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$50,000 Paranormal Challenge

05/06/2007 The Paranormal Challenge

The $50,000 Challenge was presented on May 6, 2007. The event was so successful that we decided to post the video on our website. Hopefully, it will inspire skeptical groups in other cities to attempt something similar. With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to explain some of the thinking and planning that went into our event.

Nigel's test results.

We knew that the biggest challenge would be convincing a room full of skeptics that we had agreed to test a psychic under conditions that were clearly not ideal. We addressed that concern head-on by explaining that our applicant had agreed to a much higher than usual threshold when judging the ratio of "hits" to "misses". Meanwhile, the IIG retained the right to change the conditions or adjust the protocols slightly mid-test. This "cover" story seemed to satisfy, although there were several members of the audience who (to their credit!) remained dubious.

We were somewhat surprised to find that some of the cheating methods we thought were rather "obvious" sailed right past many people in the audience. This brings up another important aspect of the presentation. Although we were certainly keeping some vital information from the audience, we took pains during the testing phase to insure that the "clues" were in full view -- if they were watching or listening carefully. It might seem like a small point, but the fact that we gave the audience ample opportunity to detect the fraud made the revelation that the whole thing was staged much more palatable.

We wanted the audience to be one step ahead of us, or at least give them every chance to be. Even so, we rarely lingered on any one phase of the test for more than 3 or 4 cards, at which point we would implement a new condition. This way even the most passive member of the audience might, upon seeing the change made in the conditions, realize what the problem had been.

A final thought. Audience members had been told in advance not to talk, react, gasp or make any movement that might give the psychic feedback. We didn’t anticipate the level of discomfort this would cause certain members of the audience, so when they started nearly jumping out of their seats to "alert" us to a problem we improvised somewhat by allowing them to whisper to an IIG member who then passed the information to one of the onstage investigators. If we had it to do again, we would offer a simple, less disruptive method for handling suggestions from the audience.

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