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The Failure of the Patricia Putt JREF Challenge

Update:  May 8, 2013.  Professor Chris French responded to my email regarding the ethics committee.  I am changing the post to reflect this.

Back in May of 2009, a psychic medium from England, Patricia Putt, attempted the preliminary portion of the million dollar challenge hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation.  The test was administered at Goldsmiths University  by Professor Richard Wiseman (yes, that Richard Wiseman) and Professor Chris French.  She had ten attempts and was required to get five right; none of them succeeded (which is kind of odd, but we’ll get to that later).  According to Patricia, the protocol was set up by professor Wiseman and she had little to no say in the design.    Her statement in the matter is this:

Answer to your question Wiseman did do the Protocols and there has never been any discussion on it.  I either went for it or I didn’t.  No
grey areas, just black or white.

JREF typically portrays these negotiations as being two sided, but I have found little evidence that this is true and much evidence to the contrary.  The Pavel Zibarov negotiation had similar problems.  On the most crucial detail: the number of trials, JREF refused to budge.

It is apparent from the design of the Patricia Putt challenge that it was ill conceived and lacked some of the basic necessities of good parapsychology study design.

While Patricia agreed to the challenge, this does not mean that it was a fair test of her skills.  While she also agreed that it was a fair test of her skills, this is a requirement to take the challenge and it is therefore meaningless.  Also, she is not qualified to make this statement.  Being psychic (or being a skeptic for that matter) is not the same as understanding the protocols of scientific studies nor the specific challenges of parapsychological testing.

On a positive note, Prof. Wiseman did keep all the records and therefore the challenge itself is one of the better documented ones done on behalf of JREF.  Ordinary challenge record keeping is very poor at JREF, so this was a welcome change.

This test had a non ordinary element to it that does not show up in any of the JREF official accounts of the testing, nor on Richard Wiseman’s site which needs addressing.  When I first contacted Patricia, she mentioned an ethics committee that allowed Wiseman to delete portions of her readings that were deemed too personal.  This is definitely NOT a wild accusation.  She passed along an email from French which explicitly states the existence of an ethics committee.

From: Prof Christopher C French
Sent: 09 February 2013 18:53
To: Patricia Putt
Cc: richard wiseman
Subject: Randi Test 2009

Hi Pat,

I was a bit confused by your email. At Goldsmiths, all experiments by staff involving human participants have to be approved in advance by the College Ethics Committee. The form submitted for our test is attached, along with the full protocol. No Ethics Committee was involved any further once approval had been given to carry out the test.

The only type of information that would have been redacted was any that was ruled out in the stipulations laid out in the protocol (i.e., that there is no mention of the volunteer’s number, physical attributes, etc., no indication of the sequential position of the trial, and no mention of events which occurred during the  reading). (…)

Best wishes,

Some portions of Patricia Putt’s readings were blacked out and there is no indications from surrounding text that she was violating protocol.  She claims that the blacked out areas were done by Wiseman.  Here is a PDF of the readings that Patricia hand wrote.  The numbers are kind of confusing.  15 people were invited and each given a number.  Then 10 were chosen at random out of that pool.   That’s why the numbers aren’t consecutive.  As you can see portions have been blacked out of most readings.  Some more than others.  (begin updated area).  Prof. French has responded with an explanation:

(…) As is usual in all Psychology Departments, all investigations have to be approved by an Ethics Committee in advance of work being carried out. Our proposal was approved by the Committee who, after that, played no further role in proceedings. The main responsibility for ensuring that investigations are ethical lies with the investigators, of course. I do not recall the Ethics Committee asking us to make any changes to the protocol we submitted to them. It is potentially misleading to say that “the ethics committee decided to black out anything that they considered to be of a personal nature” for two reasons. First, our concern was not that all material “of a personal nature” should be blacked out (after all, what would that leave?). We were concerned about the possibility that one or more readings might contain personal information of a sensitive nature, e.g., relating to, say, a prediction of death. Any such material might cause upset and distress regardless of whether or not it came true. In the event, I do not think that there was any such material (but you have the readings yourself so you can confirm that). Second, I do not think it was the Ethics Committee that insisted upon this condition but that we ourselves decided it was a wise precaution.

