Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On Randi's Totally Phony Completely Bogus "Million Dollar Challenge" 1.0

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James "The Amazing"  Randi's original claim to fame was that he was a magician and an escape artist.  His entire professional competence is in deceiving people into thinking they know what is happening while he is doing something else.  His history has shown that his habits of deception aren't limited to his stage tricks and escape events.  He also has a long and documented history of lying.  His fans, allies and associates have a long and documented history of their own, they  habitually overlook, excuse and even cover up his lying on behalf of their shared ideological campaign.

As pointed out yesterday, even one of his allies in "Skepticism"/atheism,  Dennis Rawlins, has quoted him as bragging that his famous "Challenge" is rigged to always allow him an out.  Rawlins is one of the rarest of "Skeptics", one who has told the truth about some of "Skepticism".  I will state at the start that Randi's "Application" form is full of such outs.   At each and every stage James Randi and his "Educational" Foundation are in full control of every phase of the "Test" and they can end it at any time from refusing to consider an application right up to the danger of having to finally prove they've got the money.  Anyone who looks at it is completely justified in suspecting deception and should be on the lookout for avenues of escape for "The Amazing" one.

Any honest analysis of James Randi's "Million Dollar" Challenge has to begin with considering its value to James Randi and the present use of the "Challenge"  by the "Skepticism" industry.   The entire value of  the famous "Randi Million Dollar Challenge", for them, is in being able to claim that no one has succeeded in winning it.  Which is how it is used by Randi and his ideological allies.   Just being able to say no one has won the money is the entire point of the thing for "Skepticism".  Despite that obvious fact, the application claims otherwise.  "The goal of this Challenge is a successful demonstration according to the agreed protocol."  And if you believe that I've got a bridge I can make disappear or, failing that, to sell you.   There is no honest possibility of anyone doubting a "successful demonstration" would obliterate two of the "Skepticism" industries' most valued assets, Randi's constructed persona and his phony challenge.   A successful "Challenge" and a requirement to pay out would, in fact destroy the popular credibility of  organized "Skepticism".  A win would be a far bigger disaster for "Skepticism" than the sTARBABY scandal.  That is a fact Randi's application form would seem to anticipate if through some catastrophe that someone won, Randi's got it covered,  "If the Prize is awarded, this would not mean that the JREF acknowledges the existence of the supernatural."

The unstated implication of that statement that "nobody has won Randi's million dollar Challenge" , is that people tried to win and failed, but that is far from clear.   Keep in mind that the "Skeptical" goal doesn't require an attempt, it can be fulfilled by keeping people from being given a real "test".   In fact the "APPLICATION FOR STATUS OF CLAIMANT**" from the James Randi "Educational" Foundation states that no one has made it past the "Preliminary Test" stage and so no actual "Formal Test" has been begun.

4. In all cases, the Applicant will be required to perform a Preliminary Test in a location where a properly authorized representative of the JREF can attend. This Preliminary Test is intended to determine if the Applicant is likely to perform as promised during the Formal Test, using the agreed-upon protocol. To date, no applicant has passed the Preliminary Test, and therefore no Formal Test has yet been conducted. At any time prior to the Formal Test, the JREF reserves the right to re-negotiate the protocol if issues are discovered that would prevent a fair and unbiased test. After an agreement is reached on the protocol, no part of the testing procedure may be changed in any way without an amended agreement, signed by all parties concerned

Any challenge that might risk being demonstrable can be kept out of consideration by having the application rejected.   That, as all aspects of the "Challenge" rest firmly in the entirely interested hands of James Randi and his "Educational" Foundation.

Another definitive "out" of the kind Randi boasted of having is the possibility that Randi's people can re-negotiate the agreed to protocol "At any time prior to the Formal Test"  That would effectively prevent any claims that put Randi in danger from being "Formally" tested.  Any "Preliminary Test" that looked like it could destroy Randi's brand could be short-circuited by these kinds of outs.

