Jan 15 2013

Defending the Million Dollar Challenge

Randi’s Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge is an icon of the skeptical movement. The challenge basically offers $1 million to anyone who can, “show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event.” So far no applicant has passed even the preliminary test for the million dollars.

It should not be surprising that the challenge is a thorn in the side of all proponents of the paranormal and charlatans whose living depends on belief in supernatural powers. The challenge is therefore under frequent attack by such proponents – always, in my experience, using unfair and often factually incorrect charges.

For full disclosure, even though this information is already on my author page, I am a senior fellow at the JREF (the James Randi Education Foundation, who offers the challenge), and I have participated in several preliminary tests. I have actually run three preliminary tests, and have participated in the development of protocols for others. The three tests I ran were designed and executed independently by me, with no input from Randi or the JREF, but following the rules they lay out and approved by the JREF before being executed.

The purpose of the challenge is not to design and run scientific experiments, and it is not to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of the paranormal or any particular supernatural phenomenon. Randi and the JREF have always been crystal clear about this. Rather, the point of the challenge is to be a public demonstration. There are many people who claim dramatic paranormal abilities. If their claims were anything close to the truth, it should be easy to demonstrate their abilities. As Randi says – he is only asking them to do what they claim to do on a daily basis, just under conditions that make it impossible (or at least very difficult) to cheat. That’s it.

A recent blog post by Steve Volk once again attacks the million dollar challenge. The attack amounts to one giant straw man, typical of such criticisms. I will also point out that this post, like all criticisms I have seen, focuses on Randi the man. I suspect this is probably because of his position, but also because they feel he is an easy target. Volk writes of him:

Randi, an amateur magician who found fame as an opponent of paranormal claims, has long served as the cranky elf of the skeptical movement.

“Cranky elf” is more charitable than most opponents. This article also typically ignores the fact that Randi is not even involved in the million dollar challenge anymore. The challenge is now run by Banachek, who is also a professional magician. Banachek’s name does not even appear in Volk’s article.

The core of his criticism is this:

The Challenge has muddled the very boundaries of science, allowing Randi-ites to say paranormal claims don’t hold up to scientific scrutiny while conceding, when pressed, that the Challenge isn’t science.

The link that apparently justifies this statement goes to a JREF announcement in which president D.J. Grothe is quoted as saying, “We have a longstanding commitment to investigate paranormal claims in a fair and scientific way…” Saying that investigations are done “in a scientific way” is not the same as saying that they are scientific experiments. The challenge develops protocols that use proper blinding, multiple trials, and statistical analysis. These are scientific methods, but even still no one claims that these are rigorous scientific experiments worthy of publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Volk goes on to complain that the thresholds for beating the challenge are too high – far above what would be required for scientific significance:

The result is that an applicant can—and did—achieve statistically significant positive results, yet was deemed to “fail” the challenge.

This is an absurd criticism, however, and does not even make consistent sense. The threshold for statistical significance is often set at 0.05, which essentially means that, by random chance alone, 1 experiment in 20 will reach statistical significance. If Randi were to set the threshold at a P-value of 0.05 then he would be giving $1 million dollars to every 20th applicant. It should be obvious why this is not done. Even a level of 1 in 100 would be ruinous. It is perfectly reasonable to set the threshold at 1 in a million, where it has traditionally been set (or the lower threshold of 1 in 100,000, which they are considering doing).

The link Volk provides above as evidence of his position is to a challenge, actually run by Richard Wiseman, not Randi, in which the threshold was set at 50 to 1 and the applicant failed, but barely.

Volk’s criticism is that the challenge is rigged, so people with real psychic ability cannot win. But the very article he links to also says:

“Professional statisticians and scientists work with applicants to develop tests that minimize the possibility of charlatans winning by mere chance, while also minimizing the possibility of any actual psychic losing by “bad luck.””

What other option is there but to set the threshold at a point that is a reasonable balance between minimizing false positives and false negatives. This is just good science, even without $1 million dollars on the line.

Volk complains that small psychic effects would require hundreds of hours – years – of testing to reach the threshold of the million dollar challenge. This is true, but irrelevant. The million dollar challenge is not designed to scientifically test subtle or tiny effects, but rather to test the dramatic claims of people who are publicly proclaiming they have genuine paranormal abilities.

The most recent public test, for example, was held at TAM 2012 in July. This test involved Andrew Needles, who contacted the JREF with the claim that he invented a version of the “power bracelet” that really worked. A completely fair test was designed and executed on stage and before cameras. Needles agreed to the protocol ahead of time as completely fair. He expected to succeed. He completely failed, with results essentially at chance level.

The key to the challenge is not the ability to scientifically test subtle effects, but to demonstrate that dramatic claimed abilities utterly vanish under proper observing conditions, as was the case with Needles. Often the thresholds for success are set far below what the applicant claims to be able to do. They are given the best chance to succeed, and their every requirement is met – as long as this does not equate to the ability to cheat (whether consciously or unconsciously).

The attacks on the million dollar challenge are likely to continue. This is a sign, in my opinion, of the success of the challenge. Con artists know they cannot beat the challenge, and so they have no choice but to try to discredit it. Those who truly believe they have abilities but fail the challenge almost universally make up post hoc excuses for their failure.

The fact remains – the million dollar challenge has seen a long series of applicants with dramatic paranormal claims yet who cannot demonstrate their abilities when even the most basic controls are set into place. This does not prove that there are no paranormal abilities anywhere ever.  It does demonstrate, however, that the applicants are likely to have been self-deluded (or conscious frauds). And this says something very important – that people can delude themselves to that degree.

At the very least, the challenge teaches us, basic controls should be put into place before any paranormal claim is taken seriously. So far no claims has crossed the threshold to be taken seriously.

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50 responses so far

50 Responses to “Defending the Million Dollar Challenge”

  1. Lee Daniel Crockeron 15 Jan 2013 at 9:06 am

    No problem. Just tell the applicants we’ll be happy to change the standard of the challenge to p < 0.05, in exchange for an application fee of $50,000. We'll put our money on the line if you will.

  2. Steven Novellaon 15 Jan 2013 at 9:39 am

    Yes – there’s a lot of whining about the challenge from applicants (or those who refuse to apply) – but the bottom line is that they could receive $1 million dollars just for doing what they claim they do every day.

  3. JMoon 15 Jan 2013 at 10:33 am

    Would a Bayesian approach not be more intuitive here? It seems this ‘floating’ threshold just provides these scammers with yet another excuse.

  4. mnestison 15 Jan 2013 at 10:39 am

    I read his criticism and some of the comments on his site. Outside of straw man arguments, I think the biggest problem Volk has is that he does not properly understand science or more importantly, the statistics most commonly used in science. For example, he claims that certain applicants and psi types have not gotten enough trials, and commenters point out a need for a big sample. What is entirely missed though are two important things: 1) Bayesian prior probability and 2) statistical power. With regard to the former, making a claim of psychic powers (or something similar) is a fantastic one; one in which we have no objective evidence of having ever occurred. Beysian probability means that we take this into account when formulating our proposed p value, as .05 would be far to generous given the fanatic level of claim (same that we should do with homeopathy and other very unlikely claims). Basically, this means that psychic power claims do not hold the same level of possibility as a claim that a particular known medical treatment. With regard to the latter, we only need more trials for a study or observation when an effect size is very low; this is why studies with very large n’s often publish findings of little clinical or scientific utility, as with increasing sample size, we often find miniscule effects that are often due to statistical noise (particularly the case when multiple studies or multiple statistical analyses are run – which is why is is considered proper to run post-hoc corrections and state hypotheses and directionality apriori).

    The main problem is that most people – even some very educated people, lack knowledge of the scientific method and basic statistics. Without this foundation, it is near impossible to have a conversation with them. It is not something you can look up on Wikipedia and form an opinion, it takes multiple science and math courses over time, combined with a willingness to engage in critical thinking. This is one reason why I think the ethics/morality debate in previous posts stagnated after a few initial comments; as those who disagreed with Steve (well the main individual at least) appeared to lack some foundational understanding of science which precluded a discussion in which certain foundational concepts could be agreed upon or properly understood.

