The James Randi Educational Foundation has never met a “psychic” it couldn’t discredit—easily. Still, Randi understands why such frauds appeal to people.
Deepak Chopra doesn’t appear to like skeptics much, or understand them. He just put out a YouTube video challenging ”Randi and his cronies” to his own fake version of the million dollar challenge.
All we have to do, apparently, is make 50-100 years of scientific advance in neuroscience in a single peer-reviewed paper. I’ll get started on that right away.
Actually, even that probably would not be sufficient. The whole point of pseudoscientific goal-post moving is to keep forever out of reach of current scientific evidence. It doesn’t matter how much progress science makes, there will always be gaps and limitations to our knowledge. Chopra lives in the gaps.
Here is his exact challenge:
Dear Randi: Before you go around debunking the so-called “paranormal,” please explain the so-called “normal.” How does the electricity going into the brain become the experience of a three dimensional world in space and time. If you can explain that, then you get a million dollars from me. Explain and solve the hard problem of consciousness in a peer-reviewed journal, offer a theory that is falsifiable, and you get the prize.
The challenge is absurd because it is completely undefined. “Explain” to what degree? Science often advances by developing theories that are progressively deeper. Obviously we can explain consciousness on some level, and just as obviously Chopra would not accept that level as sufficient, but he gives absolutely no indication of how much deeper an explanation he would require.
A challenge without a clear way of judging the outcome is worthless. This is very different than the JREF’s million dollar challenge (now supervised by Banachek) which negotiates a very specific protocol with clear outcomes and a clear threshold for what will be considered success.
The vacuous nature of Chopra’s challenge reveals it for what it is – an insincere stunt that Chopra no doubt wishes to use for rhetorical purposes.
If you listen to the rest of the video challenge it is also clear that Chopra likes to operate in the gaps – he is making a massive argument from ignorance, or “god-of-the-gaps” type argument. In essence he is saying that because neuroscientists cannot now explain consciousness to an arbitrary level of detail (determined at will by Chopra, with an endless option to revise), therefore magic.
This video is about 34 minutes long. I was hesitant to post it because it’s not the most captivating video. But the information is very good. Judge for yourself.
Karen Stollznow is a linguist, author of God Bless America and the Bad Language columnist for Skeptic magazine, and author of the forthcoming books Language Myths, Mysteries and Magic, and Red, White and (True) Blue. She is a long-term investigator of paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs and practices, a co-host of Monster Talk, and is a Research Fellow for the James Randi Educational Foundation.
If you can demonstrate a power unknown to science, there are people looking to write you a check.
It can sometimes be quite mind-boggling to hear a friend or family member reveal that they have some kind of supernatural ability. Often they feel an empathetic connection to others, sometimes the ability to perform minor healings, or to predict future events. Many times, these are abilities for which “supernatural” seems too strong a word; they are more spiritual or metaphysical, or based on some sensing of an energy. It’s more than likely that you yourself believe you have such an ability, or perhaps did at one time. Nearly all of us have. But whether the ability is energetic or spiritual, supernatural truly is the best word that applies. A supernatural ability could almost be seen as a superpower, something a fictional superhero might be able to do. And we all want superpowers. We all want your supernatural ability to be proven true. And we want it so much that a large number of groups around the world will pay you to prove it.
Such prizes have been available at least since Houdini, who had a standing $10,000 offer for anyone who could create a paranormal manifestation that he could not duplicate. The granddaddy of today’s challenges is the James Randi Educational Foundation‘s Million Dollar Challenge, which will pay anyone who can prove an ability unknown to science one million dollars, and Chinese journalist Sima Nan will kick in a million Yuan (about $150,000) on top of it. It’s not the only big prize out there: the Belgian group SKEPP offers the Sisyphus Prize for one million Euros, which at current exchange rates, is about a quarter million dollars more than the Million Dollar Challenge. The Independent Investigation Group, with affiliates throughout the United States, offers a $100,000 prize. Puzzling World in New Zealand has long offered the $100,000 Pyschic Challenge, and just across the pond, the Australian Skeptics offer a $100,000 prize. The Science and Rationalists’ Association of India offers a INπ 2 million Miracle Challenge, worth about $50,000. These are most of the largest prizes, but many, many smaller prizes are offered all around the world. If you have a supernatural ability of any kind, you owe it to yourself – or at least to your favorite charity – to prove it and use the reward however you see fit.
