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Scientific Methodology

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The Million Dollar Challenge

The Million Dollar Challenge

Credit: Steve Jurvetson
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124348109@N01/420374715
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

Every year a few individuals apply for the James Randi Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge. These individuals must prove scientifically that they can demonstrate a supernatural or paranormal ability. To date, over 1 000 people have applied. Currently no one has been able to successfully demonstrate a paranormal or supernatural ability.

Why it matters

  • The videos below give an example of how people can easily be led astray. Over the past several years magnetic / hologram and ion bracelets have been sold to countless individuals and endorsed by several sports athletes. By giving a short demonstration to a potential buyer that involves a misleading application of physics, the customer is led to believe that the bracelets being sold make them stronger. The con is performed as follows:
    1. The potential buyer is instructed to stand on one leg with their arms stretched out to their sides.
    2. The seller then press down on one of the outstretched arms of the potential buyer causing them to fall over.
    3. The process is repeated but with the potential buyer wearing or holding onto the “special” bracelet.
    4. At this point the seller then press down on the same outstretched arm of the potential buyer but with the force directed inward as well.
    5. As a result, the potential buyer is kept standing on one foot, with the belief that the bracelet gives them the power of strength and stability.
  • Billions of dollars are spent every year by individuals that believe someone or something will: give them insight into the future, help them discover past lives or give them superhuman powers. All too often, the individuals that buy these products are led astray by pseudo-science and/or misrepresentation of statistics. By simply looking at what is being offered from the view point of a scientist and using a little statistics you can see easily determine when you are being lied to.
  • The 2012 challenge involving one variation of these bracelets can be seen below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wHs0vM3gRTA&feature=c4-overview-vl&list=PL8MfjLNsf_mj5ab6D71fUDOcmaDlcw-xG

  • Watch James Randi’s explanation of how the con is performed below: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mak252eVB5o

Show What You’ve Learned?

Using the information provided above, answer the following questions.

  1. In the video of the 2012 test, why couldn’t the applicant for the million dollar challenge simply show that the bracelet was successful 10 out of 20 times?
  2. Why does the person performing the test apply an inward force on the person?

Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Steve Jurvetson; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/44124348109@N01/420374715; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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