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Steven Shaw (born November 30, 1960) better known by his stage name Banachek, is a mentalist, professional magician, and "thought reader."[1] He performs as an entertainer and tours internationally. Banachek tested self-described psychics for the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge to determine whether they had genuine supernatural abilities. None of the subjects passed the scientifically controlled testing to show that they had paranormal abilities that they claimed, and no one has collected the million dollar prize.[2] He participated in James Randi's "Project Alpha," an effort to test the objectivity of parapsychological researchers who tried to prove that psychic powers exist. He still uses his participation in his professional publicity as proof of his skills as a mentalist.[3] He was elected as a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a program of the Center for Inquiry in 2017.[4]

Banachek at The Amaz!ng Meeting 8, Las Vegas, 2010.
Born Steven Shaw
(1960-11-20) November 20, 1960 (age 57)
Middlesex, England, UK
Nationality American
Occupation Mentalist, magician, writer, skeptic


Early lifeEdit

Shaw was born in England and raised in South Africa and Australia. He was abandoned at the age of nine in South Africa with his two brothers, aged one and three, and raised them by himself until he was sixteen.[5] His given name "Steve Shaw" wasn't memorable enough for a stage performer. He adopted the stage name Banacek from the TV series Banacek. The spelling was changed to "Banachek" to make the pronunciation clearer.[6] He began practicing magic tricks when he was 16 years old, after reading James Randi's book, The Truth About Uri Geller.[1] Uri Geller was famous for mentalist feats, particularly bending tableware, which he claimed to do using only psychic powers. Banachek believed Geller had real powers until he read Randi's book that debunked Geller and revealed Geller's methods as trickery. This realization changed Banachek's life. He developed methods for doing the same tricks for himself that were "way beyond much of what Geller was doing."[5] He developed his act, and while at school "kids would steal the silverware from the cafeteria for me to bend."[5] He wrote a letter to Randi volunteering to try to fool scientists who were studying parapsychology as if it were real.[1][6]

Project AlphaEdit

During the early 1980s, Banachek became well known for participating in the Project Alpha experiment.[7] Banachek, then 18 years old, and Michael Edwards, 17 years old, worked with magician/conjuror, skeptic, and debunker James "The Amazing" Randi in an experiment to test the reliability of parapsychological studies. Randi insisted that the experimental methods were so lax and poorly controlled that magicians could accomplish tricks that appeared identical to parapsychological effects, as Randi had done to reproduce the feats of Uri Geller.[7] Randi warned the scientists about ways to design experiments to prevent the tricks. When a $500,000 grant was awarded to Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, for the establishment of the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research, Randi took the opportunity to test whether parapsychologists would be deceived by stage magician's tricks and accept them as true psychic abilities. Banachek and Edwards volunteered for the project and were selected by the researchers. They repeatedly over the course of years and several different experiments fooled scientists into believing that their supposed psychic abilities were genuine. The experiments included bending tableware and remote viewing of images that were sealed in envelopes. Banachek and Edwards "had agreed should they ever be asked 'Are you faking it?'... that they would immediately admit the truth... They were never once asked.", as D. J. Grothe explains.[1][7][8]

According to Banachek,

For years parapsychologists had lamented that the only reason there was no scientifically documented evidence under proper scientific controls was because of the lack of proper funding to perform such controls. We had countered and believed that this was not the case and the lack of such documentation lay in the parapsychologists' pro-biased beliefs when they entered such experiments.[9]

The ability of teenagers to fool a well-funded parapsychological study indicated that the research results of these studies have to be carefully and skeptically reviewed before supernatural effects are accepted. Banachek said, "With no training from Randi, Mike Edwards and myself as teenagers were able to enter the McDonnell Laboratory and convince them for 180 hours over four years that we could bend metal with our mind and perform other feats of psychic abilities."[5] According to Massimo Polidoro, "Project Alpha was designed to show how competent magicians can complete the same tasks as self-proclaimed psychics. It appears, however, that some experts still don’t believe the phenomena aren’t genuine."[9] According to Joe Nickell, "As a result of the revelations, the McDonnell Laboratory closed permanently."[10]

