Uri Geller
The Geller Spanner

Patricia Putt - Score for Sceptics

What to make of the comprehensive failure of Patricia Putt in psychic testing recently?

I hadn't heard of Putt before, but she is apparently well established as a professional psychic, aka Ankhara. She has had media exposure, turns up at hauntings, exorcises, and does readings for £25 a go. She decided to go in for Randi's million-dollar challenge, and Richard Wiseman and Chris French were deputed to carry out the preliminary tests.

The experiment involved ten young women in turns sitting in front of her for a reading. They were all white, same gender and age-group to keep any identifying characteristics to a minimum, uniformly dressed in gowns, features concealed by wrap-around dark glasses and ski-masks, and facing away from her. There was no verbal interaction; Putt wrote her thoughts down. The ten transcripts were then handed to the subjects who each attempted to identify the reading that applied to her. Not a single one did so correctly.

This is a pretty comprehensive failure. One can make various excuses: the test doesn't prove that Putt isn't psychic (she might just have been having a bad day, and it doesn't prove that nobody is psychic. But although both these are logically true, it doesn't look good.

You can also argue that people who go for readings aren't heavily disguised, as the subjects were here, so Putt wasn't working in the conditions she was used to. But this is exactly what tests like this aim to do, to prevent any opening for cold reading. And, just as important, Putt was quite happy to go ahead on that basis. According to French, she felt that she had been treated fairly, and it was only afterwards, having scored zero, and having thought about it a bit, that she identified that as the problem.

It interests me that although this comes under the heading of Randi's million dollar challenge, it wasn't actually Randi who carried out this preliminary test, but French and Wiseman, who unlike him take a moderate approach to debunking parapsychology, and can't really be accused of setting Putt up for a fail. Curiously - and correct me if I'm wrong - there are rather few well-documented cases of psychics actually failing the challenge - we're just told that they are all kooks who never got past the preliminaries. The only other one I can think of was also quite recent, the case of Derek Ogilvie, whose failure in tests by both French and Randi was pretty total. But if it's so easy to demonstrate that psychism is a mirage, one wonders why, in the many years the challenge has been going, there aren't many more cases like Putt and Ogilvie.

One possibility is that psychics are too canny to let themselves be tested in highly unnatural circumstances, ie giving readings to people facing in the opposite direction and swaddled up like mummies. But apparently some of them, like Putt and Ogilvie, are naïve. They have boundless confidence in their own abilities and willingly walk into what others might see as a trap, agreeing to work in circumstances that they have never tried before.

Randi's million dollar challenge has always been vulnerable to the argument that there isn't any proper testing going on at all - it's just an opportunistic debunking ploy. But when people like Wiseman and French start to carry out very public and  transparent testing like this, it can start to be taken seriously by people who might otherwise have given psychics the benefit of the doubt. It's difficult to think of anything more helpful for the sceptics' cause, and it's interesting that this should only happen when the challenge itself is about to be withdrawn. 

Apart from the matter of influencing public perceptions, I'm interested in the science here. I take psychism to be real not on the basis of single tests like this, but on the accumulated data of psychical research. So I'm wondering why Putt failed. Some possibilities: she's not psychic at all, but just thinks she is; she is psychic, but needs to have a normal interaction with her sitters; as Greg Taylor at the Daily Grail suggests, the sitters might be sceptics who deliberately chose the wrong reading (unlikely, as Greg acknowledges, but potentially an experimental flaw); or that somehow French and Wiseman inhibited psi from manifesting - the experimenter effect.

If any of these, or a combination of them, is correct, it's worth following up. I'm thinking of the famous remote viewing experiments in which Marilyn Schlitz got significant results while Wiseman, using exactly the same setup and subjects, did not.  So let's get Putt back and have her work in the same circumstances with sceptics and parapsychologists, and compare the results. Or get them working with mediums of the first rank, like Colin Fry, for instance, or John Edward, who worked under controlled conditions in Gary Schwartz's first experiments, with sitters concealed behind a curtain and not speaking.

I suppose the conclusion is that we can't rule out psi unless we at least give it a chance to appear. Once we've seen it in action, we can fiddle with the parameters and see what's required to make it appear or disappear. Then we can argue about it. One-off tests aren't a way of establishing anything conclusively.

Could this sort of co-operation ever occur? I think both French and Wiseman might be up for it, if there was the organisation and the funds. But that's a big 'if'. I can't see it happening unless someone has the incentive to make it happen, and there's not much of that around at the moment. 

Comments

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It doesn't surprise me that someone claiming mediumship ability and doing all the things you mentioned in the opening remarks has failed so dismally.

Having visited a number of Spiritualist venues over the last four years I have seen one (two mediums together) example that I would describe as credible, and many many others who doubtless believed they were passing messages on however it was in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

She agreed to the terms of the test and to be bound by it. It doesn't sound like French or Wiseman set out to trick her in any way. Perhaps she is yet another loopy wannabe.

I agree. I've also seen mediums I found credible, and many more I didn't. As it happens I heard about a week ago of what is the most impressive feat of mediumship I've ever come across (if true, which I'm fairly sure it is). To be presented, I gather at the SPR conference in Nottingham and hopefully also published in the SPR Journal. I won't say more until then so wait for it.

As for that Randi challenge, look at the way he wriggled out of George Vithoulkas's application (details are out there somewhere).

