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Aug 26 2011

It’ll never happen

The pair of psychic frauds, James van Praagh and Allison DuBois, who were featured on Nightline, have been called out by the JREF:

The JREF’s Million Dollar Challenge Director, Banachek, also featured in the episode, said, “We’re issuing a challenge to these fakers: for once, show that you can get this supposedly supernatural knowledge without cheating. If one of you can demonstrate your ‘psychic’ abilities on randomly chosen strangers—not celebrities—under mutually-agreed conditions, without relying on known cold-reading techniques such as fishing around with vague questions, and without just using Google—we will donate our million dollars to you or to the charity of your choice.”

You know Van Praagh and DuBois will never, ever risk exposure of their profitable scams by subjecting themselves to tests.

(Also on Sb)

22 comments

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  1. 1
    The Lorax

    The surest proof that there is no such thing as the supernatural (at least, not in such a way that a rational human can demonstrate its existence) is that the JREF prize has been sitting there, accumulating interest, for years.

    It’s not that no one wants it. It’s that no one has the ability to earn it.

  2. 2
    ragarth

    I, personally, believe in the supernatural. Every time someone sheds the light of evidence on it, it disappears! That’s a track that simply can’t be explained.

  3. 3
    Glen Davidson

    Can’t they include the IDiots in that prize? I mean, why not demand one piece of evidence that actually points to design, and not merely relying on the assumption that if we don’t know, Designer did it?

    It’s not like the other charlatans are blocking the office entrance of JREF, after all. The money’s sitting there all forlorn (OK, probably not, I don’t even know if there is a million or if it would have to be raised).

    There really ought to be a constant challenge to them to produce one damn thing that actually points to design–rationality, design principles, whatever. If it’s actually included in the prize, it’s simply not explicit enough.

    Glen Davidson

  4. 4
    Doug Little

    The money’s sitting there all forlorn (OK, probably not, I don’t even know if there is a million or if it would have to be raised).

    It’s printed on psychic paper, can’t you see it?

  5. 5
    Andrew EC

    I was fairly impressed with that Nightline program; they gave a lot of screen time to Banachek using the JREF protocols to disqualify the psychic and the tarot card reader. Oh, and the first reporter figured out that everything Van Praagh told him came off of the Google AND we got to see Van Praagh strike out with the presumably less-famous producer as a substitute.

    Yes, there was an enormous sop to woo at the end; yes, it was indefensibly awful. But on balance I thought this was a lot more pro-reason than I expected. (Perhaps I have low expectations.)

  6. 6
    Jon

    Allison DuBois is a real person? I thought she was just a character from Medium.

  7. 7
    greame

    Speaking of JREF, The Amazing James Randi will be in Toronto on Sept 27!!!

    If you’re in the GTA, get a ticket, there are limited seats.

  8. 8
    rick020200

    OK, probably not, I don’t even know if there is a million or if it would have to be raised

    The nightline episode indicated that that money was forlorn, waiting, in a bank account.

  9. 9
    asyouwere

    About 35 years ago the town fathers of Norfolk VA tried to close down a couple of the psychic shops along downtown’s main street. It was alleged that they were committing fraud by claiming they were communicating with the beyond.

    They got a free ride when a lawyer they hired said that the town would have to include all the city’s churches in the indictment as well, since they were basically making the same claim.

  10. 10
    onefuriousllama

    Meh, scammers will be scammers. Idiots will be idiots. And scammers will always be able to part idiots from their money.

  11. 11
    Sastra

    Psychics weasel out of legitimate challenges by appealing to the same sorts of sloppy excuses you see all the time in religion: poor analogies and rational fallacies. The supernatural is not the sort of thing that meets “demands” — you have to coax it gently and be the right sort of person or it won’t work. Sylvia Browne came up with a laundry list of lame excuses for avoiding Randi’s challenge: she doesn’t need the money, she doesn’t believe the money is there, she doesn’t know where Randi is or how he can be contacted (umm… you’re psychic, try his webpage.) Eventually she came up with the best excuse of all: Randi doesn’t believe in God and she refuses to deal with people who don’t even believe in God. Right.

    That last one plays well to the public, though. In order to put people in a receptive frame of mind so that they discover all sorts of hits in every reading you have to feed into a preconceived point of view that considers skepticism a bad thing — and easy faith a good one. Quickest route: make references to religion. Religion is already adept at convincing people to treat fact claims on a social, emotional level.

    When I express rational doubt over the likelihood of reiki, space alien abductions, ESP, or homeopathy, the likelihood of someone asking me “do you believe in God?” is very high. Sometimes they know I’m an atheist and want to “discredit” me with the audience; other times they assume I’m not and want to establish a common ground of “we believe things on insufficient evidence all the time” to use as a segue into their woo.

    Belief in belief works for all forms of the supernatural. Sloppy thinking knows no boundaries: it usually slops over into other areas, for the lines are deliberately made fuzzy.

  12. 12
    Matrim

    The money’s sitting there all forlorn (OK, probably not, I don’t even know if there is a million or if it would have to be raised).

    They have the money more or less ready, if you ask Randi he can tell you how much is in the account at any given point. It fluctuates due to interest and such.

