Category Archives: James Randi

The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism

By Mitch Horowitz

Originally published on Boing Boing, Oct 26, 2020

James Randi
James Randi Sgerbic [CC BY-SA]

Several years ago I was preparing a talk on the life of occult journeyer Madame H.P. Blavatsky (1831–1891) for the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. Someone on Facebook asked sardonically: “Will James Randi be there?” My interlocutor was referencing the man known worldwide as a debunker of psychical and paranormal claims. (That my online critic was outspoken about his own religious beliefs posed no apparent irony for him.)

Last week marked the death at age 92 of James “The Amazing” Randi, a stage magician who became internationally famous as a skeptic — indeed Randi rebooted the term “skepticism” as a response to the boom in psychical claims and research in the post-Woodstock era. Today, thousands of journalists, bloggers and the occasional scientist call themselves skeptics in the mold set by Randi. Over the past decade, the investigator himself was heroized in documentaries, profiles, and, now, obituaries. A Guardian columnist eulogized him as the “prince of reason.”

Continue reading The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism

James Randi Reneges on the Randi Prize


James Randi is a Charlatan

by Dick Bierman


Dutch psychologist Professor Dick Bierman, University of Amsterdam, applied for the Randi Prize in 1998 for automated computerized tests of presentiment, following a procedure he had already used extensively with highly significant positive results.

In these tests, subjects showed physiological responses to emotionally arousing pictures about five seconds before the picture was selected at random and shown to them on a screen. This response did not occur in control trials with emotionally neutral pictures. The effect has been replicated by other researchers.

I was approached by neuroscientist Stan Klein after a Tucson consciousness conference where I presented a paper on presentiment. He asked me why none of the serious psi researchers ever tried to get the million-dollar Randi Prize.

The obvious answer was that, as far as I knew, Randi was expecting his “challenge” to be decided on stage and to be completed within, say, an hour or so. Randi assured me that he would consider statistical experiments, but for the million-dollar prize he wanted odds against chance of a million to one.

I explained to Stan Klein that given the effect size of presentiment (assuming that was a real psi effect), to win the million dollars, I could obtain a results with produce a effect with a p-value of 10-6 within a year or so. I further explained that one could set up a presentiment experiment where Randi would produce the random “target” stimuli sequence (emotional or neutral) just before the stimulus exposure and more importantly after he had already received the physiological data through the internet. Thus he wasn’t obliged to be at our lab for one year in order to control the proceedings. He could have full control from Florida and I only wanted a second neutral person in between in order to prevent Randi “generating” targets after having looked at the physiological data.

Most of the initial communication went though Stan Klein, but then Randi invited me to communicate with him directly. He mailed me that he was at a point in his life (getting older) where he really wanted to know. He also assured me of his scientific expertise and told me he had experts on hand to help him. This is what he wrote in an email to me July 1998:

In general, I require million-to-one odds; I’m offering the JREF million dollars. Yes, I’m aware of the chance I’m taking.

I have experienced and dedicated statisticians and experts in experimental design who assist me at every stage, not that I usually need them. I wait, day after day, for these folks to advance to the starting line. Where are they? All I get is the amateur astrologers and abductees….

If anyone’s going to DO it, let’s get on with it. I’ll be 70 next month, and I figure I might have ten more reasonably active years to operate. Will that be enough time to have all the theorizing and arguing done with, and a REAL test under way? Yes, the million-dollar offer will survive me, but I’d really like to see a major response to the challenge mounted.


James Randi

As the correspondence continued he then starting raising technical points about the experiment – for example about how the computers stored the images used in the experiment:

The “presentiment” experiment, as described in Radin’s book — though that reference does not purport to be a complete presentation — appears, from that description, as if it might have some weaknesses. How and where the computer hard-drive stores the calm-and-emotional photos is not specified, for example. Are all of one kind in one area of the disk, for example? Or are they effectively randomly mixed? How are the phenomena to be measured – such as skin resistance, heart rate, blood volume (pressure?) – chosen? Was there a correlation between these physical reactions? There are many unanswered questions here.

I recall that in Russia, when I randomized – for the first and only time — the elements of their “influence” experiments at the Moscow Brain Institute, they obtained random results. I was later informed, by one of the young students there, that the director of the lab had then issued an order that they would continue conducting their experiments as before, since double-blinding “did not produce satisfactory data.” I don’t doubt it.

I should like to design an experiment that does not require “supervision” [by me] at all. It is perfectly feasible to produce a protocol whereby most if not all of the precautions are built into the procedure. I would opt for computer-based controls (providing that I were given total access to examining the programs!) so that randomness, timing, recording, etc., were all automatically controlled. And, I would insist upon knowing that any “abort” or “stop” instructions would be a part of the record, as well. I’ve heard of experimenters beginning a series of tests with a “warm-up” or “familiarization” period, only to suddenly decide to bypass this provision when the subject seems to show immediately “good” results. There have also been abortings when the subject just doesn’t seem to be in a good enough mood — or whatever — and data (“bad” data) has been dumped until the subject feels psychic. For me, there is no good or bad data, if it’s honestly and competently arrived at; I have no preference except for the facts.

I will stay in touch with you as we consider your proposal.

Sincerely, James Randi

P.S.: Just last week, I lost my keys and then found them. Honest, I did. No paranormal powers involved, I don’t think…. But in January, I lost an entire set and never found them. Psi-missing, perhaps?

I explained to him that the procedure used by Radin and myself was indeed conducted in an automated way without the need for any supervision, and that everything was automatically controlled and monitored, just as he thought it ought to be. He then raised some seemingly irrelevant technical points about the standard electrodes we used for measuring skin resistance:

I’ll have to study up on the “battery” (electrochemical) effects. I seem to recall a list of metals and metal alloys/compounds arranged in order of “electochemical number” and the idea was that you could tell the degree of electrochemical activity expected by noting the difference between the numbers. This meant, of course, that two gold electrodes (anode and cathode) would produce zero electricity, regardless of the electrolyte – in this case, salt-and-cell-fluid.

Do I also recall that there are some stainless steel electrodes used here? Of course, the Ag/AgCl material would doubtless be excellent as a conductor, so it might be superior for this use, since we’re dealing with very small flow.

Hmmm. And silver halides are essentially insoluble in water, differing in this respect from halides in general.

However, the AC use (what frequencies?) appears to get around the “battery” effect, so this is all moot.

I would think that two same-metal electrodes would generate quite inconsequential potentials, given that NaCl is not one of your top-producing electrolytes. But, that would depend upon your signal-to-noise situation.


He then told me he was going to propose the experiment to his “scientific committee”. I never heard from him after that.

– Dick Bierman
March 2015

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James “The Amazing” Randi and Dogs Who Know More Than He Does


James “The Amazing” Randi
And Dogs Who Know More Than He Does


by Rupert Sheldrake


Excerpted from Appendix 3 of:
Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
by Rupert Sheldrake, Broadway Books, 2011.

James Randi is a showman, conjurer and a former Principal Investigator of CSICOP. For years, he frequently appeared in the media as a debunker of the paranormal. He was named “Skeptic of the Century” in the January 2000 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer, and in 2003 received the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance International.

In 1996 he founded the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) and is most famous for offering a $1 million “paranormal challenge” to anyone who can demonstrate evidence of a paranormal event under conditions to which he agrees.

Randi has no scientific credentials, and has disarmingly said of himself, “I’m a trickster, I’m a cheat, I’m a charlatan, that’s what I do for a living.”

In January, 2000, Dog World magazine published an article on the sixth sense of dogs, which discussed my research. The author contacted Randi to ask his opinion. Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, “We at the JREF have tested these claims. They fail.” Randi also claimed to have debunked one of my experiments with Jaytee, in which Jaytee went to the window to wait for his owner when she set off to come home at a randomly-selected time, but did not do so beforehand. In Dog World, Randi stated, “Viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by.”

I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information. 

I then asked members of the JREF Scientific Advisory Board to help me find out more about this claim. They advised Randi to reply.

In an email on February 6, 2000 Randi told me that the tests with dogs he referred to were not done at the JREF, but took place “years ago” and were “informal”. He said they involved two dogs belonging to a friend of his that he observed over a two-week period. All records had been lost. He wrote: “I overstated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained.” 

I also asked him for details of tape he claimed to have watched, so I could compare his observations of Jaytee’s behaviour with my own. He was unable to give a single detail, and under pressure from the JREF Advisory Board, he had to admit that he had never seen the tape. His claim was a lie.

For many years the million dollar “prize” has been Randi’s stock-in-trade as a media skeptic, but even other skeptics are skeptical about its value as anything but a publicity stunt. For example, CSICOP founding member Dennis Rawlins pointed out that Randi acts as “policeman, judge and jury” and quoted him as saying “I always have an out.” Ray Hyman, a professor of psychology and Fellow of CSICOP, pointed out, this “prize” cannot be taken seriously from a scientific point of view: “Scientists don’t settle issues with a single test, so even if someone does win a big cash prize in a demonstration, this isn’t going to convince anyone. Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments.”

Nevertheless I asked the Smart family if they would be willing to have Jaytee tested by Randi. But they wanted nothing to do with him. Jaytee had already taken part in some tests organized by a skeptic, Richard Wiseman, as discussed below, and the Smart family were disgusted by the way he had misrepresented these tests in the media.

In 2008, Alex Tsakiris, who runs a U.S.-based “Open Source Science Project” and a podcast called Skeptiko, started replicating experiments with dogs that knew when their owners were coming home, posting videos of tests on the internet. Tsakiris asked Dr. Clive Wynne, an expert on dog behaviour at the University of Florida, to participate in this research, and Wynne agreed. Randi challenged Tsakiris to apply for the Million Dollar Challenge, Tsakiris took him up on it, and asked Randi by email if Dr. Wynne’s involvement was acceptable to him. Randi eventually replied, “You appear to think that your needs are uppermost on my schedule. What would give you that impression? Looking into a silly dog claim is among my lowest priority projects. When I’m prepared to give you some time, I’ll let you know. There are some forty plus persons ahead of you.”

For me, the most surprising feature of the Randi phenomenon is that so many journalists and fellow skeptics take him seriously.

Excerpted From:

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
Rupert Sheldrake. Broadway Books; Fully Updated and Revised:
April 26, 2011.

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James Randi’s Foundation


“The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)”


by Craig Weiler


JREF is a skeptical organization supposedly devoted to promoting critical thinking regarding claims of the paranormal. In reality it is an advocacy organization, known in politics as a pressure group. They lobby media and science organizations to dissuade them from taking parapsychology and psychics seriously. Like other pressure groups, they occasionally perform high profile publicity stunts to attract attention.

