Editorial – Looking for the best answer: Sorry it burst your paranormal balloon

Lately, there is a thing going around web sites that promote fringe ideas. They enjoy bashing James “The Amazing” Randi, one of the world’s most prominent skeptics and unveiler of charlatans. I suppose it’s not new, but I see it a lot lately.

There have even been several attempts to personally discredit him. Many commenters try to get words in on this website that are libelous. I do not allow them. It’s very possible to dislike a person but still value their ideas and contributions. But they resort to petty personal attacks.

I’ve had disagreements about Randi with several people include the person who is mentioned in this piece by Steve Novella. Steve does a good job of defending the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge that is a preliminary test of paranormal powers.

NeuroLogica Blog » Defending the Million Dollar Challenge.

A recent blog post by Steve Volk once again attacks the million dollar challenge. The attack amounts to one giant straw man, typical of such criticisms. I will also point out that this post, like all criticisms I have seen, focuses on Randi the man. I suspect this is probably because of his position, but also because they feel he is an easy target.

Please take a look at this post to see Steve’s response to criticisms of the Million Dollar Challenge. A bit one is that the people complaining do not do science and they don’t understand it. Having studied paranormal researchers who claim to use “science”, it’s very clear that many people do not understand it but enjoy the power that science invokes.

Science or not, if people making outrageous claims can’t pass a gateway test THAT THEY AGREE TO BEFOREHAND, then their claims are really not worth further attention.

With all the stories we cover here on DN, the typical default position of the media is to believe in fantastic things. ALMOST ALWAYS, those who report these stories never follow up and see what really happened. No, a UFO was not found in the Baltic. No, kids really did not find a dinosaur in the Congo. The mystery boom had a reasonable explanation.

I get pretty peeved when people tell me I’m “no fun” when I point out a reasonable solution to the question “what happened”. I would LOVE to find a really bizarre answer or to see good evidence for a paranormal claim. But, to avoid looking for good answers in order to maintain the paranormal allure is mystery mongering. That’s worthless to me and to people who want to really find out what the world is like. Science finds out and moves ahead. If you continue to believe when there is nothing of substance to grasp, you are left behind as knowledge moves on.

James Randi Educational Foundation

James Randi Educational Foundation

  8 comments for “Editorial – Looking for the best answer: Sorry it burst your paranormal balloon

  1. January 16, 2013 at 11:10 AM
  2. January 16, 2013 at 11:11 AM

    Good piece, Sharon. I’m finishing a review of a skeptic-bashing book for CSI Online that also attacks Randi and his challenge. I guess the venom shouldn’t surprise me–I get it, you get it, many prominent skeptics get it–but it’s strangely defensive and misguided.

  3. January 16, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    Without ever hearing of this Steve Volk before, a quick two minute search of Google pretty much tells me everything I needed to know about him. He works under the guise of being a skeptic and critical thinker, yet supports conspiracy theories and paranormal claims in general. The only skepticism I see from him is directed towards other skeptics. The “anti-skeptic skeptic.” I’ve seen that one many times before. It is a good position to take when you want to sell your baloney to more mainstream audiences and media outlets.

  4. January 16, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    The Skeptical Investigations site is usually a pretty good example of skepticism leveled against skeptics (pseudo skepticism?).

    It seems to me that looking at a lot of these “taking the skeptics to task” sites the really glaring weakness is the poor understanding of what differentiates a claim from a fact, and the inability at every level of the argument to support it with any type of good evidence.

    It, generally, goes like this:
    “Many reports exist regarding phenenoma x, therefore x.” Or claim of x = truth of x’s existence.
    Then when questioned further about the lack of physical evidence:
    ” “They” are covering it up, by suppressing the physical evidence, many people, who are in the know, have said so.” Or claim of cover-up = cover-up.

    This pattern of unsubstantiated “claim reasoning” is used for, nearly, everything:
    “People who have taken the JREF challenge, and failed, have said it was fraudulent. Therefore it is.” Or the claim of fraudulence = actual fraudulence.
    In all likelihood it probably doesn’t enter the persons mind that they’ve made a claim with nothing to back up the claims veracity.

    I pretty sure that if the people advancing these arguments fail to comprehend the very basics of logic, then they probably don’t understand logical/informal fallacies, either. Much less what constitutes slander and liable.

  5. RDW
    January 16, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    Mr. Randi is one of the most honorable people to have ever walked the Earth. People who attack him on a personal level, or criticize his work inside the Skeptical Community, are deluded and not worthy of the time it takes to call them pathetic idiots. Unfortunately, people seem to be wandering away from organized religion and it’s many flaws, sometimes, and into a different brand of delusional thinking. Mr. Randi has been a staunch supporter of Good Sense. I wish him the best.

  6. Sean A. Elliott
    January 16, 2013 at 10:56 PM

    I find the hostility toward the skeptic position puzzling and frustrating. I frequent some of the Bigfoot blogs and websites, and it seems no matter how gingerly I state my case, I am met with scorn and open anger. I would also be delighted if evidence came to light that gave good reason to believe a discovery would be made. Even this statement is met with ridicule, with some commenters suggesting that I am “afraid” Bigfoot exists because it somehow threatens my world view. Of course this is absurd. There is an astonishing dearth of critical thinking among the people who frequent said blogs! Just try getting the credulous Bigfooter to take a look at Matt Crowley’s excellent work on replicating “dermal” ridges on tracks. As effective as his research has been, there are those who conclude he is the fraud, not the spurious evidence!

  7. January 17, 2013 at 5:03 AM

    There’s only one thing they need to do to really put one over on James Randi. Take the test. Prove your claimed abilities. Million dollars. Everything else is hogwash and bluster.

    Oddly, people choose the hogwash and bluster over changing the face of human scientific understanding and trousering a million. Funny, that.

  8. Michael Behr
    January 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM

    Sceptics should take the anger, scorn and even hostility as a reward. Since mistery mongers cannot produce proof they are frustrated and react scornful. For the rest put in in good german:” Was schert es die Eiche, wenn sich die Säue an ihr wetzen!”

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