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One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge

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Title: One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge  
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Subject: James Randi Educational Foundation, Rosemary Altea, The Amaz!ng Meeting, Gary Schwartz, Swedish Humanist Association
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One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge

The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge is an offer by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to pay out one million U.S. dollars to anyone who can demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. Over a thousand people have applied to take the challenge, but none have yet been successful.


James Randi, Founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation.

James Randi developed the idea for the challenge during a radio panel discussion when a parapsychologist challenged him to "put [his] money where [his] mouth is."[1] In 1964, Randi started offering $1,000, then $10,000 prizes. Later, Lexington Broadcasting wanted Randi to do a show called the $100,000 Psychic Prize, so they added $90,000 to the original $10,000 raised by Randi. Finally, in 1996, one of his friends, Internet pioneer Rick Adams, donated US $1,000,000 for the prize.[2]

By April 1, 2007, only those with an already existing media profile and the backing of a reputable academic were allowed to apply for the challenge. It was hoped that the resources freed up by not having to test obscure and possibly mentally ill claimants would then be used to challenge high-profile alleged psychics and mediums such as Sylvia Browne and John Edward with a campaign in the media.[3]

On January 4, 2008, it was announced that the prize would be discontinued on March 6, 2010 in order to free the money for other uses. In the meantime, claimants were welcome to vie for it. One of the reasons offered for its discontinuation is the unwillingness of higher-profile claimants to apply.[4] However, at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7, it was announced that the $1 Million Challenge prize would not expire in 2010. The Foundation issued a formal update on its website on July 30, 2009, announcing the Challenge's continuation, and stated more information would be provided at a later date on any possible changes to the requirements and procedures.[5]

As an April Fool's prank on April 1, 2008, at the MIT Media Lab, Randi pretended to award the prize to magician Seth Raphael after participating in a test of Raphael's "psychic abilities".[6]

On March 8, 2011, the JREF announced that qualifications were being altered to open the Challenge to more applicants. Whereas applicants were previously required to submit press clippings and a letter from an academic institution to qualify, the new rules now require applicants to present either press clippings, a letter from an academic institution, or a public video demonstrating their ability. The JREF explained that these new rules would give people without media or academic documentation a way to be considered for testing, and would allow the JREF to use online video and social media to reach a wider audience.[7]

Since the challenge was first created by Randi in 1964, about a thousand people have applied, but no one has been successful.[1] Randi has said that few unsuccessful applicants ever seriously consider that their failure to perform might be due to the nonexistence of the power they believe they possess.[8]

Rules and judging

A TAM 2012 Applicant claimed that a wristband product could improve a person's balance. Here, James Underdown (back to camera) has his balance performance tested during the preliminary test phase of the challenge.

The official Challenge rules stipulate that the participant must agree, in writing, to the conditions and criteria of their test. Claims that cannot be tested experimentally are not eligible for the Challenge. Claimants are able to influence all aspects of the testing procedure and participants during the initial negotiation phase of the challenge. Applications for any challenges that might cause serious injury or death will not be accepted.

To ensure that the experimental conditions themselves do not negatively affect a claimant's ability to perform, non-blinded preliminary control tests are often performed. For example, the JREF has dowsers perform a control test, in which the dowser attempts to locate the target substance or object using their dowsing ability, even though the target's location has been revealed to the applicant. Failure to display a 100% success rate in the open test will cause their immediate disqualification. However, claimants are usually able to perform successfully during the open test, confirming that experimental conditions are adequate.

