Prove Your Supernatural Power and Get Rich

If you can demonstrate a power unknown to science, there are people looking to write you a check.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Paranormal

Skeptoid #372
July 23, 2013
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Also available in Russian | French
 

Psychic Challenge
Houdini's psychic challenge letter
Photo: Chris Perley

It can sometimes be quite mind-boggling to hear a friend or family member reveal that they have some kind of supernatural ability. Often they feel an empathetic connection to others, sometimes the ability to perform minor healings, or to predict future events. Many times, these are abilities for which "supernatural" seems too strong a word; they are more spiritual or metaphysical, or based on some sensing of an energy. It's more than likely that you yourself believe you have such an ability, or perhaps did at one time. Nearly all of us have. But whether the ability is energetic or spiritual, supernatural truly is the best word that applies. A supernatural ability could almost be seen as a superpower, something a fictional superhero might be able to do. And we all want superpowers. We all want your supernatural ability to be proven true. And we want it so much that a large number of groups around the world will pay you to prove it.

Such prizes have been available at least since Houdini, who had a standing $10,000 offer for anyone who could create a paranormal manifestation that he could not duplicate. The granddaddy of today's challenges is the James Randi Educational Foundation's Million Dollar Challenge, which will pay anyone who can prove an ability unknown to science one million dollars, and Chinese journalist Sima Nan will kick in a million Yuan (about $150,000) on top of it. It's not the only big prize out there: the Belgian group SKEPP offers the Sisyphus Prize for one million Euros, which at current exchange rates, is about a quarter million dollars more than the Million Dollar Challenge. The Independent Investigation Group, with affiliates throughout the United States, offers a $100,000 prize. Puzzling World in New Zealand has long offered the $100,000 Pyschic Challenge, and just across the pond, the Australian Skeptics offer a $100,000 prize. The Science and Rationalists' Association of India offers a IN₹2 million Miracle Challenge, worth about $50,000. These are most of the largest prizes, but many, many smaller prizes are offered all around the world. If you have a supernatural ability of any kind, you owe it to yourself — or at least to your favorite charity — to prove it and use the reward however you see fit.

It's easy to dismiss the groups who run these challenges as cynics who just want to gloat over someone's failure, and for sure, such people are found in those groups. But many members of the groups joined because they, too, have always dreamed of having a superpower. Should you win the money and prove that a supernatural ability is possible, you'll not only turn the world on its head, you'll be handed money by people who have never been happier to sign a check.

I truly do encourage you to go for it. Here are three big pieces of advice, based on the experiences of the many previous claimants:

1. Be able to succinctly describe a testable ability.

The biggest headache for the people who offer these prizes is that the claimant can almost never provide a simple, clear description of their ability. For example, if you believe you have the power to influence a cat telepathically, you have to give a specific and testable example. Most claimants usually write in with a great lengthy email, telling about the many examples they've experienced of a cat doing whatever they wanted it to do; or perhaps with long rambling experiences of sharing the cat's feelings or of their history of owning cats with whom they felt empathetic.

The challengers have no use for a long letter. You truly must be able to describe one specific ability in a single sentence. If you have many, then pick exactly one, one that you are most confident you can consistently prove.

Nobody is going to give you a cash prize for the length of your letter, or for the number of cats you've felt empathetic toward. You must be able to provide a clear, testable ability. If your ability is broad-reaching and vague, it will not be possible to construct a test protocol, and you will not be able to prove it. You must be able to select, within the scope of your broad-reaching abilities, something specific that's testable and repeatable. For example, "I can make my cat jump onto its perch, within five seconds of giving it a mental command, when the cat neither see me nor hear me, and I can do it 8 out of 10 times."

It has to be something concise, specific, and unmistakable. If you feel that your ability is too broad to be fairly represented by such a precise example, then you are unlikely to convince anyone, and will certainly be unable to prove your ability to the satisfaction of whatever criteria are agreed upon.

Many claimants report that they feel it's unfair to try and represent their ability with a single demonstration that's so much more specific than what they generally do. If you feel the same way and can't agree to a simple test protocol, then you're likely to leave the impression that your abilities are really just your own misinterpretation of ordinary coincidences. It's something the psychologists call confirmation bias — you happen to notice when your cat jumps onto his perch while you were thinking of him, but you failed to weigh it against the far larger number of times your cat jumped onto the perch when you weren't around and had nothing to do with it.

2. Be aware of why previous claimants failed.

Many people have taken such tests, and so far, all have failed. However, they've almost always cited an excuse or some external reason out of their control that the test failed. You must be aware of why previous claimants have failed, and be prepared not to suffer their same fate. This means preparation and anticipation of the problems.