Another reason for blacking out certain words was in order to avoid the possibility that something would be written that gave an indication of the temporal position of the reading in the series, e.g., some reference to the time of day.

Any deletions were approved at the time by Mrs Putt. I do not have the readings to hand but Prof Wiseman has looked over them and agrees with your own assessment that, in fact, very little was blacked out. (…)

I think that this adds a bit of friction to the testing to black anything out and Patricia wasn’t at all happy with it, but my opinion is that this is fairly minor.  (end update)

You could argue that this was entirely benign, or you could argue that this was a cynical attempt to make Patricia Putt fail the challenge.  I leave it up to the reader to speculate.  My view is that since the whole test was a complete failure, this doesn’t matter.

In any case, the above is not the reason that I refer to this test as flawed.  That comes from the test design which completely fails to create psi-favorable conditions.  The most glaring flaw comes from the choice of test subjects to read, which the protocol states were women between the ages of 18 and 30.  According to Patricia, the actual selection was even more narrow than that.

Hi Craig

The girls were all students aged between 18 and I think 21, I had asked earlier for the demographics to be totally different say a cleaner aged about 50, or a  kitchen worker at 60 you know what I mean, this was not so. (…)

Patricia was right to ask for a wider demographic both in age and profession.  This is an extremely narrow selection for a medium to read.  All students, all women, all within a few years of each other and on similar paths.  As the objective of the test is to have the subjects pick their own reading, it’s obviously much harder if the most prominent details of their lives are all essentially the same.  In fact, this design violates standard parapsychology protocol which acknowledges the importance of the gradient of Shannon Entropy in psychic ability. (May, Spottiswoode, Faith, 2000)  As Wiseman is considered an expert in this field, this is not excusable.  Now maybe the reasoning behind the narrow demographics was to make sure that Patricia didn’t get lucky.  If that’s the case, then the solution is a different test design that doesn’t include this problem.

In the same vein, there was another serious flaw in the design of the test.  Mrs. Putt was required to write out her readings instead of speak them as she normally does.  The problem with this is that she was being asked to do something she had not claimed to be able to do.  If you look at the photo on Wiseman’s page you will see that she is right handed.  Psychic ability is known to be a right brain skill, so if a person is writing with their right hand, they are using the left side of their brain, which does not let them stay in the flow.  Writing requires a specific type of focus that is different from mediumship.  This requirement forced Patricia to move in and out of the focus she needed for mediumship in order to communicate in writing.  It disturbed the flow of information. (Psi Favorable Conditions, William Braud.)  Contrast this to Patricia’s normal process:

The test was done in a way I don’t normally work, my way is people sit in front of me just the other side of a table which holds my box of tissues often used and  my old audio tape machine I will then give them a preliminary talk through telling them how I like to work that is giving Spirit time to enter the room and the  person to relax.  I will start with I have a man here linking on Dad’s side of the family, your Father is still on the earth plain (alive) they will nod or if it is Dad  who has come through I will say I have Dad here at this point I will see the tears welling up, and I go from there. I actually don’t give them much time to talk to me as I always say I am passing information you must give me nothing except the yes or if it is a no then I must also be given that answer.

Finally, there is one other problem with this study design.  Part of ordinary mediumship is to see the clients flaws and communicate them to the client so that they can improve themselves and succeed.  Nearly all clients of psychic services are aware of this and accept it. They are there to be helped and understand the need to keep an open mind.  The subjects of these readings though, did not participate with the intent of being helped.  Therefore, information about their flaws might not be well received and in fact, might be rejected altogether.  This could possibly account for why no one picked their own reading.  They could have been specifically avoiding an accurate account of their flaws by choosing something less threatening to them.  This is a form of psi missing and it actually argues in Patricia’s favor.

