James Randi | Religion | Science

James Randi To Get A Documentary: VIDEO

James "The Amazing" Randi, the legendary conjurer, performer, writer, debunker of frauds, and lifelong crusader for skepticism and reason is at long last getting his own documentary. It will be directed by Justin Weinstein, of Being Elmo fame, and there's no telling when it's coming out. (According to the doc's website, Weinstein and co. are still seeking backers.) But the trailer suggests it'll be cool. It's got interviews from Penn & Teller, Richard Dawkins, Bill Nye, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Adam Savage -- a whole galaxy of dudes of unsurpassable coolness and smarts. From the press release:

As a teenager, James Randi did what most kids only dreamt of: he ran away to join a traveling circus and never looked back. Dubbed “The Amazing Randi,” his feats of magic and escape, and acts of mentalism made him an international celebrity. At the same time, however, he saw those same powers being used by con men, faith healers, and psychics for thievery. Knowing that it takes a thief to catch a thief, Randi dedicated his life to expose these charlatans.

... An Honest Liar will chronicle how a curious child rose to the ranks of showman and then advanced to renowned demystifier of paranormal claims. We will hear firsthand about his celebrated debunking of the spoon-bending Uri Geller and his many visits to the Tonight Show where he exposed the faith-healing Peter Popoff.  The film will bring to life such schemes as “Project Alpha,” where two magicians posing as psychics fooled a scientific study on paranormal powers, and the famous “Carlos Hoax” in which Randi unleashed a fake mystic upon the people of Australia. 

Interspersed with episodes from his past, the film will go behind-the-scenes while Randi prepares for another grand scale debunking. With the precision of a seasoned magician, Randi will research, plan, and assemble an Ocean’s Eleven-type team for a carefully orchestrated exposure of a fraudulent religious organization.

Personal note: I met James Randi when I was a devoutly religious, very superstitious young teenager, and he took the time to befriend me and show me the beauty and power of science and critical thought. I hope this flick finds a wide audience, so his celluloid self can maybe do the same for some other confused kids. (Incidentally, Randi's gay. He's been with his partner since the late 80's, and he came out to the broader public in 2010.)

Watch the trailer for An Honest Liar AFTER THE JUMP ...


An Honest Liar - Work-in-Progress trailer from Justin Weinstein on Vimeo.


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  1. This looks great.

    What Randi is doing is exceptionally important. i believ we've reached a tipping point with that fraud known as organized religion. Religion is was creaed forthose unable to face the finality of death or deal with the reality of sexual pleasure. Its mission is to "expalin" the first andcombat the second. The overwhelming success of the gay rights movement is bring ign organized religion to an end.

    Not fast enought, but it's on its way.

    Therw will of course be no end of screaming from the "pious."

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Feb 19, 2012 9:26:02 AM

  2. Thanks for that personal note Brandon. It's nice to know that others come from a similar background. I grew up in the same denomination as the Bachmann family. I went to the same evangelical high school as Michelle and Marcus' oldest son. I didn't have a James Randi, but I did come across a Presbyterian chaplain who was the first to tell me that no one group has a monopoly on God or truth.

    Posted by: jdb | Feb 19, 2012 9:27:32 AM

  3. I want so much to see this film. Please keep us up to date as to when it will be released. It will be a DVD (I hope) that will be well worth owning and sharing.

    Posted by: Bob R | Feb 19, 2012 9:54:46 AM

  4. Looks fascinating. As a kid he was one of my heros. First saw him on Johnny Carson and remember Johnny asking him if he believed in God. "which Gid?" was his answer and that opened my eyes to the fakery of religion. Did not know he was gay. That makes me like him even more now.

    Posted by: Mike Ryan | Feb 19, 2012 10:51:48 AM

  5. "Randi's gay. He's been with his partner since the late 80's, and he came out to the broader public in 2010."

    Randi is also one of us who is in a binational relationship and a victim of the USA's subhuman treatment of LGBT people.

    His partner is not yet a citizen of the USA, and allegedly used the Social Security number of an actual USA citizen for nearly two decades under the pseudonym "Jose Alvarez" so that he and Randi could stay together.

    Unfortunately, the federal government finally got wind of this and have charged Randi's partner with passport fraud and identity theft.

    Details of this case can be found through the Florida newspaper Sun Sentinel. Here is one of the latest entries from there:


    Posted by: Aratina Cage | Feb 19, 2012 11:29:56 AM

  6. This man made my mascara run. I cried and cried when he made me realize that atonement is stupid and no one was ever born of a virgin. How was I to know?

    Posted by: uffda | Feb 19, 2012 11:55:03 AM

  7. That footage in the trailer of Randi exposing "faith healer" Peter Popoff is amazing. (Randi used a radio attuned to the same frequency as Popoff's hearing aid to show he was being fed information by associates who were researching audience members.)

