The Anti-Randi Marching Band

This stuff keeps coming back.

Someone cheerfully declares something to the effect that "Telepathy and other 'Psi' phenomena have been demonstrated conclusively so many times that if they were a dieting pill it would have been on the market fifty years ago". So it's a bit odd that even in our kee-razy capitalist world, the only 'psi'-based commercial products continue to be frank scams, isn't it, but never mind.

The usual next move in this common opening to the chess-game of reason versus woo is someone mentioning the fact that any psychic (or aura-seer, or astral traveller, or dowser, or therapeutic toucher) could make a million dollars by simply demonstrating the ability to do even some small subset of what they claim they do with little effort every day.

Next, without fail, someone else says there's "fine print" in the Randi challenge, and Randi's a big cheat, and so on and so forth.

(There sure is fine print in the Challenge! Well, more of a FAQ, really, which explains the 1500-word Challenge itself in plain terms, so that busy communicators with the dead can get the gist in a hurry. But that print is still fine if you set your browser text size small. And it says things like, you have to agree on what you promise to do at the beginning, and since you get to set your own terms in cooperation with the James Randi Educational Foundation before taking even the not-passed-by-anyone-yet preliminary test, it's fine for Randi to be a thousand miles away during the testing if you think he's a big cheat. So you can see how people might object to it. It's obviously a total screw-job.)

More than nine years ago now, I observed an expanded version of this time-honoured square-dance in progress on Usenet, and wrote the following:

At 23:50 4/12/99 -0500, [someone else on the Skeptic list] wrote:

Garrison Hilliard [whose Web page has a picture of a naked woman on it, if you scroll down. So don't go there, or scroll down, if that sort of thing bothers you] started a few threads on the alt.out-of-body newsgroup. It's been pretty interesting, and especially some of the apparent anger at the questions.

Please feel free to visit the place, or at least review it through dejanews. [I told you this was old!]

For those who haven't had time to review the discussion (there are a few hundred relevant messages), allow me to condense it:

Garrison: Please provide evidence that Out-of-body Experiences are anything other than delusions, hallucinations, or outright lies.

Someone Else: Hey, man, try it for yourself, you'll see!

Garrison: I have. I didn't see anything.

Someone Else: Well, we don't need to either, then!

Garrison: Huh?

Someone Else: You can't prove you like having orgasms, so we don't have to prove nothin'!

Garrison: <scratches head> Uh, well, gee...


John Stone: Naff off.

Someone Else: OOBEs are a parallel reality, different from ours.

Garrison: How's that different from a hallucination?

Someone Else: Kirlian photography shows they're real!

Garrison: Oh, give me a break.

Someone Else: Get fucked!

Garrison: Eh?

Someone Else: You're doing the work of Satan, you know!

Garrison: Pardon?

Someone Else: <WEBTVHTMLBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH><font color=mediumslategreen>Let's</font> <font color=puce>ignore</font> <I><U><B><STRONG><BIG><BIG><BIG><BIG>Garrison.</BIG></BIG></BIG></BIG></STRONG></B></U></I><BLINK>He's</BLINK><FONT SIZE=18237>rude.</FONT><EMBED sig_with_a_midi_file_in_it></WEBTVHTMLBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH>

Someone Else: I agree.

Someone Else: Me too.

Someone Else: How profound.

Someone Else: Yes, I have killfiled that rude asshole.

Someone Else: I always killfile anyone who flames me by asking me why I believe what I believe.

Garrison: I'm still heeeee-re!

Someone Else: That's because, in your heart, you know the world is flat. Uh, no, I mean...

Someone Else: Photocopiers can't see colour, which explains perfectly why OOBEs don't let you read things you couldn't ordinarily see.

Someone Else: That's it in a nutshell.

Someone Else: Yup, you got it.

Someone Else: That oughta shut him up, huh!

Someone Else: Anyway, if we read some piece of paper in another room, that might just prove we're telepathic or remote viewers. It wouldn't necessarily be an OOBE at all. So it'd be no good for anything!

Garrison: <cough, splutter>

Barry Williams (not that one): All of this is amusing me enormously.

