I came upon an article by Loyd Auerbach entitled RANDI’S CHALLENGE - A Big “So What!” (sic). (Now you see.) Auerbach was someone I’d previously only heard of as a “ghost hunter”. He’s one of these people who as I recall sets up electromagnetic detection devices in “haunted” sites and when he records some “anomaly”, claims he’s detected a ghost. Idiot. Anyway, he’s been bagging on Randi’s million dollar challenge, and he thinks he’s discovered a killer argument to put it down, and cover the fact that no one has been able to claim it. He asks a straw man skeptic: if a psychic won the million, would it “prove” the paranormal is true? I’ll quote a couple of lines from his article:
If someone won Randi's million dollars, would YOU accept that psychic abilities are real? Or even just possible?" I asked.
"Huh?" said the Skeptic.
"Would mainstream Science accept the probability of psi, if not the reality, if some psychic won Randi's million?" I asked.
"Uh-uh-huh?" said the Skeptic.
"Would the organized Skeptics accept that psi is real, or would they be more likely to believe that Randi was simply fooled, scammed out of his million? Would you?" I asked.
He concludes that since this made-up skeptic would still not believe in the paranormal, the challenge is a waste of time.
It is, frankly, mind-boggling that someone who claims he is "an adjunct Professor at JFK University" and "holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology… and a graduate degree in Parapsychology", could spout such monumental stupidity. Although his obvious misunderstanding of the scientific method might help explain the abysmal nature of parapsychological research.
I’ll explain. The answer to Auerbach’s question is: no, if someone won Randi’s million it would not prove they were psychic. The reason, as any science undergraduate (let alone an “adjunct Professor”), should know, is that one experiment never proves anything. Experiments have to be repeated, preferably using different methods. Certainly they need to be replicated by others. Many times. More importantly, science doesn’t attempt to prove things true; it tries to falsify things – prove them wrong. The principle of falsification is incorporated into the scientific method due to the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent:
Any argument of the following form is invalid:
If A then B
B, Therefore, A
If I am in Calgary, then I am in Alberta. I am in Alberta, thus, I am in Calgary. (Of course, even though the premises are true, I might be in Edmonton, Alberta.)
Or as Auerbach would have it:
- If psychics were real they would win Randi’s million
- Someone wins Randi’s million, therefore they are psychic
Do you see the fallacy? If someone wins the million, there could be several other reasons to explain why, apart from being psychic. Pure luck or cheating are just two of the obvious explanations. But what Auerbach is missing is the first part: if psychics were real they would win Randi’s million. And yet no one has. Randi’s challenge will never prove psychics real. But each time they fail (or refuse to take the test because they know they would fail), they prove psychics are not real. (Technically, the hypothesis that psychics are real is falsified. Many times. And in science, when a hypothesis is falsified enough times, you eventually decide it is probably false.)
This is the basic problem with parapsychological research – the sort of stuff Auerbach wastes his time on. They are trying to prove the paranormal true by finding things that they think they would see if the paranormal were true. But there are many other reasons to explain the results of parapsychology that don’t require us to believe in psychics. Their problem is they have no theory to falsify. This isn’t science. In Auerbach’s own words (punctuation corrected), parapsychology is not a benchmark for science... Why should we care?