MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

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.[158]
1978 Garden State Magicians’ award.[158]
1981 Asteroid 3163 Randi was named after James Randi,[159] who had always been an active amateur observer. His friend Carl Sagan encouraged his interest.[18]
Certificate of appreciation at the MIT Club of Boston.[158]
Designated Grand Master of Magic by Hocus Pocus Magazine.[158]
1983 Blackstone Cup, International Platform Association as Outstanding Speaker (won again in 1987).[158]
1984 Honorary membership, Bay Surgical Society of Los Angeles.[158]
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[160]
Honorary membership, Israeli Society for Promoting the Art of Magic.[158]
1987 Special fellowship, Academy of Magical Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles.[158]
Certificate of Appreciation, Ring 254 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.[158]
Award of Merit, Assembly 22 of the Society of American Magicians.[158]
1988 National Consumer Service Award, National Council Against Health Fraud.[158]
International Ambassador of Magic, Society of American Magicians.[158]
1989 Joseph A. Burton Forum Award, American Physical Society.[161]
Gold Medal, University of Ghent.[158]
1990 Humanist Distinguished Service Award, American Humanist Association.[158]
Thomas Paine Award, Baton Rouge Proponents of Rational Inquiry & Scientific Methods.[158]
1992 Commemorative Medal with Golden Wreath, Hungarian Society for the Dissemination of Scientific Knowledge.[158]
1996 Distinguished Skeptic Award, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP).[158][162]
1997 Lifetime Achievement Award, International Brotherhood of Magicians.[158]
“One of the 100 Best People in the World, people who make our lives richer or larger or happier,” Esquire magazine.[158]
Award, Science & Engineering Society of the National Security Agency.[158]
1999 “In Defense of Reason” Special Lifetime Achievement Award, Comitato Italiano per il Controllo dell Affermazioni sui Paranormale.[158]
2000 Distinguished Lecturer Award, Nova Southeastern University.[158]
2002 Presidential Citation, International Brotherhood of Magicians.[158]
2003 First Richard Dawkins Award.[30]
2007 Philip J. Klass Award.[163]
2008 Lifetime Achievement Award, Independent Investigations Group (IIG). Previous recipients Carl Sagan and Harry Houdini.[158][164]
2009 In Praise of Reason Award, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.[158]
2010 Elected a Committee for Skeptical Inquiry Fellow.[165]
2012 Lifetime Achievement Fellowship, Academy of Magical Arts.[166]
Lifetime Achievement Award, American Humanist Association.[167]
2016 Heinz Oberhummer Award, 2016[168]
Lifetime Achievement Award, Humanist Association of Canada.[169]
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.

9 Responses to James Randi (1928 – 2020)

  • James Randi was an icon to skeptics, critical thinkers , and anyone who enjoyed him revealing emperors with no clothes. He always seemed to have his audiences best interest in mind and help the consumer more than he even knew by giving them an example of someone who thought it was alright to question authority and expose SCAM. Like the artist Bansky and his “obey” street art, Randi looked at our modern culture and made efforts to protect the naive and innocent by education, critical analysis and calling a charade what it was. His passion was contagious and led many others to act in similar fashion.

    Upon my first meeting with him, and subsequent conversations , emails and interactions (he lived very close to me) I was inspired to become part of the skeptic , critical thinker community and use my knowledge and skill as he did for the betterment of my profession and society.

    Thank you for honoring him with this blog Edzard. The world needs more people like you both.

  • A great loss.
    I especially liked the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, offered by him/his foundation (a related concept was also applied not too long ago by the GWUP to challenge believers in homeopathy
    https://www.gwup.org/challenge-home).

    Needless to say, the prize money never had to be paid.

  • I, too, was a fan although I never got the chance to meet him. Aside from his work with the James Randi Educational Foundation, I knew him mostly through video.

    Among my favourites:

    He outs a “psychic” scam artist (and convicted child molester): http://bit.ly/31tbbb2

    His TED talk where he debunks homeopathy while using a pretend microphone: http://bit.ly/31tb67e

    And here, where he explains how to squash a paranormal claim: http://bit.ly/31wBflE

    Rest in Peace, sir. You certainly were amazing.

  • I much enjoyed reading Mr. Randi’s books “Flim-Flam” and “The Truth About Uri Geller” on Kindle Books. Randi was also involved with the notable BBC Television Horizon science programme on Homeopathy, as I recall, and had offered the $1 Million if the result of that trial was positive for homeopathy.

  • “sceptics all over the world worshipped James Randi”

    [Sees what you did there.]

    Ah well, dude had a damned good run. We just need a helluva lot more like that.

    “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Richard Feynman

  • Dana always likes to yatter on about any appearances in noteworthy journals of stuff which he imagines supports homeopathy.

    It’s always nice to read the Nature article where Randi ripped apart the claims made by Beneviste et Al.

    Dana never mentions this.

    Strange, that.

    https://www.nature.com/articles/334287a0

  • This is a BBC Page about the Horizon homeopathy experiment, in which Randi had offered the million dollars if the result was positive for homeopathy: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2002/homeopathy.shtml

    There is also a transcript of the Webchat with Randi following the Horizon documentary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/horizon/2002/homeopathyrandi.shtml

    • @David B

      I love the introductory paragraph that includes the phrase, “. . .according to traditional science. . .” as if there is a kind of science that is less traditional.

      Also, “To Randi’s relief, the experiment was a total failure.” I doubt he was ever worried. The only ones on the edges of their seats would have been the staff of “Horizon.” Because they didn’t know any better, they were probably hoping they could split the money. They were sorely disappointed.

  • And remember – he was a much lauded magician.
    “Magicians are very honest, they say they are going to fool you – and then they do!”

    Possibly originally Will Rogers, but certainly quoted by Randi.

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