The ( ASKE )-PARANORMAL CHALLENGE
ASKE offers an award of £10,000 to anyone who can successfully demonstrate under controlled conditions, ‘a paranormal ability’ which they claim to possess. The claimant and ASKE will jointly undertake a test designed in such a way that one outcome would unequivocally demonstrate that the claimant possesses the ability in question. Successful claimants who reside in the UK will then be eligible, if they wish, to apply for the €25,000 Sisyphus Prize offered by SKEPP, the Belgian Skeptical society (see below).
The SISYPHUS PRIZE of 25,000 EURO
What is it? How to register
The Sisyphus prize of 25,000 euros will be awarded by the Belgian Skeptical society SKEPP to any person who can demonstrate to them, under scientifically controlled conditions, the ability to accomplish feats that are paranormal or impossible according to present scientific knowledge. Full information on this is available at https://skepp.be/en/sisyphus-prize. In order to enter for the prize, applicants must undertake a preliminary test (the ‘pre-test’) overseen by a skeptical society in their own country authorised by SKEPP. In the case of UK residents this is ASKE, the Association for Skeptical Enquiry. Should an applicant pass this pre-test, they will receive a prize from the national society and then be eligible to enter for the 25,000 euro prize in Belgium.The rules for entering the pre-test for the Sisyphus Prize are specified by SKEPP at the above website. The national society is permitted to modify certain of these and may also specify in more detail the requirements for conducting the pre-test. Applicants are required to sign these, stating that they have read and understood them.
For residents in the UK the ASKE Paranormal Challenge (see above) will constitute the pre-test.
The ASKE UK Psychic Challenge
The new ASKE psychic challenge is in the process of being put in place. A number of members have indicated their willingness to pledge money for this challenge. Each of these members must sign a pledge form which will be held centrally. This is a general challenge open to anyone claiming psychic powers. Details of how to apply are contained in the rules listed below.
The ASKE Challenge is currently undergoing review. The total prize is around £5,000 but this may change.
This Challenge is open to anyone claiming psychic powers and who lives in the United Kingdom. The challenge total is made up of various pledges from ASKE members. Each person pledging has signed to say that they will pay their pledged sum of money to anyone successfully completing the agreed upon test.
Each claimant will be asked to complete a preliminary test before going on to a final test. Should the final test be passed successfully then they will immediately receive a cheque for £1,000 and the balance paid within 30 days.
Please read the challenge rules below very carefully. If you are in agreement then complete the required form and sent it off with a s.a.e. to the address at the bottom of this page.
Please note this challenge, together with the prize money, is offered in complete sincerity and the rules exist to make sure we are dealing with someone genuinely extraordinary. If we believe any claimant is resorting to trickery during the testing process we will publicly say so. Should anyone, not necessarily an applicant, consider these rules to be unfair then please write to ASKE explaining which rule(s) and why you believe them to be unfair. Vague unspecified claims to ‘unfairness’ will be ignored.
The Challenge Rules
This challenge is issued on behalf of certain members of The Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE). It is not on behalf of ASKE as an organisation. The responsibility for the challenge lies solely with the underwriters.
We are offering a reward of £14,000 to anyone who can, under proper observable conditions, provide evidence of their claimed psychic powers. We will preclude any vague claims which are unable to be properly validated. Examples of untestable claims are evident in such statements as, “I sense things”. On the other hand claims such as the ability to bend metal objects using only the power of the mind, telepathy or speaking to the dead should be entirely testable. All claims will be judged on their individual merits but please don’t waste our time with completely untestable theories. If something cannot be tested objectively then we believe that it cannot be paraded as established fact.
Please note that it may take time to put a properly thought out test into place.
The basic conditions of the challenge are set out below.
These are the general rules covering the offer concerning psychic, supernatural or paranormal claims. As claims will vary greatly in character and scope, specific rules must be formulated for each applicant. However, all applicants must agree to the rules set forth here before any formal agreement is entered into. An applicant will declare agreement by signing this form where indicated.