These three flaws in the Patricia Putt test miss an important feature of testing.  The objective is to give any test the best possible chance to succeed in order to determine if there is an effect.  You can’t learn about seed growth if you put the seed on a shelf.  It needs to be in its natural environment under natural conditions.  It is quite possible to institute strict controls and still give a medium the freedom to stay in the flow of their work.  Here is an example:  (Beischel, Schwartz, 2007)

At best, this challenge demonstrated that something interesting might be going on due to the psi missing.  At worst all you can say is that the test demonstrated nothing.  Patricia Putt cannot be said to have failed the test because the design was completely inadequate to test anything.  That did not stop the press releases of course:  (here) and (here)

I think that this demonstrates the problem of skeptical testing. The mindset is all wrong.  Their attitude seems to be that if the controls are adequate then it must be a good experiment; they appear to completely disregard the need to create psi-favorable conditions.  That’s certainly the problem with this experiment.

To sum it up, my conclusion is that the study design rendered this challenge to be nothing more than a skeptical publicity stunt.  I find it appalling that neither Wiseman nor French noticed these glaring errors or if they did, did not seek to correct them.  They are university professors who have studied parapsychology and critiqued it.  I think it is a lapse of ethics to produce such a poor test because Mrs. Putt’s good name has been smeared and harm has been done to her reputation as a result of this taking this challenge.  Short of physically hurting someone, it’s hard to do more harm than that.

Maybe the Goldsmith ethics committee should have been paying more attention.

29 comments on “The Failure of the Patricia Putt JREF Challenge

  1. Steve
    October 7, 2014

    o 1. Parapsychologists use magicians to evaluate protocols when it seems necessary. Proper skepticism is, of course, important, but only if it is combined with expertise in the area it’s being applied. Otherwise it’s just noise.


    2. We have two different issues here. JREF challenge testing, and ordinary scientific parapsychological research. They are not the same. JREF testing has yielded nothing of interest. It’s a clown show.

    No, they are not the same. I think one is tested by supportive, likeminded folk, who may or may not be objective or have an agenda or result in mind, because I don’t know. Has a lot of research, successfully demonstrating the existence of anything psi been observed or verified by many people who are mainstream scientists (i.e. without the word para) or sceptical folk or magicians? The other is to determine the outcome of a (n often unique, supernatural or beyond the naturally explainable) claim, like a court of law (who incidentally need to select several neutral people to satisfy both sides and always do, successfully).

    Parapsychological research however, has 130 years of science behind it. While psi is difficult to test, it is certainly possible and there is a great deal of scientific literature that shows real psi effects through experiments that have been reliably reproduced.

    Is this being completely honest or fair? If you mention parapsychology along with 130 years of para-science, this would be closer to reality. If you use the word psychology or science, you must expect readers to see research and results in (mainstream) science journals. Likewise, using genuine scientific methodology as a part of seeking the unknown may sound like good science, (as might a person with a science based PhD who studies or believes in a weird thing), but mainstream science wouldn’t buy it and I don’t buy it. Can you give me some good examples of experiments that have been reliably reproduced and peer reviewed in mainstream science literature? I had a look at the organization’s website which you referred to earlier, and looked at the people involved and the research done. Like JREF, it isn’t exactly neutral, it holds beliefs that support the results it hopes to get (e.g. it doesn’t seem to show any negative results that can be found elsewhere) and protocols seem very flawed IF they had any suspicions or doubts about any of their testees. I am trying to be as fair and neutral as I can allow, but I think we re going to have to beg to differ.

    3. The problem of an agreed protocol only comes up in skeptical challenges, where there is a great deal of mistrust by both parties. This isn’t a problem with real researchers.