Someone Vaguely Sensible: Uh, doesn't Garrison kinda have a point?

Someone Else: Does not!

Someone Vaguely Sensible: Does too!

Garrison: This isn't an argument.

John Cleese: Yes it is.

Someone Else: Go away! Leave us alone! What do you care, anyway!

Garrison: I'm researching OOBEs. You could [the fateful moment!] make a million dollars, you know.

Someone Else: I'm not in this for the money.

Garrison: What, you couldn't think of ANYONE to give it to?

The Anti-Randi Marching Band: There is no money/there is too little money/there is too much money/I want to see the money in a pile/proximity to cash compromises my spiritual enlightenment/Randi is a powerful anti-psi ray emitter/Randi is a cannibal and I am afraid of him/Randi would just say we were never in our bodies to start with/the FBI will forcibly change my gender if I win/I want it in Tongan Pa'anga, not US dollars/money is an illusion/property is theft/I'm a teapot! I'm a teapot!

James Randi: Bring it on, girlymen.

Someone Else: You're not James Randi.

Someone Vaguely Sensible: Yes he is.

Someone Else: No he isn't. See, I'll e-mail him, and... oh. Sorry.

Someone Else: ISN'T ISN'T ISN'T ISN'T ISN'T!

Someone Vaguely Sensible: OK, so minds go flying around without bodies, but James Randi can't possibly post to a newsgroup?

Someone Else: Ah, but there's lots of evidence that minds fly around without bodies.

Garrison: <vein stands out on forehead> Well, if you'd care to PRESENT it...

Someone Else: Child molester!! Look! Look! A nudie pic on Garrison's Web site! [Which, as mentioned above, is still there!] My pubic-hairometer clearly identifies her as underage!

Various Appreciators Of The Female Form: Phwoar.

Gary Glitter: Run for your life, man. [This was topical humour at the time.]

Someone Else: I badly misunderstand the laws of thermodynamics.

Someone Else: T HATS NOTHING!!!!!!!! ICANT'' EVEn typE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Various people: Standard spelling and punctuation thread #1.

Someone Else: What's Garrison doing here, anyway?

Someone Vaguely Sensible: Discussing OOBEs, just like the rest of us.

Someone Else: He is restricting our freedom of speech! Let's complain to his ISP and get him gagged!

Someone Else: I so totally would rather have the blue pill than the red one.


People who dismiss the Randi Challenge out of hand usually aren't just nuts. They're actually using deductive reasoning, from a less-than-solid premise:

A: Everybody knows that paranormal phenomena are real.

B: Nobody has ever passed even a preliminary test for the Randi Challenge.

Therefore, the Randi Challenge must be rigged.

This reasoning works perfectly for the few challenges out there that really are rigged, and impossible for anybody to win, even if they could pass with flying colours a fair version of the test. Kent Hovind's evolution challenge, for instance, and Jock Doubleday's vaccine challenge.

[This attracted Jock Doubleday's attention and led to another couple of posts about his challenge, which are here and here.]

I also like the example that's currently in the Wikipedia article about deduction:

All fire-breathing rabbits live on Earth.
All humans are fire-breathing rabbits.
(Therefore,) all humans live on Earth.

You do, to be fair, now have to have a "media presence" of some sort in order to apply for the Randi Challenge - there have to be newspaper or other media stories about your amazing abilities. You also now need to come up with "at least one signed document from an academic who has witnessed the powers or abilities", but this shouldn't be very difficult to achieve, if you're doing whatever paranormal thing you do all the time. (These rules are relatively new, I think; they're there to discourage all the people with delusional disorders who can't even convince their local newspaper that they have paranormal abilities, yet invariably figure that the Randi Challenge will be a piece of cake.)

15 Responses to “The Anti-Randi Marching Band”

  1. Ice8205 Says:

    Well, what is there to say? Those who want to believe have no interest in being proved wrong.

    There are several groups there. The group that wants to believe, the group of sh*t disturbers who are just having fun, and the group who want to fleece the first group. And maybe a group who is trying to make unbelievers out of the first group, trying to protect them from the third group.