Randi has been described (by himself) as 'a professional fraud',
'a charlatan, a liar a thief and a fake altogether' and 'an actor playing a part'. No comment.

Hi,

it seems that Schlitz/Wiseman experiments were remote staring (not viewing).

There is the same observation in France with a MDC-like (1987-2002, 200 000€). 264 candidates, but only nearly 20 pretests. Most of the candidates don't go to pretests. Quite all the pretests are not fully describe (there is no article published in a scientific pear-review journal), but those which are describe on internet or popular books seem to have some biases. Moreover : the organisation is very strange, with the money and the final judgement coming from the same person.
http://www.pseudo-scepticisme.com/Analyse-critique-du-Prix-Defi.html

I am intrigued Guy :). I can't wait for the SPR journal (now that's something I never thought I hear myself say lol).

"But if it's so easy to demonstrate that psychism is a mirage, one wonders why, in the many years the challenge has been going, there aren't many more cases like Putt and Ogilvie.
One possibility is that psychics are too canny to let themselves be tested in highly unnatural circumstances, ie giving readings to people facing in the opposite direction and swaddled up like mummies. But apparently some of them, like Putt and Ogilvie, are naïve. They have boundless confidence in their own abilities and willingly walk into what others might see as a trap, agreeing to work in circumstances that they have never tried before."
Another explanation might be that psychics of all stripes have no real psychic powers.

If no psychics are able to do what they claim then that means the research that does provide evidence (and there is much) is either fraudulent or carried out by people who were duped. Possible I suppose but unlikely given some of the sources, many of whom set out as sceptics eg Sir William Crookes and had much to lose by endorsing it.

As to why such evidence cannot be replicated by sceptics there are a number of possibilities (and one is definitely fraud in at least some cases). It seems to be the case that psychics and mediums perform better in a more sympathetic environment, or at least an open-minded non-hostile environment. Perhaps this is a factor? Perhaps 'intent' also affects the outcome, if one approaches the matter determined to find nothing perhaps that very mindset makes failure more likely.

Anyhow, I do not think anyone can review the wealth of research available over the past 150 years and form a view that no person professing to be psychic has demonstrated such an ability.

Zero for ten? What intrigues me is that zero for ten is far below chance. If positive results above chance deserve additional investigation, maybe results strongly below chance do as well.

Two thoughts, both centering around the subject women. Well, actually three. The first two are about the background of the subjects.

Number 1. They do not have to have deliberately picked the wrong readings, but if they were selected from a pool of highly skeptical people, they may have been unconsciously suppressed hits or been hostile to the experiment. Of course skeptics would consider this a reach, but, again, the results are apparently far below chance therefore making this worht considering.

Number 2. In other experiments, for example some of Gary Schwartz's experiments, the subject was chosen because they had suffered losses and therefore had people on the "other side" to contact. Was having suffered a loss a criteria for the young women? How young were the women? Quite possibly, if they were young enough, for example college students, may not have suffered deaths of people close to them. It maybe that the "other side" controls contact and the urgency for contact comes from them. If the subjects were lacking in people who would want to contact them, it is possible that the medium's imagination "fills the gap". (This is an unexplored area, I think. I have had readings, and arranged blind readings for others, that were startlingly good - and had completely bizarre things mixed in. I got to a point where I could almost tell when psychic impressions switched out and imagination switched in. I think of Edgar Cayce who had many reliably witnessed medical and other readings that leave no reasonable doubt about his abilities - and he also described life on Venus. Do the fantasies invalidate the hits? I don't think so - but I think it shows the difficulty of turning off one's mind to get impressions and the tendency to fill the silence with our own brain chatter.)

Finally, Robert asks if the strange conditions put off the medium. But maybe they put off the subjects? It cannot have been comfortable to be in those deliberately de-individualizing conditions.

In the end, the selection of young women and putting them in those costumes is really a stunt and not necessary for the experiment. I would like to see people chosen because they had suffered losses in their life and a series of blind random readings (with no visual contact) and then see what the results show. The subjects can have shared characteristics, such as being young women or middle aged men or whatever, so long as they have had losses and their is actually someone dead in their life to contact.

There are people who don't get results in psi experiments, such as Susan Blackmore, and others who often get results, such as Gary Schwartz and Dean Radin. I think the whole controversy hinges on this fact. Wiseman doesn't get results, maybe because he is a skeptic, or he's a skeptic because he doesn't get results.

Uri Geller could not perform on the Tonight show. Haven't we seen this happen repeatedly? I think both sides are correct -- psi is real, and there is no predictable way to test it..

Uri Geller couldn't perform on the Tonight Show because he was watched like a hawk by host Johnny Carson, a professionally skilled stage magician himself. Geller was given no opportunity to perform his basic sleight-of-hand tricks, and therefore did not manifest his self-proclaimed 'psychic' abilities.

You wrote: "One possibility is that psychics are too canny to let themselves be tested in highly unnatural circumstances, . . ." That is a laughable rationalization. Psychics, according to thepremise of their reputed "special" ability, are supposed to be perceiving data about an individual that is not based on mundane circumstances, but from mental or spiritual information from the person being read. If the psychic needs to see their clothes, jewelry, watch for facial reactions, eye tics, changes in pulse rate, smell their perfume, etc. etc. etc.,to garner information, then they may be regarded as a cold reader. Case closed.

Are we left to assume, then, that certain psychological factors are not allowed to come into play if you're psychic?

