Paranormal Frauds by James Randi

It seems that the natural evolution of a magician, professional like James Randi or amateur like Martin Gardner, comes by discovering others that, supposedly, have psychic powers, that is, people devoted to ilusionism or mentalism.

Magicians, professionals or amateurs, have some advantages to detect tricks if compared with scientifically trained people. Randi has shown experiments designed by himself that are ingenious as well as dangerous for him…since nobody making a living from deceiving others will accept graciously to be exposed.

It’s clear that people devoted to ilusionism, mentalism and others can go further than science people at detecting trics since they know where they have to look at. However, Randi and some others have shown a certain trend to repeat the same model of those they supposedly fight. If someone starts making a living by exposing others, it seems that a moment arrive when they have to expose people, whatever they are scammers or not.

The research model by Randi and some others ignores a basic fact: Absence of proof is not the same that proof of absence. Probably, this will be better understood if we say that, in some cases, we should confess our ignorance instead of denying a fact, simply because we are not able to explain it.

An example where I don’t have an opinion to defend. Therefore, I don’t have any interest in defending a position or the opposite: The existence of UFOs.

Randi says that everything is false and uses examples of clearly identified cases. Furthermore, he provoked a situation telling that he had seen an UFO. Immediatly, he started to receive calls of people that, supposedly, had seen the same UFO. Agreed. If Randi wanted to show how easy is deceiving people and, consequently, many UFO reports are expected to be false, nothing to say but…all of them?

Coming from his own little experiment, he jumps to the conclusion that every single report is false using this rationale:

In 1965, year when Air Force published a summary of results, this is the detail regarding 887 documented UFO sighting:

  • Astronomical Events: 27,6%
  • Planes: 23,7%
  • Satellites: 17,1%
  • Fraud, Imagination: 14,2%
  • Lack of Information: 9,6%
  • Weather Balloons: 4,1%
  • Information still to be processed: 1,9%
  • Unidentified: 1,8%

For Randi, unidentified cases should be attributed to “noise”. That can be correct while we speak of less than 2% but, if we add “Information still to be processed” and “Lack of Information”, we could be well above the level that we could explain as “noise”. Furthermore, it’s surprising that Randi, always aware of psychologic processes, doest not mention that we all use to read unknown events as known and more familiar ones. Are reliable the high percentages of “Astronomical Events”, “Planes” or “Satellites”? Should not we expect a bias making the researcher of any UFO sighting assign it to a known factor even if some data don’t fit?
I do not have facts to support this last hyphotesis. I simply mention it because it fits with the processing model of Randi at an extent that it’s surprising he did not mention it. Randi shows in a clear way that people can be misguided till the point of making them believe in an UFO fully invented by him but, at the same time…Doesn’t he believe in laziness or the use of the least resistance way and how they can contribute to assign known and familiar causes to facts that could be unknown?
Certainly, it should be surprising but there is a problem: Nowadays, Randi is, by far, better known as a demystifier than as an ilusionist. Hence, he could be protecting his market. In the world of professional skeptics, we can hear things like the uselessness of acupuncture. It should be better asking to Chinese and dentists when they have to deal with an allergic to anesthesia patient. Randi job makes him behave as paranoid looking for deception whatever it exists or not. It could be worse; his colleague Martin Gardner “discovered” that Cervantes was a liar and the real writer of Quijote was Sancho Panza (Not a joke; it’s written by Martin Gardner).
People who like “esoteric tele-crap” can see similar situations in rigged debates among “gullible” and “scientific “people. They are very careful not to make key questions that could close the debate and spoil a possible future program with same contents and same guests.
Not long ago, James Randi and Anne Germain, the medium in Telecinco workforce, visited Bilbao. Regretfully, they were not there at the same time and place. If so, my bet should have been for Randi. After attending an alive show by Germain finding things that, even for a non-trained eye like the mine, were surprising. For instance, in a huge room, every time Germain started to look up telling us that she saw a spirit, it happened that the “spirit” was familiar for someone that happened to be in the first rows neat to the stage. That made easier some logistic requirements like, for instance, giving a mike to the one who “identified the spirit”. If we are a little bit twisted, we could even think of technical issues like reaching distance of a possible hidden device used to communicate Germain with a collaborator getting information inside the public. Certainly, that should help finding “the right spirit”. Perhaps, that explains where “contacting” is performed at the end of a conference instead of doing it at the beginning. Perhaps, they need time to get information.
Of course, this is a field plenty of scammers and some facts invite us to think that we are in front of one but being able to identify one -or many of them- does not mean that all of them have to be scammers. Randi writes about Conan Doyle, the author of Sherlock Holmes, described as someone whose gullibility made him an easy prey of any paranormal fraud. However, when Randi goes beyond the acceptable limits is when he explains as the motive of this behavior by Conan Doyle the fact that he had lost a son. After that, Randi could be asked what are his motives. Purging past scams?
Randi does not think that those who exhibit scientific credentials are the right observers in situations where they can be deceived by skilled magicians…and probably is right. However, Randi as well as the “scientist” should be reminded that Science is not a block of contents but a method. As such a method, there are situations where the most legitimate behavior should be confessing the own ignorance. Discovering scammers is fine but we should always remind that, as already said, absence of proofs is not the same that proof of absence. A little bit of humility should be good from time to time.

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