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Connie Sonne Preliminary Challenge Test at TAM 7 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Alison Smith   

At the Amaz!ng Meeting 7, we conducted a Preliminary Challenge Test for the JREF million-dollar prize - the first time we've ever done this in front of a live audience. It was done with total transparency.  We invited all TAMgoers, as well as media representatives and famous skeptics and magicians, to attend a preliminary Challenge test of Ms. Connie Sonne.

For those who weren't able to attend in person, we streamed the test live so those at home could watch from their computers. We had six hundred people watching from the audience, and 1,600 watching from home. The in-person audience included people like Penn and Teller, Mac King, Jamy Ian Swiss, Dr. Joe Albietz, and, of course, Randi. The video was viewed by people from all over the world, just as it happened in real time.

Connie Sonne had designed the parameters for her own test. She chose to dowse for the contents of double-enveloped playing cards on stage with the supervision of famous skeptic and mentalist, Banachek. She needed to identify three cards using her dowsing ability in order to pass to the Formal Challenge. She failed: she did not correctly identify any of the three cards, and her Challenge file has been closed - though she will be free to re-apply one year from the date of her test, assuming that she qualifies under the rules governing the Challenge at that time.

Sonne had agreed to give interviews and to participate in an exclusive press conference to discuss the procedure, following the test. Many in the audience were impressed at how gracefully she conducted herself despite having failed her test, while maintaining a firm belief in her dowsing abilities. The audience attending both the test and the press conference applauded her courage in appearing before so many people.

That opinion has since changed.

Sonne now claims that Banachek, who she agreed to accept as the official tester, had cheated her out of passing the preliminary test. As it happens, many individuals on both the JREF forums and attending the in-person press conference wondered aloud at our willingness to allow a "magician" to run the test, so I want to set the record straight.

Firstly, Banachek is a mentalist, not a magician. My response to the dissent in the press conference was pretty simple - Banachek simply did not have the opportunity to cheat in any way whatsoever. Even if you call him a "magician," he is not actually magical. If I give a magician a top hat that I bought and searched, and never gave the magician any information on it before putting it in his hands, and then demanded that he make a rabbit appear from inside it, he would most probably be unable to do so. Magic seems unfathomable to an audience, but let's face it, there is an explanation for each illusion that fits the laws of physics.

If you were watching the streaming video prior to the test, you were able to see both Banachek and I as we entered the testing room. Neither Banachek nor I nor anyone else involved with the JREF had contact with Sonne, save one person, Bart Farkas, JREF press liaison. Farkas met Sonne as she entered South Point. He sequestered her backstage. She never spoke to any other TAM attendee or individual associated with the JREF during her time inside South Point until her test had been concluded.

No one, save Farkas and individuals employed by South Point, was permitted on the stage prior to the test. The tables and chairs used in the test were placed by South Point employees. We did not know, until they were already being set, which tables or chairs would be used.

The envelope containing all the materials needed for the test was sealed, by me, one week in advance of the test. Every seam was sealed with duct tape. Every seam and seal had my signature across it. The envelope was labeled on the outside, in large letters, in my handwriting, "TEST 1." When I entered the testing room, I put the envelope containing all testing materials in view of the cameras on the stairs leading to the stage. That package was put into the hands of a security guard who was not informed of the details about what it contained or how it would be used. Banachek was not permitted to stand within five feet of the envelope. He was not permitted to touch the envelope in any way. Once he entered the auditorium, Banachek was not permitted to leave - except once, to use the restroom. And even then, we sent an escort with him to ensure that he did not attempt to find Sonne. I'm sure that was an awkward moment.

When preparing for the test, I had bought decks of Bicycle poker-sized playing cards. These cards come in many varieties, and the backs can be many colors. In fact, in case there was a technological problem with the test, or we had to start over for any reason, I made multiple test envelopes, each with all the materials required for a single test. There were three total full tests available. The cards inside each test had differently colored backs. There were, I believe, two decks of red-backed cards, and one deck of blue-backed cards. After enveloping the cards, I no longer knew which deck was in which testing set. Banachek, of course, never knew what colors there were at all.

I shuffled each suit of a deck of cards separately and put each card in a small coin envelope. I then sealed the envelopes, and shuffled them in turn. I then put the envelopes into larger coin envelopes, and shuffled them again. I then gave the envelopes to Jeff Wagg, who shuffled them yet again. At that point, there was no way for me, Jeff, nor Banachek to know which card was in which envelope - and additionally, Banachek still never knew even what color of Bicycle playing cards were being used.

Banachek and Sonne took the stage from different directions. Banachek entered from the audience, Sonne entered from the wings.

In order to randomize the target value for the cards, Banachek used a ten-sided die. He was not given access to the die in advance of the test (it was sealed inside the envelope along with everything else). It was, in fact, an odd ten-sided die in that each face was printed with a word - not a number - so that the die said "one," not "1".

Banachek gave the die three test throws prior to conducting the actual preliminary, to ensure Sonne did not believe the die was weighted. She stated that she did not believe it was weighted.

Sonne then dowsed, looking for the value - 1 to 10 - rolled on the die. She picked three envelopes in this manner. Banachek wrote the value she had stated on each envelope. He then put a notecard, folded in half with the value written on it as well, on top of each choice. These stayed in full view of the camera for the duration of the test.

At the close of the test, Sonne used scissors to cut open each of the envelopes to compare the value she had dowsed for against the actual value of the card. All her choices were wrong. She cut the envelopes, and Banachek physically pulled the card from the envelopes. The cards were never hidden from her.

After the test was complete, Sonne cut the seal on every single remaining envelope to ensure that they were not, say, all fives. Or all hearts, or anything but what they were supposed to be.

