The NY Times Magazine had a feature on the Amazing Randi yesterday, “The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi.” It described one of the contestants in Randi’s most recent Million Dollar Challenge, Fei Wang:
“[Wang] claimed to have a peculiar talent: from his right hand, he could transmit a mysterious force a distance of three feet, unhindered by wood, metal, plastic or cardboard. The energy, he said, could be felt by others as heat, pressure, magnetism or simply “an indescribable change.” Tonight, if he could demonstrate the existence of his ability under scientific test conditions, he stood to win $1 million.”
Isn’t “an indescribable change” rather vague?
…..The Challenge organizers had spent weeks negotiating with Wang and fine-tuning the protocol for the evening’s test. A succession of nine blindfolded subjects would come onstage and place their hands in a cardboard box. From behind a curtain, Wang would transmit his energy into the box. If the subjects could successfully detect Wang’s energy on eight out of nine occasions, the trial would confirm Wang’s psychic power. …”
After two women failed to detect the “mystic force” the M.C. announced the contest was over.
“With two failures in a row, it was impossible for Wang to succeed. The Million Dollar Challenge was already over.”
You think they might have given him another chance or something.
“Stepping out from behind the curtain, Wang stood center stage, wearing an expression of numb shock, like a toddler who has just dropped his ice cream in the sand. He was at a loss to explain what had gone wrong; his tests with a paranormal society in Boston had all succeeded. Nothing could convince him that he didn’t possess supernatural powers. ‘This energy is mysterious,’ he told the audience. ‘It is not God.’ He said he would be back in a year, to try again.”
The article is here. If you don’t know who A. Randi is, you should read it.
Randi, much better known during Uri Geller spoon-bending days, has long been the guru to skeptics and fraudbusters, but also a hero to some critical psi believers like I.J. Good. Geller continually sued Randi for calling him a fraud. As such, I.J. Good warned me that I might be taking a risk in my use of “gellerization” in EGEK (1996), but I guess Geller doesn’t read philosophy of science. A post on “Statistics and ESP Research” and Diaconis is here.
I’d love to have seen Randi break out of these chains!
I don’t get why the article is called “The Unbelievable Skepticism of the Amazing Randi”, unless maybe it is implying that deep down he’s a believer? More likely they meant his work as a skeptic has been so amazing as to be unbelievable. Or something.
So Wang will come back in a year to try again. How many years do we expect he has to come back in order to win the prize? No doubt The Amazing Randi is aware of multiple comparisons effects etc. and will adjust next year’s conditions.