  5. JMoon 15 Jan 2013 at 11:03 am

    My thoughts were that we avoid the whole p-value debacle when we use Bayesian methods, and it would seem that diffuse priors would be more than fair for any claims of psi ability. I think the inherent hierarchy within the Bayesian framework, and the ability to estimate/compare models that have converged upon realistic posterior distributions might lend itself to exposing these frauds…

  6. Lenoxuson 15 Jan 2013 at 11:46 am

    If I’m not mistaken, even the subtlest claim can be demonstrated to an arbitrary p-value, it just takes a lot more tests. For example, if I claim I can predict a coinflip at least 51% of the time, then we would need to flip a coin [N] times (I can’t do the math right now).

    Of course, that’s beside the point when it comes to the central purpose of the Challenge, which is indeed to deal with claims which, if quantified, should be very easy to test. That quantification part is at the core of this, to some extent. “My miracle product works almost all the time! Note that by ‘almost all’, I certainly don’t mean some geeky numbers-y thing like ‘More than 50% of the time.’ “

  7. Steven Novellaon 15 Jan 2013 at 11:55 am

    Lenoxus- you are correct. The point of the criticism that “enough trials” would be impractical, and so the challenge is rigged in that way. They miss the point, as above.

    Talk of p-values and Bayesian analysis is good when discussing the scientific study of psi, etc. but all irrelevant to the challenge. The challenge is not a scientific study. The point is to get applicants to say they can do something specific at least a certain amount of the time, and then to test that specific claim. The thresholds are set so that it is unlikely someone will win $1 million dollar by just getting lucky, but also to properly demonstrate the applicant’s powers if they are real.

    The whole statistical significance thing is a red herring.

  8. tmac57on 15 Jan 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Also,the applicants have to agree in advance that they are satisfied that the test is fairly set up,and at least some of the time (if not always) they get to do some unblinded dry runs to make sure that their “powers” are able to function in that setting.It is only afterward that they almost universally,start finding excuses why they were cheated or what malfunctioned.

  9. mnestison 15 Jan 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Steve, when you say that the purpose is to set a threshold so that is unlikely someone will win due to just getting lucky, this seems similar to making sure we set a significance level so that some random noise won’t be interpreted as a genuine effect. I get that the goal is not to set up a study per se, but the ideas behind setting up a controlled situation rests on similar thinking, no? This is basically a semantic distinction anyway – I agree with your premise set forth above regarding the shenanigans used by Volk and others. I talked about Beyes and effect size, in part, because I had gone over to his blog and read him and the commenters also discussing psi research as if statistics had proven it to exist (I believe they even mention Behm’s stuff without an understanding that most think the studies were due to faulty design and statistical analysis).

  10. Chewon 15 Jan 2013 at 4:56 pm

    “The result is that an applicant can—and did—achieve statistically significant positive results, yet was deemed to “fail” the challenge.”

    This was the case of the girl with x-ray vision who claimed 100% accuracy in diagnosing medical symptoms. Her post hoc rationalization for missing the person who had an appendectomy was ‘his appendix grew back.’!!!

  11. JMoon 15 Jan 2013 at 7:48 pm

    ‘The whole statistical significance thing is a red herring.’

    Exactly, forget about statistical significance, but the probability that any one of these claimants can demonstrate ability better than chance still needs to be framed coherently. How else do we do this?

    You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If it isn’t scientific, they’ll run with that when they fail, and if it is scientific, they’ll move the goalposts when they fail.

    I say the challenge should give the money to charity…none of these butterheads (lookin’ at you, John Edward) will ever accept a test that will reveal their abject immorality.

    Just my 2 cents. Thanks for the post!

  12. RickKon 16 Jan 2013 at 8:26 am

    If some psychic is gifted with only subtle powers, difficult to statistically detect, then he/she should simply ignore the Randi Challenge and go to Las Vegas instead. There, a tiny nudge of a few percentage points turns the whole city into a money machine.

    That’s why there are so many wealthy psychics, right?

  13. Davdoodleson 16 Jan 2013 at 7:07 pm

    The fact that so many people who hold themselves out to be “psychic” or whatever DON’T take the challenge. is a difficult one to explain away. Not just to the skeptically inclined, BUT to ordinary people too.

    That’s the real benefit of the challenge, and why charlatans and grifters hate it so much: They can’t explain away why they won’t take the challenge, in a way that passes the man-on-the-street smell test.

    Bloviate objections like Volk’s might play well in his echo chamber, but to the the ordinary person, it quacks like a duck.

    Even a deluded “true believer” would (and often does) take the challenge. But Volk, and John Edward, and low-lives like them won’t, ever.

    There is only one reasonable conclusion to be drawn: That they already know their shtick is bulldust…
    .

  14. tmac57on 17 Jan 2013 at 10:30 am

    RickK- Why should a ‘psychic’ waste their time and money in Vegas where gullibility works against them? Their business plan is to get gullibility to work in their favor,and they can do it from their home.

  15. James Randion 17 Jan 2013 at 10:43 am

    I’m not an “amateur magician” – that might have been corrected…

    Also, you can’t say that the MDC involves “statistical analysis.” All tests are designed so that the results are obvious, don’t require such an analysis, and either the required odds are achieved, or not…

    The 2 phases — preliminary test and formal test — pretty well insure that a “chance” win could not happen. In any case, no one has ever made it past the preliminary test.

    And, we’ve always insisted that there’s no fee, no “bet” involved. If we asked for a fee, as one person suggested, they’d have good reason to not apply, and it’s never been a “bet”… Just do what you say you can do, and you pass the preliminary and then pass on to the formal stage.

    *I have so many passwords – some 40+ of them, most with specific, overdone, rules and required inclusions (a capitalized word, a digit, a space, etc.) – that I can’t keep track…

  16. davidsmithon 17 Jan 2013 at 11:43 am

    Steven said,

    “The purpose of the challenge is not to design and run scientific experiments, and it is not to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of the paranormal or any particular supernatural phenomenon. Randi and the JREF have always been crystal clear about this. Rather, the point of the challenge is to be a public demonstration. There are many people who claim dramatic paranormal abilities. If their claims were anything close to the truth, it should be easy to demonstrate their abilities. As Randi says – he is only asking them to do what they claim to do on a daily basis, just under conditions that make it impossible (or at least very difficult) to cheat. That’s it.”

    This is all just weasel words. You’ve often said that the scientific method is the only reliable way to test the truth of a claim. So either the MDC is a scientific test or it isn’t. Full stop. If it isn’t then it is not a reliable way to test these paranormal claims and therefore no merit should be placed on the results of the challenge either way. Furthermore, if the MDC tests are not proper scientific experiments then why are people like yourself, Richard Wiseman, Ray Hyman, etc, drafted in to help “design” them?

  17. davidsmithon 17 Jan 2013 at 11:55 am

    Mnestis said,

    “The main problem is that most people – even some very educated people, lack knowledge of the scientific method and basic statistics.”

    Then the Amazing Randi himself said,

    “Also, you can’t say that the MDC involves “statistical analysis.” All tests are designed so that the results are obvious, don’t require such an analysis, and either the required odds are achieved, or not…

    The 2 phases — preliminary test and formal test — pretty well insure that a “chance” win could not happen.”

    Oh the irony…

  18. Steven Novellaon 17 Jan 2013 at 5:16 pm

    david – you are committing a false dichotomy logical fallacy. Experiments are not either completely scientific or unscientific – full stop – as you suggest. There is the full range of scientific rigor from completely uncontrolled to exquisitely designed and executed studies.

    The million dollar challenge protocols are scientific in that they are controlled observing conditions, try to isolate the variable in question, and involve multiple trials and some statistical analysis. But they are not designed to be rigorous to the point of being publishable in the peer-reviewed research. They are certainly not designed to detect subtle effects. They are also not designed to answer a scientific hypothesis, but rather to test a specific claim by an individual.

    What Randi means is that they don’t calculate p-values or anything like that. They do enough statistical analysis, however, to calculate the odds of achieving the predetermined threshold by chance (not the kind of analysis done in a scientific paper, but useful for the purpose of the challenge).

    The methods used are valid and scientific and sufficient for the purpose of the challenge, they are just not designed to serve as scientific research. They are not designed to answer “is psi real” but rather “can this person do what they claim they can do.”

