Sunday 23 November 2014

Randi in Crisis

Looks like there's more trouble at the mill for James Randi. On the first of September he suddenly announced that the Los Angeles office of his organization was closing down; all operations have been shifted to its national headquarters at Falls Church, Virginia. This change was effective immediately. The James Randi Educational Foundation was established in 1996 to administer the works of James Randi, one of the world's oldest and most prominent Skeptics. It manages applications for the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge and holds an annual conference in the USA, as well as abroad sometimes as well, called The Amazing Meeting!. I've been to the 2010 TAM London myself, see: Then the announcement was made very unceremoniously that the JREF was radically downsizing; its LA office was axed and all the staff there were being laid off. The notice also mentioned in an equally casual tone that its president DJ Grothe was no longer associated with the Foundation and that James Randi was coming out of retirement to be temporary acting president, just like that. It didn't say whether Grothe was being sacked or resigned of his own accord, although he was always a controversial character on the Skeptic circuit and few will mourn his dismissal, if that's what it was, see: Soon afterwards, the JREF Forum was disaffiliated and it continues today under the name of the International Skeptics Forum, see: The reaction on the Skeptic scene has been shock and confusion. Nothing in any previous pronouncements by the JREF had suggested anything like that was about to take place; in fact just two months before in July over a thousand people from all over the world had enjoyed the highly successful TAM 2014 at the Southpoint Casino in Las Vegas; such Skeptic luminaries as Daniel Dennett, Eugenie Scott, Bill Nye and Banachek had taken to the stage. (None of the videos are available yet on the JREF's YouTube channel; maybe they never will be now. Will there ever be a TAM 2015?) What's more An Honest Liar, a feature-length biographical documentary about James Randi by Tyler Measom and Justin Weinstein had just been released; it was shown last week on the BBC as part of the Storyville series under the title Exposed: Magicians, Psychics and Frauds, see: The feelings of the Skeptic masses are illustrated well in this video by the Skeptic film-maker John Rael:, and this blogpost by the Skeptic journalist Shane Brady: As you can see in Rael's vid, the old JREF offices in Los Angeles are already being converted into a hair salon.

Why has this happened? Nobody knows. A lot must have been going on behind the scenes privately which then came to a public showdown very abruptly after being well concealed. As I say in the links below, Skeptics maintain their confident and polished public persona with the determination of politicians. There has been no talk of this matter outside the "independent" Skeptic media; SGU has not referred to it once, see: The brief post on the JREF website mentions "cost savings and greater efficiency"; these are sinister words that my hospital used to use, and I know very well that they're a euphemism that translates into regular speech as: "oh shit, we're broke!". If the reason for the partial collapse of the JREF is financial then what could have caused it? TAM 2014 tickets were snapped up, there are new books coming out all the time that must generate some revenue. Perhaps it is the recent legal actions by at least one person over the Million Dollar Challenge, see:, but there's no way of knowing because, again, everybody's lips are sealed. Another possibility could be that the covert intelligence community and military industrial complex which are surreptitiously connected to the JREF are behind whatever changes are going on with it, see: The Skeptic movement has expanded rapidly since its emergence over forty years ago, but it is primarily in the last decade that it has truly become a global phenomenon involving millions of people in every country on Earth. Yet in the very moment of its self-styled triumph the Skeptisphere has entered a terrible crisis that manifests in many ways. It's always been well known that Skeptics can be extremely cruel to their enemies, but in recent years astonishingly bitter and venomous internal conflicts have broken out as well, causing them to split into sparring factions over issues such as how closely the Skeptic and atheist world should be. Also the role of women in the Skeptic community, their rights and obligations. These battles have at times become criminally violent in their intensity, see: What's more, Skeptics have totally abandoned all of the rationality that they claim to be the ultimate arbiters of and hysterically blurted out accusations against Sally Morgan, without any evidence against her, resulting in a successful lawsuit and a number of red faces and empty wallets, see: They have committed outrageous and disgraceful acts of censorship against Graham Hancock and Rupert Sheldrake, see: And to crown it all, one of their shock troops, Brian Dunning, has been jailed for fraud. Some commentators have concluded that the entire Skeptic movement is in terminal decline; it is certainly in a huge upheaval, transforming beyond all recognition. At the end of his video linked above, John Rael speculates on the future of chez Skeptic without the JREF; his optimistic vision is that other groups will rise to fill the hole left by the JREF and will hopefully learn from the mistakes of their predecessors. On the ISF, formerly the JREF Forum, one of the members proposes: "the JREF will make a deal with Michael Shermer. Shermer will organize TAM next year 'for' the JREF and take half of any money raised for the Skeptics Society. Eventually it will be a joint event and when the inevitable happens with The Amazing One (Randi dying) TAM will become a 100% Skeptics Society event." One slight problem... Michael Shermer himself.
Michael Shermer became interested in the paranormal when he had a mystical experience while taking part in a bicycle race. This led him into the study of anomalous psychology, and in 1992 he founded the Skeptics Society, an international organization which today has over 55,000 members across the world. It publishes the quarterly journal Skeptic which Shermer edits and it has featured columns by Richard Dawkins, James Randi and many other heroes of Skepticism. Shermer has organized conferences, outings and activism. He has written seventeen books, including Why People Believe Weird Things, The Skeptic Encyclopaedia of Pseudoscience and The Believing Brain. He's one of the most regular lecturers at Skeptic events and is a sought after media pundit on all Skeptic matters. He is among the last people on Earth I thought would ever question the House of Skeptic. However, it appears he has. There are a minority of people who get involved with the Skeptic movement for a short time who will eventually drop out of it for various reasons; often because they decide that the Skeptic paradigm doesn't really reflect the real world we live in and the real people that we are. But what happens when the convert was not just any old Skeptic, but is instead one of the world's principle Skeptic spokesmen? A few weeks ago Michael Shermer posted an article on his website subtitled: I just witnessed an event so mysterious that it shook my Skepticism. In the article he explains how on June the 25th when he got married something out-of-this-world happened. Shermer says that if he'd heard it from somebody else he'd never have believed it, and he has heard it from other people and hasn't believed it, many many times. More than anybody else, he knows the implications of questioning a "rational explanation" for an anomalous event. His wife is as much a Skeptic as he is (how could she put up with him otherwise?), but she feels the same way he does about what happened. Shermer goes on to say: "I have to admit, it rocked me back on my heels and shook my Skepticism to its core... The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious". This is an extraordinary statement for a Skeptic to make. What if Shermer actually ceases to be a Skeptic? How will his peers react to the defection of such an admired and high-profile member of their community? Could he become the Skeptic Charlie Veitch? It must be said that Shermer had previous cause for complaint. He had been accused of rape by two JREF staff members and TAM conference organizers, Alison Smith and Jeff Wagg. I say "accused", but they did not call the police, they just posted their indictment on the JREF Forum and Twitter, see: In the event of a Shermer betrayal it's possible the Skeptic loyalists will opt for many different kinds of damage control methods. Maybe they'll just ignore him. They could just stop talking about him and let him slip out of people's thoughts; throw him down the memory hole. Or will their thug element burst out to brutalize him like they did Rebecca Watson and Sally Morgan? Has Shermer got the courage to go there, if he really is having second thoughts? It's too soon to tell. Very rarely do people change their minds overnight about something very fundamental to their worldview. Shermer is probably not going to have a road to Damascus conversion; he has had an amazing experience at his wedding that might begin a process in his mind. If so then the process could be a long one, with fits and starts, doubts and wrong turns. It may be several years before he comes out of the closet as a "buh-leeva", but if he does it might inspire other Skeptics to express any doubts they have hitherto kept private, see here for more details: Nevertheless the defection of one of their top superstars will be a massive blow to the already punch-drunk Skeptic establishment. Will it pick itself up from that one? At the end of the day, all the problems the Skeptisphere is suffering are secondary products of what I consider to be the same underlying cause. It's a crisis of confidence because the Skeptic movement has got it wrong, about everything. It's that simple. It's also not wrong by accident, it is a social phenomenon partly created by psychological warfare experts to counter public interest in the growing paranormal presence in our universe. It will not succeed.