In fact, they are a magnet for controversy and scandal. The president of JREF, D.J. Grothe, has recently been accused of “misogyny and disrespect for women coworkers,” and, “constant duplicity, dishonesty, and manipulation” by a female employee.[1] James Randi’s significant other, Deyvi Pena, was convicted of Identity Theft; a disgruntled million dollar challenge applicant put out a $100,000 reward to anyone who could prove that the challenge was legitimate, and there is a long list of complaints by people who have either applied for the challenge or taken it. The challenge itself is the subject of unending criticism:

“Psychic offered a million dollars to prove his abilities.” How many times have you seen that headline? James Randi, a magician, offers a million dollars to any person who can prove they possess psychic abilities. This is done through the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF for short), and is referred to as the million dollar challenge (MDC for short).

Every few months a story pops up in a prominent magazine about a prominent psychic who has been challenged to prove their abilities by taking the MDC. Celebrity psychics such as the late Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh and John Edward have all been goaded at various times to apply for the challenge. All have declined.

Because the MDC is perceived in the media as a legitimate way to test psychic ability, declining to take the challenge is promoted as proof that the psychics are actually charlatans. Over the years, many people have applied for the challenge, a very tiny percentage has been tested, and no one has passed even the preliminary part. Skeptics point to this as proof that psychic ability does not exist.

Mr. Randi is a very popular skeptic and the million dollar challenge is easy to understand and seems to provide a clear and easy way to establish the truth about psychic ability. Because the MDC is rather popular in mainstream periodical literature, it merits serious investigation.

A Review of the Literature

Parapsychological literature sheds little light on the workings of this challenge. There are no scientific papers reviewing the MDC and it is mentioned only briefly in some books about parapsychology. The most influential book in parapsychology, The Conscious Universe, by Dean Radin, spends only a sentence on Randi:

“They [Geller or Randi] are actually so irrelevant to the scientific evaluation of psi that not a single experiment involving either person is included among the thousand studies reviewed in meta-analyses.”[2]

In the two most influential books that specifically address parapsychology skepticism, the JREF million dollar challenge gets only the briefest mention.

Chris Carter, in his book Parapsychology and the Skeptics, devotes a mere four and half pages to Randi without examining the challenge except to say this:

“The problem with this test is that Randi himself acts as policeman, judge and jury. Given his countless disparaging and insulting remarks concerning parapsychology, and his financial stake in the debunking movement, he can hardly be considered to be an unbiased observer.” [3]

Robert McLuhan, despite the title of his book being Randi’s Prize, has even less to say about the challenge, devoting only a few paragraphs to it:

“Randi himself laments that none of the stars in the psychic firmament – John Edward or Uri Geller for instance – has entered for it, (…) Another view, of course, is that, unlike the naïve individuals who actually do apply for the prize, they have more sense than to put themselves in the hands of a crusading sceptic who considers them to be the scum of the earth. (…)

“To offer an analogy: the difference between parapsychology and Randi’s prize is the difference between a fleet of boats heading out to sea equipped with radar and large nets, and one man sitting beside a muddy stream waiting for fish to jump in his net.”[4]

What is apparent is that scientists and scholars of parapsychology feel that the challenge is so insignificant as to not merit any significant consideration. Some serious examinations of the challenge do exist in blog posts on the Internet. Greg Taylor at The Daily Grail, published a very thorough article that examined it:

“First, and perhaps the most important, is the effect size required to win the challenge. While the JREF says that ‘all tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant’, this does not mean that the tests are fair scientific tests. The JREF need to protect a very large amount of money from possible ‘long-range shots’, and as such they ask for extremely significant results before paying out – much higher than are generally accepted in scientific research (and if you don’t agree to terms, your application is rejected).”[5]

Both the blog post by The Daily Grail, and another by Michael Prescott[6] , questioned the rules for the challenge, pointing out logical errors and draconian terms in the application. For example, rules #4 and #8 allow JREF to use information as it sees fit and the applicant surrenders all rights to legal action. In other words, if the organization decided to lie and cheat the applicant cannot sue for damages.

Over the years, I have published a couple of articles on the Million Dollar Challenge on my blog,[7] which have made their way into various on line discussions about the merits of the challenge.

My main interest has been in the workings of the challenge. According to Wikipedia:

“In the October 1981 issue of Fate, Rawlins quoted him [James Randi] as saying “I always have an out”. [19] Randi has stated that Rawlins did not give the entire quotation.[20] Randi actually said “Concerning the challenge, I always have an ‘out’: I’m right![21] [22]. Randi states that the phrase “I always have an out” refers to the fact that he does not allow test subjects to cheat.” [23]

Examining James Randi’s Character

As the organization bears his name, this invites questioning about James Randi’s character. Does Randi have an out? Is there some method he uses to make sure applicants never win? All of the criticisms of the challenge that I’ve read don’t address this. They point out, correctly, that the challenge is unrealistically hard and that Randi, who is considered to be far from impartial, totally controls it.

The skeptical point of view is that Randi needs to control the challenge in order to prevent alleged psychics from cheating, and that he is qualified based on his considerable experience in magic to expose frauds. James Randi is a very accomplished magician and this does qualify him to expose people who are posing as psychics but are actually using magic tricks to dupe people. However, Randi has no scientific education, self-taught or otherwise. His critics contend that total control over the challenge allows Randi to cheat, or to create unrealistic rules that no one could satisfy in order to win.

In order to deal with the efficacy of Randi’s challenge, we have to examine the character of James Randi. If he has a genuine interest in the truth, we can rely on his good judgment. So we look first at what his critics have to say.

While psi proponents acknowledge his considerable magic skills and that he has exposed a few frauds posing as psychics, he is widely regarded as deeply biased and more interested in publicity than the truth. Biologist Rupert Sheldrake, a target of Randi’s criticisms, uses this widely circulated story to illustrate that point:

“The January 2000 issue of Dog World magazine included an article on a possible sixth sense in dogs, which discussed some of my research. In this article Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, “We at the JREF [James Randi Educational Foundation] have tested these claims. They fail.” No details were given of these tests.

I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information too.

I then asked members of the JREF Scientific Advisory Board to help me find out more about this claim. They did indeed help by advising Randi to reply. In an email sent on February 6, 2000 he told me that the tests he referred to were not done at the JREF, but took place “years ago” and were “informal”. They involved two dogs belonging to a friend of his that he observed over a two-week period. All records had been lost. He wrote: “I overstated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained. It was rash and improper of me to do so.” [8]

Randi also claimed that in a tape of a dog experiment that Sheldrake had performed, the dog was responding to every passing car. He was later forced to admit that he had never seen the tape.

It is safe to say that no parapsychologist or paranormal investigator would ever work alongside Randi. In one telling instance, he was banned by the family and the investigators from entering a house where poltergeist activity was supposedly occurring.[9] Any testimony to Randi’s integrity and honesty will not be found in the opinions of his opponents. Psi proponent Victor Zammit goes so far as to write:

“In fact his conduct shows him to be a conman, a mind-manipulator and someone who himself admits – and this is a matter of public record – to being highly skilled in deception, trickery and conning.”[10]

In Will Storr’s “The Heretics” he gets a stunning confession from Randi:

“Is James Randi a liar? I begin gently, by telling him that my research has painted a picture of a clever man who is often right, but who has a certain element to his personality, which leads him to overstate.

‘Oh, I agree,’ he says.

‘And sometimes lie. Get carried away.’

‘Oh, I agree. No question of that. I don’t know whether the lies are conscious lies all the time,’ he says. ‘But there can be untruths.’ [11]
We next turn to skeptics’ perceptions of Randi. Does the skeptical community hold him in high esteem? Some do. In 1986, Randi was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius award for his work on exposing frauds.

Some skeptics are less generous. Former parapsychologist and CSI fellow Susan Blackmore reviewed Randi’s book, The Supernatural A-Z, and commented that the bookhas too many errors to be recommended.”

Ray Hyman, a longtime skeptic and leading CSI fellow who has contributed more to the field of parapsychology than any other skeptic, noted:

“Scientists don’t settle issues with a single test, so even if someone does win a big cash prize in a demonstration, this isn’t going to convince anyone. Proof in science happens through replication, not through single experiments.”[12]

Hyman and Blackmore are scientists who are among a very tiny handful of skeptics who have actual expertise in parapsychology and have made contributions to the field. While they do not criticize Randi directly, they lightly regard his scholarship and grasp of science.

Randi has been caught red-handed plagiarizing from skeptics on his own forum. He took comments from a forum user known as “Hawkeye” and changed the wording. When confronted, Randi responded with this comment:

“Chris: I admit, I shamelessly took your comments and dropped them in as part of SWIFT, simply because they exactly reflected my observations. I could have changed the wording, but getting SWIFT together each week – amid all the other duties that keep me here at least 60 hours a week – calls for some corner-cutting every now and then. Mea culpa…[13]

“Tkingdoll” noted:

“I see two real problems with Randi plagiarizing or otherwise cheating for any reason at all. The first is that the nature of his life’s work demands that he act with 100% honesty and integrity, because that’s the standard he’s demanding from those he exposes. Why else would Randi pursue cheats unless he thinks cheating is bad? So why then is it OK to give the excuse “oops, you caught me in a blatant cheat, I was busy that week?”

Or are we saying that cheating is OK as long as you admit it when you get caught? I hope we’re not saying that. [14]

The most serious damage to Randi’s integrity came from a long-term case of identity theft. Randi, who is gay, has a significant other, actually named Deyvi Pena, who went by the name José Luis Alvarez for twenty years before being caught in 2012. Somehow, Randi mistook Deyvi Pena, a young man from Venezuela on a student visa to study at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, for a teacher from the Bronx. [15] Either Randi was duped by an obvious con right under his nose for many years or he knowingly conspired with Pena to hide the truth.

So in regards to whether James Randi has impeccable character, the answer is clearly no, he does not. He is apparently willing to abandon honesty and integrity when it suits him. He does not have enough personal credibility to be taken at his word and his detractors have legitimate reasons for not trusting him. The million dollar challenge is somewhat suspect on this issue alone, although he’s not in charge of it anymore. For that reason it is necessary to look at how the challenge is run.

Examining the Challenge

How exactly does the challenge work? What is the procedure for taking an applicant from start to finish? This information is not readily available and I have seen no formal explanation from JREF explaining this process in detail.

