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Medium James Van Praagh offered $1 million to prove psychic powers

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When you think of well-known American psychics, there's a good chance that John Edward or James Van Praagh come to mind. Van Praagh had his own talk show, holds numerous seminars and workshops, has written several books, and even helped create the CBS show, The Ghost Whisperer, starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. 

You also may have heard of The Amazing Randi, a magician and skeptical investigator of paranormal claims. Since 1996, his James Randi Educational Foundation has had a standing offer of $1 million to any individual who can produce evidence of paranormal abilities in a controlled environment. Randi said in a recent interview, "Oh, I have an open mind, but not so open that my brain falls out." The JREF is singling out Van Praagh after a recent appearance on ABC's Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief.

On the show, Van Praagh did his typical rabbity reading on Good Morning America anchor Josh Elliott, and Elliott later revealed that all the talking points of the reading were readily accessible from an old interview with Elliott available online. Big surprise.

Randi doesn't have a problem with "cold reading," the technique whereby the psychic or medium uses questioning prompts of the subject to glean information and steer the reading, but he is appalled by how Van Praagh and others use it to "prey on families' deepest fears and regrets." He said, "All these guys — Van Praagh, (Allison) DuBois, Uri Geller — they know we know how to set up a test. Whenever Uri Geller or Van Praagh are asked about the test, they change the subject."

Ghost stories are so deeply ingrained in our cultural DNA that I think there will always be a place for psychics and mediums, to go along with attempted Ouija-board communing and those campfire tales. What do you think? Are individuals like Van Praagh charlatans who exploit the naive and vulnerable, or is there more to it than that?