The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

A critical look at Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge


Updated 1-2-11

Related Post: Can You Win Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge?

To get on a blog and tell people you are psychic is to have skeptics immediately invite you to take magician James Randi’s million dollar challenge. Rather than reply to every comment of that sort that comes through, I’ve set up this page to deal with this subject.  I will demonstrate here that there is no reason to take this challenge seriously.  Oh, and by the way, James Randi is a climate change denier.  (I think this says a lot about his frame of mind.)

First of all, the challenge is meaningless by scientific standards.  It’s not a study and it can’t be replicated.  It’s a one off.  As 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.

Compare that to the Parapsychological Association, which is a member of the The American Association for the Advancement of Science and regularly publishes peer reviewed studies.  Here is what real evidence looks like.

By far the most damning evidence that this challenge is a mere publicity stunt is that Randi does not take all comers.

He has explicitly refused to test homeopath John Benneth (who has issued a $100,000 challenge to any person who can demonstrate, under conditions similar to James “the Amazing” Randi’s Psychic Challenge, that the Psychic Challenge is a valid offer for proof of psychic powers.), Professor George Vithoulkas’s homeopathy experiments similarly never got tested  and backed down from a challenge issued by Dr. Jule Eisenbud, who wagered $100K that Randi could not duplicate the “thought photography” of Ted Serios, even with the aid of a prop in which a gimmick could be housed. Randi has ignored challenges to the test such as English psychic Chris Robinson.   Dick Bierman, PhD proposed a presentiment test to Randi which Randi simply never followed up on.  This brings up a legitimate question:  who else is he ignoring?

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?  Science demands openness.  A parapsychological study run like Randi’s challenge would never get out of the gate.

John Benneth, (homeopath) points out that the challenge is not an actual contract, lacks third party mediation and in his words:

Randi has expressly told me that he will not deal with attorneys. As an instrument, its unilateral. Like a fiat from the King, or a papal bull. It gives the applicant no recourse in case Randi harms him; in fact, the applicant has to forego any rights of recompense if Randi harms him.

But the biggest thing is that Randi’s signature has never appeared underneath it. It’s a hoax. It was conceived of by an entertainer, a man who has made a career deceiving and tricking people, a particularly nasty little man who has a grudge to bear against the world, revealed in the animosity routinely shown towards applicants.
How is it that one can expect to have an AGREEMENT with someone who is calling you derogatory names, ridiculing and CHALLENGING you?

He has a point actually.   The Daily Grail points out that Rules #4 (allowing Randi to use the data from the experiment in any way he chooses and #8 (denying the applicant legal recourse), when combined allow Randi the option to lie about the results and get away with it.

John Benneth went back and forth in 70 e-mails with Randi.  The Vithoulkas experiment process dragged on for two two years, the Zibarov process dragged on for two years,   Carina Landin, went through a 3 year process.  Only one of these actually came to down to an actual test and that one was botched.

For that matter, how many people have actually gone down to Florida to take the challenge?  Randi’s website is decidedly vague on this point.  Why is this information missing?

After doing a bit of research on the JREF site, I found out some interesting things.  First, many applicants have no clue how to put their abilities up to a scientific test.  Once they start in on the process, many drop out.  The fact is,  performing a psychic ability for a scientific test is much harder than it first appears.  They also find out an extra requirement not stated up front:  There is a time limit for the preliminary challenge:  eight hours.

This time limit is quite a barrier to success.  It prevents people from building up statistical significance through sheer repetition, which is how it’s done in every scientific study.   Most parapsychological studies do not test for more than a couple of hours at a time, having found that psychic ability wanes quickly as mental exhaustion sets in.  There is no reason for the time limit since the applicant is paying all expenses.   In fact, in the case that I studied, the number of repetitions was limited.  What this means is that psychic ability is not being tested.  Extraordinary psychic ability is being tested.  This distinction is important.  You cannot make claims about psychic ability if you’re testing for something else.

