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might sound like good news, but I'm sure the spin will be, 'we've had this challenge for 12 years, and not one person claimed the prize'

Anyway, you're rebuttal is excellent, but it's long bothered me that too few people speak out against the loopholes in the challenge. Skeptics often go unchallenged when they bring up the challenge.

Even the atheist Sam Harris subtly implies that Randi is guilty of skeptical dogmatism in this podcast (about 3/4 of the way into the interview):

http://cdn.libsyn.com/infidelguy/Tape390_Sam_Harris2.mp3

"Skeptics often go unchallenged when they bring up the challenge."

This has been my observation also. Even on Larry king when it is brought up no one says a word about the loopholes in this fake challenge. One has to admit it was a great PR stunt that put Randi on a lot of TV shows.

Just out of interest Alex, what does Sam Harris actually say, as I haven't got the means of listening to the Podcast?

Harris is a fan of the skeptics that debunk actual charlatans, but he seems to imply that a lot of these media skeptics are simply unwilling to legitimately study the best evidence. He also talks about the taboos in mainstream academia of even discussing evidence for paranormal phenomena.

“Even the atheist Sam Harris subtly implies that Randi is guilty of skeptical dogmatism”

Of the visible atheists, Harris is the most reasonable. He’s taken quite a bit of flak for his comments last fall at the Atheist Alliance conference last fall:

http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/sam_harris/
2007/10/the_problem_with_atheism.html

In reading what he has to say, both in the linked article and elsewhere, I get the sense that he does have an appreciation of a transcendent reality. He has spent quite some time in meditative practice which has led him to question fundamental premises about consciousness, the materialist premises that Hitchens or Dawkins choose to accept without question.

My take on Harris is that his primary objection has to do with dualism, and in this I tend to agree with him.

This is at the core of my conviction that we are in desperate need of a completely new understanding of reality on a global scale. While materialism has provided us with tremendous technological advancements, it has come at the cost of environmental, social and moral consequences that are at least the equivalent. And dualism has only allowed the continued fracturing of spiritual belief. As long as the argument is maintained that spirit is forever divorced from this reality, we will continue to have endless disagreements as to the nature of the divine, and the consequences of that play out globally as well.

What is really troubling is recognizing that adherents of dualism are now the beneficiaries of the products of materialism. It is bad enough for someone with a fervent conviction in an angry god to be armed with a broadsword. It is something entirely different when they are armed with automatic weapons, grenade launchers, tanks or nuclear weapons. If someone thinks I am referring solely to extremists, ask yourself what the nature of our current President’s god is.

I’d suggest the solution lies within consciousness itself, and in the advent of the metaphysics suggested by Willis Harman: Consciousness is primary, which he refers to as M-3. The topics that MP explores on this blog point repeatedly to that, and they are all fascinating individually, but taken together they are pointing to something much larger, that most everyone misses.

And we miss it because we look outside, towards the tantalizing clues of a deeper reality, but rarely do we look inside to discover the source of that reality itself.

Here's an attack on a Professor because he takes the alternative theory of the mind and brain relationship the transmission theroy instead of the production theory


MORE DENIAL OF DEATH
jwn

Reader and frequent contributor Jan Willem Nienhuys writes:

In Utrecht, the Netherlands, there is a University for Humanistics – UvH. Radical Humanists think that there is too much woo-woo going on there, for example the UvH features physicist-parapsychologist Dick J. Bierman as a professor. But Ilja Maso beats them all. He now has written a booklet titled Onsterfelijkheid – “Immortality.”

maso He starts off by saying that he can't bear the idea of death. Slightly paraphrasing: nothing in the world would make sense if he – Ilja Maso – were a mere mortal. He then sums up the arguments against immortality as given in another book titled “Immortality” (1991) by Paul Edwards. A major argument against all supernaturalism is of course that immaterial forces or substances can't interact with our world, at least not on a regular and predictable basis. If they could, they would take their places among gravity and electromagnetism and the nuclear forces. If there are any unknown forces, they must be extremely weak and only detectable with very large and very special machines.

So our perceptions, feelings and thoughts all happen in our brain, and when that is gone, there's nothing left. Maso thinks otherwise. He promotes the occult idea of the brain as a kind of TV-set that receives the signals of the soul – one's own or that of selected dead people – in some higher dimension or vibrational level, a variation on the ideas of Descartes.

I think this is silly, because “TV-waves” are a completely material phenomenon. How 100,000 million nerves, each with an average of 3,000 synapses can make us tick, is a puzzle of course. Maso has replaced this puzzle with the much harder one of how all this ticking is controlled by “immaterial” signals from and to an “immaterial” soul. Making a single nerve fire requires an energy that should be easily detectable in the lab, let alone if billions of nerves are externally controlled. Incidentally, this soul must be even much more complicated than the human brain, at least if you think the brain is far too simple to sustain thoughts such as those of Maso.