Every card remaining completed the deck. There were no doubles. There were no mistakes.

Where was the opportunity to cheat?

Many people have said that Banachek did not cheat because obviously he has too much integrity. That is a value judgment. Banachek's integrity, or even potential lack thereof, has nothing to do with this test. Let me say that again - Banachek's integrity does not enter this equation.

He simply had no opportunity to cheat. None whatsoever.

Let me explain.

Even if he had a deck of cards in his pocket that he was dead-set on using to replace the ones in the envelopes, he didn't know what kind of cards to use.

Even if he made sure to have twenty-five decks of Bicycle sized poker playing cards with all differently colored backs, just in case, stashed about his person, the envelopes were opened in full view of Sonne and in front of three cameras, thus in full view of the audience, both those in the auditorium, and all over the world on the Internet.

Even if Banachek had a super special ten-sided die made that was weighted, different values were rolled each time, indicating that it was not weighted to a particular side.

Even if Banachek knew the die being used far in advance of the test, and had one made that was weighted in such a way that three different rolls in a row would come up with three different values and you would know what they would be in advance, he still didn't know which cards were where.

Even if Banachek "psychically" knew the location of every single value of every single card on the table, he could not make Sonne choose a particular envelope as her target.

Even if we all desperately wanted Sonne to fail, which we did not, her failure of the test would have required the complicity of four members of South Point staff, the complicity of the entirety of the JREF, the complicity of the security guard, and the complicity of several inanimate objects - including a die, playing cards, envelopes, cameras, tables, and chairs.

If you believe that Banachek couldn't have cheated simply because of integrity, then Banachek needs to apply for the Challenge right this second - because in order for that to be the case, he would have to have several paranormal abilities.

Additionally, the agreement Sonne signed - live, on stage - was given to her months in advance. One of the items stated that she had no problem with Banachek conducting the test. And we also let her know that Banachek is both a mentalist and a well-known skeptic.

But what does Banachek have to say about all this? Well, here's his statement:

I find Connie Sonne's accusation both amusing and sad. On the same note, I take it very seriously as well. Connie, or anyone else, should think very carefully prior to making such libelous and slanderous statements. I take defamation of my character quite seriously. I would also suggest that anyone repeating Connie's suggestion - that I called out the card prior to it being removed - as a sign of cheating, place a card in a coin envelope then try to remove it and you will readily see that the moment your thumb enters the envelope to remove the card you can easily see what it is prior to it sliding out of the envelope. This is not cheating. It was simply me, trying to move a lengthy yet necessary process along.  Also, there were steps put in place by the JREF to make sure there was no way I could have cheated Connie at all. For this to have happened both myself, the JREF, and anyone else involved would have had to be involved in the entire crime - and yes, it would be a crime. So once again, be very careful prior to making libelous or slanderous statements.

The test of Connie Sonne was honest, straightforward, open, and witnessed all over the world as it took place. Ms. Sonne has disappointed us all by reneging on her very positive statement that the test was properly designed and conducted.

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written by Holmstrom, July 16, 2009
A dowser blaming the JREF for her own failure? I can't imagine. I am shocked.
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written by kaivulagi, July 16, 2009
I wholeheartedly concur with Banachek's observation: "both amusing and sad"
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written by Kuroyume, July 16, 2009
Incredible. What? Did Banachek 'psych' her into dowsing the incorrect cards? Overall, I saw nothing but delusional divination occurring on that stage (watching the streamed test). Let's face it, if you remove the real reason for dowsing (ideomotor effect) then the only explaination as to how it supposedly works is by supernatural forces. And there's a whole lot of talk about them but not a shred of evidence.

She should remain gracious even in defeat. This was a fair and agreed-to game and she lost.
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written by The_Libertarian_Otaku, July 16, 2009
Connie just doesn't want to admit that she's a fraud just like all these other woo-heads are.

She failed, she didn't get the million Dead Presidents, she should just move on and accept that she's been proven to be a fake just like all the other psychics, dowsers, mediums, and other woo-heads.
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Disgusting.
written by Morrigan, July 16, 2009
The hubris of these participants is simply staggering. They agree to the protocol in advance, appear all gracious, but as soon as they have the opportunity to slander the JREF and blame them for their failures, they take it. IIRC the last applicant did the same thing and claimed the test was rigged, even if she had agreed all in advance and gave no sign that something was wrong during the actual test.


Unsurprising, but still infuriating.
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written by iiwo, July 16, 2009
Thank you, Alison.
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written by Crying Wolf, July 16, 2009
I'm afraid such behaviour is almost inevitable; because for participants to admit they are wrong, they have to give up on something that has been an important part of their identity for (often) decades. It's not just admitting you were wrong about some piece of trivial knowledge, but admitting you were wrong about who you are. And that is simply something people will avoid by any means of rationalization they have at their disposal.
I don't really see a way you could prepare people to avoid that pitfall. One thing is certain though, making them sign contracts will not solve it. (But of course it is still important from a legal perspective.)
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written by Careyp74, July 17, 2009
Well, it was gracious of you to give her an out. Having a magician do the testing allowed her to give the explanation that she was cheated, and the general public, including the believers of dowsing and woo, are not going to look past that. It doesn't matter how much explanation you give for the protocol, and how it was air tight, a simple "hey, lets just have a regular person administer the test" would have done worlds better.
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written by Sc00ter, July 17, 2009
I think that the fact that everybody in the audience complied with being totally silent is a testament that we all wanted the protocol followed.

