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- Written by James Randi
Recently, on our SWIFT page (www.randi.org), we published a request for information regarding some quotes attributed to me in a letter sent to The Skeptic. That letter was from Rupert Sheldrake, he of the claimed dog-who-knows-when-the-master-is-coming-home phenomenon. The quotation in question:
Becoming an expert is a pretty simple procedure; tell people you’re an expert. After you do that, all you have to do is maintain appearances and not give them a reason to believe you’re not
This was selected from a 22-page handout distributed at a seminar held at The Amaz!ng Meeting 3, and it’s titled “Communicating Skepticism to the Public: A Seminar On Promoting a Scientific View of The World”. Indeed, that quote is from a manuscript distributed at TAM3. But I didn’t write it.
Very clearly, there is a 4-page section written by me, and so identified.
The handout included multiple chapters, and the relevant one – part of which I’ve reproduced below – was written by Andrew Mayne. Now, Andrew is one smart cookie, and this text has been admired by many, so much so that with a bit of editing, we intend to put it up on Swift for reader access. Incidentally, to find anything that has appeared on SWIFT, go to Google and type in: site:randi.org "sheldrake" -forums and you’ll find what you want. (The “sheldrake” can be replaced by anything – such as “dowsing” for example.)
But Sheldrake’s ‘research’ appears to quote from this document without his ever having read it. If he’d read it, he’d have realized that I’m twice discussed in the third person on the pages immediately before the allegedly damning “media expert” quote. One read-over is enough to convince anyone that this is a document partially about me, but not in any way by me. And, Sheldrake somehow failed to note what follows the ‘damning’ quotation:
Talking heads are usually:
Spokespersons for groups
As head of your local skeptic club you’re entitled to call yourself an authority. If your other two members agree to it, you can be the spokesperson, too.
Let me briefly explain the grudge that Rupert Sheldrake has going against me. First, from his article at http://www.sheldrake.org/controversies/randi.html:
The January 2000 issue of Dog World magazine included an article on a possible sixth sense in dogs, which discussed some of my research. In this article Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, “We at the JREF [James Randi Educational Foundation] have tested these claims. They fail.” No details were given of these tests.
Clever. This implies that I was referring to the specific tests that Sheldrake has claimed to have done. I was referring to general tests that the JREF has done over many years involving animals, particularly dogs. To have gone into details of all these tests, would have been very extensive. A search of our site would have supplied him with all the details he could possibly wish, or I’d have supplied them to him for a simple request. That’s what we do at the JREF.
Randi also claimed to have debunked one of my experiments with the dog Jaytee, a part of which was shown on television. Jaytee went to the window to wait for his owner when she set off to come home, but did not do so before she set off. In Dog World, Randi stated: “Viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by.” This is simply not true, and Randi now admits that he has never seen the tape.
Not true. A colleague of mine in Europe told me that he’d seen the tape record, and that he and his colleagues presented a version of it to some students who were asked to record each time that the dog was activated. The dog never stopped, reacting to passers-by in the street, cars, any unusual noise, and any sort of distraction. The only portion of tape that I was able to see was the section that Sheldrake saw fit to publish, the limited sector that indicated – to his selective gaze – the point he wanted to prove. Dr Sheldrake, may we see the entire video record, so that we may repeat that student evaluation with persons who are, in your view, qualified to see it? I promise that I’ll stay behind in Florida, and I’ll not put out those “negative vibes” that I’m sure you feel would affect the test. Or are those tapes now lost, or not available for legal reasons, perhaps?
In closing, I’ll add: When I was in the UK a few years ago, I asked Sheldrake if I could test his wonder-dog, but I was told that the dog – and its owners – didn’t want me around. I think that explains a lot about how willing Sheldrake is to face real, independent, examination of his claims.