How to Squash a Paranormal Claim

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The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a "psychic" it couldn't discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.

Question: What does the JREF consider a legitimate test of
paranormal claims?
A test of any specific claim is going to depend entirely upon that
claim. If you say you can speak to dead people, I've got a whole load
of questions I would like to ask certain dead people. Answers to which I
already have, and the dead people, since they are dead, I don't believe
they've got the answers any longer, but if you want to call them up and
ask them the questions and come up with the right answer, hey, you
could win the million dollars. Now, many people say they can read
minds, they can predict the future, they can interpret dreams and such,
well, it all depends on the specific claim they make. All they have to
do is say what they can do, under what circumstances, with what
And some people have taken, literally, years. One fellow, a PhD in
California took four and a half years to answer those three questions,
and finally when we got ready to enter into tests with him of "remote
viewing," as he called it, and he actually gave courses in this at the
university in California, he suddenly changed his email address and his
telephone number. We haven't been able to reach him since. Isn't that
strange? I guess he doesn't need the million dollars.
Question: What has been the most difficult paranormal claim for the
JREF to disprove?James Randi: I'd like to say that there has been one particularly
difficult one, but no, they've all been so easy. They've been so easy
because they've been so transparent. I've been in this business for a
long, long time and I've seen everything. Recently, I got a nice
contract to go to South Korea and do a TV series, which I did there,
testing South Korean "psychics," so-called. And they told me before I
left, they said, "Oh, Mr. Randi, you signed the contract, so I guess we
should tell, we've got psychics in South Korea that you've never seen
before." And I went off there with my assistant and we looked at them
and turned to one another and said, "Wait a minute. This is the same
thing that has been going on since the 1600s. It's in all the books.
It's exactly the same thing. They're serving kimchee at lunch instead of
macaroni, or whatever, but in any different culture, in any differen...
the costume is different, the language is different, but the same
stunts are being done again, and again, and again. They haven't
invented anything new since the early 1600s.

Question: Do you believe supernatural thinking is ingrained in human
cognition?James Randi: Well, you'd have to ask a psychologist, and perhaps a
few psychiatrists that question because technically I can't answer that
question. But I will tell you, I suspect strongly that people need to
have some more romance in their lives. After all, look at the average
kid who is male or female who was raised by their parents who believe
that he or she will have children and will have a wife or a husband and
they will be absolutely ideal people and everything will go... you will
be a doctor, or lawyer, or you'll be very wealthy, have a beautiful
home. It doesn't work out that way all the time. In fact, it seldom
works out that way. And so they look around and say, "What have I done
wrong?" And them somebody runs an ad on television saying, "Oh, I can
solve your problems. I can give you guidance to the future, and I can
look into the crystal ball, or read the tarot cards," or whatever. They
may tend to fall for that sort of thing because they say, "They
wouldn't' say that if it weren't true." Oh, yes, they would. And
there's a huge profit margin in this. So people do fall for these
things very, very easily.Recorded April 16, 2010Interviewed by Austin Allen
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