TOP 10 DEVELOPMENTS IN FRINGE-OLOGY: 5

 

JAMES RANDI—SKEPTICISM'S GREAT ACHILLES

I have long felt that the skeptical community has a James Randi Problem.

At one time or another, seemingly every professional skeptic offers thanks and praise to Randi, lauds his Million Dollar Challenge and/or joins his self-named foundation (JREF). They applaud him for forty years spent debunking all things paranormal, line up in droves to attend his annual Amazing Meeting—“a celebration of critical thinking and skepticism sponsored by the James Randi Educational Foundation”—and they rarely, if ever, engage in any critical thinking about Randi himself.

Thus far, they seem unmoved even by the specter of “Jose Luis Alvarez.”

I put the name in quotes because Randi, a Plantation, Florida resident, has lived and worked with “Alvarez” for roughly 20 years, even traveling the world together to debunk psychics and stage mediums. But the feds, this last September, arrested “Alvarez” and charged him with stealing another man’s identity—obtaining passports and getting paid under the name of the real Jose Luis Alvarez, a teacher’s aide in the Bronx.

So, who is the man who has been living in Randi's home and working with him for 20 years? According to the Sun Sentinel, Alvarez is actually Deyvi Pena, who came to the United States from Venezuela in the mid-80s on a student visa to study at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. And now? The questions about Pena extend from his identity to his age to how the feds have come to accuse him of stealing the name, date of birth and social security number of a New York man, back in 1987, in order to travel internationally with Randi. And it is this relationship—the long partnership between Alvarez/Pena and Randi—that should now concern the skeptical community.

In short, what did Randi know and when did he know it?

The answer would seem to matter—a lot.

The identity Randi puts forward for public consumption is truth seeker. His professional role, at least on the surface, is to unmask hoaxers and charlatans—not live with them, or abet them. But as I write in Fringe-ology, Randi strikes me as proving, at best, a highly problematic spokesman for a movement purportedly engaged in truth telling. In fact, I would argue, the now 83-year old Randi, a one-time stage magician and long-time skeptic, has always been too consumed with the prospect of claiming total victory to be bothered overly much by more nuanced truths. But let’s back up a step.

Judging by what has been written about the case thus far, those who know Randi’s partner, who we’ll call Pena/Avarez, like him. They describe him as having arrived in America, in the mid-80s, with serious ambition to further his art. He has since had gallery showings in New York and San Francisco of what the Sun-Sentinel describes as “colorful, modernist” paintings. Operating under his allegedly assumed name, he gave a lecture, in 2011, at the University of California in Berkeley, billed in fantastic terms and garbled syntax: “Utilizing the concept in theoretical astrophysics of parallel universes and space as a continuum membrane with no beginning or end, Alvarez will place his cast of characters as a stand-in for the strong human desire for knowledge and transformation and his continued visual inquiry into the realms of the fantastic and the philosophical."

Pena/Alvarez remains best known, however, for his late-80s work with Randi. He took the stage as “Carlos,” a supposed mystic channeling the spirit of an ancient seer, while Randi oversaw production of what proved to be an elaborate hoax. The idea was to educate people by fooling them: Get audience members and the media to believe in “Carlos” the psychic, then tell them the truth: They had been fooled.

See? Randi argued. All you have to do to convince people you’re a psychic is proclaim yourself one—and act the part.

But the problems with any Randi-led narrative begin immediately. For starters, the media saw right through Carlos. So when Randi goes around saying how easy it is to fool people, using Carlos as an example, he is propagating a myth. The Carlos hoax largely backfired—as these pieces from the Grail and The Skeptic (click The Second Coming, "Skepticism," here) neatly attest. And of course, the layers of mythmaking where “Carlos” is concerned now seem endless. In fact, the false “Carlos” narrative hides Randi’s actual inability to hoax the media. And “Carlos” himself was less person than Chinese box, hiding “Alvarez,” who allegedly hid Pena.

Identity theft is a serious federal offense.

Randi’s partner, who renewed the “Alvarez” passport as recently as 2008, faces a sentence of up to 10 years. His attorneys have notified the court they intend to plead guilty. And while a plea agreement would likely land him a far shorter sentence, he could also face deportation if he is here illegally.

At first blush, there are good reasons to root for someone like Pena: I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who feels they might find a better life for themselves in the United States. And while I’ve never been in that position, I believe I understand how the desire to take part in all America offers could lead someone to take tremendous risks and even break the law. 

The problems with extending too much sympathy to Pena/Alvarez is that the real Jose Luis Alvarez has faced myriad inconveniences, indignities and hardships in the years that someone else has been using his identity. According to the complaint filed against Alvarez/Pena, the real Alvarez was not surprised someone had stolen his identity. He had spent years enduring hassles with the IRS and credit card companies.

As the Sun-Sentinel reports: “Alvarez, a teacher's aide from the Bronx, said he has suspected for several years that someone had stolen his identity — … that he's been dunned by the IRS for taxes he didn't owe on income in Florida, that his bank account has periodically been frozen and that he had difficulty renewing his driver's license. He's had to repeatedly prove he is who he says he is, brandishing his New York driver's license and a birth certificate, as well as his employment record.”

Recently, when the real Alvarez tried to obtain a passport to travel to his sister’s wedding in Jamaica, his application was pegged as potentially fraudulent—because, after all, someone else had already been traveling the world with a passport bearing all the same information. Sadly, the real Jose Luis Alvarez was not able to work the matter out in time to attend his sister’s wedding at all.

Events like family weddings don’t reoccur. And if Pena/Alvarez is guilty as charged, he stole that event from the real Jose Luis Alvarez and severely compromised his quality of life for many years. Worse, according to the affidavit of the special agent in the case, when Pena/Alvarez was questioned, he allegedly tried to do still more harm to his victim. Pena/Alvarez told the agent “he was aware that an individual was using his personal information in New York City.”

Certainly, then, if Randi did know the man he lived with was living under someone else’s name, this is a sad aspect of his legacy. But thus far he has remained mostly mum on the subject—a real change of pace for the usually irrepressible, irascible and outspoken skeptic. “I’ve been advised silence is the way to go,” he told the Sun-Sentinel.

Even worse for the reputation of the great Truth Teller, when the Sun-Sentinel asked him what he thought of their conclusion that “Alvarez” is really Pena, he didn’t take the traditional, and dignified way out, and simply say “I have no comment.” Instead, he offered this meek obfuscation: “Well, if that’s who you think he is.”

There is, however, a trail of facts that critical thinkers might pursue in order to come to their own conclusions. The Sun-Sentinel has done a diligent job of pursuing the story, and their coverage offers up a timeline that figures to grow clearer as legal proceedings continue.

1984 —  Deyvi Pena moves from Venezuela to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida under a student visa. His listed age is 22.

1986 — Randi wins a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, for $272,000 and hires Pena as an assistant. Pena starts appearing around town with Randi and is known to associates as Deyvi or David. In 1986 a Toronto Star reporter shadowed Randi at La Guardia airport, while researching a profile, and wrote: “A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases.”