The disipline is called parapsychology for a reason. I think that sometimes people forget the psychology aspect of it...

"If the psychic needs to see their clothes, jewelry, watch for facial reactions, eye tics, changes in pulse rate, smell their perfume, etc. etc. etc.,to garner information, then they may be regarded as a cold reader. Case closed"

Which is precisely why Gary Schwartz's medium experiments are double and triple blind.


Case opened.

The fact that one "psychic" failed a test doesn't really mean anything. Maybe she's a fake -- many of them are. Or maybe she genuinely feels she has ESP but it's really just good intuition. Or maybe she really has powers, at least sometimes, but can only function in a sympathetic context.

Psychic powers aren't something you turn on with a switch. Testing one person just doesn't say much. It would be interesting to have some kind of mass psychic testing through a web site.

By saying that "French and Wiseman, [...] unlike [Randi] take a moderate approach to debunking parapsychology, and can't really be accused of setting Putt up for a fail" you are implying that Randi rigs the game so that the million-dollar challenge claimants will fail. Do you have any evidence of this? The JREF and any claimants have to come to a mutually acceptable set of testing protocols before the challenge begins. No-one is being hoodwinked, and it's just sour grapes when claimants say afterwards that they were unfairly treated.

If anything, Randi's tests are rather too fair on the claimants. There is a very slim possibility of someone doing well and even passing a test on purely statistical grounds. In practice though, the claimant would have had to have passed the initial testing as well, so they'd have to strike lucky at least twice.

It's amusing that you try to explain away failures by saying that the claimants were "naive". I would say Randi's claimants are either greedy, deluded, deranged, or some combination of those. Naivety may well play a part, but claimants still have to agree to the testing protocols, and nobody is being forced to take part.

It think we can safely agree that to say you need to get 5 out of 10 for them to deem that "something interesting" is happening is a bit suspect. Chance is 1 out of 10. 3 or 4 out of 10 would be intersting and this is only the preliminary stage, the actual MDC would be somewhat higher than that.

Now, I'm not saying that she's been hoodwinked or that shes a real psychic, if indeed such a thing exists, but even the best goalkeeper in the world will struggle to save 5 out 10 penalties on a good day, let alone anything higher than that. The MDC it's self isn't a very fair test. Most scientific experiments would not pass the MDC if they were put through a challenge with similar conditions.

'...you are implying that Randi rigs the game so that the million-dollar challenge claimants will fail. Do you have any evidence of this?’

There’s a question of trust. Randi has made a big career out of debunking psychics – every time he gets up to jeer at them he can bask in the approval of the scientific and sceptical community. If someone wins his prize, what happens to all of that? No, I don’t have any hard evidence that he rigs the test, but it’s common sense to suppose he’d do everything possible to stop it happening. The point is, one can’t credibly pose both as the scceptics’ champion AND as an impartial referee. To think so is why people like Putt and Derek Ogilvie are naïve.

‘I would say Randi's claimants are either greedy, deluded, deranged, or some combination of those.’

That’s the sort of attitude I mean. Why would a psychic get involved with someone who thinks that about them?

Interestingly, sceptics who interact with psychics – Wiseman and French among them - often recognise that there is an intuitional basis to what they do. Some people really do get ideas, images and intimations that seem to correspond to the person they are with. The correspondences may be illusory, and the value of testing is to establish whether or not that is the case, as a scientific enquiry. You may quite fairly take the view that the process is illusory, but it’s not necessarily irrational to take it seriously, let alone ‘deluded’ or ‘deranged’.

Since she got 0/10, then doing the experiment again with more "pro-psi" experimenters will almost certainly end in a better result, whether their presence made any difference or not.

If the effects are illusory, then surely that means the psychic is deluding themselves that they have genuine psychic powers? As for "deranged", some of Randi's claimants do seem to fall into that category, but they don't tend to make it past the initial testing.

By saying that Randi "jeers" at claimants and "bask[s] in the approval of the scientific and sceptical community" you are using ad hominem language to smear people whose opinions you dislike. Randi has had some pretty harsh things to say about how scientists are easily fooled by charlatans or are fools to themselves (Benveniste, Blondlot, etc.) - hardly stuff that would endear him to scientists. In fact, his forthcoming book "Wrong!" is about exactly that subject.

You say that "one can't credibly pose both as the sceptics' champion AND as an impartial referee" - why on Earth not? A good sceptic will go whichever way the evidence takes him or her. Only crap sceptics (and many pro-paranormalists) take a fixed position and refuse to budge regardless of the evidence (or lack thereof). Far from being open minded, it's the pro-paranormalists who are often closed minded and reactionary. It's laughable that they have the gall to accuse sceptics of the closed mindedness that they themselves exhibit.

Gee Simon you come off as the poster child of moderation in all your writings....

My experience has been both sides can refuse to consider evidence but that "skeptics" tend to be far worse then the paranormalist. They refuse to accept any form of testimonial evidence and refuse to accept any scientific evidence which refutes their sacred cows ( for example that pesky vertical evidence which keeps coming up in NDEs). I should also note they are not above misrepresenting research on the Paranormal, for example Michael Shermer on Van Lommels NDE research.

Actually, Simon, 'deluded' wouldn't be the correct word to use in that case. If a scientist proposes the theory that a daily half-hour power walk helps to ease depression, and it turns out to not be the case, it means he is mistaken, not 'deluded'.