It’s easy to dismiss the groups who run these challenges as cynics who just want to gloat over someone’s failure, and for sure, such people are found in those groups. But many members of the groups joined because they, too, have always dreamed of having a superpower. Should you win the money and prove that a supernatural ability is possible, you’ll not only turn the world on its head, you’ll be handed money by people who have never been happier to sign a check.
I truly do encourage you to go for it. Here are three big pieces of advice, based on the experiences of the many previous claimants:
1. Be able to succinctly describe a testable ability.
The biggest headache for the people who offer these prizes is that the claimant can almost never provide a simple, clear description of their ability. For example, if you believe you have the power to influence a cat telepathically, you have to give a specific and testable example. Most claimants usually write in with a great lengthy email, telling about the many examples they’ve experienced of a cat doing whatever they wanted it to do; or perhaps with long rambling experiences of sharing the cat’s feelings or of their history of owning cats with whom they felt empathetic.
The challengers have no use for a long letter. You truly must be able to describe one specific ability in a single sentence. If you have many, then pick exactly one, one that you are most confident you can consistently prove.
Nobody is going to give you a cash prize for the length of your letter, or for the number of cats you’ve felt empathetic toward. You must be able to provide a clear, testable ability. If your ability is broad-reaching and vague, it will not be possible to construct a test protocol, and you will not be able to prove it. You must be able to select, within the scope of your broad-reaching abilities, something specific that’s testable and repeatable. For example, “I can make my cat jump onto its perch, within five seconds of giving it a mental command, when the cat neither see me nor hear me, and I can do it 8 out of 10 times.”
It has to be something concise, specific, and unmistakable. If you feel that your ability is too broad to be fairly represented by such a precise example, then you are unlikely to convince anyone, and will certainly be unable to prove your ability to the satisfaction of whatever criteria are agreed upon.
Many claimants report that they feel it’s unfair to try and represent their ability with a single demonstration that’s so much more specific than what they generally do. If you feel the same way and can’t agree to a simple test protocol, then you’re likely to leave the impression that your abilities are really just your own misinterpretation of ordinary coincidences. It’s something the psychologists call confirmation bias – you happen to notice when your cat jumps onto his perch while you were thinking of him, but you failed to weigh it against the far larger number of times your cat jumped onto the perch when you weren’t around and had nothing to do with it.
2. Be aware of why previous claimants failed.
Many people have taken such tests, and so far, all have failed. However, they’ve almost always cited an excuse or some external reason out of their control that the test failed. You must be aware of why previous claimants have failed, and be prepared not to suffer their same fate. This means preparation and anticipation of the problems.
Claimants are generally required to . . .
A slightly dated story from October 2011, but still fun. :)
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Psychic James Van Praagh has made a fortune by allegedly speaking to the dead, but apparently he has no time for the undead.
That’s what a group of zombies recently discovered when they showed up at one of Van Praagh’s $100-a-head “spirit circles” hoping to pick Van Praagh’s brain about his so-called psychic powers.
For the record, the zombies were actually members of the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), an organization that works to expose paranormal and pseudoscientific frauds.
Still, that doesn’t mean they weren’t out for blood, as protest signs reading “Talk to us, we won’t bite,” and “Psychics do not talk to the dead” demonstrated.
According to head zombie D.J. Grothe, who is also the president of the JREF and a Huffington Post blogger, the zombie attack was a fun way to make a point the organization is dead serious about: People who claim to speak to the dead, such as celebrity psychics like Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne and John Edward, are taking advantage of grieving people.
“We’re not rabble rousing,” Grothe told HuffPost Weird News. “This is a guy who is taking advantage of people’s grief. He’s not performing for entertainment, he’s claiming he’s giving messages from dead relatives. He gets people when they are at their lowest and sees them as his target market.”
Grothe says the group decided to dress up as the undead because Van Praagh has, so far, dodged questions about whether he’ll accept the foundation’s million-dollar challenge to prove his claimed psychic medium abilities under scientific conditions.
In the video, Van Praagh’s representatives first promise to get someone to talk with the group, but instead have the group kicked out by security.
by JREF Staff via randi.org
JREF senior fellow, magician and scientific skeptic Jamy Ian Swiss, “The Honest Liar”, presents JREF’s newest video series, aptly titled The Honest Liar. Follow Jamy as he uses critical thinking, skepticism, and a healthy dose of humor, along with his expertise in legerdemain, to explore the facts behind false claims.
