Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Healer's appeal turned down

Reader "Eva S" informs me about some developments in the Mervyn Johnson case. The psychic, who was convicted to five years imprisonment for rape, previously made an appeal to the Court of Appeal that was turned down. According to "Eva S", Radio P4 Varmland reported last Tuesday that a further appeal by the psychic has been turned down by the Supreme Court, who decided not to open the case again. And thus, Johnson has run out of options in his attempts to escape punishment.

So, to paraphrase a famous cable guy: psychic going down, going down, down, down...

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Money Factor

In The Psychic Mafia, an exposé of his years as a spiritualistic medium, Lamar Keene states that

Mediums, even for professional predators, are an extremely avaricious lot. /… / No doubt incomes vary greatly, according to the skill and popularity of the medium, but the fact is that nobody on earth knows the truth about mediumistic incomes except the individuals themselves. (Keene, 1997)

Keene also describes how it was common practice to deposit in bank accounts only the amounts that had been reported in income-tax returns, and how many psychics kept piles of cash, some of them in safes, some in Swiss bank accounts, and some in the form of gems.

Although Keene’s account was originally published in 1976, the psychics of this millennium are surely no different from him and his psychic colleagues during their heydays. In fact, Joe Nickell went back to Keene’s old domain, Camp Chesterfield, in 2001 and concluded that it’s conjuring business as usual at the spiritualistic fortress (Nickell, 2002). In spite of Keene’s and other’s exposures, psychics still pull the basic stunts to rip a buck – or a small fortune – off the superstitious in the seclusion of this front for organized fraud.

It is no surprise that the psychic scene in particular and New Age in general attracts people who are keen to make money as easy as possible, legally or not. After all, transactions between psychics and their clients are strictly personal and who bothers with receipts when you’ve just received word from your dear, dead grandmother? In addition, the psychic practice demands no tools, no offices or other facilities, no education, nothing but the willingness to deceive and the lack of conscience.

Consider Sylvia Browne, one of the world’s most renowned psychics. It’s no coincidence that she had to bargain her way out off a prison sentence in the late 80’s, when she and her husband was charged on six counts of grand theft and investment fraud (SSB, 2007). Although she escaped that one, she is still in the deception business; she sells bullshit, claiming it is messages from the dead. Or consider the former president of the International Spiritualist Foundation, ISF, Mervyn Johnson, who was sentenced to five years imprisonment for raping a 14-year old girl, and sexual molestation or misconduct concerning six other women. Mr. Johnson was one of the most prominent psychics in Sweden for several years, constantly on séance tours, holding ”courses”, or abroad on ISF conferences. Yet in recent years he has declared having no income (Sidenvall, 2006). How is that possible?

When looking into the income-tax returns (to some extent a matter of public record in Sweden) of our Swedish TV psychics, it is amazing to see how poor they are. Although performing 10-15 public séances per year (making somewhere around at least 1,500–2,000 dollars net each time), announcing to be over-booked with private sessions months ahead (charging 60–80 dollars net each session), holding ”mediumistic training courses” on several occasions per year (charging 300–500 dollars net for a weekend per person), it is still impossible for one of our TV psychics to earn enough to keep his head above the official poverty level. His probable earnings from the TV shows have not been taken into consideration. Nor the fact that his public séances and courses are held in the cheapest facilities possible – school halls, cheap motels, etc.

A couple of years ago, another of our TV psychics was reluctant to admit to having any work at all. His contribution to Sweden’s tax revenue is corresponding to his degree if admitted activity. But he is also over-booked with private sittings, tours, holds ”training courses”. How does it add up? One wonders…

The last time I saw the Grand Old Lady of Swedish psychics appear in one of the Swedish ”haunting” TV shows, she was so well-hung with gold and jewellery that I for a moment thought she was doing some kind of bad Gipsy impression. But then the cash management policies of Camp Chesterfield sprung into my mind, and the ridiculous adornments suddenly made sense – cash converted to bling-bling in order to evade taxes.

One of Sweden’s most active Tarot-tarts has a full-fledged webshop offering everything from crystals to books. She arranges New Age-fairs all around Sweden and, if I’m not mistaken, operates one or a couple of psychic phone-lines charging more than two dollars a minute. Last year, 2006, she declared an annual income of 1 dollar and 50 cent. Go figure…

The money aspect of psychic mediumship is rarely discussed, not even by skeptics. I find this strange, since money is probably the main motivation for most people who claim they are psychic. It is very easy money, you get paid for feeding people’s superstition with unsubstantiated gibberish, there are no obstructs between your client’s wallet and your pocket, no receipt needed, and you have no expenses, at least none that makes it necessary to report real income. In essence, psychic mediumship is a business that can be, and probably is, conducted more or less outside the realm of the tax authorities. And the best part is that the psychic has an army of supporters that will go to any lengths to defend the psychic’s right to his or her loot.

Some supporters argue that it is OK for the psychic to earn money because s/he is providing a service, just like a mechanic or a dentist. This is all fine and dandy – there is nothing wrong with an agreed payment as long as the agreed goods have been delivered. But in the case of the psychic, the agreed-upon goods are not delivered. In fact, no psychic has ever been able to show an ability to deliver anything but bullshit under controlled conditions. Instead, during the last century and a half, in case after case, a multitude of alleged psychics have been busted committing fraud. It is fair to say that psychic mediumship is a tradition of deceit. So it is not OK for the psychic to earn money because s/he is not providing the service s/he is selling. It would be equally wrong for the mechanic to charge for an engine repair never performed, or for the dentist to charge for a filling never done.

But, the supporter argues, as long as the client is satisfied, no harm is done, no deception performed. By this kind of logic, crimes not detected don’t exist – as long as a victim is ignorant of the fact that s/he is the object of a crime, the crime doesn’t exist; as long as you don’t miss anything from your house, it hasn’t been burglarized; as long as you have fallen for a deceit, you haven’t been deceived. Can you think of an argument better designed to protect a deceiver? It is the complete de-criminalization of the act as such.

However, some supporters apparently sense that there is something wrong with psychics making money. They point to those psychics who charge nothing and contend that they are genuine just because of their lack of interest in money -- thus indicating that the medium charging money may be motivated to cheat. There may be, however, several practical reasons why a psychic would not want to charge anything from his or her clients:

1. S/he doesn’t need money – a wealthy spouse, inherited wealth, or some other source of fortune or income makes money less or not at all desirable.

2. Some previous arrangement prevents him or her from getting new income – in Sweden, a common practice is that retirement agreements cease should the benefactor get new employment or other income.

3. S/he claims to charge nothing but expects ”gifts” – a practice mastered by psychics like D. D. Home and John of God.

4. S/he claims that services are free as a promotion gimmick, but when push comes to shove there is a fee. Sylvia Browne is known to pull this one.

And does the psychic who charges nothing earn nothing? No, on the contrary. S/he earns something that can be very valuable; ”observers may fail to realize that pseudopsyhics can be motivated by personal fame, raised self-esteem, a desire to be socially helpful, and increased personal power” (Wiseman & Morris, 1997). The inability to identify these benefits among supporters implies an almost complete ignorance of human psychology. It is amazing to see how a ”no charge” policy renders a psychic an air of benevolence. And it doesn’t matter how crappy s/he performs (even on TV) – as long as s/he doesn’t charge anything, s/he is untouchable. That is of course nonsense. Whether a psychic charges money or not doesn’t say anything regarding his or her ability to communicate with dead people.

When I attend public séances, I always take note of how many people are in the audience. That times the attendance fee gives a good estimate of how much the arranger and the psychic are splitting between themselves when the séance is over -- the psychic’s share is undoubtedly bigger. I also try to find out how much the facilities cost, and if there has been any advertising. Hall rental is generally very low -- when I’ve checked it has been in the region of 100-120 dollars. And advertising generally consists of small text ads in local papers, running for about the same. Deduct that from one night’s takings (at least 1,500-2,000 dollars), and you realize that two hours of telling people bullshit can be very profitable. Take that night times 10 or more nights a year, and you realize that a declared annual income of 10,000 dollars has the same authenticity as messages from the dead.

This is easy math that any tax official can do. Most psychics have websites where they display their schedules for the year or season. On top of their public séances and ”courses in mediumistic development”, most of them also do private sessions. So the sky is the limit, as far as tax evasion goes.

So why not spend the rest of this week checking a local psychic of your choice and mail an anonymous tip to the local tax authorities on Monday? It may turn out to be the most effective skeptic strategy yet.


Keene, L., (1997). The Psychic Mafia. New York: Prometheus.

Nickell, J., (2002). Undercover among the spirits: Investigating Camp Chesterfield – Investigative Files. Skeptic Inquirer, March, 2002. Online here.

Sidenvall, K., (2006, November, 9). Healerns sexoffer berättar. Nya Wermlands-Tidningen, s. 6.

SSB.; Stop Sylvia Browne, (2007). The People vs. Sylvia Brown(e). [WWW document]

Wiseman, R., & Morris, R., (1997). Modeling the Stratagems of Psychic Fraud. In R. Wiseman, Deception & Self-deception. Investigating Psychics. New York: Prometheus.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Cry Baby's Wisdom

"Thoughts have no language."

