James Randi retires from foundation at age 86

Photo credit: Bruce F. Press photography. brucefpressphotography.com

James “The Amazing” Randi at The Amazing Meeting, 2014. Photo credit: Bruce F. Press photography. brucefpressphotography.com

James “The Amazing” Randi, world-renowned magician and advocate for science-based skepticism, is stepping down from the Board of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).

In statements released today on the JREF website, Randi announced his retirement from the JREF, and the Board regretfully accepted it.

But, Mr. Randi noted, he’s got a few tricks left up his sleeve:

This doesn’t mean that I’m retiring from my battle against the so-­called psychics, faith healers, paranormalists, and the assorted frauds I’ve encountered in my worldwide wanderings. I’ll in no way relax the critical attention I’ve given to them over the last busy 73 years, I promise you.

[…]

No, I’ll not yet hang up my cape nor sheathe my wand, be assured. I’ve still a few “tricks up my sleeve,” as they say, so stand back!

Randi is most noted as the exposer of fraudulent claims, most notably that of evangelist Peter Popoff who wasn’t getting messages from God about his audience, but from his wife through an earpiece. Randi also orchestrate the Carlos hoax and Project Alpha to show that anyone can be fooled – media and scientists alike. Randi is most famous perhaps for his battles with “mystifying” spoon bender Uri Geller and recently as the target of Deepak Chopra’s kooky “challenges” in response to the world famous One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge sponsored by the JREF.  

Randi steps down from his official position knowing that he influenced probably millions of people in his capacity appearing on TV, through his books and articles, his website randi.org and the annual huge gathering of like-minded enthusiasts for science and reason, The Amazing Meeting (TAM). Randi intends to see friends old and new at this year’s TAM to be held in Las Vegas July 16-19.

On a personal note:

Some of you may know that I have been involved with the JREF for the past several months. I can assure you that while it’s disappointing that Randi won’t be heading the charge against frauds and charlatans, there is optimism and energy to keep up this important role in society, as many will continue this typically thankless and difficult job (yours truly included). As Randi noted in his statement, he has seen an increase in interest for critical thinking advocacy around the world and in younger and more diverse audiences. Practical skepticism is needed MORE THAN EVER in these days of outrageous health claims, hoaxes, superstitious worldviews, and money-making schemes.

While the climate of the skeptical community has dramatically changed in the past 10 years, Randi was a anchor. We wish him well on his future endeavors. After 73 years of tireless work, he’s entitled him to some relaxation and peace. Now, we must take what he taught us and continue demanding good evidence for questionable claims and challenging (and sometimes outright debunking) those who intend to pull one over on us.

TAM9 attendees pose with beards behind the original. Photo credit: Susan Gerbic, Wikipedia

TAM9 attendees pose with beards behind the original. Photo credit: Susan Gerbic, Wikipedia

  10 comments for “James Randi retires from foundation at age 86

  1. Angela
    January 28, 2015 at 6:40 AM

    I was really sad when I first saw this in my newsfeed. But after I read his statement, I instead was filled with admiration and respect for the hard work he’s done and has inspired others to continue. And of course, we all know there will be more–just at his own schedule, which is rightly deserved.

    Five years ago, I was a die-hard believer of many things ‘woo’. Or, if not a die-hard believer, an advocate of just leaving things alone if I didn’t agree. Then around that time, I was introduced to James Randi’s skeptical work (I had already known of him from the infamous Tonight Show appearance with Gellar). I never looked back. That personality along with the challenge for all of us to think critically in every walk of life inspired me to finish my college education (better late than never), call out questionable claims in the paranormal, and work harder to share good information with my children, friends and other family.

    And thank you Sharon, for your inspiration as well. I love the layout of the new JREF site and the content is superb. You along with the other excellent Swift contributors and the JREF board will keep this organization alive for a very long time to come.

    Enjoy life Mr. Randi. And thank you.

  2. January 28, 2015 at 7:56 AM

    Angela: It was rather emotional to have to post this, of course. But he’s still with us and I’m grateful for that and all the people he has been able to inspire in his many decades. I first saw him on Happy Days!

    Thank you for the kind words. I too feel that the time has come to change the guard, so to speak, and for a new generation of skeptics, raised on Randi, can step up and carry on that role of rational advocates and debunkers of woo-woo.