Claimants agree to readily observable success criteria prior to the test, results are unambiguous and clearly indicate whether or not the criteria have been met. Randi has said that he need not participate in any way with the actual execution of the test, and he has been willing to travel far from the test location to avoid the perception that his anti-paranormal bias could influence the test results.[9]

The discussions between the JREF and applicants were at one time posted on a public discussion board for all to see. Since the resignation of Randi's assistant, Mr. Kramer—and subsequent changes to challenge rules requiring applicants to have demonstrated considerable notability—new applications are no longer logged, but the JREF continues to maintain an archive of previous applicants.[10]

Example of a test (dowsing)

In 1979 Randi tested four people in Italy for

When all of the tests were over and the location of the pipes was revealed, none of the dowsers had passed the test. Dr. Borga had placed his markers carefully, but the nearest was a full 8 feet from the water pipe. Borga said, "We are lost", but within two minutes he started blaming his failure on many things such as sunspots and geomagnetic variables. Two of the dowsers thought they had found natural water before the test started, but disagreed with each other about where it was, as well as with the ones who found no natural water.[11]

Controversies and claimants

Dennis Rawlins

Astronomer Dennis Rawlins claimed the challenge is insincere, and that Randi will ensure he never has to pay out. In the October 1981 issue of Fate, Rawlins quoted him as saying "I always have an out".[12] Randi has stated that Rawlins did not give the entire quotation, and actually said "Concerning the challenge, I always have an 'out': I'm right!".[13] Randi states that the phrase "I always have an out" refers to the fact that he does not allow test subjects to cheat. Randi stated that if such phenomena did exist and someone accurately demonstrated it, he would give them one million dollars.

Sylvia Browne

On Larry King Live, March 6, 2001, Larry King asked psychic Sylvia Browne if she would take the challenge and she agreed.[14] Randi appeared with Browne again on Larry King Live on September 3, 2001 and she again accepted the challenge.[15] However, she refused to be tested and Randi kept a clock on his website recording the number of weeks that have passed since Sylvia accepted the challenge without following through. Eventually the clock was replaced with text stating that "over 5 years" had passed.[16] Browne died in 2013.

Rosemary Altea

In an appearance on Larry King Live on January 26, 2007, Randi challenged psychic Rosemary Altea to take the one million challenge. On Altea and Randi's June 5, 2001 meeting on the same show, Altea refused to take the challenge, calling it "a trick". Instead Altea, in part, replied "I agree with what he says, that there are many, many people who claim to be spiritual mediums, they claim to talk to the dead. There are many, people, we all know this. There are cheats and charlatans everywhere." Randi's response was to say "you're one of them".[17]

Rosemary Altea also made the claim the one million dollars does not exist, or is in the form of pledges or promissory notes.[18] The JREF has stated that the million dollars is in the form of negotiable bonds within a "James Randi Educational Foundation Prize Account" and that validation of the account and the prize amount can be supplied on demand. The money is held in an Evercore Wealth Management account.[19]

Rico Kolodzey

Randi rejected applicant Rico Kolodzey, stating in the rejection letter that the applicant was "a liar and a fraud." The applicant in question claimed to survive without food via Breatharianism. Randi asserted that Kolodzey's claim was so absurd or untestable on its face that it merited outright rejection. For example, Randi and the JREF explained their outright rejection of Kolodzey based on a policy to reject any applicants who put themselves in grave physical danger, although this clause was not added to the official Challenge rules until years after the incident. However, on May 19, 2006, Randi made a special exception to that rule due to all of the "raucous fuss" and began private negotiations for testing with Kolodzey. After 100 days of negotiations a test procedure still could not be agreed upon by both parties. In response to the stalled negotiations, Randi publicly commented that Kolodzey was retreating from testing after strenuously objecting to the rejection of his initial application.

Yellow Bamboo

Members of a group from Bali, referring to themselves as Yellow Bamboo, claimed one of their number, Pak Nyoman Serengen, could knock down an attacker at a distance, using only a piece of yellow bamboo. Video clips on their website showed a crowd of students running at Serengen, and falling to the ground when (or, in some cases, slightly before) Serengen extended his hand and shouted. The JREF arranged volunteers to carry out a preliminary investigation, but after the Yellow Bamboo group "threw every sort of obstacle in the way of that plan", Randi announced that he was terminating further involvement with them.[20]

