Randi's Sleight-of-Hand

In his newsletter posting addressing my article "The Myth of the Million Dollar Challenge", James Randi incorrectly attributes a number of my own comments to paranormal investigator Loyd Auerbach (see "The Grubbies Attack"). I informed the JREF of this error (and others), and there was a partial correction added to the beginning of Randi's post - however, it remained incorrect. I later engaged Randi in a personal email conversation about this, and while I respect the privacy of personal emails, I do feel compelled to point out that Randi acknowledged that *he knows* it wasn't Auerbach making those comments. The reason for 'replying' to Auerbach was entirely a personal one by Randi (which will remain private, as requested by Randi - however, I feel it would not be fair on Loyd Auerbach to keep Randi's acknowledgement of his non-involvement private).

This point is an important one, because many of Randi's supporters acknowledge that he can be ascerbic, but at least he tells the truth. The point is, simply, that he doesn't. He actually uses many techniques which might be considered a 'con' - not actually that surprising, as he is a magician by trade. Some are subtle rhetorical devices (such as calling my article "a tirade" numerous times), other times it is quite simply lying so openly that people don't suspect it. See if you can pick out the sleight of hand in the following...

As part of his 'investigation' into the mediumship research of Dr Gary Schwartz, Randi sent a letter to the University of Arizona suggesting an "Independently Qualified Panel" investigate Schwartz's data, which would then be considered for the Million Dollar Challenge prize. Now ignoring the fact that this "Independent" panel was stacked with Randi's friends, 3 of the 4 being 'uber-skeptics', the key quote in the subsequent debate was that Randi said the members of the panel "have already agreed with this Foundation to examine the data gathered by Dr. Schwartz."

Dr Schwartz responded to Randi's letter, with one particular issue standing out:

Mr. Randi’s letter claimed that Dr. Stanley Krippner was one of four proposed members of an “Independent Qualified Panel” who would evaluate our research data. Randi wrote that all four members “were Ph.D. scientists who have already agreed with this Foundation to examine the data gathered by Dr. Schwartz.” He went on to say, “They are all informed, willing, specialists, who I believe will be acceptable to Dr. Schwartz.”

Mr. Randi’s recommendation of Dr. Krippner was certainly acceptable to me. However, when I contacted Dr. Krippner directly to see if Mr. Randi’s statement about him serving on the panel was correct, Dr. Krippner was concerned. Dr. Krippner explained that he had previously emailed Mr. Randi stating that he would not agree to serve on such a committee. The truth is, Dr. Krippner was not willing to serve on the panel, and he made this clear to Mr. Randi.

Randi later wrote of his contact with Dr Krippner:

I checked with all four persons who were named by me as a suggested independent panel who could examine the Schwartz data. The person of whom Schwartz was writing, the un-named member of the suggested panel, was Dr. Stanley Krippner of San Francisco's Saybrook Institute. Stanley has worked with me previously on handling data of this sort. I most certainly did contact this man.

My conversation with Dr. Krippner revealed that he had decided that he was, in his own words, "overloaded" at present, and that he wished Schwartz would "get his act together." He agreed that he could be involved with a test of Sylvia Browne (no, a full 73 days after her agreeing to be tested, she has still not responded!) but he said that the Schwartz data was just so voluminous, he would not be able — at this time of the year — to take the time required to look over the material. In my original phone conversation with Stanley, I had spoken with him about both a test of Browne and an examination of the Schwartz data, but not a "test" of Schwartz. Krippner had agreed to be presently involved with Browne, but not presently with the Schwartz data, for the reasons given. He just cannot at this time take on new projects, but this is the sort of thing on which we have worked in the past, and Stanley is most knowledgeable and proficient in this field.

Randi openly says here that he contacted Dr Krippner, and that he said he was too busy to take part. Despite this, Randi put Krippner on his panel who "have already agreed". Schwartz called him on this, and yet Randi simply keeps heaping scorn on Schwartz. Truly, magic.

