And yet she liked him

Rebecca Watson weighs in on The Amazing Randi’s complicated legacy. Randi was probably the most charming human being I’ve ever met, and like Rebecca, I always enjoyed our moments together, but…

Perhaps it was that stubborn disbelief that led to our eventual falling-out nearly a decade ago. As one of the more prominent female skeptics, I began campaigning for the male majority in the movement to be more accepting of (or to at least to stop randomly groping and awkwardly propositioning) women. Many men pushed back, sending me rape and death threats. When a man announced on Twitter a few days prior to 2011’s TAM that he planned to “cop a feel” if he saw me, Randi refused to even bar the man from attending. I felt like it was too late to drop out, so I attended and felt awful the entire time. I didn’t go anywhere alone. It was the last time I spoke at TAM.

Privately, Randi apparently complained to mutual friends about me pushing feminism, trying to change the culture of the movement that he had fostered for the past few decades. He thought that by asking skeptics to be better, I was making the movement look worse. I suppose I was, and in the years that followed the attendance at his conference dropped and Randi’s organization, the James Randi Educational Foundation, officially blamed me for scaring women away. Randi retired from JREF later, and though there were people involved who wanted it to go on as a charitable organization, it quietly disappeared.

It also didn’t help that some (not all!) of the people Randi routinely promoted and featured in his conferences were so awful that they drove me away. Being a sexist asshole was never an obstacle to being welcomed to Randi’s big tent. Sadly, that diminished his long-term impact.


  1. says

    Well, fuck him. Hey, I liked the guy, but he’s dead. Whatever he did (good and bad), he’s done doing it. The rest is up to us (and those that follow), and I think we can do better.

  2. Allison says

    It makes me think of Isaac Asimov. People loved him, but he believed that women were his for the groping.

    BTW, I see Randi as exhibiting the usual selectivity. For him, evidently, skepticism meant being skeptical of claims of the existence of ESP, but not of the belief that women exist solely for the benefit of men and to be at their disposal.

  3. jellorat says

    I remember when all this went down. My spouse and I were definitely saving money and were going to attend TAM. Then all this happened. We are both transgender, and I looked like a woman at the time, and had already had to deal with angry mouth breathers at my local atheist group screaming about feminism.

    Rebecca didn’t scare me off. TAM and JREF scared me off because they didn’t do better and support women in their organization. Rebecca was a target, but if it wasn’t her, it would have been the next well known atheist/skeptical woman to ask dudes to stop chasing women into elevators.

    I respect Randi for his work, but I can also be aware of how he failed a good half of the community because of their gender. People are complicated, and leave complicated legacies.

  4. calgor says

    This just demonstrates that no body is perfect. There are very few people who are infallible in all aspects of their life. Where possible one should emulate the good and learn from the bad.

    The bigger issue is that many people will use the bad to cast doubt on the good and far too many of the rest will let them get away with it.

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