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The JREF Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge "FAQ"

Index of "Frequently Asked Questions":

0. What should I do first?

1. Challenge history and trivia
1.1. What's the history of the JREF Challenge?
1.2. Why is there a Challenge in the first place?
1.3. How many Challenge applicants have there been so far?
1.4. How many people have passed the preliminary test?
1.5. How many people have passed the formal test?

2. Questions about the wording and nature of the Challenge
2.1. What do you mean by "mutually agreed upon"?
2.2. What do you mean by "paranormal"?
2.3. Does (this) qualify as paranormal?
2.4. Why the limitation on things that might injure me?
2.5. Why the limitation on spiritual and religious claims?
2.6. Why is the JREF so hard-nosed about not changing the rules?
2.7. I disagree with a rule, or a rule shouldn't apply in my case. How do I go about changing it or getting it waived?

3. Questions about the prize money
3.1. Does the prize money really exist?
3.2. That's interesting evidence, but I still don't believe that the money exists.
3.3. If someone wins, how will they be paid?

4. Applications and Applicants
4.1. How do I apply?
4.2. What should I do before I apply?
4.3. What should I expect during the application process?
4.4. How long does a typical application take to process?
4.5. Why isn't there a standard test for some paranormal claims, like ESP or PK?
4.6. How much of my application is confidential?
4.7. Where can I find a list of all the people who have ever applied?
4.8. If I am asked to provide 3 notarized affidavits, can I have just anyone supply them, or is there some criteria I must adhere to?


5. The Application Process
5.1. What happens between submitting my application and preliminary testing?
5.2. What happens between the preliminary test and the formal test?
5.3. Why is the application process so difficult?
5.4. Who pays for my expenses, and why?
5.5. Who pays for the JREF's expenses, and why?
5.6. I have heard that Randi sometimes requires a Base Line test. What is that?

6. Regarding the Behavior of the Applicant
6.1. Can the JREF close my file or refuse to accept future applications from me if I behave atrociously?
6.2. Who determines whether my behavior is unacceptable? Is there is mediator or impartial judge that makes such decisions? Can I appeal if I am deemed too obnoxious to deal with?
6.3. Does this rule apply to letters, emails, phone calls and the JREF forum alike?
6.4. Does this mean that if I behave monstrously and my claim is rejected, and then I re-apply a year later, the JREF does not have to accept my new application?
6.5. What is expected of applicants who join the JREF forum? Will I be banned without warning if I break a Forum rule?
6.6. Isn't The JREF legally compelled to test my claim if they accept my application, regardless of how I behave?


Questions and Answers

0. What should I do first?

Before you read this FAQ any further, go read the actual Challenge Rules at http://www.randi.org/research/challenge.html. Don't just skim through it; take 10-15 minutes (or as long as you need) to read it thoroughly. Ask a reliable friend (or a legal advisor) to help you, if necessary. Then come back to this FAQ if you have more questions.

1.1. What's the history of the Challenge?

The Challenge started in 1964 when James Randi put up $1,000 of his own money to the first person who could provide objective proof of the paranormal [1]. Since then, the prize money has grown to the current $1,000,000, and the rules regarding the Challenge have gotten more and more official and legal. It is vital that you understand this fact before you apply. The contract signifies your willingness to adhere to the Challenge rules. If you do not feel that you can abide by the rules, you should not apply, because NO rules will be circumvented on your behalf. So don't even ask.

1.2. Why is there a Challenge in the first place?

During a live radio panel discussion, James Randi was challenged by a parapsychologist to "put [his] money where [his] mouth is", and Randi responded by offering to pay $1,000 to anyone who demonstrated a paranormal power under satisfactory observational conditions. [2]

1.3. How many applicants have there been for the Challenge?

Between 1964 and 1982, Randi declared that over 650 people had applied [3]. Between 1997 and February 15, 2005, there had been a total of 360 official, notarized applications.

1.4. How many people have passed the preliminary test?

None. Most applicants never agree to a proper test protocol, so most are never tested.

1.5. How many people have passed the formal test?

No one has ever taken the formal test, as one must first pass the preliminary test.

2.1. What do you mean by "mutually agreed upon"?

"Mutually agreed upon" means that neither side can force the other side into doing or saying something that they don't want to, and that if no agreement can be reached, the application process is terminated, with no blame or fault attributed to either side.

It's easy to point fingers after a Challenge claim comes to an impasse and say that the other side was being unreasonable. This phrase is used to insure that finger-pointing has no merit.

2.2. What do you mean by "paranormal"?

This is a remarkably difficult word to define correctly.

Webster's Online Dictionary defines it as "not scientifically explainable; supernatural", and it defines "supernatural" as, "of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature; attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)".

Past JREF Challenge rulings have shown that certain events which deviate from what is usual or normal aren't always considered paranormal by the Challenge administrators. Potential applicants are free to inquire (prior to submitting an application) as to whether or not their claim would be acceptable under the Challenge rules. The rules must be followed strictly, so don't waste your time arguing about them. They will not be changed or altered in any way.

2.3. Does (this) qualify as paranormal?

The best way to answer this is to examine this list of things that people commonly apply for.

The following things are paranormal by definition:

Dowsing. ESP. Precognition. Remote Viewing. Communicating with the Dead and/or "Channeling". Violations of Newton's Laws of Motion (Perpetual Motion Devices). Homeopathy. Chiropractic Healing (beyond back/joint problems). Faith Healing. Psychic Surgery. Astrology. Therapeutic Touch (aka "TT"). Qi Gong. Psychokinesis (aka "PK"). The Existence of Ghosts. Precognition & Prophecy. Levitation. Physiognomy. Psychometry. Pyramid Power. Reflexology. Applied Kinesiology (aka "AK"). Clairvoyance. The Existence of Auras. Graphology. Numerology. Palmistry. Phrenology.

