James Randi and D.J. Grothe – Amaz!ng Skepticism

November 26, 2010

This week is a special episode featuring interviews with two guests, James Randi and D.J. Grothe.

James Randi is a world-renowned magician and the modern-day Houdini of skepticism. He is the author of numerous books, including Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions and the forthcoming A Magician in the Laboratory. He is the founder and Chairman of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). This interview was recorded live at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8 in Las Vegas, 2010.

In this interview with Karen Stollznow, Randi reflects on his life’s work. He speaks about his organization and his role as a central figure in skepticism. He also talks about the JREF’s One Million Dollar Challenge, claims he’d like to test, and Sylvia Browne’s infamous reluctance to be tested, despite accepting the challenge.

More recently, Karen spoke with D.J. Grothe, President of the JREF and Host of the podcast For Good Reason. Grothe is the former Vice President for Outreach at the Center for Inquiry, and of course, the former Host of Point of Inquiry.

Grothe speaks about the JREF’s mission, and the greatest successes and challenges of the organization. He discusses his plans to “put the ‘E’ into the JREF” by focusing on education, and talks about his tireless work in skeptical outreach and activism.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Friday, November 26, 2010. 

Welcome to Point of inquiry. I’m Karen Stollznow point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grass roots. This week is a special episode featuring interviews with two guests, James, Randi and D.J. Growthy. James Randi is a world famous magician and the modern day Houdini of skepticism. He’s the author of numerous books, including Flimflam Psychics, E.S.P, Unicorns and Other Delusions and the forthcoming A Magician in the Laboratory. He’s the founder and chairman of the James Randi Educational Foundation, also known as the JRA. I spoke with him live at the Amazing Meeting, 8:00 in Las Vegas, 2010. So, Randi, welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Hey, it’s good to be here. And this conference is so successful. 

I’m embarrassed that we’re having so much fun and saw things have been so busy here. I wanted to immediately go into the million dollar challenge because it was nearly withdrawn earlier this year. And fortunately, the James Randi Educational Foundation has just retained the challenge. And there are other challenges which exist in my home country, Australia. The Australian skeptics have challenged that SA going for about one hundred thousand dollars. There are challenges in India and in Canada. Oh, yes. So I’m wondering, what are your arguments for and against keeping the challenge alive? 

Well, I had made a move when I announced last year that they would be discontinued this year simply because it was taking far too much office time. And all of my personnel were getting devoted to just answering the crazy letters that people would send us. And they were always wrong. You know, express in two paragraphs what you think you can do and with what frequency and a few things like that. But they would write us 37 and 38 pages of closely cramped handwriting on both sides of the yellow foolscap sheet. You know, you can’t get people to follow simple instructions. And it was getting very frustrating. And again, using too much of our time. And it wasn’t getting the media response that we figured it should get because of all the rumors are were out there that there was no million dollars that had already been won and such. 

Yes. Those conspiracy theories associated with the. All of those wanting to withdraw all of those things. 

But then, of course, the the rules out there started to crow. Aha. Now he found proof of a of the ingestions of paranormal phenomena. And he’s afraid he’s going to lose the money. So he’s terminating it. So we went right back to it and we received some assurance from a couple of of sufficiently wealthy benefactors that it would be continued no matter what. And that they would maintain it. So we’re quite safe again. And he’s back in full force. 

And as a matter of fact, we have it written into the constitution of our organization now that it will continue for at least ten years after my demise, which won’t be for many, many, many years indeed. 

So you mentioned that’s the challenge wasn’t really effectively advertised in the media. You weren’t really getting the message out there. Do you feel now that you aren’t doing that, that it is being communicated to the media better? 

It’s getting better. It’s getting better. It’s hard to evaluate just how much better. But I am getting more calls now from people who are alerted in that and people in the media who are alerted to the fact that there is a million dollar challenge out there. 

And to actually visit you in Fort Lauderdale a number of years ago and you showed me the files, the many, many files of applications that come through. And most of them don’t even reach the preliminary testing sites, too. Yeah. 