  19. davidsmithon 17 Jan 2013 at 9:20 pm

    “david – you are committing a false dichotomy logical fallacy. Experiments are not either completely scientific or unscientific – full stop – as you suggest. Experiments are not either completely scientific or unscientific – full stop – as you suggest. There is the full range of scientific rigor from completely uncontrolled to exquisitely designed and executed studies. ”

    Steven – I’m not committing a false dichotomy logical fallacy. Obviously, anything that claims to be a “test” of something doesn’t automatically qualify as being a scientific experiment merely by virtue of being labelled a “test”. So clearly, tests can be categorised as scientific and unscientific by definition. Those that apply the scientific method are defined as scientific tests and can vary on the dimension of experimental rigor. So the issue is whether or not the MDC tests are meant to apply the scientific method or not. And we have a clear statement from you saying that, yes, they ARE meant to apply the scientific method, thus qualifying them as scientific tests. Whether or not they are designed as good or sloppy scientific tests is a secondary issue.

    This is, of course, in complete contradiction to your previous statement that “the purpose of the challenge is not to design and run scientific experiments”. I realise you are claiming the MDC tests are not meant to be rigourous, publishable in scientific journals, or even test a specific hypothesis. So in summary, you are essentially saying that the MDC tests are poor scientific experiments. If that’s the case, just say so.

    They are not designed to answer “is psi real” but rather “can this person do what they claim they can do.”

    Yes, I realise that, and as a modus operandi for investigating claims of the paranormal it’s about as myopic as it gets. It’s like only being interested in testing someone’s claim that they can lift a 10 tonne weight with their bare hands and then claiming that nothing remarkable has happened when they lift 2 tonnes instead.

  20. Richard Olsonon 18 Jan 2013 at 5:18 am

    I am an applicant for the Million Dollar Challenge. I announced my claim at Tam 8 in Las Vegas. I used to be a pharmacist and by accident discovered an ability that satisfies the criteria for the MDC. I am working with Dr. Novella and others to develop proper protocol. I have an ability to restore normal feeling and skin sensation to people that have permanent post-operative numbness and sensitivity from certain types of surgeries. The types of surgeries that often result in permanent numbness and adhesions that I have done this process on most frequently are: c-sections, hysterectomies, gall bladder, appendix and breast cancer. The process takes a few minutes. I stand 4-6 feet away from the person and simply ask where the affected area is and do a process. A bystander usually cannot tell that I am acting any differently. This may also be done over the phone or on skype. The tests are to be performed on subjects that are not neurologically compromised because of medication or chemicals they may be using. These results are medically provable using tests and equipment that a doctor or neurologist would use to assess neurological function and tissue dynamics to verify that it is not a subjective interpretation or placebo effect. Many medical devices exist to evaluate touch, pain, vibration or temperature, skin sensitivity, changes in sensation with light and deep pressure, and changes in tissue pliability from adhesions and scar tissue. I do this for free and have videoed this hundreds of times on a large diversity of conditions. There are also other tissue and function changes that may be measured scientifically. I believe that science should be open and transparent to enhance discovery. I consider the MDC as a science grant offered for furthering innovative research that I have been doing. I thank James Randi and the JREF for this opportunity.

  21. BillyJoe7on 18 Jan 2013 at 5:45 am

    Steve, I believe you are being Zached.

  22. SimonWon 18 Jan 2013 at 6:11 am

    Rick,

    any psychic powers greater than the percentage of the house in Vegas would be easy to detect.

    The house odds have to cover cheating, and in the better places, complementary food and drink.

    No probably if you can outperform chance only marginally you are best going into stock markets, or other financial markets. Clearly the place to look for those with supernatural powers, although my friend who retired well before 40, went from theoretical physics (not profitable) to derivative trading, and attributes it all to his abilities at mathematics not magic.

  23. BillyJoe7on 18 Jan 2013 at 6:33 am

    Simon,

    Of all the people who went into derivative trading, someone had to get lucky.

  24. Steven Novellaon 18 Jan 2013 at 7:22 am

    David – you are just doubling down on your initial logical fallacy. Tests are not scientific or unscientific – that is a blatant false dichotomy. There are many features of a “test” that would make it scientific. There is no magic threshold of these features at which a test becomes scientific. Your attempt to label this as quality (a good vs poor scientific test) simply uses semantics to distract from the fact that there is a spectrum and your contention remains a false dichotomy.

    You also completely missed the point about the MDC – It is scientific in the methods that it uses, it is not scientific in the kind of questions it asks (not “is this hypothesis valid” but “can this person perform this specific task as claimed”). These are two separate criteria, the latter not having anything to do with rigor, and so your conclusion that this is equal to a poor scientific test is not valid. Rigorous methods can still be applied – and they are.

    Finally, the 2 ton vs 10 ton analogy is not valid for two reasons. One – it has nothing to do with the probability of guessing correctly. You can’t lift 2 tons by accident. Second, the threshold of success for trials is set by mutual agreement of the MDC and the applicant. It is specifically set low enough so that if any genuine paranormal ability were demonstrated it would count as a success (eliminating false negatives). For the preliminary test the threshold is set as low as possible while still minimizing the chance of random success. This varies from test to test, but 1/100 to 1/1000 is typical. In the example linked to in the article the threshold was set at 1/50. That is pretty generous.

  25. davidsmithon 18 Jan 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Tests are not scientific or unscientific – that is a blatant false dichotomy.

    Ok, let’s use an example. I want to test whether this crystal substance in front of me is sodium chloride so I taste it and declare that, yes it is, because it tastes like salt. Is that test scientific or unscientific?

    There are many features of a “test” that would make it scientific.

    So if those features are present in the MDC tests then one can regard the test as scientific. Of course, there will be disagreement on what particular features to include, there always is.

    There is no magic threshold of these features at which a test becomes scientific. Your attempt to label this as quality (a good vs poor scientific test) simply uses semantics to distract from the fact that there is a spectrum and your contention remains a false dichotomy.

    Well, there sort of is a magic threshold. That threshold is set by agreed upon definitions of what constitutes the scientific method. If we intend to use that method in our test, then it can be regarded as a scientific test. I understand your point that a test can vary on the degree to which the scientific method is adhered to. There are good and sloppy tests and different kinds of methods can be used in different kinds of tests answering different kinds of question.

    You also completely missed the point about the MDC – It is scientific in the methods that it uses, it is not scientific in the kind of questions it asks (not “is this hypothesis valid” but “can this person perform this specific task as claimed”).

    Actually, both types of question are regularly asked in science and you know it. HM, for example, claimed to have lost his ability to form new memories so that claim was tested by running tasks and observing his performance under controlled conditions. But of course, scientists did not simply test whether HM’s perception of his own memory ability was accurate and reliable (which is as far as the MDC would go). Rather, scientists actually thought about the situation and ran a battery of tests that were designed to find out the real extent of his memory performance. This isn’t done when the JREF “investigate”. They are only interested in testing whether the claimant’s perception of their own ability is accurate. This is an extremely myopic approach to investigating claims of the paranormal.

    These are two separate criteria, the latter not having anything to do with rigor, and so your conclusion that this is equal to a poor scientific test is not valid. Rigorous methods can still be applied – and they are.

    Sorry, I can’t extract much meaning from this. The latter question has nothing to do with rigor yet rigorous methods can still be applied? What are you trying to say?

    Finally, the 2 ton vs 10 ton analogy is not valid for two reasons…

    You misunderstand the point of my analogy. It was to highlight how short sighted it is to investigate a paranormal claim merely by examining whether the claimant is accurate in their own perception of their ability. A much more interesting question is whether the claimant has any ability at all. I suspect the JREF adopts this approach from a biased experience of dealing with truly deluded people. However, there are people out there with genuinely mysterious experiences that usually happen spontaneously and who don’t claim any special ability to control these experiences at will. I’m not sure why the JREF is not interested in going after those people like parapsychologists try to do.

    One final comment. Previously, you said this about the MDC tests:

    They are not designed to answer “is psi real”

    and later you said:

    the threshold of success for trials is set by mutual agreement of the MDC and the applicant. It is specifically set low enough so that if any genuine paranormal ability were demonstrated it would count as a success

    The bolded part contradicts the previous statement.

  26. BillyJoe7on 18 Jan 2013 at 11:19 pm

    davidsmith,

    I think you are the one with the myopic view.
    Forget about the little pieces and stand back and get the whole picture, then it should become clear.
    Of course, you have an agenda, so this may not work for you.

