It has been announced that Phil Plait is to be the new president of the James Randi Educational Foundation. This can’t be. I’ve never been entertained by Phil doing a card trick. Besides, James Randi is supposed to go on forever.

One consolation is that everyone is going to have to escalate the obligatory Plait bashing at the next Amazing Meeting.


  1. Frank Lovell says

    I’ve never seen Phil do a card trick either, but he has made a meal disappear on occasion.

  2. Richard Eis says

    Is that the teeniest hint of jealusy there PZ? They probably thought you were far too busy with oyur more popular blog.

    I think this is excellent news. What is strange is I saw this on someone elses site before either Randi’s or Phil’s.

  3. Benjamin Franklin says

    Phil Plait-
    “Educate the public. Take on the psychics, the antiscientists, those who would do harm to our collective intellect. Promote real science.”

    Sounds very Pharyngulitical to me, and descriptive of many, many posters here.


  4. Graculus says

    You could always threaten to post nekkid pics of yourself again. I know I found that a geat motivator.

  5. True Bob says

    But, but…what about the tentalces? Won’t someone please think about the tentacles?


  6. SEF says

    Perhaps Randi could teach Phil a few token tricks before leaving. It’s not as though they involve special magic powers belonging only to the right alien descendants or anything …

  7. says

    I just got the email myself. Phil’s a good choice, though I was expecting Michael Shermer or Hal Bidlack.

    I think Phil brings a strong voice with him to the JREF. He gained his fame pursuing the truth in the face of credulity, which is good, and he has a science background. Whenever he needs help, he can always farm out to Richard Wiseman, and no one will notice the difference.

    That said, change is bad, Randi is an institution, and I refuse to believe that he will not go on forever, like PZ said. “Live forever or die trying,” that’s my motto.

  8. llewelly says

    Excellent choice on Randi’s part. However, not being a stage magician, Phil will never have a beard as imposing as Randi’s.

  9. Dutch Vigilante says

    Heh, and here I was betting on Penn Gillette. Oh well, too bad for you PZ, try making your own skeptic club, in a treehouse with a “No astronomers allowed”.

  10. blake says

    Yeah, I’m shocked it didn’t go to Penn Gillette. If you’ve ever seen him, Teller, and Randi talk together, it always appeared they were completely on the same page. I’ve never really been overly impressed with Phil. Oh well, we’ll see what he does with it, I can certainly have my mind changed.

  11. gdlchmst says

    @blake #18

    I can’t imagine Penn wanting the job though. Too bad, he would have been great.

  12. ddr says

    It is a job Penn might take someday when he retires from the stage. But I would not think he has the time for it right now.

  13. jfatz says


    Penn Gillette can be a bit of a nutter, though. By and large, you want you want the the most visible and influential member of your organization to have a level head.

    I mean… unless you’re Microsoft. Then it’s chair-throwing time! ;-)

  14. says

    I hope they at least have a stage magician high-up. They’re better at debunking than scientists; they know how easily the senses can be fooled, whereas scientists tend to make their environment such that they can trust their senses.

  15. Xeno says

    Is there another in-joke I am not aware of?

    Surely you all mean Penn Jillette. With a J. Like Jesus.

    Also, as previously noted, he would be very unsuitable. I mean, he has hair like a hippe and nothing like a real beard!

  16. says

    The other Blake in this thread is not me. ;-)

    Penn Gillette can be a bit of a nutter, though. By and large, you want you want the the most visible and influential member of your organization to have a level head.

    Well, if by level you mean hairless. . . .

    I keed, I keed. But yes, on all the occasions when Penn and Phil have disagreed, I’ve found myself siding with Phil, so I can’t help but be selfishly pleased. Ha.

  17. says

    As much as I love Penn and Teller, the reason his radio show got cancelled was because he didn’t have time to do more than one hour a week. Hardly lends itself to taking over JREF. And I think he’d have trouble in the role of authority figure.

    Phil is an excellent choice.

    On a side note about Phil learning a few magic tricks, Penn once made a great comment to the effect that “You make think a trick is ‘impossible’ but that’s just because you’re not crazy. Anyone who’s willing to put in the time necessary, hundreds of hours on a simple sleight of hand, is insane.”

