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James Randi

If you don't know who James, "The Amazing", Randi is, you should.

Randi is a magician, MacArthur Foundation genius, tireless exposer of frauds, fakes and fakirs and scourge of spoon killer, Uri Geller and faith-healer Peter Popoff.

Today, at age 81, he came out of the closest, announcing that he is gay.

Apparently, Randi's sexuality was well known among his friends in the the skeptic community.  But I was still a little surprised when I saw his announcement today (via Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer).  That's mostly because I'd never thought about Randi's sexual preference and certainly wasn't thinking about him when I saw Phil's blog.

Of course, if you'd asked me yesterday if Randi was straight or gay, I would have said "Gay" without hesitation.  But that's just because if he was straight, you probably won't have asked the question.

Skeptical Investigator Par Excellence
I started reading Randi in the 80s.  I was in college and was starting to see through the "woo" (Randi's word for flim-flam and hockum).  Randi, along with Martin Gardner and several others, helped me recognize the value of skeptical thinking.  When I wrote this, there's a bit of Randi coming through.

I had the pleasure of meeting Randi once, at a Smithsonian lecture series.  I'll always remember one important point Randi made that evening, "I am not a psychic debunker.  I'm a psychic investigator.  It's not my fault it always turns out to be bunk."

Randi was surly, cantankerous and irascible, but also funny, entertaining and very educational.  I suspect some of the grump was part of his act.  The rest was the natural reaction to a thankless lifetime of fighting con-artists.

The Habit of Skeptical Thought
D.J. Grothe, who is also gay, conducted Randi's coming out interview (linked above), so naturally the topic turned to skeptical thought and gay rights.  Grothe asked if gay rights are a skeptical issue.  He pointed to the number of junk science arguments the hard right uses to attack gays and compared these to other anti-science issues.

Randi agreed, but then made a very important point: skepticism isn't about a set of issues, like physics, ghost-hunters or even is homosexuality natural.  Instead, skepticism is a habit of thought which can be applied to any issue.  From "Does the evidence support anthropomorphicgenic climate change?" to "Can people bend spoons with their minds?" to "Does God hate gays?", open and honest questioning will always help you find the right answer.

One regret about his announcement
I'm happy Randi finally came out, if for no other reason than it gave me an excuse to write about him.  OTOH, I have one regret.  When Randi first announced his Million Dollar prize for anyone who could demonstrate a psychic power under properly controlled conditions, I was one of the original $1,000 sponsors (no one has ever claimed the prize, BTW, so that $1,000 is still in my pocket).

Registering as a sponsor got me a really cool ID card with a picture of Pigasus, the flying pig.  Looking around today, I can't find that card for the life of me.  Dang.

Here's Randi talking about his work, including Uri Geller's disasterous appearance on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.


Originally posted to VA Classical Liberal on Mon Mar 22, 2010 at 06:16 PM PDT.

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