The eventual test procedure must be agreed upon by both parties before any testing takes place. All correspondence must include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
The underwriters will pay the sum of £14,000 to any person or persons who demonstrate the specified psychic, supernatural or paranormal ability under satisfactory observing conditions. Such demonstrations must take place under these rules and limitations:
1.Applicant must state clearly in advance, and applicant and ASKE will agree upon, what powers or abilities will be demonstrated, the limits of the proposed demonstration (so far as time, location and other variables are concerned) and what will constitute both a positive and a negative result. This is the primary and most important of these rules.
[Note on rule 1] In other words the claimant must make a clear unequivocal statement about their powers. Full details need to be given. For example can you bend metal using only the power of the mind or do you need to touch the metal in question? Does your gift work every time? Is it affected by skeptics watching? Please give full and accurate detail. If you have some idea as to what sort of test might validate your powers please include a brief description. However we must point out that this method may not be the one finally agreed upon.
2. Only an actual performance of the stated nature and scope, within the agreed-upon limits, will be accepted. We consult competent statisticians when an evaluation of the results, or experiment design, is required.
3. Claimant agrees that all data (such as photographic, recorded, written) of any sort gathered as a result of the testing may be used freely by either party. The applicant/claimant agrees not to resort to legal action in order to suppress such publication.
[Note on rule 3] All such tests will be video recorded and this material will remain the property of the underwriters. However if the claimant wishes to bring their own recorder they are welcome to do so providing it does not interfere with the test.
The agreement not to seek legal redress does not mean that we intend to misrepresent any facts or give a false impression of what occurred, neither would we resort to personal attacks on a claimant’s character. What we are trying to prevent is the suppression of the results by harassment of the underwriters via the courts. Please do not take up this challenge if you are considering obtaining the reward by trickery. If we discover a claimant is using deception in order to succeed then we will certainly make this knowledge public.
4. No part of the agreed testing procedure may be changed in any way without the express agreement of all parties concerned.
5. In all cases, applicant will be required to perform a preliminary test. This preliminary test is to determine if the applicant is likely to perform as promised during a formal test. There is no limit on the number of times an applicant may re-apply, but re-application can take place only after 12 months have elapsed since the preliminary test.
[Note on rule 5] This is to avoid the unnecessary expense of putting together elaborate controls which may not be required. Once the preliminary test has been passed we will design the protocol for a full test. If at all possible we will do this on the spot to save applicants time and money but in these general application rules we cannot guarantee this.
6. All of the applicant’s expenses such as transportation, accommodation, materials, assistants, and/or all other costs for any persons or procedures incurred in pursuit of the reward, are the sole responsibility of the applicant. ASKE will not bear any of the costs .
7. Applicant/claimant must agree to the presence of independent witnesses, including the media, that may wish to witness the test. Applicant/claimant may also bring (at their own expense) a witness but they must co-operate and not take part in the test. Any such witness must be named prior to the design of the test.
8. At the formal test, in advance, an independent person will be placed in charge of a cheque for £14,000. In the event that the claimant is successful under the agreed terms and conditions, that cheque shall be immediately surrendered to the claimant.
9. This offer is open to any and all persons, in the United Kingdom , regardless of gender, race, educational background, etc., and will continue in effect until the prize is awarded.
10. Every applicant must agree upon what will constitute a conclusion that, on the occasion of the formal test, he or she did or did not demonstrate the claimed ability or power. This form must be accompanied by a brief, two-paragraph description of the applicant’s claim, along with a concise test protocol proposal that describes how the claim will be demonstrated, the circumstances under which the demonstration will take place, and the degree of accuracy the applicant claims to achieve (i.e.; what results will constitute a successful demonstration).
11. Prior to preliminary testing, an applicant may be required to provide two signed letters from persons who have witnessed the claimed paranormal phenomenon. These witnesses must be educated, working professionals such as doctors, nurses, therapists, researchers, psychologists, solicitors, educators, etc. This rule may be waived or required at the sole discretion of the ASKE challengers.
NOTE: No special rules, exceptions, conditions, standards, or favors will be accepted, without the mutual agreement of those concerned in advance and any applicant who refuses to agree to meet the rules (1 – 11) as outlined here, will not be considered to have ever been a claimant. Only complete agreement with these rules will constitute the applicant being considered a “claimant.” Applicant, by signing, and returning this form, signifies agreement with all of the above rules.
I, ____________________, agree fully to the above conditions.