In the chapter about science, Maso marshals four examples of people that must have received their information from an immaterial soul: Pearl Curran (alias Patience Worth), Jagdish Chandra Sahay (alias Jai Gopal), Laurel Dilmen (alias Antonia Ruiz de Prado), and the medium Christine Holohan, who is said to have informed the police about murder victim Jacqueline Poole. These cases were gleaned from books by Stephen E. Braude, Richard S. Broughton, Linda Tarazi and the last case is from an article by Guy Lyon Playfair and the notorious Montague Keen. More details about these cases can be found on the Internet.

Randi comments: Typically, this author has merely selected from the woo-woo literature whatever pleases him, to “prove” his points. Using these methods, anyone can write a book, to prove anything! Back to Jan:

So science provides quite a lot of certainty about immortality. But science of course can't be totally sure, says Maso. He wants more certainty. He finds this in near-death experiences and reports from mediums who speak with the dead. By reading enough of this stuff, he finally derives the subjective certainty that there is a “hereafter,” at least he says so. This hereafter is like a lucid dream, where you get anything you want, so when you are still alive you should practice wanting nice things.

The truly amazing thing is that a one hundred percent occultist has been made Professor of Theory of Science in a University of Humanistics. He has already been criticized of course, but he call his critics names like “atheistic fundamentalists.” Summarizing, we Dutch have now our own Victor Zammit.

Leo MacDonald: That more or less sounds like a philosophical thing. For example:

"I think this is silly, because “TV-waves” are a completely material phenomenon. How 100,000 million nerves, each with an average of 3,000 synapses can make us tick, is a puzzle of course. Maso has replaced this puzzle with the much harder one of how all this ticking is controlled by “immaterial” signals from and to an “immaterial” soul."

This is not only misrepresenting the transmission theory, it's an argument from incredulity, an argument from lack of imagination and an appeal to authority in a way.

Ugh. Here's another ridiculous article:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,944792-1,00.html

Mind you, it was written almost 34 years ago, so it's a bit out of date, but it still sort of follows the skeptics pattern of knocking down the weakest cases, and then declaring it all to be bunk. I particularly like the paragraph on William James - it's taken to sound like James is skeptical or unsure about his beliefs. Reading it closely, however, it seems that he's talking about a theory of how to scientifically explain what he sees.

Such things are so annoying.

"Of the visible atheists, Harris is the most reasonable."

I think it may be misleading to call Harris an atheist. He himself has said that he has never branded himself as an atheist and I don't think he even used the word in his first book. Harris seems to be an atheist in the sense that he doesn't believe in any sort of personal, creator all-powerful being but he doesn't necessarily subscribe to the positivistic reductionism of people like Dawkins and Dennett.

"It may be misleading to call Harris an atheist."

I agree with you on this Alex - that's actually the point he seems to be making in the Washington Post article I linked above.

Whether he likes it or not though, he seems to be pigeonholed along with Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and their ilk. Of the bunch, he strikes me as easily the most reasonable, as well as the least enamored with his own ideas.

I think he has some genuine humility and he makes some good points.

When you break it down from a PR and personal communications point of view, the JREF Challenge was a brilliantly manipulative move. Randi is nothing if not a smart showman. He had to know the following to be true:

a. The vast majority of human psi experiences are spontaneous and therefore can't be reproduced in a lab setting.

b. Any serious psi researcher would have nothing to do with such a stunt, thus relieving Randi of the concern of dealing with the Dean Radins of the world. To the claim that "But they could use the $1 million to further their work!", I say that to develop the kind of experiment that shows the replicable statistical anomalies that prove psi in the lab costs much more than than $1 million, so what's to gain?

c. The majority of the claimants of the JREF prize would be honestly deluded people who have no psi talents (at least none that they have truly developed), so it would be easy for Randi to point to them and continue shouting, "Woo-woo!"

d. The angry, ugly army of skeptics on the Net would constantly point to the prize as the ultimate arbiter of any paranormal claim, as if it has any validity at all where it counts, which is replicable science.

But notice that Randi is also planning to pull the Challenge at a time when even Richard Dawkins has said that Randi might have to "pay up soon," presumably because psi researchers were producing better and better results under tougher and tougher conditions.

It's called quitting while you're ahead. Again, a smart, savvy move.

I agree that the challenge means very little when it comes to some possibly genuine phenomena – for example, Dean Radin's kind of territory in which the costs of sufficient "proof" would greatly exceed the prize money on offer. I can also see why someone with genuine abilities might be intimidated by the challenge, by the allegations of impropriety, and the necessities of demonstrating those abilities under high-pressure conditions.

But I find the "loopholes" explanation unconvincing when it comes to the big-name media figures.

All they need to do is come up with an experimental protocol under which they can produce results. For mediums, that would be something like Gary Schwartz's triple blind protocol; for remote viewers, Ingo Swann has produced significant results in experiments conducted by the neuroscientist Michael Persinger, etc. So suitable protocols already exist, and the "star names" already appear capable of producing the goods under these conditions.

The claimant can then "lower the bar" by setting a target which is well within their abilities but still "paranormal", to minimize the risk of lowered performance under the pressures of the challenge. The tests can be spread out over time to reduce the effect of "having an off-day".

Should the JREF then use any of the various loopholes to deny them a fair shot at the money, go public with the attempt and the reasons why it was refused.

