For years a debunker and illusionist by the name James Randi has announced his ”One Million Dollar Challenge” as his ultimate argument against all things supernatural. So, if these phenomena really are genuine, Randi and his many fans insist, why hasn’t anyone won the million dollars yet?
Text by Torbjorn Sassersson (läs om det svenska priset utlyst av Sturmark)
Published 2010-05-01, 22:10 hours
This question was asked by Michael Prescott on his blog some time ago. The next step for Prescott was to find out the truth about this challenge. What he found may surprise many people on both sides of the fence, both among the believers and the disbelievers of all things paranormal. Michael Prescott found that James Randi’s million dollar challenge is very much an illusion that have fooled people for decades.
James Randi is the illusionist and the founder of ”The James Randi Educational Foundation” (JREF) a Florida based non-profit organization. It sounds grand doesn’t it? But in reality there seem to be only one person active within the organization, that’s himself. His mission includes educating the public and the media on the dangers of accepting unproven claims, and to support research into paranormal claims in controlled scientific experimental conditions. Again it sounds good, scientific and all, until you look more closely. Then the illusion fails.
For many years James Randi has been speaking wide and loud about his One Million Dollar Challenge, a test that once and for all shall prove if there is anything called paranormal. What Randi does is giving the impression that his challenge is the one and only valid test situation for the paranormal there is in the whole world. If nobody succeeds his test there is no supernatural phenomena according to him.
What Randi does is to distract attention away from the serious research already done in the world and instead pull the focus to himself, his offer and his important mission. Do distract attention away from what is significant and then pull the same attention into the illusion is in fact the way magicians work and James Randi is a magician.
For several decades this little show of his has been going on and many people including journalists and the media has bought heavily into this. Bystanders repeat exactly what Randi want them to repeat: ”But no one ever succeeded the tests, so it’s proven the paranormal doesn’t exist”, they claim. While this predictive programming has been going on Randi has travelled around the world giving lectures that cost over 10,000 USD each for a standup comedy-like appearance where he makes fun of people and researchers positive to parapsychology. There is in fact reason to suspect that ”The One Million Dollar Challenge” is a way to sell expensive lectures.
But what about Michael Prescott’s findings? Let me summarize his long article.
Michael Prescott: ”First, how objective are JREF’s standards when it comes to deciding whose applications will be taken seriously?”
Section 2.3 addresses this issue. (Note: In quoted material, all emphases in bold are added.)
There are some claims that are far too implausible to warrant any serious examination, such as the ”Breatharian” claims in which the applicant states that he can survive without food or water. Science conclusively tells us all we need to knowabout such matters, and the JREF feels no obligation to engage applicants in suchdelusions….
Michael Prescott: ”So it appears that quite a wide variety of phenomena will not even be considered by JREF because Science (the word is always capitalized in the FAQ) has already ”definitively” or ”conclusively” refuted such claims.”
”What’s odd about all this is that JREF seems to be starting with the presumption that huge swaths of paranormal phenomena have already been explained or are not worth explaining. Later we learn that there are even more areas that are problematic for testing. In section 4.9 we’re told:”
Claims of psychic healing border on the miraculous, and the JREF declines to investigate them unless extraordinary proof (in the form of actual medical documentation of the disease, ”pre” & ”post” psychic treatment) is submitted along with your application.
Michael Prescott: ”In his Personal FAQ at the end of the document, Randi observes,”
The [applicants’] claims are sometimes interesting variations on very old misconceptions or delusions, but seldom is there anything that surprises us or that requires very much heavy analysis.
”No analysis is needed, since the claimants are delusional. Back to Section 4.9:”
Most investigators will not want to waste their time with the most implausible claims, and claims involving ”psychic healing” most certainly fall within the realm of thehighly implausible….
Some of the more ”miraculous” claims simply cannot be considered without strong proof that it is worthy of the enormous effort involved in investigating it. This places such applicants in a more difficult position than some other applicants (such as dowsers and remote readers), but keep in mind…there’s a million dollars at stake.
Michael Prescott: ”Note that in the last paragraph quoted above, we are told that dowsers and remote viewers are in a better position than psychic healers, because their claims are easier to test and, apparently, not so implausibly miraculous. Yet later, in his Personal FAQ, Randi says,”
Of course, when confronted with a particularly incredible claim like ”remote viewing” (the current version of ”clairvoyance”) we can easily stop short and ask ourselves just why we are involved with such obvious nonsense.
”Evidently, then, remote viewing is to be categorized with the miraculous and incredible claims that are hard to take seriously, after all.”
”Bearing in mind that the definition of ”extraordinary” or ”miraculous” or ”incredible” claims seems rather fluid, what happens if an applicant does make such a claim? Section 4.3 tells us:”
Also, if your claim seems extraordinarily implausible (such as: ”I can place my thoughts within the minds of others”…or, ”I can make lights shoot out of the top of my head”), you will more than likely be asked to submit three (3) notarized affidavits from professional individuals — doctors, lawyers, professors…no janitor, dishwashers or busboys — stating that they have witnessed this phenomenon and can offer no rational explanation for it. In fact, if you have such a claim and wish to see the application process expedited, don’t wait to be asked; provide it along with your application.