Most of them are a good 80 to 85 percent of them. I don’t know the exact figure currently are for douching. That is a divining, if you will, are finding water lost children or coon dogs or whatever with the with a fork sticker or a band coat hanger, a wire, because this depends on this whole delusion. Depends entirely on the Indio motor effect. And I ask you to look up on swiftly, you’ll find a good definition of what the ideal motor effect is there. And it is so pervasive, it’s so convincing to people that they really think they can do this kind of thing, but they don’t know how to test themselves and a double blind fashion way acquainted with that fact. And we we specify that every case we say be sure that you really can do this to save yourself embarrassment. Not one of them ever does that, though. They’re so convinced that they can do it. They say, oh, I don’t need to do that. Know, I know I have the power and it’s OK. Go right ahead. And then they fall on their collective nose and it fails. And then we tell them, of course, we always told them that twelve months after they failed the test, they’re they’re eligible to reapply, but they have to wait at least. Twice as much as they would do it in the next ten minutes. And we’d never be free of them, is it? But no one to date. And this is 11 years after we initiated this thing. No one has ever reapplied. And we always send out letters when the twelve months has expired. And we say, do you wish to reapply? They don’t even answer the letter. They don’t even send us a note saying no, they just don’t respond. 

Very interesting. So not only dowsers, but all applicants. All applicants. Yeah, incredible. And so the 85 per cent of the other claims, 15 per of dowsers and water diviners, but are they mainly made up of the. 

Well, mostly healers and or diagnosticians, psychic diagnosticians who say that medical interdicts. Yes. When I see a photograph of you or having your sabry your handwriting or your fingerprint or whatever the hell ologists that they can then tell what diseases you have a what’s your problem too and such. And of course this is the this is the Harris to the wall because they say, oh, you are. I’ll send them on our initiatives. Have they gone. They’ll say, oh, you’re obviously going to have problems with your ovaries. I say, wait a minute, I am I’m not a female. Now say, oh, but you see the the representative organs in your body and what not. Or they say this is telling you about the future, not telling you about the past or the present, but that will happen eventually within the next few years or maybe a dozen years. So it’s all it’s all up in the air. They don’t know what they’re doing at all, really. 

So we all know that. Sylvia Browne backed down from her public acceptance to take on the challenge. Are there any developments on that front at all? Oh, no, no. 

She said, hey, she doesn’t need the money for one day and she doesn’t know she should. 

That isn’t as an excuse, doesn’t she? 

Oh, yes, yes, yes. And of course, she also says that, you know, she’d say the latest excuse the first excuse was she did not to contact me. She talks to dead people, but I’m alive, as you might have noticed. And she wasn’t able to contact me. And I’m been the telephone book, Sylvia. But she said she did not to contact me. Now her uses that I’m not a godly person. And wouldn’t that be whatever the more reason to take the million dollars away from the foundation to the pole? Exactly. Exactly. And they and many people also use the similar excuse. And now I can’t do it for money. If I do it for money, I lose the power. Well, since you haven’t got in the first place, you’ve got nothing to lose. But I shall appreciate that. Well, give it to starving children in another country or give it to AIDS victims or AIDS research. Let’s do something useful with it. Then they say, well, why don’t you give it to me? No, no. I’ll give it to you and you give it to them, OK? And you’ll get a great tax deduction. 

I’m sure you’ve heard some outrageous sci explanations and excuses over the. Yes. Yes. All very lame. Any other any specific people that you’ve ever wanted to taste. And if you want to go naming names. But any claims or individuals that you have thought, I would really like to taste this person. 

No. Because first of all, I know that they’re going to refuse the professionals. But Sylvia Browne, of course, had to avoid this like the plague. They they don’t want any part of it. And John Edward and and Jane from Prague, these various readers and whatnot, they know very well that they they can’t beat a legitimate test. They’re never going to be able to get by the security of the thing. And so they they just pretend that it doesn’t exist and they ignore all blandishments in that direction. And again, they don’t need the money because they’re fabulously wealthy. But no, there’s nobody that I really want to test. It’s so silly to to specify people. But on the other hand, I must admit to you that we just had a meeting last night about, in fact, of our top executive and we were going to make moves to to strengthen the billion dollar challenge. We’re going to be moving in the direction of going after specific targets. And we’ll we’ll specialize on people like Sylvia Browne, for example, Sylvia. Come and get the money if you can do it. Live up to your claims and get the money, and we’ll give them X number of months during which they can apply. And then we’ll simply write them off and say we gave her the offer. She’s afraid to take it and then we’ll really get after them in person like that. We’re going to strengthen it. 