In order for Randi's and "Skeptics" claims of the Challenge to be honest a comprehensive list of people who have made it to the "Preliminary Test" stage would have to be issued and Randi and his "Educational" Foundation must allow anyone involved to be able to give a full and free account of what happened in both the "Test" and in the negotiations over them.  The rules under #8 would also need to be changed for the "Challenge" to be honest and transparent.

8. By accepting this Challenge, the Applicant waives any and all claims against James Randi, the JREF, the JREF’s employees, officers, directors, and any other person. This waiver includes, but is not limited to,injury, accident, and damage of any kind, including damage and/or loss of a physical, emotional,financial, and/or professional nature.
Notwithstanding anything else in this paragraph, should the Claimant pass the Formal Test, the Claimant does not waive any claims against the JREF that might be necessary to enforce payment of the prize.

There is absolutely nothing transparent about Randi's requirements, they are designed to prevent people from seeing an honest, transparent test of claims. Rule 8 gives Randi and his "Educational" Foundation the right to lie, misrepresent, distort and slander while without risking being sued, apparently, any challenger or even an impartial observer is not exempted from legal action. The only right they don't surrender is one that will never happen, Randi having to pay up when they've won.   I can't imagine any reasonably intelligent person, never mind a serious scientist, agreeing to that.  It is a complete violation of ethics to allow someone that contractual right.  It entirely destroys any claims to credibility that Randi's Challenge has claimed for it.

For a challenge that is parroted by "Skeptics" and sold as the gold standard of reliable assessment  the requirements of the participation of impartial observers and judges seems to be strangely missing.  At each and every phase all of that is done by Randi's people, none of whom can possibly be considered as impartial, all of whom have an interest in maintaining the real value of Randi's "Challenge" for his brand name and the "Skepticism" industry.

In these post I'm not interested in anything except the effect of Randi's PR campaign on rigorously conducted, controlled and analyzed science, which has quite different goals, methods and requirements than his publicity stunt.  The rules are written to violate the requirements of science in many ways and to prevent real, serious experiments that have produced positive results from being considered.

The real science that the peer-reviewed literature dealing with parapsychology has produced would seem to be as excluded from  entering into Randi's "Challenge" as the publicity stunt cannot be rationally considered to be scientific.  This makes the use of Randi's phony challenge to debunk peer-reviewed science entirely dishonest. 

Any skeptical review of Randi's "Challenge" would have to conclude that it is set up to prevent anyone being "tested" or any serious evidence entering into consideration.  The Challenge, as presented by Randi is a fraud.  As I said before, it was a challenge which was never intended to be met because any successful demonstration requiring Randi to pay up would destroy his reputation and the reputation of the "Skepticism" industry that has attached itself to his PR operation.  The "Challenge" itself is a distraction from any serious, scientific research into parapsychological phenomena.   It depends on people looking at Randi's gawdy geek show, which, to say the most, is easy to watch.  You can't say the same thing about reading a scientific paper, dealing with the methodological and mathematical substance of it.  That's hard, far too hard for the rank and file, the "Skeptics",  Randi's fan base.  I may deal with some of the scientists who are in on the Randi con later.  The reason that their ideology requires lying is obvious to anyone who has looked at the actual science.   As soon as someone honestly looks at the real, published science done demonstrating telepathy or other taboo phenomena, as soon as you understand the data,  ideological "Skepticism" falls apart.

UPDATE:  Just about every time I look at Randi's "APPLICATION FOR STATUS OF CLAIMANT" new outs and avenues of deception become obvious.  There is this:

The JREF may consult with experts, including statisticians, magicians,and others with specialized knowledge relevant to the claim. James Randi may or may not be present at these tests, but he will not interact with the materials used nor interfere with the protocol once a test is underway.