With James Randi, Banachek took part in an investigation of alleged faith healer Peter Popoff's activities, which ultimately exposed Popoff's false claims.[11] Banachek spotted an electronic receiver in Popoff's ear by getting close enough to him. Popoff was using the radio receiver to listen to someone offstage who told him information about audience members that was collected in advance.[11]

Professional accomplishmentsEdit

Banachek performs as a professional entertainer and tours internationally, and his tours are posted on his website.[3] He is a consultant for top entertainers and magic TV shows around the world. His clients include Penn & Teller, David Blaine, James Randi and Criss Angel.[1][10][12]

He has written books on mentalism,[13] including Psychological Subtleties Vol. 1,[14] Vol. 2,[15] and Vol. 3;[16] Psychophysiological Thought Reading, or, Muscle Reading and the Ideomotor Response Revealed;[17] Psychokinetic Silverware DVD (with Gerry);[18] Psi Series 4 DVD set;[19] and other products and devices.[20] From Psychological Subtleties Vol.1, Teller from Penn & Teller wrote,

BANACHEK IS BRILLIANT at subtle deceptions. My partner Penn and I have repeatedly called upon his vast knowledge, diabolical ingenuity, and remarkable imagination, and have never been disappointed. This man has the goods, and now you do, too. But be careful. THIS IS A VERY DANGEROUS BOOK. In the wrong hands, these subtle, deeply devious methods could be used to convince audiences that the performer is not an artist, but a supernatural being. ...[14]

Banachek invented or improved various magic and mentalism effects, including a version of the bullet catch. He performed the trick regularly in all his shows in the 1980s. The bullet catch is a stage magic illusion in which a magician appears to catch a bullet fired directly at them. This trick dates back centuries, has been done in various forms by many magicians, and is credited with 15 deaths of magicians in connection with it, earning it the credit of being the most dangerous magic trick.[21] Banachek's version of the trick is 100% safe, and it is the only 100% safe method that he knows. In 1995, Penn & Teller purchased the trick from him.[22] They adapted it, they perform several versions, and they close all their shows with it.[1]

Banachek's "Buried Alive" escape stunt appeared on TV, The Search for Houdini[23] hosted by William Shatner, and is on the "Psi Series" DVD set[24] and on YouTube.[25][26] Banachek visibly digs his way out after being chained, handcuffed, locked in a coffin, and buried under dirt 6 feet underground.

"Banachek has performed for Fortune 500 companies – Bloomberg, IBM, Ford, Sony, Shell, Motorola, Xerox, Coca Cola, Merill Lynch, ExxonMobil and many more."[3]

Media appearancesEdit

Banachek has appeared as himself and produced several television programs and shows, including An Honest Liar, Criss Angel BeLIEve, and Criss Angel Mindfreak.[12] He demonstrated his ability to bend forks on Unscrewed with Martin Sargent.[27] He was on CNN Live, A&E, BBC, PBS, NBC’s Today Show, and numerous network television specials in at least 32 countries.[3]

In 2008, Banachek toured as part of the stage show Hoodwinked with Bob Arno, Todd Robbins and Richard Turner.[28][29] In 2017, he performed in the Banachek: Telepathy tour.[30][31] In 2012, on The Alpha Project show which is part of Luminato, he predicted newspaper headlines ten days in advance of the publication.[32]

Mentalist Banachek at the 1983 CSICOP Conference in Buffalo, NY.

On July 12, 2009, Banachek conducted a preliminary test of Connie Sonne's dowsing ability for the JREF One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge that was witnessed by hundreds in person and hundreds more via live webcast.[33][34][35] Sonne was unsuccessful at locating specific numbered hidden cards, which she claimed that she would be able to do using psychic abilities. After the test, Sonne claimed that Banachek, whom she agreed to be the testing official, had cheated her out of passing the preliminary test, even though she had no basis for saying so.[33][36]

Banachek supervised other tests and has served as Director for the JREF Million Dollar Challenge.[1][5] He and James Randi challenged self-described psychics including James Van Praagh, Allison DuBois, Sylvia Browne, Carla Baron, and John Edward, on ABC TV,[37][38] and three less-well-known psychics were tested and failed to demonstrate psychic powers.[39] The Challenge was suspended in 2015 until it is modified as an educational tool for the public about paranormal claims.[5]