That’s a great way to increase the media profile, I think. 

I hope so. I hope so. But remember, the media is also inclined to support the wolves. Oh, yes, they like that because it gives them a good story. Editors love stories like this that will please the sponsors, the people who buy the advertising in the newspapers and are on the radio or television programs. They they adore that because the sponsors adore it. 

You’ve got to keep fighting. Oh, yeah. And I wanted to ask you that you’ve previously commented that some PHC holders don’t know when to admit when they’re incorrect or to admit that they don’t know. So I’m going to turn this on you and ask you, when have you had to say? You were wrong or that you didn’t know all and many instances. 

Yes. And I’ve always published credibility. I’ve rushed to the to the keyboard and immediately publish it. I made this statement. The statement was wrong. I apologize and I hereby correct it. So I do it immediately. There’s no question that my integrity and my reputation for integrity is very, very important to me. That’s why I’m particularly annoyed and really very angry at the the claims that people make saying, oh, there is no billion dollar challenge. No way. We already looked into it. No, they didn’t look into it because the billion dollars is there with the investment people. They have them. Now, one point four million of us. Matter of fact, it’s rather increased over the years and has made interest for us at that rate. And so but that isn’t the prize. The prize is only the basic one million. If we were ever to sacrifice the prize, it would be only one million dollars, not the one point for us and get interest. Don’t get crazy on the other end here. 

But you said online, do you have proof that yes, I challenge and that you’ve got the cash? 

And that’s the interesting thing. We say you can faxes. You can write it. You can use telepathy, terror card, whatever vibrations, any kind of a thing to contact us and simply ask for the evidence. We will send you an authorized, notarized, sworn to document, which absolutely guarantees that the money is in place and available. No one has ever applied for that. We’ll get the proof of it. And they keep on saying, no, he doesn’t offer any proof. It’s right there on the Web page. Simply do this, pick up the phone, call me, e-mail, anything. I will send you the evidence. And we will we will pay for the notarizing of the document. Why not? We will supply you with the legitimate evidence that ties us right into this challenge and makes it a legal requirement that we award the prize if and when it’s it’s won. And no one has ever asked for it. 

Now, that is a lot. Yes. And so at this stage in your career, you’ve been focused on writing. And this is a very broad question. But I wanted to ask you, what do you think your effects has? What effect is your life’s work had on the public? 

Well, see, that’s very hard to evaluate, of course. But I must say that from the reaction I get from people, that we have fourteen hundred people at this conference right here. They’re all milling about in the hall outside at the moment, I believe. M.M., M.M., there they go. And the reaction I get from them now, Major. These are the you are the the friends of the foundation. They’re generally skeptical people in such you want to arguing points. So we are preaching to the converted, as they say, or preaching to the choir here. That’s true. But the reaction I get on e-mail and by regular postal mail touch from people who will say to me things like approximately you made a change in my life. You made me start to think about these things more seriously. And I am paying attention to what you have written. That’s very rewarding. It’s extremely rewarding. That’s why I do it, because and I said I have shared tears with several people here who came to me and really hugged me. I meant it. And none of them rich widows, unfortunately. And I just I hope but I’ve exchanged a lot of very emotional comments with people here at the conference who came to the conference because they want to meet me in person. They expressed to me the fact that I made a change in their lives and then nothing can be more rewarding and that that’s why the James Randi Educational Foundation exists, because if we can only get a certain percentage of people, that’s a percentage if we can put out into the world and they will spread the word. 

And I don’t think we can underestimate the importance of preaching to the choir off to developed a little saying of late to say that. So sometimes we need to preach to the choir because they can forget the lyrics, they can forget the songs. I think I need to refresh ourselves and reevaluate. 

Good analogy. Thank you very much. Oh, that’s that’s very useful to think of it that way, because we we’ve got to give them working points, arguments that they can make and that they can use against the wolves out there. 

And I think we need to keep in touch with the believers, too, because what we need to be skeptical of. 