"We came up with a means of demonstrating these powers, and the JREF wangled their way out of it using [insert lousy loophole here]."

In the case of well-known mediums or remote viewers or someone with Geller-like skills, this would generate a huge amount of publicity. If this isn't enough to force the JREF to back down and let the challenge proceed, they'd still be able to recoup more than the prize money by selling media rights, books, TV shows... the challenge would be exposed as a sham: "Look, I can produce results under these fair conditions, and Randi had to use a loophole because he was so scared I would win his prize money!" They'd be bigger than 70s-vintage Geller.

To illustrate the point, take the case of the Russian girl who claimed to be able to diagnose all sorts of illnesses just by looking at a person (http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/propaganda/>Brian Josephson's account here). She actually produced statistically interesting results in the preliminary testing, but had agreed to an unnecessarily high success rate beforehand; there were also breaches of protocol (not necessarily intentional) by the JREF investigators. The media didn't pay much attention to these objections when they were belatedly raised: she was an unknown, she had accepted the verdict of the JREF investigators, and her eventual defenders, although including a Nobel laureate, carried no real media clout.

But note how the situation is completely changed in the case of our hypothetical big-name claimant. They'd be savvy enough to insist on a fair protocol, under which they are confident of producing results, and take expert advice on the negotiation of such a protocol with the challenge organizers. Should there be any experimental shenanigans or use of "loopholes", they have enough of a public profile to be able to create an almighty stink in the media, and profit thereby.

I'm no fan of Randi's, and I'm aware of the various criticisms directed at the conditions of the challenge in principle. But when I look at specific big-name cases, none of the objections seem to apply: they're being offered the chance to either win a million doing something well within their abilities, or to win a similar amount from the publicity they'd get exposing the challenge as an unwinnable sham. My personal feeling ends up being one of deep suspicion towards these "superstars", even the ones claiming some form of scientific validation: it seems unlikely that one of them, if genuine, would refuse the challenge, despite the various objections. But all of them?

So I'm ambivalent on the challenge. It actually seems to work when it comes to the big names with similarly big claims, which I suspect was its main aim. Less useful elsewhere.

“which I suspect was its main aim.” You give Randi far too much credit. He has written this challenge up so it will never have to be paid.

It was a PR stunt and a very good one. The man is a con and has always been a con. And to his credit he and other ultra skeptics have often proved many paranormal claims fraud. They just fall into the trap if one paranormal claim is fraud then all paranormal claims are fraud.

What I find so interesting is that their certainty puts them into the same category as the religious fundamentalists the very people they accuse of illogical thinking and despise the most. They have no idea, not even a clue that they suffer from the same paradigm paralysis of certainty as their adversaries.

It is fascinating to spend time dialoging with atheists who are ultra skeptics and religious fundamentalists. There is not an ounce of difference in their inability to see past their cherished beliefs, which they will protect at all costs.

Hear, hear, William. Couldn't have put it better myself.

I like when skeptics show frauds to be frauds, but I think there's significant evidence to show that they aren't all frauds - far from it.

You give Randi far too much credit. He has written this challenge up so it will never have to be paid.

But that's my point: even if it were true that the loopholes presented so far make the prize "unwinnable" (and I'm not convinced they're that serious, even if they would unfairly filter out a lot of marginal phenomena), this doesn't have an effect on the big-name claimants.

It's a win-win situation for a big name with genuine abilities: if they pass the tests, they win a pile of money. If JREF finds some lawyerly reason to fail them, they can probably make even more money out of the resulting furore. Besides the financial gain, they have the satisfaction of shutting Randi up (whether by winning his challenge or noisily exposing it as a sham) and a place in history.

I guess my logic boils down to these three questions:

(1) If you claim the prize is rigged as to be unwinnable, can you give a specific hypothetical example as to how JREF could deny one of the above claimants of a fair shot?

(2) Supposing JREF actually used that loophole, wouldn't going public with the gory details make just as much money as if they'd won the prize anyway?

(3) If the answer to (2) is "yes", doesn't it seem implausible that none of the big names have applied, assuming that some of them have genuine abilities?

No matter how I answer (1), I always end up with a resounding "yes" at (3). I put myself in their shoes and find it hard to believe any of them would turn down the opportunities outlined above, let alone that all of them would turn it down.

(Bear in mind that I'm only talking about media psychics/mediums/RVers etc. who already make their living in the public spotlight, and that they take expert advice in setting up their application; if we're talking about potential applicants more generally then plausible answers to the above do exist)

I agree with marcos
Also, there have been incidents in which applicants have been described "easy to work with" or "admirable" in the forums despite not passing the prelim test. A notable case is Achau Nguyen (well at least until he failed but he was encouraged to try again). He even didn't have a problem with the test protocol but seemed to be having problems with his receiver.
I mean it would be interesting to see what one of the applicants say about the process too. And from what it seems, the applicant does propose first their accuracy rating. Currently, there is an applicant who claims to have a 96% accuracy with mental projection: Chris Cordero. To me though this is astoundingly high...
So despite the bias, it should be possible for someone to get through.
and from what I can find, it looks like that if applicants fail the first time, they can reapply (I think without another application not sure) and possibly renegotiate although I could be wrong.
However...I still find it sort of silly for someone to say "well if you have psi powers, you would've won the MDC" (unless they are truly sincerely asking). It somewhat sounds like "Well if you love it so much, why don't you marry it?"
Arguments such as "you'd use your powers for something more useful or you could use that money for charity" seem to fall a bit short as anyone with psi skills is still human and isn't always necessarily a perfect selfless superhero. Doesn't it seem reasonable for Superman to keep his identity a secret?