The following things have been ruled NOT paranormal and/or NOT eligible for the Challenge in the past:

UFOs. "Bigfoot" & "Yeti" (or other legendary creatures). Anything that is likely to cause injury. "Cloud-busting". Claims of a Religious or Spiritual nature. Exorcism and/or Demonic Possession. The Existence of Chakras. The Existence of God[s]. Reincarnation. The Existence of the Soul or "Astral Bodies".

There are some claims that are far too implausible to warrant any serious examination, such as the "Breatharian" claims in which the applicant states that he can survive without food or water. Science conclusively tells us all we need to know about such matters, and the JREF feels no obligation to engage applicants in such delusions.

Many of the NOT PARANORMAL claims are listed as such solely because they cannot be properly tested for. For example, in order to prove that Exorcism is real, one must first establish the existence of demons. The JREF is unaware of a manner in which it might be proven that demons exist (or god, or angels or "elementals", for that matter), while remaining open to any suggestions that might change their opinion in this regard.

So, if someone can suggest a test protocol that would conclusively verify such things, the JREF would be willing to hear about it.

Other claims, such as "Crop Circles" and UFO's are rejected because they have been definitively proven to be the result of hoaxes or mass hysteria. Claims involving "Cloud-Busting", for example, are rejected because Science (along with keen observation) tells us conclusively that clouds will move and disperse despite the efforts of humankind to move them according to their wishes. The phenomenon behind Oujia boards, for example, is attributed to ideomotor reflexes, and not to anything paranormal.

The JREF will also not waste its time (or jeopardize the applicant's safety and well being) with claims from applicants who exhibit clear signs of paranoid delusions, schizophrenia or other mental illness, feeling strongly that it is their moral responsibility to avoid the furthering of such delusions in the minds of those who may be in need of immediate psychiatric attention. What this means is that it is OK for you to be deluded, as the JREF feels many applicants may well be, but it is not OK for the JREF to support your illness, if you have shown clear, clinical signs of suffering from one. Randi feels that his personal and moral obligations in this regard far supercede the JREF's professional obligation to test all applicants.

2.4. Why the limitation on things that might injure me?

Essentially, the JREF doesn't want to be seen as even slightly condoning self-injury or injury to others. It has partly to do with legal issues, partly to do with the image of the JREF, and partly to do with the JREF's past experiences with applicants. Most of the applications that are self-injurious involve living for extended periods of time without eating, or stopping the use of prescribed medications, and the evidence gathered over millennia is pretty strong that the human body does indeed die after a prolonged period without food. There is also ample evidence to prove that a diabetic who stops taking their insulin will most certainly die or suffer serious internal damage if they stop taking it. It should be no surprise to you that many such claims are submitted.

No test that involves potential injury to the applicant or test participants can be accepted.

In Randi's own words:

'A test of [someone who says he doesn't need to eat] would occupy much more of my time than I'm willing to invest, and it would only feed the arsenal of those who love to accuse us of investigating only the easy cases. As soon as that test would be completed, another similar one would pop up, and we'd be off again -- "You tested him, why won't you test me?"' [6]

2.5. Why the limitation on spiritual and religious claims?

It's not so much the claim as it is that no one who has applied has been able to come up with proof that is verifiable under controlled conditions [7]. It's not enough to reason your way to the existence of something spiritual or religious; you need to be able to prove it scientifically. Most spiritual apologists go to great lengths to postulate why the existence of a higher power cannot be demonstrated scientifically, and that puts such discussions out of the scope of the Challenge. Do not waste your time attempting to engage the JREF in a debate over this issue. You will simply be referred back here to this FAQ, in which the reasons for rejecting such claims have been clearly outlined and detailed in layman's terms.

2.6. Why is the JREF so hard-nosed about not changing the rules?

It all comes down to the very nature of a challenge. It's not a contest; there are not two parties competing for the same prize. It's a challenge. It's someone who, as a result of extensive experience, doesn't believe you can do what you say you can do, daring you to do what you say you can do. It's a dare. It's not at all a friendly agreement. It's an adversarial arrangement, and because of that, the JREF sees no reason to change the rules for its adversaries.

While the JREF sees no "enemies" in its search for the truth, it understands that, by definition, the challenge itself sets an adversarial tone to the proceedings that is most often wholly unavoidable.

In order to best understanding the nature of this relationship, you should keep in mind that the JREF is the one doing the actual challenging. This adversarial nature is important to keep in mind as you go through the challenge process. Your claim casts you in the role of the defendant, and the only thing the JREF asks of you in defending your claim, is to demonstrate it. No theories, no stories, no anecdotal evidence, no photographs, no tape recordings; just a simple demonstration. Nothing more is required. The Challenge rules may seem complicated upon first glance, but they are not. You have a paranormal claim? Great! Demonstrate it successfully, and the Million Dollar Prize is yours. It's really that simple.

2.7. If disagree with a rule, or if I strongly feel that a rule shouldn't apply in my case, how do I go about changing it or getting it waived?

You don't. The Challenge rules will not be changed for you.

You can ask to get a rule changed, but you should expect to have your request rejected, and you should not expect the JREF to engage you in a debate over such matters.

3.1. Does the prize money really exist?

The short answer: Yes.

The medium-length answer: The money is held in the form of immediately negotiable bonds held by Goldman Sachs, a highly respected investment firm. Anyone can verify that the money exists by requesting the information in writing from the JREF. They will in turn forward you the most recent account statement from Goldman Sachs.