Notice that it is only Randi who "will not interact with the materials used nor interfere with the protocol once a test is underway".  Since some of Randi's most infamous scams and deceptions relied on hired fronts to act for him, some of whom were also professional magicians, anyone who knew about that should consider this a contract to get scammed by them.   Professional magicians with a financial or other interest are no more reliably honest than anyone else.  I've always been puzzled as to why a magician with a known bias would be considered reliable when they're known to have the skills to sabotage experiments.  Considering how even test subjects with no known skills of that kind are routinely accused of that style of deception, it's ridiculous to not suspect professional magicians with a known bias of doing what they have made a profession of doing.

The "Application" is a contract so full of avenues for cheating by Randi and his "Educational" Foundation that I can't imagine anyone familiar with him would even apply.

UPDATE 2.0  An e-mail (why don't you people ever use my comment system?) informs me that there is what is supposed to be a previous version of the "Application for Status of Claimant"  archived on Wayback.  It begins " This became effective on Sunday, April 1st, 2007, replacing the previous version of the Application; the nature of the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge in regard to those to who may now apply, has now changed substantially."  Which would indicate that the numbering of the current challenge is suspicious as noted in the first footnote below. I don't see any version number on this "Application" but it's clearly not the first one.  This is important because previous critics of the phony "challenge" would have been addressing previous requirements either on the "Application" or insisted on by Randi and his company.   In a quick read of it the 2007 rules are, indeed, deceptive and open to some of the same avenues of fraudulence I noted, possibly others I haven't noticed yet.   I would say that, if anything, the "Application" up at the JR"E"F this week looks less transparent and above board than this previous version.  This is funny because of the damage control campaign launched by D.J. Grothe, Randi's heir apparent at the JR"E"F claiming that they wanted to make the "Million Dollar Challenge" more transparent.

Related to that is the database of "applicants" up at the JR"E"F.   As I noted above,  the value of the "Challenge" to Randi, his employees, acolytes and "Skepticism" in general is to be able to claim that no one has won the challenge and that purpose is served by preventing any "Formal Test" from happening.  That purpose is served by 1. preventing serious scientists from subjecting their research to an unscientific "test", 2. rejecting applications that could seriously challenge the value of the "Challenge" for all of the above, 3. scotching the agreed to procedures during the "Preliminary Test" phase by insisting on "re-negotiation" as in the "Application" rule #4 above ..... It is necessary for the JR"E"F to list those who have made it to the "Preliminary Test" phase and to allow a full and open account of all of those on both sides.

Grothe doesn't seem to be  interested in a transparent test any more than the old fraud he works for does.   The "Challenge" is a fraud and a con set up to never really produce a test.  Its habitual use by the "Skeptics" against scientific research is one of the more serious instances of common intellectual dishonesty among the self-appointed "rational class".   The Randi Challenge couldn't test real science of the kind that the scientific study of parapsychology has produced, it is a geek show and as much of a lie and a con job as the sTARBABY cover-up was.  "Skepticism" is a profit making industry based on lies and fraud.

UPDATE 3.0  I suspect that the 2007 version of the "Application for Status of Claimant" , might have been made in reaction to a series about the fraudulence of the "Million Dollar Challenge" by Michael Prescott in 2006.   I don't have the version of it that he addressed but, as I said, the present day "Application" is even more dodgy than the 2007 one.  Prescott's series is worth reading for its continuing relevance to the fraud that the Randi operation is.  Greg Taylor at The Daily Grail has also written extensively and well about the "Challenge",  addressing it during that period,  and Steve Volk has in the most recent period.  

I don't know what to make of it, but Riley G. Matthews jr posted an exchange he says he had with Randi over a challenge that Randi invited before he scotched it, making and failing to make good on an offer of $3,000 for Matthews to drop it.   I have no way of knowing its authenticity but, then, I have no way of checking what the James Randi "Educational" Foundation claims about its role in the "Challenge" either.  I can say that as of the present, I don't have any reason to suspect Matthews isn't more honest than I do know Randi to not be.

