Friday, January 4, 2008

James Randi Retires the Challenge Undefeated

In news which should bring mixed feelings, James Randi has announced that he is discontinuing the JREF $Million Challenge after its 12 year anniversary, March 6, 2010. I will play psychic and predict that no one will beat the challenge in the interim, and I'll have a better hit percentage than most of them ever do.

This is one of those issues that really exposes how unobjective the media can be. The data demonstrating the impotence of paranormalists is overwhelming. Any reasonable person examining it would conclude that psychic claims lack sufficient evidence. People like Randi, Penn and Teller, and CSICOP have been exposing psychics for the poor magicians they are for years. If one is not convinced by the raw data, there are some logical arguments for which no psychic or their defenders have offered anything resembling a reasonable rebuttal. For example, why hasn't a psychic ever gone to Vegas and wiped them out? There are so many options, roulette for the telekinetically inclined, poker for the mind readers, blackjack for those who can remotely view, and pretty much any game for those who can see into the future. Why aren't half the lottery winners psychics? The lame claim that the psychics aren't interested in personal fortune doesn't wash, because they could easily give the money they win to a charity, or the poor, or a hundred other sources more worthy of the money than casino barons.

Why has no psychic helped us solve any historical mystery? If they can really talk to the dead, how about chatting with Jimmy Hoffa about where he is buried, or Hitler to see if he is still alive, or to any inventor or scientist, about discoveries they were about to make prior to their death? If they can talk to Einstein about the past, why not the future too? The reason is obvious: those that claim they can speak to the dead are masters of MSU.

Why are there no rules in sports to account for the paranormal? If telekinesis was real, it would play hell with golf, if not any sport with a ball. Mind reading would be a killer skill for a linebacker or quarterback, as would foreknowledge. Funny how the paranormalist's abilities never ever show up in any relationship with someone having a vested interest in them failing. The reason again is obvious: you have to be grief stricken and desperate to hear from your dead loved ones to believe their BS.

And yet, to observe the media, be it TV, or the movies, or the written word, psychics are presented as, at worst, being doubted by some, and at best, undeniably real. The fact that James Randi has had this challenge in effect for about 8 years with ZERO losses to the side thought correct by a majority of Americans ought to be huge news. So should this:

"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"

In other words, Randi's challenge has provided an interesting indication of which of these performers actually believes his own bullshit, and which are true con artists. Sure, some of the honest ones might eschew the test for various reasons, but one can be pretty certain that none of the con artists will agree to the test. For once they really do know the outcome ahead of time. The next time you see one of these paranormalists making ridiculous excuses for why they refuse to take $1M of James Randi's money, your con artist spidey sense should be tingling.

As a tribute to Randi, and those past and future debunkers of bullshit, watch one of his favorite targets, Silvia Browne, get pwned.

Hat tip Mark at Denialism Blog.


PR said...

James Randi is just another kook who refuses to see that there is more to life then what is inside his little box.

ScienceAvenger said...

That is a common claim made by Randi's critics, but I've never seen him say anything like that, nor have I seen anyone making such a claim document it.

He has often explicitly stated that he does not claim to have proved anything is impossible, nor does he a priori reject any explanations for the events he studies. He simply recognizes, as all rational people do, that despite decades if not centuries (depending on the field) of attempts, no solid evidence for psychic phenomina exist.

Perhaps some people need to accept that what is inside their little boxes doesn't necessarily represent reality.