This profound-sounding wisdom was put forward by Swedish psychic Jörgen "Cry Baby" Gustafsson on a TV-show aired 28th of February. It was in answer to host Alexandra Pascalidou's question if Gustafsson would be able to convey a message from her much loved departed Greek grandmother who never uttered a word of Swedish. But according to Gustafsson it doesn't matter if the spirit spoke Mandarin or Swahili in this life, the post-life communication is done with imagery. So when the dead speak to Gustafsson they do so by showing images that he interprets. This explanation is very convenient as it opens up a cultural and language independent market for every psychic and at the same time suggests why psychic statements are so vague and dim. By freeing thinking from the shackles of language, psychic omnipotence emerges.

Do thoughts really lack language? Well, most of us have experienced the occasional inability to find the words for some thought and people who have suffered a stroke may experience how their thoughts are turned into gibberish as they try to speak, due to some degree of brain damage or malfunction. And we obviously don’t need to speak words to be able to think so maybe it is justified that an aphorism such as “thoughts have no language” is taking root in New Age lingo?

No, it is not. If we move beyond the intellectual boundaries of the likes of psychic Gustafsson, we find that language in fact is essential to our thoughts and ability to think (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). True, we think in images as well as in words; our thoughts often rely on visual representations of some kind. But it is our ability to think in words that pretty much makes us human. Tattersall notes:

Language is, indeed, the ultimate symbolic mental function, and it is virtually impossible to conceive of thought as we know it in its absence. For words, it is fair to say, function as the units of human thought, at least as we are aware of it.” (Tattersall, 2006)

Since words often are symbols of objects and phenomena that are absent, it is speech and language that enables us to intellectually move beyond the immediate perceptual field. This ability is one of the things that separate us from other species (Crain, 2005). Words are also necessary to capture concepts that are impossible to visualize. What image would you use to explain the concept of “democracy”, to account for your holiday plans this summer, to describe what you think of the latest Outkast album or explain a solution to a math problem?

Even if we restrict ourselves to the context of Gustafsson’s psychic performances, we find phenomena that would be hard or impossible to communicate through images. When I recorded a séance with Gustafsson a couple of years ago, he allegedly channeled, for instance, how a departed woman was someone who didn’t let herself be pushed around in her lifetime. How was that shown by imagery? Or that the woman was energetic? Or that she was ignorant regarding her own illness? And how was the different opinions supposedly held by the woman’s relatives conveyed through images? And why did Gustafsson, all through the séance, refer to the information being passed on to him from the other side in terms of “she is saying to me”, “he tells me”, “I hear”, “she is talking about”, and so on? If an alleged spirit had shown Gustafsson images, shouldn’t he be using expressions such as “she is showing me”, “I see”, etc?

Of course he should, but Gustafsson is a money-grabber, a parasite that feeds off people’s emotional needs by means of deception and psychological trickery. He will say anything to get away with what he is doing. At the séance he hear words, the spirits are talking to him. In the TV studio he would understand a Greek grandmother because the dead communicates by showing images. One day communication is based on language, the next it isn’t.

Gustafsson makes it up as he goes along. He has learned that as a psychic, he can get away with lies and fraud – no one will do a background check on him, no one will check his claims. Even when he tells the TV hosts that a TV studio really doesn’t provide an ultimate setting for psychic contact and that he needs half an hour in seclusion with one person for it to work, no one asks him how it is possible for him to pull off séances in front of hundreds of people.

Of course thoughts have language - thinking and words are intertwined and inseparable. And just as our language defines us as human beings, it defines us as individuals in many ways. If we were able to communicate with people that have died and passed over to some other form of existence, words would be essential units in that communication as well as it is in communication between the living. And language would be essential to the personalities of the dead to the same degree as it is for the living. To claim anything else is ridiculous. To suggest, as Gustafsson does, that “thoughts have no language” and then perform séances were language obviously is the main ingredient, is deliberate deceit and the only paranormal about it is how he gets away with it.


Crain, W., (2005). Theories of Development. Concepts and Applications (5th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson
Kowalski, R., & Westen, D., (2005). Psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken: Wiley
Tattersall, I., (2006). How we came to be human. Scientific American, 16, (2), pp. 66-73.

Friday, February 16, 2007

An E-mail About Evans

I received an unexpected e-mail last week. It was from one of the participants of the Swedish TV show “The Unknown” (“Det Okända”) who explained that she recently attended a séance with the same psychic that previously “cleaned” her house from “spirits” in the TV show, Mr. Terry Evans. The woman writes:

“I never thought I’d say this, but this is how it is. I still do not know how he did it when we met and taped ‘The Unknown’. He was right then. However, after having seen him in action during the séance, I changed my mind. I feel awfully stupid, because if he is a deceiver, I have to be terribly stupid to fall for it.”

I do not know who this woman is or what episode she took part in and I have no intention to turn this into yet another dissection of a particular episode of psychic TV. Terry Evans is of course a deceiver. In fact, Evans is one of the more cunning and experienced exploiters of superstitious belief in Sweden today. He also has the advantage of being a protégé of Mrs. Caroline Giertz’s, the producer of most, if not all, Swedish woo-woo TV shows. For a confidence man, that’s about the best promotion and back-up you can get – having a national TV show vouch for your supernatural gifts makes the deceit so much easier.

The woman’s sentiment is, however, worth some thought. She assumes she has to be terribly stupid to fall victim of fraud, which is perfectly understandable; most of us assume that we are or would be able to detect a hoax aimed at ripping us off and most of us believe we have the intellectual skill to recognize a conjurer just by looking at him or her. This is a double-edged sword that not only cripples the critical capacity of the victim, but also works to the advantage of the perpetrator – if someone is not recognized as a fraud, he or she cannot be a fraud. I know, it is circular argument but that is how the mind works sometimes. Aiding in this illusion is hindsight bias, i.e. when someone or something has been exposed as a fraud, we afterwards state that we knew all along there was something fishy about the whole thing and we consider the people who fell for it naïve, at best.

Before we look at what this woman has been up against, let us consider what she brought to the table. I do not know what traits in particular caused her to approach the TV show but I would suggest that the most common denominator among believers of paranormal phenomena is the need for meaning in life. In her research on alleged alien abductees, Susan Clancy discovered that

“At the end of every interview, throughout the five-year course of the research, each abducted was asked the same question: ’If you could do it all over again, would you choose not to be abducted?’ No one ever said yes. Despite the shock and terror that accompanied their experiences, the abductees were glad to have had them. Their lives improved. They were less lonely, more hopeful about the future, felt they were better people. They chose abduction. Being abducted by aliens is a transformative event. Not only does it furnish an explanation for psychological distress and unsettling experiences; it provides meaning for one‘s entire life.” (Clancy, 2005, p. 149)

I think the same is true for all variations of paranormal belief, regardless of the object – whether you end up searching for Bigfoot, pursuing signs of global, mystic conspiracies or teaching your mind to fake “out of body experiences” is a matter of pure chance. They all fill the need of meaning in life. The notion that most people go to see a psychic to get in touch with dead relatives is a misconception. David Marks notes:

“We seem to have a profound yearning for a magic formula that will free us from our ponderous and fragile human bodies, from realities that will not obey our wishes, from loneliness or unhappiness, and from death itself.” (Marks, 2000, p. 228)

In this perspective, what attracts people to séances is not the possibility to get in alleged contact with dead loved ones, but to be part of a miracle, to experience something “more than life”. The substance of what is generally conveyed by psychics during sessions supports this – the joint effort to find out who is the alleged spirit is most often followed by a very meager and general greeting. Although the actual message from the dead is close to ridiculous, the overall psychic experience is close to sensational. You go to a psychic session to get your beliefs confirmed and the psychic delivers. Does that imply that you are stupid? Of course not.

Psychics like Terry Evans are devious. He has been on television, he cannot be a fraud. That is why Evans does not hesitate to sit in the foyer before a séance and collect information – so called “hot reading”. For the average visitor, Evans does not need to cheat so whatever he does that looks like cheating is coincidental. Even when he bluntly uses the information during the séance, as I caught him doing [link], the average visitor does not recognize it as cheating. Why? Because the average visitor needs Evans to be genuine. If he is nothing but a trickster, the visitor is not part of something fantastic; is not having something amazing added to his or her life; is not getting more meaning in his or her life. Evans knows this too well. That is why he so boldly tells a woman of the audience of every séance that she should write a book. Because that is what many women want to hear. Not necessarily that they should write books, but that their lives and their thoughts are important enough to provide material for books. Although he messed that one up when I recorded him [link], I know of a woman that actually took him up on the tip and got published. But he tells that to a woman in the audience during every séance, so he cannot be credited for that one.

In addition, one or more sitters are always psychic material themselves. They should learn more, Evans tells them, because he can sense that they are “open to the spiritual world“. That is a variation of the same trick; most women (and many men) regard themselves as more sensible than the average person. And here is a known authority confirming that you are a “sensitive”. An emotional ka-ching!

You do not have to be stupid to be hoodwinked by this type of psychological trickery. You just have to be in need for something more in your life.

