Tales of the Million Dollar Challenge

By Phil Plait | May 12, 2009 11:19 am
Dr. Evil
One MILLION dollars!

I think one of the coolest things — if not the coolest thing — the James Randi Educational Foundation does is the Million Dollar Challenge: if you can prove you have paranormal abilities (you can dowse, you’re psychic, you can make objects float or catch fire or turn into cheese just with the power of your mind), then we’ll give you a million bucks.

Of course, lots of people claim the money doesn’t exist (yes it does), or that the rules are unfair (no they’re not; we negotiate protocols with the claimant until both parties are satisfied), or that we’re out to disprove the paranormal (not true; or else why have the MDC in the first place?). Despite these complaints, there is a long list of people attempting to win the Challenge.

But first they have to pass a preliminary Challenge, a test run if you will. If they can pass muster, then they move on to the Megabuck test.

The latest person to take this test was Patrica Putt. She claims she can listen to a person’s voice and be able to tell all sorts of information about them, which, if true, would clearly be paranormal. She took the preliminary Challenge last week, tested by Professors Christopher French and Richard Wiseman.

The results? Well, read Professor French’s account of it at The Guardian. Or you could read Professor Wiseman’s account. Or you could read JREF staff member (and MDC Research Assistant) Alison Smith’s account on the JREF’s Swift blog (and an earlier quick post of the results right after the trial here).

All in all, it went pretty much as you’d expect… if you’re skeptical.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Debunking, JREF

Comments (67)

  1. Yep, I remember this one. I even predicted how she was going to react after the test, and would you believe that I was right?

    http://skepfeeds.wordpress.com/2009/05/10/a-skeptic-proves-to-be-a-better-psychic-than-most-psychics/

  2. dersk

    How many claimants are there in a given year? The testing process would make a GREAT reality show, preferably right after MythBusters…

  3. Berry

    Of course you’re not out to “disprove the paranormal”. As I said to Randi once, explaining why I’d pledged $1000 to the challenge, “I think my money’s pretty safe, but if you guys find something real it will be SO COOL!” He agreed 100%, with both halves of the statement :-)

  4. Jess Tauber

    So how do we know that the challenge isn’t actually to find people with real paranormal abilities and then eliminate them? I guess I’ve seen too many movies….the skeptics version of a Berserker weapon? C’mon- is Randi really with Opus Dei?

  5. Chris French says, “We salute her [Patricia Putt] for having the courage of her convictions and for accepting the outcome with such grace.”

    I concur wholeheartedly. Kudos, Patricia.

  6. cuggy

    “to find people with real paranormal abilities and then eliminate them?”

    Surely they’d see it coming.

  7. Joe Meils

    Oh great! Like this is going to do ME any good! My paranormal ability is to predict future events… but only ones 200+ years from now. Darn! Darn! Darn!!!

  8. I’m psychic and I can tell you what you’re thinking. Right now you’re thinking, “yeah right, you’re not psychic!” Win.

    Just don’t ask me to prove it because my powers mysteriously vanish if you try to test them in any way. Or if you try to think about it too hard. Or if you have “negative vibrations”. Or something.

  9. Wouldn’t a million dollars be just chicken feed for someone with real psychic powers? Las Vegas, Baby!

  10. I keep trying to get a certain medical institution to apply for their promotion of reiki (as well as therapeutic touch and other stuff). They seem reluctant.

  11. Chip

    @ Romeo Vitelli wrote: “Wouldn’t a million dollars be just chicken feed for someone with real psychic powers? Las Vegas, Baby!”

    Ha ha right! However, someone with so called “real psychic powers” would have to be careful. There was a documentary several years ago about a college professor who developed a procedure, without “psychic powers”, to beat the roulette tables in Vegas. He took his students there to test it and it worked. Result: cash – but they are now all known to the security staff at every casino worldwide and not allowed back.

  12. John

    How does being able to tell things about somebody from the sound of their voice count as paranormal?

