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Connie Sonne Preliminary Challenge Test at TAM 7

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 17, 2009


At the Amaz!ng Meeting 7, we conducted a Preliminary Challenge Test for the JREF million-dollar prize – the first time we’ve ever done this in front of a live audience. It was done with total transparency.  We invited all TAMgoers, as well as media representatives and famous skeptics and magicians, to attend a preliminary Challenge test of Ms. Connie Sonne.

For those who weren’t able to attend in person, we streamed the test live so those at home could watch from their computers. We had six hundred people watching from the audience, and 1,600 watching from home. The in-person audience included people like Penn and Teller, Mac King, Jamy Ian Swiss, Dr. Joe Albietz, and, of course, Randi. The video was viewed by people from all over the world, just as it happened in real time.

Connie Sonne had designed the parameters for her own test. She chose to dowse for the contents of double-enveloped playing cards on stage with the supervision of famous skeptic and mentalist, Banachek. She needed to identify three cards using her dowsing ability in order to pass to the Formal Challenge. She failed: she did not correctly identify any of the three cards, and her Challenge file has been closed – though she will be free to re-apply one year from the date of her test, assuming that she qualifies under the rules governing the Challenge at that time.

Sonne had agreed to give interviews and to participate in an exclusive press conference to discuss the procedure, following the test. Many in the audience were impressed at how gracefully she conducted herself despite having failed her test, while maintaining a firm belief in her dowsing abilities. The audience attending both the test and the press conference applauded her courage in appearing before so many people.

That opinion has since changed.

Sonne now claims that Banachek, who she agreed to accept as the official tester, had cheated her out of passing the preliminary test. As it happens, many individuals on both the JREF forums and attending the in-person press conference wondered aloud at our willingness to allow a “magician” to run the test, so I want to set the record straight.

Firstly, Banachek is a mentalist, not a magician. My response to the dissent in the press conference was pretty simple – Banachek simply did not have the opportunity to cheat in any way whatsoever. Even if you call him a “magician,” he is not actually magical. If I give a magician a top hat that I bought and searched, and never gave the magician any information on it before putting it in his hands, and then demanded that he make a rabbit appear from inside it, he would most probably be unable to do so. Magic seems unfathomable to an audience, but let’s face it, there is an explanation for each illusion that fits the laws of physics.