On the surface, the million dollar challenge seems legitimate. It seems as though skeptics work on a protocol with psychics until a final procedure is hammered out. But Randi’s people working on the protocol are not vetted in any meaningful way. There is no requirement that they understand scientific protocol or be able to conduct a scientific test. In the challenge forums I visited, no one, for example, seemed to take the experimenter effect seriously. There seemed to be an attitude that psychic ability was something that should function on demand, and testers did not have the specialized knowledge in parapsychology which would be necessary to design proper experiments.

The most glaring problems with the million dollar challenge come from rules that can change on JREF’s whim.

Scientific testing of psychic ability is statistical. That is to say, an effect is considered real when it is shown to not be due to randomness (or problems in the protocol). You do this by calculating the odds that something might occur due to chance. In the results you get from repeated tries, the higher the odds are against chance, the more likely it is that psychic ability is in play.

I’m explaining this because this crucial information is missing. You won’t find it on the application or the FAQ for the million dollar challenge. It should say somewhere that the preliminary test must overcome odds against chance of approximately 1,000 to 1, but it doesn’t. And rumor has it that to win the challenge the applicant must overcome odds of one million to one. This kind of information is crucial to understanding how hard the challenge is.

An analogy would be to have a jumping contest to discover whether jumping was possible, but to not state anywhere how high a person had to jump in order to win.

Investigating through the forums

When I initially investigated the challenge, this is what I found: Applicants for the challenge were given their own thread on a sub forum specifically for the challenge, which is the only way for an outsider to track an applicant’s progress. The forum appeared to be run by volunteers and it was done very much on the cheap. Much of the information passed through the forum, some of it went through the mail and some of it was emailed. It was clear from reading the forum posts that the challenge process was a disorganized mess. The applicants dealt primarily with the volunteers, except when dealing with the staff, who apparently didn’t always notify the volunteers about what they were doing. (The volunteers sometimes found out what had transpired from the applicants.)

Randi could swoop in at any moment and change whatever he wished without notifying anyone or giving any justification for what he did. The volunteers seemed to be left to fend for themselves and had no authority to move an applicant forward in the process no matter how much work they’d done with that individual.[16] One of the signs this was badly run was that very few applicants ever got to the testing stage.

And the application process is dreadfully slow. A process that takes a year to two years is not unheard of. In the course of the Ziborov attempt, Startz (a forum name for a JREF MDC volunteer) made this comment:

“In fairness to Pavel, he has presented statistically sound protocols. JREF has been rather unresponsive as to what objections they have so that Pavel can revise them in accord with JREF’s wishes.”

Let me be more pointed than, as a fan of JREF, I wish were necessary. JREF has asked for communications to be done by email. When I have done as JREF has asked, JREF has not had the courtesy to return emails. If JREF were one of my PhD students, rather than an organization with a long, successful track record, I would say this in a less pleasant way.

Remie has sensibly pointed out that negotiations are better done by email than through this public forum. Following this wise advice, I have (on Pavel’s behalf) sent in protocols by email (while posting informational copies to the forum). JREF’s responses have been through the forum. There is no reason this could not have been settled in a week of back-and-forth email messages. Nearly all the delay time has been on JREF’s end, not Pavel’s. [17]

By forcing all the applicants to make a specific claim and set up a protocol, JREF is making the process difficult for people who have no experience in doing such things. Psychics are not scientists.

There is almost no transparency in the process and no attempt is made to satisfy outside objective observers that the testing is fair. There is no log of people who have been tested. A complete report on the individual testing that would explain in detail what occurred does not exist. [18]

PR Stunt or Serious Inquiry?

The easy way to tell a PR stunt from a serious inquiry is the way in which information is handled. A PR stunt requires important information to be controlled, and a serious inquiry requires all important information to be disclosed. The JREF million dollar challenge is replete with information being controlled and makes no full disclosures. Here is an example:

The question of exactly how many people have been tested is obviously deliberately obfuscated. In the FAQ for the challenge one finds:

“(3) To date, how many persons have been tested for the million-dollar prize offered by JREF?”

That’s not a simple question to answer. Many hundreds have made application, and most have had to be instructed to reapply sometimes several times because they did it incorrectly or incompletely. There are, at any given time, about 40 to 60 applicants being considered, but from experience we know that the vast majority will drop out even before any proper preliminary test can be designed. Of those who get to the preliminary stage, perhaps half will actually be tested, and some of those will quit before completion.”

It is a simple question. Just add up the number of people who have been tested. (It appears that no more than a couple of people a year are actually tested, so I would put that number between 20 and 30.) Hiding this number is an obvious attempt to make the number look bigger than it actually is. This subterfuge is especially apparent on the Wikipedia entry for the MDC:

“To date, over 1,000 applications have been filed but no one has passed a preliminary test, which is set up and agreed upon by both Randi and the applicant. [19]

These entries into Wikipedia are done under the auspices of an organization known as the Guerrilla Skeptics, who I’ll cover in a later chapter. They work closely with JREF, so it is no accident that applications have been confounded with actual testing. It is safe to say that the confusion of who has applied versus who has been tested is deliberate.

Investigating a Legitimate Applicant:

Sometime in 2009 I started investigating an application for Pavel Ziborov that had just played out. At the time, the discussion forum for challenge applicants was open to public viewing, so I was able to follow what happened. I discovered foul play by Randi and wrote it up in my blog. Sometime after that, the applicant forum was closed to public viewing.[20] What is there now is nothing more than a brief summary, which, in Pavel Ziborov’s case, is inaccurate.

Pavel Ziborov’s Attempt to be Tested

Around May of 2007[21]. Pavel Ziborov contacted JREF to apply for the challenge. After two years and almost 900 forum post plus emails and letters, he and the volunteers had agreed on a straightforward protocol. Ziborov was to determine whether envelopes held a black or white piece of paper (50% chance) with 100 trials. It was agreed that he needed 67% correct answers to win (odds of that being chance are 1,000 to 1). When this was submitted to Randi, it was changed to 20 trials with this explanation to Pavel:


Thank you for your continued patience. Now that the TAM dust has cleared, we can again take a look at your protocol. As I said before, I asked other JREF staff to weigh in on whether or not they believed your proposed protocol was workable.

Mr. Randi said:

Suggest that he merely identify for us which of two photos are in an envelope, 20 times. We cannot satisfy each and every whim, and it’s too expensive.

I’d say, if he refuses, he’s refused to be tested.


What do you think of simplifying the protocol to that level? Is that a possibility?

If not, I will do as Mr. Randi has suggested, and close your file.

Kindest regards,

Alison Smith
Research Assistant
James Randi Educational Foundation”[22]

This is straight up unethical. In addition to framing Pavel’s possible refusal as chickening out:

1. Randi violated his own rule that applicants have eight hours to complete their challenge.

2. Pavel still had to comply with the 1,000 to 1 odds, so in order to achieve this with 20 trials he would have had to have a success rate of 80%, where he had claimed to be able to achieve 67%. He was being asked to succeed at something he never said he could do.

3. The take it or leave it demand violates the condition that “both parties have to agree to the protocol.”

4. All of the JREF volunteers who had worked with Pavel were thrown under the bus as JREF blithely disregarded the protocol they had come up with.

The skeptic volunteers who worked on this application had worked with Pavel through several iterations of how to conduct tests where they had to teach him a bit of science. They did this because they believed in James Randi and JREF. His volunteers were betrayed.

In fact, many skeptics could not turn a blind eye to such an obvious miscarriage of justice. One of the people involved in the Pavel application wrote:

“I realize that there is almost no interest in holding Randi and the MDC to the standards that they claim for themselves. I’ve always been in a ridiculed minority when I make these suggestions. It is clear that the Challenge is not about allowing people to demonstrate their claims, but rather about providing examples for our ridicule – partly for education, partly for group-bonding (my guesses). I am in the process of moving on from the idea of trying to persuade anyone to care to that of trying to get the JREF and Randi to be more upfront about this instead, in order to thwart criticism. I fully realize that this will be a futile effort as well.[23]

This comment was buried in a forum thread only a handful of people will ever read. Rather than show their warts, JREF has provided a handy little synopsis of the outcome of the Ziborov application:
“In accordance with the suggestions from other JREF staff, Pavel was given one last opportunity to simplify his protocol. He has declined, and his Challenge file has been closed.

Pavel will have the opportunity to re-apply for the Challenge in one year, assuming he qualifies under the guidelines governing the Challenge at that time. [24]

This kind if dissembling is an indication that the JREF organization doesn’t take their own challenge seriously. While they have acknowledged that it is a publicity stunt, it is this sort of organizational behavior that demonstrates something worse: outright dishonesty.

Other Challenge Applicants

I can’t begin to list all the applicants who have complained about the challenge or investigate whether their protestations are valid. But here’s one example of how irritated applicants have become over how they were treated. Homeopath John Benneth, who claims to have been stonewalled by Randi in his attempt to get tested, has issued a $100,000 challenge to anyone who can prove that the JREF million dollar challenge is legitimate. [25] No one has come forward to attempt to claim this prize.

Most of the complaints revolve around not getting tested at all despite numerous attempts. However, one complaint had to do with Randi’s behavior during testing.

One contestant who actually got to the challenge and had some initial success was 11 year old Natalya Lulova. In a trial where she was demonstrating that she could “see” without her eyes, Randi responded by claiming that the bridge of her nose was special, allowing her to see underneath her blindfold. He then did a massive taping job that, according to her guardian, left her in tears and unable to perform. [26] The website referenced in the footnote has pictures and a narrative of the event.

What about the Actual Test?

How about the actual tests that have been performed that have not demonstrated any psychic ability? Are these legitimate tests of psychic ability? If psychic ability exists, why has no one passed the test? In 1991, The TV show, James Randi : Psychic Investigator[27], employed many tricks to prevent actual demonstrations of psychic ability.

Astrophysicist Sam Nichols, who attended one of the shows, enumerated a long list of obvious deficiencies including this significant one:

“Never let the psychic get comfortable enough to feel settled; the guests were more or less dragged on stage with barely an introduction and then expected to exhibit psychic marvels.[28]

The idea behind the challenge is to expose frauds and delusional people who don’t have the ability they claim to have. However, if you make the challenge impossible to fulfill, then you haven’t proved anything, as noted by “Cuddles” on the Ziborov forum thread:
“- It is therefore extremely important for the JREF to ensure that a test is fair to an applicant by ensuring that there is a high probability of success should they actually possess the claimed ability.[29]

Short tests are more difficult than longer ones for psychological reasons. The pressure to succeed on any individual attempt is much higher and the applicant has no chance to relax. Patricia Putt had ten trials. [30] Pavel was allowed to have twenty. A 1979 test had three trials for four dowsers [31], and a recent test with Derek Ogilvie had ten trials. [32]

The test is high profile, as a failure will be highly publicized. Psychic ability also declines in the presence of skeptics. This has been proved in scientific testing and is known as the experimenter effect.[33] In Randi’s tests, the applicants are surrounded by people who hope failure will occur.