Not only that, I think I speak for a lot of people that were there that we WANTED her to do it. What would it be like to be able to tell people that you were there for the first person to demonstrate psychic abilities in a proper test setting?
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written by joed, July 17, 2009
please help, i am confused. what did sonne say that is so terible. cane i fine a link to her words about the outcome?
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..., Lowly rated comment [Show]
protocol design
written by voet, July 17, 2009
Could a card handler, with perfect knowledge before entering the room, and some skill with card manipulation, have affected the result ?

If Connies test had succeeded, that is a question I would have been asking myself.

If the answer is not "obviously not", then the protocol should be improved.

Connie Sonne obviously believes in her own claims as much as most of us don't believe in them. And she apparently does not think it is obvious that the card handler could not affect the outcome.

But then, she believes in the supernatural. Does she believe that a card handler without supernatural abilities could possibly have affected the outcome ? Do you ?

Not did. Could have.
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written by Sc00ter, July 17, 2009
Banachek was used because he would be able to notice any trickery. It was the talk in the bar after the challenge that we thought it was odd that she agreed, but you know what, she agreed, and she knew what he did for a living.

Connie's claiming that Banachek cheated, isn't that very clear from the article?
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written by TheSkepticCanuck, July 17, 2009
joed:

It should be mentioned that no matter who did the testing, she could have claimed that the person was trained by Randi, or any other magician friend of the JREF, on the card manipulation techniques needed to accomplish this supposed cheat. I don't think the JREF could have done any more than they have already done to ensure that it was a fair test, and as someone who eagerly watched at home, I could see no inappropriateness to the test process. This was a good test, and most importantly, one she agreed to months ago, as well as when she took to the stage and signed the contract. At any time she could have Googled "Banachek" and received all the information she would need to know about him. Her claims of cheating are nothing more than sour grapes.
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It figures, unfortunatly...
written by CasaRojo, July 17, 2009
Initially I felt bad for Sonne (I watched live via ustream). Not anymore and it'll be a very cold day when I feel sympathy for any of these charlatans again. I hate to say it and I dislike feeling prejudiced but they all seem so very predictable.
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written by jensfiederer, July 17, 2009
The tricky thing is, if you believe in the supernatural, and in your own powers....

Isn't it much easier to believe that some powerful magician (and who is to say that Banachek isn't faking his skills by using REAL psychic powers) is monkeying with your results by using telekinetic teleportation than it is to believe you were deceiving yourself about your own powers all along?
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written by TDjazz, July 17, 2009
No matter who the official tester was, Sonne would have cried foul. She had two options: be gracious and learn from the experience, or cry foul and claim the tester cheated. She'll still make a good living off her "skills" and attract delusional believers, so I don't feel sorry for her.
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Answers for joed
written by Rustylizard, July 17, 2009
@joed – “What did Connie Sonne say that was so terrible” … & “why Banacheck?”

I copied and pasted this quote from Sonne from the JR forum … “Hi out there...now I know why Banacheck was "the card handler". I have been cheated. I did find the right cards. And there is one more thing. At the stage, Banacheck said to me BEFORE he even looked in the envelope I had cut...and here is spade ace, the one you looked for!!!! I first hit me now about that ....but maybe you can see it yourself if someone get the video. I don`t care about the money, that wasn`t the reason why I came. So no matter what you think out there......I was CHEATED!!!!!”

Why Banacheck? Some challengers are versed in the arts of deception, and when you are offering up a million dollars as prize money you have to be careful and protect your own interests – you need someone who can spot deceptive techniques. An average Joe like me would not be able to spot those techniques and would be unsuitable for the task.
smilies/smiley.gif
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written by skyhand, July 17, 2009
The test seemed incredibly fair and open. As I watched the test online I was looking for something that could allow for cheating. There just wasn't any thing in the procedure that could be challenged. Banachek's hands were visible at all times during the test. There just wasn't any way that he could have altered the test in anyway. I was somewhat surprised at her reaction at the end of the test. I was betting though that her opinion of the test would change before a week had passed. My friend thought it would take two weeks. What a surprise I won that bet.
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Video replay?
written by K. Söse, July 17, 2009
Will the video recording of the test be available on the JREF site soon?
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Video
written by GusGus, July 17, 2009

JREF: Can you please make the video of the test available? I was able to watch some TAM sessions live, but I also missed some. I'm sure many others are in the same boat.
.
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Bus full of psychic skeptics
written by Karl_Withakay, July 17, 2009
After the challenge, a number of us caught the hotel shuttle to the airport at the same time. We all discussed the challenge and how we were surprised she agreed to Banachek as the tester, but the point has already been made that Connie could always claim any tester was trained by Randi.

We talked about how we all felt sorry for her because she seemed to really believe in her powers, and it must have been very embarrassing to fail 0/3 in front of so many people. We talked about the people you really want to humiliate in front of a crowd like that are the people who will never take the challenge- the people who know they are frauds.

We also talked about how neat it would have been if she had succeeded, and I wondered if anyone had strong enough skills of deception to be able to ever pass a MDC w/o actual paranormal powers. Consider that actually winning the MDC would not be "proof" of paranormal abilities, but strong support that further research is warranted. Remember, science is repeatable, and n=1 is not strong evidence. That fact that nobody has ever passed the preliminary challenge is very compelling evidence that paranormal abilities are some combination of very rare, very weak, very inconsistent, or very non-existent.