I think that the woman who wrote to me realized that Evans is a trickster during the séance because she already had her ”meaning” boost during the taping of the show. In her episode, she was the focus of attention, she was the main concern. After it had been aired, the production team’s interest in her faded, as did the psychic’s. Caught up in the process of making the episode, her experience was colored by the narrative version of the show and the attention she got from friends and strangers alike. Afterwards, the discrepancy between the show and reality is growing in her mind. And when she attends a séance with Evans to get a ”meaning” refill, what he does without editing and a supporting production team suddenly seems so obvious and not at all psychic.

Having published this blog, I will probably never hear from this woman again. She explicitly stated that her e-mail was for my eyes only. That is a shame. She had no problem promoting this fraud called Evans when she believed he was genuine, but she will not say a thing in public about realizing that he has duped her. The lesson I would have hoped she learned is that deception and conjuring demands that deceivers and conjurers are not easily identified, that being duped does not mean that you have been stupid. And perhaps that her story would save others from being deceived by Evans. But just as Evans feeds on the need for meaning like a plunderer of the dead scavenging a battlefield, he survives due to the silence of his victims.


Clancy, S., (2005). Abducted. Why People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. London: Harvard University.

Marks, D., (2000). The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd ed.). New York: Prometheus.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

“Both me and my horse have been cured”

It’s easy to be overcome by the uncritical reporting of alleged paranormal phenomena in media. Big business, politics, and celebrities are carefully scrutinized without any stone being left unturned. But when it comes to claims of supernatural powers or abilities, critical thinking is out of the office. Such claims are in general left unchallenged and “left for the reader or viewer to decide.” But not always. One refreshing Swedish exception was unfolded in the morning paper Eskilstuna-Kuriren in November 2006.

On the 25th, journalist Peter Larsson reported on his visit to a “quantum medicine” practitioner, Veronica Niva, 31, who uses a “frequency machine” to diagnose and cure both physical and psychological conditions, diseases, and “unbalances” in humans as well as in animals. When seated in the reclining chair at the “quantum clinic” (in reality the basement of Niva’s villa), Niva attaches Velcro ribbons to Larsson’s wrists, ankles and head, ribbons with cords running through a little box and then into a laptop computer. The software has taken researchers 30 years to develop, according to Niva. Of only three “frequency machines” on the market, Niva is proud to have the only one capable of treating everything.

According to this amazing machine, reporter Larsson suffers from a beginning bronchi infection, a problem with his feet on a “cellular level”, an overloaded liver, some fungus, a beginning inflammation of the small intestine, an unbalance in the production of thyroxin and oxytocin hormones, a slightly incapacitated immune system, and he is oversensitive to pollen and newspaper sheets. A pain in the back of his neck is also on a “cellular level”, which is why Larsson cannot feel the pain. In addition, Niva states that Larsson is sensitive to gluten of all grains, which is why she recommends him to avoid all kinds of bread. But lucky for Larsson, as a “quantum medicine” practitioner, Niva treats gluten.

The machine allegedly measures the “frequencies” of all organs and cells. Frequencies that lead to bad health when not in balance, according to Niva. The revolutionary software is in essence recorded “healthy frequencies” that replaces the bad ones when you are hooked up to the system and treated. The technique works as good with animals as it does with humans. Subsequently, Niva treats pets and horses as well. The machine sees everything but there are laws prohibiting Niva from treating cancer. But she claims that it is an amazing treatment for cancer and lots of “quantum” practitioners do treat cancer.

The check-up took about two hours and set Larsson back $110. He didn’t tell Niva he is a reporter; when asked he told her he is in construction but temporarily unemployed. And he didn’t tell her he recorded the entire session or that he would consult a MD for a second opinion.

On the 27th, Eskilstuna-Kuriren published what Professor Lars Rombo, senior physician and director of the Infection Clinic at Mälaren Hospital, told Larsson after a regular check-up of his health: no inflammations, blood value excellent, no deficiency of white corpuscles, kidney functions normal, liver normal, urine sample OK, no metabolic disturbances, neither shortage or overproduction of thyroid gland hormones. In short, Peter Larsson is in perfect health.

But what about the unbalanced frequencies leading to bad health? Rombo has no knowledge that a sick liver has different “frequencies” than a healthy one.
- What we can do is check how the liver is doing and that is what we have done, says the clinic director.
But what about the pain in the neck that can’t be felt by Larsson because it’s on a “cellular level”?
- If you don’t feel any pain, you are not in pain, states the doctor. Niva’s explanation sounds very strained.

When confronted with the results of the hospital health exam, Niva maintains the belief in her machine. In an interview published the 28th, she explains:
- It’s like this. We have a machine that locates unbalances. Homeopaths find their things, quantum practitioners theirs and medical doctors theirs. Unfortunately, that’s how it is.
Niva doesn’t want to change her diagnose but wants the word “diagnose” to be changed to “opinion”. Regarding why her clients should have knowledge about pains they cannot feel and are not troubled by, Niva explains:
- Why come to me if you don’t want to know about your unbalances? Each client must decide what to do with the information he gets. Some people come here because they are curious about what processes are at work in the body.

She also thinks that Eskilstuna-Kuriren’s articles are giving the wrong impression of the possibilities offered by quantum medicine.
- You want to debunk people that are not serious, and I can understand that. But there are people who want to do good in this life. Quantum medicine is fantastic and I sincerely hope that it becomes a major thing in Sweden and that the hospitals also get it.

Although Peter Larsson and Eskilstuna-Kuriren have no evidence that Niva treats or have treated cancer patients, Niva maintains the potency of quantum medicine as treatment of cancer:
- This is going to be the 21st century thing against cancer in that you can locate the unbalances at such an early stage.

In a follow up on the 29th, some reader’s opinions are accounted for. “Maria” claims that both she and her horse have been cured by Niva:
- Last fall a veterinarian concluded that my horse suffered from a pulled muscle and I was recommended to let him rest. I was told it could take well up to three months for him to get well. Waiting for the vets revisit, the horse had five treatments by Veronica Niva. When examined by the vet later, the horse was declared fit and healthy. Personally, I had severe pain in my arms last spring. After three of Niva’s treatments, the pain went away. She’s no charlatan; she has a heart of gold.

The Veronica Niva case is a textbook example of how faith healers and "alternative medicine" scams operate. The way Peter Larsson investigates Niva should be a textbook example of how these miracle mongers are dealt with by the press. Unfortunately, this piece of journalism was a rare exception, even for the paper in question. As I checked the Eskilstuna-Kuriren web page to see if the Peter Larsson articles were part of an editorial strategy, I soon discovered that its life style weekend supplement regularly promotes “alternative treatments” and New Age hoaxes of all kinds. Peter Larsson probably had some personal reason to expose this particular one, but he did it thoroughly and is to be credited for it.

Should you be interested in reading more about the “Quantum Life” scam, I suggest the Quantum Life blog and the Quantum Life web page.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Forgive them; for they know not what they do?

(Download printer friendly PDF of this posting in A4 format or US letter format.)

The notion that cold reading is something that can be executed unconsciously seems to be almost as popular among skeptics as it is among the advocates of psychics and soothsayers. The general idea is that the psychic is so convinced of his or her authenticity that s/he is unaware of the fact that s/he is using a technique of psychological trickery to accomplish a so called "reading". Thus, it may very well be that psychics are using trickery, but they cannot be blamed for doing so, since the fraud is committed unconsciously. Believers of spirit communication use this line of thinking to excuse every debunked or busted psychic – often in combination with the old "using-deception-to-compensate-for-bad-days" argument. Skeptics use it as an excuse for treating psychics with respect and taking their claims seriously – a deceiver unaware of using deception cannot be blamed for deceit. This respectful approach seems more in line with the concept of a "curious" or "investigating" mind – it gives the skeptic an air of benevolence, which is more likeable than simply dismissing psychic readings as fraud.

One often cited example of this alleged unconsciousness is Ray Hyman's account in his classic The Zetetic article on cold reading from 1977:

"One danger of playing the role of reader is that you will persuade yourself that you really are divining true character. This happened to me. I started reading palms when I was in my teens as a way to supplement my income from doing magic and mental shows. When I started I did not believe in palmistry. But I knew that to 'sell' it I had to act as if I did. After a few years I became a firm believer in palmistry." (Hyman, 1996)

A more recent example is the "coming-out" of former New Ager Karla McLaren:

"I never knew what cold reading was, and until I saw professional magician and debunker Mark Edward use cold reading on an ABC News special last year, I didn't understand that I had long used a form of cold reading in my own work! I was never taught cold reading and I never intended to defraud anyone - I simply picked up the technique through cultural osmosis." (McLaren, 2004)

Now, Hyman's contribution to the skeptic movement is, without a doubt, monumental. Nevertheless, I suggest that there are fundamental differences between the fortune-telling of the 1940's and the psychic séances and private sittings of today. And although I have the greatest sympathy for McLaren's attempt to make two opposing sides reach out and touch, I think it is of some importance to note that even if McLaren did not identify what she was doing as 'cold reading', she was apparently aware that she was employing a technique. In addition, the lack of intention to defraud is a somewhat slippery argument; the ethical status of an act may very well be assessed according to its effect on the object – it cannot be fraud without an abused victim. Since the technique used by McLaren did not cause apparent damage to anyone, her unintention to deceive is irrelevant.