1987—Pena allegedly becomes Jose Luis Alvarez, applying for a U.S. passport using the name, date of birth and social security number of a man living in the Bronx, New York. The newspaper cites one person who knew Pena/Alvarez around that time saying he needed a new identity and did not have legal identification.

So, Pena allegedly becomes Alvarez—and performs on and off as “Carlos.” A quick look at the JREF site shows Alvarez is mentioned there 9 times—though nothing (outside the message boards) I could find in connection with the legal charges he faces and nothing on Pena. Is it possible that Pena/Alvarez was confiding his situation to a friend, but not Randi, the man he worked for and ultimately lived with?

There are some telling details. Pena would now be 50, and Alvarez’s listed age is 43, a seven year difference. And intriguingly, the Sun Sentinel found, when Alvarez first performed as “Carlos” Randi billed him as 19 years old—the same age as the New York man whose identity was allegedly stolen by Randi’s partner. Further, in this video, recorded in 2009, Randi says, around the 2:40 second mark, that one worry they had before they put Pena/Alvarez on stage as “Carlos” is that his “Bronx” accent might creep through.

Really?

The real Jose Luis Alvarez is from the Bronx. But the man by Randi’s side, who had allegedly adopted that identity, was from Venezuela.

Had Pena/Avarez somehow known, from the moment he met Randi, that he would one day adopt the identity of a man from the Bronx, and fooled the incredible skeptic by adopting a Bronx accent? Or was Randi just continuing to perpetuate Pena/Alvarez’s cover? Does he himself not know the difference between Venezuelan and Bronx accents? We await the answer. And at this stage, answers are finally forthcoming: Alvarez/Pena has admitted in court that his real name is Deyvi Pena. A court hearing is set for March 14, and Pena's defense attorneys has claimed the whole truth will be revealed, which she bills as a “compelling story”. But clearly, in the meantime, this whole episode looks awfully bad for Randi—and I expect it will look bad for many in the skeptical community when all is said and done.

Why?

Because, if the last months are any indication, the skeptical community will largely ignore or rationalize the story as they have done thus far.

Just recently, in fact, Richard Saunders, host of the Skeptic Zone, spent a half-hour fawning over Randi, the legend, without asking him a single question about the Alvarez kerfuffle.

Has Richard Wiseman weighed in, on his site? Nope.

Nothing at U.K. Skeptics.

Or Ben Radford.

I can find nothing from Michael Shermer on the topic, or Mike Hutchinson, and—well, this is what we humans tend to do on behalf of the people and beliefs we’ve come to revere. And in this case, too many of the people who drape themselves in the cloak of “Critical Thinking” have willingly, I would argue, pulled the wool over their own eyes when it comes to James Randi.

The JREF message board is a case in point. They deserve props, I suppose, for leaving this long thread in place for people to monitor developments in the case and discuss it.  But JREF’s president D.J. Grothe strikes a sour note in his post on the subject: “We at the James Randi Educational Foundation are shocked by the sudden arrest of James Randi's beloved longtime partner, Jose Alvarez,” he writes. “Many of us have known Jose for years, both as a friend and as an ally to our cause who has traveled around the world to promote skepticism and critical thinking. Our thoughts are with Jose and Randi in this difficult time, and we hope they will be quickly reunited.”

Is that what it comes down to? Which side we’re on?

Is it not somehow troubling that an organization built on rooting out fraud had, in its midst, a man allegedly committing fraud at a federal level? And there is nothing from Grothe on the seriousness of the charge?  Nothing about waiting for the process to play out before reminding us of “Jose’s” accomplishments?

We all search for something to believe in. And while those who chose James Randi believe themselves to be above the rabble who get taken in by street-side fortunetellers, I believe they simply fell for a hoax of another kind. In Fringe-ology, I write at length about what I consider the most irrational moments in Randi’s rationalist career. So I won’t get into them here. But Randi is a fount not so much of critical thinking but critical gaffes: Rupert Sheldrake, Zev Pressman, Arthur C. Clarke, Gary Schwartz (and Loyd Auerbach), Dennis Rawlins and Dennis Stillings have all, at one time or another, fallen into the gap between Randi and reason.

And Randi himself clearly enjoys his own shapeshifting. On the Skeptic Zone podcast, he talks at length about the title of the forthcoming documentary about his life. It's called An Honest Liar, and the conceit is that, as a magician, Randi's job is to deceive and misdirect and create illusions.

         All I can say is that, after the Jose Luis Alvarez case shakes out, there might be a great jumping off point for a second documentary.

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Idoubtit's picture
Member since:
12 March 2012
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1 year 19 weeks

Steve:
 
I understand if you don’t agree with his methods or if you dispute the claims regarding duping the media – that’s fair game. But to delve into Randi’s personal relationships and issues as a means to discredit his life’s work? That’s pretty low. I disagree that these issues have anything to do with the work of the JREF and its mission. To make such an association is not justified. This ends up being an ad hominem attack, not evidence.
 
I daresay you are not privledged to the skeptical conversation where we all are pretty damn critical of each other. Take for example when Randi posted a misguided view on global warming. There was an outcry, he corrected himself.
 
You mention that this issue is not discussed in the CT community. It certainly is. But, why in the world would people of the skeptical community, interested in doing positive things, want to drag up gossip and dirt about each other and throw it around in public? It’s not relevant. We have better things to discuss.
 
If there is a case of circling the wagons, it is because these are our friends and we wish to help them through a tough PERSONAL time. Would you disown your child for a drug arrest? Would you stop admiring a influential teacher because he had a drunk driving arrest?
Many of us are beyond such petty judgements of people who have made some bad choices or gotten involved in trouble.
 
While I understand that reputation is vulnerable to attack, stick to the facts as they apply and understand why people support the JREF and the Critical Thinking community to begin with. It’s not to pick at people but pick at their claims with reason. Seeing no value in becoming morally smug about this, I continue to support the core mission of Randi and his foundation.
 
If I look like an apologist, so be it. A life of work should not be discarded for one unconnected issue.

Steve Volk's picture
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Out of respect for your opinion, I've edited my ending to better reflect my aim. My intention here isn't to anger the skeptical community, but to call into question the lines you draw as to when and where to employ your critical thinking.

I don't believe the issues are unconnected. I think using someone who is traveling with a stolen identity, while on a mission to expose frauds, is hypocritical. If Randi knew that was happening, I can't imagine how he lived with the disconnect between his public image and this public act he put on with Carlos.

By the way, I've spent many, many hours looking at skeptical web sites and message boards and comments. And yes, you guys can be really harsh on each other. I think Randi, though, has largely been given a free pass. Taking him to task for his position on global warming is one thing, but when it comes to what the skeptical community calls "woo" it seems everything is fair game. It's this shifting of standards that bothers me.