Even if an applicant freely signs up for this sort of setup, as Patricia Putt did, a short, high pressure, high profile test run by skeptics is no legitimate way to test for psychic ability. That people fail, often in spectacular fashion (Putt did not get a single trial right), doesn’t say anything about the abilities of the people who were tested except that they didn’t succeed under these very adverse conditions.

In Putt’s case, the problem had to do with the way she was tested. She normally speaks, but was required to write out her psychic readings. She was being asked to succeed at something she had no training at and had not claimed that she could do.

The test protocol was presented to her as take-it-or-leave-it. This was a violation of standard scientific testing protocols. She normally does under five readings a day and she was required to do ten. Portions of her readings were blacked out by Prof. Richard Wiseman who was conducting the test. Doing ten readings in one day is far more than most mediums do. She reported being mentally exhausted by the eighth reading . Other problems included having all young, female students as target subjects, making their experiences and personalities difficult to tell apart. Like other applicants, she did not have much control in the study design.

To sum this up, while the test had good controls against cheating, it was very poor at providing elements that were favorable to psychic functioning. An analogy would be putting a seed on a shelf to see if it will grow. The experiment is perfectly controlled, but is guaranteed to fail.

All you can say is that the test demonstrated nothing. Patricia Putt cannot be said to have failed the test because the design was completely inadequate to test anything. That did not stop the press releases of course.[34]

To put this in perspective, the closest comparison to this test is probably The Afterlife Experiments[35] conducted by Gary Schwartz, which claimed to demonstrate statistically significant positive results from psychic mediums. The tests ran over several days and involved multiple mediums. Various versions of the same tests were run and all the details and results were published. The experiments have been refined and replicated over the years and notable skeptical scientists have reviewed the literature and commented on it and it has become a part of parapsychological literature.

No reports of the psychic testing done for the million dollar challenge has ever made it into parapsychological literature. Zero. Not one.

All that seems to happen is that when one of these tests is performed, the news travels around, a few newspapers pick it up, a few people blog about it and argue about it on the forums, and then it fades into history. Because it’s not important.

There are obvious reasons for their insignificance:

1. Very few serious applicants for the challenge: With the age of the Internet upon us, potential applicants are much better informed than in years past. Even the most cursory Internet search will yield damning information about James Randi and the challenge. So only the most naïve people will pursue the prize.

2. No overall methodology: Every once in a while someone braves the system and actually gets tested with an experiment that is unique, with very few trials and no replications. This renders the results useless as a measurement for anything.

3. Lack of data. To seriously discuss the relevance of any particular test requires that all details of that test be available for examination and critique.

The only thing you can say about the JREF million dollar challenge is that it is a publicity stunt that does not do what it claims to do: legitimately test for psychic ability. Because of the poor way that testing is managed, the tests themselves are not indicators of anything, much less psychic ability. In its present form this challenge is, for all practical purposes, unwinnable.

It begs the question: if JREF is so sure about psychic ability not existing, why do they have to resort to this deceit?



[2] The Conscious Universe, by Dean Radin, pg. 240

[3] Parapsychology and the Skeptics, by Chris Carter, pg. 83

[4] Randi’s Prize, by Robert McCluhan, pg. 293-4





[9] Randi’s Prize, by Robert McCluhan, pg. 19


[11] The Heretics, by Will Storr, pg. 368



[14] ibid.


[16] Verified through a reliable source who has worked on several MDC applications.




[20] The original Zibarov forum posts are still there and can be accessed if you know the exact web address.













[33] Wiseman, R. & Schlitz, M. (1998). Experimenter effects and the remote detection of staring. Journal of Parapsychology, 61(3), 197-208.





Chapter From the Book:

Psi Wars:
TED, Wikipedia and the Battle for the Internet: The Story of a Wild and Vicious Science Controversy . . . that Anyone Can Join!

Craig Weiler, CreateSpace, 2013

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James Randi’s Dishonest Claims about Dogs

James Randi’s Dishonest Claims about Dogs
by Rupert Sheldrake

The January 2000 issue of Dog World magazine included an article on a possible sixth sense in dogs, which discussed some of my research.

In this article Randi was quoted as saying that in relation to canine ESP, “We at the JREF [James Randi Educational Foundation] have tested these claims. They fail.” No details were given of these tests.

I emailed James Randi to ask for details of this JREF research. He did not reply. He ignored a second request for information too.

I then asked members of the JREF Scientific Advisory Board to help me find out more about this claim. They did indeed help by advising Randi to reply.

In an email sent on February 6, 2000 he told me that the tests he referred to were not done at the JREF, but took place “years ago” and were “informal”. They involved two dogs belonging to a friend of his that he observed over a two-week period. All records had been lost.

He wrote: “I overstated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained. It was rash and improper of me to do so.”

Randi also claimed to have debunked one of my experiments with the dog Jaytee, a part of which was shown on television. Jaytee went to the window to wait for his owner when she set off to come home, but did not do so before she set off.

In Dog World, Randi stated: “Viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by.”

This is simply not true, and Randi now admits that he has never seen the tape.

James Randi is Taken for a Ride


James Randi is Taken for a Ride


Skeptics Can Be Fooled

by Guy Lyon Playfair


British author Guy Lyon Playfair (This House is Haunted,
Twin Telepathy, and 10 other books) is a longtime skeptic watcher.

“If a trick is well done, it doesn’t look like a trick. It looks real,” conjuror James Randi has been quoted as saying.

He is absolutely right, and he should know, since on more than one occasion he has himself mistaken trickery for reality.

It all began in 1981, when his ‘Project Alpha’ managed to sabotage a research programme by infiltrating a couple of young magicians, Mike Edwards and Steve Shaw, into the parapsychology laboratory funded by the late James McDonnell, a pioneer of the aerospace industry. There, they did their best for nearly two years to trick the researchers into proclaiming them genuine Geller-type spoon benders, which they never did in print.

However, Randi’s revelation of his attempted hoax at a news conference sponsored by Time Inc.’s science magazine Discover encouraged the public to believe that since parapsychologists could so easily be hoaxed, although in this case they weren’t, none of their claimed findings could be taken seriously. It was a successful smear campaign, and may have had something to do with the closing of the ‘Mac Lab’ in 1985.

Then it was Randi’s turn to be taken for a ride. Soon after his outing in January 1983 of Edwards and Shaw, the newsletter of a small Minneapolis research group, the Archaeus Project, announced that a fund of $217,000 had been set up for a metal-bending research programme under Archaeus director Dennis Stillings, to whom gifted subjects should apply.

The newsletter was a fake. No such fund existed. Stillings printed just two copies of his fake newsletter and sent them to Edwards and Shaw, confident that they would pass them on to Randi, as indeed they did.

Randi then started asking around as to what the source of this funding was, and was told it might be Medtronic, Inc., the Minneapolis-based company making pacemakers where Stillings worked as librarian.

Without bothering to check with the company, Randi assumed that it was the source, and on April 1, 1983, a Discover news release signed by Randi had this to say about the latest of his ‘Uri Awards’ for the ‘silliest and most irrational claims in relation to the paranormal’:

“To the Metronics [sic] Corporation of Minneapolis, who gave $250,000 [sic] to a Mr. Stillings of that city to fund the Archaeus Project, devoted to observing people who bend spoons at parties. Mr. Stillings then offered financial assistance to a prominent young spoon bender who turned out to be one of the masquerading magicians of Project Alpha – a confessed fake.”

Not only had Randi fallen hook, line and sinker for Stillings’s bait, but he had managed to make a total of four mistakes in his brief news release: the nonexistent fund had been increased from $217,000 to $250,000, the Medtronic Corporation had nothing to do with it, and was misspelled into the bargain, and Stillings had never ‘offered financial assistance’ to Shaw, Edwards, or anybody else.

Having shown that it is really quite easy to hoax somebody who does not check his facts very carefully, or indeed in this case not at all, Stillings promptly did it again. A couple of weeks after the Discover news release, Randi received a letter from ‘Reid Becker, Program Manager, Charon Investments’ telling him that ‘a rumour has come to my ears that Medtronic, Inc., has received a “Uri” award for contributing a large sum of money to psychic research’ and asking for further details as some of his clients held stock in the company.

Randi replied with the extraordinary allegation that the naming of Medtronic had not originated from him – but from Stillings. He suggested that Becker should contact him for clarification.

Becker had no need to do this, for it was Stillings himself who had written the ‘Becker’ letter, on clumsily faked notepaper with no address or telephone number. He concluded that:

‘This is a case where one is dealing with the very gullible. Randi and his associates, with the full force of their will to disbelieve, are unable to apply sound judgment about either their statements or their actions. Information supporting their beliefs is uncritically assimilated and then passed on in distorted form to the media.’

In other words, sceptics and even magicians can be, and have been, fooled as easily as anyone else.

Some are honest enough to admit it. Martin Gardner, for example, has confessed that ‘I consider myself a knowledgeable student of conjuring, yet I am frequently mystified by new tricks.’

So, as we have seen, are others.

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“Randi’s Prize” by Robert McLuhan

"Randis Prize" by Robert McLuhan

Journalist Robert McLuhan compares the views of James Randi
and other leading sceptics against the investigative literature of
parapsychology and psychical research.

“The ‘prize’ of the title is the Million Dollar Challenge offered by stage magician James Randi for anyone who passes his test for psychic powers. So far, Randi says, no one has even passed the preliminaries. This confirms the belief held by sceptics and many scientists that so-called ‘psychics’ are delusional or dishonest.

“Randi’s Prize agrees that this is sometimes the case, but sympathises with scientists who have investigated paranormal claims in depth and consider some of what they have observed to be genuinely anomalous. It pays close attention to the arguments of well-known sceptics like Randi, Ray Hyman, Richard Wiseman and Susan Blackmore. However it concludes that these fall short of a full explanation.”

McLuhan proposes that “we develop a more mature and discerning approach to these hugely challenging issues”.

More details at Robert McLuhan’s website “Paranormalia”,
with links to excerpts and other relevant materials.

