Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Forgive them; for they know not what they do?

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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

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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. (

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Psychic rapist sentenced to five years

Mervyn Johnson a.k.a. Mervyn Wright, president of the International Spiritualist Foundation, ISF, was sentenced by the Karlstad district-court to five years imprisonment and payment of damages in the amount of 472,000 Swedish kronor (almost 70,000 USD) to his victims. The 60-year old alleged psychic and healer was convicted of raping a 14-year old girl, and sexual molestation or misconduct concerning six other women. The trial was held behind locked doors so no details are available, but interviews prior to the court proceedings revealed that Johnson had incorporated some very explicit sexual touching into his healing sessions. One of the victims gives an account of his routine in the local newspaper, Nya Wermlands-Tidningen (9th November, 2006):

- We were divided into groups in order to "heal" each other, she says.
It was more touching than holding the hands above the body. And the healer?
- Well, he walked around, drinking tea and smoking, the girl recollects.
With a perfume producing a scent that sticks...
Then he chooses a group with "extra fine energies" and brings it into another room. He lies down on the bunk in order to feel the energies from the others. Suddenly he takes the 14-year old girl into yet another room, to give her a massage: "Take off your clothes." The girl is terrified but trusts her leader. The healer goes into trance. What happens next makes her cry to this day.

This sordid "healing" took place within the Swedish spiritual society "The Ocean", based in Västerås and attracting followers from several towns in the region. The girl decided to tell another member of the society, a woman she trusted, about the incident. Word got around to the female group leader, who called the girl on the phone and told her: "it's not what you think, it's part of the massage." Although the girl never set foot in Johnson's spiritual chambers again, she received several calls from the women of her group, all telling her that everything was in order.

Johnson claims to be a so called "trance healer". When going into trance, his body becomes the tool of a spirit, in this case "Dr Lu", a Chinese doctor. One of his devoted followers explains: "it sounds crazy, [she says,] but every man has an electro magnetic field, an aura. When the healer lets 'Dr Lu' enter your nervous system and work through it, he can see where the problems in the energy flow are." When asked about "Dr Lu" entering other parts of the body, the same woman says that she has heard women telling her that Johnson pawed them. But, "It only appears that way. He is so incredibly sensitive and compassionate."

One would imagine that a society with predominantly female members would turn their back on a suspected rapist or molester. Not so. In fact, when the victims persisted in their allegations and charges finally were brought against Johnson, The Ocean society was split in two and well over 200 members joined Johnson when he formed a new society. "We know he's not like that," as one of them comments in Nya Wermlands-Tidningen (7th November, 2006). A separate police investigation is looking into the threatening letters some of Johnson's victims has received, notifying them that "we know where you live", "we're watching you", etc.

Johnson's international commitment in the ISF, however, seems to have come to an end – he has been replaced by "acting president" Garth Willey on their website. He is still noted as the society's ambassador to Sweden, though. If this means that Johnson is persona non grata in the ISF and they have forgotten to omit him from the ambassador listing, or that he is still in the society's favor but they have found it appropriate to "degrade" him while he is serving time, only the ISF officials knows.

Reason and critical thinking exits the human mind when superstition enters. But what the Mervyn Johnson case also illustrates is that ethics and legislation are subordinate to doctrines of superstition in the minds of believers. The young girl did what every rape or molestation victim should do: she told what had happened. But the women she thought she could confide in turned their backs on her in favor of the rapist. They even launched a small campaign to convince the girl that what she had experienced never happened, a campaign that went on for almost a year – a time during which the perpetrator was able to continue his "healing". In this clash between the conduct of a guru and the law, the devoted follower's position is eloquently expressed in a 7th November NWT interview: "The law wasn't designed with this in mind." In other words, there's nothing wrong with what Johnson did, it's the law that's at fault. It is the same principle that makes people like Jim Jones and David Koresh possible, and the Johnson case shows that it doesn't need the social isolation of an extreme cult to be induced in the mind of the believer.