In our first episode, “Money for Nothing”, Jamy punctures the pretense of homeopathy. How much is too much to pay for a remedy with nothing in it?
Since 1997, the JREF’s annual Pigasus Awards have been bestowed on the most deserving charlatans, swindlers, psychics, pseudo-scientists, and faith healers—and on their credulous enablers, too. The awards are named for both the mythical flying horse Pegasus of Greek mythology and the highly improbable flying pig of popular cliche. These are the awards for 2012. Find out more about this year’s winners here: http://ow.ly/jDZwg
Written by JREF Staff
In the latest installment of our ongoing video series The Randi Show, James Randi goes in-depth on Dr. Oz‘s recent support of homeopathy. Should a medical doctor with a large television audience promote baseless pseudoscience? Randi thinks not.
LOS ANGELES—’Psychic Nikki,’ the Toronto-based psychic who claimed she’d be willing have her abilities tested for the Million Dollar Challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), now says she’s “not available” to be tested.
“It’s not surprising that Nikki isn’t willing to have her abilities tested under fair conditions,” said JREF President D.J. Grothe.
“Of the hundreds of so-called psychics and other paranormalists who have accepted our challenge and agreed that our tests were fair, not a single one was able to demonstrate any special ability whatsoever. These professional ‘psychics’ are either deluding their clients or deluding themselves.”
Nikki first said she’d be willing to take the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge in a CBC News story on Aug. 30.1
The JREF called Nikki on Sept. 2, requesting an email address to send her information about the Million Dollar Challenge. After CBC News published a followup story2 on Tuesday, Sept. 6, Nikki returned the JREF’s call, leaving a message in which she promised “I will try to contact you in the next couple of days for sure.” The JREF called her back within an hour, again offering to send information about the Challenge and answer her questions.
A full week after Nikki promised to call the JREF “in the next couple of days,” she still had not responded.
Instead, she seemed to be backing away from the Million Dollar Challenge on Friday, when she said on CFNY-FM in Toronto, “I didn’t tell CBC I would do the test for sure, I said [I would] if I was available… I’m not available.”3 She went on to say, “I don’t have to take [the JREF's] stupid test … I don’t want a million dollars.”4
These are the reasons Nikki gave for avoiding the JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge, and the JREF’s response to each:
• “I have no time [from] now until next year.”5
This is an obvious dodge, as Nikki was unable when asked to describe the plans that prevented her from taking the test, even over the next few days.
• “[Randi] doesn’t have the million dollars.”6
The JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge account is held with the investment firm Evercore in New York, and the bank statement is available on the JREF web site. ABC News recently verified the status of the account for an episode of Primetime Nightline in which the prize money was offered. ‘Psychic Nikki’ never raised this concern to the JREF, nor responded to the JREF’s repeated attempts to reach her and answer her questions.
How to create your own pseudoscience:
1. Appeal to something that most people fear or desire, things like suffering and death, or sex and longevity.
2. Make big promises about having scientific proof that you can relieve any physical illness or emotional pain, or that you can deliver “fantastic” sex or “help” people live for hundreds of years.
3. Use a lot of jargon and weasel words. Throw in words like “quantum” and “energy field” frequently. Make your product sound enormously complex, but couch all your promises with vague expressions like “may help.”
4. To ward off critics who might actually know something about science, lace your promotions with references to government and business conspiracies that are keeping the truth from the general public. Make sure you remind everybody that “science doesn’t know everything” and “science has been wrong before.”
5. Don’t be afraid to make stuff up and lie like a government leader. Even if you are prosecuted for fraud, you’ll just get a lot of valuable publicity for free. The odds of you being made to suffer by a big fine or jail term are near zero. If you do have to pay a fine, change the name of your product and start over again with a few tweaks here and there in your language. You can keep doing this forever, given the kinds of things our law enforcement agencies focus on. And don’t worry about the media investigating you and exposing you for a fraud. They won’t bother you until you’ve been arrested. Even then, they’ll just report that you’ve been charged with an “alleged” crime, which you will deny and turn in your favor by playing the persecution card.
6. Don’t be cheap. Charge an exorbitant amount of money for your product. The more you charge, the more likely people, especially government procurement officers, are going to think that your product is genuine.
7. The ideal pseudoscientific product should be a hand-held device that promises eternal life, perfect health (it should detect and cure all diseases), astounding sex (by enhancing your immune system and your personal energy flow), and can also detect bombs or golf balls with the flip of a switch.