______________________________ (signature of claimant)
Association for Skeptical Enquiry
10 Woodholm Road
Welcome to the Association for Skeptical Enquiry (ASKE)
ASKE was founded in 1997 in the UK by a small group of people from different professional backgrounds who were opposed to the promotion of irrational ideas and practices and the misrepresentation of science for purposes that deceive the public. The association is mainly funded by membership subscriptions and donations from people who support its Aims and principles. The organisers of ASKE pursue these by the following activities:
- Maintaining this website, through which members of the public and people in relevant professions may access appropriate information. This includes advice for those who may be considering availing themselves of Psychic services and practices undertaken by people such as astrologers, unorthodox medical practitioners, and other individuals and organisations making extraordinary and unsubstantiated claims about the validity and efficacy of their services.
- Preparing an online quarterly magazine-cum-newsletter (see Publications), the Skeptical Intelligencer. This is freely available for public inspection and contains articles, reviews and announcements of interest. ASKE members receive emailed copies of the Skeptical Intelligencer and are also sent paper copies if they wish. Members may also contribute their own articles, reviews and announcements. Back copies of the Skeptical Intelligencer and a previous publication, the Skeptical Adversaria, are available to members in the Members area.
- Regularly informing members of relevant news, announcements, upcoming events, and so on.
- Responding to enquiries from members of the public, professional people, and the media about matters of relevance to the above aims. We also provide a Watchdog archive for people reporting how they have suffered adverse consequences at the hands of individuals or organisations making extraordinary and scientifically unsubstantiated claims about their services.
- Maintaining an email discussion network which members may join in order to exchange ideas and information.
- Organising public meetings. This is not currently a common activity, but in 2003 ASKE organised the 11th European Skeptics Congress and in September 2015 jointly organised the 16th such event (see below).
- Testing people who claim to possess paranormal abilities (The ASKE Paranormal Challenge). ASKE offers an award of £10,000 to anyone who can successfully demonstrate under controlled conditions, ‘a paranormal ability’ which they claim to possess. The claimant and ASKE will jointly undertake a test designed in such a way that one outcome would unequivocally demonstrate that the claimant possesses the ability in question. Successful claimants who reside in the UK will then be eligible, if they wish, to apply for the €25,000 Sisyphus Prize offered by SKEPP, the Belgian Skeptical society. If you are interested in either these possibilities, go to The Sisyphus Prize on this website.
What is Skepticism?
To find out more about skepticism and for answers to some of the questions that may have occurred to you, click on ASKE blog, where you will find a series of short introductory articles about skepticism. You will also find some previous articles by ASKE members in the Articles section.Links to Like-Minded Groups and Websites
In the General links section you will find a growing list of websites of national and international like-minded organisations, groups and individuals.European Council of Skeptical Organisations
There are quite a number of European countries with national skeptical organisations, some of which, as in Germany, Sweden, Italy, Belgian and the Netherlands, are very substantial. Like ASKE, many of these organisations are affiliated to the European Council of Skeptical Organisations (ECSO). ECSO now has a very active website, a prominent feature of which is the regular appearance of news items of interest from skeptical groups throughout Europe. Another feature is a link to a comprehensive calendar of meetings. Articles on skeptical topics are also featured.Making a Complaint about Health Claims
The media, including the internet, are full of advertisements for products and treatments that are touted as alleviating and curing illnesses and problems in the absence of any real evidence that they are able to do this. They may even be dangerous. ASKE encourages members of the public to formally complain about any such scams to the Advertising Standards Authority/ Committee of Advertising Practice. Guidance on how to do this may be found on the ASA/ CAP website. Over the years individuals and groups, such as the Nightingale Collaboration (see below) have been very successful at having advertisers remove misleading health claims for their products from their advertisements, promotional literature and websites. The ASA/ CAP publishes its rulings every week here.Come and Join Us!
ASKE is a small organisation that relies on annual subscriptions of just £10 and voluntary donations from people who share its aims and principles. But we also like our members to be involved in any of the above activities, including contributing to this website and writing for the Skeptical Intelligencer. If you would like to join us or provide a donation, please go to our Membership page.
