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There’s a $100,000 prize waiting for you if you can read minds, see the future or talk to the dead.
As long as you can prove it, that is.
Submit your superpower to scientific testing, and if you pass you’ll be the first to win the prize in its 37-year history.
The Australian Skeptics have offered the money, to be awarded to anyone who can prove they have psychic or paranormal powers, since it was founded in Melbourne in 1980.
“You get a lot of claims about people being able to read people’s minds or heal people from a distance,” Australian Skeptics Victoria’s Terry Kelly said, adding that most baulked at the challenge of confirming their claim.
“One of the catchphrases is, ‘Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’.
“It actually has to be proven in the way that any other scientific claim would be proved.”
Magicians vs psychics
With their focus on science, you might expect most active skeptics to be doctors, scientists or academics.
But Mr Kelly, for example, is a social worker who joined the movement 20 years ago after seeing “unscrupulous” people take advantage of his grieving clients.
“You had people who had lost a child going off to see clairvoyants, claiming the clairvoyant had spoken to their dead child,” he said.
Mr Kelly said many of those active in the skeptics community were comedians, professional gamblers or magicians.
Comedians, he said, “make a living out of seeing through bullshit” and the movement counted names such as Tim Minchin among its supporters.
Professional gamblers were rarely superstitious, Mr Kelly said, and understand about probability and chance.
“The magicians can see through [psychic] performances and they understand quite well how people can be fooled.”
Magicians have to balance their work as skeptics with their professional code, which demands they never reveal their tricks to the public.
Groups of magicians sometimes excuse themselves from skeptics meetings to hold private discussions about how a display of the paranormal might have been faked.
Water diviners are regular challengers
Canadian-American magician James Randi launched Australian Skeptics when he was brought out by entrepreneur Dick Smith to test the claims of water diviners.
The then-$50,000 prize was short of the $US1 million offered by Randi’s own foundation, however it has not been on offer since Randi’s retirement in 2015.
Water diviners have since been the most active participants in the $100,000 Challenge, as it is known, submitting their dowsing techniques to scientific testing on several occasions without success.
West Australian water diviner Ziggy Sieczka has expressed concern that dowsing may become a lost skill as speculation about the practice is “turning all the new recruits away”.
Paying winner would be worth the money
Mr Kelly said there had been fewer challengers for the prize in recent years, and Australian skeptics groups had been focused on debunking claims by homeopathy practitioners and anti-vaccine campaigners.
The $100,000 is still up for grabs, however, with a number of benefactors guaranteeing the prize.
“They’re reasonably confident that they won’t have to contribute, so it’s not that big a risk as far as they’re concerned,” Mr Kelly said.
“If anyone did actually prove some sort of paranormal power, it would change things so dramatically in certain areas that probably they would consider it worth paying the money.”