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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.


Sore Million Dollar Challenge Loser

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 14, 2009

Why are they such predictable sore loosers? Why Connie Sonne? If I had to make one psychic prediction I would bet everything that the MDC losers will inevitably claim that either they were cheated or that they did in fact pass the test with flying colors, even when they fall flat on their face.

Hi out there…now I know why Banacheck was “the card handler”. I have been cheated. I did find the right cards. And there is one more thing. At the stage, Banacheck said to me BEFORE he even looked in the envelope I had cut…and here is spade ace, the one you looked for!!!! I first hit me now about that ….but maybe you can see it yourself if someone get the video. I don`t care about the money, that wasn`t the reason why I came. So no matter what you think out there……I was CHEATED!!!!!

She capitalized the word cheated, so that settles that! Of course you were cheated dear Connie! Of course you did not do it for the money, dear Connie! May I suggest that next time you take the challenge and don’t do it for the money, that you arrange with the JREF to have the money donated, should you win, to the Red Cross or some other charity?


Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 13, 2009

Ok, so TAM 7 is over and you and I missed the most awesome skeptical conference in the world. Depressed? Don’t worry. I have been able to secure a detailed summary from many participants which I will reproduce below. Enjoy this summary of TAM 7 and plan to attend TAM 8 next year.

TAM 7 Summary


Randi’s TAM 7 Opening Speech transcript

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009


Written by Phil Plait

Today marks the official start of The Amaz!ng Meeting 7! The ceremonies were opened by Randi himself, and below is a transcript of his talk.

Greetings, all! First, welcome to The Amaz!ng Meeting 7. The JREF staff and I have been repeatedly astonished – if not “amazed” – at the steady growth of this annual event, and we are appropriately grateful and humble for your presence here. But, I must explain my somewhat subdued appearance…

This is what I call a major bummer. During a routine medical examination more than a month ago, it was discovered that I had a nasty visitor inside me – yet another stunning example of Intelligent Design at work, friends. My doctors went in and removed it, and things are looking up again. I’ll be pretty weak for a couple of months, but I assure you all that I’m fighting this thing with the very best technical help – I’m not at all shy about embracing technology! – and I’ll be able to keep up with my regular duties as the treatment proceeds.

This is the reason you’ve not seen any recent videos from me. Of course, I’m very fortunate to have good folks like Phil Plait, that Bad Astronomer, along with the ever-present, ever-diligent, and very fierce Linda Shallenberger, to back me up. They stepped in to manage and resuscitate TAM 7, and I think the results speak for themselves…!

The public response to my illness has been very generous and flattering. I’m now all the more aware of just how important our work is, and I intend to stay around for a long time because I’ve got a lot to do. My prognosis is good, even though I’ve decided to go along with this old-fashioned “orthodox” medicine, cutting back on the prayers and faith-healing, and opting for minimal voodoo ceremonies.


Amazing News

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on July 10, 2009

Via @krelnick on Twitter we get this bit of Amazing News:

BREAKING NEWS: @BadAstronomer announced at Amazing Meeting that the @JREF Million Dollar Challenge will continue!


The Story So Far: Vikings In The Bar, Envelopes, Randi’s Big White Limousine, Some Notes On Food, The Conference Begins

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009


Written by Brandon Thorp

The Del Mar bar is empty right now, which is weird. It is a big bar, roughly the shape of an oyster shell, separated from an ocean of evil-looking slot-machines by several hundred feet of polished brass railings. Each of the slots advertises an ever-growing jackpot, which had edged up near $1,300,000 last time I checked. But we are not interested in slots. We are interested in the bar. By 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon, a small band of early-bird skeptics led by a large and improbably cuddly Danish Viking named Toby had colonized one of the Del Mar’s central tables. We were a small bunch, but loud, and The South Point Casino’s more traditional patrons eyed us curiously as though we were some rare, geeky species of desert fauna.

The South Point is a glittering, T-shaped hunk of rock and metal rising up out of the desert a couple miles south of the Las Vegas strip. It is owned by Michael Gaughan, the man who, it is said, originated the practice of plying gamblers with free booze. South Point, once known as South Coast, is the biggest building around. It is so big that the Casino hasn’t yet found time to mention all of its restaurants on its website. Somewhere on the first floor there is an “Equestrian Arena” with room for over 1,000 horses, and South Point is so big that no one I speak to has yet set eyes on this arena, nor can say with any certainty where it is. The casino’s hotel contains over 800 rooms on 25 floors. You could get lost here, and many have — it’s like something out of a Steven Milhauser novel; a place that you never need to leave, and which can very quickly rejigger your Circadian rhythms and leave you completely indifferent to the comings and goings of the outside world. I haven’t seen sunlight or been outside for over 24 hours, and I don’t feel weird at all. Here, the casino floor is the outside; the public square through which one must pass to get from here to there. The ceilings are high, and the thousands of machines give off a diffuse, twilighty glow that makes every second look and feel like happy hour.

The five skeptics in the bar at 3:30 on Tuesday had turned into a dozen by 5:00. Jay Novella arrived. Hal Bidlack swooped down from somewhere, and so did Richard Saunders. By sundown we had five tables, and by the time I went to bed we had ten. 24 hours later, the bar was ours entirely and the non-skeptics had fled. They must have wondered: Who are these people? And what’s up with all of these origami pigs?We didn’t give up the Del Mar until this morning, when the TAM registration desk opened up on the second floor and people began arriving for the Science-Based Medicine workshop. The specific chain of events that led to our launch this morning is too complicated to explicate comprehensively here — not to mention too boring — but here are some notes.


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Tam 7 Begins!

Posted in JREF by Skepdude on July 10, 2009


For those of you not attending TAM, I can understand if you’d rather not read about it. After all, you’re missing out on the premiere skeptical event of the year, and possibly the largest skeptic gathering of al time. But, I urge you to read this, because technology has moved forward, and you can actually attend TAM in the comfort of your own home. Ok, not really… but you can share the excitement in a bunch of new ways:

  • If you’re a Twitter user, you can follow @TAMLive for frequent updates with photos. Also, search #TAM7 for a lot of chatter about the event.

  • We will be trying to UStream some of the event, including the live Million Dollar Challenge on Sunday. For the uninitiated, UStream is a live video streaming web application that will allow us to send audio and video of the event straight to your computer.


Skepdude says: I want to be there. I WANT TO BE THERE! Why am I not there? **sobbing uncontrollably**

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TAM 7 website now open for business!

Posted in Bad Astronomy by Skepdude on February 26, 2009

I am very pleased to announce that registration for The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 is now open!

TAMs are the premier conferences for critical thinkers across the globe. Hosted by the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF), it always features great speakers, good times, and a warm and wonderful community. TAM 7 will continue that tradition.

TAM 7 logo

This year, our keynote speaker is Bill Prady, the executive producer of The Big Bang Theory. Suh. Weet. We also have Randi, of course, My Close Personal Friend Adam Savage™, Jennifer Ouellette, Joe Nickell, Michael Shermer, Emily Rosa, and a passel of other great speakers. I guess that means me, too.


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