    One little example:
    Steve said the MDC is not designed to test: “is PSI real”.
    He also said that “if any genuine paranormal ability were demonstrated it would count as a success”.
    These statements are both correct.
    The MDC is designed to test: “can this individual do what he says he can do (that seems to be an aspect of PSI)”
    In other words, the focus is on this individual and what he says he can do.
    Obviously, they would not be interested in testing his claims if his claims were not of a paranormal nature and, if he succeeded, this would lend cedibility to PSI, but that is not the focus of the MDC.
    The MDC was set up because there were, and still are, many in the public spotlight who claim paranormal ability, thereby giving the public the impression that the paranormal exists. The purpose of the MDC was to demonstrate that they really cannot do what they think they can do, thereby giving some pause for thought amongst the public inclined to believe that the paranormal exists.

    “You misunderstand the point of my analogy. It was to highlight how short sighted it is to investigate a paranormal claim merely by examining whether the claimant is accurate in their own perception of their ability”

    But that’s exactly what they set out to do (test a paranormal claim), so what better way than test that paranormal claim? How is that shortsighted? They’re just doing what they set out to do.

    “there are people out there with genuinely mysterious experiences that usually happen spontaneously and who don’t claim any special ability to control these experiences at will. I’m not sure why the JREF is not interested in going after those people like parapsychologists try to do.”

    That is a bold claim.
    I hope you have evidence to back up that claim.
    Meantime, let us just leave it to the parapsychologists to do what they are interested in doing, and the JREF to do what they are interested in doing.

  27. davidsmithon 19 Jan 2013 at 12:18 am

    BillyJoe7,

    Most of us have an agenda. Mine is to find out the truth, what’s yours?

    Steve said the MDC is not designed to test: “is PSI real”.
    He also said that “if any genuine paranormal ability were demonstrated it would count as a success”.
    These statements are both correct
    .

    They contradict each other. If the test is designed so that a particular result would count as a success if genuine paranormal abilities were demonstrated, then it logically follows that the test has demonstrated that psi is real (if we’re defining “psi” and “genuine paranormal abilities” as the same thing).

    The MDC is designed to test: “can this individual do what he says he can do (that seems to be an aspect of PSI)” In other words, the focus is on this individual and what he says he can do. Obviously, they would not be interested in testing his claims if his claims were not of a paranormal nature and, if he succeeded, this would lend cedibility to PSI, but that is not the focus of the MDC.

    The JREF states that the purpose of the MDC is for someone to show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. Therefore, it follows that according to the JREF, a successful MDC test would provide evidence for the notion that psi is real.

    How is that shortsighted? They’re just doing what they set out to do.

    Because, here, “what they set out to do” only considers testing whether a claimant’s perception of their own ability is accurate. See my HM example. (However, we also find that it isn’t really what they set out to do, hence the contradictions)

    That is a bold claim.
    I hope you have evidence to back up that claim.

    Yes I do, but I certainly don’t want to spend page after page arguing about how to interpret spontaneous case studies when the end result will be no different than when we started. In any case, are you genuinely interested or just being flippant?

    Meantime, let us just leave it to the parapsychologists to do what they are interested in doing, and the JREF to do what they are interested in doing.

    Oh right, so I can’t comment about what I think of the JREF’s approach now?

  28. daedalus2uon 19 Jan 2013 at 3:33 pm

    A scientific test is designed to answer a specific hypothesis to a specific degree of statistical significance. The correct way to calculate the statistics is with Bayesian analysis, which also depends on the prior probability. For a skeptic such as myself, the prior probability of psi powers is very low, a reasonable estimate would be one chance in 10^100 that it is correct.

    A test that would have significance on that level would require something like 350 consecutive coin flips predicted with 99.999 (total of 100 ’9′s) accuracy. That is what a “scientific” test requires to change my prior of whether psi exists or not, because my estimate of the prior plausibility that there is psi is so low.

    A 1 in 100 or 1 in 50 for a preliminary test is a gigantic relaxation of that. Even if someone won the MDC, it would not change my prior plausibility estimate unless it was done with a very high degree of scrutiny and to very high statistical significance, on the order of 1 in 10^100.

  29. BillyJoe7on 19 Jan 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Davidsmith,

    My agenda here was to correct your misconceptions about the MDC. I have no stake in the MDC. In fact, I think it has just about outlived its usefulness. I also do not agree that they should relax the odds. With odds of 1 in 100, someone will eventually win the preliminary and claim victory and cry foul when not presented with the million dollars. Or others will cry foul for them. The public misperception that is likely to follow will be very hard to put right.
    But, yes, I have never seen any evidence of paranormal phenomena, so I don’t hold a belief that paranormal phenomena exist.

    ” If the test is designed so that a particular result would count as a success if genuine paranormal abilities were demonstrated, then it logically follows that the test has demonstrated that psi is real”

    There are several things wrong with that statement.

    Firstly, the test is not designed so that a particular result would count as a success if genuine paranormal abilities. The test is designed to demonstrate if a particular individual can do what he claims he can do. The claim must be something that the JREF considers to be a paranormal claim, otherwise they would not be interested in testing him. But they are interested in testing this particular individual’s particular claim They get him to describe in sufficient detail exactly what he thinks he can do. Then they design a protocol to test that claim, and they do this with sufficient input and full agreement of that individual.

    Secondly, a successful test would not demonstrate that PSI is real. It would provide evidence in support of PSI. But, because the prior probability of PSI is so low, if would not raise the probability of PSI being real by much. If the odds of a successful result was 1 in 50 , even 1 in 100, a successful result would not shift the probability that PSI is real hardly at all.

    Thirdly, a successful result would mean that this particular individual was able to pass a test of his claimed abilities with a 1 in 100 chance that this was just a lucky result.

    “Because, here, “what they set out to do” only considers testing whether a claimant’s perception of their own ability is accurate”

    But this has nothing to do with being short-sighted. They have no intention of taking on the whole paranormal field. They have decided that they will attempt to counteract the public perception that there are people with paranormal ability by testing these individuals under controlled conditions and offering a million dollars to induce them to take part. Put upmor shut up. The failure of prominent public figures who claim paranormal ability to take up the challenge and the failure of those taking on the challenge to take out the million dollars and the ridiculous reasons they give afterwards for their failures are clear successes of the MDC in counteracting the public’s perception that PSI is real.

    “I certainly don’t want to spend page after page arguing about how to interpret spontaneous case studies when the end result will be no different than when we started”

    You don’t sound very confident that you can make your case that PSI is real.

    “In any case, are you genuinely interested or just being flippant?”

    No, I would seriously be interested in what you would consider good evidence that PSI is real. Remember that the prior probability of PSI is very low, so the evidence has to be pretty convincing. Something barely discernible above the noise is not convincing evidence.

    “Oh right, so I can’t comment about what I think of the JREF’s approach now?”

    Of course you can. I’m saying the JREF is not likely to be interested in what you think about how they should spend their time and money and what you think their purpose should be, just like you are apparently not be interested in typing page after page defending PSI. They have their own purpose and you have yours. Each to their own. Steven Novella either hasn’t the time or inclination to respond to your post, or doesn’t think it worth his while to do so. I have. Each to his own. I might think it’s not worth while continuing. You might think I should. But why should I care what you think I should do if it doesn’t serve my purposes. And why should I continue just because it serves your purpose if it doesn’t serve mine?

  30. davidsmithon 20 Jan 2013 at 12:43 am

    BillyJoe7

    My agenda here was to correct your misconceptions about the MDC.

    That’s ok, I’ll try to help you correct that error.

    ” If the test is designed so that a particular result would count as a success if genuine paranormal abilities were demonstrated, then it logically follows that the test has demonstrated that psi is real”

    There are several things wrong with that statement….

    It would help if you read my posts carefully. My statement paraphrased previous statements made by Steven and was meant to address an internal contradiction in what he wrote. It did not express my views on what the MDC is able to show. But anyway, I’ll try to help you understand the point I was making. Note the use of the word “if” in my statement. This introduces a conditional clause which was a direct quote from one of Steven’s previous statements on the MDC. From that the consequence follows. So let me know when you find an argument against the point that I actually made instead of just providing irrelevant personal opinion about the purpose of the challenge. Unless you would like me to pick apart your own interpretation of the MDC?

    They have no intention of taking on the whole paranormal field.

