James Randi has a $1 million dollar prize for anyone that can, under controlled conditions, demonstrate any paranormal ability whatsoever.

The prize has been up for quite some time, many have tried- none have succeeded, and some have been most surprised that they have not succeeded.

The prize is funded from personal pledges by people that agree that paranormal activities are not going on. If the prize were to be won, Randi would have to recover the money from the pledgers, but he has made arrangements to pay out the money straight away to the winner.

Some people have accused him of trying to set up the prize to be unwinnable, but the attempts that have been made seem to be under quite reasonable conditions; the only caveats are that Randi must make sure that it is extremely unlikely that he lose the prize purely by chance, and sometimes extensive conditions are there to rule out all known methods of cheating. (Randi, being a magician has extensive knowledge of these, and sometimes the conditions can seem arbitrary to the lay person.)

Saying that "many have tried, none have succeeded" is an understatement. The formal test (the one that will get you the million) is preceded by a quick preliminary check aimed at weeding out cheaters and self-deluded people.

To date, no one has ever passed the preliminary tests. As somebody else said, this is rather boring - I can fail to read other people's thoughts on regular basis (I've actually been accused by a couple of girls of doing just that once too often).

The list of excuses given by famous psychics to avoid the challenge is more interesting:

  • The prize does not exist.

    The million dollar is invested in negotiable bonds, and the documentation to prove this is available on request (from Goldman Sachs, I believe?)

  • The test results will be falsified.

    The test will be performed by an independent party, following a protocol agreed upon both by Randi and the claimant. Randi's foundation won't be involved in the actual test.

  • Randi is the judge, and he'll never say that I've passed the test.

    Actually, the test won't require a judge. The challenge form states that "every applicant must agree upon what will constitute a conclusion that, on the occasion of the formal test, he or she did or did not demonstrate the claimed ability or power". Removing the legalese, a claimant could say that a spoon bent by telekinesis by more than x degrees constitutes a success, while anything less than x is a failure (note that many spoonbenders claim to be able to twist cutlery into modern-art sculptures). Randi will simply make sure that the test protocol won't allow trickery; I've seen him bending - and indeed breaking - a spoon during a lecture.

  • Randi is not a qualified scientist.

    True, but many scientists are members of the James Randi Educational Foundation, or are willing to give advice as qualified experts.

  • There is no standard protocol, so the test can be designed specifically to make me fail.

    Randi is willing to award the prize to anyone who can successfully demonstrate any paranormal ability, be they telepaths, remote viewers, mind controllers, dowsers, necromancers and so on, up to and including inventors of free energy devices and sellers of homeopathic remedies. Since the actual claim can vary wildly, the tests need to be tailored on the claim. Fairness is assured by the fact that the protocol will be modified, rewritten and amended until it's agreed upon by all the participants - before the test begins, of course.

  • Randi has powerful anti-psychic powers, and his mere presence is sufficient to damp my own powers.

    Yes, Randi's power is called "skepticism".

  • The prize money is jinxed.

    The mafia routinely launders dirty money from drug deals; I'm sure that a curse won't bother them. Contact your local Godfather for advice. He'll probably want to keep a big share of the money, though.

  • I despise Randi and everything he does.

    Taking a million dollar away from somebody who I despise will surely make my day.

  • I don't need his money.

    Give it to the homeless.

  • I don't need to demonstrate that I have paranormal powers. It's up to Randi to demonstrate that I don't have them.

    Randi isn't trying to prove anything. Usually he doesn't even say that a particular claim (no matter how extravagant) is false; he simply invites the psychic to accept the challenge, pointing out that scientific thinking sets the burden of proof on the claimant, and that extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof.
    On a side note, proving a negative can be next to impossible; I can't ask somebody to give me a scientific proof that during the whole month of December, 2003 I never used the word "marmalade".
    Hmmm, wrong example. It's December, and I've just used the word "marmalade". Twice now. Damn.

The JREF motto should be "Hic Rhodus, hic salta".

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