The James Randi Educational Foundation’s challenge is a subject that comes up here semi-regularly. Most of those around here who are interested in it probably already know about it, but for those who don’t, the present details of it can be found here but the gist is that the JREF will pay $1m to anyone who can prove that they have a paranormal ability.
Randi announced today that major changes are to be made to the challenge. The changes are described at Item 3 of his weekly newsletter for this week, here. The gist of them is that the Challenge will now only be made to people with a public profile and who have some academic support for their alleged ability. The Challenge will no longer be a passive standing offer to all comers but will supposedly become instead more of an aggressive challenge to targeted individuals.
The broad reach of the JREF Challenge has always, to me, been a bulwark against claims of the paranormal. To me it is a powerful argument that if there was someone out there who could really do something paranormal they would have won the prize by now. My take on it is that the changes will largely negative that argument. The Challenge will become too selective for the argument to work.
What effect will the changes have? How will it alter the terms of the debate? Will the changes be effective in the way Randi thinks? Randi has invited comment and is in my experience someone who reads his mail. How could the Challenge be better altered?
I don’t think it negates the argument at all. If, as you say, there were someone out there who could really do these things, they would have no problem at all getting publicity and academic support. After all, there have been many frauds who have gotten these things without the ability to “really” do these things. I think this is an excellent way to keep from being bogged down with all the nut cases.
I can completely understand why they’re doing it - it saves all that wasted time on endless preparations for preliminary tests, but I think it’s too easy for people to allege that he’s retracting the challenge because he knows he’ll lose if he doesn’t.
I don’t think so; although that incident was a fairly noticeable one here, you only have to read their forum to see that it’s a drop in the ocean to them. If Peter had rocked their boat, I think we’d have seen a specific effort to clarify what does and does not represent a challenge.
I was listening to the Skepticality podcast a couple of weeks ago, and they played a voice mail they received from a man who was incensed that his challenge application wasn’t accepted, and it sounded like he was getting fairly litigious about it. His proposal for being tested was to find 12 married couples, randomly selected and unknown to him, for which he would prepare a horoscope for the man, and the man’s spouse would judge whether it was accurate or not. If at least 60% of the spouses thought it was accurate, according to him his claim would be proved and he should get the million bucks.
His name is Bill Perron, and you can read a little about it here. After listening to the voice mail he left, I can sympathize with Randi for not wanting to deal with hundreds of these kinds of kooks. It would be nice if the challenge was open to everyone, but I sure wouldn’t want to be the one that had to deal with them.
I like the change. Read the Wired article on it here.
For too long these bozos and charlatans have been prominently highlighted in the media – from CNN, to Montel Williams, to Larry King. It sounds as though the change in the challenge is meant to free up some time and resources for Randi to fight back. Maybe he can get interviewed by Jon Stewart or something. Apparently the South Park guys Parker and Stone are scheduled to come to Randi’s Amazing Meeting this year.
I especially like the idea [from the article]:
These frauds desperately need to be held accountable. I just love the idea of Jon Edwards (TBDITU) going down on parking ticket violations. HA!
One wonders just how much money the Randi foundation has. Maybe this is a way to cut down on administrative costs and costs for arranging preliminary tests. It would get awfully expensive to test a crackpot a week.
I don’t see anything wrong with pursuing people like Sylvia Browne for fraud charges, either. She’s a fraud.
I think what he means is that Randi only wants “high-profile” claimants, because those are the only ones that get public attention. Nobody cares if Random J. Kook gets his homebrew Orgone generator debunked, so nobody is going to pay attention to Randi when he debunks them.
The flaw in this argument, obviously, is “If that’s all Randi wants, why didn’t he change this twenty years ago?” Additionally, it sounds like this plan is going to get him less public exposure. The high profile psyhics and metaphysics aren’t ever going to go anywhere near Randi. They have too much to lose by failing his test, and make enough money peddling their snake oil to make the reward particularly tempting. Sounds to me like the number one effect this change will have is to put an end to people trying to claim the prize money altogether.
I suspect what’s really happening is that Randi is sick of dealing with the whole challenge thing (How old is he now, anyway? He must be pretty close to retirment age, if not actually past it.) but doesn’t want to cancel it outright because he knows it’ll be held up as a defeat/surrender in some quarters. Not that the change he has made is going to prevent that. As has been amply demonstrated on this board time and again, there are some people who have a totally irrational hatred of James Randi, and are more than eager to distort anything Randi says to make him look bad, no matter how ridiculous the spin.
From his words, it looks like he’s about to go on the offensive. He’s going to be searching for state, local, and federal laws that these people are violating, and he’s going to try to bring 'em down like Miss Cleo.