We also all predicted that Connie would eventually claim to have been cheated by Banacheck. (I'll take my share of the $1 million in a certified check, thanks. smilies/wink.gif ) It's the obvious recourse to the close minded believer that knows that what they believe in is absolutely, incontrovertibly true, and any evidence to the contrary, no matter how strong, must be flawed. It's also the obvious recourse to the fraud who thought they could use skills of deception to win the challenge, or who intended to fail the challenge just so they could claim fraud by the JREF and get some free publicity in the process. I suppose it doesn't really matter which of those Connie is.
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written by georgegw, July 17, 2009
Yes, well written Ms. Smith. I'm surprised that Connie did not use the obvious (and perhaps plausible) excuse of "My command of English is not good, and I did not truly and completely understand the testing procedure I agreed to".
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written by mama1974, July 17, 2009
Yep, it didn't work because some one cheated. She might want to start dowsing for her self-respect.
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written by scottelittle, July 17, 2009
Thank you, Alison. It was quite obvious there was no way Banachek or the JREF could have cheated.
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written by Rustylizard, July 17, 2009
@ Skyhand

“I was betting though that her opinion of the test would change before a week had passed.”

I tried to bet my wife it would be less than a couple of days, but being familiar with the chapter about testing some dowsers in Randi’s book, Flim-Flam, she wouldn’t take me up on it. Here’s a quote from Flim-Flam: After all the candidates failed the test, one of the dowsers said, “‘We are lost.’ But two minutes later he launched into a long tirade about everything from sunspots to geomagnetic variables, though nothing he said in any way excused the dreadful failure that was evident.”

Years ago, I tried to convince a relative who had been taught how to dowse for water that there was really nothing to it. I pointed out that he lived near a lake, and no matter where he looked, water would be found a few feet below the surface; his rod should point down anywhere. This logic had no effect. I showed him Randi’s book, and when he saw a picture of the dowsing test area, where plastic pipes had been placed to channel the water, he said, “Ah ha! You can’t dowse through plastic pipes.” So I learned that day that you can dowse through hundreds of feet of earth and rock to find water, but a quarter of an inch of plastic will thwart you every time. I gave up. This man was very dear to me, and rational in every other way.

So Sonia’s reversal did not surprise me, but I wish she had claimed an alien had given her a brain-fart rather than attack the organization that had given her a very fair chance.

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written by jensfiederer, July 17, 2009
That litany of precautions might very well impress a rationalist. All very well when you're preaching to the choir.

But the omissions speak just as loud to the other side:

Did they even BOTHER to draw a pentagram around her to shield her from any demons Randi might have conjured?
Did they even OFFER her a tin-foil hat to wear to protect her from JREF's mind-control rays?
Was the right incense burning to block out the atmosphere of disbelief?

You might say she should have stipulated such measures in the design of the test .... but keep in mind that BEFORE the test she was under the impression that a fair, impartial organization would be revealing the powers she knew she possessed.

Only afterwards, when the powers she knew that she had failed to work on this ONE odd occasion - only THEN did she begin to suspect the vast organization of powerful sorcerers that successfully suppressed her.

Next time, if she has the courage to appear again.....next time, she will know better.

And I'm sure the test will be much funnier.
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written by GoddessGeek, July 17, 2009
I attended the press conference after the completion of the challenge. Ms. Sonne was quite confident that 'they' did not yet want to be revealed. She repeatedly stated that she knew 'the truth' and that it would eventually be revealed. Under repeated (and polite) questioning, she seemed to indicate that *they* directed her to the incorrect cards in order to not yet be revealed.

It was only after the fact that she claimed cheating. Listening to her talk about the challenge as well as how she has known the locations of the missing girl from England (whose name I do not remember but who is still missing), I came away with the impression of a woman who is not a charlatan but who is delusional.
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written by alfaniner, July 17, 2009
Gee, what do you think she would have said if she had gotten one, or even two of the cards right? Even though it would not be statistically significant enough to have passed, the outcry would be the same or greater.

I know several prelim challenges have been performed and this may already be being done, but I have a suggestion. Rather than have the parties memorize the protocol (as appeared to have been done here), use a checklist that is open and obvious to everyone, and mark off the steps as they are completed.
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Nice Job Alison!
written by daverich7, July 17, 2009
I just want to congratulate Alison on writing a very clear, thorough, yet concise summary of the steps taken to ensure fairness in the test. I commented elsewhere in the forum that Banacheck was always in full view of the audience. Also as I recall he had no jacket and his sleeves rolled up for the entire test. Of course most of us know one can still palm things off and secrete them / replace them. But for that to happen his hands would need to go to a pocket or out of sight somewhere in order to make the swap, which I'm pretty sure never happened (and if it did happen it wouldn't be too bright because it would be visible on the video record).

I agree that Ms. Sonne is not a charlatan or a bad person. She merely has a misperception of reality. The sad thing is she seems unwilling to be educated by her experience. Will she ever simply test herself using a similar protocol to the one used here? I suspect not. Because she is already sure. And "sureness" is not knowledge, in fact you could say they are incompatible.
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written by Kuroyume, July 17, 2009
A few mentioned it so far but it is not in our interests to provide for supernatural forces (drawing pentagrams, making proper incantations, exorcisms). We should never bow to ideas about demons interfering or chakras not aligning and so on. Why? Because that is not how science works. These things are not measurable let alone not evidenced therefore they do not belong in a scientific experiment or test.

These claimants can claim supernatural interference on either side all they want - they still have to provide evidence for the supernatural. I saw no way for Banachek to cheat on this unless there was some vast conspiracy between him, the JREF, and South Point. Maybe the only way to make that more transparent would be to have someone go on stage before the test, in full view of the audience, stuff the envelopes with the cards, and leave without contacting Banachek or Ms. Sonne before they began.

While I feel sorry for people who claim such interference, usually from Randi's bad vibes, at least that reasoning is respectful. Claims of cheating are not.
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The failings here...
written by Griz, July 17, 2009
...are twofold. Randi knew what kind of cards were in the envelope long beforehand and could have communicated that to Banacek. Banacek knew what number was being doused for and could have substituted cards to ensure failure. The person opening the envelope and displaying the card should have been unaware of the target number.

