as The Amazing Randi is a stage magician, skeptic, and opponent of pseudoscience (including homeopathy). He is perhaps most famous for the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, in which the James Randi Educational Foundation will award a prize of one million US dollars to anyone who is able to show evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event under test conditions agreed to by both parties.
His interest in debunking the paranormal started when he was in his early teens. He was present at the show of a magician who asked for someone in the audience to help him with his performance. Randi of course wanted to do that, having started with magic tricks himself. When the young Randi raised his hand, the magician said 'Ah, young man, you're magician yourself aren't you?', much to Randi's amazement. After the show, Randi approached the man and asked how he knew this. The man told Randi he didn't. It was simply part of his routine and whenever he turned out to be right, he'd credit his 'magical powers' and whenever he was wrong, he'd turn it into a standard quip he had.
Randi has worked as a professional stage magician and escapologist since the 1950s (he appeared as "The Amazing Randi" on a TV show entitled Wonderama in 1955). In the 2 Feb 1974 issue of "Abracadabra" (a British conjuring magazine) Randi defined the magic community saying, "I know of no calling which depends so much upon mutual trust and faith as does ours." Randi entered the international spotlight in the 1970s as he challenged the public claims of Uri Geller. Randi accused Geller of being nothing more than a charlatan who uses standard "magic" tricks to accomplish his paranormal feats, and he backed up his claims in the book The Magic of Uri Geller. Geller responded to Randi's claims by filing a number of lawsuits against him, and this rivalry has continued for more than three decades.
Randi was a founding fellow and prominent member of CSICOP, until he resigned because of the lawsuits brought against him by Geller. He did so in order to protect the organization from being affected.
Randi has gone on to write several books attacking popular beliefs and claims regarding the paranormal. He has also been instrumental in exposing frauds and charlatans who exploit this field for their own personal gain. His Project Alpha demonstrated the shortcomings of many paranormal research projects at the university level. Randi's expose of faith healer Peter Popoff resulted in a sharp decline in Popoff's influence and popularity.
In 1996, Randi established the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). This organization supports research into paranormal claims and attempts to test them in controlled experimental conditions, offering the US$1,000,000 prize to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. No one has passed a preliminary test, which is set up and agreed upon between both Randi and the applicant. Randi updates the JREF's website with written commentary on Fridays.
Randi contributes a regular column, titled "'Twas Brillig", to The Skeptics Society's Skeptic Magazine.
The $1 million challenge
In the conditions and rules governing his US$1m challenge, Randi has plainly stated that both parties (himself and the party accepting the challenge) must agree in advance as to what conditions of the test constitute a "success" and what constitutes a "failure." This stipulation is seen by skeptics as the reason why many self-proclaimed practitioners of paranormal abilities refuse to take part in the Randi Challenge. Nevertheless, Randi's detractors claim that the offer is insincere, and that Randi will ensure he never has to pay out. He was quoted in the October 1981 issue of Fate Magazine as allegedly saying "I always have an out;" however, this magazine article was written as a result of political infighting among the members of CSICOP. Observers of the ongoing debate between skeptics and their detractors believe this quote is being misapplied, and that it refers to the fact that Randi employs safeguards against cheating. Such claims of Randi finding ways to avoid payment are unfounded, as the money is held in a Goldman, Sachs & Company account and withholding payment would constitute fraud on Randi's behalf.
Parapsychologists generally try to downplay the Randi challenge because of these attacks on Randi's character, and also because of his harsh, uncompromising style of writing and presentation, which has won him enemies among those who claim to be paranormal experts. Randi's supporters note that there are other skeptical organizations that have their own similar standing offers to prove the existence of paranormal abilities, and anyone claiming to be an expert in their field of the paranormal can easily apply for any of these other prizes, avoiding Randi altogether.
Note: his legal name is "James Randi." Asteroid 3163 Randi is named after him.
The Magic of Uri Geller (later renamed The Truth About Uri Geller) (1982)
The Faith Healers ISBN 0879755350 (1989) with Carl Sagan
The Mask of Nostradamus: The Prophecies of the World's Most Famous Seer ISBN 0879758309 (1990)
An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (1995)
James Randi: Psychic Investigator ISBN 1852831448 (1991)