Idoubtit's picture
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I'm not much for hero worship and will admit that the love of "minions" has caused some "skeptical celebrities" to be less respectable in the eyes of functional free thinkers. But, I don't see Randi as being that case. He has a long career and has accomplished much. Surely you understand that there are some figures that deserve respect for their life's work? As people looking for examples, we don't deny that we give respect to Mr. Randi as we do to Joe Nickell and Michael Shermer regardless of any faults they have. They are mentors. I observe that the skeptical community is a meritocracy.

I do not know the details of Randi's involvement with this case, and perhaps I am wrong to presume it is unconnected. But, I'm not going to assume the worst without evidence. The JREF's mission has always been clear - to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today. I find they have been true to that for as long as I have been aware of it. It's a public issue, for the greater good. As I mentioned, it appears that many do not approve of his methods and we can improve upon them but we are all human first. What else can we do but learn from our mistakes (and perhaps from each other) and try to do better? I do not see the skeptical community en masse turning it's back on one of its founders over a personal issue such as this. Disappointed? Perhaps. Abandoning the ship? No.

SecretSun's picture
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This has nothing to do with Randi's personal life and everything to do with crimes committed by a board member of the JREF.

drlenz's picture
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Bishop pedophil live, should not be delved too?
You disagree that these issues have anything to do with the work of the Bishop and its mission?

Randi life is defined: It is well known Hume's Syndrome - Irrational Resistance to the Paranormal.

Steve Volk's picture
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First, I'm glad we're entering into a dialogue here. I do consider Randi to be one of the great hypocrites of this or any other generation. Just as many are put off by the moral transgressions of religious leaders, I am troubled that Randi so often plays games with the facts yet positions himself as a truth teller. What I don't understand is how so many in the skeptical community soft pedal Randi's antics.

You write "it appears that many do not approve of his methods." But I don't think that goes far enough: His methods run counter to his stated values. And my point here is that Randi winds up doing at least as much harm to critical thinking, and thinkers, as he does good. Anyone on the fence can just roll through the links in my post and wonder how a group of people dedicated to rationality can support Randi at all, let alone hold him up as a standard bearer. In this sense, Randi isn't just a founder of the skeptical movement. He is a weapon that can be used to undermine it. After all, if this guy has managed to become a spokesperson for skepticism, then people must need to look for some other movement if they're interested in discovering the truth.

Daniel Loxton's picture
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If I may, it seems to me that this post and these comments suggest a misapprehension about what James Randi means to skeptics. As someone involved in skepticism for 20 years now, I agree that Randi is held in high esteem. That shouldn't seem surprising. It's normal and good to acknowledge the career of senior workers in any field—especially workers whose legacy includes noteworthy milestones or influential innovations, or who were involved in the early, pioneering days of a given field. Those things deserve respect. Randi in particular has earned my own respect for his contributions to my field, and I give it happily. (Remember that my field is not some abstract project of "truth-telling," but the pursuit of concrete information about apparently paranormal mysteries. Does anyone deny that Randi has in fact worked to investigate paranormal claims?)

Doing notable work in a field does not mean one should be beyond criticism; nor do missteps necessarily devalue the rest of a person's work. We do not, for example, un-discover the structure of DNA just because Watson and Crick have been critiqued on several topics. Skeptics by and large accept missteps as inevitable, here as in any other field, because our practitioners are not priests. They're just people. At best, they're people who are competent within a niche. And even experts stumble, both in their own fields and (especially!) when they venture outside their areas of expertise. (I've written about at least one of Randi's missteps myself.)

Nor are skeptics less likely than the faculty of your local college to suffer upsets in their personal lives. Why would they be? If a English Lit teacher becomes involves involved in a legal matter, what are his or her colleagues to do but follow your suggestion, and wait "for the process to play out"?

I'm all for critical scholarship about Randi and his work, as I am for serious-minded scholarship about any topic of public interest. I've been very interested to read critical commentary here about the impact of the "Carlos" stunt, for example. But hyperbole like "one of the great hypocrites of this or any other generation" betrays a bias that undermines, in my opinion, the seriousness of any critique—and slams the door on dialogue.

Steve Volk's picture
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You write, quite eloquently, as usual, that it is good to show respect to the founders of a given field. But my argument is that what you respect is a myth, and demonstrably so. Randi has always been more an advocate for a particular outcome—the routing of mysticism, if I may define it broadly—rather than a practitioner of critical thinking.

My entire book is about building a space in which people can discuss their differences of opinion rather than merely try to win debate points. And I can understand if my own assessment of Randi, reached through research, was so harsh that the rest of my message went unheard. I amended the ending to my own post out of a desire to demonstrate that I am more than willing to engage in a dialogue.

But before patting yourself on the back because your "practitioners are not priests," as you put it, I think you need to be more sensitive and responsive to what you call "missteps." Surely, you understand why the amount of praise heaped on Randi in skeptical circles for the Carlos affair seems laughable to anyone who actually researches them and engages in any critical thinking at all? And just where were the vast majority of skeptics when Randi blundered into any of the situations I link to in the last graph of my article?

If anyone was offering course corrections to the great man then, they didn't do it publicly enough.

Finally, I was raised Catholic. And Daniel, you clearly would not believe how freely we criticized our priests. Sometimes even to their faces.

Daniel Loxton's picture
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Steve,

I can't speak to the Catholic experience, but I can say that errors—even quite serious ones—are to be expected in any long career. You've identified some cases that you consider serious failings in Randi's career; I won't ask you to change your opinion, but I will ask you to accept that my opinion differs.

It's not that "professional skeptic[s]…rarely, if ever, engage in any critical thinking about Randi himself." I hope you'll appreciate that I'm aiming for clarity when I say this, and not disrespect, but if I may: that characterization seems…cartoonish to me. Of course skeptics criticize and differ from other skeptics, privately and publicly—sometimes with collegial graciousness, sometimes with boorish ferocity. (Sometimes it feels like we do little else.) In that vein, I'm aware of most of the criticisms you raise against Randi, as I am of a very great number of criticisms against most or all of my colleagues. In many cases I have additional criticisms of my own, or I and my colleagues have important differences of opinion or approach. (In Randi's case, his misstep on the topic of climate change was, in my opinion, much more serious than most of the cases you raise here—which is why I promptly wrote about it.)

It's just that, nonetheless, I also respect those colleagues for the work they do, and for the stuff they get right. You ask,

Surely, you understand why the amount of praise heaped on Randi in skeptical circles for the Carlos affair seems laughable to anyone who actually researches them and engages in any critical thinking at all?

That seems obvious to you, but (familiar as I am with the critiques of the Carlos stunt) it does not seem obvious to me. I ask in return, surely you understand that Randi's long, long years of work in my field have earned him the acknowledgement and respect that they receive (to the extent that I would likely not be here, having this conversation with you, without Randi's work in skepticism)? That seems obvious to me—while you see that as falling "for a hoax of another kind."

It's hard to know what to do with such a gulf of opinion and mutual understanding. I suspect that for now you and I may just have to live with it?

Greg's picture
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Daniel Loxton wrote:

It's not that "professional skeptic[s]…rarely, if ever, engage in any critical thinking about Randi himself." I hope you'll appreciate that I'm aiming for clarity when I say this, and not disrespect, but if I may: that characterization seems…cartoonish to me.