Whether a psychic knows that s/he is using something called 'cold reading' or not is of course of no importance. What is essential is if the psychic knows that s/he is doing something else than receiving messages from the dead or from some other supernatural source. The deception is not the use of 'cold reading', but the use of anything but supernatural means. Following hunches, intuition, guessing, or any means other than supernatural, is deception if you claim it is divination or talking to the departed.

There is no doubt that a fantasy-prone person may seriously believe that his or her intuition is in fact the voice of a spirit. But mistaking whatever pops into your head for divination is far from what today's psychics are doing. Let's first consider what 'cold reading' is, before deciding if it can be employed unconsciously.

The common definition of 'cold reading' is something in line with "a procedure by which a 'reader' is able to persuade a client whom he has never before met that he knows all about the client's personality and problems" (Hyman, 1996). Wikipedia suggests "a technique used to convince another person that the reader knows much more about the subject than they actually do" (Wikipedia). Both of these variations are misleading in that they suggest that 'cold reading' is a subject-object relation, when it in fact is a subject-subject interaction. Defining 'cold reading' as something an active agent (the psychic) delivers to a passive receiver (the "sitter") is simply not accurate. Instead, it must be defined as a joint effort by at least two persons to confirm one's belief in the other's supernatural knowledge or ability. For 'cold reading' to work, the client's desire for it to work and active participation in the process are absolutely necessary. Consider how a believer readily identifies stock spiel or some other cold reading tool when performed or exemplified by a skeptic. But when a psychic uses the exact same wording, the believer denies that it is cold reading. Thus, the client must have faith in the performer's authenticity for it to work. Skeptic demonstrations of cold reading are subsequently pointless; they will not work when used to refute beliefs, only to confirm them.

Faith is a primer even stronger than rational assessment. On two occasions, I have presented transcripts of actual séances to believers, without disclosing the name of the psychics at hand. On both occasions, believers easily identified the multitude of cold reading elements in the transcripts and dismissed the psychics as obvious frauds. However, when I told them the names of the psychics (both renowned TV-psychics), the believers immediately recanted. What they moments before considered to be cold reading was suddenly profound mediumship. So cold reading is not depending on how it is performed, but by whom.

Establishing cold reading as a subject-subject interaction, a joint social process towards a mutual goal, does not belittle the tools of the trade. If the context is a situation where a client has faith in a psychic, stock spiel and other techniques are very powerful. But can they be executed unconsciously? No, they cannot. Although the psychic session is a joint effort, the psychic and the client face different tasks - the medium that of suggestion, the client that of confirmation. Although the client tends to lend personal significance to very general suggestions, the medium still has the task of navigating through the client's responses and this navigation is an intellectual effort that demands conscious action and choice. It can not be done without knowing what you are doing, regardless of whether you call what you are doing cold reading or not.

Skilled pianists are able to play complicated pieces and participate in conversations at the same time. The conversations require their conscious awareness, the musical pieces does not. Is playing a piece on an instrument equal to executing cold reading? No, it is not, because playing complicated pieces on a piano does not offer an intellectual challenge for a skilled piano player in the way a psychic session does to a psychic, regardless of skill. There are no sudden interruptions when playing a piece of music you've played ten or hundreds of times before, demanding you to chose between one, two or more optional routes to continue. The psychic session is nothing but optional routes, nothing but adaptation to the client's responses. The psychic session is thus comparable to the pianist's conscious conversation rather than his unconscious playing.

Walking is done more or less unconsciously. You don't think of the steps you take and that works fine, until your path offers an obstacle, let's say a curb. If you are not conscious of the curb and adjust your steps to it, you will stumble on it. Your walking is unconscious but your adjustment to obstacles is not. If you don't become aware of the obstacle, your unconscious walking will be interrupted.

Unconscious actions are essential to us humans. We would not be able to cope with everyday life if everything we did demanded our conscious awareness. In fact, a great portion of our lives consists of performing unconscious acts. But convincing people that we are in contact with their departed loved ones is not one of those acts.

On February 26 and 27, 2005, I and a friend of mine recorded two séances held by self-proclaimed psychic Pehr Trollsveden. He is a peddler in superstition who, apart from doing psychic séances, operates a psychic hotline phone service and provides online shopping, should you be interested in buying crystals or other "spiritual" gadgets. I don't think he is held in high regard even in the psychic community, but he has a very interesting technique. He simply walks around among the sitters of the séance, stops behind a person, lays his hands on the client's shoulders and rattles off for three to five minutes about older women cleaning kitchen floors and ancient viking spirit guides. He has a flow of words comparable to that of John Edward, but unlike him, Trollsveden makes no room for client feedback. So when he is done with one person, he doesn't wait for confirmation or comments, he just goes on to the next client. In an hour, he works through an impressing amount of clients, finishes off making alleged contact with some dead pets, and that's it. The money, 100 Swedish Kronor (approx. $12) a head, is stuck right down his pocket.

This technique is a variation of what I call shotgun. You produce so many details and statements at a fast rate that the client will be hit by some detail or details that he or she is able to render personal significance and forget all the rest that have no significance at all. John Edward and many others use the same technique, I'm pretty sure that you're familiar with it. It enables the psychic to be more detailed than when using stock spiel, which is a set of general statements that fits most people. And when two such details out of 20 stick and the rest is forgotten, the client is convinced; if two features of a passed away grandmother fit and the rest is forgotten, the client is satisfied.

Trollsveden offers no opportunity for feedback; there is no interaction whatsoever in his sessions. Thus, it could be accomplished unconsciously (not that I think he doesn't know exactly what he is doing). Comparing the first day's session with that of the second day, it is also apparent that Trollsveden recycles the same statements over and over again. So it could in theory mean that he is unaware of what he is saying and just repeats often used phrases unconsciously.

But when John Edward is using the shotgun technique, he is doing it in interaction with the clients. He is constantly faced with feedback from the client that requires him to make choices, to adapt to what the client is saying. That is an intellectual task that demands conscious awareness, i.e. Edward must know what he is doing in order to accomplish anything (although we know much is accomplished during editing of his shows).

There is more to be said on this subject, but for now, I propose that the notion that psychics are unaware of what they are doing is an understandable fallacy among followers of psychics but an ignorant misconception among skeptics. The psychic session offers intellectual tasks that cannot be accomplished unconsciously. The notion persists among skeptics because they tend to read Hyman or McLaren instead of visiting a séance and see what is actually taking place during a psychic session.

I also propose that the definition of cold reading as a technique is at fault and does not sufficiently describe what a psychic session is about. It is better defined as a joint effort by at least two persons in social interaction to confirm one's belief in the other's supernatural knowledge or ability, employing one or more psychological methods of illusion or suggestion.

I see no reason to forgive psychics; for they know that they do not speak to the departed.

(Thanks to Mr. Jespert Jerkert for language corrections.)


Hyman, R., (1996). 'Cold Reading': How to Convince Strangers That You Know All About Them. In J. Nickell, B. Karr, & T. Genoni (Eds.), The Outer Edge. Classic Investigations of the Paranormal (pp. 71-84). New York: Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Inc.

McLaren, K., (2004). Bridging the Chasm between Two Cultures. Skeptical Inquirer, 28, (3).


Monday, January 22, 2007

Adrian Parker's Fabrication of Reality.
Part IV: Some Final Notes.

(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)

In A Compendium of the Evidence for PSI, Swedish parapsychologist Adrian Parker (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003) claims that most of the studies listed "would still [today] be quoted as providing strong evidence" of paranormal phenomena. As I have shown, that is simply not true. Both the Targ & Puthoff research, and the Schmidt studies are so flawed that referring to them as evidence of any kind must be considered, at least, naive beyond comprehension. But Parker is not naive; there is something very explicit and intentional in the way he perverts what Wiseman has written on the Delmore tests. And the systematic belittling of the criticism raised against the studies listed is far from accidental. Parker is out on a mission and the end justifies the means, even if they include deception.

Consider the Maimonides dream experiments. Taylor (1981) points to the fact that significant results don't matter if they are derived from subjective judging, as was the case in the Maimonides studies. Others have noted violation against experimental protocol as well as lack of replication (Hines, 2003). But Parker claims that no fatal flaw has been discovered regarding these studies. It's that easy – just stick your head in the sand.

The same goes for the Brugman experiments during the early 1920's. Parker conveniently leaves out that the subject, van Dam, was a performing magician specializing in finding hidden objects using unconscious cues from others. There were also indications that the targets were selected non-randomly (Björkhem & Johnson, 1986). But Parker claims that no flaws have been discovered in the Brugman studies.

In the case of the research at Duke University, Parker claims that it "requires special comment since there are so many misconceptions surrounding it" (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003). But Parker does not account for any such misconceptions or the possible relevance they have for his compendium. It may be that he feels obligated to assign a certain amount of text to Rhine's research, due to the lab's historical significance. Or maybe it's just a way to create an illusion of credibility regarding the Rhine research. In any case, no study conducted at Duke University would be considered providing evidence of PSI by serious researchers. The time before 1940, which Parker claims was a time of "experimental achievement," was in fact a period of immense sloppiness. For instance, the first editions of Zener cards used had such bad printing that the figures could be seen on the back due to an embossing effect or through the cards due to poor paper quality (Hines, 2003).