    A psychic, if one existed, wouldn’t need any such catalyst.

    The greatest disappointment is that there may be people out there with a similar incredibly intuitive (but explainable) skill that will now never talk about it for fear of being branded some kind of lunatic. A really useful study would try and ascertain why this individual thought they had this ability, and establish how much context they would need around a person before it became useful or measurable.

    I can tell loads about a person from the sound of their voice, but lots of context is needed for the information to make any sense.

    Dismissing this as psychic ability was just silly and removed all value from the experiment.

  13. Quiet Desperation

    However, someone with so called “real psychic powers” would have to be careful.

    That was part of the idea behind the movie Next. Nicholas Cage’s character could win at casinos (via an ability to see about two minutes into the future), but he kept a low profile and didn’t win too much in one place. Government still found him, though. Dang gummint! :-P

    When I first saw the trailer for Knowing I thought it was a sequel to Next.

  14. TheBlackCat

    @ John: I take it you did not read the article. Here is an excerpt:

    Sometimes Mrs Putt would request that a volunteer read a pre-specified short passage, as she had found from past experience that often “the Spirit enters and makes contact through the sound of the sitter’s voice”. After that, no talking was allowed whatsoever as our medium wrote down a “reading” describing the volunteer using her alleged paranormal abilities.

    Sounds pretty psychic to me.

  15. If the volunteers had selected the descriptions at random, she would’ve had something like 60% of getting at least one right. The fact that she got zero right is impressive, in a weird sort of way.

  16. bill allan

    What about Allison Dobois.

  17. “The latest person to take this test was Patrica Putt. She claims she can listen to a person’s voice and be able to tell all sorts of information about them, which, if true, would clearly be paranormal. She took the preliminary Challenge last week, tested by Professors Christopher French and Richard Wiseman.”

    How would this count as Paranormal? Listening to a persons voice CAN give a listener much information about that person. One can tell if a person is stressed, happy, or a range of emotions, that can be easily preyed upon by the so-called psychic. When an emotional response is given, it is a simple matter of doing some cold reading.

  18. Moxiequz

    “How would this count as Paranormal? Listening to a persons voice CAN give a listener much information about that person. One can tell if a person is stressed, happy, or a range of emotions,”

    Presumably the claim was that she could “read” specific information (past phone numbers, family members’ names, bank account numbers, favorite ice flavors, etc) from their voices not just general emotional states. That would definitely qualify as paranormal.

  19. Greg in Austin

    @Michael L,

    Neither this article nor the JREF website itself say what Patricia Putt wrote down during the test, but if you look her up on the web, she claims to talk to the dead and perform exorcisms. I would guess then that she’s not just saying if the subject sounded nervous, but was actually writing down more specific details about the person.

    As to your claim that by just listening to a person’s voice you can tell if they are happy or sad, I suggest you try it blindfolded. Without being able to see the person’s eyes or mouth, its harder than you think.

    8)

  20. Greg in Austin

    John said,

    “Dismissing this as psychic ability was just silly and removed all value from the experiment.”

    It wasn’t JREF who claimed it was psychic ability, it was Patricia Putt. She claimed she could hear personal information about people from spirits. That would indeed be paranormal.

    It think the test was well done. Keep it up JREF (and believers) – if the paranormal could ever be proven, this is the way to do it.

    8)

  21. I don’t see why this sky gown was needed – for me it was a obvious “unnatural” thing she would claim to be the cause of the misreadings.

    She claims in on of the articles to be able to read people throught the phone. So instead of putting all the black clothes, a more simple test would be putting the volunteers on a separate room with a telephone extension. Of course she could still claim something else – but it would be a less obvious reason.

    And I agree with John: I regret this kind of experiments because they polarize natural human habilities – to be able to read someones else feelings by picking subtle cues on voice and facial expressions – as either being pshychic/paranormal or a fraud/lie.

