Volume 22 Issue 2 Letters: Chris French comments on the letters from Rupert Sheldrake and James Randi

Author

Chris French
Chris Frenchhttps://www.gold.ac.uk/apru/
Chris French is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London, where he is also Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit. He frequently appears on radio and television casting a sceptical eye over paranormal claims. He writes for the Guardian and The Skeptic magazine and is a former Editor of the latter. His most recent book is Anomalistic Psychology: Exploring Paranormal Belief and Experience.

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Chris French comments on the exchange between Rupert Sheldrake and James Randi:

One very good reason for me not raising the topic of Randi’s Pigasus award to Rupert Sheldrake is that I was not aware of it until I read Rupert’s letter to The Skeptic. Even if I had been aware of it, I am not at all sure I would have chosen to ‘challenge’ Randi over it. As it was, we had to edit a lot of very good material from this interview simply for reasons of space. James Randi has, by anybody’s standards, had a long and fascinating life and I think that this is what most of our readers would want to hear about.

Reading Randi’s books back in the 1980s was a major influence on my thinking as I am sure is the case for many thousands of sceptics around the world. I am happy to put on record my great respect for him. That obviously does not mean that I agree with everything that he has ever said and/or written. One of the central messages of scepticism, as emphasized by Randi in his interview, is that everyone should make their own minds up regarding the evidence and arguments dealing with controversial claims. My own approach is to test the more promising and widely accepted claims, such as telephone telepathy, as fairly as possible even though I do not expect to get significant results from such studies. As Rupert is well aware, I have tested many of his claims in the past, either through student projects or in direct collaboration with him, and to date we have never found the results supporting the existence of psi.

I would take issue with the view expressed in Rupert’s letter that only people with formal qualifications should ever be considered real experts. Personally, I am well aware that although the media often prefer to have a talking head with letters after his or her name to comment on controversial issues (even if this amounts to simply stating “the bleeding obvious”), quite often the real experts on a particular topic may be people without any formal training whatsoever, just a passionate interest in their chosen topic and the ability to think critically. And, of course, there are quite a few people with very impressive qualifications who peddle complete nonsense. Just to be clear, I personally do not put Rupert Sheldrake in this category!

The full interview with James Randi can be read here and seen here.

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