The long answer: The JREF is a 'tax exempt' organization, so they are required by law to have a level of financial transparency. That means that the public can request things like an annual report and copies of JREF's 990 (the tax return non-profits file). Go to http://tfcny.fdncenter.org/990s/990search/esearch.php (search for Randi) to look up JREF's 990. Contained within these types of documents is enough information to verify that the organization does indeed have special assets in a reserved account to cover the prize, should it ever be won. The contract between the claimant and JREF is binding enough that the JREF must pay the prize if someone wins it. As a savvy applicant, all you need to do is verify that the organization has the funds to cover the prize. Also, if JREF were not able to hold up its end of the bargain, the IRS would investigate and pull the JREF's tax exempt status. It would mean severe penalties for the JREF, and Randi himself would also be personally liable and subject to potential incarceration. Rest assured: the money is there [8].

Long answer, continued: The JREF prize fund is maintained in a way that is similar to an endowment fund. Non-profits often create reserves of assets called endowments to build up enough money to take care of the organization in the case of bad financial times, or to save up money for a project down the road, like building a new facility or starting a large new program that would require a lot of capital. Endowment funds are held separately from the other money coming in and out of an organization. For example, The JREF prize money is being held separately from the general operating funds of the organization. This prevents the JREF from accidentally spending the prize money. It is never a good idea to just let large sums of money sit in a savings account for years and years, so most non-profits invest their endowment funds. The way they invest it is really not important. JREF invests in bonds, which is fine. If a claimant wins the prize, it must be awarded within ten days, as per the Challenge rules and the legally binding contract you entered into when you signed the application.

I know you are going to ask, "What if the bonds cannot be easily liquidated?" If the JREF did not pay a winning claimant in a reasonable amount of time, they would be open to a lawsuit for breach of contract. The claimant will be paid. The JREF states that the funds are held in immediately negotiable bonds so that a claimant can feel at ease about the ability of the JREF to pay. The fact that the JREF will do so is going above and beyond the requirements of the law and the generally accepted practices of good, responsible non-profits. It is an enormous act of good faith on JREF's part [9]. The million dollars exists. Arguments to the contrary are utterly pointless, and they will not be entertained by the JREF.

3.2. That's interesting evidence, but I still don't believe that the money exists.

It's important to realize that if at this point you still doubt that the money exists, your doubt is in the entire American bond system in general and Goldman Sachs specifically, and not with the JREF. There is really not any more evidence the JREF can provide you. For concerns regarding Goldman Sachs, please inquire at their Web site, http://www.gs.com/.

Should you remain unconvinced of the existence of the prize funds, you are free to choose not to apply. The JREF will under no circumstances go beyond the aforementioned measures in providing proof of the prize funds' existence. As stated clearly in the Challenge rules, "The JREF will not cater to such vanities."

3.3. If I pass the formal test and win the Challenge, how will I be paid?

The first $10,000 of the prize money will be paid by check, as stated in the Challenge rules, immediately upon the successful demonstration of their claim. The prize money is held in the form of bonds as a way to publicly show that the money really does exist. These immediately convertible bonds will be awarded to the Challenge winner within 10 days of passing the formal test. The manner of transfer of these bonds will be at the discretion of the JREF and the Challenge winner, in accordance with acceptable legal standards.

4.1. How do I apply?

Fill out the application form (strictly adhering to the Challenge rules), sign it before a Notary Public, and mail it in to the JREF.

At present, a JREF employee by the name of KRAMER is handling the application process. Please don't send it straight to Randi, as he will not handle it personally. Sending it to him will only delay the process. Your application will be processed upon receipt, and you can expect to hear back from Kramer within a matter of days. He usually responds to emails within hours.

It is important that the application form be filled out in proper, understandable English. The people at the JREF who will be going through the application process with you are only guaranteed to be fluent in English. The hardest part of the application process will be refining your claim, and so it is vital that both sides understand each other as clearly as possible. The JREF suggests that foreign applicants who are not fluent in English consult a translator when composing their claim letter. Otherwise, the process may take months longer than it has to.

The Challenge application, once signed by you, is a legally binding contract between yourself and the JREF.

4.2. What should I do before I apply?

Depending on the nature of your claim, this could be a grueling, stress-filled process. Although the JREF wants you to have everything reasonable in proving your claim, they will not suffer months of endless negotiations with an applicant who seems unwilling to accept the methods of rational inquiry. Remember, it's not a contest; it's a challenge. This isn't going to be like taking a test. This is going to be like going to court. The onus of PROOF lies entirely with you, so you must be prepared to present it properly. After all, there's a million bucks at stake.

Make sure you are healthy. Get both a physical and mental check-up. Many people who claim to have paranormal powers are, sadly, suffering from an advanced state of delusion. That isn't to say that you are, but it's a hypothesis that may be raised during the application process. So, be prepared for this in advance, especially if your claim is extremely remote by reasonable standards.

This next step is very important, because it will be the first big hurdle you will face:

Tell your physician and/or psychiatrist that you have a paranormal ability and that you plan on demonstrating your paranormal ability in front of a team of observers, and consider heeding his/her advice.

The reason that this is a big hurdle is this: you should trust your physician/psychiatrist; they're on your side, after all. If you cannot convince them that applying for the Challenge is a good idea, you won't stand a chance against people you don't trust and who are not on your side.

After you are sure you are healthy and you have told your doctors about your intentions, make sure you can actually do the thing you will be claiming you can do in the application. If you know your ability is based on a trick or deception, stop right here and don't apply. Don't lie to yourself.

If you are sure you are not lying to yourself, find someone you know who is a reasonable, scientific sort and talk to him about your ability. Ask him to be as unfriendly and skeptical as possible. Then, demonstrate your proposed claim to him. This is the second big hurdle. If you can convince a brutally honest friend that you can do something paranormal, then keep going. Otherwise, stop; you will have no chance convincing the JREF's investigators.

