I am pleased to share some exciting news straight from the James Randi Educational Foundation, and to introduce you to the newest member of our team, Carrie Poppy. After months of searching and interviews, we are thrilled to have Carrie join us. She has been involved in the non-profit world for several years, and has worked on many successful campaigns in LGBTQ rights, animal protection, and skepticism, a cause about which she is especially passionate. I asked Carrie a few questions from our brand new offices in the heart of Hollywood, California. (Open house details to be announced in the weeks ahead; stay tuned!)
First and foremost, Carrie, what made you want to join the James Randi Educational Foundation, and why is skepticism important to you?
I like to think skepticism is important to everyone, whether they self-identify as a “skeptic” or not. I was a skeptic about many things a decade ago when I was buying homeopathy and getting my chakras cleansed—I just didn’t have the right information yet about homeopathy and chakras. As long as a person values critical thinking at all, they are a skeptic, at least to some extent. What’s been important to me about organized skepticism is that it provides powerful tools for helping people evaluate evidence for unsupportable and often harmful claims. That’s something James Randi in particular has been marvelous at. I encountered him for the first time when I was taking a homeopathic remedy for headaches, and someone sent me a video of Randi explaining how homeopathy is made and why there is no evidence that it actually works. I think within about five days I had watched almost every online Randi video I could find! So I know firsthand the incredible value of Randi’s and the JREF’s work exposing baseless and harmful claims, and I want to do what I can to help the JREF reach more people with its mission. And for the record, after I watched Randi’s homeopathy video, I went out and bought some aspirin.
Tell us about the other issues and social movements you’ve been involved in and how they might inform your work at the JREF.
For the last six years, I’ve been working in communications and media for various regional and national non-profit organizations, primarily creating and executing campaigns to garner media attention and spread the word about each cause. I am excited to bring my knowledge and experience in communications and campaigns to the JREF, and help promote skepticism to a wider audience.
An undead Carrie helped the JREF confront alleged medium James Van Praagh with our Million Dollar Challenge last October.
Photo by Eduard Pastor
Readers might know you already from your popular podcast, "Oh No, Ross and Carrie.” What got you into paranormal investigations?
Oh No, Ross and Carrie! is an investigative show in which my co-host, Ross Blocher, and I do undercover investigations of individuals or groups who are making unlikely claims, particularly in the realm of the paranormal, fringe science and spirituality. I’ve always loved these kinds of topics, first as a believer, and for years now as a skeptic. Paranormal claims are fascinating in that they are not only claims that, if true, would be on the cutting edge of science, but also because they reveal interesting things about how the human mind works, and why we wish for things despite a lack of evidence. I am particularly interested in having a genuine dialogue with believers of various stripes, where both sides leave having learned something, and hopefully challenged each other.
What do you think skepticism as it has developed over the last decades does best, and how can it improve?
I think the two driving forces behind all public education projects and surrounding movements should be truth and compassion. Evidence and critical thought should never be abandoned in favor of a cause, and compassion should never be set aside in favor of just being right. Skepticism, both as a movement and as public education and advocacy as advanced by leading organizations like the JREF, gets the evidence part right all the time. We could probably do so with a bit more compassion, and that is what is so inspiring about Randi and the JREF. Thanks to Randi’s work, and the work of the JREF, skepticism is being used to help people being duped and hurt by false claims and to fight the charlatans who promote them. And that’s what skepticism should be all about.
Carrie Poppy is the communications director at the James Randi Educational Foundation.
Photo by Amy Davis Roth