Hi Daniel,

Glad to have you on board commenting.

Have to agree with Steve on this one. I've corrected Randi's 'errors' (some might call them something less polite) in comments after his newsletter entries. The result has been 'skeptics' asking *me* for citations for my claims, rather than Randi who first posted fictional material.

I would add that the global warming incident left guys like Phil Plait with nowhere else to go, given his own stance and close ties...they were compelled to criticise Randi (even while couching it in 'just shows any of us can be wrong' statements). What would be more impressive is if there was substantial criticism of some of his confections regarding psi research...most skeptics are happy to cut him plenty of slack there.

I would also say that the global warming incident pales in comparison to this truly terrible post:

http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swif...

Kind regards,
Greg
-------------------------------------------
You monkeys only think you're running things
@DailyGrail

Daniel Loxton's picture
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Greg wrote:

I've corrected Randi's 'errors' (some might call them something less polite) in comments after his newsletter entries. The result has been 'skeptics' asking *me* for citations for my claims, rather than Randi who first posted fictional material. … What would be more impressive is if there was substantial criticism of some of his confections regarding psi research...most skeptics are happy to cut him plenty of slack there.

You may know that my own area of relative specialty within the skeptical sphere is cryptozoology. In conversations with cryptozoologists, I sometimes come across a communications gap in which cryptozoologists express a belief that skeptics are motivated by a pathological ideology of denying the existence of cryptids—perhaps out of fear of upsetting our "Darwinist worldview"—to the extent that we will ignore or downplay what seem to them to be clearly devastating rebuttals against anti-cryptozoology "skeptical" zealots.

This rests on a misunderstanding. I try to explain, "Look, I care about cryptozoology. A handful of other skeptics like Radford and Smith care about this topic. But most skeptics do not think about cryptozoology at all. The subject you and I find so engaging and important seems to most skeptics to be such a backwater that it isn't worth discussing."

With apologies, most skeptics view most paranormal topics in much the same way. The problem is that the portfolio we've adopted—all of the paranormal and pseudoscience and fringe science—is so vast that it's not possible for more than a handful of skeptics to be conversant with each specialized topic. The much discussed "scope" problem only gets worse when skeptics adopt (or try to adopt) the portfolios of other expert domains (science communication, science education, public health advocacy, economics, and so on) or, recently, become distracted by attempts to "tackle" matters of moral or social or political values (feminism, libertarianism, progressive politics) or metaphysics (atheism, philosophical naturalism).

Returning to Randi: The psi skeptics that you may regard as a kind of rogues gallery (Randi, Wiseman, Hyman, Blackmore, etc) are skepticism's resident experts on the topic of parapsychology. Busy as skeptics tend to be (debating untestable gods or social values at worst, or actively researching some other niche topic at best), they generally assume that this handful of skeptical sub-specialists is more than ample to cover a topic as marginal or trivial or played out (in this view) as psi. (I imply no judgement when I say that; I'm just attempting to describe prevailing attitudes within the skeptical subculture, as I perceive them.)

When skeptical sub-specialists like Randi wind up criticized by paranormal proponents, most skeptics just shrug. But please do understand that this reaction is not generally a matter of circling wagons; they simply assume the skeptical expert knows what they're talking about, and so is probably correct. Or they just don't care at all about debates they view as minutia. (Dermal ridges in Bigfoot tracks? Psychic dogs?) Or, they may attempt to probe the assertions of the critic in a half-informed way (as perhaps was your experience commenting on Swift posts).

More experienced or more cautious skeptics know it isn't so simple. When skeptics debate paranormal proponents, this is often a matter of honest disagreement between dueling experts rather than virtuous debunkers versus wild-eyed crooks. Or, the skeptic may not have sufficient expertise. Or the skeptic may simply be wrong.

But here's the thing: even understanding all that, it's not possible for me (for example) to have informed opinions on many debates within areas of niche expertise, such as parapsychology. On very simple matters, I can take a look and assess the case to my own satisfaction. (I just recently reviewed the Carlos stunt and the related criticisms, because the case is mentioned in my upcoming book.) But on many parapsychology debates—especially those controversial cases that really stick in the craw the parapsychology community—I'm not prepared to offer a public position. Those debates are very technical, and I haven't spent the time on them that an informed opinion requires.

In those cases, it's not that responsible skeptics close ranks around our heroes. We're silent because we're spectators. And, of course, this applies to legal matters as well. It's very often appropriate for skeptics to wait for the process to play out.

I hope that's useful; my apologies for the essay. In summary, my position is that Randi's long career deserves my respect; that he may nonetheless be wrong in any given case (some of which I can evaluate, and some not); that he definitely has made errors in some cases, such as on the topic of global warming; and, that the upsets of his personal life or legal situations are not, by and large, my professional place to judge.

Daniel

Greg's picture
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30 April 2004
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Daniel Loxton wrote:

This rests on a misunderstanding. I try to explain, "Look, I care about cryptozoology. A handful of other skeptics like Radford and Smith care about this topic. But most skeptics do not think about cryptozoology at all. The subject you and I find so engaging and important seems to most skeptics to be such a backwater that it isn't worth discussing."

With apologies, most skeptics view most paranormal topics in much the same way.

I'm sorry, I don't think that's the case at all. I think self-labeled skeptics (SLS), in general (and a lot of the following generalises - dangerous I know, but a necessary evil), would like to *relegate* paranormal topics to 'a backwater, not worth discussing'. However, they do not treat it as such. The usual response to paranormal topics from a SLS is a rather hysterical, irrational defence mechanism, attacking the topic without objective or scientific consideration. The majority of organised skepticism's history has been precisely about battling 'the paranormal'...it's the 'P' in CSICOP after all.

This irrationality is a reaction that fascinates me...what is the root cause? I love hearing about possible new discoveries and theories in science, though I approach it with an attitude of "this is sooo cool...but I'm skeptical of the likelihood of it panning out. Let's have fun speculating, but let's also do more science!". I don't understand the vitriolic response that things like Bem's paper inspire amongst SLS. Though - returning to the original topic - I think both Randi and CSICOP have a lot to answer for in terms of turning a largely honest scientific endeavour (parapsychology) into a subject of ridicule and anger.

Quote:

When skeptical sub-specialists like Randi wind up criticized by paranormal proponents, most skeptics just shrug. But please do understand that this reaction is not generally a matter of circling wagons; they simply assume the skeptical expert knows what they're talking about, and so is probably correct.

Oh, but that's the whole point! We understand this completely! That is the main criticism of skepticism, and is Steve's original and underlying point in his post. It's also evident even in raising 'internal' criticism of Randi's global warming stance. This is the point:

In general, 'skeptics' deploy very little critical thinking skills when it comes to challenging their own beliefs, or their own heroes.

This flaw, by definition, means that a large portion of 'skeptics' are nothing of the sort. Which I find rather ironic and humorous, though many others interested in this topic tend to get frustrated/infuriated with, especially when 'skeptics' are given the mantle of truth-bearers.