Absolutely. I’m into that. I’m very much in touch with with what’s happening in the field all the time. Too much. Yes. It’s a never ending field. And doing my my next book, a magician in the laboratory. I’m still assembling at every time I’ve finished a chapter. Something else comes up on the news, some atrocity that I have to drop into the chapter somehow. I don’t know whether the book is ever actually going to see print, but I’m hoping I’m really looking forward to seeing it. 

I think I’ve contributed a little bit. I wrote a piece about to skeptics not being cynics. And you were wrong. Yes, it does. Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. I said there’s someplace you are fantastic. Just a final quick question. What’s your skeptical sound byte? A point of inquiry, listeners. Do you have a short bit of wisdom? 

This is a program that’s important to everybody, not only to people who are aficionados of the of the art of skepticism and the practices skepticism. But for folks outside of that field who should be attracted in here and should be paying more attention to what we have to say. Our work is important. It’s so important, as is expressed to me every day of my life on e-mail, phone calls and personal visits to the James Randi Educational Foundation, and particularly here in such venues as Las Vegas, where we’re doing our conference. It is important work. Never lose sight of that fact. It is important and we must keep up with it. We must build it. We must build on it. 

Thank you so much, Randi. Thank you for joining me. My pleasure. 

I later spoke with D.J. Griffy, president of the JRA and host of the podcast For Good Reason, Griffy is the former vice president for outreach at the Center for Inquiry and of course, the former host of Point of Inquiry who, D.J., it sounds ironic to say this to you, but welcome to Point of Inquiry. 

Wow. Well, thank you, Karen. It’s great to be back on point of inquiry. It was really fun with those 200 plus interviews I did. And it is let me tell you, it’s fun to be on the other side of it. 

Right now, you’re in the other chair now. So, D.J., you’re the current president of the James Randi Educational Foundation or the giraffe, as it’s fondly all more conveniently known. 

So most of our listeners will be familiar with the giraffe. But for those who aren’t. And just to summate, what is the organization’s mission? 

Well, I am the president of the giraffe. And I love talking about the giraffe submission because I think it’s unique in this kind of world of nonprofits. As you know, some of your listeners may not have. The giraffe was founded by the social critic, the magician James Randi. And we work to advance critical thinking and skepticism about untested, about irresponsible claims in society, like sister organizations like this Skeptic Society or PSI Cop or I mean the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. And these are really claims about the supernatural and the paranormal. Those who oppose cryptozoology, what complementary and alternative medicine, things outside the bounds of science. But that we think, unfortunately, a lot of people still believe in, sometimes even to a really harmful extent. And I was talking about how I think the giraffe is increasingly unique in this world, a nonprofit set. That’s because we’re really focusing increasingly on the educational arena. So it’s not only speaking to the educated public, which we like to do, but providing resources to teachers, to educators to bring skepticism, basically the Jay Rescue Mission into the classroom. 

What are some of the ways that the organization is achieving this goal of educating the public? 

Well, a few things I think we’re doing differently now than we may have over the last 14 years of the life or the organization. We’re focusing on new ways of reaching new public one. I can talk about as we’re getting ready to announce the first the first title in the series, we’re going to have a series of books published for the iPod and Kindle. I should say republished. This is a kind of digital outreach of E publishing, say, titles from R&D, writing history, flim flam or face healer’s, other important titles in the history of skepticism. And we want to make them available to new people who might not already be in the skepticism fold, as it were, and make them available very inexpensively for, you know, all the new fangled gizmo users out there. I have an iPod. I love it. I’m looking forward to reading these titles on the iPod. Other things include smartphone apps. So using new technology to explore issues and skepticism in ways that we really haven’t been able to get to before. So imagine for the smartphone, a giraffe dowsing app using the accelerometer in the phone where people can experiment with the idiom motor effect, basically. Get some background on dowsing. Why it’s not at all a trivial matter when you consider that there are bomb detection devices sold to governments worldwide that are nothing more than dowsing devices and those lead to death. Right. So we take these matters very seriously using new technology in that way, too. In other words, get in the hands of people skepticism in ways that might not really be the way that the organizations have always done in the past. You know, going to a conference, getting a magazine, something like that. And these are new opportunities. There’s a lot more in the works. 

Well, you’ve just formed an education advisory panel. 