Doesn't it seem reasonable for Superman to keep his identity a secret?

Yes, I forgot the main reason why the challenge only really works against the "celebrities":

If I was an unknown with genuine abilities, I'd be in Vegas wearing a variety of wigs and trying to make some real money, instead of blowing my cover for a paltry $1 million :-)

If I was an unknown with genuine abilities, I'd be in Vegas wearing a variety of wigs and trying to make some real money, instead of blowing my cover for a paltry $1 million :-) Posted by: marcos ferreira
____________________________________________

I'm trying to use my psychic abilities to win the Powerball lottery. Tonight. I'm paying attention to my dreams. We'll see.

"If I was an unknown with genuine abilities, I'd be in Vegas wearing a variety of wigs and trying to make some real money"

Vegas is designed to make it almost impossible for a medium or mental psychic to be able to "perform" in that atmosphere. Psychic phenomena are about vibrational levels and concentration etc.

More to it than meets the eye. Also Vegas keeps an eye on anyone beating the odds. Some go to Vegas and beat the odds maybe it is due to more than chance.

lol point taken I think if you meant that sarcastically
And sorry for not clarifying but I meant for some cases of genuine abilities.
I guess I was just thinking about that expression "not for a million bucks" :-P Course it's just an expression. could be a lie for all we know

i share your suspicion on those "superstars" though

"No matter how I answer (1), I always end up with a resounding "yes" at (3). "

It is not that simple I mean these are people that don’t believe in UFO's because none have landed on the white house lawn. Very hard to prove paranormal events at this stage of our understanding of them.

If you were in a UFO would you land on the white house lawn? Actually UFO's have flown over the white house during daylight hours and planes were sent up I suspect to shoot at them.

These are people that believe all crop circles are man made and have no evidence to prove that all crops circles are man made only some evidence to proof that some are manmade.

Contrary to what they say these are not rational people but then neither are a lot of people that believe in every paranormal event as real.

Read the Russian girl's story and see how badly the ultra skeptics screwed that experiment up with their ignorance of design of experiments and understanding of variation.

Dealing with paranormal events one must use probability statistics and there is always an out with statistics. Even if it is a .00000000000000000018 chance of occurrence. Which I showed to occur when a church blew up and everyone was late for choir practice that night.

You know what they stated. Well your statistics are probably wrong or there is still a .00000000000000000018 chance of occurrence. They did not even bother to check my statistics or even read the story.

Can’t win with these people their minds are already made up. Here I go again but it is called paradigm paralysis.

Vegas is designed to make it almost impossible for a medium or mental psychic to be able to "perform" in that atmosphere. Psychic phenomena are about vibrational levels and concentration etc.

I've heard it's just the slot machines that have the anti-psychic security countermeasures :)

No, I'd be in the poker rooms, where it's nice and quiet, the lights are low, and no-one bats an eyelid if you're wearing a baseball cap and listening to whalesong on headphones.

Also Vegas keeps an eye on anyone beating the odds

Not at the poker tables: you're not winning the house's money. Some of the most successful players regularly do get accused (semi-seriously) of having some sort of seventh sense; they chuckle, then earnestly explain that what they do is a mixture of deduction, game theory, intuition, and reading of body language. A real psychic would fit right in. They'd just have to pretend to lose every so often.

Besides, this is all assuming they've seen past my cunning array of wigs, which will get increasingly sophisticated as I reinvest my winnings. So it's purely hypothetical.

It is not that simple I mean these are people that don’t believe in UFO's because none have landed on the white house lawn. Very hard to prove paranormal events at this stage of our understanding of them.

The beliefs and assumptions of the JREF people are irrelevant to this scenario, because that's where stage (2) of the argument kicks in. If you're producing results which anyone reasonable would accept and JREF comes up with some silly excuse not to accept those results, you go public and expose them for being completely unreasonable. With large effect sizes, as are claimed by the "superstars", proving an effect to a small p-value takes a practically small N (as compared to something like general psi), which is the point at which you start your media campaign of, "Look, I proved my abilities beyond chance at the p=0.000001 level and JREF still wouldn't accept them! What a sham! For film rights, contact my agent at..."

In a sense, our hypothetical claimant wants them to act unreasonably, because when they go public with the details, the contrast between the reasonable claimant and the scammy testers underlines the extent to which they're the real deal, and that they were robbed of the prize money.

Plus it's a great way of building tension in the second act of the movie tie-in.

I'm not sure how often applicants even get to the testing stage. From what I've read, the process of applying for the Challenge can drag on for years.

