The True Costs of Winning a Million Dollar Skeptic Challenge

By unwitting guest contributor Dean Radin, PhD…

How to Summon a Supernatural Dimwit

Let’s say we want to win a million dollar prize for rigorously demonstrating something psychic in a scientifically acceptable way.

One of the best candidates at present is the ganzfeld telepathy experiment…

A session typically takes about an hour for the two participants. For the investigator it takes another hour to prepare and to close down the session…

First, we do a power analysis to determine how many repeated sessions we have to run. Let’s say for a million dollars we are required to achieve results associated with odds against chance of a million to one. That seems like a reasonable criterion for success…

We’ll design an experiment that is run in three phases, where each phase has the same parameters: p(chance) = 0.25, p(hypothesis) = 0.32, alpha = 0.003, power = 0.99. This means that if we assume that telepathy gives us a hit rate of 32%, then if we run this experiment we’ll have a 99% chance of getting a final p-value of 0.003 or better, i.e. good evidence for telepathy.

The power analysis tells us that we need to run N = 1,147 trials to achieve this result. So now we will run this same experiment two more times, get a result each time at least as good as p = 0.003, and then the combined p-value over all three phases will be one in a million or better, or odds against chance of at least a million to one.

This requires that we run a total of 1147 x 3 = 3441 sessions.

Say we pay each sender and receiver a modest $50 to help compensate their time and costs. So we need to budget $344,100 for participant compensation. And let’s say we run one session per workday, and we pay our investigator $80 per hour. That comes to 688 weeks or 14 years of effort assuming we run the experiment 48 weeks per year. For the investigator (we’ll assume one investigator, which is an underestimate), at two hours per session x 3441 sessions x $80, we end up with an investigator budget of $550,560.

Now we need a testing facility that provides exceptional security against cheating and will also allow independent observers, and perhaps the general public, to witness each session from afar. (Observers interested in monitoring this experiment are not going to camp out in the laboratory for 14 years to personally observe every session.) To do this, we could use a secure digital video recording system that streams encrypted data over the web to a secure site, and is also designed to detect any interception or tampering of the video record…

Click through to Dean Radin’s blog to read the punchline. Ironically, it seems that the JREF “Million Dollar Challenge” may be nothing more than a tax on the mathematically impaired (at best).


  1. It’s that classic puzzle, Randal, of the unstoppable force versus the unmovable object. Can an army of trolls suppress a mountain of scientific evidence supporting the normality of skills that you disingenuously continue to label as “paranormal” or “supernatural”?

    I suggest you dispatch an elite goon squad to the offices of Discover Magazine, which recently admitted the probable existence of retrocausation. My lab results demonstrated it years ago (and my good buddy Chris blogged about it in 2008), but the Magazine ignored those results until one of their own Holy Men of Conventional Physics directed them otherwise.

    Sarah Palin riding a dinosaur

    Much like the dinosaurs that captivate your creationist peers, Randal, your terrible reign is coming to an end.

  2. Casinos are built on the law of large numbers and the fact that most people bet stupidly when under the influence of alchohol or just plain don’t know the odds. When I hear someone say “but I have a system”, it re-affirms it in my mind that there is a sucker born every day. In the end the carnival hawker might as well say, “We will take your money”. And they will.

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