Claimants are generally required to sign a paper stating that the test they've agreed to is a fair one and that they're satisfied with the protocol. However, after each fails, they almost always say that the test was not fair, or that there was some unanticipated interference.

In 2002, the Australian Skeptics ran a large test with many water dowsers who came out to locate which covered bottles placed around a tennis court contained water. The dowsers were satisfied that no ground water or other interfering effects were present before the bottles were placed. After they all ran their dowsing tests, all felt they'd done a good job and expressed no dissatisfaction, agreed the test was fair, and that they'd scored well. But once the bottles were uncovered, scores were tallied, and it was determined that none of the dowsers scored better than random chance, the excuses came flooding:

Some claimed that some of the water bottles contained rain water instead of tap water (they didn't), and that threw everything off.

Some claimed that some unseen source of water must have been interfering, despite the dowsers having declared the course free beforehand.

Some claimed that their failure was due to the water in the bottles being stagnant, and that only flowing water could be detected.

One said that the water had been sitting out too long and had thus lost its "electricity".

Truly able dowsers should have been aware of all of these limitations of their abilities beforehand. They had failed to explicitly understand their own ability, or lack thereof. All of these failures could have been avoided if they'd followed piece of advice #3:

3. Test yourself first.

When claimants do show up and take their tests, the testers often report that it seems clear the claimants have never tested themselves before. They truly believe in their ability, and they simply "know" that they'll be able to pass the test. Unfortunately it seems that very few actually run the test on themselves at home before spending the time and money to travel and have the test given for real.

$2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

One case of a dowser involved finding a glass of water using a pair of divining rods. The first stage involved the glasses exposed and clearly visible; the claimant passed, as expected. Next, the claimant himself covered the glasses of water with boxes, and also placed empty boxes. Again, the claimant passed. This is probably as far as the claimant ever got on his own at home; he "felt" or "knew" that he could actually detect the water, and that he would have similar success under any test condition. Unfortunately the third stage involved glasses of water under boxes that were placed randomly by a third party out of the dowser's view, and when so blinded, the dowser discovered he was unable to find the water. He lost the test, and his time and money to travel had been wasted. If he'd run this simple test at home, having a neighbor or friend hide the glasses for him, he would have discovered that his ability disppeared whenever the location of the water was unknown to him. Hopefully he would have second guessed his decision to spend money getting tested, or at least gone back to the drawing board to reformulate his ability and find something that worked reliably under the test protocol.

When you do test yourself at home, be sure to bring along friends or neighbors who doubt your ability. Have them challenge you. This may give you a better idea of how reliable is your ability, or under what conditions it may or may not work. Most of these challenges allow — in fact, require — you to design your own testing protocol, subject to the challengers certifying that it will be a satisfactory proof. So you'd better be able to go in knowing exactly what kind of test you can pass, and be sure that you've passed it many times, reliably, in concert with your friends and the biggest skeptics you can dig up. If you can't satisfy your friends and neighbors, you certainly won't be able to satisfy the professional statisticians and magicians at the challenge.

So again, I encourage you to go for. Nearly everyone is rooting for you. We human beings have looked in a lot of places trying to find real magic or real superpowers, and we haven't found any yet. I hope, for all our sakes, that you will be the one who does.

Correction: An earlier version of this listed the IIG's paranormal prize amount as $50,000. They have upped it to $100,000.

Brian Dunning

© 2013 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Ghosh, P. "Challenge to all ‘supernatural’ and ‘paranormal’ power holders/ astrologers etc." The Freethinker. Science and Rationalists’ Association of India & Humanists' Association, 3 Jul. 2010. Web. 22 Jul. 2013. <http://www.srai.org/challenge-to-all-supernatural-and-paranormal-power-holders-astrologers-etc/>

IIG. "The IIG $100,000 Paranormal Challenge." Independent Investigations Group. IIG, 18 Dec. 2003. Web. 22 Jul. 2013. <http://www.iigwest.com/challenge.html>

JREF. "One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge." Challenge Info. James Randi Educational Foundation, 10 Dec. 2008. Web. 22 Jul. 2013. <http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge.html>

Landsborough, S. "Stuart Landsborough's $100,000 Psychic Challenge." Puzzling World. Stuart Landsborough, 15 Oct. 2007. Web. 22 Jul. 2013. <http://www.psychicchallenge.co.nz>

Saunders, R. "Calling All Diviners." Latest News. Australian Skeptics, Inc., 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 22 Jul. 2013. <http://www.skeptics.com.au/latest/news/calling-all-diviners/>

SKEPP. "Sign Up for Our Sisyphus Prize and Win €1,000,000." Sisyphus Prize. Skepp.be, 28 Jan. 2013. Web. 22 Jul. 2013. <http://skepp.be/en/sisyphus-prize-1000000-euro>

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Prove Your Supernatural Power and Get Rich." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 23 Jul 2013. Web. 20 Aug 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4372>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 117 comments

So, Ive laid it all out for us, a distillation of the arrogance of woo spirited frauds and liars.