In the case of Pavel Ziborov he had gotten all the way through the process, having agreed to 100 repetitions within the eight hour time limit only to have Randi come back and limit his challenge to 20 repetitions, thereby violating his own protocol and ensuring that nothing less than near total perfection could pass the challenge.  No explanation was given for this change which Mr.  Ziborov wisely refused.  On the JREF site it is simply noted that the challenger had refused to accept the protocol.  In other words, Mr. Ziborov’s attempt was cast in the worst possible light.  (Mr. Ziborov has posted his response to JREF in the comments below.)

Randi has also claimed that once the parameters are set, neither he nor anyone else can change them, yet it was done here.  How is that?  Simple.  Randi NEVER accepted the application.  Mr. Ziborov was going back and forth with JREF for almost two years and in that time he was never formally declared an applicant.  It appears that this a loophole in the process that has been exploited to prevent legal challenges to his methods.  If nothing is signed, there is no contract and the person applying has no legal means to force a reasonable challenge.  It appears that when James Randi talks about the fairness of the challenge, he is referring to accepted applicants, who can only achieve this status by agreeing to absolutely everything Randi demands whether it is reasonable or not.

When I went through the forum postings for the Ziborov challenge, I noted that he was referred to as a “woo.”  This is an abbreviation of woo woo.  In other words, the challenger was being insulted.  Throughout the discussion, other posters on the forum make it clear that they do not believe that he has this talent; effectively saying that he is either a liar, con artist or deluded.  These are the people responsible for setting up the challenge and possibly administering it.  The bias is clearly strong.

This is extremely important because another undocumented “feature” of the challenge is that the applicant may not bring anyone in either for moral support or to assist or monitor the challenge.  There is no way to prevent JREF errors or mischief during the testing.  Because the people administering the test are JREF volunteers and are self selected for being strongly skeptical of psi, (they are volunteering their time to a skeptical organization after all,) the chance of errors due to cognitive dissonance and inexperience are actually quite high and there is nothing to prevent them from either covering up any mistakes or simply not catch them at all.  JREF is under no obligation to publish a full account of the test nor make good on any JREF errors in the event they occur and are discovered.

There is also the fact that an extremely important bit of information that is lacking. You cannot find it in the FAQ, nor on the application, nor does Mr. Randi talk about it. There is no way that withholding of this information is anything but deliberate. The way this challenge is currently set up, it is in my opinion, a trap designed to disgrace and humiliate the people who take up the challenge.

To easily understand this, let us take the analogy of Mr. Smith’s jumping challenge. Mr. Smith does not believe that the ability to jump actually exists and he has a million dollar challenge to anyone who can prove to him that jumping exists under laboratory conditions. You have to apply for the challenge and bear all travel expenses to Mr. Smith’s facilities. You can help design the experiment and everything will be measured with complete accuracy.

So what’s wrong? If you can jump you should take the challenge right? By now, you should notice what’s missing. There is nothing in the previous statement about how high you have to jump. Wouldn’t you want to know this before you applied for the challenge? Because if the height you have to jump is unreasonable, there is certainly no point in applying. Misdirection has been applied here by confusing the requirements with the testing procedures.

But how can you do this with psi? If someone makes a claim, all they have to do is live up to it right? The answer is that parapsychology is a science that relies on statistics. It is well known that psychic ability is not automatic. People get some answers right and some wrong and statistics must be used to determine if this occurred due to chance or not.

All statistical measurements of psi ability can therefore be expressed as odds against chance. All you have to do is set up a test where the exact odds for chance are known. (i.e. picking the correct picture out of a set of four yields a 25% chance outcome with odds against chance for one trial at 1 in 4.) Certainly JREF would never allow a test where this sort of computation couldn’t be done, nor should they. Statistical certainty is essential for determining success.

So if James Randi wanted to tell people what his requirements were, all he would have to do is tell them what odds against chance he would accept for someone to claim the million dollar prize. He could use words like “approximately” to indicate that there was some flexibility. There is nothing vague or complicated about this, yet this is not mentioned at all even though the challenge application and FAQ were recently re-written to address a number of valid complaints.