Randi’s Prize (Amazon – US)
Randi’s Prize (Amazon – UK)
Robert McLuhan
Matador/Troubador (2010)

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James Randi and The Ultimate Psychic Challenge


James Randi and The Ultimate Psychic Challenge


Thoughts from a Respondent to the Discovery Channel’s
Television Program “The Ultimate Psychic Challenge”

by Montague Keen


Montague Keen was a psychic researcher, journalist, agricultural administrator, magazine editor and farmer. A member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research for 55 years, chairman of its Image and Publicity Committee and secretary of its Survival Research Committee, he was principal investigator of the Scole Group of physical mediums, and author, with his co-investigators Professors Arthur Ellison and David Fontana, of the Scole Report, published in the Proceedings of the SPR in 1999 (Vol. 54, p. 220).

This note is written in response to a request to comment on James Randi’s observations on his website on “The Ultimate Psychic Challenge” programme screened on the Discovery Channel on August 17 [2003], and to be repeated both on that channel and on Channel 4 (on August 23rd); and it embodies a challenge to Mr. Randi to live up to his repeated assertion on the programme that if only adequate evidence of paranormality could be demonstrated to him, he would be happy to acknowledge it – and give the claimant the $1million prize he so publicly and consistently pledges. I have already commented on the programme as edited, although I reproduce below both my pre-edited and post-edited comments for the benefit of those, including Mr. Randi, who may not have had the opportunity to see them.

Unethical treatment

A preliminary comment on Mr. Randi’s ethics – and those of Fulcrum TV’s producers: When he practices as a stage illusionist, the audience know they are being entertained and deceived: they suspend their disbelief and enjoy the show. To pretend to be a genuine psychic, and to connive with the TV staff without the knowledge or consent of the victims to garner details about members of the audience, their friends and their sitting positions, with a view to misleading them – even though the ruse is later acknowledged – is to employ deception in what was claimed to be a serious programme about a very serious subject.

Three Randiesque escapes

I should first note that Mr. Randi may consider himself fortunate on at least three counts:

1. The edited version omitted his first extended but futile attempts at cold reading which was so unsuccessful that the embarrassed floor manager had to announce a technical fault and stop the show.

2. The editing omitted what was probably the single most impressive piece of evidence, told to me beforehand in the Green Room and later to the audience, of an anonymous and untraceable booking made by a grieving father for a private reading with Keith Charles, the medium, who described to him the detailed contents and design of a sealed letter that had been placed, unbeknown to the father, in the coffin of his daughter by her sister. When Mr Randi asserted what he has since reiterated on his website, that all such messages could be attributable to cold reading as evidenced in Ian Rowland’s instruction book, it was lucky for him that no-one had an opportunity to challenge this insult to our credulity. Even with hot reading prior research at his disposal, a stage illusionist could not have struck oil this rich. Charles himself, exceptionally restrained, was shut up, doubtless because of the severe time overrun.

Finally, 3., it was lucky for Mr. Randi that Charles was given no opportunity to say why the $1m challenge was both misleading and worthless, an omission I hope to remedy below.

I need hardly say that the excision of the very brief comment I was allowed to make, explaining that serious scientists had long been fully aware of the cold and hot reading techniques, and had safeguarded against them by single or double-blind or proxy sittings, constituted a serious breach of trust by the producers, as well as letting Mr. Randi off the hook. Some idea of the sort of evidence Mr. Randi escaped answering is contained in an attached letter to the Glasgow Herald from one of the principal experimenters in a major investigation into the authenticity of mediumship.

A fraudulent insult

As an aside, and to illustrate Mr. Randi’s dedication to objectivity, I must also provide a more accurate account of the incident to which he devotes so much spleen on his website: his encounter in the exit corridor with a “very obese, unattractive woman” and his reaction to her “direct affront, a rude insult and an uncalled-for accusation” who “stabbed her finger at me, her face red and contorted with hatred” who called him a fake and a fraud, to which he calmly retorted in his best Churchillian manner, “Madam, you are ugly, but I can reform.”

I am sure this is how Mr. Randi would like to remember the episode, but since I was alongside the lady at the time, and observed what went on, as did Dr. Parker and Dr. Puhle who were immediately in front of me, I should say that she takes (USA) size 10 clothes at Macy’s, which is way down the obesity scale, is regarded as attractive for her age, smiled at Mr. Randi and said quite politely but firmly, with no finger stabbing, and to his obvious astonishment, “Mr. Randi you’re a fraud”, whereupon he staggered back and stammered, “And you, you, you, you’re ugly,” to which the lady responded as he disappeared backwards through the double doors, “But at least I’m honest”. There was no Churchillian suffix. The classic Churchillian riposte, by the way, occurred when Mrs Bessie Braddock, a Labour MP of vast dimensions, accused him of being drunk; to which Churchill responded, “Yes, Madam, and you’re ugly, but I shall be sober in the morning.” This sets the standard for Mr. Randi’s dedication to factual reality.]

That $1 million offer

Now for the more serious bit: first, the $1million prize. Loyd Auerbach, a leading USA psychologist and President of the Psychic Entertainers Association (some 80% of the members of his Psychic Entertainers’ Association believe in the paranormal, according to Dr. Adrian Parker, who was on the programme, but given no opportunity to reveal this) exposed some of the deficiencies in this challenge in an article in Fate magazine.

Under Article 3, the applicant allows all his test data to be used by the Foundation in any way Mr. Randi may choose. That means that Mr. Randi can pick and chose the data at will and decide what to do with it and what verdict to pronounce on it. Under Article 7, the applicant surrenders all rights to legal action against the Foundation, or Mr. Randi, no matter what emotional, professional or financial injury he may consider he has sustained. Thus even if Mr. Randi comes to a conclusion different from that reached by his judges and publicly denounces the test, the applicant would have no redress. The Foundation and Mr. Randi own all the data. Mr. Randi can claim that the judges were fooled. The implicit accusation of fraud would leave the challenger devoid of remedy.

These rules, be it noted, are in stark contrast to Mr. Randi’s frequent public assertions that he wanted demonstrable proof of psychic powers. First, his rules are confined to a single, live applicant. No matter how potent the published evidence, how incontestable the facts or rigorous the precautions against fraud, the number, qualifications or expertise of the witnesses and investigators, the duration, thoroughness and frequency of their tests or (where statistical evaluation is possible) the astronomical odds against a chance explanation: all must be ignored. Mr. Randi thrusts every case into the bin labelled ‘anecdotal’ (which means not written down), and thereby believes he may safely avoid any invitation to account for them.

Likewise, the production of a spanner bent by a force considerably in excess of the capacity of the strongest man, created at the request and in the presence of a group of mechanics gathered round a racing car at a pit stop by Mr. Randi’s long-time enemy, Uri Geller, would run foul of the small print, which requires a certificate of a successful preliminary demonstration before troubling Mr. Randi himself. A pity, because scientists at Imperial College have tested the spanner, which its current possessor, the researcher and author Guy Lyon Playfair, not unnaturally regards as a permanent paranormal object, and there is a standing challenge to skeptics to explain its appearance.

The Randi/Schwartz episode

That these doubts about the genuineness of Mr. Randi’s dedication to objective research are far from theoretical may be concluded from the efforts made by Professor Gary Schwartz of Arizona University in designing his multi-centre, double-blind procedure for testing mediums. Schwartz was not interested in the prize money: he merely sought to obtain Mr. Randi’s approval for his protocol for testing mediums – and he duly modified it to met Mr. Randi’s suggestions. Having falsely declared that the eminent parapsychologist Professor Stanley Krippner had agreed to serve on his referee panel, Mr. Randi ensured that the other judges would be his skeptical friends Drs Minsky, Sherman and Hyman, all well-known and dedicated opponents of anything allegedly paranormal.

As the ensuing Randi/Schwartz correspondence (which Mr. Randi declined to print on his website) makes clear, when the outcome of the experiment proved an overwhelming success, Mr. Randi subsequently confused a binary (yes/no) analysis with the statistical method required to score for accuracy each statement made by a medium, and falsely accused Dr Schwartz and his colleagues of selecting only half the data for analysis. He then derided the publication of Professor Schwartz’s findings in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, the world’s oldest scientific peer-reviewed publication devoted to the paranormal, and in which Mr. Randi himself has published contributions. He criticised the fact that the Schwartz findings appeared in neither Nature nor Science, although he must have been aware of the long-standing refusal of these two leading scientific journals to publish anything touching on the paranormal. He then reported that one of the gifted mediums, John Edward, could have seen the sitter through a 2″ curtain gap, regardless of the facts that the crack was about quarter of an inch, was subsequently sealed from ceiling to floor, and that readings were later done long distance. Mr. Randi declined an invitation to see all the raw footage for himself, while protesting that he would never [be allowed to] see it. Yet all the media representatives who visited the Arizona laboratory saw the raw footage, as did magicians and visiting scientists. Mr Randi specifically declined an invitation to be videoed viewing the data and commenting on it.

Equally, despite his confident assertions that cold reading can produce results as impressive as any from a platform medium, he declined an offer to prove it by comparing his performance with that of a genuine medium, surely a crucial test. Similarly, Mr. Randi accused the experimenters of “blatant data searching”, i.e. remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. This was false, and could readily have been shown to be so . He thereafter publicly declined to read any of Professor Schwartz’s emails, having confined himself to deriding the Professor for believing in the tooth fairy, making wild claims and being a “doctor who embraces bump-in-the-night theories without a trace of shame”. Further, that he had been a colleague at Harvard of Dr John Mack, “the man who has never met anyone who hasn’t been abducted by aliens”, and similar abuse. This is the language and conduct of the gutter, not of an honest difference of opinion expressed in civilized and restrained terms about scientific issues..

Mr. Randi notoriously failed to fulfil his boast to be able to replicate Ted Serios’ “thoughtography” tests (as described by his investigator, Dr Jule Eisenbud in The World of Ted Serios, Jonathan Cape, 1968) and has consistently ignored efforts by Mr. Maurice Grosse, the principal investigator of Britain’s most famous recent poltergeist event, the Enfield Case (See Guy Lyon Playfair’s book This House is Haunted, Souvenir Press, 1980), to examine the recorded visual and aural evidence to support a claim of paranormality and apparent veridical messages from a discarnate entity.

Worse still are the multiple errors of fact, admixed with derision, abuse and misrepresentation, which Mr. Randi makes in his book Flim-Flam (1980) about a number of distinguished scientists, notably Russell Targ, Harold Puthoff and Charles Tart and their roles in the remote viewing experiments with Ingo Swann and the clairvoyant claims of Uri Geller. That Randi’s denunciations turned out to be mainly a tissue of lies is apparent from the penetrating account given by parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo in Psychic Breakthroughs Today (Aquarian Press, 1987, p. 216-226), and devastatingly amplified in a recent website publication by Michael Prescott.