But these are minor things and the only real impact on the test is that they give the testee an excuse to use. On the other hand, you will accept this testing methodology if you believe: 1) Randi really has no motive to cheat (i.e. the million really exists and is not accessable to him if it's not won, I know there's documentation and so forth, but I don't feel like that's too hard to fake); 2) Banacek wouldn't cheat if he could. Personally I believe Randi when he says he has no motive to cheat and besides wouldn't even if he did. I do not believe in a lot of these tests that there was NO way for anyone to have cheated.
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written by ReneV, July 17, 2009
An argument in favour of Banachek: as a trained performer, he is in likelihood aware of body posture and arm movements in ways others would not be. This suggests to me that close study of the video of the event is less likely to turn up any suspect or non-transparent behaviour on his part.
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Sue her
written by gabriel, July 17, 2009
I was lucky enough to watch the test over the streaming connection. As soon as the first card was revealed it was clear that she had failed the test. I wondered what her excuse would be. So very few ever seem to learn from their experiences. I had heard that "they" didn't want her to win and thought that would be the excuse. Now she is engaged in libel and slander. Sue her. Truth and facts might not have any place in the world of woo but they should still be guarded jealously in the real world.
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Try this Connie
written by Olowkow, July 17, 2009
Connie might want to buy a deck of cards, remove the face cards, shuffle, pick 10, arrange them face down, write down a number from 1 to 10, get the dowsing thingy, and dowse for the card number corresponding to the written number. No one in the room but Connie.
Repeat three times.

If it does not work, Connie has no one to blame but herself.
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This is why I prefer the natural world and its laws...
written by Brownian, July 17, 2009
to the supernatural: the former work consistently. No matter whether or not a mentalist knows in what order my tires were last rotated, my car still starts in the morning. Conversely, no amount of supplication to mysterious 'entities' will cause the battery to turn over in -30° winter weather--at least not with the consistency of a good ol' fashioned block heater, plugged in of course.

I was present in the audience, and my only criticism of the protocols is that there should have been a camera recording the process from directly above the table.
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written by icepick, July 17, 2009
Thank you for the detailed explanation, Allison. I think it goes a long way to show how serious the JREF takes the MDC tests and the lengths you go to try and make it fair.
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Here is the video of the test!
written by NeilSeaver, July 17, 2009
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhoW6_2H4aE
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written by Sastra, July 17, 2009
She says she was "cheated" -- if she were really psychic, shouldn't she have seen that coming?
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written by Ryan Noble, July 17, 2009
As a skeptic I have to say that it was a mistake to allow a magician handle the cards.

OK, fine ... "mentalist" ... it's all the same woo to me. We have to remember that every magician begins his trick with some compelling and elaborate pretense of transparency ... it's an important and almost ritualistic part of every magic performance. They usually call random audience members to the stage to examine the magic box or ask them to write their signature on the magic bullet or examine the content of the magician's sleeves. The more complex the vetting ritual, the more impressed the audience becomes when the trick is accomplished. But evolved audiences will be thinking "sure, he went through great lengths to prove there was no trickery ... but he's a *magician* so he surely tricked us *somehow* we just don't know how."

And so here we are. An air-tight test involving a series of envelopes and signatures, a strange-looking 10 sided dice, and all kinds of other rituals that the average science illiterate cannot distinguish from any other prelude to a magic trick ... and then you have a *Magician* (nothing up his sleeves, mind you) unveil the results. TA DAAA! Why *wouldn't* audience members untrained in the scientific method and experimental test procedures think "I don't know how Banachek did it, but surely he tricked us all *somehow*"

Of course other posters are correct. Some people will cry foul no matter how the test is handled. But as skeptics we should be doing a better job at helping the public understand skepticism. With a 1600 member audience in the house, they could easily have assigned each chair a 4 digit number. After Connie finished her predictions, they could have had Randi select the first and third number of an audience seat, and Connie the second and last number of the seat. You then have a fairly random audience member that both Connie and Randi can feel comfortable with opening the envelopes. It wouldn't have convinced those who truly want to believe in Connie's powers, but the removal of a "magician" from the process would have created more confidence amongst skeptics who are not entirely versed in experimental procedures.
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written by cwniles, July 17, 2009
I wonder why you would expect someone with an irrational set of beliefs to react in a rational fashion.

It seems to me that this type of reaction would be the norm as oopessed to the exception when dealing with the delusional.
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written by cwniles, July 17, 2009
ooops, I meant "opposed"
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American Idol Comparison
written by AICHinEdmonton, July 17, 2009
It seems to me that there are quite a few similarities between the folks who do not succeed with the $1M Preliminary Challange and the folks who fail spectacularly at the American Idol Preliminary Auditions. In both cases, it seems that these folks have only performed in front of friends, family and like-minded (like-skilled)individuals. In the case of the American Idol contestents, the audition is probably the first time that they have perfromed in fornt of a critical and knowledgeable audience. In the case of the preliminary challange folks, this is probably the first time that they have tried a proper double blind test. In each case, the individuals "know" that they can sing very well or "know" that they have ESP of one sort or another. When it is pointed out to the A. I. contestants that they cannot sing, they usually fly off the handle immediately. The preliminary challange participants usually take a while to get upset and start throwing accusations. I suspect that this is because the challange participants have been treated with respect from start to finish. In both cases, though, the individuals have deluded themselves into thinking that they can perform, and nobody is going to tell them otherwise.
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written by Brownian, July 17, 2009
So, AICHinEdmonton, you're saying we need a JREF version of Simon Cowell?

