There are many others who are much better placed to write about Randi who passed away on 20 October 2020. I only met him a few times and therefore cannot claim that I knew him well. Yet, I admired him, and he was one of my heroes. In that, I am certainly not alone; sceptics all over the world worshipped James Randi.
I will not attempt to do justice to his incredible legacy. I will merely try to offer my personal respects to a truly great man. I heard of JR first when he was recruited by the editor of Nature, John Maddox, to check out Benveniste’s lab and try to reproduce his surprising results on an in-vitro model of homeopathy. At the time, I thought this was a weird idea, but when I read up about JR’s background, it seemed a smart move. When he then identified the error in Benveniste’s work, I was not surprised. Randi had the gift of a sharp intellect, a detective and a arch sceptic.
Many years later, in 2008, I decided to edit a multi-author book entitled HEALING, HYPE OR HARM, and I invited JR to contribute a chapter. I felt honoured when he accepted the offer and sent me his chapter ‘AN AMATEUR’S VIEW OF THE SCAM SCENE’. In classical JR-style, it opened with the sentence: At the outset, let me make one thing perfectly clear: my qualifications concerning this subject, alternative/complementary medicine, here referred to as CAM, consist mostly of common sense, a wide-ranging experience of flimflam, and extensive exposure to a great variety of scam artists. After that, I received Christmas cards from him every year.
Eventually, I did meet JR in person. This was around 2010 on the occasion of sceptics meetings in New Orleans and Berlin. I introduced myself to him, he looked at me intensely, shook my hand and said: “Ahh, that’s you!”, and we had a little chat. By that time JR had become quite frail; his health was visibly in decline. This, however, did not stop him to remain active, influecial and inspirational; it seemed that JR was unstoppable.
His decades of achievements are perhaps best summarised by the hist of honours and awards bestowed on him. The list below is from his Wiki page:
|Year||Award or honor|
|1977||Visiting Magician of the Year, Academy of Magical Arts & Sciences at the Magic Castle in Hollywood.|
|1978||Garden State Magicians’ award.|
|1981||Asteroid 3163 Randi was named after James Randi, who had always been an active amateur observer. His friend Carl Sagan encouraged his interest.
Certificate of appreciation at the MIT Club of Boston.
Designated Grand Master of Magic by Hocus Pocus Magazine.
|1983||Blackstone Cup, International Platform Association as Outstanding Speaker (won again in 1987).|
|1984||Honorary membership, Bay Surgical Society of Los Angeles.|
|1986||A $273,000 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship was awarded to James Randi for his investigations of the claims of Uri Geller and TV “faith healers“
Honorary membership, Israeli Society for Promoting the Art of Magic.
|1987||Special fellowship, Academy of Magical Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles.
Certificate of Appreciation, Ring 254 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Award of Merit, Assembly 22 of the Society of American Magicians.
|1988||National Consumer Service Award, National Council Against Health Fraud.
International Ambassador of Magic, Society of American Magicians.
|1989||Joseph A. Burton Forum Award, American Physical Society.
Gold Medal, University of Ghent.
|1990||Humanist Distinguished Service Award, American Humanist Association.
Thomas Paine Award, Baton Rouge Proponents of Rational Inquiry & Scientific Methods.
|1992||Commemorative Medal with Golden Wreath, Hungarian Society for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge.|
|1996||Distinguished Skeptic Award, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP).|
|1997||Lifetime Achievement Award, International Brotherhood of Magicians.
“One of the 100 Best People in the World, people who make our lives richer or larger or happier,” Esquire magazine.
Award, Science & Engineering Society of the National Security Agency.
|1999||“In Defense of Reason” Special Lifetime Achievement Award, Comitato Italiano per il Controllo dell Affermazioni sui Paranormale.|
|2000||Distinguished Lecturer Award, Nova Southeastern University.|
|2002||Presidential Citation, International Brotherhood of Magicians.|
|2003||First Richard Dawkins Award.|
|2007||Philip J. Klass Award.|
|2008||Lifetime Achievement Award, Independent Investigations Group (IIG). Previous recipients Carl Sagan and Harry Houdini.|
|2009||In Praise of Reason Award, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.|
|2010||Elected a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Fellow.|
|2012||Lifetime Achievement Fellowship, Academy of Magical Arts.
Lifetime Achievement Award, American Humanist Association.
|2016||Heinz Oberhummer Award, 2016
Lifetime Achievement Award, Humanist Association of Canada.
|James Randi is one of very few members of the UK Magic Circle to be granted their highest order: Member of the Inner Magic Circle With Gold Star (MIMC).|
Randi finished the book chapter in my book with the following remark: … several aquaintances have described my work as being anti-Darwinian, in that it interfers with the natural selection process with which we are so familiar. I will leave you to ponder on that matter.
Now he has left us, and sceptics around the world will miss him dearly.