    A more useful tool would be to teach cold reading tricks to a general audience until it becomes a second nature, much in the same way we teach magic tricks. Both can be used for scams, but it’s way more effective (and fun) to turn them into entertainement than to try to “expose the fraud”.

  22. Damon

    I call BS on this contest… you know that if they actually found someone with genuine paranormal abilities they couldn’t disprove, they’d just ignore it, write it off as a fluke, and sweep it under the rug with a shrug and a wave of the hand like a typical indignant shill skeptic. Just like they do on Myth Busters and Ghost Hunters whenever they encounter something they can’t explain.

    Besides, as someone mentioned before me, “paranormal” is a relative term. What you laud now as being impossible will be standard knowledge in a few hundred years, just like with atoms and genes and gravity and dark matter a hundred years before. Ghosts, UFOs, ESP etc. are more or less widely accepted phenomenon

    And if anyone exists who can move things with their mind or grow plants by touching the soil, they are either unaware of their ability, it is dormant, or they are off somewhere busy putting it to good use helping starving Ugandans, just like you should be doing with that million dollars, instead of sitting around attempting to be intellectual elitists.

  23. I thought the JREF Million Dollar Challenge had been discontinued. Is it still going on? I had hear Randi was getting tired of hosting a lot of mental whack jobs. One lady they tested claimed to have the power to cause men to urinate at will – an apparently uncommon skill when beer is not involved.

    http://www.mind-energy.net/archives/268-The-JREF-Million-Dollar-challenge-to-be-discontinued.html

    “James Randi has published that the JREF’s Million Dollar challenge for demonstrating paranormal power will be discontinued on March 6, 2010, 12 years after it was first offered.”

    So all you psychics better hurry up and register. Your million dollars will be out of reach in less than a year.

  24. T.E.L.

    I think that the Randi $1M prize is quite distasteful and unprofessional. How about this: there’s a whole school of thought which rejects the theory of relativity for seemingly irrational reasons. Why not offer them a million bucks to disprove SR? Is this how it’s done?

  25. Al

    “What you laud now as being impossible will be standard knowledge in a few hundred years, just like with atoms and genes and gravity and dark matter a hundred years before. Ghosts, UFOs, ESP etc. are more or less widely accepted phenomenon”

    Atoms, genes, gravity required experimental and observational evidence: PROOF that these ideas had merit, that they were worthy of consideration. Everyone ‘knew’ atoms were indivisible, then everyone ‘knew’ protons were fundamental particles.

    These paranormal claims require testing to be accepted, evidence that they are not flukes or hoaxes. What’s so wrong with that?

    “you know that if they actually found someone with genuine paranormal abilities they couldn’t disprove, they’d just ignore it, write it off as a fluke, and sweep it under the rug with a shrug and a wave of the hand like a typical indignant shill skeptic. ”

    The problem with generalizations like the above is that they are generally wrong.

  26. @BA “the James Randi Educational Foundation does is the Million Dollar Challenge: if you can prove you have paranormal abilities”

    I wonder what JREF would say about Daniel Tammet. He may not be psychic but he does have paranormal mental abilities. He memorized pi out to 22,000 decimal places and then recited it without a single error (it took 5 hours). He can tell which day of the week any date of your choosing falls on almost instantly. He taught himself to speak fluent Icelandic in only one week.

    So, yes it’s true, these self-proclaimed psychics are scam artists and need to be exposed. But that does not mean there aren’t some extraordinary folks out there – many of them are autistic, like Daniel. Their mental abilities go way beyond the normal into the realm of the paranormal. And I can’t think of a more worthy individual to claim the one million dollars.

    http://www.mind-energy.net/archives/253-Daniel-Tammet-the-amazing-Savant.html

    Also, JREF would gain a lot more information studying how someone like Daniel Tammet does what he does (legitimately) than they will ever learn by studying psychic fraudsters.

  27. Greg in Austin

    Damon said,

    “you know that if they actually found someone with genuine paranormal abilities they couldn’t disprove, they’d just ignore it, write it off as a fluke, and sweep it under the rug with a shrug and a wave of the hand like a typical indignant shill skeptic.”