Million Dollar Challenge Test of Fei Wang, with Banachek and Richard Saunders running the challenge on 13 July 2014[40]

Opinion on psychics and debunking themEdit

As an associate of James Randi and the JREF, he opposes psychics who claim to have genuine supernatural powers. He uses a disclaimer at his mentalism shows that what he does is "simply entertainment" and that he is not a psychic.[5] Some mentalists "hated" Banachek for his association with Randi because those mentalists "have an agenda."[1] However, he cautions skeptics about debunking psychics. The skeptics can "belittle the very people they are trying to convince."[1] His opinion is that debunkers who don't know much about magic can be fooled by psychics who do the trick in a way they don't expect or haven't seen before, so the debunkers are "set up for failure."[1] It is better for skeptics to "know that they don't have enough information" about a trick and that they "can be fooled," so they know enough to call for assistance.[1]

Banachek has special disdain for mediums who take advantage of people who are grieving about lost loved ones. He said, "I believe that psychic mediums are scum. They cross over that personal line of sanctity for profit."[5] Faith healers are in the same category. "I believe that faith healers do as much or even more harm than the mediums. In fact, often they go hand in hand as many mediums claim to be able to heal as well. I lump them all into the same nasty narcissistic pot."[5]


Banachek performing at CSICon, Las Vegas 2016
  • Elected as a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a program of the Center for Inquiry in 2017.[4]
  • Psychic Entertainers Association Dave Lederman Memorial Award (for Creativity in Mentalism), 1997.[41]
  • Psychic Entertainers Association Dan Blackwood Memorial Award (for Outstanding Contribution to the Art of Mentalism), 2006.[41]
  • Psychic Entertainers Association Dunninger Memorial Award (for Distinguished Professionalism in the Performance of Mentalism), 2007.[41]
  • Awarded Honorary Lifetime Membership at PSYCRETS (British Society of Mystery Entertainers) Tabula Mentis VII in April 2010.[42]