I can see it now: as Connie opens the very first envelope, Banachek holds his head in his hands, and in a voice tinged with the frustration of tedium, exclaims "Stop! That was that absolute worst performance I've ever seen: you're done," while Alison reassures her that she's "not bad; just not right for this contest."
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written by jdodd74, July 17, 2009
From her original complaint: "At the stage, Banacheck said to me BEFORE he even looked in the envelope I had cut...and here is spade ace, the one you looked for!!!!"

I just watched the video (link posted by NealSeaver, above), and this doesn't even come close to describing what happened. She is, of course, way out of line.
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written by Brownian, July 17, 2009
jdodd74, I believe she is referring to the post-test component, in which the remaining twenty-seven envelopes were opened, one-by-one, to demonstrate that all ten cards from each suit were indeed there and selectable, including the three she was supposed to have selected, and thus the deck wasn't stacked in any way.

At least, that's what I assume she's referring to. The test itself as posted on YouTube and linked to by NeilSeaver clearly shows no such 'premonition' on the part of Banachek.
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written by redwench, July 17, 2009
She doesn't claim to be psychic, her claim is about dowsing and its ability to detect . So, no, I would not expect her to know in advance that she would be "cheated", or, as the rest of us would say, fail the challenge.
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How Would You Do it?
written by degroof, July 17, 2009
I spent some time trying to look at it from the point of view of how I would rig the results if I were in their place. That is, assume you're up against a genuine dowser (yes I know) and you want to ensure they fail. How would you do it?

I came up with one scheme that would require a conspiracy of at least two people, a means of marking the envelopes that's invisible to everyone but the card handler and a way for the card handler to alter the dowser's choices (e.g. alter the swing of the pendulum or "force" a card on the dowser).

That's the best I can do and it makes a lot of assumptions. Anyone able to do better?
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written by Kuroyume, July 17, 2009
She says she was "cheated" -- if she were really psychic, shouldn't she have seen that coming?


Remember that the 'forces that be' and exist out of our perview have their own agendas. The alluded-to 'they' must not want anyone to experimentally verify their existence. Same conundrum for most godly beings - believers know they exist but the beings never leave evidence. It's a great out.
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Shame
written by 18pct, July 17, 2009
Connie's accusations originated on the JREF forums here: http://forums.randi.org/showpo...tcount=271

It's a shame, I watched the test online and a lot of people in the chat commented on how well she handled the test and her graciousness in failing. Its unfortunate to see such a turnaround from someone who not only agreed to the setup, but also the administer of the test well in advance.

It seems she's even worse at dowsing for excuses than she is at dowsing for playing cards.
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written by Caller X, July 17, 2009
Is the fact that she missed completely statistically significant in a test this small? I seem to recall (which means I recall but can't prove the thing I recall) that in the Rhine experiments someone never having a hit was considered an interesting result.

I did enjoy Banachek back when he was a high-flying insurance investigator, and always seemed just on the edge of banging that lady Carly. A latter-day Johnny Dollar.
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written by Otara, July 17, 2009
AN excuse will always be found.

The thing is it basically is arguing that the Foundation would rather hold on to 1 million dollars rather than see real evidence that such an incredible thing as paranormal powers actually exists.

Which is ludicrous unless one goes down the lines above ie that there are vast shadowy organisations etc, and in that case the onus is on those people to show they exist. Whereupon they cant because of the evil mindpowers and media control, etc etc etc.

Very sad really.
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written by Steel Rat, July 17, 2009
I came away with the impression of a woman who is not a charlatan but who is delusional.


Let's split the difference, she's a delusional charlatan.

Let's face it, if you remove the real reason for dowsing (ideomotor effect)


The reason for dowsing is to bilk people out of their money, plain and simple. The reason some may get results is due to the ideomotor effect.
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"They" don't like her very much.
written by Tricky, July 17, 2009
written by GoddessGeek, July 17, 2009

I attended the press conference after the completion of the challenge. Ms. Sonne was quite confident that 'they' did not yet want to be revealed. She repeatedly stated that she knew 'the truth' and that it would eventually be revealed. Under repeated (and polite) questioning, she seemed to indicate that *they* directed her to the incorrect cards in order to not yet be revealed.

If Sonne's contention were truly the case, then it appears that 'they' don't like her very much to play such a cruel trick on her and embarrass her in public. If 'they' had wanted to remain unrevealed, 'they' would have just stayed silent instead of feeding her incorrect answers.
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I am Psychic
written by Michael K Gray, July 17, 2009
My prediction on this matter, in a previous comment on another thread, turned out to be 100% accurate!
Even down to the grace-turning-to-blame timimg!

Where's my $1m? smilies/wink.gif
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Probabilities in test
written by ianmacm, July 17, 2009
Although it may seem counterintuitive, getting no correct answers is by far the most likely outcome here. There were three trials with a probability of success of 0.1 each time. The overall probabilities are:

No correct answers: 0.729 (approx 73% of the time).
1 correct answer: 0.243 (approx 24% of the time).
2 correct answers: 0.027 (approx 3% of the time)
3 correct answers: .001 (1 in 1000, the prize is won).

Calculated with http://stattrek.com/Tables/Binomial.aspx
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written by Karl_Withakay, July 18, 2009
"Is the fact that she missed completely statistically significant in a test this small? I seem to recall (which means I recall but can't prove the thing I recall) that in the Rhine experiments someone never having a hit was considered an interesting result. "

To expand on ianmacm's comment, she only had about a 3 in 10 (30%) chance of getting at least one correct answer. Statistically, she was unlikely (but not unlikely in the extreme) to get even one answer correct.
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And of course, the JREF ends up going defensive...
written by Metatron, July 18, 2009
...Which is rot.