Why does he leave out this crucial bit of information? Because it allows Randi to work behind the scenes to make the challenge as difficult as possible. It is well known within scientific circles that the odds against chance that James Randi will accept are 1,000 to 1 for the preliminary challenge and 1,000,000 to 1 for the main challenge. The odds for the main challenge are the equivalent of asking a person to stand under a 20′ high wall and jump over it. And if their foot brushes the top? That’s a failure; too bad, so sad, get lost.

You can’t find this out of course until after you’ve applied. While psychics can, conceivably overcome odds of a thousand to one, it’s extremely doubtful that they can do this under both the pressure of performing, in the presence of extreme skeptics, within eight hours and having their number of trials arbitrarily limited. It is a worse case scenario for demonstrating psychic ability.   Beating 1,000,000 to one odds is completely out of the question. Bear in mind that should a psychic show a sudden flash of great ability, they may be asked to repeat it, further worsening the odds. Randi makes no attempt to explain these details, he only paints the applicants in the worst possible light.

Until as recently as the end of 2007, applicants were required to give up all publicity and media rights as a requirement for applying. So not only were they screwed, they were not allowed to talk about it. This is kind of like the sideshow at the carnival where people are promised that they will see something wonderful, but when shown the empty box are advised not to tell anyone else lest they be the only fool. Until very recently, he did not even show the list of applicants. At every step of the way he appears to be seeking to withhold information about the difficulty of the challenge.

This is one more way in which the scientific validity of the challenge is nil. Proving that people cannot jump over a 20ft wall does not prove anything about jumping except that people cannot jump that high. It makes no statement about any ability under that threshold. If a person can only jump six inches, that is still jumping. The same applies to psychic ability.

It is possible for scientists to achieve 1,000,000 to 1 odds, this has been done many times, but only through a great number of repetitions, which is how this sort of science is normally done. Taking time away from the real science to travel to Florida in order to perform in front of die hard skeptics isn’t really high on their priority list. The expense of such an endeavor would likely use up a large chunk of the prize money so as to make the challenge unappealing. Psychic ability has already been proven, so it’s only about shutting Randi up.

But the expense and obstacles of the challenge do not make it an attractive proposition. A scientist would have to front all of the money for the challenge and stands a chance of running out before they get to their goal. They would likely have to do this in the face of Mr. Randi doing everything in his power to prevent their success, since that would mean the end of whatever fame he possesses from the challenge and his skepticism. This would undoubtedly add to their expense.  Of course it’s all moot since he ignores them anyway.

In conclusion, there is no reason to take this challenge seriously.   It’s not science.   The illusion of the Great Test is only maintained through selectively culling applicants, making the process opaque and rigging the odds.    Its only possible purpose can be to harass and humiliate people who do not share Mr. Randi’s beliefs.

I’ll leave you with a comment one of Randi’s own volunteers made on a thread discussing an applicant who had been denied  (here #468):

I realize that there is almost no interest in holding Randi and the MDC to the standards that they claim for themselves. I’ve always been in a ridiculed minority when I make these suggestions. It is clear that the Challenge is not about allowing people to demonstrate their claims, but rather about providing examples for our ridicule – partly for education, partly for group-bonding (my guesses). I am in the process of moving on from the idea of trying to persuade anyone to care to that of trying to get the JREF and Randi to be more upfront about this instead, in order to thwart criticism. I fully realize that this will be a futile effort as well. I also continue to tell people to quit smoking. (…)

Sources:
1. The Randi Prize
2. Skeptic Changes the Rules
3. http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/12/the_challenge.html (For some reason, I cannot provide a link to this site.)
4. Beware Pseudo-Skepticism – The Randi Challenge
5. The Myth of the Million Dollar Challenge
6. James Randi One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge
7. Challenge Application
8. Challenge FAQ
9. Experimenter effects and remote detection of staring