Make sure you can reliably perform this ability within your claimed limits. Make sure that standard things you would expect in the challenge, such as the presence of skeptics, or a physical object near or between you and the thing you want to affect, don't affect your ability. If you can't read someone's mind when there's a skeptic nearby, or you can't see through a blindfold when there's a piece of cardboard between you and the object you are supposed to be able to see, then don't apply. These are just the sorts of things you will be subjected to during the test.

When you have done all these things:

  • after you have talked to a doctor,
  • after you have done a lot of soul-searching about your ability,
  • after you have convinced a skeptical, discerning friend who won't just nod and agree with everything you say, and,
  • after you are sure you can overcome any obstacle the testers could possibly throw at you:

...THEN go ahead, fill out the Challenge application, and send it in.

You should also know that if your claim is extremely "far-fetched" (such as one applicant who claimed that he could create "gaseous balls of light" via the power of his mind), you will most likely be asked to provide three (3) notarized affidavits from persons claiming to have witnessed this phenomenon before the JREF will accept your application for processing. (See 4.8 for further information on the JREF's requirements for acceptance of notarized affidavits)

4.3. What should I expect during the application process?

You should expect a lot of (written) communication between yourself and the JREF. You should also expect to do a bit of traveling for the actual test, unless you happen to live in an area with an established skeptical group or expert, or in close proximity to a University that might agree to assist both yourself and the JREF in testing your claim.

Also, if your claim seems extraordinarily implausible (such as: "I can place my thoughts within the minds of others"...or, "I can make lights shoot out of the top of my head"), you will more than likely be asked to submit three (3) notarized affidavits from professional individuals — doctors, lawyers, professors...no janitor, dishwashers or busboys — stating that they have witnessed this phenomenon and can offer no rational explanation for it. In fact, if you have such a claim and wish to see the application process expedited, don't wait to be asked; provide it along with your application. (See 4.8 for further information on the JREF's requirements for acceptance of notarized affidavits)

4.4. How long does a typical application take to process?

This is a tough question, because there are not really any "typical applications". An application made by an earnest applicant may take 1-6 months to handle, considering the refining of the application wording and the mutual negotiation of a mutually acceptable preliminary test. It should not take longer than a few weeks, ideally, so long as an acceptable test is quickly agreed upon. However, securing a team of qualified observers is not always an easy thing to do, so the time that lapses between your claim submission and the actual test can be several months, or even longer. Applications remain in good standing for 12 months, but the JREF will never close your file if a test has been mutually agreed to. They will work tirelessly with you in their efforts to test your paranormal claim.

4.5. Why isn't there a standard test for some standard paranormal claims, like ESP or psychokinesis?

There's really no such thing as a "standard paranormal claim". (Dowsing comes close, but testing dowsing requires careful preparation that must be specifically designed for each applicant anyway.) Even a test using "Zener" cards (the cards with symbols on them) isn't good for every person who believes they have ESP. Generally speaking, each applicant usually comes to the Challenge with a strong idea of how they can best demonstrate their claim, so each claim requires its own individual protocol design. Hence, there is no "standard test."

The Challenge is designed to test only what the applicant truly claims to be able to do. No two people claim to do exactly the same thing, so no two tests are likely follow the exact same process.

4.6. How much of my application is confidential?

Assume none of it is. If this bothers you, it is better that you do not apply. The JREF website contains a forum wherein members can discuss claims and test protocols, along with all other aspects of the Challenge. Often, the best way to arrive at a test protocol lies in the applicant's joining the JREF forum and engaging others in a debate about their claim. The forum has proven itself invaluable in this regard, and is visited frequently by numerous experts in many scientific fields. Many applicants have received enormous assistance by consulting with forum members.

4.7. Where can I find a list of all the people who have ever applied?

Since the Challenge has been going on since before the World Wide Web gained in popularity, no such list exists online. The JREF has limited resources, so most of the applications are maintained in a file cabinet at the JREF headquarters. In other words, if you want a lot of details about the former applicants, you are going to have to visit the JREF and do your own research.

However, the JREF forum also contains a CHALLENGE APPLICATIONS section that describes in detail the claims received, the correspondences exchanged between the JREF and the applicant, and subsequent protocol negotiations and test results. So, if you choose to apply, you should fully expect to see your name, your claim, and your protocol proposal offered verbatim therein, and quite possibly a good portion of the email correspondence that pertains to your claim.

Again, if the notion of your claim being debated on a forum bothers you, it is best that you not apply.

4.8. If I am asked to provide 3 notarized affidavits, can I have just anyone supply them, or is there some criteria I must adhere to?

YES, there is a certain criteria applied for the acceptance of affidavits. Try to find persons who are skeptical by nature, and try to avoid enlisting the aid of friends who share your beliefs. Do your very best to seek impartial individuals who work in professional fields, if you want your affidavits accepted quickly. Also, your application is your own affidavit, so do not include an affidavit from yourself as one of the required three. They must come from 3 individuals other than yourself.

The following is a list of examples of persons who would NOT be acceptable as affidavit providers:

Family members, minors, persons you have met while in "treatment" or during the course of any "psychic studies" you may have embarked upon, persons presently taking medication for bi-polar disease, schizophrenia or other forms of mental illness, alcoholics & drug addicts, spiritual advisors or priests/rabbis, anyone involved in any way with the so-called "psychic arts", etc... This list is NOT limited to those named above. These are just a few examples. If you are unclear as to whether or not someone you have in mind would be acceptable or not, send an email to challenge@randi.org, and just ask.

The persons providing affidavits must identify themselves by name and profession and include their contact data on their affidavit, so that the JREF can make voice contact with them in order to confirm the contents of the affidavit. Most acceptable would be your doctor, your lawyer, your physical or psycho-therapist, your dentist, a university teacher, government employee, medical worker or lab researcher, anyone involved in the sciences or any form of scientific research, anyone working as a magician or magician's assistant, police, EMS workers, nurses, school or hospital administrators, etc.