In the aftermath of Johnson's arrest, New Age proponents discussing the case on internet fora and boards were reluctant to put any blame on him. Instead, they questioned how parents could leave their children alone with him. According to this argument, the blame is really on the victim's parents. This is of course a variation of the same bias: the psychic is never wrong. But it is also a display of two important psychological phenomena. The first, hindsight bias, is the tendency to exaggerate one's ability to have foreseen how something turned out, after learning the outcome. In this context, the argument suggests that the commentators would never had let their children alone with Johnson like the victim's parents did. Gobbledygook. The complete devotion these same commentators show regarding other renowned psychics indicates that they would gladly submit their children to the care of the particular psychics they favor, simply because the semi-gods they trust would never do the terrible things Johnson did. That's where the second, self-serving bias, kicks in. We perceive our own judgment more favorably than it is. We also see ourselves as better, more ethical, more competent, friendlier, more intelligent and less prejudiced than the average person. But would a person that is willing to pay a psychic several thousand Swedish kroner for a "mediumship training course" really hesitate to leave her 14-year old alone for half an hour with that same psychic? If the alleged aim is to boost her child's "spiritual development?"

Judging by the statement by one of Johnson's followers quoted above, reports on his behavior was conveyed by other women in the society too. The seven plaintiffs in the trial are probably just the tip of the iceberg. How many women are too afraid or ashamed to tell, how many have been convinced by their fellow society members that what they experienced was an illusion, and how many have decided that the loss of the social bond with the society is too high a price to pay for telling the truth? And how many women actually enjoyed the sexual encounter with their spiritual leader or took it for a token of being the chosen one, and just waits for their next session with "The Enlighted One?" No one knows.

In closing, consider the fact that personal experience is the prime source of knowledge for New Age believers. Evidence, proof, facts and corroboration amounts to nothing when it comes to supernatural phenomena -- personal experience rules. But what happens when a young woman experiences that her spiritual leader is groping her genitals? Suddenly, experience is out the door -- "it only appears that way." Go figure...

Friday, January 5, 2007

Is the Small Fry a Big Fish?

Note: This article was originally published on the BadPsychics website, under the name "Anne O. Nymous", along with a full transcript of the seance in question. The transcript is available at Double Exposure: Part 1 and Part 2.

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

It's hard to be objective when you like somebody, and I must confess I like Colin Fry. Being used to psychics looking like thugs, Fry is a fresh addition to the Swedish paranormal scene. And judging by his upcoming tour schedule, the new website,, it is apparent that Fry is in the process of increasing his share of the Swedish market of fantasy-prones. Although you might not consider it a loss in the UK, it is definitely a gain here in Sweden. Take my word for it, should you meet one of our domestic psychics, including Terry Evans, late one night, you would, without a doubt, choose to walk on the other side of the street.

Colin Fry is charming, eloquent, probably intelligent and very entertaining. He also dresses sharply, although his accentuation of some of his preferences may be disturbing to the older segments of the Swedish woo-woo audience. Personally, I think it adds a bit of glamour to a community that tends to be a bit too grey and too dull on the client side and a veritable bad-taste party on the supply side -- Fry's approach is a breath of fresh air in comparison. In fact, I could easily imagine him working in mid-level management or at some sales and marketing division in one of our global corporations. And although his preferences are not to my taste, meeting him late at night would include drinks and laughter instead of running for my life, as would be the case with the rest of the psychic lot in Sweden.

But Fry does not have a corporate career, he claims that he talks to dead people and makes the most out of it; it is evident that Fry is in it for the money and that he knows how to turn his claims into good business - the new website has a distinctly commercial touch and features online course bookings and payment via PayPal. The "school" that has formed around another British psychic in Sweden, Mrs. Iris Hall, will have to face cut-throat competition from this hard-core spiritualist operating from the spiritual "college" of Ramsbergsgarden. He's charming, professional and has a background that can be checked and verified - qualities other Swedish psychics would kill for. And a union with the Hall school, formal or informal, is very unlikely - I very much doubt that Fry would mingle with the Hall school riff-raff.