10.  Parapsychology and the Skeptics by Chris Carter

39 comments on “A critical look at Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge

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  3. Anonymous
    September 12, 2013

    did u see the young man in the 80’s who was a kung fu master, he was able to move a pencil across the table and turn pages of a phone book with his ki energy and demonstrated this, randi threw out the pencil feat saying there is to much air moving from the ac vents and the young man was blowing on the pencil. he thought the same about the pages but said he would allow that one if he could add an element to see if the young man was blowing to turn the pages. he placed Styrofoam packaging or popcorn, around the phone book. the man asked if the could replace it with something else but randi refused. the man explained he was unable to cause the material had a static charge and it interfered. . randi and the judges disagreed. they must have never had anything shipped packed with this material cause it sticks to your clothes etc. 1 guy won this chalenge with a program he wrote for his laptop and some type of sensor. so randi is for technology, but he works so hard to disrupt and cause failer to any claiming supernatural ability. he is also an atheist. the reason he posts your info is to have so called skeptics to start the process of trying to weaken you or attempt to undermine your confidence. randi being such a skeptic knows how to disrupt these abilities, that in its self says a lot.

    • Gosman
      December 18, 2013

      The clip you saw about someone ‘winning’ the prize was a joke. The guy with the ‘ability’ to move the pencils did not ask for other material to be used.

  4. Eileen Day McKusick
    August 5, 2013

    How is it that you have so many thumbs down on your comment that there is no disclosure? I had that experience myself – nobody told me that my negotiations with them were going to be posted on their website! Before I signed anything, agreed to anything, or even worked out what we were going to do, my name and my process were posted for all to see (and of course criticize!) online! I told them to take it down, that they did not have my consent to leave it up there and they told me to get stuffed, that they could do what they wanted. That was red flag enough for me to pull out of the whole thing.

    • craigweiler
      August 5, 2013

      Skeptics have gone through all my most prominent posts and down ranked them. It’s childish.

      Your experience is not uncommon and you were wise to get out of there. It’s a colossal waste of time.

      • Sandy K.
        July 18, 2014

        How do you know that it was all “skeptics” that down ranked your posts? Are you saying that anyone that disagrees with your post(s) must be a psychic skeptic? Maybe some of the down ranking was from psychic believers that just didn’t care for what you were saying. I know that was true for one of the votes, anyway.

        • craigweiler
          July 18, 2014

          There are several pieces of evidence that indicate a concerted effort at one point:

          1. Only selected posts were targeted. Including a seldom visited “about” page. Stuff like that is usually met with indifference at best. For it to suddenly get a huge number of negative votes is telling. Most posts only have a few ratings. Under 10 usually.

          2. A large number of down ratings came within a very short period of time. Over sixty within a two week period. That’s an indication of a coordinated effort.

          3. Comments by readers were also targeted and downrated. That’s unheard of.

          In short, it was pretty damned obvious.

  5. El Reginaldo
    March 19, 2013

    I doubt that Randi has either the time or resources to deal with most of what are pretty obviously crazy, outlandish, childish and downright ridiculous claims. Were any of the above idiotic notions and abilities in any way real they would have become part of mainstream science. Instead we have to interminably listen to liars, whingers, the self-promoters and those who are without even blushing make a good living. Taking advantage of the naive, foolish, desperate and really rather sad isn’t clever and it very definitely isn’t real science.

    • craigweiler
      March 19, 2013

      I’m familiar with this line of thinking. I don’t find it very useful in evaluating Randi’s challenge.

    • EdG
      May 9, 2013

      It took 100 years to prove Einstein’s view on expansion of the universe correct. You’ve heard of Einstein, right? That maker of crazy, outlandish, childish and downright ridiculous claims?

      • jmanstiss
        November 6, 2013

        Actually, have YOU heard of Einstein? He never proposed an expanding universe, that was Edwin Hubble. Einstein was actually a believer in a static universe. You should do some fact checking before you get snarky with someone.