Another point on my article: Randi responded to the inclusion of German parapsychologist Suitbert Ertel by saying:

I will add, briefly, that Suitbert Ertel – who is featured in the tirade – was thoroughly tested for the JREF prize back in 2004, in Germany. He failed, as did all the others who were tested. The sloppy conditions that Ertel had in place for his own "controlled" test were such that I was easily able to accurately predict which numbered ping-pong ball I was about to draw from the target-randomizer-bag that he had constructed. His lack of security was appalling. But I see here no report of the incompetent protocol conducted and designed by this man.

I was contacted by Thorsten Siebenborn, who had some experience with Ertel's "application", and in his words:

Randi is lying, Suitbert Ertel wasn't tested for the JREF prize. He applied for the prize (but not in written form !) and corresponded with a CSICOP statistician contacted by Randi, but Randi himself denied him the testing in Wuerzburg.

The JREF connection written in the contract was as follows:

a) If the candidate won in Wuerzburg, he could skip the second GWUP test and apply directly for the final test of JREF. The win would therefore constitute a successful preliminary test, *but not the million $ win*.

b) If (!) Randi accepts the conditions of the second test phase, the second test phase equals the final test of the Million-Dollar-Challenge.

In both cases we have the problem that the contract refers to the
conditions of the Randi foundation so that it is unclear if Randi can bail out if the challenger violates one of his conditions even if he/she successfully pass the test.

It is also untrue that Randi tested under the proposed conditions of Ertel. Ertel tried to explain what his ball-drawing test is and several people tried. What Randi in fact did was examining the ball bag and as Ertel passed him, he suddenly asked Ertel if he should check him as a proband. Randi successfully predicted several balls (by hiding one ball in the left hand holding the bag which can be easily glimpsed and exchanging it with the drawn right ball so that he has always a known ball.) **

Randi was never tested under the controlled conditions, he simply did some sleight-of-hand casually before the test. His statement regarding the "sloppy conditions that Ertel had in place for his own "controlled" test were such that I was easily able to accurately predict which numbered ping-pong ball I was about to draw" is complete bunk. Where's a good skeptic when you need one...

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** Clarification of some of these points by Thorsten Siebenborn can be found here.

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Greg's picture
Member since:
30 April 2004
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4 hours 22 min

Thorsten Siebenborn offered this clarification of the German test:

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As not all of my letter could be cited due to length, let me clarify the circumstances. The Wuerzburg event 2004 was in fact a test of the local German CSI(COP) section, the GWUP, with an own prize money of 10 000 €; Randi intertwined it with his challenge. As Wuerzburg was now connected with *two* prizes you can imagine the possible amount of confusion. As the candidates didn't apply the "normal way", what were the exact implications and conditions regarding the two prizes ?

(Normally it would be not possible to apply for Randis prize without written form, but Wuerzburg was apparently an exception -- the participants simply signed the contract -- and Randi *had* therefore the possibility to accept Ertel; Randi refused).

So I finally asked Martin Mahner, one organiser of Wuerzburg, if I could get a copy of the contract used by the participants to overview the exact conditions and the connection with JREF. First he refused, but afterwards the GWUP decided that for the sake of transparency it could be published. It is available as an addendum to the web overview of the corresponding "Skeptiker" magazine which described the events in detail.

Ertel visited Wuerzburg as observer (and admitted that the procedures for the candidates were fair and the organisers showed correct behavior), but DID NOT participate as candidate. He presented his idea, the ball-drawing test, cordially to the organisators and participants; it was NEVER intended as a test under controlled conditions. Controlled tests were done not until 2005/2006 together with the GWUP when Randi wasn't there.

So again: Randi is lying.

Just in case Randi thinks about denying, accusing or namecalling, I offer to remind him that published evidence and several witnesses are coming from the GWUP, not from despicable "grubbies".

Thorsten Siebenborn

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Kind regards,
Greg
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You monkeys only think you're running things