Another era ends....

>> Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Boing Boing reports that the James Randi Educational Fund is ending its million-dollar challenge in 2010. The deal, for those who don't know, was that professional magician Randi--best known for humiliating Uri Geller on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show--offered a cool, easy million bucks to anyone who could demonstrate the existence of paranormal phenomena under controlled conditions.

For a decade, that money has pretty much just sat there. Oh, people have tried, by and by, to win it. And yet, somehow, whenever you set up an experiment to test dowsing, psychic powers, astrology, homeopathy, et al. to the exclusion of sleight-of-hand, fakery, quackery, deceit, or even mere mistake... suddenly all the claims blow off like so much chaff on the wind.

I've admired Randi's work since I read Flim-Flam as a kid. I was interested in weird stuff back then, still am. It's neat to think about the what-ifs: what if there were ghosts, or ESP, or alien invaders? It's why I'm a science fiction and fantasy fan to this day. I like writing fiction about these things, too. But there's a difference between real and pretend--someone who dresses in a robe and claims "Jedi" as a religious affiliation strikes us as weird and a little sad, but tell people you've seen a ghost, and... well.... The Haunting is a phenomenal little movie, but that doesn't mean there are houses out to get people.

The million-dollar JREF prize was never really that audacious a bet, it was never really a gamble. In that regard, it's amazing it lasted as long as it did not because it was unclaimed but because there are a lot of better uses an educational charity has for a million bucks besides leaving it in a vault to gather dust and interest. It was always a kind of cheap (ironically) publicity stunt. And yet a worthy one, considering how gullible and scientifically illiterate the general public is: a million set aside is nothing compared to the dollars to be earned talking to ghosts, reading palms, or writing a bestselling "nonfiction" novel about your alien abduction. In that sense, it's a shame the era of the JREF is ending, and a shame that this will be claimed as a victory by some wicked and/or gullible people who will pretend that Randi ran, not walked, away.





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