    • zebzaman
      April 3, 2014

      El Reginaldo, why do you waste your and our time leaving such hateful comments? As if we had not heard them before. You make yourself sound like a dick. I guess that’s because you are one.

    • stevenm13
      July 5, 2014

      You obviously don’t undeerstand mainstream science or the world you live in. Judging by your attitude, it’s probably useless to suggest that you look into the big foundations of the rich, ruling elite who control what is accepted as science. Granted, there are a lot of charlatans, but there are geuine psychics who get dismissed or ignored by mainstrem science. One such example is Edgar Cayce who the unamazing randi naturally dismissed because he has an agenda. However, if you want the truth about Cayce read Sidney Kirkpatrick’s book about him and then try to dismiss Cayce yourself!

      • Jack
        July 18, 2014

        From Wikipedia: “Cayce advocated some controversial and eccentric ideas from his trance readings. In many trance sessions, he reinterpreted the history of life on Earth. One of Cayce’s controversial claims was that of polygenism. According to Cayce, five human races (white, black, red, brown and yellow) had been created separately but simultaneously on different parts of the Earth. Cayce also accepted the existence of aliens and Atlantis and claimed that “the red race developed in Atlantis and its development was rapid”. Another claim by Cayce was that “soul-entities” on Earth intermingled with animals to produce “things,” giants that were as much as twelve feet tall.”

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  7. Pimp
    July 26, 2012

    I just thought that I would chip in my 2 cents. I have to say that I see some well-thought-out comments in this main post as well as other posts from other people on the internet regarding this farce of a test. However, it seems to me that there is not enough highlighting of one of the most important points in all of this. I mean, I admit that I did not read the whole post, so it might be in there somewhere, but it seems to me a bit unnecessary to write a long, well-reasoned post about something that can easily be taken care of with a few short words. The point is – RANDI AND HIS PEOPLE ARE FRAUDS!!! This is a very simple, legitimate, easy-to-understand point that, dare I say, provides better reasoning as to why no one should take that dopey test than most of what was written in the main post. I mean, would anyone with half of a mind, who is NOT brainwashed, want to trust people who have engaged in fraud conspiracies, like Project Alpha, in the past to run a fair test of anything? On top of all of that, Randi and his people even brag about and defend such conspiracies. Don’t get me wrong, there is good stuff in the main post, but there needs to be more drawing of attention to the fact that these people are liars who defend such lies when it suits their agenda. They are not to be trusted. Period. Simple, easy, end of story.

    • stevenm13
      July 5, 2014

      You can’t just state something in a few words like saying THEY ARE FRAUDS without demonstrating how they are frauds. This article did that very well. Why didn’t you read the whole thing? That’s a large part of the problem with society today. The masses are conditioned for 30 second sound bites and are too impatient to really scrutinize something. Therefore, the controllers get away with way too much.

  8. Pierce
    July 20, 2012

    This comment has been deleted for failing to contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.

  9. William
    April 18, 2012

    I have heard Mr. Benneth’s his hate-filled venom from his own words here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXmYP9VAvlA
    It is not surprising that Mr. Randi does not want anything to do with him. Can anyone watch this video and really not be ashamed to be a proponent of Mr. Benneth?

    • craigweiler
      April 18, 2012

      Randi is a public figure and therefore open to being mocked. Yes, Mr. Benneth is way over the top in this video, but so what? What he’s doing is not illegal and it doesn’t really compare to the large scale mocking of psychics, psychic researchers, psi proponents that Randi does. Randi is also an accessory to identity fraud. http://www.dailygrail.com/blogs/Steve-Volk/2012/3/TOP-10-DEVELOPMENTS-FRINGE-OLOGY-5

      That’s far worse in my opinion.

  10. pskeptic@gmail.com
    August 24, 2011

    I hear a whole lot of “WAH” over this simple fact of life:

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

    If one purports to be a psychic, they need to provide extraordinary evidence to support it.