Books and videosEdit

  • Atmore, Joseph; Dunninger, Joseph; Banachek; Palmer, Bill (2001). Dunninger's Brain Busters. Humble, TX: H&R Magic Books. p. 111. OCLC 65215584. 
  • Banachek; Burlingame, Hardin J.; Wells, Scott R.; Gillett, S. Christopher (2002). Psychophysiological Thought Reading, or, Muscle Reading and the Ideomotor Response Revealed. Houston, Texas: Magic Inspirations. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-9706438-1-0. OCLC 60349209. 
  • Banachek; Dyment, Doug; Wells, Scott R. (2007). Psychological Subtleties 2. Houston, Texas: Magic Inspirations. p. 206. ISBN 978-0-9706438-2-7. OCLC 310366497. 
  • Banachek (Featured Performer) (2004). Banachek's Psi Series (Motion picture). United States: L&L Publishing. 
  • Banachek (Featured Performer) (2016). Houdini & Doyle's World of Wonders (Motion picture). Canada: 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Grothe, D.J. "Banachek-Mentalism and Skepticism, Nov. 13, 2009". Point of Inquiry. Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 29 Oct 2017. 
  2. ^ "Randi Challenges Top "Psychics" After Nightline Episode". August 18, 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  3. ^ a b c d Banachek. "Banachek website". Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. 
  4. ^ a b "Center for Inquiry News: Cause & Effect: The CFI Newsletter - No. 99". Archived from the original on 8 February 2018. Retrieved 8 February 2018. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i McAfee, David; d'Entremont, Yvette (Aug 22, 2017). No Sacred Cows: Investigating Myths, Cults, and the Supernatural. Pitchstone Publishing. ISBN 1634311183. Retrieved Dec 7, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b Draper, Paul. "Banachek LIVE Video Q&A on Full Circle Magic, Streamed on Nov. 19, 2014". Retrieved 14 Nov 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c Randi, James (Summer 1983). "The Project Alpha Experiment: Part 1: The First Two Years, and Part 2:Beyond the Laboratory". Skeptical Inquirer. 7–8. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. 
  8. ^ Grothe, D. J. "Paranormal Bias". The Travel Channel. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  9. ^ a b Polidoro, Massimo (March 2011). "Notes on a Strange World: Miracle or Magic?". Skeptical Inquirer. 35. Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. 
  10. ^ a b Nickell, Joe (July 30, 2009). "Thought-Reader Banachek". Amherst, NY: Center for Inquiry. Retrieved July 30, 2009. 
  11. ^ a b Randi, James (1989). The Faith Healers. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 147. ISBN 0-87975-535-0. 
  12. ^ a b Banachek on IMDb
  13. ^ Randi, James (1992). Conjuring. New York City, NY: St. Martin's Press. p. 229. ISBN 0-312-09771-9. 
  14. ^ a b Banachek. "Psychological Subtleties Vol 1". Retrieved 26 Oct 2017. 
  15. ^ Banachek. "Psychological Subtleties Vol. 2". Retrieved 26 Oct 2017. 
  16. ^ Banachek. "Psychological Subtleties Vol. 3". Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  17. ^ Banachek. "Psychophysiological Thought Reading". Retrieved 26 Oct 2017. 
  18. ^ Banachek. "Psychokinetic Silverware". Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  19. ^ Banachek. "Psi Series 4 DVD set". Retrieved 26 Oct 2017. 
  20. ^ Banachek. "Banachek Products". Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  21. ^ ""Bullet Catch"". Retrieved 26 Oct 2017. 
  22. ^ "Official Bullet Catch website". Retrieved 26 Oct 2017. 
  23. ^ "The Search for Houdini". Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  24. ^ "Download Magic website". Retrieved 26 Oct 2017. 
  25. ^ "Banachek performs the first Buried Alive on National TV". 
  26. ^ "Banachek Buried alive on Japanese TV on August 4, 1992". Retrieved 27 Oct 2017. 
  27. ^ "Unscrewed with Martin Sargent clip". Retrieved 13 Nov 2017. 
  28. ^ Greenaway, K (July 10, 2008). "If it weren't onstage, it'd be illegal". The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved July 31, 2009. 
  29. ^ Smith, Alison (November 25, 2008). "Woo in Review: HOODWINKED". SWIFT. James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved July 31, 2009. 
  30. ^ Tommaney, Susie. "Banachek: Telepathy". Houston Press. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  31. ^ "Banachek-The Man Who Fooled The Scientists Presents-Telepathy". Crains Detroit Business, May 19, 2017. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  32. ^ Gillis, Wendy. "Luminato: Mentalist Banachek predicts Star front page 10 days in advance". Toronto Star, June 9, 2012. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  33. ^ a b Smith, Alison (July 17, 2009). "Connie Sonne Preliminary Challenge Test at TAM 7". SWIFT. James Randi Educational Foundation. Retrieved July 30, 2009. 
  34. ^ "Connie Sonne Paranormal Challenge Videos". James Randi Educational Foundation. July 22, 2009. Retrieved July 30, 2009. 
  35. ^ Edward, Mark. "Connie's Conundrums". skepticblog, July 13, 2009. Retrieved 5 Dec 2017. 
  36. ^ Sonne, Connie. "Comment on International Skeptics". Retrieved November 11, 2017. 
  37. ^ JREF Blog. "Randi Challenges Top "Psychics" After Nightline Episode". JREF, August 18, 2011. Retrieved 20 Dec 2017. 
  38. ^ Radford, Benjamin. "Psychics Challenged, Offered $1 Million to Prove Powers". ABC News. Retrieved December 20, 2017. 
  39. ^ "Randi & Banachek Test "Psychics" on ABC". ABC News. Retrieved December 20, 2017 – via YouTube. 
  40. ^ "Million Dollar Challenge". Retrieved December 20, 2017. 
  41. ^ a b c "Awards". Psychic Entertainers Association. Retrieved July 30, 2009. 
  42. ^ "PSYCRETS Honorary Awards & Lifetime Members". Psycrets. Archived from the original on December 30, 2013. 

External linksEdit