    I don’t know this. How do you know this? What evidence do you have to support this idea? Have you read any of the information on randi.org, or any of the websites that agree or disagree with the $1M Challenge?

    “Ghosts, UFOs, ESP etc. are more or less widely accepted phenomenon “

    C’mon, really? Who do you know that believes in ESP? I would say each of those things are far less widely accepted because there has been no evidence to support them. Unless, you have some information that you’d like to share, you’re just talking about fiction.

    8)

  28. Greg in Austin

    T.E.L. said,

    “How about this: there’s a whole school of thought which rejects the theory of relativity for seemingly irrational reasons. Why not offer them a million bucks to disprove SR? Is this how it’s done?”

    You have it backwards. Its $1M to prove something paranormal DOES exist, not that something that is mathematically proven DOES NOT exist. I do not think it works the way you think it does.

    Just out of curiosity, what is this “school of thought” you refer to?

    8)

  29. Tom, his abilities aren’t paranormal. They’re unusual, but not supernatural!

  30. Davidlpf

    First some of the psychics need to figure out the internet or a phonebbook because there is at least one who says she can not find Randi’s phone number. But I dot think any of the big names will show up, the probably have made more than a million dollars already.

  31. Davidlpf

    From T.E.L
    How about this: there’s a whole school of thought which
    rejects the theory of relativity for seemingly
    irrational reasons.

    After looking throught “Thunderbolts of the Gods” and other similar websites they alos seem to have a proble quantum physics as well. The pretty much have a problem with any modern physics.

  32. Greg the Goofy Antiscience Guy

    @Greg in Austin: “if the paranormal could ever be proven, this is the way to do it.”

    A one-off test with ridiculous p-values? Not the best scientific approach IMO.

    I would hope the coolest thing the JREF does is *not* the Million Dollar Challenge. The coolest thing an educational foundation could do is to educate people.

  33. MadScientist

    @dersk: I don’t agree. After the second show no one would bother to watch because it’ll be the same stuff all over again.

  34. T.E.L.

    Davidlpf Said:

    “After looking throught “Thunderbolts of the Gods” and other similar websites they alos seem to have a proble quantum physics as well. The pretty much have a problem with any modern physics.”

    I know. What does that have to do with what I was talking about? I was talking about how it’s pointless to offer cash prizes for coughing up evidence. When there’s controversy among scientists, they don’t dangle money in each others’ faces.

  35. T.E.L.

    Greg in Austin Said:

    “You have it backwards. Its $1M to prove something paranormal DOES exist, not that something that is mathematically proven DOES NOT exist. I do not think it works the way you think it does.”

    I’m perfectly aware of how the Randi prize is set up. You’re just splitting hairs.

  36. Davidlpf

    @T.E.L
    In most scientists are not scientists for the money. Many just love what they are doing. Most people who are claiming something paranormal are doing it for either attention or money and the prize gives them both.

  37. MadScientist

    @Tom: perhaps you are confusing “rare” with “paranormal”. I’ve seen some pretty bizarre stuff (one of which isn’t described in any books I’ve read), but I had never ascribed those things to miracles or the paranormal – just rare or rarely observed natural phenomenon which I don’t understand.

  38. T.E.L.

    Davidlpf Said:

    “@T.E.L
    In most scientists are not scientists for the money. Many just love what they are doing. Most people who are claiming something paranormal are doing it for either attention or money and the prize gives them both.”

    I know. I’m not saying anything to the contrary.

  39. Davidlpf

    Sorry about the post about the EUers but doing a lot of looking over there lately.

  40. The Jref prize was not the first, actually Houdini with Scientific American offered one as well. Randi is just continuing a tradition.
    (click my name to wiki link.)

    I little trivia, the BAs big man crush Wil Wheaton played a young Houdini in “Young Harry Houdini”.

