"Skeptically Speaking" Column #3 -- Nov. 1991

By Gary P. Posner

The "$1,000 Challenge"

The paranormal is a multi-billion-dollar industry, eating into the hard-earned wages of many who cannot afford to waste precious funds. State lotteries such as Florida's have been criticized for relieving the poor of what is too often not disposable income, but even with its 14,000,000 to 1 odds, at least a few individuals each month receive a huge pot of gold from the end of the Lotto rainbow. James Randi and other skeptical investigators have spent the last several decades scouring the paranormal rainbow for its pot of gold, but have found no solid evidence to support its existence.

In the spirit of open-minded pursuit of the truth, and with the hope that a monetary incentive might flush out local prospects, the Tampa Bay Skeptics and I issued a "$1,000 Challenge" in 1989. I carry the check in my wallet at all times, and will turn it over to anyone who can provide TBS with verifiable scientific proof of any "paranormal" phenomenon, be it ESP, astrology, faith-healing, or you name it. The terms must be jointly agreed upon and signed in advance, but we aim to accommodate.

Janet Sciales, Tampa Bay's most mediagenic astrologer, was a charter member of TBS, and had initially professed interest in being scientifically tested by us. As she told those who attended our second meeting, "I am looking very much for your input on acceptable tests -- what we can do." But when push came to shove, rather than negotiate the conditions of such a test, she failed to return phone calls, and cancelled appointments with our chairman. Sciales later commented to the St. Petersburg Times, "I'm not going to put my reputation on the line if they're not going to do the same thing. Why should I?" All we were offering was $1,000 and a place in history should she successfully demonstrate her alleged ability.

When Pinellas Park "psychic" Joan Morin read of Sciales' reversal, she called me to offer herself as TBS's first test subject. On July 22, 1989, at her Spiritual Center Church, Morin sat in meditation to establish the crucial link between her mind and the spirit saint who guides her through her performances of "psychic" power. Observed by members of her congregation, TBS, and the press, Morin then pored over the 23 boxes placed one-by-one before her, to determine which were empty and which contained the hidden objects that she had provided. Since there was a 50:50 probability that any given box either contained an object or did not, chance guesswork would be expected to result in a +/-50% success rate. Though Morin had anticipated 100% success (a nearly 10,000,000 to 1 feat), she and her saint, whose voice dictated each of her selections, were correct only 10 times out of 23, well within chance expectations.

D. Carnegie Langley, of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, claims that during a stint in Viet Nam, a Buddhist monk taught him an ancient Chinese technique that allows one to both transmit and receive "emotions" telepathically. Seeing the "Parapsychology" SIG listing in the "Mensa Bulletin," and desirous of scientific validation of his claim, Langley contacted the SIG for help, and was in turn referred to me this past March. Though the SIG's newsletter reported that I "twice . . . put him off," in fact I advised Langley that James Randi and I would soon be in California for the annual CSICOP (see last column) conference, and that we could test his claims at that time, with Randi's $10,000 prize on the line as well as the Tampa Bay Skeptics' $1,000. Langley expressed interest, and I got him in touch with Randi to work out the arrangements. Regrettably, Langley failed to show for the test, later explaining that his prime "student" (who was to do the "transmitting") had learned three days before the big event (which was scheduled for Saturday, May 4) that he would have to work that weekend and would be unavailable to fly to Oakland. Perhaps some other time and place...

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