Friday, January 4, 2008

End of an Era

In this week's Swift comes news that is at once sad and refreshing.

As of two years from now, the James Randi Educational Foundation will no longer be offering their million dollar prize.

It’s always been a simple, direct, matter: do what you claim you can do of a paranormal nature, and walk away with the prize. Our expectations at first were that we’d attract major personalities by this means, but they’ve avoided having to take the test by simply not applying; those who have actually applied are generally honestly self-deluded persons who have difficulty stating what they can do, which can be understood if they really don’t know what they’re experiencing; we at JREF have gone through involved procedures to help them recognize their problems. Usually, they have indicated that they don’t know what real scientific rules are, when it comes down to their actually being properly tested.
There are those who are disappointed at the loss of the prize. For instance, Mark Hoofnagle of denialism blog had this to say:
I'm disappointed, because that means in two years we will lose one of the best anti-woo tools in the arsenal. That is, the offer of 1 million dollars to any woomeister who can prove their paranormal abilities are real in a controlled scientific test in order to shut them up.
I feel a bit differently. There have always been excuses from the paranormal proponents as to why they don't take the test—the money doesn't exist, Randi rigs the tests, someone's already won and Randi refuses to pay, etc.—so it hasn't been a good tool for a long time. It will free up a lot of money for the JREF to do more work, and it will free up time. Randi speaks thusly:
The hundreds of poorly-constructed applications, and the endless hours of phone, e-mail, and in-person discussions we’ve had to suffer through, will be things of the past, for us at the JREF.
He seems relieved. While I can't say I'm that, I am not sad for the loss of the prize. It's a new future for the JREF, and they deserve it.


Ben said...

I had heard several months ago on some podcast that the format of the prize was going to change so a media presence was necessary and the Randi was going to actively seek out the more famous tricksters. That the prize is being discarded entirely is a surprise to me too.

I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it was the one thing that I would point to as a sort of proof that people do not have magical powers, but on the other, it has cost the JREF a lot of time and effort. Perhaps now they will turn more towards public education.