    What's almost MORE amazing is that Popoff is back at it, this time selling mumbo jumbo supernatural-prayer-whatever DEBT RELIEF to people in dire financial straits.

    Posted by: Caliban | Feb 19, 2012 12:17:50 PM

  8. I feel sorry for the man. All this time and effort in fighting what he himself claims not to believe in.

    Posted by: FC | Feb 19, 2012 6:09:32 PM

  9. FC: Not at all. He very much believes in fraud, delusion, and the terrible power of pleasant but false ideas. - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Feb 19, 2012 6:33:45 PM

  10. Fascinating, thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    A Torontonian who became a U.S. citizen because, while he was touring with Alice Cooper, the RCMP trashed their lockers. As you do when that happens.

    Posted by: MammmaB | Feb 19, 2012 6:40:12 PM

  11. BKT,

    Don't fool yourself. He's as much a self promoting huckster as those he goes after. Randi doesn't just say this or that psychic is a phony, he goes the extra mile in saying you're stupid if you believe in any after-life, God, or spirituality whatsoever. What a know-it-all blowhard.

    Posted by: FC | Feb 19, 2012 9:25:54 PM

  12. FC: Yes, it is stupid to believe in an after-life, God, or spirituality when there is no evidence for such things. Randi just goes the extra step to show how people fool others into believing stuff that isn't true for their own gain. Essentially playing on the stupidity of believing things because you want to believe them rather than the actual evidence.

    Posted by: Rick in Cincinnati | Feb 19, 2012 10:30:31 PM

  13. I don't think openly stating that you do not respect a group of people is the same as hucksterism. The former is unpleasant but honest; the latter is pleasant but dishonest. Whether the two are morally equivalent is another question.

    I will say that Randi's replication of Uri Geller's 'psychic' powers was a vital blow against that particular form of foolishness, and I am grateful for it.

    Posted by: Yeek | Feb 19, 2012 10:45:54 PM

  14. "a self-promoting huckster"?? Are you familiar with Randi's work? And have you checked a dictionary on the definition of "huckster"? **The whole intent of his work is to expose and decry hucksterism!** He is a very rigorous advocate for being strictly reality-based, and pointing up the difference between reality and nonsense.

    "Self-promoting" is way, way off, too. He definitely promotes a point of view, but it isn't "about" James Randi.

    Anyway, I am extremely pleased to see that this documentary is in the works. What a fantastic subject. I hope the film gets major exposure.

    Randi has made the world a better place: He's reduced misery and reduced nonsense.

    Posted by: Mississippi valley | Feb 20, 2012 12:43:40 AM

  15. FC:

    Thanks for reading. He's not a blowhard at all. I've spent a lot of time socially with Randi over the last decade and a half, besides working for two years as his executive assistant, and I can't recount the number of times he's gently consoled people in the process of losing their faith in hokum. He did it a lot, and he was always very sweet about it.

    Randi does have a tendency to be impatient. Maybe it's because he was born skeptical, while most of the rest of us had to get there the hard way, but he occasionally becomes frustrated with people who persist in loudly parroting nonsense that's already been discredited. He just doesn't understand why people want to waste his time with impassioned defenses of, say, Jacques Benveniste's experiments "proving" the efficacy of homeopathy, when those experiments have been thoroughly and conclusively debunked. He'll sometimes get a little short with such people, which occasionally closes the door to fruitful future communication. Happily, Randi's aware of this tendency, and he does his best to curb it.

    I don't get too worried about it, though. It's not good to let one's frustration show, but at least Randi's frustrated for the right reasons: After 83 years of life, he's still genuinely outraged that people would prefer to profit from ignorance than educate the ignorant. That's a good thing.

    - BKT

    Posted by: Brandon K. Thorp | Feb 20, 2012 12:52:25 AM

  16. And Randi's "Million Dollar Challange" isn't self promoting? Doesn't get him publicity with the talk show circuit? Randi's dis-belief has turned into dogma to rival any religious nut and he's so entrenched in it to even realize it. The man points out frauds, big surprise, but a good indication of the man's refusal to budge on something that could prove him wrong is SCICOP's (a group he founded) attempt to dis-prove astrology in relation to athletics actually DID proved a connection. Did he admit he might be wrong? Did he at least admit there was something to it? No, they fired their own researcher who proved something they didn't expect or wanted to hear and SCICOP hasn't done another "experiment" since. By the way, Randi's hero, who he patterns himself after, is Houdini, who even though de-bunked phony spiritualists, believed in a spiritual world. People of Randi's ilk believe they are just so much more enlightened than the rest of us boobs who are just too stupid or too afraid to get away from our "God Trip." Even if God were not real it says more about him and exhaustive efforts with trying to pop my "God Bubble" than what it says about me and my God belief. Atheism has a strong foothold with gays because they see what is called an "Ugly Christian" with all his anti-gay rhetoric and they are poisoned to the whole concept of the God of Genesis, Jesus, or anything smelling of Peter, Paul, or Mary ("I hate God because He hated me first" is the sub-conscious underpinning behind it).
    Give all the glory you want to the man, I'll sit this one out.