    I don’t expect them to take on the whole field. Most parapsychologists don’t even do that. However, paranormal claims deserve thoughtful investigation aimed at finding out whether people really possess paranormal ability, not short sighted investigation that merely tests whether a claimant has an accurate perception of their ability.

    You don’t sound very confident that you can make your case that PSI is real.

    I was talking about spontaneous paranormal experiences that are genuinely mysterious enough to serve as starting points for serious investigations. But from what else you said, I believe that a conversation with you about the experimental evidence for psi would also be a waste of time. This has nothing to do with the level of confidence I have in the evidence by the way.

    Of course you can. I’m saying the JREF is not likely to be interested in what you think about how they should spend their time and money and what you think their purpose should be, just like you are apparently not be interested in typing page after page defending PSI. They have their own purpose and you have yours. Each to their own. Steven Novella either hasn’t the time or inclination to respond to your post, or doesn’t think it worth his while to do so. I have. Each to his own. I might think it’s not worth while continuing. You might think I should. But why should I care what you think I should do if it doesn’t serve my purposes. And why should I continue just because it serves your purpose if it doesn’t serve mine?

    My god what is this nonsense. You start trying to assert that I should leave the JREF alone and then ask me whether you should care about this conversation? Continue the conversation if you want. I’ll try to continue pointing out your errors.

  31. BillyJoe7on 20 Jan 2013 at 7:05 am

    Davidsmith,

    “My god what is this nonsense”

    Well, this is a little embarrassing…
    That last paragraph was to make it absolutely clear that I’m not taking this conversation seriously. And, you know, my way of saying “get a life”. Sorry, it was probably not as clear as I thought it would be. But, frankly, your objections to what Steven Novella said and what the JREF is doing are not really worth the time of day to discuss. And, sorry, I’m past caring about paranormal phenomena. There is no evidence that PSI exists. Been there, done that, nothing to see, move on please. But it seems someone has got you by the short and curlies and you’re enjoying it….ah, sorry, there I go again….I will stop now.

  32. tmac57on 20 Jan 2013 at 11:56 am

    If someone claimed that they can walk through a solid wall (doors excepted of course ;) ) then I would be genuinely impressed (after ruling out trickery ). But if that person claimed that after bumping into the wall 100 or so tries,that they partially went through the wall at a barely detectable level,that was hard to replicate,then yeah,I think it would be hard to believe. Call me crazy.

  33. eiskrystalon 23 Jan 2013 at 4:58 am

    Most of us have an agenda. Mine is to find out the truth…

    That would imply that you would know the truth when you found it. Evidence suggests otherwise.

  34. Murmuron 23 Jan 2013 at 12:12 pm

    @davidsmith, If you are so concerned with finding people with some ability, even if it is not the ability they proclaim to have, then I would challenge you to take all those who are outside the p value and put them through a rigorous test. If they then continue to perform slightly better than chance they can then advertise themselves as “Performs Slightly Better than Chance”.

    What you also fail to realise is that people who take the challenge are explicitly saying they will “beat” the challenge as the challenge is set.

  35. Steven Novellaon 23 Jan 2013 at 1:11 pm

    davidsmith wrote: “Rather, scientists actually thought about the situation and ran a battery of tests that were designed to find out the real extent of his memory performance. This isn’t done when the JREF “investigate”. They are only interested in testing whether the claimant’s perception of their own ability is accurate.”

    Exactly. This is my point. The JREF is using valid scientific methods, but their scope is limited. They are not doing all the follow up experiments that would be necessary to answer the bigger question – is psi real. Certainly, as has been pointed out, if someone could pass the million dollar challenge that would “suggest” the possibility of psi, but a lot of follow up would be required to make a scientific case.

    Second – my statement was not an internal contradiction. You simply misinterpreted it. Let me clarify.

    If, in the hypothetical situation that someone possessed genuine psi ability, the MDC tests are designed to give a true positive, rather than a false negative. This does not mean they are designed to test for psi (see reasons above).

  36. davidsmithon 23 Jan 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Exactly. This is my point. The JREF is using valid scientific methods, but their scope is limited. They are not doing all the follow up experiments that would be necessary to answer the bigger question – is psi real. Certainly, as has been pointed out, if someone could pass the million dollar challenge that would “suggest” the possibility of psi, but a lot of follow up would be required to make a scientific case.

    Of course, in science, the question “is psi real” is not answered by one experiment. The JREF website states that the MDC is:

    a one-million-dollar prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event

    So, according to the JREF, a successful test is evidence for a paranormal event. This follows from the description of the challenge. Clearly, a test of a normal ability is not of interest to them. This means that the JREF has to have some notion of what is paranormal and what isn’t. Therefore, when you actually examine the stated purpose of the challenge, it is not just a test of whether a claimant has accurate perception of their own ability. It is an attempt to carry out a scientific test for a paranormal event with a positive result interpreted as evidence of such.

    I don’t have a problem with how that stands in principle. However, the challenge is actually implemented as a test of whether someone can “do what they say they can do”. We agree that this is a very limited approach. Like I said before, it’s like testing someone’s claim that they can lift more than 10 tonnes while not being interested when they lift 2. It’s in the spirit of inquiry where the JREF is unscientific.

    If, in the hypothetical situation that someone possessed genuine psi ability, the MDC tests are designed to give a true positive, rather than a false negative .

    More contradictions. If you’re hypothesising that genuine psi ability existed and predicting a particular result from that, you are testing a hypothesis – one of the hallmarks of a scientific experiment. Yet you insist that the MDC is not a test of a scientific hypothesis. And you wonder why some people are pointing out how confused all of this is?

    This does not mean they are designed to test for psi (see reasons above).

    They clearly are designed to provide evidence for a paranormal event (psi) – the JREF says so.

    In a way, the MDC is kind of a scam. In reality, it’s myopic and poorly executed research with very little thought going into what it’s trying to achieve. But it is masquerading as something else, with proponents falsely claiming it isn’t supposed to be science in an attempt to draw attention away from it’s serious scientific shortcomings.

    Bye.

  37. rezistnzisfutlon 24 Jan 2013 at 2:26 am

    @davidsmith

    I think you’re confused on what a scientific hypothesis is. A hypothesis in science is a preliminary explanation of an observed natural phenomenon. The scientific process first requires verifiable physical data that can then be further measured and tested.

    So, if someone comes along and claims that they have some never before observed ability, especially one that would contradict what is already known about the physical universe, then the first step would be to observe and verify the proposed evidence. That is what JREF is doing. What they are doing isn’t a scientific experiment, but rather verification of the presence of the claimed physical evidence. Science cannot test what is not testable or measurable. The methods used to determine whether there is any physical phenomenon present may employ scientific strategies and procedures, but that is the step taken before the scientific process can be used.

    What the claimants propose to JREF aren’t hypotheses. Those testing the claims aren’t testing hypotheses. “Does psi exist” doesn’t even qualify as a hypothesis, because there is no observed evidence present that is testable. If one observed someone actually bending spoons or walking through walls, then one possible hypothesis could then be “psi is occurring”, though I submit that that would be irresponsible of any good scientist who wouldn’t exhaust more plausible explanations first (Occam’s Razor).

  38. rezistnzisfutlon 24 Jan 2013 at 2:34 am

    This means that the JREF has to have some notion of what is paranormal and what isn’t.

    That’s easy – pretty much anything that directly contradicts what we know to be natural. It’s not that they have some notion of what the supernatural or paranormal are, but that they would be phenomena outside of what is known to be natural.

  39. Murmuron 24 Jan 2013 at 4:23 am

    @davidsmith You are just the kind of person I hated playing D&D with.

  40. CivilUnreston 24 Jan 2013 at 11:07 am

    @ Murmur

    Haha, you totally hit it on the head!

    @davidsmith

    I’m not really even sure what position you’re advocating anymore.
    -If you think the MDC is not conducting science experiments, you’re right (they’re just using scientific/skeptical thinking)
    -If you think they’re masquerading as science, than I can see your point but disagree with you.
    -If you think the MDC is a waste of time and a distraction, then I think you have an interesting point but may have muddled your argument.

    The bottom line is that if you want to classify the kind of “experiments” the MDC is doing they can, at best, be described as pilot studies. If you wanted to prove that Psi is real, you’d need to acquire a huge body of evidence that tested the existence of Psi abilities on a large scale, precisely define Psi and offer some kind of mechanism by which Psi works.

