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'An Honest Liar' (2014 documentary about James Randi)


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If you're looking for a good film, I recommend this one about James Randi, an expert magician who became a debunker of charlatans of all kinds. I found it quite fascinating, and there's a lot in there that was amazing seeing with my own eyes rather than just reading about it as a quick anecdote somewhere (wait until you see Project Alpha!).






Places where you can get it from:







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Very interesting man.


“Our greatest enemy by far is ignorance.”


Consider myself an ignorant but working hard to improve that.


Randi’s work and thoughts have many ramifications.

From Carl Sagan, describing Mr. Randi, the “angry man”:

“Randi is rambling, anecdotal, crotchety, and ecumenically offensive. He raises questions that many of us would prefer not to consider. But I think it is important that we pay attention. It is not only a matter of rooting out bunko and cruelty directed to those least able to defend themselves and most in need of our compassion, people with little other hope. It is also a timely reminder that mass rallies and television and mail-order technology permit other kinds of lies to be injected into the body politic, to take advantage of the frustrated, the unwary, and the defenseless in a society with political illnesses that are being treated ineffectively if at all. We may disagree with Randi on specific points, but we ignore him at our peril.”


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Great documentary. It was my great pleasure to meet him over a few days last year, and he's a charming and lovable man, especially in the company of fellow rationalists/skeptics. His stories are a very good warning against over-confidence in your specialist area too. So many high IQ scientists fooling themselves or being fooled by others. And the documentary has a twist in the tale towards the end.


For those in the UK, the same 81 minute film was released under a different title by the BBC, where it's available for at least 2 months as Storyville - Exposed: Magicians Psychics and Frauds

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I've included some Wikipedia links which you might find will provide a fascinating rabbit hole of further links to consume a few hours of your time!


Project Alpha was a giant example. A couple of young magicians (one now known as Banachek) were sent in by Randi to expose how easily fooled these PhD scientists researching parapsychology were and convinced them they possessed psychic abilities before the hoax was revealed.


Another example, at the request of John Maddox, editor of Nature which has published replicated results with a large caveat, was his intervention on apparently positive homeopathy tests (water memory) at a university in France by Jacques Beneviste, which were at least partially unblinded, so the researchers interpreting microscope slides knew which samples were homeopathic and which were the controls which presumably unconsciously influenced their counting. As soon as the slides were double-blinded, the apparent effect disappeared and the result was indistinguishable from chance. I remember seeing a BBC Horizon documentary many years ago about this.

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