JREF Brings Pressure to ‘Psychic’ Frauds

Even though the James Randi Educational Foundation has been offering huge sums of money since 1996 to any psychic who could prove his/her supernatural powers, the current prize of $1,000,000 doesn’t seem to get as many headlines as one would hope.

But since Randi’s appearance on “ABC’s Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief” last week, a number of articles about the prize are popping up — and they’re not only publicizing the Challenge, they’re exposing specific targets.

So far, no one has been able to collect on the money, not even a well known psychic like [James] Van Praagh, whom the organization is singling out…

During the episode, Van Praagh performed a reading on “Good Morning America” anchor Josh Elliott.

Although Elliott initially appeared surprised by Van Praagh’s accuracy, he revealed that “every talking point of the reading” seemed to have been lifted from a two-year-old interview with Elliott that was available online.

“I’d known there was plenty of information regarding my past readily available with a cursory Internet search, including an extensive interview that included all the talking points [such as] my dead relatives and my adoption,” Elliot said during the show. “Except, I thought, for [my mom's boyfriend] Leo.”

Elliott rechecked that interview when he got home from interviewing Van Praagh and discovered that interview had a reference to Leo’s passing, “able to be exploited along with the rest.”

During the show, Van Praagh denied using Google, but declined to do a reading on Elliot’s segment producer, claiming he had become too tired.

Even TIME magazine’s NewsFeed blog is jumping in on the action:

[The $1,000,000] seems about as safe as offering to fling money at any WWE wrestler who takes down an MMA fighter, or telling your local bar’s karaoke star you’ll pay them top dollar when they have a record top the Billboard charts.

Of course, James Van Praagh and Sylvia Browne and John Edward and Allison DuBois and Rebecca Rosen are all frauds. It’s not just harmless entertaining — they’re ripping off people whose emotions are already frail after the loss of a loved one.

If they want to show they’re actual psychics, JREF’s just begging for them to take the Challenge. It would be incredible to see someone even come *close* to winning the money. Of course, none of the famous “psychics” will ever accept the Challenge because even they know it’s all just a well-known magic trick. They have no actual powers, but who cares about doing the right thing when the money is rolling in, right?

At least JREF is egging them on:

Keep bringing the pressure, Randi.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Anonymous

    Ironically, (or was it a premonition!?) I did a blog post on psychics today: http://coffeelovingskeptic.com/?p=731 it’s good to see more pressure being put on the fraudulent industry.

  • Anonymous

    Ironically, (or was it a premonition!?) I did a blog post on psychics today: http://coffeelovingskeptic.com/?p=731 it’s good to see more pressure being put on the fraudulent industry.

  • Anonymous

    I’m greatly encouraged by news from the colonies these days.

  • guest

    “The $1,000,000] seems about as safe as offering to fling money at
    any WWE wrestler who takes down an MMA fighter…”You need a different example as this has been done by Brock Lesnar.

  • http://diaryofamessylady.wordpress.com/ Lauren

    It’s too bad none of them will take up the offer. But I suppose we can’t expect them to willingly show themselves as frauds. If all were so easy, why, none would suffer in this world!

    • Anonymous

      The very fact they don’t take the offer is itself damning. It means they know that they’re lying. The only possible defense of one of these cracks is that they believe their own bullshit and are thus delusional. Randi destroys this possible defense, since a true believer in his/her own “craft” would jump at the opportunity to “prove” it and make a cool 1 million besides. Other delusional saps have taken (and of course failed) the challenge because they really thought they could do it (or they thought they could fool Randi). These assholes don’t, which proves them to be exploitative liars.

      (Google has to learn context-aware ads soon. I’m now being offered my “2011 psychic reading FREE!”)

      • Anonymous

        The challenge is meaningless by scientific standards. It’s not a study and it can’t be replicated. Also it is entirely controlled by one person who has no scientific experience, is known to have strong views and has published no scientific peer reviewed papers on the subject, The challenge carries no scientific weight whatsoever.Even if Randi was actually qualified to administer this type of test(which he is not), the fact remains that the test is NOT scientific or consistent due to several factors. The most important being that he refuses to test everyone that appies. There is no pre-screen either. He simply refuses to respond to or acknowledge applications and attempts to accept his challenge. By doing this, the main claim of the challenge, -that no one can pass it and therefore psychic ability does not exist- is voided and any tenuous claims to being scientific are invalidated. Skeptics seem to think that this challenge means something; that if psychic ability were real, someone would pass the test. This assumption rests on the belief that this challenge is reasonable and fairly administered. But where is the proof of this? None to this date. Scientific? No. Fair and balanced? NOT even close!!

        • Anonymous

          Randi does not administer the test by himself. In fact, many tests don’t involve him at all but his foundation, which actually employs people. The conditions of the test are agreed to between the JREF and the claimant, precisely to avoid them later claimer unfair standards.

          The fact that not every applicant is given a preliminary test does NOT in any way show that psychic claims are credible. It’s simply impossible for JREF to test every single crackpot claim on its budget, so they are inevitably forced to reject some outright.

          You wrong that “it can’t be replicated”. If someone were able to prove, in a formal test, their paranormal abilities, there is no reason to suppose this could not be repeated.