  13. 13
    tim gueguen

    Jon, Medium is based on DuBois’ supposed role in helping law enforcement. I’ve never watched the show, but I find it interesting that it’s one of the few cases I can think of where the actress hired to play the fictionalised version of a real person isn’t considerably more attractive than the real person.

  14. 14
    'Tis Himself

    it’s one of the few cases I can think of where the actress hired to play the fictionalised version of a real person isn’t considerably more attractive than the real person.

    And your point is?

  15. 15
    Randide, Mais il faut cultiver notre jardin

    And your point is?

    Duh! The relevant point is obviously that Allison DuBois is hot and therefor her claims of clairvoyancy must be taken as true.

  16. 16
    Jessie Colt

    Anyone who lays claim to a biblical spin on psychics and the other fraudsters could always have the bible quoted back to them.

    A man or a woman who acts as a medium or fortuneteller shall be put to death by stoning; they have no one but themselves to blame for their death. (Leviticus 20:27)

  17. 17
    DLC

    van Pragh and du Bois have both been offered the million dollar prize before, and neither has taken the offer yet. I do not expect either to ever change that.

    For those Psychics scammers who cloak their scam in Jesus-flavor, remember :
    Leviticus 20:27. “Men and women among you who act as mediums or who consult the spirits of the dead must be put to death by stoning. They are guilty of a capital offense.”

    Yaweh doesn’t like competition.

  18. 18
    Chris Tucker

    I cannot begin to describe how much I loathe charlatans like these two. Edward and Geller, too.

    I used to be a magician, before the arthritis ruined my hands.

    Cold reading is an easy skill to master. As seen by these damned frauds.

    The thing is, it’s so easy to fool people who eagerly wish to be fooled.

    The reason magicians never reveal how an illusion is performed is that pretty much all of magic is made up of just the sleaziest things. The stuff that goes on right in front of you, that you don’t even notice, would appall you. Because you got fooled by something so sleazy and/or simple.

    The Vanishing Hanky, for example. When you know how it’s done, and the gimmick that’s used that is, truly waved right in front of your face, most people get pissed off that they were fooled so easily.

    Same thing with Geller’s spoon pending.

    Here, I’ll tell you how it’s done.

    Geller BENDS THE SPOON with his two hands. Right under your nose. Sometimes, he even turns his back on you to bend the spoon.

    Spoon bending is one of the few illusions I can still perform. It always kills. The gasps of astonishment are almost deafening.

    “Now watch, I’ll do it again. See how I bend the spoon with my hands. It’s a trick!”

    If it ever comes to pass that any of these frauds are lead to the guillotine, I hope to be there, so that I can grab the detached, still conscious head and say the following:

    “Bet you never saw THIS ONE coming!”

    Why, yes, I AM a vicious bastard! Glad you noticed.

  19. 19
    DLC

    oh.. whoops. I guess you don’t get the simple code for strike-through ? it should have been Psychics
    usually use s /s for strike-through.

  20. 20
    JohnnieCanuck

    Strike One

  21. 21
    Dianne

    I don’t consider no one taking the JREF prize by itself to be definitive proof that there is no such thing as psychic ability. I can think of several scenarios in which a person with psychic abilities couldn’t or wouldn’t try for the prize.

    1. S/he was making so much money using his/her ability secretly that getting $1 million openly using them wouldn’t be worth the amount lost by no longer being able to use them secretly. For example, a person with precognitive ability making money on stocks who was afraid no one would trade with them if their ability were known.

    2. Psychic ability exists but is extremely weak. This is quasi-based on a real world event: The Guardian had (possibly still has) daily quizzes on obscure news events. I virtually never knew anything about the events described, yet my average score on a 4 question multiple choice test was about 3-4, rather than the expected 2.5. The real life reason for this is testmanship: I know how to take tests and how to play the system to improve my score, even when I have no knowledge of what is being tested. But suppose I could still do this with a quiz in Chinese or Korean where I couldn’t even read the questions. That might suggest a psychic ability-but one so weak that it probably wouldn’t occur to me that I had it, muchless that it was worth applying for the JREF prize with.

    3. If there are people with psychic abilities, perhaps there are people with anti-psychic abilities. The scenario might be that there is something about being around Randi and other testers that makes the psychic ability simply not work. Sort of like how a cell phone won’t work if you stick it in a lead lined room but that doesn’t disprove cell phones. And in a world where psychic ability was real and strong, anti-psychics might be particularly attracted to JREF or similar organizations because in their experience it never works despite people babbling about it all the time.

    Just to be clear: There is no such thing as psychic ability in real life. Multiple studies by people who wanted to find it have failed to find it. There is no comprehensible mechanism by which it might work. There is no there there. I just find it amusing to come up with scenarios where any given piece of evidence for anything might be wrong.

  22. 22
    Steven Schwartz

    Dianne, @22

    If there are people with psychic abilities, perhaps there are people with anti-psychic abilities.

    If you haven’t read it, I’ll point you at Philip K. Dick’s novel “Ubik”, which operates on just this premise, and that anti-psychics make a living out of blocking psychics at work. ;)

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