    Posted by: FC | Feb 20, 2012 4:24:32 AM

  17. The question of whether consciousness survives death is particularly difficult to investigate in a scientific manner. On the one hand there are many outright frauds who prey on gullible people; and to the extent that Randi went after these people, thank (fill in your favorite deity/nondeity here) that he did. The prevalence of fraud in this area makes it extremely difficult to conduct anything like an honest scientific inquiry because any scientist who does try to approach it with an open mind - the word here is "agnostic" - is liable to get shot at by skeptics and tarred by the same brush as the con men.

    That said, skeptics are NOT scientists. Skeptics are people who actively seek to disprove anything they do not personally believe in. As such, they allow their strong personal feelings to override their scientific objectivity. Skeptics like to appear to be scientific, and ride the coattails of science so to speak, but true scientific inquiry must allow for the possibility that either the hypothesis or the null hypothesis may be true, and that it's up to the experiment to determine. If the data point to a conclusion that unsettles your prior beliefs, then you must either be prepared to revise those beliefs or else stop pretending to be a scientist.

    For half a century I have studied the scientific literature around the survival of consciousness after death. I've read papers and books of all sorts, both the credulous and the skeptical, although my preference is for research of the most careful sort that does not make claims beyond what the data supports. There are probably no firm conclusions possible here because there are limit to what the scientific method can achieve. But I'll say one thing: both the people who claim that life after death absolutely exists, and those who with equal fervor claim that it does not, are stating their beliefs. Neither the believer nor the skeptic possesses certain knowledge, and a little humility would serve them better.

    Posted by: BZ | Feb 20, 2012 10:51:01 AM

  18. Well...an astrology study HAS been repeated....

    Interesting reading.

    Posted by: Yeek | Feb 20, 2012 6:51:38 PM

  19. FC,

    It seems you, like many true believers, take offense at the atheist and/or skeptical viewpoint even being allowed to have the nearly non-existent public voice that it has. We as a society are constantly barraged with religious, pseudoscientific and paranormal portrayals and claims everywhere, the overwhelming majority of which go unquestioned...yet you choose to disparage Randi for the minimal "publicity" his "Million Dollar Challenge" generates? Do you honestly think his media presence, or that of any other prominent skeptic, in any way rivals that of famous "psychics" like Sylvia Browne or John Edwards or James Van Praagh? Is there any skeptical equivalent to the plethora of "Ghost Hunting" TV shows that have appeared on the TV landscape in the past few years? How often have celebrities like Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy been given a platform to promote pseudoscience with nary a dissent to be heard? And why, when someone like Randi provides the lone voice in the wilderness to counter some of this, is he "self-promoting"?

    And for the record, CSICOP is NOT "a group he (Randi) founded." The organization's principle founder was Paul Kurtz. Randi was just one of a large number of co-founders, who also included such luminaries as Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan.

    As for the astrology research, even assuming that your characterization of it is correct, the fact is that Randi had no involvement in it. None whatsoever. It's fine if you don't like him, but please check your facts before you accuse.

    And your theory of gay atheists as "hating God because he hates me" is nothing new. Believers always attempt to discredit atheists and atheism, gay or straight, by claiming that we don't REALLY not believe, we're just a bunch of angry children pissed off at the invisible sky-daddy for one reason or another. I'm not sure what you're basing this opinion on, I can only state that it doesn't in any way describe me, nor the many extremely thoughtful, rational, and educated atheists that I know, the vast majority of whom came to their atheism after years of careful deliberation of the evidence, or lack thereof.

    Posted by: Andy | Feb 21, 2012 12:28:44 AM

  20. I applied for his $Million Challenge and he is afraid to go ahead with it. He told the documentary film makers that he gets 100 applications a month, but hasn't tested one in several years. I believe he is the typical religious leader.

    Posted by: George Simpson | Feb 21, 2012 8:08:57 AM

  21. I also met James Randi when I was a teenager in high school. He spoke at a symposium I attended and he was absolutely (for lack of a better word) amazing. He left a lasting impression on me and i am definitely looking forward to this. I had no idea he was gay either, makes him that much more interesting now and explains maybe why i felt a connection to him which im sure was totally one sided lol.

    Posted by: Patrick | Feb 21, 2012 10:16:44 AM

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