Michael Prescott: ”Thus, placing your ‘thoughts within the minds of others’ is also included among the most implausible claims. This means that telepathy, in the sense of sending thoughts (as opposed to receiving them), is another of the apparently miraculous claims. One begins to wonder if JREF would consider any paranormal claim to be anything other than ‘extraordinary, incredible, and miraculous.’…”
Prescotts goes on and on in this manner in his scrutiny and slowly the picture builds where it seems James Randi step by step excludes the variety of phenomena to be tested since he decided for himself they don’t exist in the first place, how convenient.
Many people who claim to have paranormal powers are, sadly, suffering from an advanced state of delusion. That isn’t to say that you are, but it’s a hypothesis that may be raised during the application process. So, be prepared for this in advance, especially if your claim is extremely remote by reasonable standards.
Michael Prescott: ”We’ve already seen that almost any claim likely to be fielded by JREF can be judged ‘extremely remote by reasonable standards’ (whatever that means). Now we learn that the ”hypothesis” of mental illness ”may be raised during the application process.’ ”
”Now we return to our question: How objective is JREF in deciding which applicants will be accepted? Well, it appears that JREF categorizes virtually all paranormal claims as ”extraordinarily implausible” and assumes that many, perhaps most, applicants are mentally ill. JREF reserves the right to ignore an application from anyone whose claim is too ”incredible” to be taken seriously, or whose claim contradicts the findings of ”Science,” as understood by JREF. Further, JREF reserves the right to ignore applications from people who are psychologically impaired – a determination that can be made by JREF alone.”
”Now, given all of the above, just how easy is it to get an application approved by JREF, and how many people have managed it?”
Prescotts continues investigating the practise of the application process and finds out it is severly time consuming with extreme long periods of idle periods where the applicants drops out becuase of lost interest.
Michael Prescott: ”It appears, then, that the application process can extend for many months, with the applicant told to resubmit his paperwork (often including notarized documents) again and again. No lists of applicants and outcomes are readily available. Randi himself is vague about the number of people who have been tested (as contrasted with the number who have applied). It’s also unclear whether all 1,010 applicants between 1964-1982 and 1997-early 2005 were actually accepted, or whether some, or even most, of the applications were rejected.”
”Once the applicant for the JREF’s million dollar prize has been finally accepted for testing, he’s ”in,” right? Wrong. He can still be dismissed at any time, at JREF’s sole discretion, if he is deemed guilty of bad behavior.”
The Challenge Administrator may close your file and reject all future applications submitted by you based upon negative behavior.
The following are some examples of the type of behavior than can result in the rejection of your claim:
1. Continuous Belligerence, Hostility or Obstinacy. Repeated use of Profanity Following Warnings from The JREF asking you to STOP. Willfully or Unreasonably Delaying the Application Process (for reasons that can only be considered vain). Canceling a Test at the Last Minute (for reasons that can only be considered ”vain”). Threatening Legal ActionAgainst The JREF or its Employees & Investigators. Slandering the JREF or its Employees. Making Libelous Accusations (such as insisting that the Challenge itself is a Sham/Fraud or that Randi himself is a liar and a cheat who will never award the prize money even if the Applicant Passes the Tests). A Consistently Aggressive or Violent Tone in Correspondence.
2. A Proven Inability to Comprehend or Accept the Rules of The Challenge.
(Section 6.2 to Section 6.6 continue in the same fashion building even more obstacles for the applicant to get stuck on.)
Let us see what conclusions Michael Presott could draw from his in-depth investigation. And remember this article only summarize the most important parts of Prescott’s article.
Michael Prescott: ”So what have we learned? Even after an applicant has succeded in qualifying for the challenge – which is clearly no easy task – he can still be rejected at any time for ‘negative behavior.’ Acting as judge and jury, JREF can dismiss any applicant for being ‘rude’ or ‘hostile’ or even for suggesting that JREF itself is misbehaving. Evidently, any criticism of JREF’s procedures can also be grounds for dismissal.”
”At every stage of the process, the applicant finds himself facing long odds – and not just because he may or may have the ability to demonstrate a paranormal phenomenon. The application process is arduous and time-consuming, often requiring multiple resubmissions over a period of months or even years. Applicants can be rejected for virtually any reason, including the ‘incredible’ nature of their claims.”
”Applicants may be placed in the position of trying to prove they are not mentally ill. Applicants are effectively muzzled from criticizing JREF or Randi either publicly or privately, and may be dismissed at any time for a variety of offenses subjectively determined by JREF administrators, including rudeness and ‘sap[ping] JREF resources.’ ”
”JREF is the final authority in all cases; there is no mediator and no appeal. Since no lists of applicants and outcomes have been made available on the Internet by JREF, and since Randi himself does not seem to know the number of claimants who’ve actually been tested, we can only guess at how many people succeed in reaching even the preliminary testing stage. By Randi’s own estimate, the number is small, with the ”vast majority” of applicants failing to negotiate the application process, or dropping out or being dismissed before the test is attempted.”
Michael Prescott: ”Given all this, is it really such a mystery that the more sophisticated researchers and test subjects in the paranormal field steer clear of the much-publicized JREF Challenge?”
On Wikipedia some information about the One Million Dollar Challenge in 2008 stated the prize would be discontinued on March 6, 2010 but the Foundation later issued a formal update saying the Challenge will continue. Further plans to develop the Challenge included: making the application process more transparent, producing more live challenges, being more aggressive to raise awareness about alleged ”pseudoscientific claims”.