Quote:

But on many parapsychology debates—especially those controversial cases that really stick in the craw the parapsychology community—I'm not prepared to offer a public position. Those debates are very technical, and I haven't spent the time on them that an informed opinion requires.

In those cases, it's not that responsible skeptics close ranks around our heroes. We're silent because we're spectators.

While I agree on your points about the need to tread carefully when not fully informed, that is actually a central criticism of Randi's 'career'. He knows very little about many of the topics he has discussed over the years (often loudly and with vitriol), apart from the framework of trickery and magical skills. And yet he is lauded by skeptics for his work in spreading uninformed (and biased) misinformation.

Quote:

I hope that's useful; my apologies for the essay. In summary, my position is that Randi's long career deserves my respect; that he may nonetheless be wrong in any given case (some of which I can evaluate, and some not); that he definitely has made errors in some cases, such as on the topic of global warming; and, that the upsets of his personal life or legal situations are not, by and large, my professional place to judge.

And in summary, my position is that I find Randi to be a fascinating character who, I (as a fun-loving human being and anthropologist of sorts) enjoy having around, but equally one who I think damages true scientific endeavour regularly with his uninformed rants and who makes a mockery of skeptics by regularly spreading misinformation (in a number of cases, deliberately) to bolster his case.

IMO, the upset in his personal life deserves scrutiny because it *may* contribute (*if* Randi was involved) to understanding further the methods of a man who has made a career as a skeptical leader through the use of misinformation and subterfuge. The irony of that final point is just brilliant. :)

Kind regards,
Greg
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Greg wrote:

I'm sorry, I don't think that's the case at all. I think self-labeled skeptics…would like to *relegate* paranormal topics to 'a backwater, not worth discussing'. However, they do not treat it as such. … The majority of organised skepticism's history has been precisely about battling 'the paranormal'...it's the 'P' in CSICOP after all.

With respect, I think your interest in paranormal topics (an interest I happen to share) may give you an outdated view of the skeptical subculture, which is changing rapidly. It is quite common now (and in my view very unfortunate) to hear self-labeled skeptics express indifference not only to individual paranormal claims, but to the very idea of bothering with the paranormal at all. With the rise of New Atheist influence in the skeptical subculture, paranormal investigation (or criticism) of the type I pursue is often considered passé. I've been writing about this trend for some years—prompted by CSICOP's decision to drop the 'P' altogether in 2007.

As an insider, I can assure you that very little attention is paid to psi in skeptical circles these days. Parapsychology is rarely mentioned. (The one exception is celebrity spirit mediums.)

Quote:

The usual response to paranormal topics from a SLS is a rather hysterical, irrational defence mechanism, attacking the topic without objective or scientific consideration.

Skepticism does have quality control problems, both at the "professional" level and at the informal, grassroots level. (The quality control issues among paranormal subcultures is a topic for another day.) Self-identified skeptics do quite often snipe at fringe topics "without objective or scientific consideration" as you say. However, I suggest that it is speculation on your part that this represents a "defence mechanism."

The truth is that there are a variety of motivations at play in skepticism. I'm one of the few who explicitly argue that critical examination of paranormal claims should a central activity of the skeptical movement going forward, so I can speak to the reasons why old school skeptics care about those "debunking" type activities, if you're interested.

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Daniel Loxton wrote:

With respect, I think your interest in paranormal topics (an interest I happen to share) may give you an outdated view of the skeptical subculture, which is changing rapidly. It is quite common now (and in my view very unfortunate) to hear self-labeled skeptics express indifference not only to individual paranormal claims, but to the very idea of bothering with the paranormal at all. With the rise of New Atheist influence in the skeptical subculture, paranormal investigation (or criticism) of the type I pursue is often considered passé. I've been writing about this trend for some years—prompted by CSICOP's decision to drop the 'P' altogether in 2007.

This is very true. But at the same time the New Atheists haven't run into any serious opposition yet. They might well go running back to the safety of picking on tealeaf readers and crystal smoochers if we start seeing some nutcase fundamentalists decide they need to take drastic measures to deal with the New Atheists. Which means lone wolf terrorist kind of stuff on the far end, a concerted Operation Rescue/ Westboro Baptist kind of harassment campaign on the near.

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SecretSun][quote=Daniel Loxton wrote:

With respect, I think your interest in paranormal topics (an interest I happen to share) may give you an outdated view of the skeptical subculture, which is changing rapidly. It is quite common now (and in my view very unfortunate) to hear self-labeled skeptics express indifference not only to individual paranormal claims, but to the very idea of bothering with the paranormal at all. With the rise of New Atheist influence in the skeptical subculture, paranormal investigation (or criticism) of the type I pursue is often considered passé. I've been writing about this trend for some years—prompted by CSICOP's decision to drop the 'P' altogether in 2007.

And let me just add what a bunch of cowards the PSiCOP crowd was in the first place, running around screaming about biofeedback and flying saucers at the very same time that the Religious Right was taking over America. If Kurtz and Randi and the rest of those idiots put a fraction of the energy into fighting Jerry Falwell that they put into worrying about Uri Geller maybe the country wouldn't be in the mess it is now. So maybe the new generation should shove the Randis and the Shermers out into the street and shame them for worrying about little old ladies in tennis shoes when they should have been taking on the Moral Majority. Of course all of those guys are total cowards and weaklings and wouldn't dare go after someone who would actually fight back.

Shame those old fools and then throw them out and start from scratch.

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Daniel Loxton wrote:

With respect, I think your interest in paranormal topics (an interest I happen to share) may give you an outdated view of the skeptical subculture, which is changing rapidly. It is quite common now (and in my view very unfortunate) to hear self-labeled skeptics express indifference not only to individual paranormal claims, but to the very idea of bothering with the paranormal at all. With the rise of New Atheist influence in the skeptical subculture, paranormal investigation (or criticism) of the type I pursue is often considered passé. I've been writing about this trend for some years—prompted by CSICOP's decision to drop the 'P' altogether in 2007.

I agree certainly the culture is changing...but with respect, as someone regularly on the wrong end of the irrational responses to psi from skeptics, I haven't experienced much of a downturn in business.
;)

Paranormal investigation may be considered passé by New Atheists, but that's only because they believe it's not worthy of investigation in the first place. They still reserve plenty of contempt for paranormal *claims*.

Quote:

Skepticism does have quality control problems, both at the "professional" level and at the informal, grassroots level. (The quality control issues among paranormal subcultures is a topic for another day.) Self-identified skeptics do quite often snipe at fringe topics "without objective or scientific consideration" as you say. However, I suggest that it is speculation on your part that this represents a "defence mechanism."

Sure, it's speculation. But it is informed speculation. Not sure you'd prefer any of the alternatives though... ;)

Quality control issues among some (many) paranormal subcultures are terrible. But neither makes the other right. Where quality control is poor, it deserves to be called out, regardless of which side of any (imaginary) fence it sits.

