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James Van Praagh Offered $1 Million To Prove Mental Powers

First Posted: 08/23/11 06:09 PM ET Updated: 10/24/11 06:12 AM ET

Self-proclaimed psychic James Van Praagh has certainly done well for himself through doing readings, writing books about the psychic world and helping to create the CBS drama "The Ghost Whisperer."

Still, even with all his success, you'd think he wouldn't pass up a chance to earn a quick million bucks, right?

If you predicted yes, your answer would be wrong -- at least up to now.

That's because the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) has issued a challenge to Van Praagh and other people who claim to have psychic ability: It will pay $1 million for anyone who can produce evidence of paranormal abilities under controlled conditions.

It's not a new deal by any means: The Foundation has made this offer since it was founded in 1996 "to expose charlatans and help people defend themselves from paranormal and pseudoscientific claims."

So far, no one has been able to collect on the money, not even a well known psychic like Van Praagh, whom the organization is singling out in order to capitalize on his particularly devastating appearance on a recent episode of "ABC’s Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief," a one-hour special that explored whether such a thing as psychic ability exist.

During the episode, Van Praagh performed a reading on "Good Morning America" anchor Josh Elliott.

Although Elliott initially appeared surprised by Van Praagh’s accuracy, he revealed that “every talking point of the reading” seemed to have been lifted from a two-year-old interview with Elliott that was available online.

"I'd known there was plenty of information regarding my past readily available with a cursory Internet search, including an extensive interview that included all the talking points [such as] my dead relatives and my adoption," Elliot said during the show. "Except, I thought, for [my mom's boyfriend] Leo."

Elliott rechecked that interview when he got home from interviewing Van Praagh and discovered that interview had a reference to Leo's passing, "able to be exploited along with the rest."

During the show, Van Praagh denied using Google, but declined to do a reading on Elliot's segment producer, claiming he had become too tired.

In a later part of the show, Allison DuBois, who appeared on Bravo's "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" and is also billed as the inspiration for the CBS drama "Medium," performed a similar reading on ABC News correspondent David Wright as did self-proclaimed medium Rebecca Rosen.

Both readings focused on Wright’s family and his late mother. Wright was surprised by their accuracy and said they revealed “details that don’t pop up on Google.”

Yet, shortly after the show aired, a Twitter user posted a link to a wedding announcement from The New York Times that contained the relevant details about the Wright family.

JREF founder James Randi makes no claims of intuitive ability, but his gut tells him that both Van Praagh and DuBois "should be embarrassed by the transparent performances they revealed to the world on last night’s show.”

Randi would like those two -- and other psychics -- to put their alleged powers to the test under scientific conditions and not rely on "cold reading," a technique that uses questions to get key points to focus on, for example, through prompts like, "I see a woman with an 'M' in her name...?"

Although cold reading in itself isn't bad -- as long as it is labeled as such or presented as a party trick -- Randi is disgusted by how Van Praagh and DuBois use it to "prey on families’ deepest fears and regrets,” he said.

To be fair to Van Praagh, there are some academics who claim his powers hold up under scientific scrutiny such as Dr. Gary Schwartz, a former Yale professor now at the University of Arizona.

"I've been very impressed," Schwartz said on the "Primetime Nightline" episode. "He is real and accurate and, on the average, among the best of the mediums I've seen."

Randi may be skeptical about psychic powers in general, but he figures the easiest way to prove him wrong is for real psychics to take up the challenge.

"If anyone does have psychic powers, and can prove it [the money is there]," he said. "I am surprised people aren't hammering down my door."

HuffPost Weird News reached out to Van Praagh for a comment about his performance on the ABC show and any plans to take Randi up on the $1 million challenge. So far, there has been no response -- something Randi predicted.

"All these guys -- Van Praagh, DuBois, Uri Geller -- they know we know how to set up a test," he laughed. "Whenever Uri Geller or Van Praagh are asked about the test, they change the subject."

Another guy who does "cold readings," John Edward, was once asked about the challenge and, according to Randi, he said, "I never talk about a guy whose name is also a verb."

Randi said, "The interviewer laughed and changed the subject."

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