As for the core of Fry's business, I would like to start with a bit of sincere advice to Fry - in case he reads this - before I commence with the experience of a live Fry séance.

Mr. Fry, if you are going to hold a séance, or any form of public demonstration, in Sweden, it is a must to have an interpreter who is able to put forward what you say to the audience. Thus, an interpreter should have a solid understanding of, and respect for, your language, English, and a solid knowledge of, and respect for, the language of your audience, in this case Swedish. It is especially important for a man like yourself, who, I imagine, takes great pride in being able to communicate with people of all types and of all ages. Unfortunately, Ms. or Mrs. Jane Lyzell's interpretation of you is degrading your efforts and is an insult to the audience. I don't care how valuable she is to your organization - on stage, she is a disaster. And I do not wish to be rude, I just want to state a fact.

Lyzell made so many errors, minor and major, during 90 minutes, that if the fact that the audience on several occasions had to correct her doesn't tell you something, her distortion of your words should. She made "arms crossed" come out as "arms crushed", "gold bars" come out as "gold logs", "pencil" come out as "paintbrush", etc., etc. She converted an aunt to a sister - I have kept this passage in the transcript. She also has the bad habit of trying to explain what you are saying, and in doing so, distorting the meaning of your words. That is not interpreting, that is to mess things up. If you want people to pay for your words, at least let them have your words. You started off the séance by telling me, and the rest of the audience: "For God's sake, smile!" I don't think you requested a spiteful smile, so my answer is: For God's sake, give her the boot!

Now, for those of you who are accustomed to the Sixth Sense series, a live séance with Colin Fry might be a bit disappointing. There are no amazing revelations, no on-the-spot messages or any statements indicating that Fry actually communicates with dead people. It's just the old standard cold reading techniques and perhaps even some hot reading, but above all, a hit and miss ratio that is far from what is being broadcast in the UK. If Fry is to get some credit, it is for his creativity in stock spiel and the confidence with which he handles the audience. And one must remember that Sixth Sense is a carefully orchestrated show with an audience that must book tickets, with names, and - according to some sources - also give an account of why they want to be on the Sixth Sense show. What is finally broadcast is, of course, edited in order to secure a "Wow!" reaction from the viewers. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can be said about Fry's "psychic powers" based on the TV show.

A live séance is a horse of a different colour. Well, you were recommended to book tickets in advance but I did as always, I just showed up. No problem, since it's about money and they want to fill up the hall. At first, I was happy to note that Colin Fry didn't mingle around in the ante-room before the show. But moments later, I noticed a chap sitting on a chair in a corner, alone, without outdoor clothes (everybody else brought theirs into the auditorium), watching everybody and typing stuff on his cell phone. He didn't speak to anybody, he was obviously not part of the coffee stand crew and he was a bit too interested in the people in the room to be typing at the same time. But, as I saw no signs of hot reading later during the show - except when he asked a lady if she had fallen on her right hip (the guy in the ante-room could easily have spotted a limp or her cane), I have decided to give Mr. Fry the benefit of the doubt on this one. If you're thinking of attending a live Fry séance, I suggest you keep your eyes open for this chap, just in case...

Once in my seat, I notice that one of Sweden's most renowned mediums, Mr. Jorgen "Cry Baby" Gustafsson, is in the audience, just a couple of rows in front of me. Since Gustafsson is a disciple of Mrs. Hall, I suppose that she decided to send one of her henchmen to check out the competition. The woman next to him will play a part in the séance later, but for now, the couple sitting in front of her and Gustafsson is more interesting, because before the show, Fry himself suddenly appears and advances to their seats in the middle of the hall. Apparently, they are good friends and I note that their conversation is carefree and hearty. Will Fry be cheeky enough to make use of his friends during the séance?