The Bi-annual European Skeptics Congress
The 18th European Skeptics Congress will be organised by the Belgian and Dutch Skeptics in Ghent, Belgium, from August 29th to September 1st 2019. See the website at https://www.esc2019.be/.
One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge
The One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge was an offer by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to pay out one million U.S. dollars to anyone who could demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal ability under agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. A version of the challenge was first issued in 1964. Over a thousand people applied to take it, but none were successful. The challenge was terminated in 2015.
James Randi developed the idea for the challenge during a radio panel discussion when a parapsychologist challenged him to “put [his] money where [his] mouth is.”In 1964 Randi offered a $1,000 prize, soon increasing it to $10,000. Later, Lexington Broadcasting wanted Randi to do a show called the $100,000 Psychic Prize, so they added $90,000 to the original $10,000 raised by Randi. Finally, in 1996, one of his friends, Internet pioneer Rick Adams, donated U.S. $1,000,000 for the prize. The prize is sometimes referred to in the media as the “Randi Prize”.
By April 1, 2007, only those with an already existing media profile and the backing of a reputable academic were allowed to apply for the challenge. It was hoped that the resources freed up by not having to test obscure and possibly mentally ill claimants would then be used to challenge high-profile alleged psychics and mediums such as Sylvia Browne and John Edward with a campaign in the media.
On January 4, 2008, it was announced that the prize would be discontinued on March 6, 2010, in order to free the money for other uses. In the meantime, claimants were welcome to vie for it. One of the reasons offered for its discontinuation is the unwillingness of higher-profile claimants to apply. However, at The Amazing Meeting 7, it was announced that the $1 Million Challenge prize would not expire in 2010. The Foundation issued a formal update on its website on July 30, 2009, announcing the Challenge’s continuation, and stated more information would be provided at a later date on any possible changes to the requirements and procedures.
On March 8, 2011, the JREF announced that qualifications were being altered to open the challenge to more applicants. Whereas applicants were previously required to submit press clippings and a letter from an academic institution to qualify, the new rules now require applicants to present either press clippings, a letter from an academic institution, or a public video demonstrating their ability. The JREF explained that these new rules would give people without media or academic documentation a way to be considered for testing, and would allow the JREF to use online video and social media to reach a wider audience.
Since the challenge was first created by Randi in 1964, about a thousand people have applied, but no one has been successful. Randi has said that few unsuccessful applicants ever seriously consider that their failure to perform might be due to the nonexistence of the power they believe they possess.
In January 2015, James Randi announced that he was officially retiring and stepping down from his position with the JREF. In September 2015, JREF announced that their board had decided that it would convert the foundation into a grant-making foundation, and they will no longer accept applications directly from people claiming to have a paranormal power. In 2015 the James Randi paranormal challenge was officially terminated.
Rules and judging
The official challenge rules stipulated that the participant must agree, in writing, to the conditions and criteria of their test. Claims that cannot be tested experimentally are not eligible for the Challenge. Claimants were able to influence all aspects of the testing procedure and participants during the initial negotiation phase of the challenge. Applications for any challenges that might cause serious injury or death were not accepted.
To ensure that the experimental conditions themselves did not negatively affect a claimant’s ability to perform, non-blinded preliminary control tests are often performed. For example, the JREF had dowsers perform a control test, in which the dowser attempts to locate the target substance or object using their dowsing ability, even though the target’s location has been revealed to the applicant. Failure to display a 100% success rate in the open test would cause their immediate disqualification. However, claimants were usually able to perform successfully during the open test, confirming that experimental conditions are adequate.
Claimants agreed to readily observable success criteria prior to the test, results were unambiguous and clearly indicated whether or not the criteria have been met. Randi had said that he need not participate in any way with the actual execution of the test, and he has been willing to travel far from the test location to avoid the perception that his anti-paranormal bias could influence the test results.
The discussions between the JREF and applicants were at one time posted on a public discussion board for all to see. Since the resignation of Randi’s assistant, Mr. Kramer—and subsequent changes to challenge rules requiring applicants to have demonstrated considerable notability—new applications are no longer logged, but there is an archive of previous applicants.