Let's take Patricia Putt as an example. Maybe the test showed her that she was reliant upon facial expressions rather than actual communication with spiritual entities. Then, the test showed she was mistaken, as opposed to deluded, which as I'm sure you're more than aware is a very loaded term.

The difference here between the delusion and simply being mistaken is that something occured when Patrica did a private reading. It just may not have happened for the reasons she thought.

Also, the scientists that Randi pillories are usually those practising on the fringe such as Dean Radin and Sheldrake.

"You say that "one can't credibly pose both as the sceptics' champion AND as an impartial referee" - why on Earth not?"

Do you seriously believe this? Do you honestly think Randi would be willing to change his mind on these matters?

It will be interesting to see if his stance on cold-fusion changes in light of recent experiments.


'By saying that Randi "jeers" at claimants and "bask[s] in the approval of the scientific and sceptical community" you are using ad hominem language to smear people whose opinions you dislike.'

Hard to know what other word than "jeering" fits the bill where Randi is concerned. My first introduction to his work was Flim-Flam! whose tone and language struck me as extraordinary - I hadn't come across anything like it before. He calls parapsychologists, who are also reputable scientists, 'psi-nuts', 'not rowing with both oars in the water', 'suffer from thinking defects and decayed relations with reality',etc. I gradually realised that abuse is a deliberate strategy - Martin Gardner justifies it with Mencken's epithet about a single horselaugh being worth more than a thousand syllogisms.

I also discovered that other sceptics think it's counterproductive. It's hard to think that Ray Hyman had anyone but Randi in mind when he criticised the establishment's "hit men" who use ad hominem attacks, misrepresent claims, dismiss them on a priori grounds, etc. 'They serve to "discredit" the deviant hypothesis, and once it is so tainted, then the establishment scientists feel relieved and ignore it... But "discrediting" is not the same as disproving." (The Elusive Quarry, p. 246)

Hyman,Wiseman and French are all courteous and interact on a human level, yet manage to be effective debunkers (or perhaps you don't think so?).

I'm thinking for instance of the reaction to Gary Schwartz's experiments with mediums. Randi's response is a rant - no other word for it - climaxing with the jibe that Schwartz didn't apply for his prize, why? Because, he speculates, Schwarz doesn't really trust the medium, is too well off to need the money, or doesn't care about giving it to hungry children or AIDS research.

(http://www.randi.org/jr/03-23-2001.html)

By contrast, both Wiseman and Hyman made critiques that were thoughtful, measured and quite effective.

It's not Randi's scepticism I don't like - it's his profoundly immature response to a field of human experience which is very widespread and which raises legitimate questions for scientific study.

'Far from being open minded, it's the pro-paranormalists who are often closed minded and reactionary. It's laughable that they have the gall to accuse sceptics of the closed mindedness that they themselves exhibit.'

How open minded are you, Simon?

These "legitimate questions" that you talk about have been studied ad nauseam for over a century and not a single piece of incontrovertible evidence has emerged. Now you might say that there is plenty of evidence if only I'd open my mind to personal testimony, but that's where we differ. You seem to place great value on testimony, whereas at best I would see that as a starting point for further exploration under controlled conditions. If something tangible comes out of it, then great. I'd be quite happy to be proved wrong, and for there to be genuine paranormal phenomena that science has yet to explain. As a scientist I'm always open to new ideas, as any good sceptic and scientist should be.

The Major - I was referring to sceptics in general being able to impartially referee these tests, rather than Randi in particular. I don't think Randi will change his spots, probably because he's seen too many charlatans and been the victim of too many character assassinations to be truly impartial. (You may be aware that some years ago Randi was the victim of a shockingly nasty smear campaign allegedly orchestrated by a certain individual in the paranormalist movement. It's no wonder he's pretty grumpy.)

I'm not a fan of Wiseman's work, which sometimes verges on the silly and trivial I think, which is probably why the media seem to love him so much. I know he's quite the darling of many sceptics too, but I'm not one of them.

Kris - if my answers seem rather blunt, that's because I don't believe in pussyfooting around sparing people's feelings when I think they're talking nonsense. Likewise, sceptics get the same treatment on pro-paranormal forums. I'm not trying to win a popularity contest.

Well Simon two can play this game.

You are simply ignorant of research on Parapsychology and should just be quiet. There is not one person in this forum who knows less then you do on this subject.

Have you ever studied the Ganzfield experiments? Course not.

I have studied NDEs for ten years now, subscribe to the IANDs journal etc. I will happily defend the afterlife hypothesis in debate, would you care to defend the dying brain view? Come on, lets see what you can do.

How about Ian Stevenson's research on Reincarnation? I have both volumes of his Reincarnation and Biology. Pretty pricey but when you want to learn about something you gotta study the best. I would happily defend the Reincarnation hypothesis, would you care to defend any of the skeptical explanations.

That's two areas of paranormal research that have produced evidence and continue to produce evidence regardless of the researcher.

Lets see how good you really are Simon.

Haven't you noticed the complete irony of Simon's position though.

He is saying Paranormalist are closed minded, on a blog post, written by a paranormalist which was specifically about how the skeptics got one right! Oh the irony!

Simon, do you have on instance where " skeptics" admit they were wrong?

"By saying that Randi "jeers" at claimants and "bask[s] in the approval of the scientific and sceptical community" you are using ad hominem language to smear people whose opinions you dislike."