After the obligatory introduction, Fry starts off by telling the audience to smile, not to keep their arms crossed and to think of somebody else, thus eliminating selfishness which has a negative effect on "the energies" or something like it. Then he asks us to make sure that our cell phones are switched off, so he doesn't get interfering messages from babysitters. Fry's execution of this warm-up is excellent and it immediately sets the audience in a comfortable mood. Did I forget something? Oh, remember the checklist I have in my mind when I attend mediumistic demonstrations? It goes like this:

1. The medium gives accurate, detailed and personal information, pertaining only to the addressed individual.

2. The medium gives information that he or she couldn't have known beforehand by any means.

3. The medium does not engage in stock spiels, i.e. general statements that will apply to almost everyone, or any other cold reading technique as described by sceptics.

4. The medium does not seek the participation of the audience in order to convey any messages.

I have based these criteria on the assurances always supplied by "believers" when discussing personal experiences of psychic mediums. These are the points always put forward to let me know how to recognize a "genuine psychic". And what I forgot to mention about Fry is that in the end of his requirement list, he added:

"Now, it's very, very important, that when we do make a connection, you must talk to me. I always say that as a medium I'm like a telephone switchboard for the spirit world. I ring out for them. And if nobody responds or replies, they disconnect or they're disconnected. OK?"

So, I guess that takes care of number four. Fry explicitly asks the audience for their participation in order to be able to convey messages. Whatever Fry says, he needs the audience to tell him whether it has any significance or not. It also means that Fry is able to adapt to whatever the audience tells him. This is essential in cold reading and it does not match what the "believers" claim is the sign of a genuine psychic.

Fry's first contact is with a woman that never lived in Sweden, something he finds "very strange". Now, since the 60s, Sweden has been flooded by immigrants from different parts of the world, seeking work or refuge. My grandfather or my grandmother never lived in Sweden, nor did my husband's - we are both regarded as second generation immigrants. In an audience of 120-130 people, it would be very strange if Fry didn't find at least ten or more people who would "recognize" such a woman. So his bewilderment with this is obviously an act. His additional aspects of this woman - he sees "bright colours", doesn't narrow the selection much but he is observant enough to note that a woman in a purple scarf is whispering to her companion. But Fry's statement is far from enough for the woman, and she needs more information. Fry tries to deliver:

"What I'm going to ask you to do is, it's very important, that you don't tell me anymore than I need to know. Let me tell you what it is that, you know, that I'm feeling, alright? I get the feeling from this lady that in, uhm... her life, that she had either damaged her hands in some way or that, uhm... later in life her hands were very deformed. Does this make sense to you?"

Now, this is beginning to be more specific information and he also manages to put forward the standard phrase used by all mediums; they ask you to not tell them more than they need to know. Think about that for a moment. Why does Fry or any medium need to know anything to convey messages from alleged spirits? Would they need to know anything if they really were actually communicating with dead people?

OK, back to the séance. Fry is beginning to close in on the purple scarf woman - does the spirit having deformed hands make sense to her? Nope. So he tries a variation; does the purple scarf woman know of arthritis? Yes, she has it herself. Now remember that Fry just asked if she knows of the condition arthritis - it is the purple scarf woman that gives personal meaning to his general question. Fry adapts to it and says the spirit is empathising with her because the spirit had bad arthritis in her hands towards the end of her earthly life. Cunningly executed cold reading.

Moving on, Fry makes a thing of the spirit constantly struggling for money during her life. This, of course, applies to a vast majority of most people today and more so in previous generations. Thus a general statement that applies to almost everyone. It's also called stock spiel.

He gets no feedback when trying to put forth an alleged love for pineapple so he tries another path by asking why Brazil is important - something he immediately expands to the whole of South America when the purple scarf woman fails to react upon it. After some confusion when Fry thinks this is pertaining to some other people, the woman tells us that it is she who has been planning to go to Argentina. Remember that the woman told us that, Fry asked about Brazil and when that didn't work he tried South America. Standard cold reading technique.

