The Million-Dollar Challenge Ends

Some news from earlier this year you might have missed: James Randi is officially ending his million-dollar challenge to those who claim they have psychic or supernatural powers. The challenge will be offered for two more years, and assuming no one succeeds and claims the money, will be terminated in March 2010.

It’s not hard to see why Randi would do this. After ten years without a single successful applicant, I think he’s made his point. Unsurprisingly, the best-known, most prominent psychic pretenders (Sylvia Browne, John Edward, etc.) have refused to even come near the challenge. The people who do apply are usually either recalcitrant and uncooperative or obviously mentally disturbed, in either case forcing Randi’s staff to spend inordinate amounts of time and effort trying to get them to commit to a clear, testable claim. Here are some typical applications from the JREF’s blog:

There are alternate versions of myself in different types of highly evolved states that work interchangeably to form the time process in its phasic reflective capacitations of experiential transience.

I want to show the matrix. To prove solutions and cures are withheld. Prove manipulations of sinister intent exist.

This money can be more effectively used to promote the causes of scientific inquiry and skepticism, rather than being held in trust while its caretakers try to sort through this river of nonsense. If there were any prospect that high-profile psychic claimants would agree to be tested, then I would encourage the challenge to continue, since debunking their claims in a major public forum could attract attention and interest that would greatly advance the skeptics’ cause. But of course, these famous psychic pretenders know full well that this would be the outcome, and so they steadfastly avoid Randi’s challenge. From their perspective, sad to say, it’s a rational decision: why risk near-certain exposure and embarrassment by going up against a canny skeptic, when they can make comparable sums by safely exploiting the credulous and the gullible?

Interestingly, Randi’s challenge is not the only one of its kind. The Skeptic’s Dictionary lists numerous similar challenges offered by skeptical groups around the world. So, to handle the inevitable flood of flimflam artists who will step forward just after the challenge ends and announce that they could have won it, I advise pointing them to one of these challenges instead. A person who could win one or several of them would have an excellent claim for having their powers scientifically validated. Randi has also said, I believe, that he’d consider temporarily resurrecting the challenge if a famous psychic wanted to apply – so we can rest assured that woo-woo advocates will not be able to wriggle away from those pesky requests for proof, either now or in the years to come.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.


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