The challenge to Mr. Randi (and friends)

I am not applying for Mr. Randi’s $million but only for some evidence that his challenge is genuine. Before I reproduce my comments on the television programme , I present Mr. Randi, and any of his fellow-skeptics, with a list of some of the classical cases of paranormality with most or all of which Mr. Randi will be familiar. I know he will be because he has been studying the subject for half a century, he tells us. And just as I would not pretend to authority and expertise in conjuring unless I could perform some party tricks to bedazzle a troop of intelligent ten year olds, or apply for an assistant professorship in physics while admitting I had never heard of Boyle’s Law or the Second Law of Thermodynamics, nor seek admission to the Bar without first having some familiarity with the leading cases, so I would not imply that Mr. Randi is ignorant of these cases, many of which have long awaited the advent of a critic who could discover flaws in the paranormality claims. For me to suggest this would imply the grossest hypocrisy on Mr. Randi’s part. But to refresh his memory, and help him along, and despite the refusal of some of his colleagues like Professor Kurtz, Professor Hyman and Dr. Susan Blackmore to meet the challenge, I list the requisite references. They are based on (although not identical to) a list of twenty cases suggestive of survival prepared by Professor Archie Roy and published some years ago in the SPR’s magazine, The Paranormal Review as an invitation or challenge to skeptics to demonstrate how any of these cases could be explained by “normal” i.e. non-paranormal, means. Thus far there have been no takers. It is now Mr. Randi’s chance to vindicate his claims.

Here are the cases from which Mr. Randi may wish to select a handful to answer:

1. The Watseka Wonder, 1887. Stevens, E.W. 1887 The Watseka Wonder, Chicago; Religio-philosophical Publishing House, and Hodgson R., Religio-Philosophical Journal Dec. 20th, 1890, investigated by Dr. Hodgson.

2. Uttara Huddar and Sharada. Stevenson I. and Pasricha S, 1980. A preliminary report on an unusual case of the reincarnation type with Xenoglossy. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 74, 331-348; and Akolkar V.V. Search for Sharada: Report of a case and its investigation. Journal of the American SPR 86,209-247.

3. Sumitra and Shiva-Tripathy. Stevenson I. and Pasricha S, and McLean-Rice, N 1989. A Case of the Possession Type in India with evidence of Paranormal Knowledge. Journal of the Society for Scientific Exploration 3, 81-101.

4. Jasbir Lal Jat. Stevenson, I, 1974. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (2nd edition) Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

5. The Thompson/Gifford case. Hyslop, J.H. 1909. A Case of Veridical Hallucinations Proceedings, American SPR 3, 1-469.

6. Past-life regression. Tarazi, L. 1990. An Unusual Case of Hypnotic Regression with some Unexplained Contents. Journal of the American SPR, 84, 309-344.

7. Cross-correspondence communications. Balfour J. (Countess of) 1958-60 The Palm Sunday Case: New Light On an Old Love Story. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 52, 79-267.

8. Book and Newspaper Tests. Thomas, C.D. 1935. A Proxy Case extending over Eleven Sittings with Mrs Osborne Leonard. Proceedings SPR 43, 439-519. <

9. “Bim's” book-test. Lady Glenconnor. 1921. The Earthen Vessel, London, John Lane.

10. The Harry Stockbridge communicator. Gauld, A. 1966-72. A Series of Drop-in Communicators. PSPR 55, 273-340.

11. The Bobby Newlove case. Thomas, C. D. 1935. A proxy case extending over Eleven Sittings with Mrs. Osborne Leonard. PSPR 43, 439-519.

12. The Runki missing leg case. Haraldsson E. and Stevenson, I, 1975. A Communicator of the Drop-in Type in Iceland: the case of Runolfur Runolfsson. JASPR 69. 33-59.

13. The Beidermann drop-in case. Gauld, A. 1966-72. A Series of Drop-in Communicators. PSPR 55, 273-340.

14. The death of Gudmundur Magnusson. Haraldsson E. and Stevenson, I, 1975. A Communicator of the Drop-in Type in Iceland: the case of Gudni Magnusson, JASPR 69, 245-261.

15. Identification of deceased officer. Lodge, O. 1916. Raymond, or Life and Death. London. Methuen & Co. Ltd.

16. Mediumistic evidence of the Vandy death. Gay, K. 1957. The Case of Edgar Vandy, JSPR 39, 1-64; Mackenzie, A. 1971. An Edgar Vandy Proxy Sitting. JSPR 46, 166-173; Keen, M. 2002. The case of Edgar Vandy: Defending the Evidence, JSPR 64.3 247-259; Letters, 2003, JSPR 67.3. 221-224.

17. Mrs Leonore Piper and the George “Pelham” communicator. Hodgson, R. 1897-8. A Further Record of Observations of Certain Phenomena of Trance. PSPR, 13, 284-582.

18. Messages from “Mrs. Willett” to her sons. Cummins, G. 1965. Swan on a Black Sea. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

19. Ghostly aeroplane phenomena. Fuller, J.G. 1981 The Airmen Who Would Not Die, Souvenir Press, London.

20. Intelligent responses via two mediums: the Lethe case. Piddington, J.G. 1910. Three incidents from the Sittings. Proc. SPR 24, 86-143; Lodge, O. 1911. Evidence of Classical Scholarship and of Cross-Correspondence in some New Automatic Writing. Proc. 25, 129-142,

Comments (August 7th) on the pre-edited TV show

These comments are written in response to those eager to know how last night's Fulcrum TV programme The Ultimate Psychic Challenge was conducted at the London Television Studios. It purported to be a serious television programme aimed at discovering whether there was sound evidence of after-death communication. More immediately, this is an appeal to those responsible for the production to correct in the cutting room the serious imbalance and misleading message of the taped programme.

I had been pressed to attend the studio in order to help provide that evidence, as a counterbalance to whatever James Randi might be presenting or arguing. The filming lasted three hours+ . The show is to be edited down to one and a half hours, less commercial breaks.

Despite doubts of several who believed that Fulcrum TV deliberately conceived the programme to rubbish the concept of survival, and not to present a balanced assessment of the case for and against communication with the dead; and despite at least two pieces of evidence suggesting that this is what they did, I am prepared to acquit those responsible of any charges worse than naiveté, arrogance and inadequate research. But first let me summarise what happened.

The audience was first asked to vote whether they believed, disbelieved or were uncertain about discarnate communication. The initial voting percentages, from a self-selected audience, were respectively 44, 19 and 37. Randi was introduced pseudonymously as a psychic and proceeded to attempt cold readings, with embarrassingly negative results. He was eventually stopped, ostensibly because of some technical hitch, left the room, and later returned to resume his act, this time with more success. The presenter, Kate Galloway, who did a difficult job with considerable skill, then revealed to a far from astonished audience, most of whom said they had recognised Randi from the outset, that it was all faked, and that Randi had access to audience names and addresses, and indeed employed a researcher to show how easily fake mediums could discover information about potential sitters, or clients.

All of this, which took up most of the first hour, was simply to demonstrate how cold and hot reading works. The implication was absolutely clear: this was typical of how mediums, platform or face-to-face, operated. To illustrate this further, we saw a screening of a freshly-coached actor under the guidance of sceptic Tony Youens giving a fake reading to a young and clearly inexperienced client who confessed himself impressed with the evidential standard achieved.

To make certain we got the message there was another clip, this time of a genuine medium, who was present. Her statements were interlarded with comments from Youens aimed at showing how each of them could be reasonably deduced from responses, facial expressions, guesswork, etc. The medium herself, from the front row of the audience, protested most vehemently that by omitting much more evidential material the extract of her filmed sitting had given a false impression, stigmatising her as a fake.

Additional pieces were aimed solely at proving how gullible people are. Randi produced half a dozen so-called psychological studies based on questionnaires previously completed by members of the audience. Each was asked to score the results for accuracy/appropriateness. Only one gave him top marks. The analyses were, of course, identical, and were simply designed to show how readily people attributed general characteristics to themselves.

Interspersed with this were responses by Professor Chris French to questions on a range of associated psychological and sociological issues. French, a noted sceptic of the less unenlightened kind, gave fairly reasonable responses, and appeared to have ample time to do so. He was not asked to deal with either the leading cases indicating survival (readers of his magazine The Skeptic will have noted that he is too busy to study this sort of evidence) or even the current work of Professors Archie Roy and Gary Schwartz.

The principal – indeed virtually the only – counterbalance to this was the performance of a genuine medium, Keith Charles, an ex-detective. Two of his former clients gave impressive testimony to the accuracy of statements he had made, e.g. about the precise contents of a sealed letter deposited in the coffin of their daughter. His appearance in person was preceded by a clip in which Philadelphia police officials testified to their conviction that Charles could help trace missing persons. His on-floor readings were likewise impressive, save when an opaque screen precluded sight of a studio guinea pig.

The only other person of whose presence I had previously been advised was Dr Adrian Parker, who spoke briefly on Near Death Experiences as an indication of the independence of consciousness from brain.

I had been given four questions the responses to which, albeit necessarily brief, were aimed at addressing the issue of communication evidence. One related to the SPR and its membership; a second asked how compelling was the evidence from people like Professor Gary Schwartz, Professor Fontana and myself. A third asked why I thought some within the scientific community had rejected that evidence, and a fourth asked whether there was any particular experience that had convinced me – with special reference to the Scole investigation and report.

I was given very little time to deal even with the first and last question, but had virtually no opportunity to explain the steps that had been taken both in the distant past and at present to eliminate all of the sensory clues on which skeptics like Randi continued to dwell, and to indicate the measure and importance of the recent work of Roy, Robertson and Schwartz, with which I had assumed the programme to be essentially concerned.

The programme ended with a slightly botched experiment in psychometric reading by Charles for which there was quite inadequate time, and then an entertaining card trick by Randi, who stated that everything Charles had told the audience could be attributed to cold reading, a statement so grotesquely at variance with his own performance as to be risible. Clearly a good many of the audience felt the same way, since at the end the percentages of believers, non-believers and uncertains had changed to 54, 24 and 22.

But, as Randi rightly said, the evidence is determined by scientific investigation (plug for his $1,000,000 offer amid cries of “phoney”) not by votes.