    Yes, I was primarily referring to JREF and am not well versed in parapsychology tests, but am open to listen and learn. The many Mediums used at the Windbridge instuitute go through tests and are THEN accepted as genuine, so their words and other things are then taken into consideration. This is the nature of it as opposed to something like the JREF, who are impersonal and indifferent to anything other than finding out the result to be true or false. The Windbridge Institute starts by believing in psi and seeks to find out more and how it works – like theists do with God – they start by belief in God and then seek to build a frame for Him/Her/It, without really having verification of the existence to start with.

    I thank you for allowing me to share here and I do have sympathy with many minority views which don’t see the light of day just because they are in the minority or seem weird and many have in the past, been shown to be right. The mind is an amazing thing and I have no idea what it holds – or the universe or the spiritual realm, if it exists.

    I haven’t seen much that shows that you understand a sceptic or how one might view psi related matters. If you were to show that you understand where someone like myself is coming from, I might be more sympathetic. You have been quite dismissive of the JREF, and I have tried to meet you more than halfway on this. I have shared some concerns I have and tried to be fair and honest. It would be good to try to win me over. I f you blow me out, you won’t stand a chance with most sceptics, and I think you should try to win folk over, if you can or get the chance, if you really believe in something. We all speak the same language (metaphorically speaking!) and there is always neutral and common ground to play on and one truth to seek, shared in the same world together.

    Para and pseudo have a stigma which needs to be dealt with. A lot more research in mainstream scientific literature would always be a clear message to critics. You could offer your own challenge or reward or prize. You could make some great, fact based, unbiased power points which show down to earth, logical, peer reviewed results (which don’t have an equal or larger number of opposite type results which are selectively left out).

    Sceptics are often cynical, dismissive, mocking, put everyone and everything in the same box and are often ignorant and discourteous. There’s good and bad on both sides and all sides need to learn to understand each other until such a point as one comes to a certain knowledge of what they believe through proper investigation.

    I don’t understand psi or the mind or the world that well and would be very happy to be shown the sort of things you believe and why/how you believe them and how testing could be verified.

    • craigweiler
      October 7, 2014

      I’m not going to blow you off because you’re obviously sincere.

      The Parapsychological Association is a scientific organization that is a member of the AAAS. So it has been vetted by other scientists as practicing real science. There should be no disagreement here.

      There isn’t any difference between how parapsychology science is done and other sciences. Nearly everyone who does this stuff comes from other fields. Mostly psychology, but also particle physicists and others.

      This link should provide you with more than enough scientific evidence:

      The work is published in the appropriate journals.

      When you say “vetted by mainstream” this would be problematic for any science. Who is supposed to vet someone’s research except for other qualified people? Very few scientists will ever take the time to comprehensively learn another science in order to evaluate it.

      And how do you quantify mainstream? This is harder than it appears. Most scientists are not even aware of the evidence, so they don’t count. There is a very vocal skeptical portion whose bias is clearly visible, so they don’t count either. Polls indicate that a majority of scientists think psychic ability exists. Do they count? Do they matter?

      Then you also have to factor in a well documented taboo against this subject in academia and the sciences in general. Many parapsychologists have commented on this, both publicly in articles and in private. It’s very real.

      You’re not talking about science at this point, but rather acceptance, which is something else altogether. I’m sure you’re aware that science can be both valid and not generally accepted. It happens all the frigging time.

      • Steve
        October 7, 2014

        Thanks again. Some good, fair, valid points you make and I’ll check your reference. Will try to get back after digesting it. Thanks again. How about that for brevity!

  2. Steve
    October 7, 2014

    o Hi again Craig. Thanks for response again and apologies for my longer, less concise posts. My responses were in red but not coloured in the pasted post, sorry..
    o Hi Steve,
    The points you bring up are all familiar to me and have been brought up by people many times before.
    First of all, a magician is no substitute for a good protocol, which generally takes care of possible cheating issues, but does so without interfering with what’s being tested.

    I am not sure that a pure scientist or even a protocol expert (and I think protocols are usually designed by the scientists or people wanting to find out the answers to their research) are good or qualified in watching out for the very sort of tricks that sceptics expect to find and, importantly, are often used. Scientists are fooled a lot more that a magician, so I suggest employing both, even if the magician is merely consulted to ensure the test is free from the varied kinds of cheating I am speaking about.