Your quality system is your choice.

Its the same as Brians recent raw milk episode.

If you require something essential, you go for a quality system.

Were I to come across another dowser as I have encountered a few, i have a quality system based question;

Do you know what you are doing or do you have to tell me you are led by an unnatural explanation for your appendage?

If a dowser/waterseeker/diviner/surveyor needs that sort of crutch get a better person for the job.

After all, any idiot can make exuses for themselves or woo artistes.

Now, on Brians thesis for getting a bit of JREF's mula you have to submit to a test (no, not a I dont need the dough) that is fair, statistically based. It shows that anyone who can check the random against the random can see if your claim isnt in or is far better than normal people.

its a bit unfair that real people doing astounding things are excluded but the point about JREF is, you have to do something well above human.

Dowsing by claim or reputation isnt one, if you cant find what you claim you can, even given the opportunity of calibration and all the pretesting you want, you fail.

You dont get the money and only an idiot would make excuses for you.

the internet is full of idiots and frauds and liars..They are the good ones. They still always fail testing.

No excuse, means, you need to do science for a reason..Nature! Sheesh!

Meal Ditto, Gerringong The IL. USO
October 9, 2013 11:07pm

Yet another post that reduces anything not explained by science or Randi as woo, fraudulent, or fabrication.

I'm the first to say that dowsing is any substitute for a good surveyor on a repeat day-to-day basis.

It however exists under the conditions I have posted, and all that has been posted in reply are the same old implications and assertions that anything that is not scientifically verified, or Randi-fied, is nothing but fraudulent woo.

A question.

Has the poster whose assertions continue to reflect erroneous claims actually tried dowsing in a serious and genuine attempt of enquiry ?

Or is it the same old denial and derision of anything he doesn't understand or believe in ?

After all, I'm still waiting for this poster to inform Skeptoid what he saw, and what it was that he immediately knew, when he followed my instructions of viewing the "etheric".

So far amongst all the bluster, nothing forthcoming whatsoever.

Macky, Auckland
October 9, 2013 11:54pm

Wondeful, another opportunity to discuss "dowsing" (yes it deserves the inverted commas).

So, it isn't science if someone explains its woo that finds the water, it isnt science if someone explains pseudoscience find the water (I can add other commodities but water is the craft in question).

It is science when we show that people have been finding water for very good reasons (need) and by very good observation.

Strangely, animals and plants can find water (or they die).

But lets drag it down to the technologist, the agrarian, the home user interviewing someone for a job (be it single contract or permanent employment).

All of us agree that someone waving a stick around is profoundly inept at finding water (testing shows this and excuses fail, if we did science we'd find a reason and try to fix it as we have).

You interview someone who can find water (or commodities) a hell of a lot better than you can, the blokes up the pub can (you can use a psychic for that!).

What part of the business, organisational plan in any organisation, even a home user asks for any trades, professional, specialist or expert (i note there is profound confusion on just these) asks for a stick waving fraud to walk in and take your money?

James Randi has, Dick Smith has, Ian Saunders has his views. Why these?

Their bums arent on the line for hiring the wrong people (same) Their entire careers are based on finding someone who has something a bit more than human..

Not amongst the woo!

Meal Ditto, Gerringong The IL. USO
October 10, 2013 1:20am

"All of us agree that someone waving a stick around is profoundly inept at finding water..."

Who are "all of us ?" And has the above poster determined that "all of us" agree ?

The dowsers I've seen in my life, including myself, do not "wave sticks around". In fact none of us used sticks.
Yet another error of judgment in the above post.

And where have I promoted the idea that dowsers and their skills (or lack of) should be considered for employment in any trade or profession, especially when said skill (or lack of) is not an everyday routine skill that would be expected from a tradesman or professional ?

Once again the "take your money" and "fraud" terms rear their heads in the above post.

The only time I have ever known of dowsers accepting money for hire (presumably) is when ads from farmers to find water on their farm were answered. And they were few and far between.