Poor experiment control, lack of replication, self-deception and wishful thinking marked the entire lab, before and after 1940. The most evident flaw, however, is perhaps best noted by Rawcliffe:

"Yet it is on the question of safeguards against sensory cues that all ESP experimenters are shown to be at fault. None of them appear to have studied this problem seriously and their claims to have 'obviated' all sensory cues are often pathetic in its naivety and evident sincerity. Pathetic too is their much advertised confidence that only parapsychologists can fully appreciate the problems raised by the exclusion of sensory cues in the ESP experimental situation. It is perhaps significant that nearly all the competent work on this important question has been carried out by individuals who were not parapsychologists at all." (Rawcliffe, 1959)

As usual, Parker tries to make it appear as if Hansel is the only one who has put forward severe criticism. In reality, the Rhine research has been scrutinized and criticized by so many researchers that even Rhine himself probably would have admitted most of the flaws. But not Parker.

It is evident that A Compendium of the Evidence for PSI is not worth the paper it's written on. But, you may argue, it has been published in an alleged scientific journal – the European Journal of Parapsychology! There must be something to it if an editor has decided to publish it!? So, who was the editor who published Adrian Parker's paper? According to the journal website, the editor that year was... uh, blimey! It was Adrian Parker who published Adrian Parker!

Adrian Parker is an illustrative example of what I think is fundamentally wrong with parapsychology as a field of science. First of all, too many parapsychologists are reluctant to distance themselves from the obvious con-men and frauds – "high scoring subjects", in the past and in the present. There is no scientific benefit in promoting scam-artists, or in treating them with some kind of "scientific respect". They are conjurers and belong behind bars, not in research labs.

Secondly, too many parapsychologists are reluctant to distance themselves from their crackpot colleagues. For instance, Adrian Parker goes around thinking that the reason his compendium has not been refuted is because it is supported by his peers. Having corresponded with some of them, it seems that very few, if any, has even read the paper. Thus, a crap paper is unchallenged and the blame is on the competent researchers who ignores it, not the incompetent who wrote it – he can't help himself. In the end, parapsychology as a field of science suffers and the methodological researcher has to share the title of 'parapsychologist' with the crank.

If parapsychology is to have a future as a scientific discipline, this has to change. The Adrian Parkers of the field has to be recognized and challenged.

Openly and often.

Go back to Part III: The Schmidt experiments


Björkhem, Ö., & Johnson, M., (1986). Parapsykologi och övertro. Forum.

Hines, T., (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. New York: Prometheus.

Parker, A., & Brusewitz, G., (2003). A Compendium of the Evidence for Psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 2003, 18, 33-51.

Rawcliffe, D. H., (1959). Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult. New York: Dover.

Taylor, J., (1981). Science and the Supernatural. An Investigation of Paranormal Phenomena. London: Granada

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Respons to Adrian Parker

(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)

First of all, I must thank Adrian Parker for taking the time to comment on the criticism I have put forward regarding his paper A Compendium of the Evidence for PSI (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003). In a previous discussion, Parker tended to discuss anything but the paper, so I am also thankful for the fact that he restrains himself to the issues questioned. However, as his reply is ridden by the same rhetorical markers as his paper, I am compelled to consider it, not a clarification, but a smoke screen. As Parker has announced that he does not have the time to involve himself in further debate, I will respond to his reply in the form of statements rather than questions.

"I am also a Swedish sceptic so I am thankful for your criticisms, some of which I think are at least in some measure, valid. I do however note a slight tone of animosity which makes you response in danger of loosing all its effect."

In a world where words have no meaning, you can call yourself what you want. And I can call myself a senior lecturer at Gothenburg University. It's all fine and dandy, but unfortunately, it's make-believe. In your paper, you have shown that you praise research that even the more gullible of your peers consider worthless. Regarding the studies I have discussed so far, you systematically neglect the multitude of critique raised against them and claim that the fragment of doubt that you do convey have been refuted. If Social Psychology were to look for a materialization of "confirmation bias", you would be the first in line (you can look up "confirmation bias" in any introduction to social psychology, Mr. Parker). When confronted with a paranormal claim, your impulse is to salute it and pay homage to it without reservation. Mine is to investigate the claim, pretty much like I'm checking your compendium now. By calling yourself a "skeptic", you hope to avoid controversy, but to be a "skeptic" you have to be able to employ rational and critical thinking. So "skeptic" you are not, whatever you choose to call yourself.

"For my part, I have to apologize if my joint paper with Goran seemed just too positive for your taste. However, we repeatedly have said that psi is not proven: I find some of the experiments persuasive to the degree of making me want to do further research."

I'm aware that you state that PSI has not been proven. But you also state that it is impossible to prove phenomena in empirical science – in any empirical science – so by extinguishing proof as a possibility, you render your statement about proving PSI worthless. What you do consider possible is for research to provide evidence, in the case of your listed studies strong but not compelling. Whatever wordplay you choose, the quality of findings in parapsychology will be compared to the quality of findings in other fields.

It is of course hilarious that you have been persuaded by the experiments you have listed, given that you label yourself a "skeptic". If crap science and almost total lack of methodological stringency has that effect on you, no wonder you produce papers like the one at hand and get offended by criticism.

"If I am fooling myself I want to know and research seems a better way than armchair criticism or concerning myself with what comes over at times as rather fanatical criticism. Therein lies the true difference between us."

Of course you are fooling yourself. But my problem is that you are trying to fool others, by deceit and cover-up. And you are doing it by posing as a scientist.

I appreciate your effort to belittle my argument by calling it "armchair criticism" – it is completely in line with the strategy employed in your paper. But since your paper in itself is a result of "armchair science", it is only appropriate that it is confronted with "armchair criticism". I take it you are not conceited enough to label A Compendium of the Evidence for PSI "experimental research". Besides, it seems that the data of your "armchair research" is outperformed by the data of my "armchair criticism".

"Otherwise, let me admit again: you are right that Wiseman rather Hansen thought of the shoe shiner, but once again I ask: Why is this really so very important to you? The shoe shiner was their most promising counter hypothesis and the rejection of that hypothesis was defended by Wiseman. To that extent I was correct about 'Wiseman's defense' but you are correct my statement should have been more precise and less misleading. Of course we can all come up with other cheating scenarios but none of these easily explain Delmore's very high scores on the RNG. Nevertheless I regarded these experiments as a possible exception to valid evidence."

The matter of the "shoe shiner" is important because you claim that Wiseman has refuted something that Hansen has suggested. That is simply not true. Further more, you claim that the Wiseman paper constitutes a defense of the Delmore tests. It does not, in any respect. It is simply a test of Wiseman's own notion and he emphasizes that Hansen's critique – all of it – is valid. The "shoe shiner" was not their most promising counter hypothesis, not even a joint one – that is something you make up as you go along. I repeat: the "shoe shiner" was Wiseman's own idea, tested by himself.

I have not suggested that your statement should be more precise and less misleading. I am claiming that you are deliberately lying and exploiting a well-respected peer's name to promote crap science.

"Delmore's very high scores" doesn't add up to anything since the Delmore tests were seriously flawed in many ways – something you intentionally neglect to mention in your paper and still don't understand. You have not regarded the Delmore tests as exception to valid evidence – you use the authority of a methodologically superior peer, and the fake position you put him in, to include them. That is just plain nasty.

"I note that you never mention that Hansen has himself even as a skeptic believes that the border between what he regards as a genuine psi and magical skills (with in some cause even the use fraud) is a fleeting one. This I hope we can agree is, at least in this context , a cop out, but at least you see the diversity of opinion even amongst magicians such as Hansen."

I do not offer my agreement to anything you write without proper references.

"But why make so much of this when I said myself these experiments were controversial and a possible exception?"

The principle behind your question is precisely why I make so much of it. You have omitted the final, and vital, part of what you said. I quote: "A possible exception might be the Delmore experiments but as we note below these have been defended by no less a critic than Richard Wiseman." You are in essence stating that since Wiseman has defended the Delmore tests, you include them in your listing. Again: nasty, plain nasty.

"The same is true of the early Targ work which does not figure in my proper list and is mentioned included for historical reasons and then the references to both sides of the controversy were given."

Uhm, now you introduce a "proper list"!? But that wasn't published in EJP and nowhere else for that matter. So I'm sticking to what you actually have published. And in that paper, you list the "early" Targ & Puthoff remote viewing tests as evidence for PSI. I trust that your listing of studies providing evidence doesn't list studies that do not provide evidence.

"I do however thank you for pointing out the insufficiently of our statement that the Schmidt RNG experiments were replicated by himself many times. Despite the apparent safe guards, I agree, it is crucially important that they replicated by others and carried out under the critical eye of skeptics and of the three references that were given, one concerned just such conditions of critical observers."