Having read this I now beleive that we are missing the point. Comedy this rich can only have been intentional. Simon is clearly an Andy Kaufmanesque satrist of the highest order. He's provided me with the best laugh I've had in some time.

Yes Kris, I know nothing, and I bow to your incredibly wide-ranging knowledge on all things woo. Meanwhile, I'll continue to remain unimpressed by the pathetic exploits of third-rate carnival performers, until convincing evidence shows otherwise. Perhaps if I read the entire works of L Ron Hubbard I could then dismiss everyone who dismisses Scientology. Or does it only work if it's about your favourite subject?

As for naming an instance where sceptics have admitted getting something wrong, then how about one involving your favourite bete noir, James Randi. After testing the abilities of Arthur Lintgen, who claimed to be able to identify phonograph recordings by looking at the grooves, Randi admitted that Lintgen did indeed possess this ability:

http://www.skepdic.com/vinylvision.html

Perhaps the rarity of instances where sceptics have stated they got it wrong has more to do with the fact that paranormalists always fail to live up to their promises? In any case, there are precious few instances where psychics 'fess up to being wrong - they almost always rationalise it by crying foul about unfair testing conditions, bad karma, electrical disturbances, sceptical bad vibes, etc, etc. The list of excuses for psychic failure is almost endless.

Yawn Folks

We got another sophist here. He knows nothing about the subject, hence the reason he makes idiotic comparisons of things such as NDE research, which has been stumping mainstream views on consciousness for 30 years to L Ron Hubbard. Of course why would he bother reading things such as the Sabom Study on the subject, Kenneth Ring study on the NDES in the Blind or even something as easy as the Van Lommel study. Maybe you should consider reading Irreducible Mind but it is a big book.

Ignorance is ignorance Simon and if you are going to criticize a view you should at least study it a bit. Have you read even one book on the paranormal that supports it? I am not a Scientologist myself but if I was to argue with them at least I would try to read some of their works.

I am utterly sure Simon believes the reason Holocaust deniers and creationist continue in their views is cause of the weakness of evolution and mainstream history. You know it is always the fault of the view/theory if it has skeptics.

Ok how about this one. In NDE studies skeptics have demanded vertical evidence be produced. It was produced in the Sabom Study, Lancet Study and the Sartori study. Have we seen skeptics change their mind. Of course not. Simon, would you come around and rationalize all this for us, please do. What's your excuse?

of course the ability Randi admitted he was wrong on wasn't paranormal so that counts for little.

What on Earth are you blathering on about Kris? You're the only person who's brought up Holocaust denial and creationism. And why would I think that people espouse these views because evolution/mainstream history is somehow faulty? Please don't attribute opinions to me that I don't hold.

I've read enough pro-paranormal literature to know the standard of the research (or what passes for research). Some of it is interesting, such as Dean Radin's work - at least he comes at it from a science/engineering angle.

Let's say that Randi hadn't exposed the truth behind his Project Alpha experiment, and had let everyone go along believing that his subjects were the real thing. You might then be challenging me to explain how such amazing and unfathomable powers could be explained by sceptics. Since I wasn't there, I could hardly claim to know the truth, but it wouldn't be an outrageous assumption to say that trickery was involved would it? So why is it so incredible for you to believe that other paranormal events might have more prosaic explanations? (And in case I haven't made myself clear - I'm NOT saying that all paranormal claims are hoaxes.)

Lets see, have you ever heard of a reducto absurdum mode of argument. I took your argument about the existence of skeptics of the paranormal as proof against the paranormal and showed why it would lead to absurd conclusions in other areas. The existence of skeptics in any area only proves the existence of skeptics. By your reasoning these skeptics wouldn't exist at all if the evidence for these events was so overwhelming.

As for mundane explanations I have no problem with it, but I want them to be shown, not alleged. And I want them to be plausible . In things such as NDEs for example is far, far easier to accept the afterlife hypothesis cause it far, far better explains all the date then the dying brain.

Which paranormal claims do you accept?

We have a version of "Psychic Challenge" show and some psychics demonstrate amazing results. But later (after show) when people come to them the same psychics can't "read" and "predict" anything correct. It is not just one or 2 cases, there are a lot!

I don't know yet what to think - maybe they are real psychics but have no desire to help their clients, just want to get money. Maybe they have already lost their gift. Maybe they are just charlatans and somebody gave them information during the show.

As for Patricia, I am afraid that she could be a good psychologist - not a psychic.

Again, the usual excuses are trotted out for yet another psychic who has failed a properly controlled test. Testing “out of context,” “in unnatural circumstances,” the presence of sceptics upsetting the “psychic vibrations,” etc., etc. This is just too tedious.

The principle of such tests is really quite straightforward: the suspicion is that the psychic under test is using cold reading, even if he or she does not realise it and sincerely believes they have paranormal powers. So a test is set up so that cold reading will not be possible. One would think that if true psychic ability existed with such people then not being allowed to use cold reading would be irrelevant. But psychics always fail these tests and they and their supporters always come out with an endless stream of rationalisations. If real science worked like that, we would still be in the dark ages.

