Wednesday, February 13, 2008

JREF to end Million Dollar prize, morons happy

Alas, it had to happen I suppose - the JREF is ending the Million Dollar prize so they can use the funds to further research in other areas. For those that don't know, the James Randi Educational Foundation has sponsored a 1 Million dollar prize to anyone who can prove the existence of paranormal or extraordinary powers claimed by many weirdos and mentalists. So far, in 10 years, many have tried and all have failed to claim that prize.

Any dipshit out there who claims to have extrasensory powers like mind reading, spoon bending, telepathy, dowsing, telekinesis, or palm/tarot/tea leaf reading (and they all claim its 100% true) can try and claim the prize. All they have to do is state what they can do and under what conditions, then prove it. Its seems too easy to be true, but the problem lies not within the prize, but the people who would claim it. Here's the skinny from the JREF site :

At JREF, we offer a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The JREF does not involve itself in the testing procedure, other than helping to design the protocol and approving the conditions under which a test will take place. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant will be asked to perform a relatively simple preliminary test of the claim, which if successful, will be followed by the formal test. Preliminary tests are usually conducted by associates of the JREF at the site where the applicant lives. Upon success in the preliminary testing process, the "applicant" becomes a "claimant."

So as long as you can repeat your amazing powers under formal conditions you're rolling in it - and this is where people always fail. For instance, say you can use telekinesis (power of mind to move objects at a distance) to move pages of a phone book. They will observe you using your power, figure out the most likely real reason for the movement to be ocurring, eliminate that variable from the second test and get you to retry. In fact, that's exactly what James did on a TV show a few years ago to supposed mental master James Hydrick - see here for the clip. Ignore the fact he looks like a tool in that outfit, his claims are no different to any other supposed psychic out there.

So why has no one claimed the prize in nearly 10 years? Because psychic abilities are all bullshit. The ones who make the claims and take the test are always proven wrong - always. Remember, the protocol and testing procedure are agreed by both the tester and testee, so none of them can claim afterward it was an unfair test. How can it be unfair if they agree to it? Some do anyway, but it makes them look even more foolish than they did before.

Another aspect is the ones who are challenged to take the test but don't - i.e. Sylvia Browne, Uri Geller, any Homoeopathist. They give varying reasons but they all boil down to the fact that if they took the test, they'd be exposed as frauds and lose their income the get from fleecing the gullible.

The reason the JREF is willing to put up a million bucks for this is that all of this woo-woo (to use a Randi-ism) is merely well known stage tricks, sleight of hand, known human behaviour or a combo of all three. Due to the fact that James Randi is an experienced magician he knows most of the ways to fool people and how people fool themselves. Check out any of his stuff on YouTube and the JREF website for many hours of interesting viewing.

So, after many years the million dollar prize is coming to an end. Randi says on his site that the money could be better spent than sitting in an investment portfolio gathering interest, and I do agree with that. Money like that could be spent on any number of worthwhile activities to enlighten people to the reality of scam artists.

On the flipside however, we lose the ability to stick it to the charlatans and purveyors of woo out there who swindle people with their parlour tricks by saying "prove it and you'll get 1 million bucks". Its fun to watch them squirm when asked if they've taken the challenge or not. They prevaricate and delay, dissemble and deny but they never actually take the test because of the damage it would do to their businesses.

So, well done JREF for the years of hard work spent debunking the craptacular idiots out there. I can only hope someone else (Penn and Teller!) can do something similar so the pressure is kept on these woo merchants.

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