  18. says

    Yeah, I agree with you #25. Penn Jillette would be a far better choice.

    and for all you Penn radio listeners.. tomorrow is…


  19. Nothing Sacred says

    Could somebody please enlighten me on the whole PZ versus BA thing? Is it a joke or for real? If real, what’s PZ’s issue with Phil Plait?

  20. llewelly says

    Nothing Sacred:

    Could somebody please enlighten me on the whole PZ versus BA thing? Is it a joke or for real? If real, what’s PZ’s issue with Phil Plait?

    For millions of years the Ammonites were a wonderful, diverse, and thriving group of cephalopods. Then a rock from space came and murdered them all. Since Phil’s an astronomer, he deserves some blame for this murderous rock. If you watch Phil closely, occasionally you’ll note him mocking cephalopods and people who love them – a clear sign of his guilt in the genocide of the Ammonites.

  21. bigjohn756 says

    Actually, I was thinking that Banachek would have been an excellent follow up to Randi.

    However, I am sure that Phil will do a good job especially after he learns the techniques of prestidigitation.

  22. SLC says

    Re Nothing Sacred

    It’s a joke. In reality, Prof. Myers and Dr. Plait are great friends. The animosity is between Prof. Myers and Ed Brayton who had an unseemly spat a couple of years ago.

  23. the other adam says

    Nah, I think Penn’s a bit inclined too inclined to ideology and pathological skepticism (I’m always skeptical about people who self-identify as libertarian in that respect).

    For admittedly biochemical reasons, I would have voted for Kari Byron.

  24. Bill Dauphin says

    for all you Penn radio listeners.. tomorrow is…


    Sadly, you mean to say tomorrow would be Monkey Tuesday, if Penn Radio had not faded away… and today might finally be the oft-promised but (AFAIK) never delivered Mammary Monday.

    Actually, one of the most frustrating bits of skeptical media I’ve ever heard involved Penn Radio and Phil Plait: Penn had Phil on to debate Joe Rogan over the alleged Apollo Moon hoax. Rogan ran circles around the both of ’em on the strength of shear exuberance; Phil’s responses were weak and opaque, and he let Rogan get away with murder.

    OT aside: While we’re on the subject (very generally) of debunking, does anyone here have a learned opinion of the recent new reports on cell phones and cancer risk? Is this bona fide new science leading to a change in conclusions, or just old scaremongering in new bottles? I ask because my wife is seriously paranoid about this kind of stuff, and my daughter is a brain cancer survivor: As you can imagine, this topic comes up a lot in my household. I want to aggressively fight back against paranoid hypercaution, but I want equally strongly to protect my daughter’s health and wellbeing. Any thoughts from biologists/neuroscientists in the peanut gallery?

  25. says

    @PZ: (nelson)HA HA!(/nelson)
    It is so obvious that space stuff is better than stupid invertebrates. Look what a giant piece of boulder did to life at the Permian extinction event. :)

  26. llewelly says

    As recently as 2004, Penn Jillette was credulously promoting the myth that there is a lot of scientific uncertainty about whether global warming is happening, and about whether it is caused by humans. Similarly, he has often claimed that there’s no evidence that second-hand smoke is harmful – another myth. Those are serious deficiencies in his skepticism. So while I still think Penn is a great skeptic in many ways, I strongly disagree with those who think he’d be a good successor to Randi.

  27. the other adam says

    Oh noes, too many inclinations! That’s what happens when bald guys post in the mid day sun without a hat.

  28. Mark says

    I’m sure the JREF will always have people like Penn and Banacheck to do the type of outreach that Randi does (and will continue to do for the foreseeable future).

  29. llewelly says

    While we’re on the subject (very generally) of debunking, does anyone here have a learned opinion of the recent new reports on cell phones and cancer risk?

    Orac’s done some posts on this topic, like this .
    FWIW, the amount of power absorbed by the brain while a broadcasting cell is next to your ear is on the order of a few watts. There have been a lot of medical studies attempting to find dangers of EM radiation absorption in the power range of a few watts, and so far nothing disturbing has turned up for any frequency less than infrared.