As for the comment, “Or get them working with mediums of the first rank, like Colin Fry, for instance…”

Oh, please. Is this the same Colin “trumpet” Fry who featured in the Psychic News of 7th November 1992? Then, he was a “physical medium” going under the name “Lincoln.” Here are a couple of extracts from the Psychic News article:

“Shocked sitters witnessed physical medium Lincoln standing in the middle of the room holding a spirit trumpet in his hand when the lights suddenly came on during a Noah’s Ark Society (NAS) séance last month. The séance held before an invited audience, took place at NAS chairman Robin Foy’s home in Scole, Norfolk. The incident is alleged to have occurred within 20 minutes of the circle getting underway.”

“Then a totally unexpected occurrence ensued. The ceiling light, said Mrs Allen, suddenly came on, flooding the room with brilliant light. “And there was Lincoln standing in front of me,” she stated. “He was holding the trumpet up in the air with his own hand. I was utterly shocked.”

So a disembodied spirit wasn’t levitating the spirit trumpet? Oh, dear. But don’t worry, Fry had an explanation: he had been possessed by a mischievous spirit who made him do it. And the Psychic News of 10th April 1993 said:

“Following their investigation into the Scole séance, where the physical medium known as Lincoln was caught holding a trumpet, the Noah’s Ark Society (NAS) has issued a statement supporting the demonstrator.”

Well, that’s OK, then. And if you have a look at Richard Wiseman’s blog, you will see that Patricia Putt has been in touch to inform everyone that, having had time to think about it, she can state that she did not, in fact, fail the test, she actually scored ten out of ten (it seems that Chris French and Richard Wiseman just can’t see that).

I am sure that French and Wiseman would not have any worries about discovering someone who really does have psychic abilities; after all, the addition of a Nobel Prize to their CVs would hardly be a hindrance to their careers.

In the meantime, if you want to support and offer excuses for psychics who cannot perform as they claim, then you can hardly complain about the ridicule that comes your way for doing so.

Yawn Harley

Did Simon bring you over here?

Have you considered the irony that you are complaining about paranormalist making excuses when organizations such as SPR have no problem debunking an alleged case. Heck the only reason you probably know about this case is that you read about it on a proparanormal website, reporting the skeptics were dead on . The only difference between SPR and Wiseman etc is that SPR considers some cases to be valid, and Wiseman etc twist and distort evidence for the remaining unexplained cases to make them fit their preconceived notions. Witness Shermer on the Van Lommel Lancet Study.

Would you care to discuss all aspects of the Paranormal, not just one psychic, who by the title of this blog was thoroughly exposed as a fake. Of course Harley probably believes nothing can be trusted, cause everything has fraud involved with it, one wonders if he has ever heard of piltdown man and laughs at evolutionist?

I guess I should be flattered that you think I'm some sort of uber-sceptic overlord directing his minions to spread fear and loathing among the believers. Sadly I'm not, but Harley raises interesting points, despite your feigned boredom.

The fact that some psychics have been caught out may not prove that *all* psychics are frauds, but it demonstrates how easy it is for observers to be hoodwinked, or just simply to fool themselves. In many cases we may never know for sure, but if it's a choice between assuming fraud/human error and overturning the laws of physics based on an anecdotal evidence in an uncontrolled environment, guess which answer I'm going to pick?

And for heavens sake, stop banging on about Shermer and Van Lommel. You're sounding like a cracked record.

I will not stop banging on about skeptics engaging in fraud, sorry. Would you stop banging in on paranormalist engaging in fraud? Of course not. I am sorry if you cannot comprehend this but if you feel fraud, misrepresentation etc disproves the paranormal then by all fairness it disproves all fields of inquiry, including your pet skeptical philosophy.

What interesting point? Name one thing new from Harley. Name one thing that Harley has said that has not been stated, nor refuted a thousand times.

I always love the ole laws of physics canard. Let me kick that over for you right now.

a.) laws are approximations about how the universe works, not requirements for you how the universe must work

b.) Laws of Physics do get modified in light of new data. Look up hummingbirds + law of physics for example.

c.) we do not know everything about the universe, therefore we cannot know every law and exactly how they work.

d.) Laws of Physics do not apply on the subatomic level.

I think that is enough to reduce your argument to ashes on this subject.

Of course laws of physics arguments were used to disprove heavier then air flight, are you still skeptical of that?

You can fool observers in many, many activities, not just the paranormal. The issue involves individuals regardless of field who even the best of skeptics cannot catch in fraud. If that happens then they just might be telling the truth. Possible?

Haha, it's funny that you're trying to tell a physicist how physics works. I think quantum physicists might be quite surprised to hear that the laws of physics don't apply at the subatomic level. Are they wasting their time?

Your argument seems to revolve around the notion that since science can't explain everything (no scientist has ever claimed it can) then anything goes, and any ridiculous claim should be taken seriously because it's impossible for science to prove anything definitively.

Quite a few logical fallacies in your reply. By the way, physicists never "proved" that heavier-than-air flight was impossible (I'm surprised you didn't mention bumblebees while you were about it). Who's stating canards now?

And just a suggestion - be careful about who you call a fraud. The libel laws in the UK put the burden of proof on the defendant. That's why only a few brave souls describe certain litigious psychics in that way.

Oh now your a physicist now too... I only have your testimony on this and you already stated your opinion on such evidence. Especially seeing you missed some of the points below we should consider you a fraud too. If it is fair to use such methodologies on things you disagree with, why can't we do that with you. All we have is at best testimonial evidence and that seems weak with the errors you made....

Did you miss the concept of Superposition- This is where a particle can exist at two different locations at the same time.