When the woman asks Fry if the spirit thinks that she should stay home, since according to Fry it appears to be concerned about her going, he evades it with a general phrase about free will and then quickly jumps to a completely different subject; does the purple scarf woman understand about the spirit wanting her to be cautious about a matter concerning 48,000 Swedish kroner? The woman doesn't answer; she obviously doesn't know what he is talking about.

So he quickly jumps to the next subject; would she be able to understand that the gentleman who the spirit is trying to "enable" had bowel cancer? Nope, it doesn't ring any bells. And Fry decides to let go of this "sitter".

The next is a bit tricky. Fry crosses the stage and zooms in on two men to the far left. He is still on about bowel cancer and he now comes up with the name "Erik". Now, the couple that are personal friends of his are sitting very close to these gentlemen and this makes me wonder if the two men are just a diversion. Because it doesn't take long before Fry's personal friend declares that he recognizes bowel cancer and Erik. Would Fry be so blunt that he would use his friends to brush up the terrible hit ratio he got with the purple scarf woman? He does admit that it's a pain to get messages for people he knows. Nevertheless, he continues and what do you think happens?

First, he scores with some stock spiel about his friend doing things that the dead man did not have the courage to do. Then he scores with the man having played guitar and recently picked it up again - which isn't that odd behaviour for anyone who has played some sort of instrument, but still. Then he scores regarding a cheque or a bank slip, half-scores about the man being afraid that he's turning deaf and finally scores about a sign being showed to the couple on their boating holiday.

All scores - amazing! These people are Fry's personal friends and he now seems to have regained what he accomplishes on Sixth Sense. Let's continue to see if he keeps it up.

Don't mess with a missionary man. Well, Fry ignores Lennox and comes up with something that has never happened to him before and which he claims is very strange; he asks the 120-130 people in the audience if anyone would understand if they had a grandfather who did missionary work. If not, he would easily have converted this to a grandfather that did some charitable work of any kind, but Lonely man actually had a grandfather who was a missionary. Remember; Fry asked, Lonely man told him.

Then Fry checks if Lonely man has any living memory of his grandfather, which Lonely man says he doesn't. I don't know if Fry gets bolder because of this, but Fry now asks if his grandfather ever had any dealings with people who worked with leprosy or a leper colony. Lonely man says no and Fry is again able to execute a standard cold reading technique; he tells Lonely man to check with his family. This is actually very neatly done. He first makes sure that Lonely man has no living memory of his grandfather and then he can play around quite freely with the grandfather's activities. The grandson won't know anyway. And most people in the audience will be convinced that Fry is right and this will of course be verified by the grandson's later enquiries. But since this information is not recognizable by Lonely man - and all believers state that it should be, I'm counting this as a miss.

Fry also lets the grandfather convey some standard phrase about him not being overly concerned about money - as a missionary he would be more concerned with teaching Christian values and Western ways. Then he continues with a financial matter that has played on Lonely man's mind since June 2004, and Fry actually gets a hit with this one although we are not informed further in this matter. He ends this passage with the stock spiel that Lonely man will ruin the quality of his life by worrying about money. All relative terms that anyone can fit into his or her own line of thinking. Stock spiel.

Then Fry asks Lonely man if he is annoyed by a crack in a wall or a ceiling of his home. Lonely man confirms that he has a crack in his car windscreen. Could Fry by any means have known this before hand? Yes, by looking out of a window before the séance. All it takes is a glance and to remember a face. Nevertheless, I'm feeling generous so I'll give him half a hit for this one. But one thought always comes to mind when I hear these kinds of "details" that are supposed to verify that it is a loved one's spirit communicating; do all loved one's turn into imbeciles when they die and go to spirit? Aren't there more important issues to convey? Aren't there bigger question marks to straighten out? Apparently not.