Exactly that. That’s what I’m really excited about. We we hired a new director of educational programs at the Jay Ref shortly after I came aboard. And as you just mentioned, we formed an education advisory panel of folks who have both the interest and the expertize to help the Jay Reft bring its mission into the classroom. And in the next couple days, in fact, maybe even today, I haven’t checked the Web site. We are going to be announcing the first of our Jay Rest in the classroom modules testing. This one is testing your psychic powers for high school students. So they go through a protocol based somewhat on the old Ryan test. That the Duke E.S.P laboratories or the parapsychology laboratories. I mean, and with some other background and it’s the focus isn’t just on E.S.P. Let me rephrase that. Of course, it’s on E.S.P. But the side benefit or the big message there is that through exploring these parapsychological questions, students get experience with the methods of science, both a process that we call science and also the body of knowledge we call science. 

So they learn about the body of parapsychology data and why it may or may not be found wanting. 

Mm hmm. And I had the opportunity of speaking with Randi a couple of months ago at 10:00, which I found to be a little bit different this year. There was more of a focus on unifying the various organizations and on education and outreach. So would you say that these are the Long-Term Goals of the organization? 

That’s one of the things I’m most proud of. Just last year, my first year as president at the J. Rough is that we were able to come together with the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and with Michael Shermer, Skeptic Society, and co-sponsor the amazing meeting together. It was the largest amazing meeting we’ve put on so far. Over thirteen hundred people attended. We think this next year will be even bigger. That’s July 14th to 17th of 2011. Well, this last year in 2010, you know, it was such a pleasure for me to see on the same stage James Randi, Paul Kurd’s Ken Frazier, Ray Heine, and talking about the origins of the modern skeptic’s movement. And then so many new faces, new skeptics, activists involved in local grassroots skepticism, which is another focus of the giraffe as it tries to resource this growing skeptics movement. So to answer your question, yes, I think that was, I’d say, a kind of a shift of the focus at TAM, although it’s not just, I should say, the amazing meetings for any of your listeners who might not know. 

It’s this big conference that the giraffes put on every year in Las Vegas and now we have them in London and in Australia. The amazing meeting you just did in London a few weeks ago had over 900 people in attendance. And it was, you know, to make sense out of the name. It was amazing. Our Australian town and Sydney is very excited about that. Tam, I should say, though, it’s not just about resourcing the existing skeptic’s movement or talking to skeptics about skepticism. I consider the amazing meetings to be really one of our major means of outreach. If you ask people, Attan, as I did when I was speaking in London a few weeks ago, how for how many of you is this your very first skeptical event and hundreds of hands shoot up, you realize that these are means of reaching new people. It’s not just about preaching to the choir. 

And I’m pleased to see the continuation of the million dollar challenge, like discuss that a little with Randy. So for me, it’s always been an integral part of the giraffe. So what have you got planned? The future of the challenge. 

The million dollar challenge, of course, is another chief means by which we raise awareness both about the irresponsible claims, the paranormals. That’s Randy refers to them. The Woo Woo make in society. But it also brings to the fore the responsibilities that the general public have when it comes to addressing these kinds of claims. The million dollar challenge is the way that we put people on notice. That changes. When I came aboard that we wanted to make regarding the challenge, one, we want to make the process more transparent. So claimants, when when they apply for the million dollars, we want all of that information to be online, basically track the progress of every applicant and really be much more open about the process rather than someone just mailing in an application. And the interested public find out months later whether or not they passed. I love the idea of, you know, hey, if the parapsychologists want to root for an applicant as they’re going along the various levels of the challenge, you know, so be it. In fact, I welcome that. I want there to be more interest in these claims. I think these things are not trivial. They’re very important. And they strike to the core of some of the most central, most important things people believe about themselves and our place in the universe. So I want more attention to be paid to that. We also are planning on changing the some of the rules of the challenge. I want to say to make it easier, but at least to make it maybe to cast a wider net and to make some. People who believe they have these paranormal abilities are more willing to come and be tested. 

You’re going to be extremely busy. 

Well, the best news in that regard is that it’s not all falling on the shoulders of the small crew at the J Rough. But we are very lucky to have the great mentalist and skeptic Banta check in the mix. He is now going to be heading up the challenge in a formal way. He will be directing his efforts of the million dollar challenge as we as we revamp is not the right word, but as we make these tweaks that I’ve just described. 