Please show me any non subatomic particle that can do that.

How about direct observation nullifies the result. Does that happen anywhere but the subatomic level?

If the above are not violations of the laws of physics, well why aren't they?

Lets see what is illogical about claiming that seeing we do not know everything we should not say something is impossible. Lets see my argument.

Premises:

a.) scientific knowledge is incomplete.
b.) scientific laws are only an approximation of how the universe works.

conclusion

Therefore we should not rule out something on a priori bases without a great amount of evidence on why it is impossible ( for example a claim of Earth resting on pillars) and if that event seems to occur again and again ( for example vertical NDEs) we should be prepared to expand and amend scientific knowledge, not ignore the findings.

I do not consider the paranormalia to be absurd because much of it, such as NDEs and Reincarnation can be backed with evidence. If things such as Sabom, Lommels, Rings, Sartori's, Stevensons research and conclusion on these subjects are not evidence, then well why aren't they evidence. I will note vertical NDEs and Past life Recall have been observed by other researchers too.

You know a skeptic is hurting when he asserts someone who disagrees with him is being illogical and doesn't even attempt to show it. I think " your being illogical" is the skeptics equivalent of a fundies " go to hell"

As for fraud I will happily call someone like James Randi or Michael Shermer frauds because this has been clearly demonstrated again and again. I live in the US so I will be okay.

Gee Lord Kelvin never claimed to have proven that about " heavier then air flight"

Heck he was physicist too

Care to discuss other instances of where skeptics were completely wrong

Kris – I don’t know Simon; I found this site all by myself.

You say the reason I know about the Fry case is because I probably found it on a pro-paranormal website. I hope you weren’t relying on your psychic powers to tell you that, because you are wrong. I am unaware of any pro-paranormal website that is willing to debunk any claimed psychic, but I am willing to be enlightened if you care to give references.

You claim that Wiseman, etc., “twist and distort evidence.” Perhaps you would like to give some examples that can be checked by others?

I’m not familiar with the Shermer/Van Lommel study, so I won’t comment on that.

You talk about irony. The title of this blog post does, indeed, appear to allude to a psychic who failed, but then we have the believers coming out with all manner of contrived excuses to explain that failure. Ironic, indeed. But I am not even claiming that Putt, Fry and the rest are fakes – they might truly believe they have the powers they claim; perhaps they really are psychic; my point is that they either fail objective tests or refuse to be tested, so there is no compelling reason to believe they can do the things they claim to be able to do, however sincere they might be.

And why should I laugh at “evolutionists” as you call them? Your last comment does not weaken my argument, but strengthens it. Piltdown Man was a clear hoax, and when that fact was established, science discarded it as a failed hypothesis. That’s how science progresses. If only the paranormalists could ditch the failures instead of clinging on to them, they might actually have a chance of finding the real psychics – if any actually exist.

One last thing, Kris – if you can stop yawning and wake up, your comments might start sounding a little less tired.

Harley-If you visit Michael prescott's blog, which is a pro-paranormal site, then type in Sylvia Browne into the google search button you will find various Posts about how the blog poster suspects her to be a fraud.
Btw I think a small number of people are really psychic but 0/10 is pretty bad, so its pretty clear Patricia Putt isn't a real psychic. Whether she was sincere or not, I don't know.

I am very skeptical of Richard Wiseman work

Michael Prescott puts it best when he says

He's the fellow who claimed that his own work invalidated Rupert Sheldrake's research on "pet telepathy," but when Wiseman's results were analyzed, they were found to match the same patterns Sheldrake had identified!

http://www.sheldrake.org/D&C/controversies/Wiseman_psi.html

He was also one of the investigators in the thoroughly botched Natasha Demkina experiment.
http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/Demkinafile/index.html

Here's a good takedown of Wiseman by Stephen Braude.

http://www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/Examskeptics/Braude_Wiseman.html

More articles critical of Wiseman can be found here.

http://search.freefind.com/find.html?oq=Wiseman+demkina&id=70607058&pageid=r&_charset_=utf-8&bcd=%C3%B7&scs=1&query=Wiseman+&Find=Search&mode=ALL&search=all

Given Wiseman's track record, I simply can't regard him as a credible psi researcher.

Robbie – I followed your suggestion and checked Michael Prescott’s blog. As you say, Michael is not very impressed with Browne, but I have to say that in view of her dismal record, and especially the disgraceful episode of the Shawn Hornbeck case, only a complete dimwit could take Sylvia Browne seriously. And Montel Williams, who gave her unlimited publicity on his TV show, should hang his head in shame for continuing to support her. But I thank you for the reference.

I maybe could have been more precise in my previous comment; what I have yet to find is a pro-paranormal website where psychics are not simply supported uncritically, but actually put under the critical spotlight. If the paranormal supporters tested psychic claimants and were open with their investigations in the same way that French and Wiseman have been with Patricia Putt, then their claims could perhaps be accorded some measure of credibility.

At least French and Wiseman have published their data, and are not relying on knee-jerk rationalisations to defend their work. If someone can point out a legitimate flaw in their methodology, then that information will be used to modify future investigations. That, in fact, is why something like anecdotal evidence is not counted as fundamental evidence of anything – it has been found that even sincere testimony is subjective, and simply not reliable. French and Wiseman’s video recordings can be played back without error; someone’s memory does not have the same fidelity.