An example is Peter Morris's application, which he has been pursuing since 2004. (Note especially the section labeled "Correspondence.")

It appears to me that when an applicant has a claim he can probably prove, JREF simply makes it impossible for his application to be completed.

That's not to say that I'm a believer in the psychic superstars. Sylvia Browne, in particular, strikes me as a complete phony. Some of the others (e.g., John Edwards) may be genuine, but may simply not want to deal with Randi. I've had a small amount of interaction with him online, and found him most disagreeable.

For what it's worth:

"Randi has been quoted as saying, “I always have an out” with regard to his [$1,000,000] challenge (Rawlins, 1981, p. 89). "

http://www.tricksterbook.com/ArticlesOnline/CSICOPoverview.htm

Wait..I'm a little confused about Peter Morris's claim.
From his claims of a dry spot, they seem to be spots that do yield at least some water? or just unusable water.
But from Randi (whether he changed his definition or not), it's a spot that doesn't have any water at all.
But by the application, Morris is still going by his own definition of a "dry spot" in which there is no usuable water but that seems different from what Randi said.
So I think I can see where they might be a discrepency.
Am I misinterpreting something?

"Look, I proved my abilities beyond chance at the p=0.000001 level and JREF still wouldn't accept them! What a sham! For film rights, contact my agent at..."

Hey I showed that the probability of 12 choir member being late for choir practice the same night the church blew up from a gas leak explosion was .0000000000000000018 and I was told it was mere chance they were all late on the same night.

Go to the media or general public with your statistics? These people don’t know anything about statistics and besides we have been lied to so many times with funny statistics no one believes statistics anymore.

One of the most successful six-sigma statistical gurus in this country whom I knew personally was also one of the biggest liars I have ever known. You can prove just about anything with statistics. This guy made a fortune with his “fudged” statistical results.

From my point of view it is a dead end road trying to prove anything using the million-dollar challenge as a starting point. These people always have an out as their minds are already made up. And trying to rationalize or prove the validity of PSI with the media or general public. Are you kidding? The media would butcher it for entrainment purposes and the general public would not understand probability theory if they stepped on it. But then why should they it appears to most as funny math.

“That's not to say that I'm a believer in the psychic superstars. Sylvia Browne, in particular, strikes me as a complete phony. Some of the others (e.g., John Edwards) may be genuine, but may simply not want to deal with Randi”

Sylvia Browne. Every person I have seen her read on TV the reading was a sham. I watched john Edwards for two years (every show even if I had to tape it, to watch later) and after six months I had to say he appears to be the real deal. I watched his show and reruns so much that when Larry king asked him his best reading I knew the answer. The tweedy bird reading.

Once when I talked to an ultra skeptic on the net we were discussing john Edwards and he said he was a fraud. I asked him how many shows he watched and I swear he stated: “oh only ten minutes I could tell he was a fraud in ten minutes”. That was his research ten minutes.

People like Sylvia that state to parents that their kidnapped child is dead and then several years later he shows up ruins it for all mediums. God the woman can pump out the books and most people that I talk to at our local bookstore they love her.

Here's an amusing prize that was also never won; I give the initial paragraphs of a story from "Modern Mechanics" of Oct. 1931:

$5,000 for Proving the Earth is a Globe
by JAY EARLE MILLER

"WOULD you like to earn $5,000? If you can prove that the world is a sphere, floating in space, turning on its own axis, revolving around the sun, you can earn a prize of that amount. Such a prize has been posted for years, offered by Wilbur Glenn Voliva, general overseer of Zion, 111., home of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church, founded some thirty years ago by the late John Alexander Dowie.

"Many have tried to claim the $5,000—and all have failed. The catch is that your proof must not start with the assumption that the world is round, or rather a globe, for Voliva believes the world is round, but a round, flat disc rather than a sphere. Without that basic premise that the earth is spherical no one has found an absolutely convincing proof that Voliva is wrong when he describes his disc-shaped world, firmly planted on its foundations, surrounded by a wall of ice to keep mariners from falling off the edge, and surmounted by a crystal dome in which the stars are hung like chandeliers to light the night. Nor can you submit proof to absolutely disprove the belief of Voliva that the sun, instead of being an 800,000 mile ball of fire more than ninety millions of miles away is really a fairly insignificant affair, only some 27 to 30 miles in diameter and about 3,000 miles above the earth. Or that the sun and moon move in orbits while the earth stands still, that the moon is about the same size as the sun and the same distance from the earth, shines by its own light, and moves in much the same orbit as the sun."

Here's the link to the rest:
http://blog.modernmechanix.com/2006/05/19/5000-for-proving-the-earth-is-a-globe/#more-642

A Holocaust-denying foundation used to offer a cash prize to anyone who could prove that the Holocaust had actually happened. Many people submitted proof, but the foundation summarily rejected all their claims. Finally one claimant took them to court and won, after which they stopped offering the prize.

Please note that I am not, repeat not, insinuating that JREF is at the same moral or intellectual level as Holocaust deniers. My point is only that when you control the rules of the challenge, you can control the outcome. In this case, only when the rules were changed - by taking legal action - did the claimant stand a chance.

