The Myth of the Million Dollar Challenge

For ten years, the modern skeptical movement has wielded a cudgel against claims of the paranormal: the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge. In many debates over the possibility of psi abilities, the Challenge provides a final word for one side..."has so-and-so applied for the Challenge?" The financial reward offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation is seen by many skeptics as providing an irresistible motivation for anybody with paranormal ability - after all, if someone could genuinely exhibit such powers, surely they would step forward to take the million?

However, after ten years, the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) says nobody has even got past their preliminary testing. Furthermore, none of the 'big fish' - medium John Edward, spoon-bender Uri Geller, psychic Sylvia Browne - have applied (although Sylvia Browne did accept James Randi's direct challenge on Larry King Live, without going any further). And now, perhaps as a result of that fact, James Randi has announced that the Challenge will come to an end in two years, on March 6th, 2010.

But does the challenge really make a statement about the existence of the paranormal and/or psi abilities?

Biblical Archaeology Review on the Web

The entire issue of the March/April Biblical Archaeology Review has been placed online (as webpages, not PDF). If you're interested in topics Biblical and/or archaeological, make sure you head one over and check it all out - everything from Jezebel to Qumran, with "Dirty Old King Solomon" squeezed between.

Illusions for Your Ears

New Scientist currently have a special issue on music, with a number of features freely available online to feast on. One of those pages is on auditory illusions, and I've heard good things about #2, "Phantom Words". I say 'heard' not to pun, but because I didn't get any illusions...whereas others have told me they heard complete phrases. However, it sounds (in theory) like an interesting example of how our brains can hear voices (quite separately from the whole microwave thing discussed earlier this week). Are the 'skills' of mediums somehow related to this, or are they separate. Anyhow, if you hear illusory words or phrases, post a comment and let me know what you got.

News Briefs 22-02-2008

Please indulge me in one particularly crass one-liner today. It demanded to go public...

Thanks Rick and RPJ.

Quote of the Day:

What's frustrating is that in this extremely fascinating, important, potentially highly impactful area, research is proceeding so slowly because of excesses of skepticism and fear in the scientific community.

Ben Goertzel

'Star Wars' Exhibits Open in Philly and Belgium

"A long time ago...

In a galaxy far, far away"

Well, seems the galaxy just got a little closer. If you are in Philadelphia, you might want to check out the new exhibit 'Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination' —Feb. 9 - May 4, 2008 at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Penn.

This exhibition showcases costumes and props from all six Star Wars films while exploring cutting-edge research and modern technologies that could one day make the fantasy world of Star Wars a reality.

Learn more about this exhibit here.

But fear not, my european friends, for the Force is strong with you too. At Brussels you can attend 'Star Wars: The Exhibition', open since Feb 16:

'Star Wars: The Exhibition' gives visitors a rare glimpse inside the making of the epic movies. Fans can also enjoy several interactive activities from Jedi training to a green screen simulation that puts you right into the movie making the exhibit truly fun for all ages.

If know more you must, click here.

And remember: The Force will be with you... whether you like it or not! :-)

The Taboo of Psi

Transhumanist pundit George Dvorsky has noted on his Sentient Developments blog an illustrative case of the 'taboo of psi':

Much to the chagrin of his readers, AI theorist Ben Goertzel has dared to explore the topic of parapsychology on his blog (or just 'psi'). He argued that the scientific evidence for psi is stronger than we think.

When his readers complained in the comments section, Goertzel came back by saying...

I've omitted Goertzel's comments, which you can read on his own blog. What is worth pointing out is the way that Dvorsky has to frame the story. A post about psi research is "much to the chagrin" of Goertzel's readers. He "dared to explore" the topic. I mean, really, are we living through the Inquisition again, when scientists have to "dare" to explore a topic?

Whether there is something to psi, or whether it's just an artifact of the experiments we haven't worked out yet, there is one certain thing. Scientists *should* be investigating it. There are decades of positive, replicated ganzfeld results suggestive of telepathy (among various other experiments into topics such as presentiment and remote viewing). It makes an absolute joke of modern science that someone needs to "dare" to look further into it, and all those who vent their anger at such a person have no right to categorize themselves as a scientifically-minded person. Simple as that.

News Briefs 21-02-2008

The Eclipse is in progress and I’m just realizing how difficult it is to use a keyboard when your claws are growing and your skin turns furrier. I’d better finish soon, for I’m getting a bit hungry.

Gracias, Rick.

Quote of the day:

“The deep lesson is that, although science doesn’t know everything, it’s not ‘anything goes’ either. There are well-defined regimes of physical phenomena where we do know how things work, full stop. The place to look for new and surprising phenomena is outside these regimes. You don’t need to set up elaborate double-blind protocols to pass judgement on the abilities of purpoted psychics. Our knowledge of the laws of physics rules them out. Speculation to the contrary are not the provenance of bold visionaries, they are the dreams of crackpots.”

Sean Carroll,

Senior Research Associate in the Dept. of Physics at Caltech

News Briefs 20-02-2008

Don't shoot the messenger.

Quote of the Day:

“We are looking to brands for poetry and for spirituality, because we're not getting those things from our communities or from each other.”

Naomi Klein

A History of Trepanation

The always-interesting Mind Hacks has posted a story that is about as literal an interpretation of their name as could be imagined: on trepanation. Trepanation is a procedure in which a hole is made in the skull of a living person, and evidence for it reaches back into history in cultures around the world. Opinions are divided on why it was performed - from medical reasons, through to spiritual.

The story gives a quick link to a rather full-on video of a Kisi medicine man in Tanzania performing a seven hour trepanation operation on a young woman (let your breakfast settle for a bit before watching). There's also a good link to an essay titled "An Illustrated History of Trepanation", which moves from early evidence through to the evolution of the modern 'trend' of self-trepanation...that is, putting a hole in your own head (the reason for doing it yourself is, naturally, because doctors won't do it for you):

The theory is based on the fact that human infants have an opening openings called fontanelles. During birth, these openings enable the bones of the skull to flex, so that the head can pass through the birth canal. According to Hughes, the closure of the fontanelles compromise one's creativity and energy; trepanation, therefore, enables one to return to a creative, energetic childlike state.

The essay also points out that there is an hour long documentary about trepanation.

Indiana Jones Heads to Roswell

Meant to mention this 'find' from the Indiana Jones movie trailer last week, but never got around to it (sorry Filip) - now that Emps has posted about it at Cabinet of Wonders, I'll just do the lazy thing and link to it. Indiana Jones, not content with those crystal skulls, also makes a detour to Roswell. Emps also points us at this io9 story which features a comic book cover in which the crystal skull is rather alienesque. This movie could only be more Daily Grail if they featured me in a full frontal shot (check the trailer really closely, I dare you...).