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James Randi (1928-2020)

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Obit at Nature:

The illusionist James Randi devoted much of his career to debunking frauds. Seen as a lodestar by the ‘sceptical movement’ that confronts superstition and magical thinking with science and rationality, he famously collaborated with an editor of this journal, yet would also have found a receptive audience in medieval courts and Victorian theatres. That such individuals are needed now more than ever is a reminder that advances in science don’t banish credulity, but create new stages for it.

Philip Ball, at Nature

Thing is, the kind of skepticism Randi represented was based in a world where everyone agreed that 2 + 2 = 4. Today, it is NOT doubters of Darwin, etc., who are destroying science. Hardly! It is the ensconced science bureaucrats who are willing to entertain the destruction of math and—be sure of it—eventually, just plain literacy. It would be good to think that Randi never came to know of the doom.

See also: The progressive war on science takes dead aim at math

19 Replies to “James Randi (1928-2020)

  1. 1
    Viola Lee says:

    Hi News. I’ve asked this before: can you tell me about people who don’t think 2 + 2 = 4. I asked once before, and people pointed me to one satirical/sarcastic post by James Lindsay and a twitter thread that followed.

    I also am aware of the kind of things you mention in the “takes dead end at math” post, but I don’t see anything there about 2 + 2 not being 4. I have not been able to find any one who is actually questioning basic facts of arithmetic. Can you explain more why people keep referring to a war on 2 + 2 = 4?

  2. 2
    News says:

    Viola Lee at 1, Lindsay was in deadly earnest, as were the individuals he interacted with. They honestly (and falsely) tried to pretend that arithmetic is negotiable. It is the only way they can get around teaching. Here’s another story from our files that doesn’t seem to feature Lindsay:

    https://uncommondescent.com/education/the-war-on-math-continues/

    There’s also a war on the equals sign, by the way.

  3. 3
    DaRook says:

    In the ternary numeral system, 2+2 = 11. IZn a quaternary numbering system, 2+2=10. Any numbering system with base 5 or higher will alway have 2+2=4.

  4. 4
    Viola Lee says:

    To DaRook. True, but that is just about notation, not the actual facts.

    To News. I keep searching on the internet and all I find is posts by people, mostly Lindsay, complaining about the 2 + 2 does not equal 4 people, but no links to anyone actually saying that. Also, I’m aware, as I’ve said I think, that people are making political and sociological arguments about how math is taught, access into mathematical careers, how math should be used, etc. But none of these actually question the mathematical facts. If anyone ever finds some actual evidence of someone actually claiming that 2 + 2 = 5 (rather than claiming that someone else claims that 2 + 2 = 5), I’d appreciate it if they point it out.

    And, News, can you tell me more about the war on the equals sign? What are the proponents against the equal sign saying?

  5. 5
    Viola Lee says:

    I protest. This software is waging war on the “do not equal” sign. It won’t display either the standard pair of inequality signs pointing in opposite driections or the equal sign with a line through it! Probably someone (Dave, maybe) knows a code for getting those symbols to work.

  6. 6
    polistra says:

    Like all the other big-name “skeptics”, Randi was only skeptical about unfashionable frauds. He was a fervent True Believer in all the upperclass frauds. Good riddance.

    It’s also worth remembering that magicians have a long history of exposing the secrets of OTHER magicians, in order to create an atmosphere of trust for their OWN secrets. Magicians are deceivers by trade and talent.

  7. 7
    rhampton7 says:

    June 2, 2005

    The Smithsonian Institution has dropped its plan to cosponsor the showing of a film promoting “intelligent design.”

    The Discovery Institute’s attempt to link its religiously grounded concepts with the prestige of the Smithsonian did not sit well with many scientists and opponents of intelligent design. One ID foe, Florida-based magician James “the Amazing” Randi, a frequent debunker of pseudo-scientific claims, wrote to the Smithsonian and offered $20,000 to pull the film.

    “Though we cannot imagine what political external or internal pressure was brought to bear on the Smithsonian to trigger this incredible blunder, we can count on the creationists now crowing about validation from one of the world’s most trusted scientific authorities,” Randi wrote on the website of his James Randi Educational Foundation (www.randi.org). “If James Smithson were alive today, judging from what he wrote in his diaries and letters, I believe he would want his money refunded upon hearing of this travesty.”

    Randi told The Post that he believes the Smithsonian was not aware the film promoted creationist ideas and added if the Smithsonian took on the film merely to make money, “then I’m ready to surpass that.”

    https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/amazing-outcome-smithsonian-support-of-intelligent-design-disappears

  8. 8
    rhampton7 says:

    What are the big swindles these days that really get you worked up?

    JAMES RANDI: The Internet, of course, can be used for good or for evil, if you will. The thing I’m worried about now is global warming. Global warming is with us. How long it’s going to last and how much damage it’s going to do, those are other matters altogether. But it seems very evident that global warming is here and it’s something that must be dealt with, and everything we can do to decrease the effects that humanity has on producing global warming must be done. Another thing is vaccination denial. The anti-vaxers are the ones that really get to me, because they are killing children. Children are going to die from measles and other diseases we thought we had conquered. Vaccination, all over the earth, has saved millions of life. Now you have celebrities out there, like Jim Carrey — now there’s an expert for you. He obviously knows all the technical terms, I’m sure. Carrey is a great entertainer; I’ve been a fan of his for years. But I don’t listen to him on medical matters.

    https://www.metro.us/interview-the-amazing-james-randi-on-his-film-and-dangerous-anti-vaxers/

  9. 9
    rhampton7 says:

    Evolution is possibly the most firmly established, well-defined, evidence- based fact of nature that we have ever developed through science. Regularly, we discover new support for its validity. There are only a limited number of “missing links”—those chimeras that the creationists gleefully flaunt, but their numbers diminish every year. The fact that you can’t see the base of a mountain doesn’t prove that it floats in the fog, and some experienced and rational media see the situation clearly.