Before offering my general comments on what was wrong with the entire conception of the programme, which is likely to be seen by a very large number of people, may I examine the two aspects which I find disquieting? One is the vehemence and distress of the medium who said her interview gave a wholly false impression and left the clear impression that she was a fraud. I believe an independent person or group should be invited to examine the uncut and the edited version and issue a report.

The second concern relates to a very positive instruction I received from the person whom I believed to be the producer (actually assistant producer, I later learned) that I was not to mention the Jacqui Poole case when giving examples of impressive evidence of posthumous messages. (Many will know that this refers to a large number of highly evidential statements about a murdered woman given to the police shortly after the crime and resulting eventually in the conviction of the person accurately described and named). Ostensibly this was because it would cause distress to the relatives. The murder was more than 20 years ago. Details have been widely circulated on the Net and in the Police Gazette, and the case was the subject of a half hour TV programme in Ireland where the medium lives. It seems to me far more likely that the producers did not wish to confront Youens and French, both of whom are familiar with the strength of the case, with evidence they couldn't answer. I may be wrong, but this arbitrary prohibition is suspicious, all the more so since I learn that Youens, desperate to find holes in the evidence, has contacted the police officer responsible and found his theories shot to pieces by facts.

Although it will be seen that some attempt at balance was achieved, undue emphasis was given, and time devoted, to the views of Youens and French, neither of whom addressed themselves to the evidence, but concentrated (as indeed they were doubtless asked to) on such interesting but strictly irrelevant issues as human gullibility and techniques for fraud.

The deepest flaw in the entire programme was obsession with entertainment, based on the conviction that audiences interested in the most profoundly important issue for mankind need gimmickry, and are liable to switch off or over because “talking heads” aren't stimulating enough. While this is a belief common to television producers generally, when a serious topic is supposed to be under expert examination and discussion, it constitutes an insult both to the television studio audience and to subsequent viewers.

So quite apart from the more personal issues arising from cavalier and misleading treatment of invitees (one man told me he had spent three days rehearsing the answers he was to give to three questions from the production team, but was not only ignored but left stranded at the studio late at night after the departure of his last train), the uncut programme spent far too much time on matters essentially irrelevant to the question at issue, and on sheer gimmickry, and far too little time to learn from those familiar with the evidence what it was, how strong, and why all of the demonstrations seen by the audience were based on the wholly false premise that serious investigators of mediums were either unaware of those dangers or had been unable to devise safeguards against them when experimenting with mediums.

Despite the fact that there was a significant swing towards belief, the audience did so in the absence of the scientific evidence they should have been given the chance to consider, and for the presentation of which I had been specifically invited. Had I been given one quarter the time devoted to Randi the audience would have been in a better position to form a judgement.

As it is, I trust this message arrives in time to influence the cutting process.

Post-edited comments (August 18, 2003)

Not all addressees will have seen my earlier note of August 7th written immediately after the filming of Fulcrum TV’s “Ultimate Psychic Challenge” which was screened last night on Discovery Channel on Saturday, August 23rd, in advance of its repeat on Channel 4 during a Paranormal evening devoted to three programmes on mediumship and associated phenomena. I therefore append my original note (in italics) which explains the reasons for the criticisms which I and others had of the manner in which the show was formulated.

To fit over three hours of programming into the (slightly less than) one and a half hour slot, some severe cutting was necessary. The substance of this complaint is not that the programme as edited lacked balance between the negative and positive approaches, but that there was deliberate suppression of important and relevant material in favour of irrelevant gimmickry, with the result that viewers were denied what small opportunity they could have had to be aware of at least one crucial fact about the scientific evidence from mediumship.

We were constantly reminded that the programme was devoted solely to discovering the answer to the question: can we talk to the dead? I had been invited to give the scientific evidence, and given prior notification of four questions, previously discussed with the assistant producer Victoria Coker (see below) and recorded on email. Probably the most crucial question, which I was given all too little opportunity to answer, was:

“There are a number of scientists who are investigating the existence of the spirit world: how compelling is the evidence they are producing? (you, Fontana, Gary Schwartz etc.).”

It would be reasonable to conclude that this went to the heart of the issue. As stated below, I had barely an opportunity during the filming to point out that from the earliest days scientists had been aware of the need to guard against sensory leakage when testing mediums. However, this question and answer was cut entirely from the edited text. My contribution lasted a fraction over one minute. This compares with the minimum of five which I had been led to believe I would have, and contrasts with 40 or more minutes devoted to Randi.

What made this worse, and which I cite to justify my accusation that this crucial omission from what was already a severely truncated contribution was dishonest as well as deliberate, was that three and a half minutes at the end of the programme was devoted to a card trick by Randi which had not the remotest bearing on the subject.

Yet the brief passage excised from my remarks would have shown that most of the programme devoted to Randi’s hot and cold readings, and to two film clips and subsequent discussions by Tony Youens on the same subject, were irrelevant to the scientific evidence, particularly in the light of the single and double blind procedures adopted by Gary Schwartz and Robertson and Roy during the past five years.

Copyright © Montague Keen. 22nd August 2003

Acknowledgement: thanks to Victor Zammit for permission to reproduce this article from his website.

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James Randi’s Challenge a Big So What!


James Randi’s Challenge:


A Big “So What!”

by Loyd Auerbach


Loyd Auerbach, M.S., is the Director of the Office of Paranormal Investigations. He is a Consulting Editor and columnist for Fate magazine, an adjunct Professor at JFK University and President of The Psychic Entertainers Association. He holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology from Northwestern University and a graduate degree in Parapsychology from JFK University. He is the author of a number of books on the paranormal including Ghost Hunting: How to Investigate the Paranormal, Hauntings & Poltergeists: A Ghost Hunter’s Guide, and Mind Over Matter, besides videos and CDs.

I might actually title this essay “Why I no longer care about Randi’s One Million Dollar Challenge,” but honestly “So what!” sums up my feelings these days.

Over the last several years, I’ve been somewhat outspoken about the specific details of the rules of Randi’s challenge. But recently, when being harassed by yet another disbelieving type about the test, some kind of light – an epiphany of sorts – went on in my head.

The individual made a statement, with a question, that I often hear in variations from self-described skeptics (actually disbelievers):

“The Amazing Randi offers one million dollars for anyone who can demonstrate something paranormal. If psychic abilities are real, why has no one won the prize?”

Rather than responding as I have in the past with a discourse as to why I don’t believe anyone will win that money, I spontaneously switched gears. The following is an approximation of the remainder of the conversation:

“What would that prove?” I asked.

“Huh?” said the Skeptic.

“Why is Randi offering the money?” I asked.

“For anyone who can prove something paranormal,” said the Skeptic.

“If someone did win the million, what would that actually prove?” I asked.

“Huh?” said the Skeptic.

“I mean, if a psychic won the million dollars, other than the psychic walking away one million dollars richer, what would that prove to the skeptical community or to science?” I asked.

“That someone could do something psychic,” said the Skeptic with some confusion in his voice.

“Would it? If someone won Randi’s million dollars, would YOU accept that psychic abilities are real? Or even just possible?” I asked.

“Huh?” said the Skeptic.

“Would mainstream science accept the probability of psi, if not the reality, if some psychic won Randi’s million?” I asked.

“Uh-uh-huh?” said the Skeptic.

“Would the organized skeptics accept that psi is real, or would they be more likely to believe that Randi was simply fooled, scammed out, of his million? Would you?” I asked.

I received a blank stare from the Skeptic, then saw confusion appearing on his face.

I continued to push at him. “The fact is that people who do not accept the laboratory and other evidence for psi that already exists are unlikely to change their minds or their beliefs simply because someone beats Randi’s challenge and wins Randi’s money. In the name of science, many keep raising the issue of parsimony, of Occam’s Razor where psi is concerned. In this case, wouldn’t the simpler explanation as far as the skeptics are concerned be that Randi was scammed out of the money? In the name of science, many raise the issue of repeatability. If someone beat Randi’s challenge once, how does this meet the criteria of repeatability? What does this prove?”

The Skeptic was silent, confusion and frustration (and a little anger) continuing on his face.

I finished with, “If you can honestly tell me – I mean look me in the eye and tell me honestly – that you would be open to psi’s existence if a psychic won Randi’s money, I’ll give you 20 dollars right here and now. It’s not a million, but to be honest, your opinion isn’t worth that much to me.”

He walked away. (Okay, he stormed off.)

I’ve since used this argument on a few others, whenever Randi’s challenge is raised like a weapon against the field of parapsychology, and against the existence (real or just potential) of psi.

To recap: If someone wins Randi’s million, he/she will be one million dollars richer. However, as far as science and the skeptics are concerned, the simpler answer to this conundrum is that Randi (or his chosen panel of judges) was fooled.

In other words, So What if someone wins the money. It won’t change the prevailing attitudes towards parapsychology, or the prevailing beliefs of most who waiver to the disbelieving side of the center where psi is concerned.

As this is the case (prove me wrong, somebody – please!), we waste our time even giving Randi’s challenge the time of day.

It’s not a benchmark for science, or even the skeptics. Why should we care?

So what!

Loyd Auerbach’s Website


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James Randi’s Skeptical “Challenge”


James Randi’s Skeptical “Challenge”


Beware Pseudoskepticism

by Sean (aka “Peebrain”)


Reproduced from

On January 29th, 2005, we were talking about the James Randi $1 Million Paranormal Challenge in the chat room. If you don’t know what the Challenge is, the short version is that this ex-magician, James Randi, is willing to give a million dollars to anyone who can prove something paranormal. It’s common for people to ask us why we don’t take the Challenge with all the stuff we talk about on PsiPog. Clearly we qualify for the paranormal, and it would seem like easy money. While talking in the chat room, annie made the observation that the prize was in the form of bonds, and not cash. She tried to explain to me how bonds can be “worth” a million dollars legally, but in reality could be completely worthless.

So I decided to do some research on what might be going on. I had thought about taking the Challenge, and I know some of my friends have thought about it too… million bucks seems pretty sweet. But I’ve heard of stories about how Randi is dishonest, and it’s all a scam. Either way, I figured researching would be the best way to figure out what the deal was.

I started by e-mailing Randi, and everything just went downhill from there. For me to type out everything that happened, it would take me forever, and it would be really boring to read. So this is what I’m going to do; I’m going to summarize what happened. Now obviously I am biased because I played a key role in this situation. I will try to summarize without being biased. But, you don’t have to trust me… I will post the logs of what actually happened at the end, and if you want to take the time to read through it all and confirm my summary, then go right ahead. Also, because I am aware that I am biased, I am open for any discussion and questions on what happened. The best way to get in contact with me would be the chat room, the Q&A, or as a last resort, you can e-mail me at peebrain [at] psipog [dot] net.