And a claimant can't sue JREF or Randi over the JREF Challenge. He has to sign a document waiving his legal right to sue. Otherwise his claim will not even be considered.

As for hope that the media would treat any such dispute fairly, I think it is very unlikely. They cover most psi-related stories with a sneer.

Vicky, I'm not sure about the "dry hole" dispute, but if you read the correspondence you'll see that Randi also tried to discourage the applicant by saying that it was not a paranormal claim, when apparently Randi was on record as saying that the claim didn't have to be paranormal. In other words, he was clutching at straws. My guess is that Randi knew he would be proved wrong and simply stonewalled until the frustrated claimant went away.

In other cases, Randi has refused to test a claimant because the claim was too bizarre. But wait - isn't testing bizarre claims what the Challenge is supposed to be for?

How many people have been tested anyway? Randi will not divulge their names, in most cases. We have to take his word for it when he says that hundreds of claims have been tested.

There is even some doubt about whether the million dollars actually exists. JREF has gone back and forth on how the money is invested and how the prize would be paid (e.g., in cash or bonds - potentially a big difference, since bonds can have a face value of a million dollars but an actual value that's much lower; for instance, some junk bonds end up being worth nothing).

All in all, the thing strikes me as a publicity stunt, pure and simple.

I agree with the testing nonparanormal claims thing. He also declared the challenge to acupuncturists but I'm not to sure that they know it...I know one doctor who has no idea who he is or his challenge and uses acupuncture. Although I'm not sure waht to think of acupuncture just yet...
Now if only he would challenge those making acne medication...(just kidding)

About the statistics. It looks like from the forums on the application section, there are 161 threads, one per applicant between the years 2007 and 2004, so i think a reasonable guess for 10 years would be about 550? (someone correct me if this is unreasonable)
I'm not sure if all of these were tested since I didn't check every single one but that would be my guesstimate.
The issue about statistcs seems to have been brought up in the forums before. However no moderator was able to offer any info on it from what I could find. The main arguement seems to be that it would take forever to compile the statitiscs...but I have to wonder...why didn't they just do that before on their way there? Even statistics for one year would be interesting and possibly helpful... Colleges compile statistics every year and if I'm not mistaken, some can get about 20,000 applicants...but I guess I'd have to say, they might be better staffed...hmm

Michael Prescott wrote: "As for hope that the media would treat any such dispute fairly, I think it is very unlikely. They cover most psi-related stories with a sneer . . . All in all, the thing strikes me as a publicity stunt, pure and simple."

I've felt for some time that the media has grabbed his bait fully. Whenever the JREF Challenge has been mentioned by the mainstream in my experience, it always seems to carry the implication of implied proof of nonexistence of the paranormal. I doubt that CNN ever asked a staffer to review his parameters at all.

It certainly has achieved Randi's purpose. I only regret that he's waiting two more years to eliminate it.

Randi will use this as support of his premise in perpetuity, but I don't think he's changed any minds one way or another. Most who develop an open mind regarding anomalous phenomena are people who have had some measure of transcendent experience themselves, while those who's minds remain closed have not. Both groups accept data supporting their views, while explaining away data that does not.

And on and on it goes . . .

Hey I showed that the probability of 12 choir member being late for choir practice the same night the church blew up from a gas leak explosion was .0000000000000000018 and I was told it was mere chance they were all late on the same night.

http://www.snopes.com/luck/choir.asp>This case? How did you manage to get such an astronomically small number?

The 15 people involved fall into 9 groups. If one person in any group is late, the rest of the group has to be late, so the average lateness frequency of any individual (which they estimated as 0.25) is the same of that for the entire group.

So, assuming the groups are independent, the probability that all groups are late on a given night can be estimated as pow(0.25,9) which is around 1 in 250,000 (I've ignored the fact that the girls with the broken-down car almost got a lift from the girl with the geometry problem because it doesn't make any difference to the calculation when they're both late). The Snopes story says 1 in a million; I don't know whether they've just rounded to the nearest power of ten for stylistic purposes or maybe miscounted an extra group, but it's the same order of magnitude as what I've got, and it's a rough estimate anyway.

1 in 250,000 doesn't provide evidence that anything other than chance is operating in this case – not when you consider all the millions of events in which there was scope for a similarly unlikely "meaningful coincidence", but it didn't happen. It's an illustration of why after-the-fact "cherry picking" is such a no-no in the analysis of scientific data; something unlikely is bound to happen, and the fact that you can find such things in retrospect doesn't prove anything, even though they might be useful in suggesting a testable hypothesis.

Note that I'm not advocating the implied experiment here of causing gas explosions during church events and recording attendance figures.

I vaguely recall a study that seemed to show that when planes crash or trains derail or ships sink, a disproportionately high percentage of the travelers miss the plane/train/ship. The study was done by comparing the number of passengers who missed (say) a doomed flight with the number who would miss a typical flight. Unfortunately I don't have a citation, and my recollection of the study is hazy.

I would guess that some combination of precognition, synchronicity, and "spirit guardian" intervention is at work in such cases. Chance coincidence, in my opinion, is greatly overrated as an explanation. I suspect that very little in our lives is entirely the result of chance.