The Schmidt experiments, as well as the Delmore tests, and the Targ & Puthoff research on remote viewing, does not constitute evidence of any kind, to any degree. Those studies are seriously flawed and any serious researcher with integrity should distance him- or herself from them. You don't.

"You are welcome to publish this in its completeness but I hope you understand I have no further time to spend on such debates. This means that you can of course continue with slander (before doing so you might like to ponder why you have 0 comments to your blog) but I hope you have the good nature not to do so and instead see our areas of common concern. I take note of your criticism and should you choose to use your real name, I suggest that we send a joint note to the EJP acknowledging the above points."

As I suspect that you label any criticism of your "work" slander, I will disregard your remark.

As far as the number of comments on my blog goes, it has only been active since Christmas and I already have the second most renowned parapsychologist in Sweden commenting it. And I have returned the favor by being the only one paying any attention to your paper. But I take it you consider that silence as a token of compliance.

I have no interest in doing anything jointly with you. I have no respect whatsoever for you as a scholar or researcher. Such a venture would at best make you able to forward my real identity to your woo-woo followers, at worst let you feed of my efforts that apparently exceeds your own in stringency by far. So I humbly decline your invitation.To acknowledge the above points in a note to EJP is, again, to belittle what should be done. Anything less than an unreserved retraction is futile.

I will continue my review of this Adrian Parker paper. Stay tuned.


Parker, A., & Brusewitz, G., (2003). A Compendium of the Evidence for Psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 2003, 18, 33-51.

Adrian Parker Replies

(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)

Tonight, I received a comment on my criticism from Adrian Parker. It was sent to my Hotmail, with the stated option to publish it if I so choose. I do. So here is Adrian Parker's reply:

"Thanks for your skeptical notes. I am also a Swedish sceptic so I am thankful for your criticisms, some of which I think are at least in some measure, valid. I do however note a slight tone of animosity which makes you response in danger of loosing all its effect. For my part, I have to apologize if my joint paper with Goran seemed just too positive for your taste. However, we repeatedly have said that psi is not proven: I find some of the experiments persuasive to the degree of making me want to do further research. If I am fooling myself I want to know and research seems a better way than armchair criticism or concerning myself with what comes over at times as rather fanatical criticism. Therein lies the true difference between us. Otherwise, let me admit again: you are right that Wiseman rather Hansen thought of the shoe shiner, but once again I ask: Why is this really so very important to you? The shoe shiner was their most promising counter hypothesis and the rejection of that hypothesis was defended by Wiseman. To that extent I was correct about "Wiseman's defence" but you are correct my statement should have been more precise and less misleading. Of course we can all come up with other cheating scenarios but none of these easily explain Delmore's very high scores on the RNG. Nevertheless I regarded these experiments as a possible exception to valid evidence.

I note that you never mention that Hansen has himself even as a skeptic believes that the border between what he regards as a genuine psi and magical skills (with in some cause even the use fraud) is a fleeting one. This I hope we can agree is, at least in this context , a cop out, but at least you see the diversity of opinion even amongst magicians such as Hansen. But why make so much of this when I said myself these experiments were controversial and a possible exception? The same is true of the early Targ work which does not figure in my proper list and is mentioned included for historical reasons and then the references to both sides of the controversy were given. I do however thank you for pointing out the insufficiently of our statement that the Schmidt RNG experiments were replicated by himself many times. Despite the apparent safe guards, I agree, it is crucially important that they replicated by others and carried out under the critical eye of skeptics and of the three references that were given, one concerned just such conditions of critical observers.

You are welcome to publish this in its completeness but I hope you understand I have no further time to spend on such debates. This means that you can of course continue with slander (before doing so you might like to ponder why you have 0 comments to your blog) but I hope you have the good nature not to do so and instead see our areas of common concern. I take note of your criticism and should you choose to use your real name, I suggest that we send a joint note to the EJP acknowledging the above points." (Adrian Parker, January 16th, 2007)

I will of course respond in my next post. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Adrian Parker's Fabrication of Reality.
Part III: The Schmidt experiments

(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)

So far, I have pointed to the fact that Swedish parapsychologist Adrian Parker (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003) engages in deception and belittling of the criticism raised against the studies he lists as evidence for paranormal phenomena in A Compendium of the Evidence for PSI. In doing this, I have also made it clear that the Bill Delmore tests and the Targ & Puthoff experiments on remote viewing does not constitute evidence of any kind, to any degree – they are only evidence of crap science. It is now time to add yet another feature of Parker's: lack of methodological insight.

In the compendium, Parker writes:

"The RNG experiments by Helmut Schmidt have retained their status and were replicated by him many times." (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003)

Before I disclose the nature of the status the Schmidt experiments have retained, let's consider what methodological status Parker displays.

Now, he has obviously learned that replicability is something that is important in experimental research. But replicability means that the outcome of a study must occur again if the study is replicated by someone else. And here is Parker, senior lecturer at Gothenburg University, rendering credibility to a study that has been replicated by the same researcher over and over again! Parker doesn't have the methodological insight to realize that Schmidt can replicate his own studies for all eternity – they achieve validity only when they are replicated by someone other than Schmidt. How much credibility are we to render a researcher that lacks such fundamental knowledge in methodology?

So, what has Schmidt done and what is the status of his doings? "RNG" means Random Number Generator and is subsequently an instrument that generates random numbers (Journal of Parapsychology, 2003). Schmidt used RNGs to turn on one of several lights. In the precognition tests, the subject pressed a button to predict which light would turn on and in the clairvoyance tests, the light that would be turned on is decided before the subject responds (Hines, 2003).

The criticism of Schmidt's experiments is extensive. Most of Schmidt's studies lack control or control group, immediate feedback is a matter of routine, thorough analysis of data is missing, he works almost isolated from other researchers, except for his 1986 study data is not available to other researchers, the "Modulus 4" generator he used produces an excessive number of 4 compared to 1, 2 and 3 – in several cases it is number 4 that represent the significant result, he totally ignores suggestions on improvement of his methods, he sometimes acts as both experimenter and subject, in order to create a "auspicious environment" he lets subjects have free access to experiment equipment and in some cases subjects have conducted tests on their own without any experimenter present. Alcock concludes:

"My review of this data-base leads me to conclude that there is no evidence in any of these REG studies of any effect which needs explanation by reference to PSI forces. None of the studies as they stand would be accepted for publication in a good psychology research journal, in my view, quite apart from their subject matter. They are all flawed, some terribly so." (Alcock, 1988)

Parker notes that Palmer (1996) has rejected one bias hypothesis, but neglects to mention that Palmer (1997) himself suggests another bias hypothesis a year later.

It is evident that Parker's strategy is to belittle the criticism raised against the studies he lists, in the Schmidt example labeled "Some Well Controlled Proof Oriented Experiments." There is no sufficient control in Schmidt's studies at all! That is the real status the Schmidt experiments have retained.

Further more, in this case it is equally evident that Parker lacks fundamental methodological insight – the Schmidt experiments "were replicated by himself many times"!

Stay tuned: there is more to come in this farcical affair.

Go back to Part II: Targ's & Puthoff's remote viewing experiments

Continue to Part IV: Some Final Notes.


Alcock, J., (1988). A Comprehensive Review of Major Empirical Studies in Parapsychology Involving Random Event Generators or Remote Viewing. In Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories, and Techniques. Washington: National Academy Press.

Hines, T., (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. New York: Prometheus.

Journal of Parapsychology, The, (2003). Glossary. Journal of Parapsychology, The, Fall.

Palmer, J. (1996) Evaluation of a conventional interpretation of Helmut Schmidt’s automated precognitive experiments. Journal of Parapsychology, The, June.

Palmer, J. (1997) Hit-contingent response bias in Helmut Schmidt‘s automated prekognition experiments. Journal of Parapsychology, The, June.

Parker, A., & Brusewitz, G., (2003). A Compendium of the Evidence for Psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 2003, 18, 33-51.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Adrian Parker's Fabrication of Reality.
Part II: Targ's & Puthoff's remote viewing experiments

(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)

In Part I, I showed that parapsychologist Adrian Parker engages in deliberate deception concerning the Delmore tests when he distorts the writings of his peers in order to turn seriously flawed research into "evidence" of paranormal phenomena. Let's continue with another post in Parker's (2003) compendium: Targ's & Puthoff's research on people claiming to be able to close their eyes and "see" distant places.

Remote viewing was launched in the 1970's mainly by physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff at the Stanford Research Institute (no in any way associated with Stanford University). Targ and Puthoff claimed that remote viewing could be performed by anyone and that the very positive results of their research were replicable. In a remote viewing test procedure, someone (X) goes away to a location ("target") not possible to reach by ordinary sensory perception. Another person remains in the laboratory with the test subject. At a chosen time, the impression the test subject gets of the target is recorded. Usually the subject also produces sketches of the impressions he or she gets. A third person, a judge, then brings the subject's recorded impressions and/or sketch to the target and validates how well it corresponds with the location. Ordinarily, several targets are tested in one trial so that recordings and/or sketches can not be matched by other means than the impressions. If you omit the "secret intelligence" terminology used, remote viewing seems to be some sort of telepathy – the impressions X get of the location is somehow transferred to the subject (Nickell, 1992). In more imaginative anecdotes, remote viewers claim to be able to "see" every where, at any time and without anyone being at the target location.