Quote:

The truth is that there are a variety of motivations at play in skepticism. I'm one of the few who explicitly argue that critical examination of paranormal claims should a central activity of the skeptical movement going forward, so I can speak to the reasons why old school skeptics care about those "debunking" type activities, if you're interested.

Certainly, I recognise your personal quest in quality control and self examination/criticism, and I think you're a shining light in skepticism in that respect. More the shame that the skeptical community instead puts propagandists/agitants like Randi, Richard Wiseman and Michael Shermer at the head of the table so to speak.

Simply my views as an outsider (and to a degree, adversary). I may be completely wrong about these things.

Kind regards,
Greg
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Hi Daniel (and everyone else),

I hope we're both getting something out of this exchange. I know I am. The skeptical movement seems utterly bankrupt to me as a source of reliable information, and here's why. Even now, on the Grail's front page, there is a post explaining that Daryl Bem's study is being unfairly treated by French and Wiseman and Stuart Ritchie.

They've written a paper claiming no one has succeeded in replicating Bem's precognition experiment.

The truth, according to Bem, is this:

"In their article, Ritchie et al. mention that their experiments were 'pre-registered.' They are referring to an online registry set up by Wiseman himself, asking anyone planning a replication to pre-register it and then to provide him with the data when the study is completed. As he noted on the registration website: 'We will carry out a meta-analysis of all registered studies…that have been completed by 1 December 2011.'

By the deadline, six studies attempting to replicate the Retroactive Recall effect had been completed, including the three failed replications reported by Ritchie et al. and two other replications, both of which successfully reproduced my original findings at statistically significant levels. (One of them was conducted in Italy using Italian words as stimuli.) Even though both successful studies were pre-registered on Wiseman’s registry and their results presumably known to Ritchie et al., they fail to mention them in this article.'"

And so, the beat goes on.

Will any skeptics police their own and look into this? No? Because they trust the psi specialists so much that, well, contrary to your earlier post, maybe they do treat them like priests? Just a little bit? As you said, they figure the specialists in that field must be right.

This is why the skeptical movement appears so utterly bankrupt to me. Because you all go to these conventions, like TAM, and just figure everyone you're hearing—if they come from another specialty—is right on the mark. Please, can we try and make some change now?

I'm going to reach out to Bem on the matter of these replications. How about I see if he has anything to add, post it here, and then one of us can reach out to French. What do you think?

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Steve, I replied on that piece and on the Live Science article with my opinion that perhaps psi doesn't respond to the artificial environment of the laboratory. I'll give you an example- when I was a musician I had songs in my head all of the time. I had no idea where they were coming from. I had jam sessions where there was that classic telepathy state with the other musicians. However, if you told me to sit down in a room and write a song nothing but crap would come of it.

Maybe the same situation exists with psi- it's a spontaneous process that isn't controlled by the conscious mind.

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Steve Volk wrote:

They've written a paper claiming no one has succeeded in replicating Bem's precognition experiment.

Not sure that's exactly the case Steve. They aren't explicitly claiming that, they simply haven't mentioned that. Given that the positive replications are unpublished, they do have reasoning for not mentioning them in their paper. A lack of mention of the positive replications in public statements though, especially from Wiseman, who set up the register - is a different matter. Given the media so far regarding their paper, I would expect some clarification of this (e.g. via Twitter accounts, or on websites).

Kind regards,
Greg
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It seems we're drilling down to the bottom of this one, with speed. The successful replications were omitted because they have yet to be published and the Wiseman, et. al paper is only about their results. Wiseman also responded to me, via Twitter, to say that the meta analysis is "under review at the moment."

I'm glad to see the omission, in terms of the Wiseman paper, is based on the principle to not publish someone else's results. I'm also still a bit agog that LiveScience didn't include Bem's mention of successful replications, as that seems to me the strongest part of his response. But that's about the science press—not the skeptical crowd.

Greg, I've not looked at all the coverage, so I'm not sure what Wiseman (or anyone else) has said publicly. Also, as for their meta-analysis, I can only guess we're going to end up in a back and forth between the pro-psi and skeptical communities about statistics and all the choices that go into conducting meta analyses. I wish the field could find a way out of this pattern.

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Steve Volk wrote:

It seems we're drilling down to the bottom of this one, with speed. The successful replications were omitted because they have yet to be published and the Wiseman, et. al paper is only about their results. Wiseman also responded to me, via Twitter, to say that the meta analysis is "under review at the moment."

I'm glad to see the omission, in terms of the Wiseman paper, is based on the principle to not publish someone else's results.

I think there's room for some criticism. It's easy enough to note there have been 'other positive replications' currently seeking publication, without being guilty of publishing someone else's results. Especially given the trio's many press interviews about the difficulty in getting their own negative result published (most often framed in terms of 'they won't publish our *negative* replication', without letting on that they know positive replications also aren't being published).

Also, there appears to be a bit of wiggling in their response to Bem's reply. Wiseman's registry was set up with the express intention of stopping any speculation about other tests 'out there' which might affect the later meta-analysis, and also to ensure that these tests stick to the exact same methodology as each other. But now we have the authors saying this (with my emphasis):

Bem does not mention other studies published online at the Social Science Research Network which differ somewhat in their methodology as they were carried out online, but nonetheless both fail to find significant RFR effects. Since many other unpublished experiments may exist, we feel our focus on the peer-reviewed literature was justified.

On the flipside of criticism: if Bem was indeed the peer reviewer who turned down their paper, as Chris French seems to clearly state in his Guardian article, then I think it's really a black mark against him for not recusing himself from deciding on the paper (given it was adversarial to his own results/conclusion). If French is correct, Bem deserves severe criticism for this action IMO.

Kind regards,
Greg
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Lesson learned, Greg. I simply can't write well directly before going to bed. —Best, Steve

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Daniel Loxton wrote:

That seems obvious to you, but (familiar as I am with the critiques of the Carlos stunt) it does not seem obvious to me. I ask in return, surely you understand that Randi's long, long years of work in my field have earned him the acknowledgement and respect that they receive (to the extent that I would likely not be here, having this conversation with you, without Randi's work in skepticism)? That seems obvious to me—while you see that as falling "for a hoax of another kind."

It's hard to know what to do with such a gulf of opinion and mutual understanding. I suspect that for now you and I may just have to live with it?

Randi's long years of profiteering, glory-hogging, bullying, deceit, and distortion? Did you happen to notice that Randi makes a very fat chunk of change off all of this so-called skepticism? Have you seen how much he charges people to attend the Amazing Meetings? The JREF is a cult, no different from Scientology. It behaves exactly like one and its followers are as brainwashed as any Moonie I ever met. Luckily, the media is always there to shill for him and cover up his countless misdeeds.

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SecretSun wrote:

Have you seen how much he charges people to attend the Amazing Meetings? The JREF is a cult, no different from Scientology. It behaves exactly like one and its followers are as brainwashed as any Moonie I ever met.

I've attended almost every Amazing Meeting conference, and I must say, my impression is considerably more positive.

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Well, it may turn out you've already attended your last. Interesting that it's the middle of March and there hasn't been an announcement on a TAM 10.