What is a bond, and why is it different than cash?

First, you have to understand how bonds work. I was really confused at first – I mean, if Randi is offering a million dollars, how can it be “worthless”? It seems very clear cut.

Bonds are certificates of debt. That means that a bond is basically an IOU. Corporations or governments need money to fund projects, so they go to rich people and say, “hey, give us some money, and we’ll pay you some interest, and then after a while, we’ll give you all your money back”.
Bonds have four key elements: who issued them, what the interest rate is, when they’ll give the money back, and how much money was borrowed to begin with. The best way to show how it works is just to give you an example.

Let’s say Bob’s Bakery needs some money to buy baking equipment. Now, once they have the equipment, they can bake and make money – but they don’t have any startup money to get the gears in motion. So they go to a rich guy and say, “Hey, if you give us $10,000, we’ll pay you $100 every month for 24 months, then we’ll give you your $10,000 back to you”. This is appealing to Bob’s Bakery because they can get their company started, and once it gets going, they’ll start making money. From their profits, they’ll take $100 each month and give it to the rich guy. Then after 24 months, they have a successful business, and pay the entire debt back to the rich guy. Bob’s Baker keeps growing and making more money, and Bob is happy. The rich guy is also happy, because he just gives $10,000 to Bob, and doesn’t have to do anything. The rich guy doesn’t have to bake, or buy equipment, or hire employees, or any of that garbage. He just invests a small amount of his money, and in return gets $100 more a month, and all his money back after 24 months.

So, that’s why and how bonds exist. Rich people want more money, and poor entrepreneurs want a successful business. (Of course, I’m simplifying this entire situation just to get the point across; in reality it’s a little more complicated).

How can bonds be legally worth money, but be worthless?

Where is the problem? Well, what if Bob’s Baker doesn’t succeed, and goes bankrupt? What happens to the $10,000? Basically: it’s lost. Rich guy doesn’t get his $100 a month, and rich guy loses out on $10,000.

How does this all translate to the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge?

The prize isn’t cash. The prize is bonds that are WORTH a million dollars. So, there are a lot of Bob’s Baker people running around with the money, and they all gave Randi an IOU. And all these IOU’s total to a million dollars.

Since the prize money is in the form of bonds, then it is possible that the bonds are worthless. For example, maybe a lot of the bonds are from corporations that are on the verge of going bankrupt? Or maybe the corporations don’t have to pay off the bonds for another 40 years? In our example, Bob had to pay everything back in 24 months… this is called the “maturity” of the bond. Some bonds don’t mature for a few years, others don’t mature for a few decades. If Randi awards the prize of a bond that doesn’t mature for 40 years, then legally I do have a million dollars… but I can’t USE the million dollars until the bonds mature! As you can see, there are a lot of different scenarios where the bonds could be LEGALLY worth a million dollars, but in reality they could be worthless.

Does the Challenge have worthless bonds?

The next logical step is to find out what the bonds are really worth. To do that, I e-mailed Randi at the address he provided on his website. I politely pointed out where it said the prize was in bonds in the Challenge rules, and then I asked what corporations issued the bonds, what the interest rates were, and when the maturity dates are. These are the main factors at determining if the bonds are worthless or not.

Randi replied with, “Apply, or go away.”

I explained to him that I wanted clarification on what he was offering. That this had nothing to do with my claim, but they were questions aimed at getting more information about the Challenge.
Randi replied with, “Immediately convertible into money. That’s all I’m going to get involved in. Apply, or disappear.”

Obviously that doesn’t answer my question at all. Immediately convertible into how much money? Convertible through who?

Enter Kramer.

I e-mailed Randi again, asking for clarification. I didn’t mean to be annoying, but they weren’t answering the question. Why would I apply if the bonds were worthless? The Challenge rules state that I am responsible for all costs incurred in the pursuit of the prize money… so it’s quite possible that I could jump through all the hoops, spend my own money, and only have a pile of worthless bonds to show for it.

Randi passed me off to Kramer. Kramer’s job is to handle all paranormal claims. Kramer introduced himself in an e-mail, “Randi has directed me to correspond with you directly regarding your inquiries into the JREF Challenge. […] I handle all Challenge-related activities, so write to me here if you have more questions.”

Ok, fair enough. So, I politely explained my situation to Kramer, and asked the same questions again. Kramer replied with, “So far, you’re just full of shit. That’s OUR perspective. Apply or go away. We don’t have to prove anything to you. If you really have a claim, you’ll apply.”


Enter JREF Forums.

I’m not dumb… before e-mailing them, I had suspicion that things would get ugly. That’s why I painfully tried to stay as polite, logical, and consistent from the start. Before emailing them, I noticed that Kramer would post e-mail conversations in the forums on their website, and comment about how the person e-mailing them is a moron. Now that I was the moron e-mailing them, I searched the forums for Kramer’s new thread on the idiot asking about the bonds.

And I found it.

I expected to find a bunch of pseudo-skeptics making fun of me. And I did. What I didn’t expect to find is that Kramer EDITED the e-mails before posting. All of the sudden, his “full of shit” comment was translated to “full of baloney.” And Randi’s “Apply, or disappear” was translated to “Apply, or don’t apply.” Similar minor translations were made to convert rude text, into stern but polite text.

Now, is that a big deal? Not really. Obviously it was a big deal to Kramer though, or he wouldn’t have taken the time to edit it.

Luckily, my message was still getting across on the public log in the forum. Perhaps he edited the logs to make Randi and himself look better, but my questions were still there. To my surprise, some of the forum members sided with me. They thought my questions were legitimate.

Misinformation and misdirection.

Since the other members agreed with my questions, Kramer decided to post an answer to them. This answer never made it back to my e-mail, and the only reason I found it was because I knew Kramer would try to make me look like an idiot on the forum (like he did with everyone else who e-mailed him privately). Kramer’s answer was that the prize was CASH, and not bonds.

Whoa, ok, that’s a surprise. The rules state: “…JREF will pay to the claimant the remainder of the reward, for a total of US$1,000,000. One million dollars in negotiable bonds is held by an investment firm in New York…” This can be read either way. Personally, I read it to say the prize is bonds. Kramer decided to interpret it that the prize is CASH (based on the “US$1,000,000” quote).

So I’m the idiot, right? Luckily, there were others who saw it my way. Maybe they didn’t believe in the paranormal, but they were logical enough to see that I brought up a legitimate issue. If Kramer says the prize is cash, then the rules page should be changed.

During this time period, I began posting on the forums to clarify my position (and to point out that Kramer had edited the e-mails). The arguments were pretty interesting, but the meat of the matter still was: the rules aren’t clear that the prize is cash, and if the prize is bonds, then what are the details about the bonds.

The next thing that happened absolutely blew me away. Kramer posted on the forums that he received an e-mail from me. In this e-mail, I complimented Kramer’s hard work, and told him the issue was resolved. The only problem is: I never wrote or sent that e-mail.

A false e-mail?

I was in shock when I read what Kramer had posted. This wasn’t minor edits to sway people one way or the other – this was blatant fabrication. To be fair, Kramer could have been a victim of someone posing as me. But let’s look at the evidence.

I e-mailed both Randi and Kramer from a private account. I had not used that account for anything else. Nobody on the forums, nobody on PsiPog, and not even my close friends know what the account is. Only myself, Randi, and Kramer. For a third party to fake the e-mail, they would have to either e-mail Kramer from another account (which should make Kramer suspicious), or they would have had to fake an e-mail from my private account (which only myself, Randi, and Kramer know about).

On top of that, Kramer had already shown that he’s willing to edit e-mails. I attempted to ask for a way to look into this fake e-mail situation more, but it quickly got brushed away under all the other arguments. Kramer certainly didn’t care.

A noble idea.

All the fraud aside, most members agreed that something should be done because things weren’t clear from the start. A poster offered to write up an FAQ about the Challenge that could be posted on the website. The idea is that Kramer could direct people to the FAQ when they ask common questions, and this could save Kramer time.

In the drafting of the FAQ, the poster put a question about the form of the money. We had concluded on the forum that it was in cash, and not bonds. Remember? In the FAQ, the poster added the question:

“If someone wins, how will they be paid?”

Although the prize money is held in bonds as a way to publicly show that the money really does exist, the bonds will be converted to US dollars before being paid. The first $10,000 of the prize money will be paid by check, as stated in the Challenge rules. The usual method for paying an amount as large as the remaining $990,000 is via electronic transfer, and it is reasonable to assume that that is how this prize money will be paid as well.”

This is what Kramer had been telling us all along, and this was identified early as the source of “my confusion”. Kramer loved the FAQ, and decided to officially post it on the website so he could refer people to it. Of course, he made a few edits to the draft. The final version of the FAQ is below:

“If I pass the formal test and win the Challenge, how will I be paid?”

The first $10,000 of the prize money will be paid by check, as stated in the Challenge rules, immediately upon the successful demonstration of their claim. The prize money is held in the form of bonds as a way to publicly show that the money really does exist. These immediately convertible bonds will be awarded to the Challenge winner within 10 days of passing the formal test. The manner of transfer of these bonds will be at the discretion of the JREF and the Challenge winner, in accordance with acceptable legal standards.”

It turns out the prize IS THE BONDS.


So my original assumption was right after all. The prize is the bonds. And my questions have still gone unanswered. What is there to say? Well, the most obvious thing I’ve learned from this is that Kramer certainly isn’t trustworthy. He edited the e-mails, and told everyone the prize was in cash. And no one knows where the false e-mail came from (and Kramer hasn’t provided anyone with information that could help us figure it out). At the time of writing this, he hasn’t addressed the original issues which sparked this entire fiasco (who issued the bonds, what are the interest rates, and when are the maturity dates?). And he hasn’t addressed the issue of misleading EVERYONE on the forums, by stating that the prize is cash.

While the members of the forums show different levels of skepticism, Kramer certainly does not show anything relating to real skepticism. His mentality is that of a fundamentalist – he is right, everyone else is wrong, and it’s ok to “bend” the truth to convince others. This is the exact opposite of healthy skepticism. If you are seriously considering taking the James Randi $1 Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, it would be very naive to think it’s as clear cut and simple as they portray it. When you put your signature on that application, you are signing a contract with them. If they have a hard time playing fair when it’s just a few e-mails, imagine how they’ll act when a million dollars is on the line (assuming that the bonds are actually worth anything to begin with, of course).

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