He continues with some stock spiel about Lonely man being bothered by small things (don't we all think that about ourselves from time to time?) and goes on by telling Lonely man to repair a relationship between a brother or a son. He then asks Lonely man if he is the one who is doing the pencil sketches. Nope, he isn't, after which Fry converts this into urging Lonely man to show interest in some brother's or son's drawing or sketching of some sort of design with pencil. After that he tells Lonely man he shouldn't worry about the headaches, he doesn't have a brain tumour and he shouldn't be preoccupied with the idea of dying. He ends this "connection" by letting Lonely man know that his grandfather wants him to read a specific passage in the bible, John 6:3. Lonely man is supposed to understand why when he reads it. Of course, no one in the audience has a clue about what this passage is, let alone what it could mean to Lonely man. And when I looked it up, I became very doubtful that Lonely man will ever know why he was asked to read it. Here it is:

"So Jesus went on up the mountainside and sat down there with his disciples."
John 6:3; (New English Translation)

Honestly, that's all. I kid you not. Do you have any hopes for Lonely man understanding this? Do you think that Fry knows what the quotes he tosses around actually say? But doesn't it sound mysterious and important when you say it like Fry does?

Next, Fry's contact is a woman that in character is a sweet lady, kind and gentle but also a sense of sadness. I know, this fits with your, mine and probably most parted grandmothers or mothers. It doesn't mean that our grandmothers and mothers actually were like this in life, but that is how we want to, and do, and should remember them!

This woman's personality changed a great deal towards the end of her life and she felt that she couldn't behave as herself. I know, this fits with your, mine and probably most departed grandmothers or mothers. This is because no one who dies of "natural causes" remains the same. We get old, we can't move like we used to, our minds are not as alert as they used to be. We, sadly but true, fade away.

Anyway, Fry also senses some names, Elena or Eleanor. It is not stated that those names pertains to this woman but since only one person "can understand this" and not a majority of the audience, I take it that the woman knows of an Elena or Eleanor that has passed. The woman is sitting next to the Swedish psychic Jorgen "Cry Baby" Gustafsson.

Fry begins this session by suggesting that the passed woman had changed a great deal, which caused the people who knew her great pain. He asks the woman next to the psychic if she would understand that the passed woman had to be restrained or stopped from hurting herself. The woman doesn't want to use the word "no" so instead she says that the passed woman was very weak, very old.

Fry doesn't take the hint but goes on about it and suggests the passed woman had a fit of hysterics and that her arms had to be held down to stop hurting herself. The woman next to the psychic still doesn't want to use the word "no" so she states that she thinks it must be another person because the woman she was thinking of didn't have that kind of strength.

It is obvious that Fry is out on a limb so he tries a variation of it by saying it feels as though this would have been through fear in some way but he insists on the restraining part. As this is apparently wrong, the woman next to the psychic says that she is not sure yet but she wants him to continue.

And now Fry changes the subject completely. He's now getting a strong taste of marzipan. And after some thinking, the woman next to the psychic is starting to realize who he is talking to. Uhm, wait a minute. Let's go back to the start of this session. The woman next to the psychic enthusiastically declared "oh, yes" when the names Elena or Eleanor was combined with a sweet, old lady. But this must have been wrong then! And how many deceased ladies does this woman next to the psychic have in stock that was under physical restrain before they died? This is perhaps the best example of cold reading I've ever witnessed, and it's ironical because I think that the woman next to the psychic did not intend to display it for this purpose. She is very clearly demonstrating how she is struggling to make sense of all the nonsense Fry has provided, refusing to say "no" to anything, and in the end when she has fitted all the scraps into her own creative mind and found someone that "it must be" - you cannot doubt a psychic, she has experienced a psychic medium giving "exact and accurate information he couldn't possibly have known beforehand". And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the exposed mind of a "believer".