    Also, I can guarantee you, this was a very difficult thing for Mr. Randi to do. He’s no quitter and he loved this job which is why I don’t think he’ll be sitting around by the pool in retirement but still working.

  3. Giuliana
    January 28, 2015 at 8:14 AM

    I have to agree with everything Angela said. I too have been inspired by Randi, and his book Flim Flam taught me a lot about skepticism. Along with the Skeptical Inquirer and Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Hunted World, I went from believing in a lot of bullshit to becoming very critical of it. I have also had the pleasure of meeting this wonderful, intelligent, and charming man. Thank you again, Mr. Randi, for all your hard work. You really do deserve the title of The Amazing Randi. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement! A big hug from across the ocean.

  4. Tony
    January 28, 2015 at 9:43 AM

    From a 2002 BBC Two webchat with James Randi:

    Q: Do you think that homeopathy is okay if it makes someone “feel” better, even if it is only in their mind?

    Randi: Heroin also makes people feel better, but I wouldn’t recommend using heroin.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2002/homeopathyrandi.shtml

    Another quote, this one from a radio broadcast by Randi’s friend Orson Welles, which could easily apply to the polymathic Randi as well:

    Good evening, ladies and gentleman. My name is Orson Welles. I am an actor. I am a writer. I am a producer. I am a director. I am a magician. I appear onstage and on the radio. Why are there so many of me and so few of you?

  5. January 28, 2015 at 4:01 PM

    Randi, you’ve earned it. I hope it’s a delightful next phase for you, that allows you to enjoy whatever is next on your plate. What a lifetime of accomplishment!

    No one has had a better combination of skills, charisma, creativity and dedication to help this world think just a bit more clearly. You’ve had a significant effect on my life, and I thank you.

  6. Haldurson
    January 28, 2015 at 7:15 PM

    I became a fan of Randi’s after I attended a talk/demonstration he had at a World Science Fiction convention years ago. I found him to be charming and fascinating. He’s not done, and he’s still Amazing. He’s merely slowing down, as we all do (or will) as we get older.

  7. Adam
    January 29, 2015 at 7:50 AM

    I have been a fan of his for a very long time and I wish him well. I just hope the foundation carries on in the same spirit and with sufficient funding to make it a potent force against woo for a very long time to come.

  8. Liam McDaid
    January 29, 2015 at 7:35 PM

    Adam,

    I am also concerned for the future of JREF (although not skepticism as such). We have a lot of work ahead of us and too much energy is wasted in battles with ourselves (PZ Myers’ disavowal of skeptics being a recent extreme example). We need something to focus on, and with Randi leaving the field I see more pointless arguing while the forces of darkness blow out Sagan’s candle.

  9. JamesRav
    January 29, 2015 at 11:33 PM

    but where is the new ‘guard’ ? Randi has been the face of skepticism as Dawkins has been for atheism. Who is the heir apparent? If the next Geller emerges, who is the anti-Geller? I say it only half in jest, for it has taken a strident foe like Randi to keep things in check. I hope I don’t have to read about a psychic surgeon on the Conan O’Brien show in the coming years.

  10. January 31, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    I also remember James Randi’s appearances on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, but what I most remember him for is the 1993 episode of PBS Nova titled “Secrets of The Psychics.” It might more accurately be titled “Secrets of the Charlatans” but no doubt it got more viewers with the title it has. It’s on Youtube, and I encourage everyone to watch it. More recently he did a memorable TED talk where he took an overdose (!) of homeopathic medicine.

    Here’s one of Randi’s most damning writings, a sort of epilogue to the Peter Popoff affair: “The Unsinkable Rubber Duckies”
    http://www.wired.com/2012/05/opinion-randi-frauds/

    Also strongly related to skepticism, though unrelated directly to Randi, is another PBS show that was first broadcast that same night, the Frontline episode “Prisoners Of Silence” about Facilitated Communication. Both the video and show transcript are available online. In my mind it gave an absolute death blow to the idea that FC was a “real” thing, and the most amazing thing to me is that FC still exists over 20 years later. Much like Peter Popoff continuing his “healing” shows long after Randi’s exposure of him, this only goes to show how much work remains to be done in the skeptics movement.

    Thank you so much, James Randi, for the work you’ve done.

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