    Second, if psi was so easy to test, there wouldn’t be a debate about its existence. It’s important to remember that.

    People debate that the earth is flat or that we have gone to the moon and many other conspiracy theories. That debate exists does not demonstrate or add to whether it is or even could be true; merely that some people believe it and others don’t. But these are lesser debated matters you might argue.
    Billions believe one religion and billions believe another. Hundreds of millions believe others and millions believe others and a billion do not believe in a God. That such beliefs usually and fundamentally oppose each other, again demonstrates that even if one were true, the majority of the world is wrong on all the others, despite their many numbers and intelligence.
    Ghosts and aliens exist according to many people’s beliefs as well as more popular things like the existence of psi. People debate the existence of a variety of different and often opposing things. My point here is merely that debate alone shows nothing with regard to evidence of ANYTHING.
    The difficulty with something being hard to test is another issue. Once a believer in supernatural medical healing, I came to realize that the result of the claims were totally tangeable and that they were therefore open to testing and I took it upon myself to examine this particular area in some considerable depth over time. Protocols took me time to establish in order to make everyone happy, but I believe I was able to do this and now only the ignorant reject them.
    If a claim has demonstrable and tangiable results, then scientific or natural processes are likely to be available to test its existence or source or reliability. The chances of a claim (e.g. doing a reading of someone that is genuine and not general) who’s test protocol is so fussy, so as to coincide exactly with the very processes required by the examiner to be eliminated to discard the chance of cheating is unlikely, so, yes, a thorough, dual designed protocol is worth a long time being designed, but should almost always be possible.
    If there is no tangiable or objective result possible, then it may well be beyond the realms of science to discern and so no challenge or test would apply.
    So yes, psi may well be difficult to create protocols for, but difficult is fine. Impossible is more difficult!

    Third, the best theory, First Sight by Jim Carpenter, based on a great deal of research, holds that psi is on all the time and that it operates fundamentally at a subconscious level. This makes it quite a bit trickier to get consistent results.

    I and many others are not saying that such things as psi do not exist. Many things exist that I am sure we know little or nothing about and if such a thing cannot be tested properly as yet, that’s fine, we can keep searching and one day it may be possible to test it or maybe it will be shown to exist (e.g. due to no alternative explanations) but still can’t be tested with apparatus we currently have. Dreams are one such mystery, black holes and the quantum wave/particle.

    Fourth, JREF testing is generally, too short, (typically under 10 trials) too hard, (typically around 1,000 to 1 odds for the preliminary challenge, and then you have to do it again at even higher odds) and too pressure filled, (typically done on stage in front of a crowd of disbelievers) to be anything but a media stunt. They do not allow the challenger to build up statistical significance through a lot of repetitions. No one is ever allowed to get comfortable.

    Yes, I understand too that JREF seem to do very few trials on a testee, though I have seen dozens fail tests, some even with odds of around one in 4 and other barely getting the basic probability stats. I agree on most of the points here – the pressure, the stunt, the stage, the sceptical audience and the discomfort, and the chance to repeat tests for building statistical significance. The very thought of wanting to beat chance or a blind monkey though, in many cases misses the point. It’s about more black and white, can he/can’t she do what she/he claims? Not, can they sometimes or can they get over 50%.
    If I claim I can read a vehicle number plate from a distance of 3 metres in good light, most people would be sceptical if I could NOT get 100% accuracy, and rightly so. Such a claim should deserve a high/perfect accuracy level. If the weather or distance was variable, I might want some leeway. If a person claims to have an ability that is only 30% accurate or only exists intermitently or doesn’t happen when shy or in bright light or on stage or whatever, then either a protocol is designed round it or it is not reasonably testable. The testee makes the claim and if it is not reasonable to test, it won’t be tested.
    At the end of the day, if someone has a genuine ability which is tangiable (offers objective and testable results), a protocol should be workeable. And if the ability is true and accurate, a high degree of odds should be reasonable to expect. If I claim that I can detect the colour blue with my fingers or with my eyes shut, odds of 1,000,000 to one is fine and should not bother me, though chances are, such high odds would be unnecessary to demonstrate such ability.
    I think those on one side of this argument think that sceptics or testers just want to prevent proof occurring by throwing whatever spanner in the works is necessary to stop the proof being shown. The other side think that testees are just looking for every conceivable objection so as not to have to do the test in a mutually agreed way for fear of failure. We all (those who genuinely seek truth) need to see the whole picture and what both sides can accept or not.
    The problem does not seem to be with the double or triple blindness of the test or the odds, (they are side issues or distractions and the problems lie elsewhere) but rather with an agreed protocol to fairly discern the claim of the testee in such a way that excludes the chance of error or cheating.