I suspect that very little in our lives is entirely the result of chance. - Michael Prescott
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Bravo! Too bad there isn't an "applause" button, or "recommend" button on this blog! A very bold statement with which I agree. I am deeply suspicious of free will and lean heavily towards fate and predestination. Just my opinion. The more I look the more synchronicities I see. It's not unusal at all for me to dream stuff some time in advance of the actual event.

Sure: my quarrel isn't with precognition itself, but with the idea that a single low-probability event has much evidentiary value.

To illustrate the differences between the church explosion story and a proper study like the one you mention:

I hand you a slip of paper with "LAWDY I CAN TYPE" typed out on it and tell you it was produced by a dog. I explain that it can't be accounted for by random canine bashing at the keys; we do the calculations and find out that the odds of producing the sentence randomly would be ridiculously low.

Naturally, you'd like to see this amazing dog. I lead you into an industrial warehouse, only to find that it's packed with dogs pawing away at typewriters. An old-timer keeping the water bowls topped up proudly informs you that dogs have been trying to type here non-stop since 1832...

This is where the church explosion story leaves us: it may be low-probability, but it's meaningless if it's been cherry-picked from a large field of otherwise unremarkable results.

The study you mention, on the other hand, presumably frames a hypothesis ("the rate of passenger absenteeism is significantly lower on doomed journeys") which is then tested (by looking through as much available historical data as possible, or even better by recording future data). A low probability contra-chance result after such a prediction has far greater evidentiary value:

I lead you to one dog in particular and say, "Show this man the trick you did earlier with the typing."

The dog paws away at the keys. "I CAN UNDERSTAND HOW HE MIGHT BE SKEPTICAL, I MEAN THERE'S A WHOLE ROOM OF US IN HERE AND THE OTHERS ARE MOSTLY AMATEURS CHURNING OUT GIBBERISH..."

“and the fact that you can find such things in retrospect doesn't prove anything, even though they might be useful in suggesting a testable hypothesis.”

Trying to make a materialistic version of the scientific method fit a statistical study into paranormal phenomena is like trying to find every black crow in the world to prove that all crows are black. My point: unrealistic.

It amazes me how people have made the scientific method like a bible or a perfect process to discover all truth. It reminds me of the people that say our constitution is perfect the way it is, should not be changed, and should be adhered to at all cost because in their minds it has worked for over 200 years. The world is dynamic not static and therefore changes must be made to our view of reality as new knowledge is discovered.

When we look at the odds of a church blowing up and then the odds of it blowing up at 7:35 pm and all the members of the choir team being at least 5 or more minutes late on that night one has to think deeply there is more going on in this world other than chance. This is only one story among millions that defy explanation. These stories taken together highly suggest that there is more to this world than meets the eye.

Probability numbers means nothing to an ultra skeptic. They will always deem even a .18 with 18 zeros in front of it or 1 in 250,000 as due to chance, (as Marcos did) fraud, or invalid statistics. Or whatever. My point was and is that ultra skeptics have already made up their minds that this is a material world and no amount of information is going to change their minds contrary to what they tell you.

I am currently watching a show by David Suzuki called the science of the senses talking about how music is on in our brain and how the whole brain get's activated when hearing music. A materialist would say that people used to believe that a soul was using our five senses but now we know it's brain processes but how however it's how you look at it is the brain like a transmitter/receiver or a producer of consciousness

“the whole brain get's activated when hearing music” every brain cell is conscious and it makes sense that much of the brain would be activated when music is played. The brain the producer of consciousness? Too many paranormal occurrences that I have experienced and have read about suggests to me otherwise.

Michael is this it? on the airplanes.
http://www.newsmonster.co.uk/have-scientists-really-proved-that-man-can-see-into-the-future.html
It's a news article but it alludes to the study.
I find this fascinating but I wish they'd say a little more. I'll see if I can find something more.
However...is there a possibly physical law that empty trains dont' run as well as full ones? It seems preposterous but it does make me wonder...

I don't buy in to the whole "no free will" thing. If you're seeing in to the future, seeing an event that has occurred, and you take steps to alter that, is that not acting upon the future, and changing it?

The way I see time is that it can jump all about, but there's always a "master" arrow that is always moving forward, and any jumps in the timeline that are past events that modify the future, will just be put in front on the "master" time line.

It's kind of hard to explain, but it's how it makes sense for me.

Probability numbers means nothing to an ultra skeptic. They will always deem even a .18 with 18 zeros in front of it or 1 in 250,000 as due to chance, (as Marcos did)

I don't have super-high standards of proof: I would find probabilities as high as 1 in 100 suggestive in a statistically sound investigation, like this trains/planes/ships study and most things I've read with the names "Radin" or "Utts" attached.

But for reasons I've tried to point out, the 1 in 250,000 figure, while it initially looks impressive, doesn't carry any statistical weight once you put it in an appropriate context.

I'm agnostic of the causes involved (which is what "indistinguishable from chance" actually means) not because of any preconceptions about what kind of causes are possible, but because the argument is statistically bogus.