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SecretSun wrote:

Well, it may turn out you've already attended your last. Interesting that it's the middle of March and there hasn't been an announcement on a TAM 10.

Not the case:

http://www.amazingmeeting.com/TAM2012/

Kind regards,
Greg
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We'll see...

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SecretSun wrote:

The JREF is a cult, no different from Scientology. It behaves exactly like one and its followers are as brainwashed as any Moonie I ever met.

http://www.iigwest.com/whatsnew/updates/...

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I have been reading skeptical literature for several decades at this point, and I do so because I appreciate the role honest skepticism plays in helping to sort out fact from fantasy. And there's plenty of the latter in the "alternative" literature. But what's disturbed me about Randi throughout all of this time is not simply flawed reasoning on his part, but what seems to be, for all intents and purposes, a calculated dishonesty in his methods at times. Others have discussed such incidents in more detail than I care to here, but I'll mention just a couple simple examples that spring to mind that may illustrate what I'm talking about.

Back in the early 80s there was a TV series about unusual phenomena/people in which Randi was flown to some South Pacific island to watch a firewalking ceremony, where the heat generated by the fire was obviously far beyond what normal humans could withstand. (This was not your run-of-the-mill "new age"-type firewalking ceremony, btw, but something far more serious.) In one scene, Randi threw some flammable materials onto the hot rocks and watched as they immediately burst into flames and, somewhat surprisingly, concluded that it was a genuine mystery how these individuals could withstand those temperatures, and that he had no good explanation for what he saw. It was just two weeks later that I saw Randi on a network talk show discussing various "woo" phenomena--in which he declared how he'd never seen any unusual phenomena or abilities he "couldn't explain." Huh?

Or consider the time that no less than Arthur C. Clarke, on one of his "Mysterious World" shows, took Randi to task for his slipperiness in evaluating the results of a test he designed to challenge self-proclaimed dowsers, in which Clarke pointed out afterwards how Randi evened out the final scores in such as way as to make it seem nothing statistically significant was found, when in fact the results suggested quite the opposite, Clarke argued.

If these were isolated cases, it wouldn't mean very much; but time and again Randi seems to be surprisingly good at juggling statistics or misrepresenting results in ways that favor his line of reasoning. To my mind, this isn't a man interested in the truth so much as one who's steadfastly looking to bolster his preconceived viewpoints, and will go to pretty much any lengths to achieve that.

But is the Alvarez case relevant to Randi's integrity as a skeptic? Personally, I think so, for much the same reason that a priest caught sleeping with married women after professing celibacy has to be held accountable more than the average person, since those actions went directly against the grain of what he formally stood for. If you're going to hold yourself out as a representative of something--be that celibacy or Truth with a capital "T"--you'd better plan on being held to a higher standard than the ordinary person. But did Randi really know what Alvarez was doing all that time? That's no small matter, because if so, it practically makes him accessory to a crime, morally if not legally. But I do believe in "innocent until proven guilty," so l'll just wait and see how this all plays out.

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How did Alvarez pull it off? Who helped him get the papers? How is it that Randi went from thinking this guy he was sharing his bed for 26 years with was from Venezuela to thinking he was from the Bronx? That's one hell of a magic trick.

This kind of identity fraud was not an easy thing to pull in 1986 and there is almost certainly more to this story. How did these two miscreants in Florida get a hold of a guy from New York's SS#?

Are we really being asked to believe that Randi - or the rest of the JREF board- wasn't involved in this? Really?

I guess skepticism doesn't mean what it used to anymore.

Steve, there is one skeptic who had the balls to call Randi out on this- Ed Brayton on Freethought Blogs. Other than that all of the rest of them live in mortal terror of the Amazing One. Not a single backbone among the lot of them. They'd rather go find some palm readers or dowsers to harass.

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SecretSun wrote:

How did these two miscreants in Florida get a hold of a guy from New York's SS#?

A. Misdirection.
B. Sleight of hand.
C. Telekinesis.
D. All of the above.

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I think you nailed the topic completely here Ray. Nice post!

Kind regards,
Greg
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Let's remember the "accused" is just that, accused, not proven guilty.

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I couldn't agree more, which is why I couched my whole article in "allegeds" and "ifs." I also fully expect the Randi camp to deliver a great, compelling story. We just have to give it time and let it all shake out. That said, there is certainly enough out there, on the public record, to begin investigating. And it struck me as worth doing.

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In the Randi forums and elsewhere that has been some debate as to whether Randi was "duped" by Pena. The anti-Randi people were saying this means he is not so much of a fraud buster if he can not detect deception in his own home. The pro-Randi people have been pushing this as well as it would seen to be the best alternative; that Randi was a victim in this and had nothing to to with this. This is better than Randi having knowledge of it and concealing it, which would make him a party to the deception.

The debate is now pointless. Randi has testified under oath in court that he knew of Pena's real identity. According to an article Florida Sun-Sentinal: "The judge was satisfied only after hearing Pena and Randi testify under oath. Randi told the judge he had seen Pena's Venezuelan passport years ago. Pena said he used the fraudulent U.S. passport to travel Europe." (Jailed Plantation mystery artist reveals true identity in federal court http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2011-10...).

Now the question is not "did Randi know?" but "did Randi have a part in this?" That is a question that he is unlikely to answer.

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http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/b...

Guilty. And Randi knew it.

The JREF paid this guy for years and years while Randi knew he was illegal- that's a serious Federal crime.

Plus, there may be an additional perjury charge with Pena claiming he changed his ID before he worked for Randi when the paper trail clearly says otherwise.

And what happened to the BS story the Randi camp was floating that Pena was trying to escape some religious cult? And why the hell didn't he go through the system like everyone else? I actually have gay friends from South America who came here in the 80s- they obeyed the law and are living very happy and fulfilling lives as legal US citizens. One came from Columbia, which was a pretty damn scary place back in those days- a lot worse than Venezuela, that's for sure.

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Quote:

The JREF paid this guy for years and years while Randi knew he was illegal- that's a serious Federal crime.

Did they pay him? A number of JREF folk work for free.

Also, did Randi know he was illegal, or just that he had two passports under different names? Granted, the latter still implies some sort of crime, but there could be exceptions.

The timeline is interesting though...Pena is said to have taken on the new identity in New York, but he was still Pena in Florida for a little while. Did he only switch publicly once he went for the passport, previously just using the identity details for paperwork? Also, he may have initially thought that the Alvarez identity was a dead man, but Steve mentions that he did have later knowledge of someone in New York still using the same identity?

Kind regards,
Greg
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From the Sun Sentinel:

"Randi testified at an October court hearing to Pena's true identity, acknowledging he had seen Pena's Venezuelan passport years ago."

OK, so he hired a Dayvi Pena born in Venezuela and all of a sudden is traveling around with a Jose Alvarez born in the Bronx? Pretty sure Randi knew he was illegal.

Pena was an officer on the JREF for 20+ years. Their latest 990 lists over 200K in miscellaneous salary without itemizing. I'm sure the Feds will sort it all out for us. I'm sure they're working on it now.

