For years, James Randi has offered a large cash prize to anyone who can prove psychic or paranormal ability. Naturally, the well-known con artists who make their living via these claims will never step forward to be tested, because they know they’ll fail and be exposed. However, there is still a large number of people who truly believe they have these abilities, or have invented something miraculous, or whatever. Because they’re sure they can really do what they say they can do, they will step forward and try to win what is now known as the Million Dollar Challenge.
Over the last few summers at The Amazing Meeting, Randi’s colleagues have conducted live tests of some of these claimants in front of an audience of hundreds. Before they’re allowed to set foot on stage, they meet with Banachek (the mentalist/magician who oversees the MDC for the James Randi Educational Foundation) and Jamy Ian Swiss (the magician and author), both of whom appeared on last year’s “Nightline” special about the Million Dollar Challenge (watch that here). They and other JREF advisors design a customized protocol specific to each applicant’s claims, ensuring it is valid scientifically, mathematically. No test begins until the claimant agrees that this will be a valid test of what they say they can do — if the applicant doesn’t sign off on it, they tweak until everyone’s on the same page. The JREF doesn’t want anyone to say afterwards that they were tricked in any way.
Thus far, all of them have failed, and no one has won the million dollars — but that hasn’t stopped most of them from believing they can do it. They usually have an alibi, despite agreeing ahead of time to all the conditions of the protocol.
This summer, a man named Andrew Needles agreed to be tested at TAM. He is the inventor of the “Dynactiv SR,” a brand of wristbands and pendants that supposedly give the wearer better balance and increased strength thanks to tiny microchips he has embedded into his products.
I give Needles credit for being willing to make the attempt publicly, especially in front of a crowd of skeptics. To that end, Banachek makes it clear to the audience that Needles is to be treated with respect, that there shouldn’t be any laughter or derisive commentary aimed at him during his appearance. If the purpose of this exercise was simply to make fun of the claimant, no one would ever agree to be tested again. There’s a serious scientific protocol in place, a lot of money on the line, and real egos involved — nothing to be trifled with.
Here’s how the testing played out, on stage in a ballroom at the Southpoint Hotel/Casino in Las Vegas in July. Since this involved a lengthy protocol, you may not want to watch each test subject, so after the first one, you can skip forward to about an hour and eight minutes into the video to watch the finale, followed by some closing remarks by Banachek and Jamy. You can also read this summary by Richard Saunders, the Australian skeptic who Needles first contact, and who brought him to the attention of the JREF for its Million Dollar Challenge.