So the giraffe has been in existence since 1996. Now, what would you deem to be the greatest successes of the organization? 

Well, over the last, what, 14 years that it’s existed, I think the most important thing the giraffe has done, in addition to the amazing meetings which we’re proud of and the million dollar challenge. The most important thing it’s done is help it basically be a part of the process of coalescing this growing worldwide skeptic’s movement. 

That’s what the last 14 years I’m most proud of. 

The giraffe has been integral in fomenting and inspiring people to come to the front of the line and say, count me and I’m part of this movement. Why do I need to do? How do I get involved? And we’ve increasingly begun supporting this growing network of grassroots groups and basically, Tam, the amazing meeting every year. It’s a kind of skeptic’s mecca. People from all over the world come to that and see their old friends. And we all recognize we are part of a movement. We’re not just folks who get together to argue about how many angels don’t dance on the head of a pin where we don’t just get together to debate what we don’t believe in. 

We are a movement that is organized to advance good stuff. We organize because there are problems in the world. We think our skepticism can be part of the solution can help fix. In other words, we’re skeptics not just to feel smart about ourselves, but to do good. And the giraffe, I think, has served a very important part of bringing that movement about over the last 14 years. 

Indeed. And I would agree that it’s a movement and some people don’t like that term. So whether you prefer community hall or some other term, I think that there is organization to it. 


And hopefully more and more organization, although I’m I often think there ain’t no such thing as a skeptic’s foot soldier. Right. There are Christians, foot soldiers, and indeed there are skeptic Christians out there and in here, kind of part of the movement. But there are kinds of ways of looking at the world that are inherently hard to organize around. And indeed, skepticism is one of those things because every skeptic is skeptical of anything they’re told, and rightly so. So if you have some organizer out there saying, oh, to advance our mission best, we need to do the following five things, you’ll have every skeptic in the room say, well, yes, maybe, but what about this other thing over here or what about these other ideas? That’s a real strength of our movement. 

But it makes organizing a little tougher than if you just had mindless followers who kind of saluted the flag or said, yes, ma’am. Yes, sir. To everything, the skeptic movement. Again, one of our glories, it’s not really a deficit, but one of the things we experience a lot is something I’ve called the Mensa effect. It’s where a bunch of skeptics get together, maybe skeptics in the pub gathering or something. And one skeptic says, I am very smart and therefore I’m right. And he looks around and sees all the other skeptics and he says, well, and all of you are very smart. So, doggone it, you should know that I’m right. And that’s like the beginning of every skeptic’s conversation. I love it. I am a skeptic. This is my movement. This is my tribe. 

But it does sometimes present some challenges if you’re trying to organize people. 

It let’s say it’s easier to organize brainless automaton. I wouldn’t want to characterize any of our cultural competitors as brainless automaton. But nonetheless, I think they don’t they don’t experience some of the fun ups and downs. A skeptics organizer wouldn’t say. 

We’ve talked about some of the greatest successes of the organization now. I don’t want to use the word failure. But what would be some of the challenges that the sheriff have faced? 

Historically, I think we if I would just want to be completely open about it, we probably over the past four. Ten years had a hard time getting a foothold regarding resources in the educational arena. And that’s why we’re we’re consolidating resources now to devote so much more to that. So in 14 years, the James Randi Educational Foundation did amazing stuff publicly. And we’ve provided resources to the general public. And really the most important thing we have done and we continue to do is help provide a platform for the amazing Randi. For James Randi to be out there saying what he says, sometimes a lone voice in the wilderness, speaking this truth amidst all the nonsense. So we’ve done that. I’m proud of that work. But we probably faced challenges that have we. 

Let’s say we haven’t realized our potential when it comes to the educational arena and providing curricula, modular elements for teachers to bring critical thinking about the paranormal and pseudo science in the classroom. That’s one example. I think new technology presents so many opportunities for us to get this mission out in new arenas. Like I mentioned, smartphone apps. 

That’s something no one at the giraffe could have fathomed 14 years ago. And for it to basically now be one of our major areas of new outreach. Well, I’m really excited about that potential. 

Fantastic. And so you’ve been highly successful as a skeptic in your own right with your outreach and activism and the Center for Inquiry and now for the giraffe. So what advice do you have for those who would like to become more involved in skepticism? 

