Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

VIP Interview – James “The Amazing” Randi

Posted in VIP Interview by Skepdude on September 9, 2008

I was going to call this entry “The Amazing Interview”, but I realized that in order to have an amazing interview you need both an amazing interviewee and an amazing interviewer. While I had the former I lacked the later as such I settled for the more subtle VIP Interview title.

It is true folks, James Randi agreed to answer a few of my amateurish questions and he took the time to go back and forth with me via e-mail. And he did all of that the same day I e-mailed him asking if he was willing to be interviewed (and I do use that term loosely, all my journalistic “training” comes from reading news sites and blogs!). It takes quite a mature, kind person to take the time to speak to a complete stranger for some tiny little blog that nobody ever heard of. For that I am very grateful to James Randi. It is good to have someone like him on our side.

Below you will find the complete interview, un-edited, including his grammatical correction (I have lived in the US for just 10 years, which tends to show in my writings from time to time. Damn Microsoft Word only catches misspellings!). Here it goes (my questions are in bold font, his answers in regular font)!

You always say that you do not approach the various paranormal claims with the goal of debunking them, but with interest in investigating the actual claim,  the same approach Joe Nickell takes in his investigations. This implies that you allow the possibility, however remote, that some of these claims may actually turn out to be true. Let’s assume that one, and only one, of all such claims will turn out to be true in the future. Which one would you pick as the most likely (or least unlikely, whichever way you prefer) to be true? Which one are you almost 100% sure will never pan out?

No such implication exists.  I see no likelihood of any paranormal claim being true, judging from those already being touted by the believers and woo-woo artists.  I’m 80 years of age, and I’ve been investigating these matters since I was 15.  In all that time, with hundreds upon hundreds of claims having been examined – and all having failed – the chances of the next one being true, is remote.  However, we have to treat them all the same: fairly, carefully, and honestly. And we do.

Do you think that certain claims, after having been shown wrong over and over again, loose their “right” to be viewed with an “open mind” and deserve to be dismissed without any effort, or do you think that each generation must test these claims independently and not reject anything out of hand regardless of its prior history? Why?

(you mean, “lose”…)  I always maintain an open mind, but some claims become too silly to be re-tested again and again.  Would you go out and measure chimneys just to see if a fat guy in a red suit could squeeze down in December…?

I agree with you that some claims have become so silly that they do not merit further review. In fact, I think almost all paranormal claims fall into this category. I also don’t see any likelihood of any paranormal claims being true. Nevertheless, I think we both agree that it is important for skeptics to continue investigating such claims, however I think that one of the reasons skeptics ought to do this (besides protecting the public) is because such investigations strengthen skepticism and prevent it from becoming just another dogma, not necessarily because we should treat such claims fairly. What are your thoughts? Why should skeptics continue to investigate paranormal claims?

We should only look into these matters when they are properly presented – with evidence – which is only a tiny fraction of those we encounter… But I must point back to my Santa Claus reference. Where do we draw the line? Spending one’s life looking at nonsense, produces nothing…

What is the wildest idea you temporarily entertained and then ultimately discarded?

I “entertain” no ideas; I consider them, test them, and discard them when they fail the tests.

Please give me an estimate of how soon do you think that either major party in the US will nominate an atheist for the president/vice president position?

Not within the next 50 years… Americans can’t believe that a person can be just and moral if he/she doesn’t fear the imagined agonies of Hell.

How soon can we expect your next books? Will you ever write an autobiography/life stories collection?

My biography is being written by Penn – of Penn & Teller.  My next two books, “Wrong!” and “A Magician in the Laboratory” will see print within 14 months.

You are an inspiration to millions (my estimate) around the world. Is there any living person that has had/still has the same effect on you that you have on the millions of people who idolize you?

My idols – such as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Dick Feynman, and Sir Arthur C. Clarke – have me…  I’m currently greatly inspired by Richard Dawkins, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Sam Harris.

What would we find in your Tivo (or similar device)?

“The Closer,” some NOVAs, and Bill Maher…

Which podcasts does you subscribe to as a regular listener (you’re not allowed to pick “The Amazing Show”)? What are some of your favorite skeptical blogs?

None, actually.  Far too busy appearing on them.

What is your favorite pastime, besides your lifelong passion of fighting the likes of Uri Geller?

Astronomy, photography, writing kids who are with “Plan USA,” my favorite charity.

What does James Randi have in store for us in the next decade?

Lecturing, writing, working, till I drop…

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