The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing reliable information about paranormal claims, and helping members of the public protect themselves against 'psychic' and pseudo-scientific scams. JREF's founder James Randi is the world-famous conjuror and escape artist who exposed a number of so-called 'psychics' and faith-healers who were using simple magic tricks to convince others they had supernatural abilities, bilking their followers out of money and otherwise inspiring harmful belief.
Most magicians make an honest living from their performances, because their audiences know that what they're watching is an illusion. The James Randi Educational Foundation decries when dishonest people use the same tricks to lie to people, pretending they can talk to people's deceased loved-ones, or promising to heal people with the power of a god. That's why James Randi retired from magic and is devoting the rest of his career to preventing these charlatans from swindling people and endangering their health.
At the JREF, we've never seen a self-described 'psychic' who could demonstrate an observable 'psychic' power without cheating. And we've seen a lot of people who claim to be psychics -- for more than a decade, we've offered a $1 million challenge to anyone who can demonstrate real psychic powers under fair, mutually-agreed-upon conditions. Those who have taken our tests have performed no better than would be expected from random guessing.
For the most part, the people who've accepted our challenge have genuinely believed they have psychic abilities, and most have been shocked that the abilities they thought they had didn't help them. On the other hand, there are prominent 'psychics' who make big money from their performances, yet seem to be very afraid to demonstrate their abilities under fair conditions that prevent cheating. We challenged celebrity medium James Van Praagh in August, putting our million dollars on the line and asking him if he'll to agree to a fair test. So far, he's refused to answer.
Today, we sent Mr. Van Praagh the letter below.
Mr. James Van Praagh:
I'm sure you received my letter of Sept. 9 encouraging you to accept the James Randi Educational Foundation's Million Dollar Challenge by agreeing to demonstrate your claimed psychic powers in a fair, mutually-agreed-upon test, under conditions that would prevent cheating. The certified letter was confirmed to have been picked up from your local post office.
We also sent the letter to you via email. During the week prior to that, our challenge to you was covered by ABC News and Time.com. AOL News reached out to you for an answer, but you didn't reply to them either. All this time, you have refused to give an honest answer to the question of whether or not you'll accept our challenge.
It seems odd that you won't return our messages. After all, if you can really do what you claim, we're offering you one million dollars and a chance to prove wrong everyone who doubts you, including those of us at the James Randi Educational Foundation. If your 'psychic powers' are real, hiding from our offer makes as much sense as throwing away a winning lottery ticket.
So, we can only guess at why you haven't answered.
Perhaps it's because what you do is not "psychic" at all, but a stale and repetitive performance of cold-reading techniques, in which you throw out vague guesses and then repeat back to your audience things they've already told you or things that are simply obvious, all while claiming their dead relatives are speaking to you.
Perhaps it's because your well-worn tricks actually fall flat quite often, such as when you had a spectacular failure on the Australian Channel Ten program The Circle.
Perhaps it's because you were just exposed on ABC's Primetime Nightline for stuffing your reading of an ABC correspondent with personal facts that were publicly available with a simple internet search, but which you claimed were revealed to you by spirits.
Perhaps it's because you have given so many people bad information that you were even called out by Barbara Walters on The View for falsely warning her that she had a serious health problem.
Or perhaps you have nothing to fear, and you have just been too busy to collect our million dollars.
Will you accept our challenge? We hope you will make the time to give us, and the media, your answer.
James Randi Educational Foundation
Follow D.J. Grothe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jref