8. Make sure you claim that you have discovered a “secret” that every other scientist in the history of the world has missed. If you’re feeling especially daring, claim to have discovered a new law of nature that has scared the scientific community into trying to silence you.
9. Lace your commercials with testimonials from athletes, washed-up celebrities, and psychics. If you can get Sylvia Browne on board, do so. She has written over twenty books that have made it to The New York Times bestseller list. She’ll be expensive, though, so if you can find someone who looks and sounds like her and will work for scale, do it.
10. Never forget that most people trust celebrities more than they trust scientists, physicians, or government agencies. Use this knowledge to your advantage.
11. Claim that the reason your work has not been published in peer-reviewed journals is because of a conspiracy to keep you silent or that the development of your product has taken all your time and money, so you haven’t had the time or been able to get the funding (because of the conspiracy) to do the studies.
James Randi is one of my heroes.
I’ve just added a new series of James Randi videos from the “James Randi: Psychic Investigator” series from 1991. There were 6 episodes, Randi investigated Mediums, Astrology, Psychic Surgery, Dowsing, New Age, and Psychometry/Graphology – all in front of a live audience.
These video links are now permanently located above, in the pulldown menu links just below the iLLumiNuTTi banner. Enjoy!!! :)
Who is James Randi?
James Randi has an international reputation as a magician and escape artist, but today he is best known as the world’s most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims.
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 has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1986.
On October 19, 1993, the PBS-TV “NOVA” program broadcast a one-hour special dealing with Randi’s life work, particularly with his investigations of Uri Geller and various occult and healing claims being made by scientists in Russia.
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. His lectures and television appearances have delighted — and vexed — audiences around the world.
In 1996, the James Randi Education Foundation was established to further Randi’s work. Randi’s long-standing challenge to psychics now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed.
*From the official James Randi FaceBook page.
I love anything having to do with how the brain works. Fascinating stuff!!! Enjoy!!! :)
by Kyle Hil via randi.org
There is a pornographer lurking in some corner of your mind. He peeks out from behind the curtains of your consciousness without warning, and almost never at an acceptable time.
The lurking pornographer in your brain is ever vigilant, looking for patterns, for signs of nudity, and sometimes generating them out of nowhere. He is exceedingly good at what he does, and isn’t afraid to prove his power over your perception. Just like that, he can take a picture of Daniel Craig in a bathing suit and turn it obscene.
If anything, Craig is more covered than he was before, but still he must be nude in the new picture, or so the pornographer would have you believe. The pornographer is sly. He takes advantage in the slightest slip in shapes and curves to insert his nudity. One of his favorite techniques is called “bubbling,” a technique that reveals how our brains actually “see.”.
Breasts and Blind Spots
Stifled by the pornography-restricting tenets of his religion, a young Mormon took to Photoshop, or so the story goes. His attempt to fool God and circumvent his law resulted in “bubbling,” a trick clever enough that how it works hasn’t yet been answered.
You eye doesn’t see everything. Right now, there are innumerable photons hitting the photoreceptors all over your retina, except in the place where your optic nerve connects to it. This area is your blind spot, and it should show up as a rather large black dot in your vision, but it doesn’t. Why not?
As your brain matures, it learns from the world. Neuronal connections are formed and broken in accordance with the deluge of information your brain receives. Over time, your brain becomes adept at predicting the world, so much so that much of our conscious lives are spent only noticing when things aren’t going as predicted. For example, there was probably a time when you got out of the car and realized you have almost no recollection of the drive you just took. It seemed automatic because it was. Consciousness didn’t need to intrude during something so routine, so it didn’t. However, introduce a near-collision into your daily commute, and consciousness quickly steps up to handle the situation.
Based on all the shapes and colors and lines and lighting schemes that your brain has encountered, your cognition makes predictions about how things will look. The surprising part is that this “software” is even good enough to fill in areas that we in fact cannot see. There is no better example of this than the blind spot test.
Cover or close your right eye and look at the cross with your left eye. Move closer and closer to the screen (likely ~12 inches away) until you see the dot on the left disappear. This is your blind spot. This is where you aren’t getting any optical information, but merely the dot vanishes, not the world. No matter the background nor the pattern nor the shape, your brain will fill in the blind spot with what it sees around it, in this case the white screen. To prove to yourself how good the brain is at filling in the world, try this test involving multiple versions of the blind spot test.