Fry ends this turn with some stock spiel, letting the passed woman thank the woman next to the psychic for not letting anyone say anything bad about her after she had gone. As if it was common practice for family and friends to speak ill of the dead. And after this he lets the woman next to the psychic know that there is nothing wrong with the mirror not hanging straight, it's the wall that needs to be checked. She just OK's Fry through and it's hard to tell whether he's actually telling her stuff she's familiar with or if she just acknowledge his statements. The next connection is with a person feeling a terrible fear of water, a person that must have drowned. Among the 120-130 people in the audience, one man recognizes this and raises his hand. After some successful guessing regarding gender and age, Fry delivers some stock spiel about the spirit feeling embarrassed about being where he shouldn't have been where he was at the time it happened and because he had been told not to go there. Could the opposite be right when you are talking about a drowning accident?

Fry delivers another "detail" about the spirit remembering someone who could impersonate Donald Duck and I actually took an informal poll about this one. It appears that everyone in our family and all of our friends in pre-Cartoon Network generations know of someone who can or could impersonate Donald Duck. I can do it. Can you? Still, it's clever of Fry to think this stock spiel out.

He tries another one, this time a bit more specific and of course he flunks; the man does not understand two boys hanging upside down by their legs. Fry adds the year 1979 to the context and but doesn't manage to get acceptance even when he concludes that it must be the person who drowned who had visited an amusement park in 1979. So Fry returns to guilt feelings regarding the actual drowning, which the man acknowledges.

Then Fry goes for details again. The spirit remembers someone called Peter quite well, allegedly the drowned lad's age. The man has no clue about this. So Fry changes this from believing that it was a message for this Peter, to the drowned lad wanting the man to know that this Peter, whom the man has no knowledge of, also was in spirit. Fry then goes on, saying that this Peter, who the man still has no knowledge of, was killed in a car accident.

Does the man have any interest in snowboarding? Nope. Would he understand about someone going down a slope of snow on a tin tray? Nope. Well, it could indicate, Fry says, that it's another memory from some time ago. Go figure.

So Fry returns and elaborates further on guilt a bit, and ends the session in this safe area. Crossing the stage, he returns to the purple scarf woman; did someone ask her to invest money? Nope. In a business plan? Nope. It's something current... Nope. Did she agree to lend someone money over three or four payments? She doesn't understand. The interpreter explains and the woman finally says "yes, yes", but she wants to know if it could have anything to do with a bank. The interpreter refuses to take it down that lane and insists on keeping it to the general "lend someone money". The purple scarf woman decides that one could say that. How accurate...

Fry finds it best to leave the purple scarf woman for good. The spirit of a cross-dresser now appears. Does anybody recognize this? One woman thinks so, although the man she's thinking of didn't actually wear women's clothes, he just liked pink. Well there was something sad about this man and only five people at the end of his life understood the agony he was going through, Fry adds. The woman concludes that it can't be the man she's thinking of then.

But wouldn't the woman understand that very few people attended his funeral, Fry asks. Yes, she would - she didn't attend herself. Wasn't he involved in some violence a year before he passed? Nope, not that the woman knows of but it could have happened...

Not dejected by this obvious cul-de-sac, Fry now tells her that the man wants to thank her for listening when he told her how frightened he was shortly before he passed away. The woman is puzzled. But would she understand that he seemed to be very nervous? He was always kind of nervous, the woman replies. And would she understand that she still has contact with two of his other friends? Not often.

But she knows two other particular friends of his? Knows of them, she replies. But she at least agrees to let them know he says hello. Then Fry changes the subject completely. Is she the one that is very good at arranging flowers? The woman is reluctant to go along with this but she admits that she likes to arrange flowers, but ...

But isn't it something she has been doing quite recently? Not that she knows of, no.

Fry now explains that the man just wants to let her know that he was close to her when she was doing something with flowers or floral effects. Well, she admits to having attended a funeral. Spotting a way out, Fry asks her if she had something to do with the floral effects of a funeral. Nope. The interpreter now tries to tie everything together by stating that she was in an area where there were some floral effects. But Fry decides not to go further and ends it by telling her that the man just wanted to let her know that he was with her on that day. A lot of nothing, it seems.

