The Independent Investigation Group (IIG) has had a standing offer of $100,000 to anyone who can demonstrate they have a paranormal power under controlled conditions.1 In October 2018, Mirko Janchevski, a man of about sixty from Kumanovo, Macedonia, applied for our challenge. He claimed to be able to tell if someone is alive or dead by looking at a photograph of the person. He claimed an accuracy of “around 90%–100%” and said “there are no limitations to my power.”
Our negotiator Stan West and Mr. Janchevski spent about six months working out a protocol for the demonstration. This is a typical timeframe for negotiations, especially for a test that will happen via internet.
On Saturday, May 18, 2019, at our monthly meeting, Janchevski appeared via Skype as scheduled, with his daughter to translate for him when necessary. We told the daughter that once the test started, she would need to remain visible. She asked why, and West explained that this was to prevent the use of any “super duper Google search ability” to find photos of the subjects and determine if they were alive. She understood and agreed to stay visible, which she did. The entire session was recorded using the built-in capability of Skype; audio was recorded separately on a sound recorder, and the session was videoed on a camera that pointed at the laptop.
Jim Underdown, founder and chair of the IIG and executive director of the Center for Inquiry West, presented the photos. He had no idea of the status of the people in the photos and thus could not inadvertently bias the demonstration; this allowed it to be double-blinded. The numbered photos were stacked face down on his right. Each photo was marked on its face “Mirko” plus a number. The numbers did not run consecutively because after they had been printed and numbered, it turned out that some photos were not usable. However, a chart was constructed on which the presentation order and photo numbers were written, for instance: 1, #23; 2, #4, etc.
The photos were printed in black and white on a (U.S.) standard 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper, with a border around them, one photo to a page. Underdown displayed each photo for ninety seconds or until Janchevski declared the status of the person, whichever was shorter. When Underdown displayed the photo via the camera in the laptop, he held a piece of cardboard behind the paper so that he (Underdown) could not see the photo.
As soon as Janchevski announced his decision, Underdown repeated it and then turned to his left, where another member used a permanent marker to write “dead” or “alive” across the photo. Underdown then turned toward the separate camera to show the writing, and then back to the laptop and showed Janchevski the photo, announcing the status again. He then put the photo into a stack on his left. This procedure was used for all twenty photos.
After Janchevski was shown a photo, he looked down and concentrated. At first, we did not understand the reason for this, but at one point his right hand was high enough that we could see it moving. After the demonstration was completed, discussion among the audience indicated that most of them thought he was using a pendulum to make his decisions. (Later, this deduction was verified, as mentioned below.) Janchevski’s first eight or nine determinations were all “dead.” Several members of the audience wondered if he was going to continue this in hope of winning by the off chance that all the photos were of dead people.
After the last photo was identified, a sealed envelope was opened. This contained a duplicate set of photos, identified by the same numbers as the first set, showing the status of the person in the photo. Underdown showed Janchevski both the photo he originally identified and the previously marked photo, while asking our scorekeeper whether Janchevski had identified the person’s status correctly. This allowed Janchevski to verify that we weren’t switching photos and that both photos depicted the same person.
To pass the initial demonstration, Janchevski had to correctly determine the status of eighteen of the twenty people whose photos he saw. He determined eleven correctly. After the demonstration finished, Janchevski asked to see one of the photos again. After looking at it and consulting his pendulum (now visible via Skype), he declared that the person was dead, not alive. West moved to where Janchevski could see him and told Janchevski that the person is West’s father, with whom he had had a conversation the previous night.
When Underdown asked Janchevski if he had any explanation for the result, Janchevski said that perhaps the interval between photos was too short, and perhaps the weather had an effect. We did not ask about the weather conditions at the time, nor about the reason weather might affect his abilities.
Underdown asked Janchevski if there was anything else he wanted to share. Janchevski offered to diagnose Underdown’s health; Underdown agreed. Janchevski diagnosed problems with Underdown’s back and with veins in his neck. Unfortunately for Janchevski, Underdown has no health problems in either area. Underdown thanked Mr. Janchevski for his time and told him that he would be welcome to apply again after a year has elapsed.
- IIG has since been subsumed into CFI, with a new name: Center for Inquiry Investigations Group (CFIIG). Its former $100,000 prize has now been increased to $250,000. These changes were announced at CSICon 2019 in October.