Today I have watched some very interesting videos about one psychic from Kazakstan and have read a big discussion about the videos. This man could become "The Next Uri Geller"! He can heat and burn by hand using mantras GLIM and IM.

http://bit.ly/vfzru

http://bit.ly/hKMZo

Of course it could be a trick. At the same time, this man explaines in detailes how he learned to do it, how all this works, about energy ball, etc. He is very convincing and has a lot of clients. So the things could be true and at least deserve attention and observation. If someone needs, I have his phone number.


Throws up my hands at Hartley and shakes my head....

We do debunk psychics etc read SPR. Geez

Kris – did you mean Harley, or someone else called Hartley?

Anyway, I had a look (again) at the SPR website, but there does not appear to be any examples of psychics being debunked, as you call it. If there is such a section on the site, then it is very well hidden – or does one require psychic powers to find it?

If you would care to give specific references, then I am willing to check them to see whether what you claim is true. As a genuine sceptic, I am open to all ideas that can be supported with evidence. Show me a pro-paranormal website that tests psychics, is open about their specific methodology, and then lists those who have passed and those who have failed those tests. Which pro-paranormal websites or organisations test psychics and then state something like, “this person claimed to be psychic, but failed the test, and we therefore state that this person has no psychic powers”?

Incidentally, I think the term “debunk” is rather crude. Those who fail a properly controlled test simply fail the test, and therefore do not, at that time, demonstrate the powers they claim.

Harley

Look at this and look through some of the various articles for each issue, you will notice some of them are skeptical in nature. Others are just research oriented. Just like any other scientific journal. I will note this only took me two minutes to find, so this does speak a lot about your ability as a true researcher on this subject. I highly suspect you assumed it didn't exist and instantly gave up and decided snarky comments about being psychic trumps any real efforts to understand something.

http://www.spr.ac.uk/expcms/index.php?section=41

I will of course point out SPR does everything you asked for , try reading the articles might I humbly suggest. Lastly I will observe that PHD Gary Swartz helped James Randi disprove a psychic.

I tend to use the word debunk in cases where a skeptic argues a clearly impossible theory to explain a series of data. My specialty area of research is NDEs and I will say someone who defends the dying brain after seriously reading the literature on this subject is either deluded, or plain dishonest.

Blackmore wrote her book on this in the early 1990s before a lot more research came out on this subject, and much of what she has wrote has been demonstrated to be in error. However newer " skeptics" ( truth be told committed defenders of materialism) such as Woerlee and more recently Augustine have completely crossed over into the area of deluded and dishonest in the extreme in this area at least in my book. They know that vertical cases have been demonstrated, however they continue to misrepresent this to the public. I can give examples later, if you like.

Kris – I can research, sure enough, and I had already looked at the web page you later linked to. But it is a list of abstracts, and the articles they refer to are not available to people like me who are not members of the SPR. It is available only if I am willing to spend money – so it’s not exactly freely available.

My point was that French and Wiseman’s test of Patricia Putt is easily available, and includes the methodology and the results. If any pro-paranormal websites do the same as a matter of routine, they are not very obvious.

Gary Schwartz PhD is not a very good example of how to do psychic research. His work comes in for severe criticism from other scientists, and you might be aware that even Alison Dubois dissociated herself from him some time ago.

There is no compelling evidence that psychics can upturn the laws of physics at will, and plenty of evidence that they cannot do it under controlled conditions. The bulk of the evidence for the paranormal is still anecdotal, and that is just not good enough.

No one said that they had to "upturn the laws of physics". Indeed, is it not arrogant to assume that we have the laws of physics figured out already? Unless you know something the physics community doesn't, then we're very far from knowing how things tick.

Not that I'm jumping to the defense of psychics here, I'm still agnostic on the issue, but there are a lot of things that cannot take place under controlled conditions (from the top of my head: the migration patterns of birds, geological events, events in nature etc) but that doesn't mean they don't exist. If that were so then would geology be a science? Sure, it's observational but it's still science.

And of course there is the psychology aspect of parapsychology, which is why qualitative research should be just as valid in this field as it is in psychology as a whole. Why dismiss field based research (indeed, this is the distinction between parapsychologists and psychical researchers)?

I'm going to go back to my goalkeeping analogy. Even the best goalkeeper in the world won't consistently save the same amount of penalties every at every penalty shoot out. There are other factors involved (the biggest in this example being luck, of course). It is the same for all athletes, both metal and physical. Isn't this another thing that we should allow for in our research?

James, Crookes, Lodge and Myers et al had the right idea of testing psychics/mediums in environments familiar to them, but by also putting protocols in place to rule out fraud. Some of the claimed best research in the field isn't necessarily carried out in a lab.

Just something to think about, you know? IMO Ms Putts failure is indefenceable, but that doesn't mean she shouldn't be tested again. Both in and out of the lab.

Harley

Sometimes you have to pay to read research, sorry that is the nature of things. Being free is not always an indicator of positive value, if so creationism would be gold. I will point out that paranormalist are far less funded then skeptics, so that might be a reason they cannot afford to make it free.

Yes Schwartz has skeptical criticism, that is just the nature of research of any subject, and much more so in parapsychology. The question is are the criticisms valid. One in the end has to read Schwartz's research and skeptical criticisms and make up one owns mind I fear. Just the same as with any other subject.

I might comment more on this later, still on vacation after all.

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