It ought to be of interest to anybody skeptical of anything that James (the Amazing) Randi has just died at the age of 92.
As a kid in the 60’s and 70’s, I was a major UFO enthusiast with minors in ancient astronauts and bigfoot. I subscribed to publications from outfits such as NICAP (where I got an autographed copy of J. Allen Hynek’s book), APRO and MUFON. My mom, who was a bit of a ghost enthusiast, and was happy to see her introverted son interested in anything, found me a big box of UFO books at a rummage sale. Through college and beyond my interest waned as I explored skeptical writers, particularly Carl Sagan, Martin Gardner and James Randi. I still have an historical interest in UFOs and highly recommend the book, Shockingly Close to the Truth : Confessions of a Grave-Robbing Ufologist, by James Moseley.
I would often run across Randi’s take on paranormal coverage in magazine articles and TV interviews. I always found him interesting and illuminating. I watched his takedown of Peter Popoff on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in real time. At around the turn of the century/millennium, he made an appearance at a nearby community college and I got to ask him a question. I had gotten there late coming back from work and I was dressed all grubby and dirty. If I hadn’t been, I’m sure I wouldn’t’ve been distinguishable enough from all the other attendees who wanted to ask him a question. Global warming did not come up in his presentation (at least while I was there) and I asked him about it. I’ll try to paraphrase my question from memory:
There’s been a lot of talk about junk science and there’s this issue of global warming. Is there any junk science related to global warming and which side has the junk science?
I was expecting him to take the warmist side. He was a close friend of the recently deceased Carl Sagan who was a proponent. He even called Sagan a dear dear man at that event. I was rather surprised when he gave a long rambling ambiguous answer. He mentioned Carl Sagan’s view. He seemed to be wary of the term “junk science”. Perhaps he associated it Steve Milloy’s website. The term had no particular partisan meaning to me. It was the only thing I could come up with off the top of my head to denote bad science. I like to think that my slovenly appearance made him uneasy about what the consequences of trying to reduce greenhouse gases might be.
Randi has always been a pillar of the skeptic community. For some reason this bunch has taken a rigid alarmist view on climate. At Judith Curry’s Climate Etc., Planning Engineer (Russ Schussler) has a great detailed post on this. In it, he describes how Randi wrote a post critical of global warming and got rebuffed by the skeptical community:
Within the skeptical community, increasingly after the turn of the century, some began to equate climate doubt with quack beliefs. Randi weighed in with a dissenting posting on AGW in late 2009 where he said “Happily, science does not depend on consensus.” (Click here – It’s worth a read.) A huge outcry erupted and many labelled him a denier or worse such that he posted a follow up “retraction”. At the same time, climate “advocate” Phil Plait was serving as president of Randi’s organization (JREF) and was actively engaged in fund raising efforts which appeared hampered by this inconvenient posting. The Bad Astronomer worked within the skeptical community to “rehabilitate” Randi. Perhaps Randi had given too much credence to the Global Warming Petition Project. (It wasn’t the first or last petition or survey to be given too much credit.) His other points were ignored. Basically it became fairly clear at that time that dissent from the climate change orthodoxy would not be tolerated.
Since then Randi has been redeemed in the eyes of climate alarmists and embraced “science”. In 2013 Randi’s The Amazing Meeting (TAM) with the theme “Fighting the Fakers”, provided over a thousand attendees the opportunity to be addressed by Michael Mann. Randi along with Michael Mann, Bill Nye, James Hansen, Bill McKibben and Michael Ruse serves on the National Center for Science Education Advisory Council whose goals were expanded in 2012 from fighting creationism in the schools to defending the teaching of Evolution and Climate Science apparently everywhere. Just last December he joined other skeptics in the earlier referenced CSI petition in requesting that climate deniers not be called “skeptics”.
I’ll end with a link to Skepticality episode 34 where Michael Shermer and James Randi have a long conversation about their skeptical lives. It should not be missed by any of Randi’s fans.