    In my opinion, one reason so many people don’t accept the reality of evolution is that they just can’t imagine the numbers involved. They suffer from a sort of innumeracy, the inability to understand basic mathematics, though there’s no shame attached to that. The billions of individuals of the multitude of species that are born and die every second of each hour, tend to survive— and thus reproduce—better, if and when some tiny mutation or gene combination gives them a few more minutes of time, a better view, better nourishment, or a better choice and selection of a mate…..

    https://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/accepting-the-reality-of-biological-evolution/

    ———

    A few years ago, The Skeptics Society put together a concise little pamphlet that provides answers to common objections to evolution, such as:
    If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans?;
    Only an intelligent designer could have made something as complex as an eye;
    The second law of thermo-dynamics proves that evolution is impossible;
    Evolution can’t account for morality;
    and more…

    Download “Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)”
    https://www.skeptic.com/downloads/top-10-evolution-myths.pdf

  10. 10
    jerry says:

    If anyone ever finds some actual evidence of someone actually claiming that 2 + 2 = 5

    I have a T-shirt that I wear that states

    2+2 equals 5 for large values of 2

    Occasionally someone asks if I believe this. I say no, but wear it to mock those who espouse relativism.

    I posted twice on a Sunday morning. What else to do with an extra hour in a 25 hour day. By the way we had a normal Halloween last night where I live. Lots of trick or treaters where I live in New Hampshire.

  11. 11
    ET says:

    RHampton7:

    Evolution is possibly the most firmly established, well-defined, evidence- based fact of nature that we have ever developed through science.

    That all depends on how you are defi8ning “evolution”. Universal common descent is untestable and because of that outside of science. Universal common descent via blind and mindless processes is total nonsense and definitely unscientific.

    James Randi never refuted ID nor did he ever find any evidentiary support for blind watchmaker evolution.

  12. 12
    jerry says:

    That all depends on how you are defining “evolution”.

    RHampton is not a native English speaker. He just cuts and pastes. My guess he understands most of what he posts but not all and has no depth of understanding. Why else would he post such irrelevancies such as evolution is most firmly established evidence based fact of nature. Do many ID proponents deny there has been new life forms appearing over time. No!

    Stephen Meyer has books on the Cambrian Explosion. I believe he is a prominent ID person.

    RHampton as with every other anti-ID person here fails to realize that when you post an irrelevant objection to something, they are actually supporting what they object to.

  13. 13
    Viola Lee says:

    Jerry, I assume your t-shirt is about rounding numbers. I teach my students to not round numbers in the middle of a calculation, but rather round the final answer, in order to avoid mistakes in accuracy from creeping in. Also, carpenters know, when laying out a sequence of numbers, to keep measuring from the beginning rather than moving the tape measure each time, to avoid small measurement inaccuracies from building up.

    But neither of these are questioning basic arithmetic facts: rather, they are nuances of using math in the real world that we have to pay attention to.

    P.S. Not sure that I see how this is related to relativism?

  14. 14
    Timaeus says:

    rhampton wrote:

    “Evolution is possibly the most firmly established, well-defined, evidence- based fact of nature that we have ever developed through science. ”

    Next thing you know, rhampton will be telling us that his theological hero Aquinas would have supported Darwin. 🙂

  15. 15
    Timaeus says:

    “RHampton is not a native English speaker.”

    Hi, Jerry! Are you the same Jerry who was a frequent poster here six or seven years ago, when I was more active? If so, glad to see you are still alive and kicking.

    Just out of curiosity, how did you discover the RHampton is not a native English speaker? I didn’t know that. I do remember him frequently posting indefensible interpretations of Aquinas here and on BioLogos, but I always chalked that up to lack of theological training on his part rather than problems with English.

  16. 16
    jerry says:

    Timaeus,

    Same poster. Only been coming here occasionally in recent years. Checked in here 7 1/2 months ago to see what was being said on the virus. Found it a good source of information. So have been posting mainly on virus but that has wound down here in terms of interest.

    RHampton has posted about 500+ times on the virus. A lot did not make sense and were just cuts and pastes from on line articles. Nearly all tended to be negative in some way. When questioning him on things his replies often did not reflect he understood the questions/comments about his posts. So I asked if he was a native English speaker a few times and he never responded. I took that as a no.

  17. 17
    bornagain77 says:

    If I might add my two cents. I think Jerry did an excellent job responding to the relentless negative spin that RHampton was trying to propagate about the virus and possible treatments with HCQ, etc…

  18. 18
    Ralph Dave Westfall says:

    “second law of thermo-dynamics proves that evolution is impossible”

    No but it makes evolution very unlikely. In an open system, entropy can be overcome if outside energy is available. In other words, outside energy is a necessary condition. However that does not mean that it is a sufficient condition.

    Plants are able to locally decrease entropy since they have complex systems to capture and harness energy. However the question remains: what systems were available to achieve the decreases in entropy that these nontrivial energy capturing and harnessing systems represent?

  19. 19
    mike1962 says:

    He was a raging _______
    “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
    Having said that, he was smart, but not that smart.
    RIP Randi.

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