Again, the list of those from whom we would accept affidavits is not limited to these mentioned above. These are just examples.

The JREF has a responsibility to the applicant (and to itself and its limited pool of investigators) to do as much as possible in investigating the worthiness of a claim prior to accepting it for testing. We do not wish to see applicants publicly embarrassed, and the discretional implementation of this affidavit requirement compels the applicant to insure that the claimed phenomenon is truly observable, and not simply subjective. It inspires skepticism, and that is precisely what the JREF endeavors to teach.

Remember, the JREF only tests observable claims. If the applicant is unable to locate 3 persons they know who can successfully observe the phenomenon in question, it is highly unlikely that a team of skeptical observers will see something the applicant's friends and supporters could not. Prove your claim to yourself and to others before you submit a JREF Challenge application. Be absolutely certain that you can do what you claim to be able to do, before you apply. Belief alone is not enough.

If you are unsure as to what would constitute an acceptable affidavit, it is recommended that you keep it plain and simple, as per the following example:

I have personally witnessed the phenomenon claimed by "(applicant's name)" in his/her application for the JREF One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge, and I can offer no rational explanation for it.

5.1. What happens between my submitting the application and the preliminary test?

If all goes as expected, what happens at this point will be the hardest part of the process. This is where you and the JREF decide on the specifics of your test. Be prepared to take into account things you might not have thought of before. You should expect the JREF to have thought of everything. If you are hoping that Lady Luck shines on you on the day of your test, you should known that CHANCE results alone will not win you the million bucks. The JREF requires results that far exceed mere "chance".

For instance, maybe you can magically make lights appear around you. On your application, that's what you write — "I can make lights appear around me." Once the JREF accepts your application, a number of things will have to be clarified.

  • What kind of lights (bright or vague? what size? what colors?)
  • How many lights?
  • How long will it take for you to make them appear?
  • Where exactly will they appear to come out of?
  • What do you propose will constitute a successful demonstration?

So your simple sentence — "I can make lights appear" — will end up being far more precise (and more acceptable) if you instead say, "I will produce between two and seven bright yellow & blue lights which will appear within 5 minutes after I begin using my powers to materialize them. The lights will last about thirty minutes, and they will hover around my head and then float up to the ceiling before they disappear".

The point being made here is that the more specific you can be in your claim letter, the more quickly your claim will be processed and tested.

You should also expect the investigators to do everything necessary at the test location to make sure that you are not hiding on your person some artificial light source or other means of deception.

5.2. What happens between the preliminary test and the official test?

What you should expect is for none of the agreed-upon documents to change. There will not be any renegotiation of your abilities or how they will be tested. However, you may be required to demonstrate your claim more conclusively in the final test. This means that the test may include more trials, or may last longer. Rest assured, the test protocol itself will not be altered in ANY WAY.

It is also important to understand that all tests are video-taped and then stored and maintained in the JREF library. Prior to the commencement of the preliminary test, you will be asked to state (on-camera) that the test protocol was arrived at fairly, and that you agree that the test which is about to be conducted is a fair means of determining the validity of your claim. Immediately following the test, you will be asked the same question again, and then you will be asked to state whether or not you believe that the test was conducted fairly and according to the agreed upon protocol.

5.3. Why is the application process so difficult?

Well, the prize is for a million dollars, after all.

A lot of it has to do with the nature of previous applicants. The JREF, through much experience, has realized that most of the people who apply are either under the mistaken impression that they actually have a paranormal power, or similarly deluded into believing that they can pull a fast one on the JREF and thus win the prize money. While you may be neither mistaken nor a cheater, the JREF will always assume that you are one or the other. Most applicants may feel that this is hardly fair, but that's how it is, and you need to prepare yourself for that reaction.

As Randi states, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."

5.4. Who pays for my expenses, and why?

You do. It's spelled out in the Challenge rules. Remember that your position in the Challenge is that of defendant. But it's also important to realize that there is an important difference between this and a court of law: you are not innocent until proven guilty. Rather, you are normal until proven paranormal, and it is up to you to prove your paranormality. This means that you have to pay for travel, you have to pay to build any devices you want to demonstrate, and so forth. All the ingredients required in proving your claim are yours and yours alone. The JREF will under no circumstances incur such costs.

5.5. Who pays for the JREF's expenses, and why?

Again, you do, and again, it's spelled out in the Challenge rules. The reason is that the JREF doesn't see any reason for it to spend any money to help you defend yourself. However, all observers work on a volunteer basis, so no JREF associate or investigator will present you with an expense bill following testing. The JREF will not surprise you with such added costs. You are expected to arrive at testing with everything you need, and it is your job to make the necessary provisions beforehand. The JREF will in no way assist you in these matters.

5.6. I have heard that Randi sometimes requires a Base Line Test. What is that?

The Base Line Test may or may not be required, depending on the nature of your claim.

If, for example, your claim is that you can dowse for water in covered wooden buckets, a brief Base Line Test would be conducted as follows, prior to the actual preliminary test:

Several buckets will have water in them, and several others will not. No covers are placed upon the buckets. You are then asked to dowse for water. This gives you the opportunity to be sure that your dowsing gear is not malfunctioning, as well as insuring that the test area is free of all corrupting influences. Once you have demonstrated to yourself and to the observers that everything is working properly, the preliminary test may begin.

Obviously, if you are unable to successfully demonstrate that you can dowse for water when you are fully aware of its location, this demonstrates that you do not possess the claimed ability, and the test is then cancelled.

The Base Line Test, should it be required, may be conducted at the preliminary test site just prior to the testing, or in advance of the preliminary test at an agreed upon site.