Connie should have (and probably did) known exactly how this test was going to go down. I can't understand why she didn't practice this on her own a few times beforehand. Is there any documented evidence of her apparent successful dowsing?

Is it paranormal to be able to accurately predict the future? Plenty of people here have done so, sucessfully. Or so it would seem. Except we were (most of us, anyway) pretty damned sure she would fail, because every real test of dowsing to date has demonstrated it does nothing. This challenge adds yet another rigorous test to the pile.

Well done, JREF. Good science, obviously.

And of course, Connie has earned scorn for her accusations after her failure.
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Predictable
written by Liveliest Crib, July 18, 2009
As others here have noted, the dowser's response is perfectly predictable. In fact, I'd have been surprised had she remained gracious, and admitted failure.

Thing is, there is nothing anyone could do to convince the Sonnes of the world that their powers do not exist. A sufficiently creative mind hell-bent on maintaining its delusions will rationalize in spectacular fashion to do so.

The test conductor cheated! Psychics were planted throughout the audience to mess with my head during the test! God's perfect plan required my failure that day! Invisible leprechauns sneaked into the envelopes and changed their contents!

Whatever it takes. Our conclusions are limited by measurable observation; theirs only by their imaginations.
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No Contest on failure clause
written by Kimo, July 18, 2009
Would it be possible to require a person who signs the protocol agreement on stage and agrees on stage that they failed the test to give up ownership of bond on escrow which will only be returned to them if they do not dispute the methodology for the next three years?
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@Sc00ter
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
Banachek was used because he would be able to notice any trickery. It was the talk in the bar after the challenge that we thought it was odd that she agreed, but you know what, she agreed, and she knew what he did for a living.


That doesn't mean that the JREF should have gone ahead and used him.
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@ the Skeptic canuck
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
At any time she could have Googled "Banachek" and received all the information she would need to know about him.
Perhaps she did know all about him and used him for that very reason - to give her a out for her failure.
The Jref should simply not have used him regardless of Connie's acquiescence.
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@ Rusty Lizard
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
Why Banacheck? Some challengers are versed in the arts of deception, and when you are offering up a million dollars as prize money you have to be careful and protect your own interests – you need someone who can spot deceptive techniques. An average Joe like me would not be able to spot those techniques and would be unsuitable for the task.

How does that justify using him as a participant in the actual test rather than simply as an observer.
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@ skyhand
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
There just wasn't any way that he could have altered the test in anyway.
Unless you are a professional magician....
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@ Karl_withakay
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
We also all predicted that Connie would eventually claim to have been cheated by Banacheck.
So you agree that he should not have been used?
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@ Geek Goddess
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
I came away with the impression of a woman who is not a charlatan but who is delusional.
How reliable is your impression?
Do you think it is at all possible that Connie is just a very good charlatan who has used the JREF in order to get some free publicity and used Banachek as an excuse for failing the test?
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@Sastra
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
She says she was "cheated" -- if she were really psychic, shouldn't she have seen that coming?
Is that a joke or do you think this is a serious question.
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@ x
written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
Is the fact that she missed completely statistically significant in a test this small? I seem to recall that in the Rhine experiments someone never having a hit was considered an interesting result.
Here are the odds:

She picked (dowsed for) one card out of 10 on 3 successive tries. The odds are therefore as follows:

3 correct: 1 in 1000
2 correct: 27 in 1000
1 correct: 243 in 1000
0 correct: 729 in 1000

Hmmm...

BJ
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written by BillyJoe, July 19, 2009
I see ianmacm beat me to the odds, although it seems he cheated by using an online calculator. smilies/grin.gif
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The best possible outcome
written by Willy K, July 19, 2009
Yup, I think Ms. Sonne's final reaction IS the best possible outcome. Her whining is just the kind of thing to raise the press visibility of the entire event. The firmly entrenched woo-sters will dig themselves in a little deeper of course, but I expect a small minority of the fence-sitting woo-sters to now at least seriously question the extraordinary claims made by the typical woo-ster.
smilies/tongue.gif
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Bart Farkas's Response
written by Bartmon, July 19, 2009
As Alison so accurately mentioned, I was with Connie from the time she entered the Casino until the moment she left the Casino (about 3 hours). I recorded most of our conversations on a digital audio recorder (with her explicit permission). The only person other than myself to speak to Ms. Sonne was the Casino technician, a gentleman called 'Big Country' (obviously not his real name but is what he goes by at work) who put a wireless microphone on Connie and tested it (this took about 2 minutes). The rest of what Alison says is 100% accurate.

There was no contact at all between Connie and anyone but me, and moreover the tables were set up by Casino staff and were basic, folding tables with clear views under both of them.

During the test I was standing about 10-15 feet behind Connie and had a clear view of her and Banachek. In my opinion Banachek new the card before he pulled it entirely out of each envelope because when he grabbed the envelope he squeezed them a little (so that he could put a finger on the card to pull it out, they were in very tightly) and he could see the edge of the card and therefore knew which number it was. That seemed quite obvious. The pains he went to in order to ensure that Connie cut the envelopes and that he clearly wasn't touching them were impressive.

Immediately after the test Connie repeatedly told me that she didn't win because the entitities that talk to her 'didn't want her to win because it wasn't time'. At no point either after the test, or after the press conference (or indeed, after the final interview with Mark Edward) did Connie suggest that she was cheated. She repeatedly said that the JREF was very fair and honest.

That's my two cents.