Well, there are two avenues you can go, and I would suggest taking both of these routes. One is that the best podcast and the best blog and the best skeptical book has not been written yet. We have some great history that we can celebrate. It’s a shared and common history and it’s part of the movement we’re in. But if you’re new to all of this, Spier, think of yourself in a public role advancing this important stuff. Don’t think that you only have to sit on the sidelines. So one avenue is start a blog. Heck, take a public speaking class and consider yourself becoming a resource for local community groups. And not they don’t even need to be skeptics groups. Right. They could. You can present yourself after you develop some expertize as an expert in this or that arena and offer yourself to the public in your area. In other words, elevate the dialog, get people talking about this sort of stuff from an authoritative viewpoint. Consider that not everyone is an expert, so only be an expert. If you’re an expert, only present yourself as an expert. If you’ve developed that expertize, the last thing I think the skeptics movement needs is well-meaning but uneducated skeptics. So that means we have to dig into our literature. We have to become educated about the important milestones in the history of the organized skeptics movement. The important cases. In other words, we have a shared scholarly literature that we should all learn more about. It’s not enough just to kind of be a knee-jerk skeptic. People I just referred to sometimes as knee jerk strikes who begin with the default position that that stuff over there. That those numskulls believe in is nonsense. You can’t begin there. You have to begin open minded and look into these questions. And one real pool that will advantage you in doing that is knowing something about all the amazing and important skeptics in our history who have already looked at those questions, look at their research, look at their findings. In that sense, the skeptical enterprise is continuous with science because, you know, there’s a scientific literature that if you’re going to embark in a research project, you’re going to look at what the scientists before you have uncovered. Same as if you’re going to embark in a skeptical project of research or a kind of paranormal investigation or something. You’re going to look at the history of that research before. 

So one avenue is strike out on your own and blog, kind of cultivate your own expertize and skills as a skeptic. That’s one avenue. Long winded, but I think you get the point. The other is plug in, get involved with the skeptics movement. Don’t just sit in your mom’s basement on your computer reading blogs. Right. Or or, you know, chiming in on a forum. All of those are valuable and they connect us. But actually get out. There and start skeptics in the pub group in your area. If there isn’t one or get involved with the one there. If you’re not already, come to the big national conferences. Again, it’s not just speaking to preaching to the choir. It’s not just a rah rah festival. It’s a real way to network and organize and make plans for impacting your local community for this point of view. I’ve called it a world view, and I think I misunderstood. When I say that. But I consider skepticism a way of approaching claims, a way of looking at everything. And I think we’re well served. Everyone is well served by adopting it. And so this is a real cause in my book. You know, it’s the kind of thing. Generations ago, people would call a beloved cause. And those are two of the avenues people new to this stuff can get involved with skepticism by doing, you know, one, cultivating your own skepticism and to plugging in and getting involved with the movement. 

Fantastic. And I just finally, I like to ask my guests for a bit of wisdom. So what is your skeptical sound bite? 

For our point of inquiry listeners offered by my head. 

I have to go back to one of my favorite lines. It sounds gauche, to quote nature, right? It sounds like, you know, every freshman philosophy student is going to be quoting nature or, God forbid, Ayn Rand or something. 

But I’ll quote nature because that’s the sound bite. 

That’s the kind of little beautiful phrasing that I keep going back to. He has this great line, he says. Few have the courage of their convictions right. Few have the courage of their convictions. And then he says fewer still for an attack on their convictions. And skepticism to me is not just something. It’s not just a weapon we use on other people, but it’s something we continually apply to our own beliefs, even as skeptics, our own way of looking at the world. Even as skeptics. So that’s the line I like. 

That’s the little bit of wisdom that I keep going back to. Few have the courage of their convictions, fewer still the courage for an attack on their convictions. 

Well, thank you, D.J.. It was a pleasure to speak with you today. 

Karen, it was such a pleasure. 

I always love our chats and even this new one where it’s actually recorded. Such a pleasure. Karen. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. For more information about the James Randi Educational Foundation, visit Randi dot org to participate in the online conversation about this show. Please join our discussion forum at point of inquiry dot org. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry n affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

Point of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Amherst, New York. And our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. Today’s show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Karen Stollznow. 

Karen Stollznow