* The first paragraph of the document says,  "This Application is Version 2.0, dated March 9, 2011, supersedes and replaces any previous version of the Application, and is the only version currently accepted."  I have, so far, been unable to find out how many previous versions of the "application" there may have been or how those have been worded.  2.0 might be taken to indicate this is the second of any such "application" but, as with the numbering of versions of computer software, the decimal makes that assumption unwarranted.  I'd like to know how any previous versions of the challenge were numbered and would like to have the exact wording of those.  I've seen two different figures for previously offered "prizes" so I'm assuming there were at least two previous versions of the rules.  In order to know why any theoretical applicant might have not applied or to have not fulfilled the test, it is necessary to know what Randi and his posse were demanding of them.


  1. Let's see: proof is predicated on money, the old "if you're so smart, how come you're not rich" line. Or, perhaps better, "Put your money where your mouth is." If someone pays $1 million (and why do I think of Mike Meyers as I type that phrase?), it must be true, right?

    Consequently, if they don't, it must be false.

    Yeah, that's science-y!

    What crap. Magicians are not better equipped to "see" the truth than others because they are practiced in deception. If anything, they are easier to fool because they think they can't be fooled. Ask any con man: it's the mark who thinks he's too smart to be conned, who gets gulled more easily than the innocent and naive.

    And you know what? Science is hard. Reasoning and even trying to be "objective" (an idea thoroughly discredited by now in modern thought, but these guys are stuck in the 19th century, convinced they are the intellectual elite who can make no fundamental mistakes, which is their first fundamental mistake) is hard. Philosophy is hard, too, which is why most scientists confine themselves to science, and most philosophy students confine themselves to philosophy. In between you get the know-nothings who think their expertise in one field (be it zoology or stage magic) makes them an expert in other fields.

    I've known a lot of lawyers and doctors like that. They were always proven to be idiots when they went beyond their remit.

    And that matter of "proof." Proof is not a universal and unitary concept, one with only one meaning that we all can agree on. Again, this is a point beyond cavil except for people stuck in the 19th century. The insistence on "proof" is the first sign the people you are dealing with are not serious. Do we have "proof" that light is both a wave and a particle? That there are multiple universes, or such a thing as "dark matter"? No, we have theories and formulae and information that point in that direction. The very point of Schrodinger's famous cat is to undermine the simplistic concept, the reductionist either/or, of "proof."

    But don't tell James Randi; because he won't even understand that.

    Randi's "proof" is "convince me, or it's not proven!" Which is damned convenient, setting yourself up as the arbiter of truth in the world. Are the rest of us too poor or too benighted to see what Randi sees, our put our money where our mouths are, as Randi does (but doesn't)?

    Children in a sandbox, that's all it is. A man so trained in deception as a magician finds it easier than the rest of us, perhaps, to lie to himself; or at least to deceive himself.

    Heaven knows deceiving oneself is easier than reasoning. Reasoning is hard!

  2. Reading the Taylor link alone, I can only conclude that Randi is not a scientist and doesn't understand scientific probability and causality as discussed in that post (I wouldn't consider myself qualified to discuss the subject, not after reading that).

    I also wonder what "proof" ever existed that there was $1 million dollars ready and waiting to be distributed upon satisfactory completion of whatever test was established.

    And still I wonder, as Tayler does: what does that have to do with science, or "scientific proof"? Especially when posited by someone (RandI) who obviously doesn't understand that term of art.

  3. Well, now I'm going to clutter up your comments, but this quote by Taylor from Suitbert Ertel sums up the matter nicely:

    "Randi and those who offer a large monetary prize for psi effect demonstrations are entitled to demand unachievable psi effects. It's their money and they must be careful not to lose it. Everybody must admit that this is reasonable economically. But careful reasoning about money and property is quite a different thing than careful scientific reasoning."

    Where money is involved, it pays to be "skeptical"! After all, it's money that matters!