And then the real Alvarez's attorneys will take a crack at it, since Alvarez got a lot of hassle from the IRS for Florida income he knew nothing about.

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SecretSun wrote:

OK, so he hired a Dayvi Pena born in Venezuela and all of a sudden is traveling around with a Jose Alvarez born in the Bronx? Pretty sure Randi knew he was illegal.

I would lean towards that conclusion - just wanted to be clear that we don't know the full story (and perhaps never will), so we should be careful in throwing around 100% certain accusations.

Given that the Sun-Sentinel interviewed a guy from "Randi's circle" in New York in the mid-80s, who said he knew Pena was looking around for a new identity, one would assume Randi was aware of this too. Perhaps he'll tell all post-sentencing...though I wouldn't hold my breath.

Kind regards,
Greg
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We should be as careful as Randi and his bootlicking toadies would be if the shoe was on the other foot.

Randi has some powerful friends so maybe the damage will be contained. But at the same time there are a lot of devoutly religious types working in the Federal gov't down there who'd love to take him down. He's made an army of enemies over the years and now he's opened the JREF to serious criminal and civil jeopardy. So we'll see how this all plays out.

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While I agree with Greg that we need to be careful about making accusations, I also think at this point it's fair game to sort through the timeline and try to figure out what exactly happened here.

I'll get some time, in the next day or two, to do some more looking. But for the moment, the Sun Sentinel already reported this:

"Randi won a $272,000 MacArthur Foundation 'genius' grant in 1986, and one of the first things he did with the money was hire an assistant – Pena.

"A reporter profiling Randi for the Toronto Star caught up with the magician at LaGuardia Airport in New York in August 1986:

'A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases,' the reporter wrote.'"

Now, they don't source this but as a reporter I would expect they got the bit about hiring Pena by examining old 990s. The record there should be clear: If, and it's a crucial "if", Randi ever shifted from paying Pena to Alvarez, there's a problem for him. Now it's also entirely possible the Alvarez name simply isn't listed on the public record. But the feds clearly should be able to gain access to documentation concerning who got paid what.

The JREF was founded in '96, well after the Pena name change. So I've got to figure out exactly where to look, to see if any info is publicly available. The Sun Sentinel might also have learned he hired Pena through interviews with other people who knew them at the time...

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Steve Volk wrote:

"Randi won a $272,000 MacArthur Foundation 'genius' grant in 1986, and one of the first things he did with the money was hire an assistant – Pena.

Now, they don't source this but as a reporter I would expect they got the bit about hiring Pena by examining old 990s. The record there should be clear: If, and it's a crucial "if", Randi ever shifted from paying Pena to Alvarez, there's a problem for him. Now it's also entirely possible the Alvarez name simply isn't listed on the public record. But the feds clearly should be able to gain access to documentation concerning who got paid what.

I think the fact that Randi -Mr. Bluster and Bluff and Bully his way through everything- isn't talking at all about this tells you all you need to know. Plus, this is an election year in Florida, where immigration abuse is a hot ticket and there's a lot of resentment in the South against the atheist movement.

I doubt very much that Pena was supporting himself with his art and he is a founding officer of the JREF. Now let's do it all careful-like, but who wants to start a pool that Pena was drawing a salary there?

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SecretSun wrote:

I doubt very much that Pena was supporting himself with his art(...)

http://www.pbpulse.com/arts-and-culture/...
"...finding increasing success; he’s represented by the Sara Gavlak gallery in Palm Beach, with his price now up to about $24,000 a painting."

His stuff is 'pretty', though derivative of Takashi Murakami and Fred Tomaselli.

frankmat's picture
Member since:
17 December 2011
Last activity:
21 weeks 2 hours

I commend you on this article. Certainly no surprise here that Randi's name would be all over this sordid affair.

James Randi is one of the biggest con artists in the world. Except the people he is conning are his "followers" that look up to him. He is conning them into believing he is an open minded skeptic who uses science as the basis for his belief system when the truth he is a debunker who has been found to be involved in projects where scientific data was manipulated towards his beliefs... and has been caught lying about scientific studies he has done.

Randi is the biggest cretin on the planet.

SecretSun's picture
Member since:
25 August 2010
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18 weeks 6 days

No- his followers are. He's an absolute genius at ripping people off and conning the gullible fools in the mainstream media. But I love the rest of your post!

alevangel's picture
Member since:
1 May 2004
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1 year 6 weeks

Just a simple situation, if you look at it without the skeptic vs everybody else arguments:

Is JR dishonest?
---If he knew Alvarez was actually Pena, and kept the lie going, then he is.
---If he didn't know, after living with the guy for all those years, how easy is he to dupe, actually?

If JR is demonstrably dishonest, then how can you trust him to be honest, accurate, or reliable about other topics?

If he is that easily duped, how can you trust his judgement on other topics?

It's kinda like finding out the bank president has been pocketing people's deposit money -- if he'll do that, then you just can't trust the guy at all. You can't justify dishonesty like that, even if he was a nice guy, well-liked, and supported the local animal shelter. He's STILL a crook.

alevangel

red pill junkie's picture
Member since:
12 April 2007
Last activity:
19 min 47 sec

Well boiled sir. Well boiled :)

It's not the depth of the rabbit hole that bugs me...
It's all the rabbit SH*T you stumble over on your way down!!!

Red Pill Junkie
_______________
@red_pill_junkie

eleggua's picture
Member since:
16 April 2012
Last activity:
2 years 15 weeks
alevangel wrote:

If JR is demonstrably dishonest, then how can you trust him to be honest, accurate, or reliable about other topics?

'Carlos'?

eleggua's picture
Member since:
16 April 2012
Last activity:
2 years 15 weeks

http://atc.berkeley.edu/bio/Jose_Alvarez/
Abstract:
"Jose Alvarez will guide us through his own personal journey of investigation into the realms of consciousness, mysticism, spirituality, magic, shamanism, space exploration, and paranormal phenomena. Utilizing the concept in theoretical astrophysics of parallel universes and space as a continuum membrane with no beginning or end, Alvarez will place his cast of characters as a stand-in for the strong human desire for knowledge and transformation and his continued visual inquiry into the realms of the fantastic and the philosophical."

^^^ Seems, he's still got a 'thing' for Castaneda.

From the bio:
"Jose Alvarez was born in 1968 in New York. He attended the School of Visual Arts."

Did Pena/Alvarez actually go to SVA? Or is that another lie?

emlong's picture
Member since:
18 September 2007
Last activity:
2 hours 39 min

Randi is chronically dishonest most notably in the manner in which he picks only weak subjects upon which to cast his eye. He often zeroes in on the flakiest mediums while ignoring the really accomplished ones. He is always stacking the deck in his favor every chance he gets. It is obvious that he is not genuinely interested in doing science. The ludicrous Million Dollar Challenge has so boxed him into a corner that he cannot do good science for fear of losing the million dollars.
That he should also be dishonest in the matter of his boyfriend is not of much moment finally, but let's just say it is another thing to file away when assessing the character of this man.