Project Alpha was a hoax instigated by James Randi in cohorts with magicians Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards. The hoax ran from approximately 1979 to 1983.
Shaw and Edwards volunteered to enter a paranormal research study being run at McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri. During preliminary testing, the two were able to convince researchers of their supernatural powers. Researchers naively spoke to reporters and discussed how convinced they were of the pair's abilities.
When the hoax was finally exposed, a backlash against substandard paranormal research followed. The McDonnell Laboratory was closed. Many researchers and commentators who had fallen for the scam lost their reputations.
Researchers involved in the original project have defended themselves and claim that the story has been distorted. They point out that they were only fooled by preliminary testing and that more formal testing failed to show supernatural ability. However it does seem clear from interviews at the time that researchers were, at best, gullible and quick to support unverified conclusions.