Tuesday, March 02, 2004

James Randi vs. Sylvia Browne

James Randi took on Sylvia Browne today on my radio show. He came right out and called her a liar.

Browne is one of the self-proclaimed psychics who claim to be able to speak to the dead. Of course, she has never offered any definitive proof, because she can't. She did agree, three years ago on CNN, to take Randi's Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, but has never lived up to that promise. Instead, she's been spreading lies about Randi, who has been holding his tongue, but has now decided to fire back at her both on his website and on my radio show -- with no holds barred.

Randi is one of my heroes. Known as The Amazing Randi during his years as a magician, he's long been the top advocate for rational thinking and debunking psychic and paranormal claims. My wife and I have supported the James Randi Education Foundation for years, both on and off the air. The world needs more people like him.

Unfortunately, people like Sylvia Browne, John Edward, James Van Praagh, and others have taken so much money from their many victims (Browne charges up to $200 to see her "talk to the dead" and around $700 for a telephone reading!) that their side is very well-funded.

Our side, the side of reason, has to struggle to get the word out. My show is one of the few media outlets for the voice of skepticism. Johnny Carson used to give Randi a platform on the old "Tonight Show," Penn & Teller express it on their Showtime series "Bullsh*t," John Stossell goes after it on "20/20," and there a few others. But there are far too many other shows -- particularly on radio -- that accept these paranormal and psychic claims as fact, just because it's good for their bottom line.

It's one thing for a magician to deceive you for entertainment, because you know you're going to be deceived going in. That's the fun of it, and you're enriched by the entertainment experience. It's another thing to have someone exploit your beliefs in order to deceive you and enrich only themselves. Shame on the law enforcement community for doing nothing about these frauds -- psychics, faith healers, etc. -- who prey on the emotions of their victims to make a cheap buck.

Ironically, if these paranormalists really had the powers they claim to have, they could make a million dollars just by proving it. The James Randi Educational Foundation continues to offer that big money prize to anyone who can prove, under carefully observed conditions, that they have psychic, paranormal, or supernatural powers. But just saying it and making a heavily-edited TV show isn't enough. As Randi says, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

A couple of years ago, I was talking about this on my radio show, and a man called to say that he was a psychic who gave readings for many people. I asked him if he wanted to go for the million bucks. He said no, money wasn't important to him. I asked him if he charged his clients, to which he replied that he did (interesting, since money's not important to him!). So, I suggested that he try for the prize and, if he could prove his ability but didn't care about the money, give the million dollars to a worthwhile charity -- Children's Hospital, for example. He mumbled something and hung up. I've never heard from him since.

Randi tells me this is not uncommon. Logic, it appears, is the enemy of the psychic.

You'll find details about the million dollar prize at the JREF website. While you're there, if you're with us, please consider donating to and supporting the James Randi Educational Foundation. Your brain will feel better.

Here's my conversation with Randi about Sylvia Browne. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!