  41. @Phil “Tom, his abilities aren’t paranormal. They’re unusual, but not supernatural!”

    I’m not sure what the domain of the JREF challenge is. Does the person alleging certain powers have to claim a tie-in with a supernatural entity (e.g., God, Allah, etc.) or can the powers be intrinsic to the person himself/herself?

    The Wikipedia definition of paranormal is:

    “Paranormal is a general term that describes unusual experiences that lack a scientific explanation,[1] or phenomena alleged to be outside of science’s current ability to explain or measure.”

    From what I understand Tammet sees numbers as color and shape, or at least that’s what he says. He can sense whether a number is a prime number by it’s “shape” in his mind. If true I don’t think modern psychology/neurology has a good explanation for this. To me this is pretty much as startling as any of the other alleged paranormal behaviors (e.g., telekinesis, remote viewing, etc.) if they were true. The only difference is that it appears that Tammet’s abilities are indeed true, and not some scam like what Sylvia Browne is doing.

    A good video on Tammet is at. The show is called “The Boy with the Incredible Brain”:

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4913196365903075662

  42. Darrin

    The fact that no one, in 12 years, has been able to prove their “powers” under a controlled, observed test situation speaks volumes for the amount of woo out there. How many people have tried? Hundreds? Thousands? And yet not one of them can prove a thing.

    I love how psychics give the old “I don’t need the money” cop-out. Okay, so you’re happy with how much you make. Fine. Here’s what you do: Take the JREF challenge, or better yet, win the lottery, then donate all the money you win to charity.

    The moment a psychic does that, I will doubt no more.
    But until then, they’re all frauds. Especially Sylvia Browne. Ugh, that woman irks me. My mom worships her like some sort of deity, and if I so much as speak ill about Sylvia Browne, she instantly shuts me out and gets angry. It’s scary, really.

  43. @Tom Marking
    While Tammet’s ability is remarkable and unusual it does have an explanation, synaesthesia…
    http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synaesthesia

  44. Michael Gray

    @PsyberDave

    She not long afterward predictably rescinded this “grace” by rather bathetically (sic) relaying the blame away from her own responsibility.
    ‘Funny’, I could see this coming, yet she could not.

  45. Danon: “if they actually found someone with genuine paranormal abilities they couldn’t disprove, they’d just ignore it, write it off as a fluke, and sweep it under the rug with a shrug and a wave of the hand like a typical indignant shill skeptic.”
    Oh dear. Who would know that Randi challenge is rather visible and high-profile event.

    Danon: “Besides, as someone mentioned before me, “paranormal” is a relative term.”
    No, it is not. Definition is clear.

    Danon: “What you laud now as being impossible will be standard knowledge in a few hundred years”
    Unfortunately for you, “new scientific knowledge that speaks about things that was previously unknown” is far cry from “paranormal scams”. Especially considering fact that paranormal claims was raised longer ago than “few hundred years”.

    Danon: “Ghosts, UFOs, ESP etc. are more or less widely accepted phenomenon”
    No, they are not. Especially if you are speaking about science statements on these things. In other words, you lie.

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    we’re out to disprove the paranormal (not true; or else why have the MDC in the first place?)

    Well, it’s your test, so it may be your intention. But I would have to disagree with the intended meaning as a description.

    While there have been, what, over 150 years of testing for paranormal claims [sounds like the period of time evolution has been tested, successfully at that] and normal physics thus has been tested beyond reasonable doubt, it is still formally putting the claim at risk. (The claim that there are no paranormal events, that is.)

  47. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    @ Tom Marking:

    He may not be psychic but he does have paranormal mental abilities. He memorized pi out to 22,000 decimal places and then recited it without a single error (it took 5 hours). He can tell which day of the week any date of your choosing falls on almost instantly. He taught himself to speak fluent Icelandic in only one week.

    None of those are considered unexplainable or even unexplained. The first and last observation of the three is not unusual (the first) or likely impossible (the last) for memory artists.