    • craigweiler
      October 7, 2014

      1. Parapsychologists use magicians to evaluate protocols when it seems necessary. Proper skepticism is, of course, important, but only if it is combined with expertise in the area it’s being applied. Otherwise it’s just noise.

      2. We have two different issues here. JREF challenge testing, and ordinary scientific parapsychological research. They are not the same. JREF testing has yielded nothing of interest. It’s a clown show.

      Parapsychological research however, has 130 years of science behind it. While psi is difficult to test, it is certainly possible and there is a great deal of scientific literature that shows real psi effects through experiments that have been reliably reproduced.

      3. The problem of an agreed protocol only comes up in skeptical challenges, where there is a great deal of mistrust by both parties. This isn’t a problem with real researchers.

  3. Steve
    October 7, 2014

    Hi Craig et al. I can’t disagree with anything you say and you seem to make fair points. Just a couple of further comments. Protocols can have different purposes. For JREF, their main concern is avoiding interference which interferes with any genuine ability to pass the tests. Because of this, they have specialists in THAT particular field, namely magicians, who can try to eliminate as many of such possibilities as they can. Many false people exist and have tried to fool examiners and the world with their false abilities, so I am sure you can appreciate that such a specialist is a key ingredient here. I am sure that more could be done for those being tested and you may well have doubts about JREFs genuineness to give full opportunity to anyone to actually be able to pass their challenge, but in many cases, if someone really does have an ability, it should be quite easy to determine.
    I am reminded of the sports of arm wrestling or Judo. At the very beginning, each opponent grapples for a first or superior hold. There may seem to be an advantage here, but it is accepted and the outcome is rarely disputed. I can think of several examples of people who seem to have no problem performing regularly without fail under widely varying conditions, then when a test is applied, the number of restraints required seem to huge that it suddenly seems… odd. Like giants or long snakes, at first boasted about with endless vigour, then shrinking in the presence of a tape measure.
    I think it would help if people withheld their doubts about those being tested and those testing, then tried to see the exam and outcome from both perspectives. Testee explains all limitations to their ability and what constitutes a clear pass and tester works round them whilst eliminating chances of foul play or interference. The role of magicians is key here to avoid being caught out as has happened so often in the past. I agree that JREF isn’t a scientific or class organisation, but I am not sure that anything beyond common sense to determine a straightforward test for a genuine testee is required. I would still like you or someone to put their own scepticism into words and tell us (or give an example of what) a fair test looks like. Just make up a testee and show fairness to both perspectives.
    Here’s mine for a water diviner.
    Claim – I can detect water, even when underground, without knowing beforehand where it is or seeing it, using a special rod.
    Check any limitations (weather, location, depth, water type, person’s mood? Etc.
    Agree and check rod used.
    Jointly prepare 16 containers to place in an agreed area. Place water in some. Cover containers to avoid seeing which contain water. Use double blind criteria, so observers do not know where the water is.
    Use agreed rod to locate water. Agree degree of accuracy to determine result. Remember, one would expect 100% if a true detector, but give room for error, but way beyond guessing statistic). I would be willing to assist the testee and tell her/him how many contain water. Say 1. Odds are 1 in 16 and a positive result would be very impressive but not conclusive. If repeated two more times accurately, and checking for any cheating, I’d be willing to do a final test of odds of 1 in 64 to agree that the testee was true and deserved the prize.
    Whilst this is a poor protocol (for JREF, because there are things that I haven’t considered here which could fool people), providing the testee was happy that the distance between containers and the depth etc. Was O.K. and represented what they really can do, this is roughly a good test, but if it were my money, I’d want more stringent protocols which would not intrude into the testee’s ability, but just ensured no foul play.
    It is imperative to have all sides agree and be happy with the test or it is pointless. Clear pass/fail criteria is key too, as so often (e.g. this case) the testee has raised concerns. No-one forces a testee to attempt the challenge and any concerns should be addressed beforehand and likewise, the prizegiver wants to ensure fair play.