    And, how are the JREF’s protocols not repeatable? Anyone can take that protocol, and perform it many times. As many as they like.

    That’s repeatable.

    • craigweiler
      August 24, 2011

      *Sigh*

      “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
      No, claims require evidence. The word “extraordinary” is meaningless in a scientific context because it cannot be quantified.

      “If one purports to be a psychic, they need to provide extraordinary evidence to support it.”
      See above.

      “And, how are the JREF’s protocols not repeatable? Anyone can take that protocol, and perform it many times. As many as they like.
      That’s repeatable.”
      The tests cannot be repeated because they are specific to individuals and their specific claims. Also, there is no documentation available on who has taken the test, what the protocol was and what the results were.

      For real psi tests, I refer you here:

      http://weilerpsiblog.wordpress.com/evidence-for-psi/

    • EdG
      May 9, 2013

      Also, “anyone” cannot perform the protocol as many times as they like. The test is limited to 8 hours and Randi can and has arbitrarily set limits to the number of trials in a test, in one instance cutting it from 100 down to 20.

  11. Eric Blews
    May 1, 2011

    In an email correspondence with Mr. Pavel Ziborov I sought his advice in dealing with the JREF and his first hand insight of the process opened my eyes to some very depressing facts regarding this supposed JREF MDC. I will still apply, but as they say, ‘I won’t quit my day job’ because I am not expecting a fair or reasonable chance of being tested under honest conditions. This is very sad, I had hoped to use the winnings to found a nonprofit devoted to teaching meditation and helping people learn to access their Qi but it seems that this is about as likely as Pavel getting his application reopened and being treated fairly!

    Quite depressing indeed…
    Eric Blews
    (Black Muslin on FaceBook)

    • craigweiler
      May 1, 2011

      Hi Eric,
      I’ve done quite a bit of research on this challenge and I plead with you not to bother with it. In a related post: Can you Win Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge I lay out quite clearly what the game is. If you are a serious challenger, he will withhold signing the application until you agree to a preliminary challenge that you cannot possibly win. He does this by limiting the number of trials while still requiring you to me the 1,000 to 1 threshold. Assuming you hang in there during an extremely and unnecessarily drawn out process during which you are routinely insulted by people who actively believe you are either a fraud or deluded, you will be required to be tested by these same very heavily biased people.

      You will not be allowed any friends or supporters of any sort and be isolated with a bunch of people who are desperately afraid of your success. Ever tried to do psi in a room filled with unconscious fear? In the midst of all this you would have to perform at literally superhuman levels in order to succeed. That’s hard enough to do in a supportive environment.

      That’s just the preliminary. If, by some miracle you made it through that, you still have to perform a challenge overcoming odds of 1,000,000 to 1. There is no scientific record of any psychic ever having done that. The problem is that you will die of boredom first from the endless repetition of simple psi tests while you try to achieve those odds.

      You undoubtedly have great gifts if you seriously think you can win Randi’s prize. Use those gifts for something constructive and ignore these posers.

  12. Ron
    February 27, 2011

    On a partically cloudy clear day, I can make small cumulus clouds disappear, just by staring at them.If the cloud is to big,I’ll break it up into smaller pieces ,and erase each small cloud piece.I would like to know how Randi can duplicate cloud busting.

    • craigweiler
      February 27, 2011

      Hi Ron,
      He can’t duplicate that, of course. He would simply deny that you could do it and provide his own “logical” non-psi explanation.

      There is no reasoning with a denier.

  13. Pavel
    September 26, 2010

    Hi Graig,

    In regards to my comments about how I were treated by JREF. IGNORANCE is the main issue I would point out, many of my questions was ignored, many times I had to wait MONTHS for reply.

    In regards to the notes, if you will brows through forums on JREF site you will find them, mainly if you look at my post N.228 over here http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?t=119896&page=6 and read the follow ups and also some comments of other forum members it will make a lot clear to you.

