The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF website ) was founded by James Randi in 1996. According to the JREF web site, “Its aim is to promote critical thinking by reaching out to the public and media with reliable information about paranormal and supernatural ideas so widespread in our society today. … To raise public awareness of these issues, the Foundation offers a $1,000,000 prize to any person or persons who can demonstrate any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability of any kind under mutually agreed upon scientific conditions..”
Located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the Foundation is funded through member contributions, grants, and conferences.
Randi courts controversy, but now even the JREF web site is the subject of a bitter dispute. On July 18, 2002 Randi wrote in his commentary: “We need the help of readers. We’ve been informed that the JREF web site has been blocked from several school and library computer systems. This, if true, is a serious breach of our right to freedom of speech. We’re an educational foundation, and one of our major purposes is to reach schools and libraries. We take this threat very seriously … We intend to take action against those who might have blocked us.”
Those who support this blocking claim that this is because of the contents of the bulletin board, alleging that it contains “incessant discussions involving obscenities, vulgarity, pedophilia, material of a sexual nature as well as a general lack of respect among members for each other which occurs on the bulletin board. We are asking you to visit this board and make a thorough search of its content. If you agree that this should be an adults only board, as some have implied it is, we urge you to ask your schools and libraries to block this site … This is being brought to your attention because the opening pages and other parts of the site do not contain the material found on its bulletin board. Many people can be misled, therefore, into believing the site is suitable for their children.”
The Randi Prize
Randi’s main claim to fame is that he offers a million dollar prize to “any person or persons who can demonstrate any psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability of any kind under satisfactory observing conditions”. According to the James Randi Educational Foundation web site, “JREF will not entertain any demand that the prize money be deposited in escrow, displayed in cash, or otherwise produced in advance of the test being performed.”
The conditions for the prize are set out on the JREF web site: Randi Challenge.
The rules are conceived by a showman, not a scientist, and make little sense from a genuinely scientific point of view. The Introduction to the rules states, “All tests must be designed in such a way that the results are self-evident, and no judging process is required.”
Most scientific research, including research in particle physics, clinical medicine, conventional psychology and parapsychology, depends on statistical results that need to be analysed by experts to judge the significance of what has happened. Practically all serious scientific research would fail to qualify for the Randi prize.
Contenders have to pay for their own travelling expenses if they want to go to Randi to be tested. (Rule 6: “All expenses such as transportation, accommodation and/or other costs incurred by the applicant/claimant in pursuing the reward, are the sole responsibility of the applicant/claimant.”)
Also, applicants waive their legal rights. (Rule 7: “When entering into this challenge, the applicant surrenders any and all rights to legal action against Mr. Randi, against any person peripherally involved and against the James Randi Educational Foundation, as far as this may be done by established statutes. This applies to injury, accident, or any other damage of a physical or emotional nature and/or financial, or professional loss, or damage of any kind.”)
Applicants also give Randi complete control over publicity. (Rule 3: “Applicant agrees that all data – photographic, recorded, written, etc. – of any sort gathered as a result of the testing may be used freely by the JREF.”)
For many years this “prize” has been Randi’s stock-in-trade as a media skeptic, but even some other skeptics are skeptical about its value as anything but a publicity stunt. For example, CSICOP founding member Dennis Rawlins pointed out that not only does Randi act as “policeman, judge and jury” but quoted him as saying “I always have an out”! (Fate, October 1981).
A leading Fellow of CSICOP, Ray Hyman, has 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.”
Randi’s fellow showman Loyd Auerbach, President of the Psychic Entertainers Association, is likewise sceptical about this “prize” and sees it as of no scientific value.
– The Challenge, Part One Michael Prestcott at his blog.
– Sceptic Changes the Rules An article from Paranormal Review.
– The Myth of James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge From the Daily Grail.
– More under Randi, James.