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An Interview with James Randi (Part One)


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2017/02/01


An interview with James Randi. He discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic family background; IQ score of 168 as a child; and very high general intelligence, being a loner, Sir Ernest Alfred Budge, and the Toronto Public library.

Keywords: Sir Ernest Alfred Budge, family, general intelligence, James Randi, Toronto Public library.

An Interview with James Randi: Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) (Part One)[1]

*Footnotes in & after the interview, & citation style listing after the interview.*

*This interview has been mildly edited for clarity and readability.

1. In terms of geography, culture, and language, where does your family background reside?


Well, it is quite a mixture. First of all, I’m Canadian by birth, a naturalized American, presently, as of many, many years ago. My father was born in Montreal, Canada. My mother was a resident in Quebec province, but the grandparents were more interesting. One side of my grandparents came from Austria via Denmark. So, we got around, you know.



The other setup was all French. I have quite a mixed heritage. My chromosomes are probably a mess. I have no idea, but it seems to have worked alright.


I didn’t grow up with two heads or anything like that. The human race is able to undertake an awful lot of conflicts of that kind. I am very satisfied with the results. Some other people are, too.

2. In youth, you were given an IQ test. You scored 168.

Yeah, for some reason or other. My father worked for the Bell Telephone company in Canada. He had some of them go through certain psychological tests on me. My father mentioned to them that he thought I was a bright child. He was right, very perceptive, of course. I was already into mathematics and all such kinds of things at a very early age, just a toddler. One of my uncles took me to the David Dunlap Observatory, which was outside Toronto, Canada, where they have this, I think, 74” reflecting telescope.

My goodness! Saturn was at the top of the sky, at zenith more or less. It was just incredible. I had my eye glued to the eyepiece. I couldn’t believe what I had shimmering in front of me. This big orange ball with a yellow-orange ring around it. When they told me that light had taken so many minutes to reach my eye, I didn’t seem to think it was very mysterious. I said, “Yes, why would I want to know that?” I was just a little kid. My uncle said, “Because light travels at 186,000 miles per second.” My poor little head started to work on that. I thought, “I’ll read about it. I’ll read about it.” You know? I was so fascinated. That was a huge, huge moment of my life. It made me aware of things that are so far away, so unknown by us.

Such wonderful things out there, that we could know so very much about. That’s what got me interested in science right away. I was a child prodigy, and a polymath. My father’s office loved me. A psychologist that came along, he gave me this Stanford-Binet IQ test, and I got 168 on that. Years later, I was called upon by Mensa. Do you know what Mensa is?

Yes, I just interviewed the National Executive Chair, Deb Stone.

It’s not really a table. That’s what the word “mensa” means. In this case, it’s a whole bunch of furniture.



I was called by them again later when I started to do my program on WOR-radio out of New York City. I used to do an all-night radio program there – a panel show – from midnight until 5:00 – or 5:30 – in the morning.

Mensa called me and said, “Come around and do the test.” Mensa is supposed to be smart. It is supposed to be really very smart, but what they had done is gotten copies of the UK – the United Kingdom – copy of the IQ test for Mensa, and it had questions in there about pounds, shillings, and pence. Now, the average American is not going to know about that at all. They’ll have no knowledge about it in their heads. But I happened to know the system. I toyed with the idea of transferring dollars, Canadian dollars, that is, into pounds. I answered all of the questions. I guess I got them right because they asked if I could come back a week later and do the test again. I thought, “Why?” When I got there, I was sitting in a room all by myself.

I said, “What’s the problem?” They said, “You did so well on the test.” I said, “Well, it occurred to me and I mentioned to the examiner that I knew the answers to some questions that others might not know.” They looked at the thing and said, “Oh my God, we’ve got the wrong set of questions.” So, I smartened up Mensa. That’s quite a claim to be able to make, you know. Not only that, I must tell you… just an aside… have you got time? I don’t want to bore you…

I hope this is an interesting story. I was in a classroom, where they ask people to do the Mensa test. Some kid was beside me looking at the soles of his feet. I thought, “What’s going on?” Then I came to the question that he was trying to solve. They had the picture of a sole of a shoe. It asked, “Is this the bottom of a shoe or the top of a shoe? And which foot is it?” You see, you’re supposed to give them the orientation thing.


He was having a hard time. He was looking at his feet in these shoes trying it figure out. I didn’t have any problem, but some people do have a problem with that kind of orientation, spatial orientation. So, I just gave him a wink and said, “Left.”


I hope he didn’t fail the test because I gave him the wrong answer. I’ll never see him ever again anyway, I suspect. Anyway, I took the Stanford-Binet IQ test, twice. Then there was this at the school. There were all kinds of conflab and whatnot. I shouldn’t be taking the test and it went ahead. I got over it. I recovered from other things much worse than this, I can assure you.

3. Before we get into the meat and potatoes of the interview, I want to cover more of the background. If you take into account that very high level of general intelligence, and if you take into account the early exposure to astronomy, or astrophysics, through the observatory, do you think that this is an unusual set of experiences and abilities in terms of having a background in skepticism, or preparing you to have that future?

Well, I was a loner as a kid. I had a brother and a sister, much younger than I. I was always a loner. I enjoyed the Toronto Public Library. You have no idea. I knew that place inside and out. I even had a pass to go behind the stacks. I don’t know whether you know the terminology or not, but “the stacks” is where they store the books before they go out to the main desk for somebody to refer to.


I could actually go back into the stacks. I found books by Sir Ernest Alfred Budge that you don’t know, I’m sure, or well, maybe. I learned to write my name in the cartouches, the oval things the Egyptian pharaohs did. I felt rather sexed out on that. I thought, “Gee, I can write like a king.” You know?

I was enormously curious and I slept poorly if I couldn’t go to sleep with a problem – I wanted to go to sleep with it. I found, as I do even today, if I have a problem or some kind of puzzle, then I’ll go to sleep and wake up, usually six o’clock or so now, and boom! It’s right there. I come rushing into the office here, sit at the computer, look it up, or do what I have to do with it. I solved many problems just by sleeping on them. I don’t know whether most people do that. I assume there are a fair number of people who can do that, and do it just as well.

I had the high IQ. I think it was pretty right numerically. I think it was approximately right. 160 is called genius, I think, or “near genius”. You know, I don’t even know on the Stanford-Binet test what the top score is.

There are a few record holders.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Conjuror/Professional Stage Magician; Founder, James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing 2012-Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-Sight Publishing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All interviewees and authors co-copyright their material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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