    Sincerely yours,

    Pavel

  14. Pavel Ziborov
    September 20, 2010

    Thank you very much for this Critical LOOK! Well done, I am as the applicant who spend/waisted over 2 years dealing with JREF, really would like to Thank YOU! Some people will be able to look at JREF with different eyes. BY the way JREF NEVER replied to my request to explain WHY, I cant be tested as we we discussing over a year..
    I don’t know if it can be published here.. but here is a copy of it. (Moderator, please feel free to use it, edit it or delete)

    To Mr. James Randi,
    201 S.E.
    12th Street Ft Lauderdale
    Florida 33316
    USA

    I am writing to you in regards to JREF’s decision to close my file, with the reason – “ In accordance with the suggestions from other JREF staff, Pavel was given one last opportunity to simplify his protocol. He has declined, and his Challenge file has been closed.”

    The JREF stuff is misrepresented the facts in favor of the JREF and presenting me in false light.

    This is unexceptionably as it is. I was given NO chance but to refuse the protocol, that is absolutely UNFAIR and guarantees that I will not be able to perform claimed by me abilities, the conditions offered to me is making it impossible to. As claimed by me ability and success rate CANNOT be reliably tested with 20 trials that has been offered with no other options. The JREF imposed a limit on the number of trials which is too low to test the ability as stated in the application. The JREF’s proposed test would only give me a 25% chance of passing it, even if I indeed have the ability I claime. A protocol for 100 trials test that was refused is not unreasonable, and the fact that it is refused seems unreasonable and unfair due to the facts:

    1. The time required for test did not violate JREF’s limits of 8 hours.

    2. It was reviewed by independent statistician (who previously worked with JREF) and according to his opinion it was good enough for testing. He did not pointed any of options where the protocol seemed unfair and would give me at any point the advantage to win by chance and not by the claimed ability.

    3. From your response one of the reasons to refuse it and limit it to a 20 trials, was the cost of it. According the JREF’s rules I have to pay all the expanses related to test, so I see no reason why is JREF concerned about costs.

    The designed and discussed protocol of 100 pairs test, meets the generally understood requirements. The probability of winning by chance is less than 1 in 1,000. The time taken is within the bounds of previous challenges. I bear the expenses. I believe there are adequate guards against cheating. The protocol has been checked by an independent statistician (who was kind enough to volunteer his time) who is familiar with the challenge process. The protocol seems to have met with enough approval by the JREF staff that it was deemed suitable for final presentation to you.

    The fact that the latest protocol was discussed with JREF for ONE year period, and not even once the JREF expressed it concerns about it as being unreasonable and unacceptable. So the sudden letter limiting the test and offering me no choice but to refuse it and my file to be closed, I consider as unfair!

    I strongly believe that I was treated unfairly, unjustly and even fraudulently in some way. As I am presented on the JREF’s applicants page in a false light, as a person who was given fair chances, time and conditions for testing the claimed ability but I have refused it. That is absolute false and lie!

    There for, I would appreciate the JREF reopening my file and hold fair test or if JREF find the proposed protocol unacceptable and giving me chance to cheat or win in a fraudulent way, officially explain your point and reasons for refusing protocol and limiting me to a conditions that is unfair! I ask of you, to amend the record on the JREFS applicant log, as it misrepresent the fact and as I have said before presents me in false light to a people who were not involved in any way in to protocol negotiation and are not familiar to any other threads on the JREF forums that related to the matter.

    Sincerely yours,

    Pavel Ziborov

    Regards,

    Pavel

    • craigweiler
      September 22, 2010

      Hi Pavel,
      Thank you very much for posting this comment on my blog. I will reference this in the article as soon as I can. Based on my research and what I learned about Randi and this organization I was fairly certain that this would be a waste of time for you. The challenge lacks the openness would would expect from anyone pursuing a scientific goal, which this ultimately is made out to be. The organization has more in common with secret police in the way it handles information and disclosure.

      I would be grateful for any comments you have regarding how you were treated by the JREF staff. Were you always treated professionally, or was there a lot of snark and general pettiness? I very much want to hear from you on that issue.