6. REGARDING THE BEHAVIOR OF THE APPLICANT

6.1. Can the JREF close my file or refuse to accept future applications from me if I behave atrociously?

YES. The Challenge Administrator may close your file and reject all future applications submitted by you based upon negative behavior.

The following are some examples of the type of behavior than can result in the rejection of your claim:

  1. Continuous Belligerence, Hostility or Obstinacy. Repeated use of Profanity Following Warnings from The JREF asking you to STOP. Willfully or Unreasonably Delaying the Application Process (for reasons that can only be considered vain). Canceling a Test at the Last Minute (for reasons that can only be considered "vain"). Threatening Legal Action Against The JREF or its Employees & Investigators. Slandering the JREF or its Employees. Making Libelous Accusations (such as insisting that the Challenge itself is a Sham/Fraud or that Randi himself is a liar and a cheat who will never award the prize money even if the Applicant Passes the Tests). A Consistently Aggressive or Violent Tone in Correspondence.
  2. A Proven Inability to Comprehend or Accept the Rules of The Challenge.

This rule will always be applied with reason and fairness, and you will always be engaged in a debate on such matters prior to any potential rejection of your claim. In other words, the JREF will work with you if you disagree with them, but they will NOT tolerate nastiness or slander.

6.2. Who determines whether my behavior is unacceptable? Is there is mediator or impartial judge that makes such decisions? Can I appeal if I am deemed too obnoxious to deal with?

NO. The JREF alone determines when an applicant's behavior is unacceptable. There is no Appeal Process, and there is no mediator. The JREF will always issue repeated warnings before taking any decisive action, and they will always strive to give the applicant all reasonable leeway in maintaining Applicant status.

It is not the goal of the JREF to reject claims. Quite the contrary. It will be done only when absolutely necessary, and only after having made all best efforts to avoid it.

6.3. Does this rule apply to letters, emails, phone calls and the JREF forum alike?  

YES. This rule applies both to private correspondence and communications between the applicant and the Challenge administrator, as well as the JREF forum, which all applicants are welcome (and encouraged) to join.

You must keep in mind that the forum is for debate, discourse, and the discussion of your claim and potential test protocol, and not for anti-JREF Campaigns, Crusades or endless diatribes based upon what the applicant feels was an inequitable dismissal of their claim. You have the right to have your say, but don't expect it to be allowed to continue beyond the point of what is deemed Reasonable.

All forum members have the right to state their position. If you chose to abuse that right, you will lose it.

At that point, you can also expect to have any further applications you submit discarded upon receipt. The JREF is NOT compelled to accept subsequent applications from persons who have proven themselves impossible to deal with on a reasonable level. So, you can apply again in 12 months (as per the Challenge rules), but there is no provision within the rules that compels the JREF to accept it.

6.4. Does this mean that if I behave monstrously and my claim is rejected, and then I re-apply a year later, the JREF does not have to accept my new application?

YES. That is correct. They will consider accepting your new claim, however, so long as you have changed your ways. Only in the most severe circumstances will they refuse to ever deal with you again.

6.5. What is expected of applicants who join the JREF forum? Will I be banned without warning if I break a Forum rule?

If you join the forum you will agree to abide by the Forum Membership Agreement, and that outlines how you must behave. How you are dealt with normally depends on what rule you have broken. It is very unusual that a forum Member will be instantly banned at the first offense, but the JREF does expect you to conduct yourself appropriately at all times, and they expect you to NOT commit repeat offenses after you've received fair warning.

The applicant is responsible for reading all correspondence and reviewing their posts in the JREF Forums. A forum moderator will post all warnings to members WITHIN the forum itself.

You can be banned from the forum for the same reasons you can have your claim rejected, so conduct yourself in a mature and responsible manner, and you will never have anything to worry about in this regard.

Before being accepted into the JREF forum you signed an agreement in which you state that you have read the rules and agree to comply with them. Ignorance of the rules is not accepted as an excuse for having broken them.

The forum is a good place to express contrasting opinions, but it is not a place for the injection of chaos.

Dissenters and JREF opponents will always be allowed a voice on the forum, but it must be a civil voice, and a voice that does not break the forum rules. If a member, any member, behaves in a manner that ultimately saps JREF resources — even when there may not have been any forum rules broken — that person may nonetheless be viewed as a detriment and a hindrance to the JREF mission. It is well within reason for any organization to eliminate obstacles that might prevent it from operating nominally whenever possible.

So, if you wish to see your claim tested (and if you wish to remain a forum member), behave appropriately. The JREF Forum Moderators will be patient with you, but do not expect them to also be deaf, dumb & blind. Many forum members are NOT JREF supporters, and that is as it should be. Indeed, it is necessary for the health of the forum, so The JREF is more than happy to see dissenters join. It is through such discourse that ideas are disseminated, and that is one of the main goals of The JREF.

6.6. Isn't The JREF legally compelled to test my claim if they accept my application, regardless of how I behave?

NO. The JREF is in no way required to test your claim regardless of how you behave. Other applicants have believed so and been sorely disappointed by the facts.

Remember; it's the JREF Paranormal Challenge, and The JREF alone dictates the rules surrounding it and how it is run, so, if your nature is to quickly turn belligerent and rude, or to accuse the JREF of being disingenuous, you should not apply.

The JREF will NOT under any circumstances tolerate any behavior which they feel conflicts with the true spirit of the Challenge, which may be articulated quite simply, as follows: To see alleged paranormal claims tested fairly, in a controlled setting devoid of aggressive behavior, before a team of qualified observers whose sole purpose is to decipher fact from fiction.

Let's put it this way:
If your goal is to win a Million Dollars and you think can do so by demonstrating paranormal ability, then APPLY.