Bart
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Liar
written by pxatkins, July 20, 2009
charletan or delusional? What's the non-PC label for someone who says things that they know to be untrue?
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Non-PC label
written by Michael K Gray, July 20, 2009
What's the non-PC label for someone who says things that they know to be untrue?

Bogus?
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written by Soapy Sam, July 20, 2009
Am I mistaken, or is this sort of "turnaround after the event" not quite common in these tests? (ie the contestant admits to failure in a fair test initially, but later recants after thinking up a possible (however incredible) way out).

This reminds me of the denial of left side paralysis in cases of right hemisphere stroke described by neurologist writers such as V.S.Ramachandran and Oliver Sacks. There is no question that the patients believe their rationalisations in these cases.

In fact the similarity is so striking, I can't help wondering if the same neural mechanism is involved.
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@BillyJoe
written by Karl_Withakay, July 21, 2009
So you agree that he should not have been used?


No, As I stated in the other part of my comment, Connie could have always claimed any tester was trained by Randi.

You usually can't win against people who aren't thinking rationally, except in the eyes of the people who are. The MDC is never going to convince hard core true believers that they might be mistaken; it's useful to educate the credulous but uninformed and the fence sitters.

The testing could have been done by an independent auditing agency under the supervision of a JREF official, and Connie would have found an excuse to rationalize her failure, such as negative psychic energy, or her first excuse that the spirits weren't ready to reveal themselves.

Bottom line, Connie had full prior knowledge of the conditions of the protocol, which were negotiated between herself and the JREF, and she agreed fully to the conditions of the test, which she agreed were fair. She didn't have a problem with Banacheck as the tester until she failed, and she didn't accuse him or the JREF of cheating until well after that failure.

The sad thing is that she probably actually believes she was cheated because that is the only explanation that fits satisfactorily with her belief in her powers.
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More like a spoiled child than a stroke victim.
written by Brownian, July 21, 2009
Soapy Sam wrote:

This reminds me of the denial of left side paralysis in cases of right hemisphere stroke described by neurologist writers such as V.S.Ramachandran and Oliver Sacks. There is no question that the patients believe their rationalisations in these cases.

In fact the similarity is so striking, I can't help wondering if the same neural mechanism is involved.



I doubt it. In denial of paralysis, the 'denial' is automatic--the brain erroneously tells the patient that there is no paralysis and the patient simply responds accordingly.

In Ms. Sonne's case, she apparently had some time to mull over what happened and toss out a few possible explanations before she settled on one that was most protective of her belief system (first "the spirits decided it wasn't time to 'reveal' themselves", now "Banachek cheated".)

There's definitely denial going on here, but the spirits tell me it's psychological rather than neurological.
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Connnie's press conference
written by Richard, July 21, 2009
I'll be playing the audio from Connie's press conference on Friday's Skeptic Zone Podcast. You will hear her say clearly that she thought the test was fair.
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written by BillyJoe, July 21, 2009
Bottom line, Connie had full prior knowledge of the conditions of the protocol, which were negotiated between herself and the JREF, and she agreed fully to the conditions of the test, which she agreed were fair.

But how much experience does she have in test design? I would guess that she probably has none. So, how reliable is her agreement that this is a satisfactory test of her claimed abilities?
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@BillyJoe
written by Karl_Withakay, July 22, 2009
But how much experience does she have in test design? I would guess that she probably has none. So, how reliable is her agreement that this is a satisfactory test of her claimed abilities?


Are we still dealing with her claims of fraud or are we now discussing whether the protocol, as designed, was capable of properly testing her abilities?

In regards to the first, she knew ahead of time that she would be tested by Banacheck and had plenty of time to research who he was and object to him as the tester. In regards to the second, she had full knowledge of the protocol ahead of time and was strongly encouraged to test herself using that protocol (minus Banacheck, of course) before traveling across the world to Las Vegas.

You've actually nailed the point right on the head, though. If she had any understanding of good test design, she would have already properly tested herself and determined that she did not posses any paranormal powers. I suppose it's also possible that she understood how to conduct a controlled experiment and had just not done so, but, in my opinion, that would make her stupid as well as delusional.
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written by BillyJoe, July 23, 2009
Karl,

I am simply saying that, if the JREF truely believes there is no paranormal ability, it has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by bending over backwards to help the contestants. They're not going to win anyway, right? So why not watch them lose despite all possible help being given to them

In fact, the JREF does bend over backward to help contestants (though sometimes they make mistakes). And their attitute when dealing with the contestants is not that there is no paranormal ability, you idiot, but please show me your paranormal ability because I would really like to see an example of that phenomenon.

BJ
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Project Alpha was cheating.
written by weirdloser, August 02, 2009
As most of you know, in the early 80's at Randi's behest Banachek and Michael Edwards convinced a group of scientists studying the paranormal that they (Banachek and Edwards) were psychics. They did it by using conjuring tricks to cheat on the "foolproof" tests. It was totally awesome! It showed how gullible even scientists can be. I salute Banachek for Project Alpha.
Since Banachek has shown the ability and willingness to cheat on tests of paranormal abilities, I don't see how it's offensive for Connie Sonne to think he's cheating now. Project Alpha rocked, but I think it disqualified Banachek from participating in any other such tests. Banachek was a terrible choice.
Connie did agree to Banachek. She could have checked him out. She didn't because she trusted the JREF. She said so repeatedly. It's JREF's responsibility to make the MDC look fair, not the applicant's.

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@ weirdloser
written by BillyJoe, August 03, 2009
It's JREF's responsibility to make the MDC look fair, not the applicant's.

You've hit the nail on the head.

BJ
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written by debunkerina, February 25, 2010
There's a discussion of this on the JREF MDC forum fyi.
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