      Also, I hope you have been taking notes about your experience because there is an interesting story there. If you have written about it, I would be grateful for the link.

      Thanks,
      Craig

  15. Stephen Malinowski
    June 17, 2010

    It does take repetitions to achieve 1,000,000 to 1 odds, but it’s not a prohibitively large number of repetitions. For example, let’s say I claimed to be able to predict the flip of a coin. The odds I could do it by chance are 50/50, or “2 to 1 odds.” Doing it by chance twice in a row raises the odds of doing it by chance to 4 to 1. Doing it twenty times in a row raises the odds of doing it by chance to more than a million to one. This is not analogous to being asked to jump over a twenty-foot wall; it is more like being asked to jump over a one-foot wall twenty times. If the prediction is among more possibilities, the number of repetitions needed goes down. For example, if I claimed to be able to predict the throw of a six-sided die, only eight repetitions would be necessary; for guessing a one-digit number (one in ten), six repetitions.

    • craigweiler
      June 17, 2010

      Thank you for this thoughtful criticism. In theory, you definitely have a point. You can achieve a million to one odds under the circumstances you describe. In practice however, it is a much different story. There are a number of factors which increase the difficulty by a large margin. To wit:

      1. Psychics do not have a 100% success rate under the best of conditions. A success rate of 55% or 60% where chance is 50% is fairly normal. The Ganzfeld tests have between 33% and 39% hit rates where chance is 25%. And that is under very good conditions.

      2. A number of factors lower the success rate: Testing itself is an unnatural use of psi. (Boredom and repetition lower psychic ability.) It takes a lot of effort to produce it under those conditions and this is reflected in the success rate.

      3. Testing in the presence of skeptics also lowers the success rate. This has been proven. (Wiseman and Schlitz 1997)

      So a million to one odds against chance is likely out of reach under the field conditions a psychic person is likely to encounter with the challenge. You can see how much trouble the few people who have actually taken the preliminary challenge have even achieving a thousand to one under Randi’s test conditions. If you understand how psi works, this outcome is expected.

      • Anonymous
        August 24, 2011

        psychics have a 0% success rate by psychic power. The success rate increases with luck.

      • Panait Ciprian
        August 27, 2012

        guessing has a success rate of 50% . A success rate of 55-60% puts in the same category as an educated guess. To be considered succesful those rates should be at least 75% and the data involved in the predictions should not be vague. Current psychic predictions are so vague they apply to 80% of the earth population.
        2. testing lower the success rate? ok. let’s try this. we select the data of someone and present them to the psychic. Will see how he deals. Actually such a test was preformed. The data from a serial killer specialised in young people was presented to a famous astrologer. The interpretation of the astrologer was that the person was good and it recommended the person should have a job that works with young people.
        3. Testing in the presence of skeptics? what a piece of bs. Actually if a person believes it can be influenced to believe the predictions are more accurate. That is because the mind plays tricks on you.

        • craigweiler
          August 27, 2012

          Thanks for your comment Panait. Allow me to address your points:

          1. Regarding success rates: This is an inaccurate understanding of statistics. You can have very low success rates and still reach significance provided you run enough trials to reduce the probability of chance to a very low number. This is done in medicine all the time.

          2. The anecdotal evidence you have provided does not support your conclusion.

          3. There have been controlled studies on this issue. See Wiseman and Schlitz, 1999. It’s called the experimenter effect.

  16. MikeC
    December 23, 2009

    I’ve visited the JREF website several times before and always wondered why many contestants withdrew during the protocol stage. Now I know why, it’s a hypocritical media stunt that unfortunately attempts to keep humanity from advancing. Thank you for the clear and informative article on the Randi challenge, keep up the good work.

    • craigweiler
      January 1, 2010

      My biggest beef about the challenge is that there is almost no up front disclosure of some of the most important details. There are all these rules you find out only after you’ve invested a considerable amount of time in the process.

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