    One last note:
    You could never really use science to prove Psi exists. At the end of the day, even if you gathered mountains of evidence, you’d end up with a Theory of Psi. In other words, you would be able to say “Given the available evidence, this Theory of Psi is the best explanation we have to explain these phenomena”

  41. davidsmithon 24 Jan 2013 at 12:03 pm

    rezistnzisfutl,

    A hypothesis in science is a preliminary explanation of an observed natural phenomenon.

    It looks like you are confusing mechanistic hypotheses with scientific hypotheses per se. For a hypothesis to be scientific, it merely has to be testable. For example, in the MDC test of Natasha Demkina, the “paranormal hypothesis” was that there would be a relationship between her responses and the independent variable. The null hypothesis was that there would be no relationship. The JREF may well have used different terminology but that is what they were doing at the end of the day (one remaining issue was, of course, agreement on the prestated threshold for rejection of the null).

    What they are doing isn’t a scientific experiment, but rather verification of the presence of the claimed physical evidence.

    Setting up controlled conditions where you want to observe whether a relationship exists in nature is still a scientific experiment. The null hypothesis is that the relationship does not exist while the alternative is that is does. This is very much part of the scientific process as it is practiced today. Read psychology journals for examples.

    “Does psi exist” doesn’t even qualify as a hypothesis, because there is no observed evidence present that is testable.

    The relationship you wish to test the existence of does not need to have been observed before (whether under controlled or uncontrolled conditions) for the scientific process to work. Nevertheless, there are literally thousands of reported experiences that we label as “extrasensory experiences” that have occurred under uncontrolled conditions. The point of the scientific experiment in this context is to test whether similar relationships occur under controlled conditions.

    That’s easy – pretty much anything that directly contradicts what we know to be natural. It’s not that they have some notion of what the supernatural or paranormal are, but that they would be phenomena outside of what is known to be natural.

    There is a distinction between ‘supernatural’ and ‘paranormal’. The term ‘supernatural’ means outside of the natural. This places anything deemed supernatural beyond scientific inquiry. Therefore, if you are trying to scientifically test for the existence of a particular relationship in nature, then by definition, you can’t call it a supernatural phenomenon. ‘Paranormal’ on the other hand means outside of what is known to be normal (I prefer – currently unexplained by present knowledge derived from the scientific method).

  42. davidsmithon 24 Jan 2013 at 12:04 pm

    test – to try get rid of italics error

  43. davidsmithon 24 Jan 2013 at 1:27 pm

    CivilUnrest,

    I’m not really even sure what position you’re advocating anymore.
    -If you think the MDC is not conducting science experiments, you’re right (they’re just using scientific/skeptical thinking)
    -If you think they’re masquerading as science, than I can see your point but disagree with you.
    -If you think the MDC is a waste of time and a distraction, then I think you have an interesting point but may have muddled your argument.

    I think that the MDC is an attempt at scientific experiments but, with regards to tests of “psi” abilities, the way the hypotheses are constructed is short sighted and thoughtless, lacking the true spirit of scientific inquiry in my opinion. However, proponents of the MDC often try to pass it off as “not supposed to be science” which is nonsense. I think this is an attempt to draw attention away from the scientific shortcomings of the challenge. If you think I have muddled my argument, it would help if you pointed out why you think so.

  44. daedalus2uon 24 Jan 2013 at 2:45 pm

    you are using the nirvana fallacy, that because the MDC is not a perfect test of all modes of paranormal, psi or supernatural activities simultaneously it is a scam.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nirvana_fallacy

    A better analogy than the 10 tons 2 tons would be someone claims to be able to lift 10 tons, but when that test fails, claims to be able to walk on water, then when that test fails, claims to be able to predict the future, then when that test fails claims distant seeing, then when that fails claims distance healing.

    Essentially a hunt for anomalies unrelated to the claimed ability when the claimed ability can’t be produced. Choosing anomalies post hoc is a perfect way to find anomalies. Every sequence of 100 coin flips is extremely unlikely. But if you flip a coin 100 times, you will get a sequence with 100% certainty. If you wait until after you know what the flips are to decide if the resulting sequence is an anomaly, you will find lots of anomalies.

  45. BillyJoe7on 24 Jan 2013 at 3:33 pm

    I think it comes down to this:

    The JREF are testing indivdual paranormal claims scientifically but say that are not really doing what could be described as proper scientific experiments. Davidsmith says they ARE trying to do proper scientific experiments but are not really doing their proper scientific experiments properly.

    “the way the hypotheses are constructed is short sighted and thoughtless, lacking the true spirit of scientific inquiry in my opinion”

    This is his real beef. They are not doing tests that will give a chance for a signal to rise above the noise every now and then.

  46. davidsmithon 24 Jan 2013 at 4:55 pm

    you are using the nirvana fallacy, that because the MDC is not a perfect test of all modes of paranormal, psi or supernatural activities simultaneously it is a scam.

    No, I said the MDC is kind of a scam because the tests are, in actuality, scientific experiments but the JREF tries to pass them off as “not supposed to be science”, I suspect in an attempt to deflect legitimate criticism about the scientific shortcomings of the tests. So the scam bit is about use of the “not supposed to be science” claim. You can disagree with me on that, of course, but I’m not using the Nirvana fallacy.

    Essentially a hunt for anomalies unrelated to the claimed ability when the claimed ability can’t be produced. Choosing anomalies post hoc is a perfect way to find anomalies. Every sequence of 100 coin flips is extremely unlikely. But if you flip a coin 100 times, you will get a sequence with 100% certainty. If you wait until after you know what the flips are to decide if the resulting sequence is an anomaly, you will find lots of anomalies.

    I don’t understand. Is this supposed to be what the JREF do when they run the challenge?

  47. rezistnzisfutlon 24 Jan 2013 at 4:59 pm

    @davidsmith

    For a hypothesis to be scientific, it first has to have physical evidence to test. The hypothesis is simply a preliminary explanation of the observed physical phenomenon, nothing more. It is you who is confused on what a scientific hypothesis is because science ONLY deals with the physical universe. Therefore, the MDC experiments are not scientific because they don’t involve the scientific process.

    Verifying that the claimed evidence exists at all in the first place is not science, even if the procedures used to verify are identical to procedures used in an actual scientific experiment or study. If JREF were able to positively determine that the claimed evidence actually exists, they could THEN formulate a hypothesis on the phenomenon because they have actual physical evidence to test.

    So, testing the validity of a claim of evidence is not the same as testing a hypothesis of evidence already verified to exist.

    Actually, yes, in order for something to be qualified as a hypothesis, evidence for its existence must first be confirmed, whether or not one actually observed it directly. For instance, we have strong evidence for a Big Bang event, even though no one ever observed it before; that evidence being physical, measurable, and independently verified phenomenon. The claims of psi, however, have never been verified to exist – they cannot even withstand the first step of the scientific process – so no hypotheses can be made about them.

    Claims of psi existence, no matter how many people make it, are not hypotheses and therefore testing these claims isn’t science, even if the testing procedure is identical to scientific experimentation.

    I’ll grant that there are definitional distinctions between the supernatural and the paranormal. Unfortunately, many people use the terms colloquially interchangeably, but in a strict sense, one can have “paranormal” results, or results that are outside what is accepted as normal, and it still not be “supernatural”, or events that lie outside what is known about the physical universe. In this case, psi, and many other of the claims leveled in the MDC, are both paranormal and supernatural in nature. If one claims that they are able to physically lift 10 tons, that could be considered a paranormal claim. If one says that angels help him lift 10 tons when he can normally only lift 2 tons, that would be both paranormal and supernatural, because his ability to lift 2 tons is outside the norm, but angels are supernatural in nature.

  48. davidsmithon 25 Jan 2013 at 8:14 pm

    rezistnzisfutl,

    For a hypothesis to be scientific, it first has to have physical evidence to test.

    This is incorrect. There is no logical reason why a hypothesis cannot test for the presence of a relationship in nature that has never before been observed. In fact, we do this all the time in science when a theory is used to predict novel observations. However, a theoretical precedent is also not necessary for the process of hypothesis testing to work. That said, we don’t normally form hypotheses without any input from theory or previous observations for pragmatic reasons. It is clearly more sensible to let hypotheses be guided by current observation, but not logically necessary.

    The hypothesis is simply a preliminary explanation of the observed physical phenomenon, nothing more.