Next is a woman, supposedly someone's mother, who passed away after contracting pneumonia. An elderly lady catches on to this one and Fry puts the remarkable question to her; was she the one who was concerned about the spirit woman being cold? The elderly woman nods. What a peculiar and uncommon concern for someone with pneumonia...

And, Fry continues, there was this thing about taking extra measures to make sure she wasn't cold. Uhm, right, the common practice is to keep pneumonia patients in freezers.

The spirit then puts the number 87 or 89 in Fry's mind. It is up to the elderly woman to find something in her or her mother's life to fit that number. She acknowledges 89. Nothing more comes out of this. Was it an age, was it her flat or street number?

Fry asks the elderly woman if she will be in a party of six during Christmas. Maybe, she says. What a pity then, Fry declares, that she only have five left of those special glasses, which Fry thinks are either coloured or with a gold rimmed top edge. Now, as I was taking a poll around the family regarding Donald Duck impersonations, I also asked about this one. It turns out that coloured or gold rimmed "fine" glasses are very common, especially among older people. They keep them in display cabinets and only use them on special occasions. And no, unfortunately they don't have the full (12) or half (6) set - one or two are missing or have been broken. Just for fun, check with mum or granny. You'll be surprised.

The elderly woman addressed by Fry also has glasses like this, but due to some confusion it is not clear whether she have five or six of them. Fry implies that a full set has been divided between two but as the elderly woman starts to explain that her sister had them first, she is cut off by Fry who is now more interested if she has recently fallen on her right hip. No, she says. Fry then asks if she still has an elderly aunt in this life. The interpreter asks her in Swedish if she still has a sister in this life. The elderly woman confirms that she still has a sister in this life. Having established that the elderly woman don't see her sister that often, but speaks to her, Fry declares that it is the aunt that has taken a fall and the elderly woman should ask her aunt why she hasn't told her about this, or the fact that her aunt's family is treating her bad.

After this rather serious advice, Fry asks why her mother is telling him to indicate the 14th of March. No, the 18th has some significance to her but not the 14th. Well, her mother is indicating that she must put something in her diary on the 14th, otherwise she will forget. Slick, very slick.

After a pause, Fry asks the elderly woman if her mother liked Charlie Chaplin. The elderly woman confirms this astonishing preference for a woman that probably was young during Chaplin's glory days. Fry continues by stating that her mother in fact thought that the silent movies were better than the modern sound movies. Now, my own preferences are that I still think that Peter Sellers' movies are better than Jim Carrey's, Clint Eastwood's are better than Tom Cruise's. It's a "those were the days" phenomena. Stock spiel.

Fry ends the elderly woman session by saying her mother is thankful for her making sure she was kept warm. All things must come to an end and after having had yet another stock spiel session with Lonely man, Fry ends the séance. I don't stay for the question period after the break - I would probably have been too tempted to ask him about his experience with wind-instruments.

So, in conclusion, did Colin Fry meet the demands imposed by "believers"? Let's see.

1. Did Fry give accurate, detailed and personal information, pertaining only to the addressed individual?
Fact: Apart from his personal friends, he gave no such information.

2. Did Fry give information that he by no means could have known beforehand?
Fact: No, he gave no such information.

3. Did Fry engage in stock spiels, i.e. general statements that will apply to almost everyone, or any other cold reading technique as described by sceptics?
Fact: Yes he did, all the time.

4. Did Fry seek the participation of the audience in order to convey any messages?
Fact: He started by explicitly asking for the cooperation of the audience and he also got it all through the séance.

Although he does it in style and with some creativity, Colin Fry is an obvious cold reader. But I'm fairly certain that most people attending this live séance thought it was an amazing experience. So he gave value for money. Even I think that I got value for my money - my expectations were also met. But does he talk to dead people? No way. If you're thinking of attending a live séance with Fry yourself, look out for the man studying people by the entré. I sure would like to know if it was right to give Fry the benefit of the doubt. And when you watch Sixth Sense or re-runs of it, keep in mind how Fry performs when he's not in full control of the conditions.