If, on the other hand, your goal is a more subversive one, and you are intent solely upon causing chaos, rest assured that it will not be tolerated for long, and your present claim (along with all subsequent ones) will be rejected. The JREF has plenty experience in these matters, and their expressed goal is to keep all similar future experiences to an absolute minimum.

Neither the JREF Challenge nor the Forum were designed as an acceptable outlet for personal attacks; they were designed solely for the testing of paranormal claims. Its purpose is to decipher truth from fiction. Anyone who submits a Challenge application and tries to use the Challenge for any reason other than its intended purpose will find that such agendas will not be entertained.

In summary, the following is what The JREF expects from All Applicants:

ADVERSARIES, but NOT ENEMIES.

The Challenge is adversarial by nature. Any attempts by you to transform the Challenge into a virulent mud slinging contest will result in the rejection of your claim.

The Challenge rules state that the applicant is free to re-apply one year after failing a test (of after their initial claim has been rejected), but the JREF is equally free to reject said application, and will do so unless the applicant makes it abundantly clear that he/she understands the reasons behind the rejection of their initial claim, and agrees to a complete cessation of all hostilities and any behavior that may have caused it.

If the new application is then accepted and the applicant resumes their previous behavior, the new application will once again be rejected, and all further correspondence from the applicant will be wholly ignored.

The JREF also wishes all applicants to feel confident that no claim will be rejected out-of-hand or without warning or discussion. They will always endeavor to reason with an unreasonable applicant, and they will always try their best to repair any problems that may arise during the Application process. It is ONLY when they are wholly convinced that the process cannot proceed that they will reject your claim.

The goal of the JREF Paranormal Challenge is to test paranormal claims. If you behave in such a manner that (after a reasonable expenditure of time and effort devoted to your claim) convinces the Challenge Administrator that you have no intention of submitting your claim to a test conducted under controlled conditions, you can expect to see your claim rejected.

Tell them your claim, then tell them how you propose to demonstrate it, then work with them IN GOOD FAITH on determining a mutually acceptable Test Protocol that would conclusively verify it...

Then, JUST DO IT.

If you really can do what you claim to be able to do, the Million Dollars is all yours.


Footnotes:

[1] Randi, James. FLIM-FLAM!, chapter 13 beginning.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] The thread titled "Can we get a Challenge historical wrapup/tally?", http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=916343#post916343. Look for Gr8wight's first post.
[5] The thread titled "Randi Gets Rude...", http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=152920#post152920 and http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=468540#post468450. Look for Randi's two posts.
[6] Ibid.
[7] The thread titled "THE GOD THREAD", http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=893091#post893091. See the first post in the thread, by KRAMER.
[8] The thread titled "$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$", http://forums.randi.org/showthread.php?postid=908870#post9088700. Look for Keri's first post.
[9] Ibid.

The JREF thanks all the Forum Members who made vital contributions to this FAQ, with special thanks to Forum Member Beleth for having composed the initial draft.


Randi's Personal FAQ

(1) What's the toughest case you've ever had to crack?

None have been particularly difficult. The hardest part has always been to get the claimant to state clearly what he or she thinks they can do, under what conditions, and with what accuracy. Most are very vague about these aspects, and very few have any notion of how a proper test should be conducted. We at JREF sometimes take months getting those matters settled, only to have the applicant suddenly drop out of the negotiations. But the actually solving of what's happening, or why claimants believe that they have powers — if that state of negotiation is ever reached — is easy, because the range of claims is rather small and nothing really new is ever offered. The claims are sometimes interesting variations on very old misconceptions or delusions, but seldom is there anything that surprises us or that requires very much heavy analysis. Of course, there are some situations where not enough information has been given by the applicant, even though we try to get all the needed data, so in these cases we are not able to ever determine what the claim might actually be.

(2) Has there ever been a time when you thought, "This is the one that will take the prize?"

No. I wish there were some really challenging offers or claims, just to add some excitement to my job, but it's pretty well the same old material, endlessly repeated. And never have I ever even been much surprised at a claim, though I'm often surprised at the fact that anyone is actually fooled by it, even for a moment.

(3) To date, how many persons have been tested for the million-dollar prize offered by JREF?

That's not a simple question to answer. Many hundreds have applied, and most have had to be instructed to reapply — sometimes several times — because they did it incorrectly or incompletely. There are, at any given time, about 40 to 60 applicants being considered, but from experience we know that the vast majority will drop out even before any proper preliminary test can be designed. Of those who get to the preliminary stage, perhaps a third will actually be tested, and some of those will quit before completion. To date, no one has actually passed the simple preliminaries and arrived at the formal test stage, though a couple hundred have completed and failed the preliminaries. So, no one has been formally tested for the big prize, though we're ready and willing.

(4) Why does it appear that you only test persons with very minor and even frivolous claims, and not the prominent "psychic" performers and/or scientists who appear on television and in the media, and who write books about their careers?

We can only test persons who either apply to become claimants for the million-dollar prize, or who will actually submit themselves to undergoing proper test procedures. The "stars" never do this, and in fact they do anything they can to avoid us and our challenge; they would rather just run on about past glories, point to anecdotal evidence, or grandly ignore our genuine offer to test them. The people who do apply are probably honestly convinced of their abilities, and have no fear of discovery. Where are James Van Praagh, Sylvia Browne, George Anderson, John Edward, and the rest of the current "big names"? And why hasn't Uri Geller, the professional spoon-bender (remember him from the 70s?) snapped up this easy cash? One can only wonder.

We at JREF must offer to test any and every applicant, because we cannot be the judges of whether a claim is likely to be valid. Only occasionally, we encounter a claim that is just so silly or dangerous, that we do not offer to go ahead with negotiations. Example: a person claimed to be controlling every event in the world just by wagging his head back and forth, and he even sent us a video of himself in action. He also "fed" a spirit living in a black stone, through a hole in that stone. We are tolerant, but not quite naive enough to spend time discussing such a claim.

