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A Chance Encounter PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

I was recently at a gathering of skeptics. There were about 3 dozen people there, some of whom I knew, but many more who were strangers to me. One of these stood out a bit, and when I first noticed him, I knew he was going to want to speak with me.

He was soft-spoken, friendly, and over-dressed for the occasion. After patiently waiting for me to finish a conversation, he introduced himself.

"Hello, I'm Dave. I'm clairvoyant."

He went on to explain to me that he could predict the future, and had done so over 200 times. He claimed that it was only a matter of time before his abilities were recognized.

As this was social time, I engaged him a bit more than I would in a professional capacity. I asked him if he could predict next week's lottery. He laughed, saying, "You just don't understand how this works. I can predict events surrounded by trauma best." And after a pause, he added,  "I can easily predict baseball game scores, however."

Aha, a perfectly testable claim for the JREF $1,000,000 Challenge. So I asked him to apply, and started talking about the things he would need to gather. He stopped me mid-sentence: "I did apply. I was rejected."

Alison Smith handles all challenge claims these days, so I'm no longer familiar with the names of everyone who applies. I told Dave I'd have to check the files to see why he was rejected. But he knew why he was rejected: he couldn't meet the requirements of media presence and academic support.

Now consider this: a man claims he can predict baseball scores and yet can't find a reporter or even a blogger who will write about him, nor can he find anyone attached to a university to observe his ability. How can this be? Dave explained that it was very difficult for him to find people who would take him seriously, and that meeting these requirements wasn't as easy as I was suggesting.

This puzzles me. Rosemary Hunter, who claimed she could have God fill my bladder with urine (spontaneously) and then induce instant incontinence, was able to find a reporter to verify her story. Failed challenge claimant Connie Sonne had oodles of press coverage for her abilities as a psychic. And yet Dave, who is doing something that millions of gamblers hope to be able to do every week, can't find anyone.

What am I to make of this? Surely he must have tested this ability, right? Surely he must have written down "The Red Sox will win game 2 of the World Series 5-2", watched the game and verified his ability, right?

Actually, wrong.

My belief is that he hasn't done that at all. If he gave a prediction to any reporter and was correct, they WOULD pay attention. They'd have to—the enterprise of gambling exists only because abilities like this don't. Strong evidence that someone could predict the outcome of baseball games would change everything.

So, my conclusion is that he hasn't tested himself. He's confident he can do it; he believes he can do it - but Occam's Razor says he simply couldn't have tested it.

And this is why we ask challenge applicants to be sure that they've tested their ability thoroughly before applying. Too many don't test themselves because they so enjoy the feeling of being special, and don't want to ruin that feeling with incontrovertible evidence that they don't. If they wait until the challenge to test themselves, they can point to the JREF as a scapegoat, as Connie Sonne did.

Dave is able to apply again in May. I urge him to do so, but only after he tests himself. If he can really predict baseball game scores, I'd love to have a few choice numbers before the actual challenge takes place. I'm in Vegas often and could use the extra cash before the entire city shuts down and gambling becomes a thing of the past.