Randi’s 1 Million Dollar Skeptical Challenge to End in 2 years: What Will Woo Do?

January 6, 2008

I didn’t believe it at first, but it’s true: James Randi’s famous 1 million dollar challenge now has a final deadline, after which it will be discontinued.

When I first heard about this, I was sad and a little disappointed. But on second thought, it’s really a pretty smart move. In theory, the challenge was a brilliant way to tell psychics and other woo-meisters to put up or shut up. But the reality has played out differently:

Our expectations at first were that we’d attract major personalities by this means, but they’ve avoided having to take the test by simply not applying; those who have actually applied are generally honestly self-deluded persons who have difficulty stating what they can do, which can be understood if they really don’t know what they’re experiencing; we at JREF have gone through involved procedures to help them recognize their problems. Usually, they have indicated that they don’t know what real scientific rules are, when it comes down to their actually being properly tested.

Early this year, Randi and the other folks at the JREF decided to face facts: things weren’t working as planned, and something had to be done. Mystics, astrologers, psychics, John Edward, Sylvia Browne, dowsers, and all the rest were basically just getting away with dismissive technicalities and giving implausible excuses and then dropping the subject. Originally, the plan was to change the rules to screen out mentally ill applicants and target celebrity woo-meisters more directly, something that was done last March.

This is really just a more dramatic move in that direction: think of it not as the challenge giving up, but rather as giving paranormalists a hard deadline. Randi will now be able to go on Larry King and put it pretty pointedly: the test is ending and you’d better get in gear and step up to the challenge instead of endlessly putting it off with excuses. It’s now or never: will you step up to the challenge? Or will you continue to run away and make excuses?

Once the prize expires, it will also put a nice solid period on the whole affair. For ten years, a million dollars was held out to paranormalists of all stripes. A million dollars that they could have just won and then given to charity if they had pleased. Or spend on promoting this amazing new insight into reality that had so far eluded all scientists and other natural observers. All they had to do was show their abilities under controlled conditions, where cheating and other non-supernatural forces were controlled for. And no one could do it: no one could even come close.

Or can they? Two years is a long time to prepare. If you can move things with your mind, if you can predict the future, if you can even see an aura: now is the time to prove it. All you need to do is get a local media outlet or other qualifying skeptics group to check out and report on/preliminarily witness a demonstration of your power in action. The rules are simple, sensible, and open to public scrutiny. We’re waiting… but now we won’t be waiting forever…

Skeptic Beats Psychics on Year End Predictions

December 25, 2007

Skeptico has been looking back over the decidedly non-psychic predictions he made on January 1st of last year, and has concluded that with just a little common sense and guesswork, he’s got alleged professional psychics beat.

Now, the cynics among you will probably say I ignored the predictions I got wrong and just concentrated on the hits. Well, I never claimed to be 100% accurate. And as Sylvia Browne said, only God is 100% accurate. Others may say that some of the predictions weren’t really that surprising. Well, at least I didn’t predict that Tiger Woods would win a golf tournament.

Of course, making obvious predictions, and then counting the hits and not the misses, is all that professional psychics do anyway. And I still think I did better than them. Remember that when, this year, we get the same bunch of lame playing the odds guesses, reprinted uncritically by a gullible media. And although these “psychic predictions” might look like just a bit of fun, remember that uncritically reporting this nonsense as if it were real gives cover for vultures like Browne to prey on the recently bereaved. They also waste police time by forcing them to follow up their made-up psychic “impressions”. I did better than any of them by just guessing.

So if you’re wondering what 2008 will bring, the lesson here is to do yourself a favor and just think about it. Or, better yet, go out and make it happen (like whomever got Christina Aguilera pregnant did). And if you positively, absolutely must give someone money to make up amazing “paranormal” predictions off the top of their heads, get a skeptic. We’re much better at it!

Are you an Idiot? Astrology.com wants to know!

September 1, 2007

I didn’t really expect much from a site called Astrology.com. But even so, when I tried out their “Are you a psychic?” test on a lark I was still unprepared for the colossal stupidity that I discovered.

You see, many of the questions on the test confront you with the following image and question:

q2.gif 2. There is a picture printed beneath this gray card. What is the picture of?

There are then a bunch of options offered, such as “A baseball” or “A basketball” and so on.

The “card,” of course, is a simple .gif image, not a card, not printed. There is no “beneath.” There is no “other side” to a picture on a computer screen. The very idea makes no sense whatsoever. Just to be sure, I even scanned the page’s HTML code to see if they had actually tried to layer a second image behind the first, which would still be ridiculous, but at least show some effort. Nothing.

A real person designed this test. I prefer to imagine that they were a secret skeptic, having a good laugh. The alternative is simply frightening.