(5) What harm does it do to simply let people believe in silly things? Why do you take away their pleasant delusions?

The potential harm is very real, and dangerous. Belief in such obvious flummeries as astrology or fortune-telling can appear — quite incorrectly — to give confirmatory results, and that can lead to the victim pursuing more dangerous, expensive, and often health-related scams. Blind belief can be comforting, but it can easily cripple reason and productivity, and stop intellectual progress. We at JREF never try to impose our beliefs or philosophies on others; we only try to inform them, and suggest that there are alternate choices to be made. Examples of personal tragedies resulting from an uncritical embrace of supernatural claims, are plentiful.

(6) Why do you continue to preach critical thinking about the paranormal, superstition, and quackery, if you can't ever really disabuse people of their errors?

We feel that an effort must be made, particularly to get young people thinking critically and bravely about these subjects. Those who have not completely surrendered to careless acceptance of flim-flam, can be brought to think about their decisions, and in many cases can and will change their minds. Others, we realize, will retain their delusions because they have so much invested in them. Not to at least try to communicate what we know to be true, would be unethical.

(7) Will you ever win the battle of rationality over superstition?

We think that "war" will never be won, because the scam-artists and the honestly deluded promoters of nonsense are constantly being replaced with others. And though Barnum never said it, there does appear to be "a sucker born every minute." So, we have predators and prey, and that is a natural and expected condition of life; it has ever been thus. The JREF only hopes to teach those who — through no fault of their own — are unaware of certain facts of the real world, to be harder prey for the predators to catch. But there's a difference between winning a "war" and winning a "battle." We win battles every day, when someone walks through our doors and announces that we've added in some way to their understanding of the world. Every class of kids that we speak to, every audience in any part of the world, wins us a battle. That's why we stay with it.

(8) But you're not a scientist. How can you speak on these matters with authority?

Authority does not rest with scientists, when emotion, need, and desperation are involved. Scientists are human beings, too; they can be deceived and self-deceived. We at the JREF are skilled in two directions: we know how people are fooled by others, and we know how people fool themselves. We deal with hard, basic, facts, and we try our best to make them known. We try to protect people from influences that might obscure the true danger of uncritical thinking. We often succeed. And we have very substantial and eminent scientific authorities on hand to provide the advice and specialization we require.

(9) Scientific papers have been written supporting paranormal events and talents. Therefore, how can you deny them?

Scientists can be wrong — sometimes, very wrong. The history of science is replete with serious errors of judgment, bad research, faked results, and simple mistakes, made by scientists in every field. The beauty of science is that it corrects itself by its own nature and design. By this means, science provides us with increasingly clearer views of how the world works. Unfortunately, though science itself is self-correcting, sometimes the scientists involved do not correct themselves. And there is not a single example of a scientific discovery in the field of parapsychology that has been independently replicated. That makes parapsychology absolutely unique in the world of science.

(10) What projects are you working on at this moment?

In some cases, we can't say. Sorry. There are always investigations underway, but because of their very nature, those matters cannot be openly discussed. But, TV specials are being developed and written, books are nearing completion, and lectures are being contracted, all over the world. We try to keep folks informed via our web page — which presently gets about 100,000 page-hits a day, on an average.

(11) If what you say is true, that the supernatural powers being claimed every day in the media are unproven, why is it that scientists themselves don't speak out against those claims?

It's truly a pity that more concerned scientists don't trouble to make statements when they see their colleagues going overboard on some matters. Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Isaac Asimov, B.F. Skinner, and a spectrum of scientific luminaries who dared stick their necks out and make their opinions clearly heard in the media, are gone now, and we have Michael Shermer, CSICOP, JREF, and other persons and agencies struggling to fill those shoes. We need more clear voices of reason to be heard, more often. It's unfortunately quite true that by and large, scientists tend to prefer to live in "ivory towers," and do not choose to become involved in public controversies. We knock on those tower doors regularly....

(12) Are countries other than the USA also plagued by incredible beliefs and claims of quackery, pseudoscience, and magic?

Oh, yes. It's difficult to determine or define a "silliness factor" for any culture, but we can say that all parts of the Earth are currently getting deeper and deeper into such nonsense. Though the "flavors," languages, and costumes of the beliefs may vary, they are all there in full bloom. In one place, medieval medical notions may be in full effect, while in another location the populace is enamored — at the moment — with summoning up spirits. And, it's not getting any better. Quite the contrary.

A few years ago in Padua, Italy, I attended the annual convention of CICAP — the Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Aftermazioni sul Paranormale (Italian Committee for Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal). Having thereby attained a bit of a profile in the local press, I became the subject of some angry questions and accusations. One fierce-looking woman approached me festooned with beads and crystals, hair awry and determined to slap me down with The Big Question. Through an interpreter, she demanded that I give her "the chemical formula for the soul." I feel that this person, in common with so many others, really thinks that such a question is one that surely must floor me instantly. She placed her statement, then smiled triumphantly, awaiting my confusion — which did not materialize. I looked her right in the eye and simply told her that she wasn't making sense, and that she did not understand the nature of the matter she was trying to discuss.

It is a delicate matter, this process. While not ridiculing the honestly self-deceived, we must try to show them where they've gone off-track. We also have to handle them firmly but gently, so that we can move on to other matters. The charlatans seldom come to us, but when we must deal with them, we do so with great care, ever conscious of the litigious society we are immersed in, willy-nilly. Of course, when confronted with a particularly incredible claim like "remote viewing" (the current version of "clairvoyance") we can easily stop short and ask ourselves just why we are involved with such obvious nonsense. But this is the job we chose to take on, and it has its rewards in the feedback we get from those who have listened, learned, and benefited from our efforts. That's the payoff.

And it's worth the battle.


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