James Randi et all has an agenda which does not only include dowsers, and has a reputation and presumably other business or professional interests that require maintaining credibility and good standing, and rightly so.

I have no such requirement to put my bum on the line, as the above poster has put it.

All I am doing is taking up the invitation to discuss on Skeptoid a subject that I have had some minor but significant experience with.
There is no "take your money" at stake here, simply the truthful account of my experiences with dowsing.

Fraud it certainly is/was not.

Macky, Auckland
October 10, 2013 3:32pm

Many arguments for it existing, working and tha(dowsing).
Then prove it, to the tune of more than a million dollars.
Someone on here said something about putting their bum on the line...why worry about that if you really can do it, as it should be simple, yes?
The whole "not taking money" is a farce, as you could easily donate it to your favorite charity if you object to the money part and that wouldn't "compromise" you, or your character, whatsoever.
As with the dowsers that didn't succeed in these experiments, when put through a REAL test, the excuses come flying out.
It's not that I believe that a person can't use their energy within themself to locate an object. I just keep reading about people who, supposedly have this "gift", but are either proven wrong by scientific testing or haven't the gonads to take on the tests in a controlled environment.
Personally, though, if I had this ability...I would require the experiment people to use a natural part of the earth to contain the water, such as crystal containers, as I would think that some of the properties of plastic bottles could, I said could...throw off the testing, as plastic is far from a natural item one would be trying to penetrate through while searching for water in the earth.

Shadow, Independence, MO
October 17, 2013 1:32am

The reasons for why dowsing does not pass repeatable Randi-type tests have been explained clearly in several previous posts.
"Not taking money" does not come into it.
As far as "controlled environment" is concerned, that is precisely against what dowsing and its purpose really is.

I have also explained how those dowsers who tried to prove their craft with tests that don't apply to dowsing in general were in error.

If you had the ability to dowse, and you only visualized water in general, then any container, natural or otherwise would not matter.
However, if you visualized qualities such as drinkable, underground, etc, then you would be searching for water under that/those particular condition(s).

Macky, Auckland
October 18, 2013 3:12pm

Of everything posted to date, the single comment that makes the most sense is that all one need do is pass a test and prove that one can do the job! I cannot think of anything that I CAN do that I could NOT demonstrate via a proper test. I cannot think of anything that I CANNOT do that I actually COULD demonstrate via a proper test. There is nothing that I can only do halfway. Sure, on some days I might be able to shoot more baskets than others, or maybe just stretch my fingers higher into the air than others. But if I do those things in several sessions over a period of time, it will become obvious that I am capable of doing certain things, and not others, and that all such things are dividable into their CAN and CAN'T piles via proper testing under objective conditions others can observe.

Stephen Bauer, Portland, Oregon USA
October 29, 2013 1:26pm

Then in that case Stephen, you have not read my posts properly regarding my comments on such tests, or you have, but you still do not understand that tests that involve everyday and/or repeatable skills, do not apply to dowsing.

One simply should not test their dowsing ability by trying to find things over and over again, set up by others to observe.
The dowsers who tried to do that were in error, and I'm surprised that they ever thought they would have a show of passing such tests, which go directly against the purpose and method of dowsing.

Respectfully, I take it that you do not/cannot dowse, or simply will not because you are not interested in dowsing ?

Macky, Auckland
November 3, 2013 1:01am

"Why do psychics have to ask me my name?"

"They may not have to. They may be asking out of politeness....."

Yeah, they're 'polite' enough till you call 'em on their BS!

Me and a girlfriend were in a mall in the 70s where a 'psychic' had a kiosk to demonstrate her (and its always a her or a she) 'powers'.
When the 'cold reading' started, I started laughing and just couldn't control myself!
I said, "Hey! That's kinda neat! Who WOULDN'T that generalization apply to?!?"
The old bi....I mean 'psychic' wasn't so polite anymore :) - and the "ad hominum" attacks started right out in public!
The old bag actually threatened to call Mall Security to report me for a "verbal assault"! :D :D

I said, "Go ahead! Please!!"

I'm SURE the security guards would have taken her seriously! LOL!

We hung around the mall for a few more hours - no sign of the security guards. :D

Ron, Calgary Alberta Canada
November 3, 2013 1:40pm

Yeah I agree Ron.

That sort of thing is just rubbish, and only serves to make a mockery of the whole area of so-called psychic phenomena.

I've had similar experiences with individuals who promoted themselves as psychics in some manner or other. They were nothing but frauds.

Macky, Auckland
November 3, 2013 11:59pm

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