    I google on memorization recordholders [“Memory and Mental Calculation World Records”] that the record of memorizing pi is apparently 67,890 correct decimal places, by Chao Lu 2005. The first to go to 20,000 places was Hideaki Tomoyori 1979.

    “new record claims (not yet confirmed) by Akira Haraguchi (Japan): 83431 on 1 July 2005 and 100,000 on 4 October 2006

    In 1998, Yip Swe Chooi (Malaysia) recited 60,000 digits of Pi with only 44 errors. Sim Pohann (Malaysia) recited 67,053 digits with only 15 errors on 14 April 1999.”

    From the same site:

    “PI MATRIX RECORDS

    Rules :

    Each line of PI is numbered and there are 50 digits on each line in blocks of five. The candidate is given a number of a line of PI and then has to either recite the line forward or backwards. Or he will be asked to name a certain digit on that line. He also may have to multiply two certain digits on different lines. The candidate has to answer 50 tests and get them all correct.

    On 09 October 1999, Creighton Carvello of England was able to pass all these tests on the first 10,050 digits of PI. His attempt took place at the Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey, England. Two official witnesses were present.

    The following performances have not yet been verified :

    G. Uday Shankar, 7,000 digits
    Bishwaroop Roy Chowdhury, 4,200 digits
    Professor Aitkin, 2,000 digits

    EVEREST OF MEMORY TESTS

    Rules :

    The first 10,000 digits of Pi are divided into 2,000 5-digit blocks. The testers call out one of these 5-digit sequences, and the candidate must reply with the 5-digit numbers on either side of the number chosen. This happens 50 times.

    Record holders :

    Mats Bergsten 12 Feb 2008 17 min 39 sec

    Jan Harms 27 Jul 2007 20 min 30 sec

    Kevin Horsley 28 Aug 1999 39 min

    Philip Bond 1994 53 min”

    The calender trick is a fairly common ability among idiot savants. The real Rain Man, Kim Peek, is one of them.

    “Known as ‘Kimputer’ to many, his knowledge-library includes World and American History, People and Leaders, Geography (roads and highways in U.S. and Canada), Professional Sports (baseball, basketball, football, Kentucky Derby winners etc), the Space Program, Movies and movie themes, Actors and Actresses, the Bible, Mormon Church Doctrine and History, Calendar Calculations (including a person’s day of birth, present year’s birthday, and the year and the date the person will turn 65 years old so he or she can retire), Literature/Authors, Shakespeare, Telephone Area Codes, major ZIP Codes, all TV stations and their markets. He can identify most classical music compositions and tell the date the music was written and the composer’s birth date and place of birth and death Kim has read (and can recall) some 7600 books. He also keeps current on world, U.S. and most local events by reading newspapers, magazines and by listening to the media. He reads constantly He can also describe the highways that go to a person’s small town, the county, area code and ZIP code, television stations available in the town, who the person’s pay their telephone bill to, and describe any historical events that may have occurred in their area. His expertise includes at least 14 subject areas. [My bold.]”

    I would think that a good memorizer can learn and use any of a number of calender algorithms out there, albeit providing the answer “almost instantly” is a clever trick indeed!

    @ Shane:

    While Tammet’s ability is remarkable and unusual it does have an explanation, synaesthesia…

    But Wikipedia alsor refer to population studies that 1:23 or 4 % have some form of synesthesia, so it’s less rare than twins at 2 %. I never considered twins as remarkable or unusual. ;-)

  48. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Btw, synesthesia is probably some form of development error, as parts of the brain aren’t sufficiently separated as is normally done. How credulous do you have to be to go from observing a rather common and likely development error to accept or make it out as a claim of paranormal behavior?

    Seems JREF has a vital mission.

  49. Robert Carnegie

    Funny robes and other weird costumes don’t seem to be obstacles to typical people’s psychic powers.