    Again, I think you are confusing mechanistic hypotheses with scientifically testable hypotheses per se. Mechanistic hypotheses are a subset of scientifically testable hypotheses. For example, the hypothesis “men are generally taller than women” is a testable hypothesis and amenable to scientific inquiry. However, there is no explanatory component. Rather, it is a hypothesis that states there is a certain relationship that exists in the natural world.

    It is you who is confused on what a scientific hypothesis is because science ONLY deals with the physical universe.

    I didn’t say otherwise did I? Hypotheses can certainly make predictions about what has yet to be observed (physically).

    Verifying that the claimed evidence exists at all in the first place is not science, even if the procedures used to verify are identical to procedures used in an actual scientific experiment or study.

    There are many examples of published scientific studies that test hypotheses stating that certain relationships exist in nature. This is very much part of the scientific process as it is practiced today. Read psychology journals for examples.

    Actually, yes, in order for something to be qualified as a hypothesis, evidence for its existence must first be confirmed, whether or not one actually observed it directly.

    You are confused. It is not the hypothesis that is hypothesised to exist in nature. It is physical relationships that are hypothesised to exist. Furthermore, if physical relationships that are hypothesised to exist in nature must “first be confirmed to exist”, it would be impossible to make predictions about novel observations – one of the driving forces of science.

    For instance, we have strong evidence for a Big Bang event, even though no one ever observed it before; that evidence being physical, measurable, and independently verified phenomenon.
    This contradicts what you have been claiming. If nobody had ever observed these physical, measureable and independently verified phenomena before, then clearly, hypotheses can be made about the existence of physical relationships that have not yet been observed. You are in agreement with me here.

    The claims of psi, however, have never been verified to exist – they cannot even withstand the first step of the scientific process – so no hypotheses can be made about them.

    Again, this comes down to a mix-up between mechanistic hypotheses and scientifically testable hypotheses per se. See above for reasons why (bear in mind that I am not disputing whether the claims of psi have actually been verified to exist, but rather, I am disputing your claim that hypotheses cannot be made that state such relationships exist in nature).

  49. rezistnzisfutlon 26 Jan 2013 at 2:44 am

    You’re simply not getting it, or are not reading my post thoroughly. A scientific hypothesis must have some sort of observable physical evidence first before it can be formed. Evidence must be directly observed, whether or not the hypothesis created for the phenomenon in question can be directly observed or not. Simply dreaming up a claim about the existence of something without having evidence for the claim is not a hypothesis. Transversely, without evidence first being observed, there is no basis for a hypothesis. Evidence MUST precede hypotheses. That is why scientists verify the presence of the evidence first in the peer-review process before reviewing the hypothesized explanations of the evidence.

    That relationship in nature that “has never been observed” must have some sort of corroborating physical, verifiable evidence first before a scientific hypothesis about it can be formed (aka physical relationships). Simply stating “psi exists” isn’t a hypothesis, it’s an assertion. If one were able to bend spoons in their hand without any sort of mechanical assistance, and demonstrate that ability to others, then a valid scientific hypothesis can be formulated that “psi is what caused the spoon to bend” (although it would be irresponsible of a scientist not to rule out more likely, physical explanations first). The problem is, no one has ever been able to demonstrate the ability to bend spoons in their hand without mechanical help or trickery. The same goes with all claims of psi that have ever been presented.

    In the case of psi, the “evidence” people claim to present isn’t really evidence at all, because there is nothing to present. Their claims are untestable, therefore unfalsifiable.

    The relationships in nature must first be observed to exist before a hypothesis can be created. “Men are generally taller than women” is simply an observation, that’s all. It is NOT a hypothesis because it doesn’t explain why they are taller, it just describes the physical attribute. That’s what a hypothesis is, a preliminary explanation of why it is that men are taller than women. So, a hypothesis would be something like ,”men are taller because they evolved with higher levels of testosterone and growth hormone.” Then the scientists would go about testing whether that is true or not.

    I challenge you to cite one peer-reviewed scientific publication that uses a descriptive observation (relationships in nature) as its hypothesis. A psychologist simply stating “some patients diagnosed with clinical depression respond to a certain anti-depressant better than others” is simply an observation, not a hypothesis. A psychologist would have to then go on to posit an explanation as to WHY the anti-depressant works. So, an actual hypothesis would be something like ,”We believe, based on the evidence, that the responsive patients have a higher number of receptors for the drug in question than the non-responders.”

    To try to use an observation as the hypothesis is useless. That’s like stating that my desk is black, and that’s my hypothesis. There is nothing to test just knowing that my desk is black. If I were to then explain that my desk is black because it absorbs nearly all electromagnetic light, that is a testable hypothesis.

    Those who do the MDC are making existence claims, not hypotheses. They are describing a claimed phenomenon “I can walk through walls”. That is merely an description of on observation that their solid body can pass through other solid matter. Simply stating that is not explanatory in any way as to how or why, so it’s not a hypothesis. It goes without saying that without demonstrating that the person can actually walk through walls, obviously no hypothesis can be formed.

  50. coffeeisBlisson 08 Mar 2014 at 11:03 pm

    http://www.vanpraagh.com/blog/skeptics-science-and-spirituality

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeGOLd16UgM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XrjKPvL0zg

    http://www.amazon.com/Talking-Heaven-Mediumship-Cards-Guidebook/dp/140194261X

    James Van praagh is actively endorsing Doreen Virtue as an angel communicator . He will be pluggin her at every single Hay House event despite report from me of her having told the mother of a suicidal child in Seattle during the angels and the afterlife event – that : Those who talk of suicide do not do it. They just want attention. They need counsling but they don’t ever do it>” Medium John Holland had the question initially posed to him by the black mom of 20 1/2 yr old suicidal young man. The mom had shared with us all that her son had written and read her a letter in which he had confessed to having repeated thought of killing himself and going to act upon these thoughts a couple times in the prior weeks.. but each time he was about to his cell phone rang and he changed course. The mom had wanted Medium John Holland’s help but Holland despite Virtue telling us of unicorns, warning the fairies off our grass before mowing and her report of being taken up in to a UFO — passed the question to Doreen Virtue claiming that his copresenter was better able to address the question in light of her having clinical psychology experience and PHD in psychology ( which Holland failed to mention was from what seems to be a distance learning college and the degree program Virtue has her degree from has been entirely dropped as part of program to get certification)

    Virtue had already wiped out reading people in her lecture alone part. It was so bad some people had walked out ( reference blog post from someone I do not know : http://www.cheri22.com/opening-up-psychic-ability/good-bad-ugly) .. Doreen Virtue asked the mom was there any drugs or alcohol involved which if she really was talking to angels she should already know right ! When the mom said none. Virtue said not even pot.. The Mom said maybe some pot and Virtue went on to some how blame “low vibration “pot as factor in this .. She offered help though… in the form of her latest book .. Mary Queen of the angels was given to the woman free of charge with the statement that the book placed unread on the mom’s night stand could some how heal the energy of the home and situation and not one person stopped this shit.

    Medium John Holland just sat there letting the mom be told what he would have surely known as a real medium was false info on suicide and he did nothing as books on Mary suddenly had magical healing power.

    Hay House staff also did nothing to stop this.

    After the event I went to talk to the mom. I waited for min or two though hoping that any of the James Van Praagh mastering mediumship 5 day graduates who were present would come help. There were several there since JVP has heavily plugged the event during the class. Not a single medium of psychic who graduated from his class who was present came to help as I the catholic intuitive tried to tell the mom that what she had just been told about suicide was dead wrong.

    The mom was confused why I was there saying what do you mean the information was wrong they both told me my son was perfectly safe and in no harm. I let her know no THEY did not. Virtue had spoke and Hollland had said nothing to correct it. The mom took John Holland’s silence as full agreement for what person who does spiritual work would just sit there and let a mom with her heart in her hands hoping for an answer on why her son was suicidal get wrong info.. well Holland did .. Holland standing up to correct the information would out Doreen Virtue’s utter fraud for you see angels of God can’t get it wrong and Doreen Virtue had said she could clearly see all our angels and Hay House had introduced Doreen Virtue at the start of the talk as an “angel expert”>

    I did what I could. I gave it my best. I had no idea what words to say to over come the words of a fraudulent angel medium and the silent game playing of famous published medium John Holland. I let the mom know that all talk of suicide must be taken seriously. I let her know that some who talk of suicide will go to do and I was almost one of them but the unseen has really blocked my way. I let her know her son needed to go see a real medical dr and a therapist. I told her there is no shame in depression or in her son talking to her of needing help. I told her that her son was trusting her to be the mom and to get him help. I told her the Blessed Virgin Mary’s son died so that her son might live and that any real woman of God would never risk a single soul to suicide and that using the Blessed Mother as snake oil was not markers of a saint.

