Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

James Randi: An Honest Liar

James Randi

James Randi has used his remarkable conjuring skills and the power of his personality and intellect to show us how easily we can be deceived.

By Peter Bowditch

James Randi discusses his greatest achievements, disappointments, what woo annoys him the most, and the challenges fracturing the skeptical movement.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

As a professional magician and debunker of nonsense, James Randi has long been one of the most significant public figures in the world of organised skepticism and rationality.

Randi’s conjuring career was based on deception, but he never claimed it was anything other than deception. What would happen, though, was that people would approach him after shows to tell him that they had seen similar tricks done by others who were claiming they had paranormal powers. They were using these tricks and pretending to heal people of illness or as evidence that they had powers that enabled them to predict stockmarket fluctuations, talk to dead relatives of people in the audience, and many other forms of deception where the deceit was not admitted and the powers were claimed to be real.

Quite reasonably, Randi saw this abuse of a form of entertainment as something that should be challenged. As he put it in an interview with Australasian Science: “It’s for the purpose of entertainment, but when it goes beyond those bounds or it gets to the point where people’s lives are being changed or their judgement or their knowledge of the real world is changed, that’s when I step in”.

People like to be deceived, which is why they like magic shows. I enjoy magic shows and I have seen things that would be almost impossible to believe if I didn’t know that they were well...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.