  30. says

    I think both Phil and Banacheck would’ve been great for the job. In the end, though, I think Phil is much more qualified in terms of education.

    When Randi announced the end of the Million Dollar Challenge, I was very, uh, skeptical (sorry) about the future of the JREF. With Phil running things, though, I’m much more optimistic–I definitely think the JREF will be doing great things for science education.

    Penn would’ve been…Well, awful. He’s not about science, he’s not about education, he’s about ideology. The ideology just happens to be skepticism. Can you picture Penn explaining to some talking head why psychics should be able to prove their abilities in controlled conditions? Nah, he’d just say it’s “bullshit” and call them “assholes.” (Which may be true, but doesn’t exactly do much for education.)

  31. Dutch Vigilante says

    Re: llewelly at #38
    Very recently (couple of weeks) Penn stated that “he should grow a dick and say global warming is bullshit” but he can’t, since there is evidence that supports it. On second hand smoke he did indeed mess up, and he has corrected himself somewhat (Claiming most of his arguement was about the goverment not interfering.)

    On both parts he’s pretty weak, I must concede.

    Perhaps Teller would be better, he is balding, after all.

  32. Sili says

    Banachek would also have been a good choice, yes, but I’m very happy for Plait that he got this.

    Jilette and Shermer are both a bit nutty libertarianistic from what I understand. So it’s prolly just as well that they’re too busy.

    Lt.Col. Bidlack is running for congress, isn’t he? So he hardly has the time either. Let’s hope he gets in there instead.

  33. Virginia says

    I lost some respect for Penn and Teller when I saw the awful “Bullshit” episodes on global warming, second-hand smoke, and recycling. Full of cherry-picking to make the other side look ridiculous, plus acceptance of industry spokespeople’s party line without a hint of skepticism. They should have stuck to making fun of new age fads.

  34. ppb says

    Nothing Sacred:
    Could somebody please enlighten me on the whole PZ versus BA thing? Is it a joke or for real? If real, what’s PZ’s issue with Phil Plait?

    Theirs is a light-hearted, comedy feud. Sort of like Jack Benny and Fred Allen.

  35. Sastra says

    Phil Plait is an excellent choice. Those people who dismissed Randi’s advocacy of science because “he’s just a magician” cannot say the same of Phil. In addition to having scientific credentials, he’s bright, charismatic, funny, looks like the guy next door, and seldom really pisses anyone off. I’ve been to every single TAM, and Phil is a crowd-pleaser.

    I’m curious about what this might mean for the fate of the proposed TV show The Skeptologists, though. I’m not sure he’d have the time if it sells to do both JREF and television.

    Oh, the headaches. Poor baby.

  36. Davidlpf says

    Nothing Sacred
    and some of us just have fun with the feud fir our own twisted little reasons.

  37. says


    I’m curious about what this might mean for the fate of the proposed TV show The Skeptologists, though. I’m not sure he’d have the time if it sells to do both JREF and television.

    Frankly, I think the Skeptologists, as a TV show, is pretty much DOA. It’s an interesting idea, but it was so amateurishly put together (IMO) that even if it does get picked up, it’ll be so radically changed that few (if any) of the orignal “Skeptologists” would actually be a part of the final product.

    That’s just my opinion, though. I could be wrong.

    Even if I am, though, Randi has done TV shows and still been able to preside over the foundation. A large part of that has been the hard work put into day-to-day operations by JREF’s general manager, Jeff Wagg, and of course the unparalleled Linda.

  38. blake says

    Oh I disagree entirely with the assertions that Penn is “too ideological” or “pathologically skeptical”, really, what tosh. There is a TAM 5(?) video on youtube where he is asked specifically about his belief that second hand smoke is not harmful in light of the new evidence to the contrary and he fully admits his prior view was incorrect and unsupportable by evidence and that SH smoke IS dangerous. An admirable admission of fault and reevaluation of one’s opinions precisely when the circumstances requre it. I thought it impressive and I must also say that I’m also not particularly scandalized by the fact that he was unconvinced on global warming until 2003-2004 either. That’s within the realm of reasonable, if only just, and further, his admission that he “want’s to say global warming is bullshit but he can’t, since there is evidence that supports it” is great! It shows plainly that he is unwilling to betray fact and evidence in the face of a conflicting desire. Say what you may about his abrasive and sometimes obnoxious TV show, the man appears scrupulously honest.