The Easiest Assumption is Genitalia
The pornographer lurking in your brain has been especially aware of human nudity since your birth. A likely outcropping of evolutionary pressure on reproduction, he looks for the body parts we try to cover up at every turn. He is familiar with nudity, but not with swimsuits.
Like how the brain fills in the background in the blind spot test, your brain makes a prediction about what is behind the bubbling when all it can see is bare skin. To the brain, a continuation of bare skin is more likely than one of the infinite variations of bathing suit. Moreover, the unconscious isn’t nearly as bound by social convention—given the choice between a naked human and a clothed one, the assumption goes the pornographer’s way.
Bubbling gets its name from the clever use of circles to obscure people’s clothing in photos. But the technique isn’t as clever as you may think. Any way to cover all of the clothing on a person’s body while leaving the bare skin should produce a similar assumption of nudity. For example, comedy shows regularly blur out the genital regions of actors who aren’t actually naked, still producing the illusion. A black “censored” bar over the suit of Daniel Craig above would still seem risqué.
You can’t control your blind spot, and neither can you control the lurking pornographer. He is cemented in your subconscious, laboring away at any pattern or shape that could be construed as indecent. But he is only one of many pattern-seekers. He sees genitals, but others see faces.
So, don’t feel bad about where your mind goes, it’s just a product of a predicting and pattern-seeking brain. We fill in the blanks all the time, but sometimes it’s dirty.
Kyle Hill is the JREF research fellow specializing in communication research and human information processing. He writes daily at the Science-Based Life blog and you can follow him on Twitter.
In my line of work, I hear horror stories every day. Some involve ghosts and goblins or psychics with premonitions, but not in the way you might expect. The James Randi Educational Foundation exists to bring light to claims of the paranormal, and often to the ways people fake paranormal abilities to take advantage of others: from false hope to reconnect grieving families with dead relatives to offering hollow promises of miraculous cures. So when I heard that priceline.com was featuring “Long Island medium” Theresa Caputo in their commercials, I knew I had to fire off a letter to Priceline’s CEO and ask them to prove that Ms. Caputo is what she claims to be. And I even put a million dollars on the line.
Today (August 7, 2012) marks the 84th birthday of the one and only James Randi, the man loved (some might say worshipped) by skeptics the world round and squarely hated by just about everyone who claims to have a paranormal power of some kind.
Randi, a magician by trade, set up the James Randi Education Foundation in 1996, an organization that offers a whopping one million dollar prize to anyone who can demonstrate their extra-human powers under watchful scientific eyes. This challenge has never been bested and remains the bane of psychics, spoon benders, healers, and even ghost hunters.
Sure, Randi might not be well liked by those claiming superpowers, but his contributions to the field of paranormal research are valuable and necessary, even if those contributions consist of saying “no” more times than we care to tally. In a forest of extraordinary claims, it’s nice to know there’s someone pulling weeds.
It seemed fitting that today, on his birthday, we should look at one of the very few instances that James Randi was presented with an incredible feat.. and instead of shaking his head and uttering that word he’s so familiar with, widened his eyes and said “yes”.
Dr. Arthur Lintgen, a physician from Pennsylvania, is a man who claims a seemingly extraordinary, if somewhat less than useful, talent. He doesn’t read minds, tell the future, or talk to the dead, but can he can tell you what songs are on a vinyl record just by staring at it, and no, he doesn’t need the label. Lintgen claims he only became aware of his strange ability when challenged at a party in the 70′s, and found, to his surprise, that he could correctly identify records just by looking at the grooves.
Originally posted on Thrive Debunked:
A podcast called “Life, The Universe and Everything Else,” a program put on by the Winnipeg Skeptics association, has turned its sights on Thrive. I spent the morning listening to the podcast, and I recommend it very highly. You can play it from your computer here. The host of the show is Gem Newman (founder of Winnipeg Skeptics, computer science expert), and the guests include Gary Barbon, Mark Forkheim, Robert Shindler, Richelle McCullough and Greg Christiansen. You can see information on who these people are, and what their backgrounds are, here.
The Winnipeg Skeptics are a group of skeptics and critical thinkers who apply fact, logic and critical thinking to wild claims made on the Internet. Just as this blog has done since the beginning, the Skeptics have exhaustively examined Thrive and their review is, needless to say, highly negative. While they find some things to praise in…
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The most extensive study of alleged psychic Sylvia Browne’s predictions about missing persons and murder cases reveals a strange discrepancy: despite her repeated claim to be more than 85 percent correct, it seems that Browne has not even been mostly correct about a single case.