John" free will has long been discussed but I doubt if we have total freedom in our choices. It appears that some people on this side and the other side can get glimpses of the future.

The word free in front of will suggests freedom of bias and this is what concerns me. We lack perfect intelligence and love; and we all have biased and conditioned thoughts that influence our choices.

The best term I have heard is that we have choices within boundaries. What are those boundaries? A “not knowing” or “unawareness” status.

What would the world be like without our “not knowing” and “unaware” status? Human interaction (drama) would cease to exist and human relationships would be static not dynamic.

Maybe knowing the difference between fate and destiny might help one see the limits of our free will. When I look back on my own life it does appear that it was pretty much laid out for me (fate) in spite of my choices.

This does not mean a person always optimizes what fate gives them or reaches the summit of their destiny. That may be the role of choices: optimization or sub optimization of the opportunities that fate gives a soul.

Well, if the future has already happened, then it is set in motion. Logic would dictate that while you do have free will, all the variables would be the same and then as such you would make the same choices as your "future self" did. However, if you catch a "whiff" of the future, that's new information that presumably that future self did not have, and a variable is changed and you can make a different choice based on this information.

The most logical way I can think of that working, though, is the MWI, but MWI seems so grossly against parsimony that I also can't believe that.

If reality functions on the quantum level, as many consciousness researchers now believe, then all reality is a set of probabilities awaiting observation to collapse them into a single reality (unless you buy the MWI, which as John said, is beyond absurdity and to me smacks of a physics community desperately trying to duck consciousness). If this is the case, then precognition might merely see one possible outcome, an outcome that can be changed by changes in thought or choice.

As for the church story, it's important to look at it on two levels. On one, as a stand-alone story, it's an extremely compelling case of...something. Group precog? Who knows, but the odds against all 15 members failing to show up seem to be to be greater than 1 in 250,000. Marcos, did you account for the odds against all 9 groups failing to appear on the same night? In any case, it's a fascinating case in that sense. But scientifically, Marcos is right. It has no predictive value because it's a post hoc selection from the data set. We have no way of knowing how many similar situations of group disasters are out there, so there's no way to analyze the significance of such a thing statistically.

Therein lies the problem with field reports and anecdotal data for many skeptics. They won't accept them because they lack the experimental rigor that skeptics insist is so critical. As if sociology, anthropology, zoology and many other observational sciences didn't do the same thing. I would love to see a national Web-based database of paranormal experiences, similar to Charles Tart's TASTE database, where anyone could enter a paranormal experience and the data could be crunched and cross-referenced and mined for patterns. Then perhaps we'd have some more answers related to events like the church.

In case you've never seen it, TASTE is here:

www.issc-taste.org

Fascinating reading and a glimpse into the truth behind the mainstream scientific facade that says the paranormal is delusion.

"The most logical way I can think of that working, though, is the MWI, but MWI seems so grossly against parsimony that I also can't believe that."

I'm a secular mystic myself, but Yogananda once commented that "God is simple, everything else is complex."

“so there's no way to analyze the significance of such a thing statistically.”

This is an inaccurate statement made by people that do not understand variation but may understand statistics.

What we can analyze statistically is how often this entire choir group was late for choir practice. The story I saw on it was that this never occurred and the data I read was different than what was presented on the link here. That very seldom was anyone late for choir practice.

Now we have a night that all were late for practice and not due to external weather conditions or all of them riding together and have car or bus trouble. This gives us years of repetitive data from a group of people doing repetition. Now we have repetitive and repetition of data.

So we calculate the probability of someone being late from our past history of data and then calculate the data of the probability of everyone absent this night that the church blew up and compare the two sets of data. What do you think? Do you think the difference will be of statistical significance? Oh yes.

Then we compare that data with the probability of a church blowing up on any given night. Then we use logic to compare the probability of that church blowing up on the very same night as all the members of the church choir including the choir leader on the same night. The rational mind would reach the conclusion that something very special happened that night.

For further statistical proof if we put the per cent age of late choirs members week by week on what is called a “control chart” which I prefer to call a “process behavior chart” which we could also call an “attendance behavior chart” and when that night they all showed up late what we would find is that on that night the chart would show the night all choir members were late was what is referred to in statistical terms a “special cause” of variation.

Special causes of variation are” always” and I do mean always worth looking into. We would then analyze why all were late, then look at each individual story, and try to find that special cause such as weather conditions. Everyone had a different story why they were late.

The most obvious answer would be why of all things the church blew up. Bingo. Now we go to our research into the paranormal and find out if such things are possible of knowing ahead of time to avoid such things or maybe spirit guides knew how to detain us for a few minutes.

By the way for you that are not into statistical analysis the control chart is the most robust of the statistical tools used to measure and identify the difference between a common and special cause of variation. Sorry for the long blog. But many people on here are going to try and convince you that that night was not a special cause of variation and of no statistical value.

As a side note in 1991 I had a revelation while teaching a seminar on W Edwards Deming’s book on understanding variation and this revelation also helped me discover years later of all the things the origin of ignorance.

Speaking of one-in-a-million shots, whow about this?

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