    I think it would be quite interesting to run the experiment face to face with candidates in their everyday clothes, see what a deliberate or intuitive observer can figure about them, and try to match up their readings then. Maybe a small prize should be offered for picking yours, not enough to encourage cheating.

    What can you tell from Tom Waits’s voice?

  50. glued

    As one You Tube commenter succinctly puts it:

    “James Randi pwns for a living”.

  51. Peter B

    Bill Allen asked: “What about Allison Dobois.”

    I assume you mean Alison Dubois?

    What about her? A lot of people believe she’s helped police solve crimes, but no police service has ever said she helped them.

  52. Peter B

    Damon said: “I call BS on this contest… you know that if they actually found someone with genuine paranormal abilities they couldn’t disprove, they’d just ignore it, write it off as a fluke, and sweep it under the rug with a shrug and a wave of the hand like a typical indignant shill skeptic. Just like they do on Myth Busters and Ghost Hunters whenever they encounter something they can’t explain.”

    I know nothing of the sort. How do you know it? Anyway, why would the JREF sweep it under the carpet? Think of the publicity to be gained if a paranormal ability was proved. That would be a wonderful ride to take.

    “Besides, as someone mentioned before me, “paranormal” is a relative term. What you laud now as being impossible will be standard knowledge in a few hundred years, just like with atoms and genes and gravity and dark matter a hundred years before. Ghosts, UFOs, ESP etc. are more or less widely accepted phenomenon”

    Sorry, this is just a variant of the “They laughed at Galileo” argument, and is no more persuasive. Just because some thing was proven to be correct does not mean whatever you wish to be true will automatically be proven to be correct.

    “And if anyone exists who can move things with their mind or grow plants by touching the soil, they are either unaware of their ability, it is dormant, or they are off somewhere busy putting it to good use helping starving Ugandans, just like you should be doing with that million dollars, instead of sitting around attempting to be intellectual elitists.”

    So according to you, there is not even one person on this planet with a genuine psychic ability they’re aware of who’d like to front up to scientists and say, “Let me prove my skill to you”. Instead they’re all helping destitute Africans? Pardon my skepticism. Do you have the slightest amount of evidence for your claim?

    To the contrary, the only stories I’ve heard from that part of the world with the vaguest connection to psychic powers are stories about witch doctors who are paying to have albinos killed because of the magic which can be wrought with their body parts.

  53. Randi had this quote, apparently from the Sydney Morning Herald, in his Swift newsletter a few years ago regarding Medium, the show “based” on Alison Dubois…

    The series is, if nothing else, well named, as it is neither rare nor well done.

  54. Peter B

    The Australian Skeptics offer $110,000 on a similar basis. I’ve been involved in two preliminary challenges for this money, both by water diviners. Both were failures.

    The first claimant lived on a farm. He dug four large holes on the farm, prepared a piece of PVC pipe sealed at both ends and filled with water. The skeptics then placed the pipe in one of the four holes, and covered all four holes. The claimant then tried to determine which hole held the pipe. He failed the first couple of tests, then determined the pipe not lying flat was a problem. The holes were enlarged and the test restarted. However, his success rate was still the same as chance, and he stopped, baffled.

    A few days later I got an email from a friend of the claimant. Apparently the claimant had ascertained the reason for his failure – it had rained recently, and all the water soaking into the ground threw him off. Of course, what this misses is that when he tested himself before the skeptics arrived, everything worked fine. All that had changed was that in the proper test, he didn’t know which hole the pipe was in.

    The second claimant also lived on a farm, but did the test in town. We prepared 20 soft drink bottles, filling each with either water or coarse sand according to the toss of a coin (it wasn’t 10 of each). The sand had been left outside to dry overnight (it was mid spring). The bottles were all placed in shopping bags and placed on the ground. The claimant also had two correctly labelled bottles to test herself on.

    The test was observed by a journalism student, who wrote the whole thing up for an assignment. I predicted before the test that the claimant would fail, and that although she was happy with the test conditions beforehand, she’d find some way to blame them for her failure.