In Parker's listing, the Targ & Puthoff remote viewing research is presented like this:

"The first series of remote viewing experiments by Russel Targ and Hal Puthoff produced a controversy in Nature as to wether references relating to the previous targets, occasionally present in protocols from sessions, could give cues to the judges and thereby explain the successes. Removal of these references by their colleague Charles Tart apparently made little or no different to scoring levels but Marks and Scott insisted there were still some cues." (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003)

From this, you get the impression that the critique raised against Targ's & Puthoff's research was refuted when Tart allegedly showed that the suggested flaws were superficial, but that the critics out of stubbornness maintained that there still was flaws. Was that really the case?

The Targ and Puthoff experiments were part of the government funded research at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) from the beginning of the 1970's until 1992, when the project was transferred to the Science Applications International Corporation (Wiseman, 1998). The tests Parker refers to where conducted during the first decade with alleged high scoring subjects like Pat Price and Hella Hamid. Some of them had been recruited from the Scientology Church, due to the fact that Puthoff at the time were a member of the sect (Alcock, 1998). Targ & Puthoff claimed that they had done hundreds of experiments and most of them had been successful. Some of the subjects performed amazingly well and one of them could even perform precognition by describing the targets, not only before they were visited, but before they were even chosen (Hines, 2003).

The SRI tests followed the standard design; when the subject reported his or her impressions, the recordings were handed to independent judges who then visited the target locations and validated the accuracy. Extrasensory perception was indicated when the judge were able to clearly link an assertion to a target location (Hines, 2003).

Impressed by Targ's & Puthoff's results, David Marks and Richard Kammann tried to replicate the tests with five subjects but failed to find scores beyond chance. Marks & Kammann had found it necessary to edit out information that could have provided the judges with cues to which targets had been visited, while Targ & Puthoff had reported that the subject records had been handed to the judges unedited. This means that if the judges in the Targ & Puthoff trials received transcripts with cues regarding the order in which the recordings had been made and, in addition, a non-randomized list of target locations, they could easily have matched the impressions with the targets, even if they were not consciously aware of the cues' significance.

Targ & Puthoff had reported that all transcripts were handed to the judges in random order, but when Marks visited SRI, one of the judges, Arthur Hastings, told him that the transcripts had been delivered in the order the targets had been visited during the tests. When Marks was able to read the transcripts from the trials with Price, he discovered a multitude of cues clearly indicating the order of the transcripts – for instance, in the third target transcript, reference was made to "yesterday's two targets". When Marks & Kammann conducted additional tests with the method used by Targ & Puthoff, five transcripts were perfectly matched to five targets (Alcock, 1998).

So what did Tart do? According to Parker, he conducted re-tests but omitted the cues and was still able to replicate Targ's & Puthoff's results. The problem is that no one was actually able to verify this – Targ & Puthoff refused to submit data until July 1985 and Tart had in part used material already public and even published (Hines, 2003).

But the question of cues in the transcripts is only one of several charges brought against the Targ & Puthoff remote viewing research. Alcock (1998) suggests four other serious flaws.

First, the tests were not conducted independently of each other. For instance, the subjects were taken to the target locations and received immediate feedback after each impression had been recorded. Thus, subsequent statements were not independent of prior targets. Hastings had also told that different subjects tended to focus on different factors. One was focused on architectural and topographical factors, while another focused on X's behavior. In addition, the subjects' names were noted in the header of the transcripts, which might have helped the judges.

Second, when analyzing the Hammid tests, Marks and Kammann found that sketches were missing for three out of six tests. They also found references to additional tests with Hammid that had not been accounted for by Targ & Puthoff. In the so called Technology tests, they found that anything from one to five tests with five subjects was reported. Why had Targ & Puthoff reported only on one of five tests with three of the subjects, four out of five with a fourth and all five with Hammid? Sketches were also missing from the records of these tests.

Third, there was no control or control groups, and thus no reference or relation to lack of remote viewing occurrence. A subject might for example have been asked to make two statements, one for a real target and one for a fictitious – without revealing to the subject that one of the targets did not exist. The judges would then have had to evaluate the "fake" statements too, resulting in a much more reliable notion of whether something paranormal really had occurred. There were also indications that the tests and the data analysis was subject to considerable sloppiness.

Last, but not least, the evaluations were completely subjective and Marks and Kammann noticed, during their own tests, that both X and the judge could feel very strongly for a correlation between subject and target, a correlation that de facto did not exist.

The best summary of the Targ & Puthoff remote viewing tests is perhaps Alcock's own words:

"Given these various criticisms, there should remain little doubt that the Targ-Puthoff studies are fatally flawed, and that rather than trying to save something from them by arguing whether or not a given flaw pertains to a given subset of trials, remote viewing proponents should instead design and run a proper, well-controlled experiment with an appropriate control group." (Alcock, 1988)

What is evident in the Parker compendium, is the fact that he again belittles the rather massive criticism raised against a study he lists as giving evidence for PSI. And again he claims that the fragment of criticism he do mention, has been refuted. What is compelling regarding the Targ & Puthoff research is that it so obviously constitutes "crank science". They refuse to submit data when requested – as they did in their Uri Geller "tests" too. All their research, not just the remote viewing experiments, shows fundamental methodological flaws. They have rightfully been called the Laurel & Hardy of parapsychology (Randi, 1982). But what do you call a scientist that refers to those clowns' activities as "evidence for PSI"? I don't know if Parker's merits stretches beyond psychology but any serious scientist engaging in experimental research should be able to recognize crap science when confronted with it. Targ's & Puthoff's "research" is without doubt utter crap but Parker doesn't want to see it. What does that make Parker?

I will comment on Parker's listing of the Schmidt experiments in my next blog. Stay tuned.

Go back to Part I: The Delmore Tests

Continue to Part III: The Schmidt experiments


Alcock, J., (1988). A Comprehensive Review of Major Empirical Studies in Parapsychology Involving Random Event Generators or Remote Viewing. In Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories, and Techniques. Washington: National Academy Press.

Hines, T., (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. New York: Prometheus.

Nickell, J., (1992). Missing Pieces. How to Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, & Other Mysteries. New York: Prometheus.

Parker, A., & Brusewitz, G., (2003). A Compendium of the Evidence for Psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 18, 33–51.

Randi, J., (1982)., Flim-Flam. Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions. New York: Prometheus.

Wiseman, R., (1998). Experiment One of the SAIC remote viewing program: a critical re-evaluation – Sience Application International Corporation. Journal of Parapsychology, The, December.

Adrian Parker's Fabrication of Reality.
Part I: The Delmore Tests

(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)

When the Parapsychological Association held its nineteenth annual convention in Utrecht in 1976, hosting professor Martin Johnson decided to treat the assembled scholars and researchers to some educational entertainment. This was in the days before Uri Geller became the most debunked psychic in history and the sort of tricks he performed was still on every parapsychologist's lips. So Martin Johnson invited magician/journalist Ulf Mörling, a.k.a. "El Globo", to demonstrate how alleged paranormal phenomena could be created through magic tricks. The intention was explicit and announced – Mörling was introduced as a magician, not as a psychic.

After successful demonstrations of precognition and metal bending, Mörling performed a telepathy experiment – in essence a variation of the old "draw-something-on-a-paper-and-put-it-in-an-envelope" trick. This also turned out successful but what happened next is truly astonishing (my translation):

"At least ten of the parapsychologists in the audience, some of them having recently earned fame for field studies, expressed their conviction that Mörling really was a genuine "psychic" without knowing it, something that was suggested to be "a parapsychologist's worst nightmare." One of those who most persistently argued that Mörling is a psychic without knowing it, was the same Ed Cox who had accounted for Uri Geller's wonders with a manipulated watch in The Journal of Parapsychology!" (Johnson, 1982, p. 115–117)

In retrospect, such an absurd gullibility and thirst for wonder seems almost sweet and innocent. Uri Geller was thoroughly debunked by Marks & Kammann in 1980 (Marks, 2000) and Randi in 1982 (Randi, 1982), and a multitude of further embarrassing exposures later, no serious researcher will lend any credibility to the Israeli Jesus-wannabe, or to others performing the same kind of carnival tricks he did (and still does).

Randi followed up his Geller exposé with a direct blow to the parapsychological community when he sent two young magicians posing as psychics to the McDonell Laboratory for Psychical Research at Washington University in St. Louis. The magicians, Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards, easily convinced the staff that they were the real thing and they were tested for a period of three years, without anyone even suspecting them of cheating. Prior to the tests, Randi had contacted the director, physics professor Dr. Peter Phillips, and offered to help with controls and protection against fraud and trickery. Phillips rejected Randi's offer. Videotapes from the experiments clearly showed that Shaw and Edwards were cheating, if you looked carefully. But no one at the McDonell lab had the inclination to look carefully. (Hines, 2003, p. 132–133)

When Randi finally revealed the ploy, the parapsychological community was taught a lesson that should be a textbook example in every science methodology and social psychology class. Since then, serious researchers have turned their interest to testing "normal" people rather than flamboyant gold-diggers and attention-addicts. Too bad so few have the spine to give Randi credit for this true progress in a controversial field of science. But enough about what serious parapsychologists have done, let's review what the less serious are up to.