A local volunteer contacted Randi offering to investigate the group unofficially. A low resolution video showed the investigator being knocked to the ground during a preliminary test. The JREF pointed out that the test was not conducted according to the proposed protocol, with multiple flaws in the execution including being carried out at night.[20] Upon viewing a set of still shots from the incident, several people experienced with stun-guns suggested that an electroshock weapon could have been used.[21]

Leigh Catherine

In an appearance on ITV's This Morning, on September 27, 2011, magician Paul Zenon challenged Welsh psychic Leigh Catherine (aka Leigh-Catherine Salway) to take the one million dollar challenge and she accepted. Phillip Schofield, a This Morning host, stated that the program would pay for her flights to the USA to be tested.[22] Salway subsequently backed out of the challenge, explaining in a Tweet "As expected - dodgy as legally & set up to make it impossible to pass!".[23]

Fei Wang

July 2014, Chinese Fei Wang was tested in front of an audience of 600 at the conclusion of The Amazing Meeting in Las Vegas. Wang said "'from his right hand, he could transmit a mysterious force a distance of three feet, unhindered by wood, metal, plastic or cardboard. The energy, he said, could be felt by others as heat, pressure, magnetism or simply “an indescribable change.”' A total of nine people were selected by Wang as people who would be able to receive the force from his hand, each person was to be blindfolded on stage and Wang and a control person were behind the curtain. A die was rolled and either the control or Wang would try to transmit the energy onto the subject's hand which was hidden inside a cardboard box. The subject then removed their blindfold and stated if they had felt any energy and if it came from person one or two. Wang needed to be selected 8 out of 9 trials in order to win the million dollars. After two trials, both failures for Wang, the challenge was over. Wang surprised, stated that he would try again the next year, he said "'This energy is mysterious'".[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b "JREF Challenge FAQ". James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved 18 December 2012. 
  2. ^ "The Demystifying Adventures of the Amazing Randi". Retrieved September 5, 2009. SF Weekly, August 24, 2009, online version, page 2: "One of his friends, Internet pioneer Rick Adams, put up $1 million in 1996."
  3. ^ Poulsen, Kevin (January 12, 2007). = wn_index_1 "Skeptic Revamps $1M Psychic Prize".  
  4. ^ "SWIFT Newsletter January 4, 2008". Retrieved 2014-06-12. 
  5. ^ "Million Dollar Challenge Update: It's not ending!". Retrieved July 30, 2009.  Announcement by Director Phil Plait on July 29, 2009
  6. ^ Raphael, Seth (1 April 2008). "Seth Raphael claims Randi's Million Dollar Challenge". Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Crabtree, Sadie. "JREF’s $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge Now Easier Than Ever", James Randi Education Foundation, March 9, 2011
  8. ^ "James Randi interview on Penn Radio, 2007-02-08". 2007-02-08. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  9. ^ "Challenge Info". JREF. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  10. ^ "JREF logs of challenge applicants". Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  11. ^  
  12. ^  
  13. ^ Swift newsletter, vol. 2 no. 2, 1998 (page 3)
  14. ^ "Are Psychics for Real?" transcripts, March 6, 2001
  15. ^ King, Larry (September 3, 2001). "Are Psychics Real?". CNN/ 
  16. ^ "The Sylvia Browne Clock". Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
  17. ^ Spiritual Medium Versus Paranormal Skeptic (Rosemary Altea versus James Randi) on Larry King Live June 5, 2001
  18. ^ "Interview with Larry Birkhead" Larry King Live, CNN, January 26, 2007
  19. ^ ""Million Dollar Challenge financial statement"" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-06-12. 
  20. ^ a b "Rejection of Yellow Bamboo's claim". 2003-10-03. Archived from the original on 2010-04-23. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  21. ^ "Yellow Bamboo may have used a stun gun to achieve his results". 2003-10-17. Archived from the original on 2010-06-16. Retrieved 2009-06-15. 
  22. ^ "Good Morning TV Clip". 
  23. ^ Catherine, Leigh. "Twitter Account". 
  24. ^ Higginbotham, Adam. "The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi".  

Official website

  • The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge — Official website
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