Steve Trueblue said...

Wonderful commentary Ben.
Damned good summary.
Under tha video "JREFs Anally inserted grenade" all of the party faithfull applaud the speakers strafing and demolition of the entire skeptic movement from bottom to top.Imploding due to its own complete lack of integrity,that it was never more than a house of cards, Lacking integrity in every one of its leadership and management right down to the myriads of pseudoskeptic headkickers that have ruined the internet.
None of that party faithful video audience disagreed with the speakers utter condemnation of the skeptic movement. Its The party faithful the speaker is talking about,and they lap it up. NO ARGUMENT WHATSOEVER They tacitly agree they are all trash people. LOL. Skeptics are never much good at realising implications.Its one of their major defects.

Steve Trueblue said...

The natural religious tendencies of skeptics are just so blatant sometimes with your quoted comment, Ben.
"the JREF will make a deal with Michael Shermer. Shermer will organize TAM next year 'for' the JREF and take half of any money raised for the Skeptics Society. Eventually it will be a joint event and when the inevitable happens with The Amazing One (Randi dying) TAM will become a 100% Skeptics Society even"

The desire to belong in a group is natural religious tendency. It why atheist form churches on Google. Certainly that man, wants to belong to some group, and he is going to put money there to ensure a future, no matter what. So that the "party"can re-invent itself and restore the old golden era that never existed.
A fundamentlist delusion that starts so many religious groups, like the skeptics. LOL.
Furthermore, that commenter wants a purist skeptic group meaning likely NO WOMEN and NO BLACK PEOPLE and none can disagree.
It would be the same old same old LOL
And the skeptic says his Heaven will arrive when Randi dies.Heaven on Earth. Amen

Steve Trueblue said...

Just note religious title that skeptic gives to Randi

The AMAZING ONE (Randi dying) TAM will become a 100% Skeptics Society even

Such religious language makes me laugh out loud.

Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

Thanks, Steve. And cheers for commenting. Mykeru is definitely voicing what a lot of the Skeptic flock have been thinking for a long time. He's done other videos of PZ Myers who he believes is a complete humbug. In which case he's fooled Richard Dawkins totally. The comparison to a church is accurate. I've seen the Skeptic masses myself at TAM London and there was a religious atmosphere in the audience when James Randi came onto the stage, this short, hunched and wizened old man. His frail frame looked odd with all the lights around him and acres of people on their feet cheering

Unknown said...

this pretty well puts an end to the JREF forever...