    It is specifically #35’s mention of Phil’s performance in the absurd Moon hoax debate with the ever imbecilic Joe Rogan on Penn’s show that really left me greatly underwhelmed. I’d’ve thought someone who’d made it their business to debunk such nonsense in a rigorous manner in print, would have something interesting to say in person. Nay, he was ineffectual, positively milquetoast even, Rogan was just begging to be utterly decimated in that debate and Phil gave him a total pass on the most egregious bollocks imaginable. It’s not what I expect from someone who’s to head up the JREF. Though, as I say, hopefully I’ll be proven wrong soon.

  39. says

    I think you’re reading into Penn’s comments what you want to get from them, Blake.

    I was there at TAM6. Penn’s point was that he still thinks global warming is BS–he just doesn’t understand the science behind it. At no point did he say “there’s evidence to support it.”

    He is an ideologue. His ideology merely includes skepticism towards the paranormal.

  40. Donnie B. says

    Concerning this thread’s title, it must be said:

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    There, that little chore has been disposed of.

  41. blake says

    Admittedly, his latest piece in the LA Times borders on being largely a piece of almost quisling equivocation and somewhat toes a line between being an advocation of reasonable caution and an appeal to ignorance. Still, I am unwilling to hang him for it yet, as he is slowly continuing to move in the direction of what I at least perceive as the correct scientific conclusion on the matter. Michael Shermer took until 2006 to recognize disbelief in AGW as being untenable. I see insufficient reason for righteous indignation on such matters.

  42. says

    It’s not a question of “righteous indignation,” Blake. Not at all.

    It’s a question of whether Penn is motivated by a desire to learn, to explain, to explore…Or to simply back up his preconceived opinions, many of which coincide with those of the JREF.

    I see Phil as being motivated by the former, and Penn the latter…Which is why I think Phil’s the perfect choice to be the new JREF President.

  43. Greg Esres says

    I’m also surprised at Plait’s selection. To me, he seems a marginal player in the skeptical community.

  44. Doug says

    Phil is a great choice to succeed Randi. Phil’s skepticism has always been dead on and, unlike a lot of other self-proclaimed skeptics, he is guided by the science and not politics.

  45. Anon says

    @13– I was not “expecting” Shermer or Bidlack; I was dreading either.

    I think Phil is just about the best they could possibly have chosen; I hope he will move quickly to put his own stamp on the position. With such small feet, Randi left some pretty big shoes to fill, so I doubt Phil will even attempt to be the same sort of figurehead. I have my own hopes for what BadAst will change and what he will keep, but time will tell.

  46. Sam says

    I’m very happy to hear that Phil was chosen. I think he’ll do a fabulous job! Now we just have to get behind him and support him.

  47. Phil says

    Congrats to Phil Plait. I just hope he can get to test psychics on tv like Randi could. The best remedy for woo is sunlight and Randi could do that.

  48. says

    I think Phil is an excellent choice, and kudos to the Amazing One for choosing someone who is, first and foremost, an educator to run the James Randi Educational Foundation.

    As for the Moon Hoax performance on Jillette’s show – Phil was trying to be polite because he (naively) thought that’s how debates work so he got steam-rolled by his loudmouthed opponent. But I seem to recall that he went on the show a second time with the same guy and wiped the floor with him.

  49. idlemind says

    Good grief — 12 hours and Phil still hasn’t shown up here to lord it over. I’m disappointed.

  50. Fernando Magyar says

    Re #31,

    The genocide of the Ammonites.

    Is that in the Very Old Testament?

  51. Arnosium Upinarum says

    Greg Esres # 56…

    Well, even if you think that, why would you think he isn’t capable of rising to the challenge?

    Or do you really think people are born to occupy some particular responsibility? Sometimes the circumstances does assist in making what we in hindsight call the man.

    Phil will be good at it. He knows full and well what it will require.