Example of a test (dowsing)
In 1979, Randi tested four people in Italy for dowsing ability (Mr. Fontana, Dr. Borga, Mr. Stanziola, and Mr. Senatore). The prize at the time was $10,000. The conditions were that a 10 meter by 10 meter test area would be used. There would be a water supply and a reservoir just outside the test area. There would be three plastic pipes running underground from the source to the reservoir along different concealed paths. Each pipe would pass through the test area by entering at some point on an edge and exiting at some point on an edge. A pipe would not cross itself but it might cross others.
The pipes were 3 centimeters in diameter and were buried 50 centimeters below ground. Valves would select which of the pipes water was running through, and only one would be selected at a time. At least 5 liters per second of water would flow through the selected pipe. The dowser must first check the area to see if there is any natural water or anything else that would interfere with the test, and that would be marked. Additionally, the dowser must demonstrate that the dowsing reaction works on an exposed pipe with the water running. Then one of the three pipes would be selected randomly for each trial.
The dowser would place ten to one hundred pegs in the ground along the path he or she traces as the path of the active pipe. Two-thirds of the pegs placed by the dowser must be within 10 centimeters of the center of the pipe being traced for the trial to be a success. Three trials would be done for the test of each dowser and the dowser must pass two of the three trials to pass the test.
A lawyer was present, in possession of Randi’s $10,000 check. If a claimant were successful, the lawyer would give him the check. If none were successful, the check would be returned to Randi.
All of the dowsers agreed with the conditions of the test and stated that they felt able to perform the test that day and that the water flow was sufficient. Before the test they were asked how sure they were that they would succeed. All said either “99 percent” or “100 percent” certain. They were asked what they would conclude if the water flow was 90 degrees from what they thought it was and all said that it was impossible. After the test they were asked how confident they were that they had passed the test. Three answered “100 percent” and one answered that he had not completed the test.
When all of the tests were over and the location of the pipes was revealed, none of the dowsers had passed the test. Dr. Borga had placed his markers carefully, but the nearest was a full 8 feet from the water pipe. Borga said, “We are lost”, but within two minutes he started blaming his failure on many things such as sunspots and geomagnetic variables. Two of the dowsers thought they had found natural water before the test started, but disagreed with each other about where it was, as well as with the ones who found no natural water.
Astronomer Dennis Rawlins described the challenge as insincere, saying that Randi would ensure he never had to pay out. In the October 1981 issue of Fate, Rawlins quoted him as saying “I always have an out”. Randi stated that Rawlins did not give the entire quotation, and actually said “Concerning the challenge, I always have an ‘out’: I’m right!“.
Rosemary Altea suggested the one million dollar prize fund does not exist, or is in the form of pledges or promissory notes.The JREF stated that the million dollars was in the form of negotiable bonds within a “James Randi Educational Foundation Prize Account” and that validation of the account and the prize amount could be supplied on demand. The money was held in an Evercore Wealth Management account.
Refusals to be tested
On Larry King Live, March 6, 2001, Larry King asked psychic Sylvia Browne if she would take the challenge and she agreed.Randi appeared with Browne again on Larry King Live on September 3, 2001, and she again accepted the challenge. However, she refused to be tested and Randi kept a clock on his website recording the number of weeks that had passed since Browne accepted the challenge without following through. Eventually the clock was replaced with text stating that “over 5 years” had passed. Browne died in 2013.
In an appearance on Larry King Live on January 26, 2007, Randi challenged psychic Rosemary Altea to take the one-million-dollar challenge. On Altea and Randi’s June 5, 2001, meeting on the same show, Altea refused to take the challenge, calling it “a trick”. Instead Altea, in part, replied “I agree with what he says, that there are many, many people who claim to be spiritual mediums, they claim to talk to the dead. There are many, people, we all know this. There are cheats and charlatans everywhere.” Randi’s response was to suggest that Altea was also one of the “cheats and charlatans”.
In an appearance on ITV’s This Morning, on September 27, 2011, magician Paul Zenon challenged Welsh psychic Leigh Catherine (aka Leigh-Catherine Salway) to take the one million dollar challenge and she accepted. Phillip Schofield, a This Morning host, stated that the program would pay for her flights to the US to be tested. Salway subsequently backed out of the challenge, claiming it was “dodgy” and “set up to make it impossible to pass”.