Next to professor Etzel Cardeña at Lund University, Briton Adrian Parker is perhaps Sweden's most renowned parapsychologist. Besides holding a position as senior lecturer in Psychology at Gothenburg University, Parker is also a former board member of the Parapsychological Association and one of three researchers currently listed on the board of the Swedish Society for Parapsychological Research (SSPR). Parker's areas of interest are consciousness and PSI, although the latter seems to be his main preference. Together with the Psychology Department at Stockholm University and the Freiburg Institute, his Gothenburg group is developing an improved Ganzfeld technique. If you're not familiar with the term, Ganzfeld experiments are, according to its proponents, the best way to test individuals for extra-sensory perception.

In 2003, Parker, along with the SSPR chairman Göran Brusewitz, published A Compendium of the Evidence for PSI in the European Journal of Parapsychology (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003). The writers offer a list of studies they claim to provide evidence of paranormal phenomena. But not compelling evidence they point out: "the list is not intended to convince the reader that psi has been proven." In fact, they suggest that it is impossible to prove phenomena in empirical science. Thus it is futile to search for such compelling evidence. Instead, the intent is to collect studies that justify research aimed at understanding paranormal phenomena. Most studies in the compilation are still quoted as providing strong evidence today, according to Parker & Brusewitz, but not compelling. Oh, and there are proof-oriented studies listed, and experimental evidence, just not compelling.

What are Parker & Brusewitz really saying? Where exactly on a "proof" or "evidence" scale are these studies to be placed and does that position mean that paranormal phenomena exist or not? Do paranormal phenomena almost exist? What is the difference between strong evidence (which the writers suggest the listed studies provide) and compelling evidence (which the studies don't provide)? And how does the difference relate to the possible existence of paranormal phenomena? The writers give no answer.

I have tried to find references to this semantic orgy in methodology and science philosophy literature. Nothing, but that might only reflect the poor state of my library. Then I consulted the Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, 2001, third edition, pp. 528, 1229:

1. Evidence is anything that you see, experience, read, or are told that causes you to believe that something is true or has really happened.

1. Proof is a fact, argument, or piece of evidence that shows that something definitely true or definitely exists.

Again, there might be scientific definitions that differ from these – a privilege of science is freedom of definition, i.e. freedom to define anything as you please, as long as you motivate and explain your definition, and use it in the same sense within the frame of your research. Parker & Brusewitz apparently don't think it's necessary to explain their definitions, and they toss them around in different variations without demarcation. Perhaps they hope that no one will question their terminology as long as they use it with ease. Or they might be caught up in a relativistic or postmodern frame of mind: what they write is true for them, in their context. Unfortunately, they have made a scientific claim and seek scientific acceptance.

In the dictionary definition, evidence pertains to belief and proof to knowledge. In that respect, I willingly submit to the notion that the Parker & Brusewitz compilation provides evidence, i.e. the studies may cause someone to believe that paranormal phenomena exists. But we don't need science for that. Many people just need to see something fuzzy in the corner of their eye to believe in ghosts. Others believe in paranormal phenomena because their neighbor said he saw a flying saucer. Science is applied when we want to verify that those beliefs are founded in real phenomena, not "seen", "experienced", "told", or "read about" phenomena. Science is applied when we want to know, when we want proof. That is what separates science from nonsense and knowledge from belief.

I suggest that a word-game such as the one displayed by Parker & Brusewitz, or anyone else, has one single purpose: to make nonsense appear as knowledge. That is to say, to give invalid claims the same status as valid ones. Note that they state that proof is impossible in empiric science. That means that nothing we do know for certain about this world can be regarded as proven. So the search for proof is futile, not only in parapsychology, but in any field of science. By denying empirical findings a higher status (or a "better" term) than mere suggestions, hunches or agreements, Parker & Brusewitz hope to narrow the gap between phenomena we know exist and phenomena they want to exist. Thus, they seek to promote a science that is unable to produce verifiable findings by degrading sciences that are able.

Let's see this modus operandi, and some even more disgusting behavior, at work by looking into some of the studies in the compendium. In the following, I will address only Parker since I am assuming that Brusewitz is only decoration – people who don't know that the SSPR is a rather sad group of gullible Gellerites and UFO fetishists might be impressed by the name of its chairman. I'm not. And when I commented on this paper on a Swedish internet forum, only Parker came forward to defend it (although he did not actually defend it – instead, he suggested that we should discuss other things, he complained about not getting the Lund University parapsychology chair and he dropped a lot of names in the field of parapsychology, allegedly his friends.)

The Bill Delmore Experiments

"A possible exception [from studies providing strong evidence] might be the Delmore experiments but as we note below these have been defended by no less critic than Richard Wiseman. /... / Parapsychologist and illusionist George Hansen was of the opinion that Delmore's success could be explained in this way [card skills] while parapsychologist and illusionist Richard Wiseman concluded after practical experimentation that the proposed method could not have been used." (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003)

Please note what Parker is doing here. He is presenting a study that may not qualify as providing strong evidence but claims that Richard Wiseman has defended it. So his reason for having the Delmore tests on the list is that they were defended by Wiseman, a much respected skeptic. Parker even elaborates on this and claims that the critique from one parapsychologist and illusionist has been refuted by another parapsychologist and illusionist through experimentation – it is obvious that Parker is seeking rhetorical points by this repetition of titles. 1-1=0.

So what is it Wiseman has tested? In the paper referred to by Parker, Wiseman (1995) reports on how he tested his own notion on the possibility of Delmore having used a "foot shiner". Writes Wiseman:

"While discussing the Delmore case, it occurred to me that the test conditions might not have prevented Delmore from using a "shiner" attached to his foot." (Wiseman, 1995)

From this, we can state that Wiseman did not test any idea proposed by Hansen. Further more, according to Parker, Hansen suggested "card skills" as an explanation for Delmore's test results. A "shiner" is a small mirror attached to the foot, it has nothing to do with "card skills". So not even in the context of Parker's own fabrication does it make sense. But has Wiseman defended the Delmore tests in any way? I asked Wiseman in an e-mail and got this reply:

"You are correct. I only experimented with that one idea and Hansen's other (and many) criticisms of the tests are valid." (Wiseman, 2006)

So Wiseman hasn't defended the Delmore tests at all, and in fact agrees with Hansen's critique. And when I corresponded with Hansen (2006) on the matter of Parker's paper, he commented on the fact that Parker do indeed make it sound as if Hansen has proposed the "shiner" while this is not the case. So Parker is making claims not only contradicted by himself in the previous text, but also by his own reference – Wiseman's paper on the "shiner" test, and by Wiseman himself, corroborated by Hansen. A benevolent conclusion would be that Parker has pulled an "Ed Cox" – contrary to facts, he persists in promoting his own fantasy. A more probable conclusion is that Parker is engaging in deliberate deceit.

Hansen's (1992) critique of the Delmore tests goes far beyond a suggestion of "card skills" (link to Hansen article). Parker knows this, but tries to trivialize it. He also minimizes Delmore's capacity as a conjurer to him having "some, albeit apparently elementary, card skills" -- thus displaying a fundamental ignorance of the time and practice necessary to execute the sort of sleight-of-hand techniques that Delmore bragged about and performed publicly.

The Delmore tests have no place on a list of studies providing evidence for PSI – whatever criteria for evidence you chose. But what is worse is that Parker, an alleged scientist, deliberately distorts verifiable sources, in this case using the authority of one of his more renown and respected peers in a deceitful way. As I will show in the next blog, this is not an isolated incident, but a systematic way of fabricating reality that underlines the entire paper.

Continue to Part II: Targ's & Puthoff's remote viewing experiments


Hansen, G. P., (1992) The Research With B.D. and the Legacy of Magical Ignorance. Journal of Parapsychology, 56, December.

Hansen, G.P., (Hansen's e-mail address). (2006, april, 20). Correspondence concerning the Parker & Brusewitz (2003) article. E-mail to recipient.

Hines, T., (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. New York: Prometheus.

Johnson, M., (1980). Parapsykologi. Försök till forskning i upplevandets och kunskapens gränsmarker. Göteborg: Zindermans. Note: To my knowledge, Johnson's book has not been translated to English. But his comments on the 1976 convention can also be found in Johnson, M., (1976). Some reflections after the P A Conference. European Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 1, 3, 2–5.

Marks, D., (2000). The Psychology of the Psychic. New York: Prometheus.

Parker, A., & Brusewitz, G., (2003). A Compendium of the Evidence for Psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 18, p. 33-51.

Randi, J., (1982). The Truth About Uri Geller. New York: Prometheus.

Wiseman, R., (1995). Testing the notion that a "foot shiner" could have been used during the Delmore experiment. Journal of Parapsychology, The, March.

Wiseman, R., (Wiseman's e-mail address). (2006, mars, 23). Answer to question regarding Wiseman's test of a "shiner" and its relation to Hansen's critique of the Delmore tests. E-mail to the recipient. (