    I have no idea what happened to the mom. I wrote Hay House and their CEO Reid tracy offered to email the mom if I had the email but since I did not he did nothing to find her to the best of my knowledge. He told me he had written Doreen Virtue and let her know of the complaint. I let him know that his employee Melissa had admitted to hearing the comment by Virtue and she had seen it as wrong and she had said to me that if taken literally it could be dangerous. I let him know that Melissa feared that had she stood to say what was said on suicide was wrong that she would be terminated.

    I sent CC of this to Mr . Shermer.

    I was to write over and over and over in hopes of getting Hay House to send someone to correct the false information on suicide that went out to a mom in front or 700 people. I filed complaints with the Mayor’s office, the health dept, the attorney general’s office. Doreen Virtue like the idiot she is failed to realize when she threatened to sue me that I have record of my fellow JVP classmates view of the event and I am more than willing to call them into court to one after another have to tell us all our teacher sent us to see someone who seems unable to talk to anything but her own ego.

    I hoped at the very least that all my writing and my prayers to God might help protect not only the young man whose mom was told wrong info on suicide – but any others who might receive future wrong medical information by Doreen Virtue in the name of the angels of God.. I cried myself to sleep praying for 9 months.

    All my writing and my prayers seem to have done jack. Doreen Virtue despite the so called warning by Hay House ceo of complaint of her giving out wrong info on suicide went on to give a mom a message online when asked about vaccinations for children that ” If she had small children she would not vaccinate them for anything and she would home school them or send them to the waldorfs”. Virtue after the Seattle event also went on to tell an entire group of people in Australia not to get flu shots as some kind of angel message according to this one blog post… http://www.leahrreynolds.com/blog/2013/01/16/Angel-Visions-Meeting-Doreen-Virtue.aspx

    James Van praagh kept endorsing this fraudulent piece of shit despite her ant-vaccination comments and despite knowing she had given out wrong info on suicide to a mom in Seattle. He didn’t care if people died it seems. This man I thought the world of kept and keeps endorsing a woman who makes little sense and practices medicine in the name of angels. It is so heart breaking to me.

    She is 5 times married and 4 times divorced. If one was actually seeing and hearing angels wouldn’t they have fewer divorces than Rush Limbaugh>

    She tells people according to her angel in order to be high vibration one should not consume chocolate, coffee , meat or alcohol.. Okay problem people you see if you claim to be Christian and you can’t go around telling people that anything that Jesus did was low vibration right> Does not the bible say that Jesus turned water into wine and that he multiplied the fishes to feed the crowd> Who can explain a low vibration miracle of Christ to me or anyone? As a person with first nation blood lines who can explain the racist angel telling Doreen virtue shit that would make meat eating first nation people around the world lesser?

    Oh and James Van Praagh he drinks alcohol, loves his coffee, eats meat and that I know he has no aversion to chocolate.. He sells this shit as angel truth and doesn’t follow it at all it seems.

    But the best is yet to come the simony… Oh the lovely simony endorsed by James Van Praagh. You see he knows that Virtue sells angel therapy practioner certifications want to be certified its only $1,000 via DVD or you can for only $1,111 take a class with her son to be certified to certify other people – no I am not joking… http://www.charlesvirtue.com/

    James Van praagh clearly teaches that everyone is psychic but not everyone is a medium but he thinks nothing of leading people to a woman willing to make anyone a medium via DVD for only $400. If he is right in not everyone is a medium or can be – then is not this sale by Virtue both material and spiritual fraud by his own definition? How can anyone be a true spiritual teacher and endorsing anyone commiting fraud by their own definition? How can he say he is faithful to mediumship when he https://angeluniversity.com/shop/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=51

    These people they care not what it seems for what is true or what is right. They will risk human life in bogus bullshit. I have had at least 4 mediums/psychics try to dissuade me from reporting or making an issue of all this for I was told psychics run in circles and you don’t out the fraud in your circle. I was told play the game and I too might have fame like John Holland..

    Here is my answer..

    Mr. Randi I am a catholic intuitive. The shit these people do is dead wrong. It is not of God to risk people giving out wrong info on suicide. There is no wisdom in the flip of deck. These people will sell others the stupidest shit under the sun to make a buck on them.

    I have seen what I fully believe is mediumship by James Van Praagh. I once held him as a person I wanted to be like not in terms of talking to peoples dead people but in person using spiritual gifts. It breaks my heart to see him whoring his word, his fans, his field so. I can’t argue to any priest that James Van Praagh is talking to heaven while he endorses a woman who gives out wrong info on suicide and tells people not to vaccinate their children! I don’t think Heaven is for the Blessed Virgin/Jesus on a divination deck.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2kCn9zzUgY

    Mr Randi let Mr Shermer expand the psychic reading evaluations beyond Hot– warm and cold. Let him put in there also levels of he might be seeing a hit and what looks to be a hit. Let Mr. Shermer enter the conversation more fully not as a skeptical atheists but as skeptic. People in the psychic community blow of skeptic talk when it is based on atheism. But there is very real need to start the conversation of accuracy of hits esp when these people are going to tell them to do things that stand in opposition to science based medicine. I feel you wouldn’t take medical advice from a Dr who only had a 10 % accuracy rate so why take medical advice from someone telling you angels talk to them who is not even at 10 %..

    The time of healthy skepticism is way past due..

    John Edward where is he when he knows they are selling mediumship.. His voice is no where.
    John Holland can’t find the balls to do anything of true character if it comes at personal cost to profit it seems.
    James Van Praagh is whoring it so hard he might as well change his name to James Van Whore.

    Let me be first intuitive in the world to say to you there is plenty of psychic fraud out there and even if one day someone claims your prize it will not mean there is not a sea of fraud out there . Let me tell you no one is there to protect the people. These psychics for money seem to make almost any excuse for the money. And with every whoring they make a reason for the JREF to exist. I hate to say it.. but shit why should you believe they are talking to Heaven when they whore out common sense, their own teachings, and human life..

    Mr. Randi what can you do to help me be able to fulfill my promise to my catholic Priest that I would do everything in my power to ensure that never again would a mother of suicidal child be told wrong information on suicide by Doreen Virtue or any Hay House psychic? How the heck am I supposed to tell my priest what I found .. that they have let an woman claiming angels tell people not to vaccinate children and not to vaccinate for the flu after they let her tell a mom wrong info on suicide> You know Father Paul is going to flip. And if I tell him they are selling anything they call a gift of God father to people via dvd he is going to spit his coffee up. I can’t face my priest such a total failure to move these people. I can’t tell him I failed to do anything to protect life.

    Can you inspire James Van praagh to never again make an excuse to endorse someone who would practice medicine without a license in the name of angels? Can you find the words I could not to get him to value human life? I failed. I prayed and prayed for him I swear. I prayed for dead scientists to haunt his ass if that is what it took to get him to defend vaccinations. Either he sees no dead people in Heaven or there are no dead doctors or scientist in Heaven – because he has not moved to stand against Virtue telling people not to vaccinate.

    Can you inspire Medium John Holland to not think it acceptable to just sit there while people are told shit that could cost a person their life? Can you a man who says he talks to heaven and seems to have the heart of a rock?

    Can you pull a miracle out of your hat magician? I need a miracle. not a rabbit . I need a miracles to move these cold heartless assholes to something spiritual. And I have no reservation asking an ethical atheist to ask the mediums who claim they talk to heaven why they whore commons sense, their own teachings. and human life..

    Mary – Desiree

    http://www.edgemagazine.net/2000/04/the-edge-interview-with-doreen-virtue/
    https://www.facebook.com/DoreenVirtue444/posts/473263562714960
    http://www.leahrreynolds.com/blog/2013/01/16/Angel-Visions-Meeting-Doreen-Virtue.aspx
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7J5ZDrBwZk

    http://stopthinkautism.blogspot.com/2008/06/indigo-moms-insights.html

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