  2. iworm Says:

    Linked across to Garrison's site. Scrolled down (the page...) and enjoyed the artistic pose. Clicked her (stop sniggering) and landed on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's home page which, at the time of writing, carries a headline "Worse Than Bush."

    Mmmmkay. There's definitely a smutty message there, but for the life of me I can't fully work it out...

  3. RichVR Says:

    Happy Zombie Jesus Day from the wrong side of the world! Sorry wine and beer compels me.

  4. Alan Says:

    At the risk of being labelled a distractionist... actually, down here in Aus, it's autumn. Technically, we should be celebrating Halloween.

  5. Waggas Says:

    Here's a really good YouTube clip that I think is vaguely related to this in some non-confrontational manner...

    Put down the medication and back away from the OBE....

  6. aquaman Says:

    When I hear the word "quantum" in a newspaper, that's when I reach for my browning.

  7. adrian Says:

    I have to admit, I looked at the nudey picture...

  8. auraseer Says:

    Man. This kind of stuff is why I should never go egosurfing for my username.

  9. TwoHedWlf Says:

    All of the above also applies with little modification to car fan sites. Good luck convincing an S2K driver that X domestic costs less, has a better power-weight and handles better and so on.

  10. wbeaty Says:

    That reminds me, I wonder if Randi has good tech advisors with that "eye beams" claim. It's pretty clear to me that Colin Ross is pulling a fast one by harnessing skeptics' quick assumption that opponents are stupid. Ross seems to be claiming only that, if you use a high-Z preamp, then EEG signals can be detected within a cm or two of your head. (And then he builds the electrodes into goggles.) This sounds like totally conventional capacitive coupling, therefore easily demonstrated ...therefore won't Ross win the money? "Energy beams" in the form of e-fields really do radiate from skin. If the AC e-field is any stronger near wet saline holes in insulating skin (eyes, mouth, open wounds,) won't Ross still win the money? The skeptic position isn't clear, but perhaps it ignores voltage-physics and assumes that EEG is a current, therefore should only be sensed by electrodes in contact with skin. Bad move. Maybe 1e6 dollars bad.

  11. Matt-S Says:

    I hope that someone eventually wins the challenge. I suspect if it ever happens, it'll be something that a few years later we then manage to explain with science.
    I suppose I come down on the sceptic side, but I do remind myself that 100 years ago we didn't know the neutron existed, something which makes up 49.99% of all matter. So who knows what we might discover tomorrow, maybe the Tachyon and then we'll be able to travel faster than light, or maybe there really is some other dimension in which we're all somehow connected. But it does seem pretty apparent right now that anyone who thinks they can tap into such a place are wrong.

  12. shimavak Says:


    Not to be entirely pedantic, but the neutron only makes up (at most) 13% of the known baryonic matter that isn't electrons. Hydrogen-1 is about 74% of all nuclear matter in the known universe, Helium-4 comes in at 24% (but half of that is protons, so neutron composition sits at 13%), and on down the list to less relevant totals. (Of course electrons have to be in nearly the same abundance as protons, the universe is not charged, after all...)

    This is, of course, ignoring the fact that visible baryonic matter is only ~4.6% of the mass/energy known to exist in the universe. The rest is all dark to us.

    All in all though, your point is quite right, science relishes in the opportunity to be proven wrong. After all, as Asimov said: "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!', but 'That's funny ...'"

  13. jockdoubleday Says:

    Hi Dan,

    If you want to link to my actual vaccine challenge, as opposed to a psychopath's lies and speculations about it, you can link to this URL:$75,000VaccineOffer.htm

    Have a vaccine-free day!

    In health,

    Jock Doubleday
    Natural Woman, Natural Man, Inc.
    A California 501(c)3 Nonprofit Corporation

    Jock Doubleday is the author of
    "Spontaneous Creation:
    101 Reasons Not to Have Your Baby in a Hospital, Vol 1:
    A Book about Natural Childbirth and the Birth of Wisdom and Power in Childbearing Women"

  14. Daniel Rutter Says:

    (I made my reply to Jock into another post.)

  15. Garrison Says:

    And, with apologies to the late Walter Cronkite, that's the way it was.

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