Some Disinfonauts might recall that last month I posted a rather scathing commentary in regards to the career of blow-hard skeptical debunker James Randi. Of course I hope people realize that I write polemic rants like this to reflect the negativity that the closed minded “skeptical” community, hardline materialist types, and religious people alike have been directing at anyone with alternate spiritual practices for the vast majority of recorded history. We deal with this condescension constantly and to pretend there isn’t a bias against things like Shamanism, the Occult, or Psi is sort of like pretending there’s no homophobia or misogyny, or that racism is just a thing of the past. For the record, we’re not talking about a fictional “sky-god” but rather the potentiality of the human imagination. It’s incredibly bizarre how many people desperately want to believe that this potentiality doesn’t exist and will eat up anything that reinforces this deeply held belief no matter how short on facts or evidence their claims happen to be. Hence the career of someone like James Randi.
Anywho, I had zero interest in stoking this fire anew, but then I accidentally stumbled upon this great piece by former skeptic Michael Prescott, written on a skeptic’s blog, thoroughly debunking James Randi’s claims about the military’s investigations into Psi in his book Flim Flam:
Years ago, when I was a full-fledged skeptic, atheist, and rationalist, I read James Randi’s 1980 bookFlim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and other Delusions. Randi is an accomplished magician and a professional skeptic, dedicating to disproving any and all claims of what he considers pseudoscience. In line with this agenda, and as its title suggests, Flim-Flam is a concerted attack on miscellaneous purported irrationalities – everything from the pop-culture writings of Erich von Daniken to the more serious investigations of professional parapsychologists. I enjoyed the book, which reinforced my belief system at the time.
Recently I picked up Flim-Flam again. Having changed my mind about many things over the past twenty years, I responded to it much differently this time. I was particularly struck by the book’s hectoring, sarcastic tone. Randi pictures psychic researchers as medieval fools clad in “caps and bells” and likens the delivery of an announcement at a parapsychology conference to the birth of “Rosemary’s Baby.” After debunking all manner of alleged frauds, he opens the book’s epilogue with the words, “The tumbrels now stand empty but ready for another trip to the square” – a reference to the French Revolution, in which carts (“tumbrels”) of victims were driven daily to the guillotine. Randi evidently pictures himself as the executioner who lowers the blade. In passing, two points might be made about this metaphor: the French Revolution was a product of “scientific rationalism” run amok … and most of its victims were innocent.
Still, the tedious nastiness of Flim-Flam does not tell us anything about its accuracy. Intrigued, I decided to check out a few of Randi’s claims in detail.
I chose to focus on Chapter Eight, Randi’s dissection of the experiments of Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, two well-known parapsychologists. Randi calls them “the Laurel and Hardy of psi” and proceeds to argue that their experiments were a tissue of ineptitude, gullibility, and dishonesty.
The first thing I noticed was that Randi never gives any indication that Targ and Puthoff have any scientific credentials or accomplishments. The casual reader could be forgiven for assuming that they are not “real” scientists at all. For the record, Targ is a physicist credited with inventing the FM laser, the high-power gas-tranport laser, and the tunable plasma oscillator. Puthoff, also a physicist, invented the tunable infra-red laser and is widely known for his theoretical work on quantum vacuum states and the zero point field. (see The Field, by Lynne McTaggart, for an overview of Puthoff’s work in quantum phyics.) If these two are “Laurel and Hardy,” at least they come with good résumés. Randi, by contrast, has no scientific training.
Anyway, it goes on from there and I highly recommend reading the whole thing. If you’re totally lazy, I can sum it up by saying that when you look into it, a lot of Randi’s “evidence” essentially comes down to: “I know a guy who was involved that told me there were flaws in the protocols of these experiments, but I’m not going to tell you who this person was.” It’s really that flimsy. Prescott even checked out one of the claims of these mysterious sources personally, at the facilities where the research was conducted and found that it was nonsense. When Randi does quote actual inside sources, Prescott follows up and finds the sources deny ever saying anything close what he attributes to them and aren’t super happy about being misrepresented. Not very compelling “evidence” to say the least. And yet, these materialist weirdoes are continually editing out the reality of Psi research on Wikipedia, which is something that say Russell Targ has griped about rather publicly in recent years. In posting pieces like this, I’m just doing my best to counteract that ignorance. Occultist out.