          As for saying that there is no scientific credibility in saying that “psychic abilities do not exist” it has the same credibility as “flying pink elephants do not exist”. There has never been a demonstration of paranormal abilities in a controlled scientific environment despite numerous calls, previous scientific studies, attractive money prizes and the incredible wealth that would be bestowed on anyone who could credibly claim scientifically proven psychic abilities.

          • Anonymous

            Let me first start out by saying that the “flying pink elephant” argument is simply an over-used and, quite frankly, a condescending attempt to deflect from the actual topic. I won’t speculate on where the argument came from, but I will tell you that it is one that seldom if ever is used as a first line of defense or offense. We can waste time discussing the reasons this argument is weak, or we can continue discussing the actual topic at hand. The choice is yours.

            In regards to your statement that technically James Randi is not the one sitting in the room administering the test, I think it speaks for itself that his name and his mouth is attached to every aspect of this process. Literally! They don’t call it the “James Randi Educational Foundation” for nothing. If your don’t believe me, then feel free to visit randi.org to verify. Wait, Randi, Randi…where have I heard that name before…?

            I would also like to ask you this question: If the theory that all applicants are not pre-screened because it’s impossible to “test every crackpot claim on their budget” then what is the criteria for being diagnosed as a “crackpot”? Is there a controlled, scientific standard of measurement that JREF uses when determining whose claims are and are not “crackpot-ish”? For giggles, let’s just say that there IS a “crackpot test”. That still doesn’t give JREF and Randi the greenlight to claim anything, especially when the actual test has never, I repeat NEVER been actually administered.

    • Anonymous

      It’s too bad that he won’t even allow most people to take the challenge.  Yep, he has blindly denied so many without even attempting to pre-screen them or as some have stated “weed out the crazies”.   He should put HIS money where his mouth is and honor his responsibility to actually test people.

  • Rich Wilson

    I just about rear ended someone the other day when a radio ad came on for California Psychics.  (You can google for the url, I don’t given them any link-love).  You see, their psychics have real power.  They even test them!  And only 2% pass the test!  They MUST be good!

  • dauntless

    Everyone should retweet the JREF tweet, or something similar @JamesVanPraagh! to really put the pressure on!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=820924697 Ben Reimers

    What annoys me most is that popular media, like breakfast talk TV, will “interview” these people and present everything they say in a completely uncritical light. They just spout their crap and get away with it while the hosts sit to the side and fawn over them.

    • Anonymous

      You mean like this article and many more popular media outlets currently  supporting James Randi and letting him spout his crap in a completely “uncritical light”?  It works both ways. 

  • Sambricky

    I think JREF should do a reality tv show to challenge these people

    • dauntless

      Yeah, people would really watch that. Well, maybe people would watch it if it was snuggled in between episodes of Ghost Hunters and Paranormal State.

    • Anonymous

      I’m sure he would strongly agree with you considering that a television spot is EXACTLY what he wants.  He is not seeking the truth, he is seeking publicity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1019365643 John J. Ronald

    Beyond Belief indeed.  It’s beyond belief that woo-woo crap even gets any mainstream media attention.  Good on James  Randi for calling them out on their B.S.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_OAUXAA362EXWLYVMPJOKLFB5JQ Incipient Madness

     Did I read this right? James Randi has a billion dollars in play? Cash this in and put people t work fixing bridges in Minnesota or digging the University Line train tunnels in Houston. That fund will never pay out. Building infrastructure will pay today in increased consumer spending and later on in cool infrastructure.

    • Mike

      A million.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000892067766 Anne Hatzakis

    As someone who has BEEN a professional Tarot card reader, I must state that NOT ALL readers are frauds. I have worked for 25 years to hone my skills and have as little love for scammers as anyone else. I cannot EXPLAIN how it works any more than I can explain how quantum mechanics works.

    However, with some of the “debunking” of readers that has been done the readers were not allowed to use their tools — which in my case would be a deck of 78 cards with images on them that provide for 4.566176969818464e+18 DIFFERENT combinations of 10 cards for a reading.A reading can be highly individual, and IF you have a reader who (like I do) insists on NOT knowing anything about you before the reading and does NOT “investigate” the person getting the reading beforehand — you can get some statistically improbable results.If JREF were to go to the “street readers” in New Orleans with this same challenge, I can guarantee that at least ONE of those readers would walk away from the reading VERY RICH. And it would likely be one of the ones with the least “hype” about their tables or their skills.

    • Last hussar

      Go then, claim the prize.

      Or shut up and accept you are fooling yourself as well as others.

      I don’t care which.  However take one of those 2 options: see if you can walk out with the million.  It would be a noble gesture, because you’d never have to charge again (or at least you could reduce your prices, or if you already do it free go part time on your job to help more people).

      If JREF were to go to the “street readers” in New Orleans with this same challenge, I can guarantee that at least ONE of those readers would walk away from the reading VERY RICH.

      It’s an open challenge – they are free to approach him.

    • dauntless

      They would let you use your cards. You agree to the terms of the test before the test. If you claim your specific cards have some kind of power, and is part of the trick, they’d let you use them.

      Go for it, take the challenge. Prove to the world the existence of the supernatural. Donate the million to the most selfless thing you can think of, or keep it for yourself. What do you have to lose? Your own self-delusion?

  • T-Rex

    psychic fraud? That a little redundant, isn’t it? 

  • Cunning_B

    Yeah the whole Psychics thing is pretty crazy, came across this the other day, apparently TV Psychic readings are all the rage these days.  How would that even work!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X