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Big News from the JREF

Randi sent me the following press release to help get the word out to the skeptical community that Phil Plait (that’s right, the Bad Astronomer) has been named as president of the JREF. The primary purpose of the change is to give Randi more time to finish his current book projects and, well, be Randi.

The SGU congratulates Phil on his new position. This will be great for Phil, for the JREF, and for the skeptical movement. We look forward to our continued affiliation with the JREF under Phil and to continue working with Randi.

We’ll be chatting with Phil and Randi this week on the SGU about the changes and the future of the JREF – so stay tuned.

James Randi Educational Foundation Press Release August 4, 2008

For immediate release

The JREF Welcomes New Foundation President Dr. Philip Plait

The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) is pleased to announce that Dr. Philip Plait – renowned astronomer, author, and skeptic – will be taking on the role of President of the JREF effective immediately.

The goals of the JREF are to bring critical thinking to the public, expose pseudoscientific frauds, and promote real science and rationality.

“Phil is a skeptic, a scientist, and a colleague, and his ideas and vigor will take the JREF very far indeed. We’re pleased and proud to have him take the reins,” said James Randi, internationally known magician and critical thinker, who is the founder and outgoing president of the JREF. “I will now be dedicating much of my time to completing my next two books, Wrong!, and A Magician in the Laboratory.”

Dr. Plait has a long affiliation with the JREF. He has been a speaker at all of The Amaz!ng Meetings – a JREF-sponsored annual conference series and the largest gathering of critical thinkers in the world – and over the years has provided valuable advice and support for the JREF in scientific and other matters. During that time he has grown to be a strong part of the Foundation.

Before joining the JREF, Dr. Plait spent ten years performing scientific research using the Hubble Space Telescope, much of it as a contractor at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. It was at this time that he created the Bad Astronomy website, where he critically (and humorously) analyzes various astronomical myths and misconceptions. His debunking of the Moon Hoax (people who think NASA faked the Apollo Moon landings) became an Internet favorite, bringing in tens of millions of views.

His award-winning Bad Astronomy Blog is one of the largest and most popular scientific blogs in the world. In July 2008 it was acquired by Discover Magazine, where his audience continues to grow. Plait is an internationally sought-after lecturer and has given numerous interviews on national TV, radio, and podcasts. He has written two popular-level science books: Bad Astronomy (Wiley and Sons, 2002), and the upcoming Death from the Skies! (Viking 2008), which deals with cosmic catastrophes. It was his first book that brought him to the attention of Mr. Randi, who asked him to speak at the JREF’s 2003 conference.

In fact, Plait attributes his current stature in the skeptical community to James Randi. “When I was young, I believed in all sorts of antiscientific silliness like the Bermuda Triangle, astral projection, and the like. But then I saw Mr. Randi on television masterfully and literally dissecting psychic surgery [con artists who fake using psychic powers to do phony surgery on desperately ill victims], and he opened my eyes – and my brain – to the idea that reality is a better place to live in than fantasy. I owe it all to Mr. Randi, so I am very excited and deeply honored to continue his vision with the JREF.”

Outgoing President James Randi has pursued “psychic” spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water “with a memory,” and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public’s eyes in the name of the supernatural. He is the author of numerous books, including The Truth About Uri Geller, The Faith Healers, Flim-Flam!, and An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. Mr. Randi’s long-standing challenge for proof of claims of the paranormal now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed. Mr. Randi will become the Chairman of the JREF Board of Directors, where he will continue to guide the JREF and be a driving force for its endeavors.

With Dr. Plait at the helm, the JREF will be expanding its efforts, including educating children. “I want to teach kids about the wonders of the real Universe. We can do this by partnering with the educational community and developing fun, hands-on materials that schoolchildren can use in the classroom to teach them about critical thinking and the scientific method. Science is sometimes taught as being cold and dull, but nothing could be more wrong! It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s cool. Kids are natural scientists, and we need to encourage that, foster it, and let it grow.”

The JREF was established in 1996 as a registered 501(c)3 organization under the IRS code, and as such, all donations to the Foundation are tax-exempt to the full extent under the law.

For further information and media inquiries, contact the JREF:

Via phone: +1-954-467-1112

Via email: jref@randi.org

More information on the James Randi Educational Foundation can be found online at http://www.randi.org/joom/about-the-foundation.html

Print-quality photographs of Dr. Plait are available on his website at http://www.badastronomy.com/pr/images.html. Pictures of James Randi are available at http://www.randi.org/joom/press-center.html.

James Randi.

5 comments to Big News from the JREF

  • Jim Shaver

    Congratulations to Phil! I wonder if he’ll be spending more time in Florida now that he’s President of the JREF.

    Speaking of Florida, I visited the Kennedy Space Center back in June, and I was struck by the irony that the one prominantly-displayed sponsor of the facility is the History Channel, on which frequency I’ve noticed a whole lot of very pseudoscientific crap lately (credulous “documentaries” on UFOs, ghosts, Bermuda triangles, etc.). They have some good shows, too, but it greatly bothers me that they seem to have little discrimination when it comes to quality, accuracy, and overall value with regard to their programming.

    Anyway, back to Phil. This may be a hopeful stretch, but maybe his new status will help with the effort to get The Skeptologists on the air. (Who knows, the History Channel may even be interested…)

  • irishjazz

    This is very good news. And good luck with the Skeptologists. (I same the very flattering photo in Scientific American.)

  • irishjazz

    saw, not same.

  • I couldn’t think of anyone better for the job. This is definitely good news.

  • Mike Foster

    Atronomy really captures the spirit of skepticism, even though biologists etc have their massive contribution too. It requires a massive faith in the science because we can’t always just get out there into the universe and scoop the evidence.

    I think he’s a great choice.

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