I missed the NECSS meeting last month, but my pal (and JREF President) D.J. Grothe was there, and gave a great talk about the meaning of skepticism, and how it relates to humanism. And, wonderfully, the whole thing is online!
I agree with pretty much everything he said there. The idea of why we do what we do in the skeptical movement has come up a lot in my life (online and IRL) lately, and I have been doing a lot of thinking about it. I may write a post (or more likely a series of them) outlining my thoughts on this. It’s important, and the movement itself has been debating it internally recently as well. Certainly D.J.’s calm, rational discourse on this can only help.
James Randi — one of the founders of the modern skeptical movement, a leading rationalist, thinker, and fighter of antiscience — has made a big announcement: he’s gay.
A lot of us already knew this, although I don’t know how widespread the knowledge is. I imagine this will surprise some folks, but not others. Some may wonder why he waited this long… but he makes it clear why in both his announcement on Swift as well as in his interview with JREF President (and openly gay man) D.J. Grothe on his podcast For Good Reason. D.J.’s interview with Randi is excellent; they discuss how this molded Randi’s life, his thoughts on gay marriage, his frequent mentioning of Sophia Loren (which made me smile), and how this affects (or more accurately, does not affect) the JREF’s mission.
I found out about the announcement right before a friend came to pick me up, and I told him about it. We chatted about it for a moment, and then he asked me, "What difference will this make?"
That’s a darn good question. For me it makes no difference, and wouldn’t had I known or not before the announcement. At some level it’s always interesting to find out personal information about someone you know, or someone you respect — it’s not exactly gossip, just more info that leads to a feeling of knowing someone better. I know most people, certainly an overwhelming majority, will support Randi with this. Some won’t like it, and it may be that a lot of Randi’s detractors will delight in trying to use this against him. I look forward to watching them reap that whirlwind.
In the end, it’s a good thing for the LGBT community, because now yet another person of some stature will lend his own credibility to the movement. Just being open and comfortably gay without making a point of it will establish that this is just another of the many flavors humans come in.
So to answer my friend’s question, this won’t change Randi or the JREF. But there is still a lot of prejudice about homosexuality — and certainly a lot of that comes from "cultural conservatives" as D.J. called them — and the more we have this out in the open, the more people will be used to it. As that happens, that sense of "other" diminishes, and we learn to accept differences and diversity more easily and naturally. And that is a very good thing indeed.
I’m glad Randi has talked about this, and I’m proud of him.
With my friend D.J. Grothe taking the helm of the JREF, the question came up with what would happen with his old podcast, Point of Inquiry, that he did for the Center for Inquiry. The solution is interesting, and doubles your skeptical outlets: D. J. is doing a new podcast for the JREF, and PoI has been handed over to some new folks… with familiar names.
First, D. J. is now podcasting for the JREF on For Good Reason, an appropriately-named ‘cast where he interviews, as usual, leading lights in critical thinking. The premier episode was with Randi hisself, the second with Daniel Loxton (who wrote a kid’s book on evolution I really liked), and the latest is a talk with Richard Dawkins. It’s a good podcast, which is no surprise! You can subscribe to it via iTunes too.
Point of Inquiry is continuing on as well, with new hosts Robert Price and my friends Karen Stollznow and Chris Mooney (who blogs here at the Hive Overmind at The Intersection). The first installment is Chris interviewing Paul Offit on the evils of the antivax movement. I have that one cued up in my iPod and I’m looking forward to listening to it when my schedule allows. I actually don’t have a lot of time to listen to podcasts, but these two are definitely on my subscription list.
If you’re a skeptic, and especially if you’re not, you should give these shows a listen. They may make you laugh, or make you angry… but they’ll definitely make you think.
D. J. Grothe, the new President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, was interviewed by the folks at Pod Delusion. I’ve embedded the interview below (D. J.’s part starts around the 10:40 mark).
D. J. is a good guy, and I think the JREF is in excellent hands.
Tip o’ the electron to Jon Treadway, and James O’Malley for the embed.
It is with bittersweet feelings that I announce that as of January 1, 2010, I will no longer be President of the James Randi Educational Foundation. On that date, skeptic, podcaster, and all-around good guy D. J. Grothe will take the helm. The JREF has a press release online with more information.
This was a very difficult decision for me. But I’m leaving the Presidency so I can concentrate on some future TV projects I’ve been developing. This has been a dream of mine for more than a decade, and something I’ve worked on very hard, so it’s an opportunity I simply could not pass up. With that in mind, I discussed this with Randi and the other members of the JREF Board of Directors, and we all agreed it was for the best. Not to rationalize this too much, but if this does work out it means I’ll be able to promote skepticism, science, and critical thinking to a much larger audience. This will ultimately benefit the JREF itself, too.
I’m really happy D. J. accepted the role of President in my stead. He is a beloved member of the skeptical community. His podcast, Point of Inquiry, is among the best in the business. He is a thoughtful, intellectual, interesting, and warm person, and will be an outstanding example of leadership when he takes the JREF reins. With D. J. involved, the future of the JREF is stronger than ever.
And this isn’t to say I’m severing all ties with the JREF! Far from it. I strongly believe (if I may use that word) in the mission and goals of the Foundation, and I have no desire to just walk away. I’ll stay on in an informal capacity to advise, impart my rich wisdom, and tell Randi puns. You have to stick with your strengths.
And to belay the obvious question: I can’t disclose any more details about the TV stuff right now. Sorry, but I really can’t. Rules is rules. Trust me, when I have news I can report I’ll be singing it from the rooftops.
The past 15 months have been quite the whirlwind, what with TAM 7, TAM London, Randi’s health announcement, and so much more. The JREF stands solid and tall in the world of skepticism and critical thinking. Being a part of it, representing it, and working with Randi himself has been more than an honor. It’s been, well, amazing.
And finally, I want to thank everyone who has been involved with the JREF: the staff; the circle of magicians, scientists, and skeptics we contact for advice and help; the JREF Board of Directors for accepting me into the fold in the first place, and Randi his own self. Without him, it would just be the EF. And that’s just silly.
And, of course, the JREF community at large across the planet. You are the ones who have made us who we are: a global force of rationality and reason. You know as well as we do that the struggle against the forces of unreason will never end. Without your support, your energy, and your enthusiasm, our ability to stand up for sense and science would grind to a halt. Presidents will come and go, but you will always be there, and that means more to us — more to me — than can be said. Thank you all.
When I was in Florida for Carl Sagan Day, I was happy to see my friend Rachel Dunlop ("Dr. Rachie") from Australia was there too. She was in Miami, heard about the event at the last minute, and drove (on the wrong side of the road) to Ft. Lauderdale to attend.
Rachel is one of the many people who puts together the Skeptic Zone podcast, and she snagged a bunch of interviews at the celebration, including with D.J. Grothe, Randi, me… and my mom. Yes, my mother was there, and D.J. made sure she got to be in the interview as well. You can listen and comment on the podcast, and if you like it why not subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?