    I was right on both counts. The claimant scored 12 out of 20 on the first try, and 8 out of 20 on the second try. She then claimed the sand was too damp. Of course, what this misses is that she was happy with the test conditions beforehand, and her equipment worked correctly when she knew the bottles’ contents.

    Then, of course, there’s the story of the infamous Mitta Mitta musters. Two of these musters featured tests of water diviners, of which the first provides one of the better water divining stories I’ve heard.

    Before the test, the diviners were all confident of their abilities and were also satisfied with the test conditions. But the test results were pretty much what chance would dictate. At this point, one diviner decided he’d been thrown off by the presence of an underground stream. Six other diviners heard this and made the same claim. The organisers then asked the seven diviners to mark the course of the stream. They put this stream in eight different locations (one diviner actually found two streams).

  55. @Torbjorn Larsson “How credulous do you have to be to go from observing a rather common and likely development error to accept or make it out as a claim of paranormal behavior?”

    What is your definition of “paranormal”, Torbjorn? In regards to a “common and likely development error” there may be many people who have synesthesia. Only a handful of them can do the kinds of things that Daniel Tammet and Kim Peek can do. Why is that?

  56. Paranormal? Usually implies something spooky, beyond normal experience or defying scientific explanation. Look it up in any dictionary. All the definitions are very similar (too many for me to cut’n’paste here).
    Something highly unusual or rare that has a scientific explanation ain’t paranormal.

  57. @Peter B
    The diviners here in Oz have it easy. We live over the world’s biggest aquifer – one fifth of the continent apparently.

  58. Gary Ansorge

    I doubt telepathy, even if it was a reproducible, testable phenomena, would ever be as reliable as AT&T.
    Precognition,,,is that what we have when we predict the weather three days in advance, using algorithms and Big Blue???
    Clairvoyance: Seeing at a distance,,,well, I expect the NSA, etc has that pretty well covered with spy sats,,,

    Telekinesis, levitation, etc, are all things we can do with technology, but that’s just SCIENCE,,,and magnetic field manipulation(thinking here of dice painted with ferro magnetic paint).

    One of the more insightful SciFi stories I read(many years ago) about “natural” psychic abilities had people with all the wished for talents, but technology ended up doing all that much better,,,it had to do with biological limits. No matter how strong Samson was, I can go him several times better with a Caterpillar tractor,,,

    Perhaps life IS able to do these things but life will never migrate into space with wings or levitation. Technology is required for that,,,

    Gary 7

  59. Travis

    My paranormal power is to make JREF NOT give me $1,000,000. I’m very good at it.

  60. Gary Ansorge Says:
    I doubt telepathy, even if it was a reproducible, testable phenomena, would ever be as reliable as AT&T.

    “Can you sense me now?”

    J/P=?

  61. Michael Gray

    @Peter Bowditch
    You are quite spot-on with your (scientifically documented) observations of their post-hoc “self-deluded” rationalization, (via which they attempt to distract themselves away from the inevitable conclusion of personal failure in the face of concrete pre-agreed agreements), that emanates with clock-work precision from these poor unscientific, emotionally guided and irrationally beset folk.

    Were it considered a paranormal prediction that dowsers might rapidly place the blame on anyone but themselves, you would have won the $1million prize many times over!

  62. Mark Hansen

    Late I know but,
    @Damon,
    If your philanthropic psychic is doing great work in Uganda, how much more could they achieve with an extra $1M in their pocket? Sounds like the sensible thing for that hypothetical psychic to do is give the challenge a go.

  63. “She claims she can listen to a person’s voice and be able to tell all sorts of information about them, which, if true, would clearly be paranormal.”

    I disagree with this. I think it’s conceivable (though certainly not demonstrated, especially not by Putt) that there could be subtle clues from someone’s voice (perhaps even subconsciously perceived) that allows the listener to describe them to some level of accuracy.

    Even if someone were able pass this challenge, I don’t think it necessitates a paranormal explanation.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »