Independent Investigations Group
|Type||Non-profit educational organization|
|Headquarters||IIG LA, Hollywood, CA|
The Independent Investigations Group (IIG) is a volunteer-based organization founded by James Underdown in January 2000 at the Center for Inquiry-West (now Center for Inquiry – Los Angeles) in Hollywood, California. The IIG investigates fringe science, paranormal and extraordinary claims from a rational, scientific viewpoint, and disseminates factual information about such inquiries to the public.
IIG offers a $100,000 prize to anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event. The IIG is involved in designing the test protocol, approving the conditions under which a test will take place, and in administering the actual test. All tests are designed with the participation and approval of the applicant. In most cases, the applicant is asked to perform a simple preliminary demonstration of the claimed ability, which if successful is followed by the formal test. Associates of the IIG usually conduct both tests and preliminary demonstrations at their location in Hollywood or affiliates.
While the IIG conducts scientifically based experiments, its membership is composed primarily of lay-people. Members' collective professional experience includes the fields of architecture, archeology, education, electronics, engineering, film making, law enforcement, medicine, psychology, and visual effects. The chair of IIG is James Underdown, Executive Director of the Center For Inquiry – Los Angeles.
The IIG in 2011 announced an affiliate program, allowing other skeptic groups across the world to have access to the $100,000 challenge award, as well as participate in investigations. Affiliates are in Washington DC (IIG DC), Atlanta, GA (IIG Atlanta), Denver, CO (IIG Denver), San Francisco Bay Area (IIG SFBA), Portland, OR (IIG NW), and Alberta (IIG Alberta).
In January 2013, the IIG celebrated the thirteenth anniversary since its founding.
Power Balance Bracelets
On October 28, 2010 Olympic Champion Gymnast Dominique Dawes working for Yahoo Weekend News and with The Independent Investigations Group IIG tested Power Balance Bracelets for their claim that they improve balance, flexibility and strength. She states, "The fact is, all athletes know that nothing can replace good old-fashioned hard work—practice, practice, practice...Can a silicone wristband with a hologram sticker really give you an added edge?" According to IIG investigator Dave Richards, "There was one 'legitimate' Power Balance bracelet, and 3 'sham' bracelets that had had the hologram removed from them. The experiment was double-blinded, all bracelets were wrapped with tape so no one present knew which bracelet was real and which were fakes." One of the control bracelets contained PEZ candy. "Neither the participants nor the people recording the scores knew which bracelet was which until after all participants had completed their runs and their scores were recorded." From Wendy Hughes' report, "The claim was that if the hologram worked, the speed of the participants would increase, and it would show on the graph. But it didn't. Out of 64 heats, 16 participants using 4 bracelets in 4 random heats, the results were almost flat. The main result was that if there was any change, the familiarity with the course caused a slight increase in efficiency. The Pez didn't make a difference either." Dawes' conclusion is that superstition makes the Power Balance bracelets seem to work.
On November 21, 2009, the IIG administered a Preliminary Demonstration for IIG Paranormal Challenge applicant Anita Ikonen. The demonstration consisted of three trials, wherein Ikonen was faced with six people who were sitting away from her, and whose faces were obscured. In each of the three trials, one person was known to be missing a kidney. That meant that of 12 possible kidneys, one was missing. Ikonen had to determine which kidney was missing. On her sheet, she was to mark which kidney was missing (right or left) on the diagram of the person corresponding to the kidney. She had to choose correctly on all three trials in order to succeed, and move on to a formal test which, if she was successful, would earn her $50,000. Ikonen did not succeed. She chose incorrectly on trial one, chose correctly on trial two, and chose incorrectly on trial three. She failed the Preliminary Demonstration and this failure falsified her claim to be able to see inside of the human body and accurately determine if a person is missing a kidney or not.
Electric Mind Control
IIG tested an applicant who claimed to be able to "influence electricity with [his] mind." and control the intensity of a light bulb. The subject was placed in a darkroom with a frosted-glass incandescent light bulb mounted on a tripod, and a light meter was pointed at a large white board mounted behind the bulb. The subject was not allowed to touch or approach the apparatus. The agreed-upon threshold for a successful test was to achieve ten out of fifteen trials in which the subject had two minutes to vary the meter reading either up or down by 3 exposure value (EV) settings. During the first six trials, the light meter failed to move more than 0.1EV, after which the test was terminated. Afterwards, the subject explained that "Whenever I'm just, like, driving around [...] when there's a light, like, flickering [...] just focus on it, and it just happens". The IIG concluded that "There is no evidence from this demonstration that Subject possesses psychic ability."
The Independent Investigative Group looked into 14 cases Carla Baron claims to have assisted detectives on, including JonBenét Ramsey, Elizabeth Smart and Nicole Brown Simpson. In all 14 cases the IIG contacted the police (or in the case of Nicole Simpson, they received an email from Denise Brown) all mostly saying the same things, "we have never heard of this person" or "the information provided (by Baron) did not produce any new leads in the investigation". IIG's conclusion is that she has never provided any help in any investigation, and her claims stating such are unsubstantiated.
In 2003 the IIG attended a taping of James Van Praagh's syndicated series Beyond, in order to document the difference between what actually occurred at the taping and how it appeared on TV after editing. As suspected, there were many significant differences, and the IIG concluded that Van Praagh’s power emanates from the editing room."
IIG tested Sparky the "wonder dog" and deduced that the dog was reacting to movements from his owner Gordie Rosenberg and not to telepathy as was claimed. Also discussed in this article by newspaper New Times Los Angeles, Inc. are tests of Mark Joramo and his telekinesis foil flap device (failed test, air movement from Joramo's hand made the flap move) and dowser Frank Mashenko (failed test, ideomotor effect).
The IIG Awards
In 2005 the IIG created an annual "awards program to recognize the promotion of Scientific and Critical Thinking in mainstream entertainment." The membership selects by vote the media programs from the previous year that are the "best and worst examples of scientific and critical thinking." The good award winners are "affectionately referred to as the 'Iggies'." The program(s) voted the worst are called 'The Truly Terrible Television' winners. Its counterpart in the movie category is given the 'Mostly Miserable Movie certificate'. In conjunction with the media awards, an inductee is selected for the "Houdini Hall of Honor" award for "substantial career devotion". Named in honor of Harry Houdini who is considered a role-model to the IIG as a paranormal investigator who educated his audience through the media. All honorees are listed on a plaque that is displayed at the Steve Allen Theater. The first award ceremony happened in 2007 for media released in 2006, all presentations have been open to the public, the MC has been the chair and founder of the IIG, James Underdown. All have taken place at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood.
On the TTTV awards, Neil deGrasse Tyson stated that he is "glad that you are giving the dubious pseudoscience awards, somebody has to call this stuff out. I sure as hell don't have the time or patience to reason someone out of a point of view that reason itself was never invoked to acquire."
The 2007 winners of the IIG Awards were The Simpsons, for the episode "The Monkey Suit", and Psych, for its pilot episode. Accepting for The Simpsons was "The Monkey Suit" episode's writer J. Stewart Burns, and accepting for Psych was staff writer Daniel Hsia.
June 23, 2008 the IIG Awards included In the Shadow of the Moon received by Producer Duncan Copp, (Discovery Films), Phenomenon received by Producers Michael Agrabian and Dwight Smith (NBC), South Park (Comedy Central), Is It Real? (National Geographic), and Penn and Teller's Bullshit! (Showtime).
On August 21, 2010 the IIG honored several key members for their involvement in the skeptical field, Wendy Hughes, Ross Blocher and David Richards. Also recognized for their contributions to critical thinking and skepticism were Eugenie Scott, Carol Tavris, Brian Dunning, Harriet Hall, Michael Shermer, Mr. Deity's Brian Keith Dalton, Eureka and The Mentalist.
Dr. Dean Edell, for his many contributions in radio, TV, and publishing and Phil Plait’s Bad Universe, (Discovery Channel) were the 2011 "Iggies" award winners. Presenters were Ron Lynch and Stevie Ray Fromstein. Music provided by LA3Way.
In 2012 Tim Minchin, CBS's Big Bang Theory, Science Channel's Through the Wormhole and Comedy Central's South Park were selected for Iggies. A special honoree Snopes.com was also recognized for its skeptical informational website. Hosts, Matt Kirshen, Kelly Carlin, Ron Lynch, Emery Emery and Frank Conniff. Music provided by Gary Stockdale with Scott Breadman. In his recorded acceptance speech Minchin stated that he was honored but felt "rather silly, because you are the people that write all the information and material that I steal and repackage it using rhymes and feed it back to you, to my financial and personal gain. And you give me an award as well. That's almost like I'm running a scam here." Penny Chan from The Skeptic Zone interviews Jim Turner, Mark Edward and musician Gary Stockdale.
The Truly Terrible Television (TTTV) Awards
The Truly Terrible Television Awards in 2007 were given to Court TV's Psychic Detectives, and to the Montel Williams show for every episode featuring Sylvia Browne. In 2008 The Truly Terrible Television Award was presented to Paranormal State (A&E) and Ghost Hunters (Syfy).
Houdini Hall of Honor Award
Lifetime achievement awards went posthumously to Harry Houdini (Erik Weisz) and Carl Sagan. Ann Druyan sent a letter acknowledging the recognition and thanked IIG for the lifetime achievement award presented to Carl Sagan.
James Randi was honored for exceptional ongoing achievement by his induction into the "Houdini Hall of Honor" in 2008. Presenters Julia Sweeney, Dean Cameron and comedian Paul Provenza were also in attendance.
In 2009 the "Houdini Hall of Honor" award went to career paranormal expert Joe Nickell who was present at the ceremony. Celebrity presenters included The Root of All Evil's Kathleen Madigan, The Aristocrats' Paul Provenza, Mystery Science Theater 3000's Frank Conniff, and comedian Dana Gould.
The 2012 IIG awarded the "Houdini Hall of Honor" award to Neil deGrasse Tyson. In his acceptance video he stated that he was honored to be inducted and also to share the award ceremony with Through the Wormhole, Big Bang Theory and South Park they give him "hope for the future of America and for the world."
IIG in the media
- The IIG was featured on You Are Here TV on June 18, 2013. This short 3:40 video features various members of IIG explaining what the group is about, the type of work they do, and how they feel about being part of the group.
- Mentions of the IIG by Mark Edward on Skepticality and Spencer Marks on Oh No, Ross and Carrie! podcast.
- Interviewed by France 24 Mark Edward is asked about paranormal groups that charge money for ghost tours, '"If there was a real ghost over there, they wouldn't have to charge anything (20 dollars), they would have the greatest scientific achievement in history'".
- On the Meet the Skeptics! podcast, steering member Ross Blocher discusses his 4-year involvement with the IIG. He feels that it really helps paranormal investigations to have people with many different skills, "We find that you put enough of those people together you get some great talents". Blocher also announced the expansion of the affiliates, skeptic groups can form into an IIG branch, have access to the prize and show people that they are really serious about testing claims of the paranormal.
- In Voices to Visions magazine, Mark Edward states that "common sense should tell us what these charlatans (psychics) do is an act and nothing more; otherwise, they would be ruling the planet." Concerning the ghost hunting shows, Edward thinks that there would be more interest in finding out what is really making noises in these homes but first they need to "turn the f****ing lights on...and (stop) promulgating obvious storytelling."
- The IIG's John Rael interviewed Mark Edward outside Hollywood's Magic Castle asking him about his work with the Independent Investigation Group. Edward states "over the years I've been looking for a real psychic or paranormal event...it's been over 30 years and I'm still looking."
- Interviewed on Christopher Brown's "Meet the Skeptics!" podcast, IIG steering member Mark Edward states "When people want answers, there's always someone willing to sell them one." Brown also interviews Jim Underdown and other IIG members at The Amaz!ng Meeting 2012.
- Harold Camping's intensely media driven rapture prediction inventively gave atheist and skeptic groups a platform to get their message that end-of-the-world predictions are fodder for ridicule. Groups such as American Atheists and IIG gathered across the country with counter-protest signs attracting attention away from Camping's followers who were in seclusion. "The issue is the Bible is mythology," said Larry Hicok, state director of the American Atheists, bluntly laying out his case."
- Are there similarities between the paranormal claims people make today and the miracles found in the bible? Paranormal investigator and founder of the Independent Investigations Group James Underdown takes a look at 5 miracles in the bible and relates them to real-life paranormal investigations at ReasonFest May 2011.
- Seth and Jeff from the Leaders in Free Thought Podcast discuss cold reading and mentalism at SkeptiCamp with the renowned mentalist, magician, and skeptic, Mark Edward".
- James Underdown does an experiment for "Miracle Detective" Oprah Winfrey Network which replicates exactly the angelic apparition that people claim cured a 14-year-old severely disabled child at Presbyterian Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. The "angel" was sunlight from a hidden window, and the little girl is still severely handicapped.
- Investigator Wendy Hughes writes an exposé of the Glen Ivy hot springs spa, separating the realities of relaxation from spiritual speculation.
- Mark Edward Mentalist & IIG member discusses the IIG Challenge on Para Quest Radio Network at SoCalParaCon, October 2, 2010
- Jim Underdown IIG and Mentalist Mark Edward are featured on Discovery Channel's episode of Weird or What? "Mind Control War" 
- IIG discussing Robbie Thomas on the June 4, 2010 episode of The BadCast
- IIG discussing the Regen Traynor Paranormal Challenge on the March 26, 2010 episode of The BadCast
- IIG discussing the Anita Ikonen Paranormal Challenge on the March 13, 2010 episode of The BadCast
- IIG discussing the Anita Ikonen Paranormal Challenge on the February 12, 2010 episode of Skeptically Speaking
- Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer Joe Nickell writes about his induction into the Houdini Hall of Fame at the IIG awards May 19, 2009.
- IIG was featured on KCET's Life and Times on December 19, 2007.
- James Underdown is a regular guest on Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak's "Skeptical Sunday" episodes of SETI's weekly radio show and podcast Are We Alone?.
- James Underdown and Mentalist Mark Edward appeared on the "Talking to the Dead" episode of Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
- James Underdown appeared on NBC News with winemaker and water dowser Marc Mondavi.
- ‘’Carrie Poppy’’, working at the IIG, gave a TED Talk filmed in October 2016 at TEDxVienna titled “A scientific approach to the paranormal” 
The Odds Must be Crazy
Launched July 2011, the coincidence website features stories submitted by its readers and guest editorials by mentalist Mark Edward, Barbara Drescher, skeptic Kylie Sturgess and entertainer George Hrab. Jarrett Kaufman and Wendy Hughes founded The Odds Must Be Crazy in April 2010 and on April 25, 2012 it became a recurring segment on the Skepticality podcast. 
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