    • craigweiler
      October 7, 2014

      Hi Steve,
      The points you bring up are all familiar to me and have been brought up by people many times before.

      First of all, a magician is no substitute for a good protocol, which generally takes care of possible cheating issues, but does so without interfering with what’s being tested.

      Second, if psi was so easy to test, there wouldn’t be a debate about its existence. It’s important to remember that.

      Third, the best theory, First Sight by Jim Carpenter, based on a great deal of research, holds that psi is on all the time and that it operates fundamentally at a subconscious level. This makes it quite a bit trickier to get consistent results.

      Fourth, JREF testing is generally, too short, (typically under 10 trials) too hard, (typically around 1,000 to 1 odds for the preliminary challenge, and then you have to do it again at even higher odds) and too pressure filled, (typically done on stage in front of a crowd of disbelievers) to be anything but a media stunt. They do not allow the challenger to build up statistical significance through a lot of repetitions. No one is ever allowed to get comfortable.

  4. Steve
    October 6, 2014

    If JREF or the arbiters did not allow Pat to jointly agree the protocol test, this is wrong. Both the participant and the tester needs to be happy (within reason) that the test is fair. By fair, the point of the test is test whether a person can do what they claim they can do. The test must ensure that the person has a good chance of being able to attempt the test and that it is not prone to trickery of any sort. If you consider the standard test for water diviners, it could not be simpler or fairer to both sides whilst eliminating any chance of cheating and at the same time, providing all the necessary requirements for a positive outcome for the person being tested. Namely, placing a number of containers (e.g. 16) and filling 1-4 with water and 12-15 not. If you really can locate the presence of water, this is a fair test, especially as it is a test very similar to how it really works out in the field. There may be some adjustments required, but they must satisfy both sides that they are fair and avoid any possibility of cheating as well as being able to let the person show they can show their ability.
    With regards to psychics and related tests, the critic or tester will want to avoid the possibility of cold or warm reading and other forms of information gathering as well as offering only superficial or general readings. I would personally find having a very wide range of people (age, sex, profession, language etc.) a distraction as it opens the door to offering a more general reading which fits the genetic dispersal. If one could read anyone accurately, I’d be suspicious of wanting to specifically have such a choice. Why not 10 people all the same age, sex, town, even siblings? The results of such readings are much more likely to demonstrate true and accurate ability, and I do not agree that such similar differences are more likely to be too similar. The fact that one can, presumably read anyone or two people of a similar age/sex, why not try it? The trster is wanting to see if you really can read someone with reasonable accuracy and not cold reading. How do you expect the test to be done in a fair or neutral way? I think almost anything can be tested and if the person being tested is genuine, will be very supportive of designing a fair test. IMO

    • craigweiler
      October 6, 2014

      One thing I’ve learned in studying the science of psi testing is that there is a lot more to it than anyone imagines. I know more than most people about this subject and I wouldn’t attempt to design a protocol.

      It is a specialty and those who don’t have any training in this area or don’t grasp the nuances are not likely to produce quality tests.

      It is possible to do this right while still giving mediums the proper setting for their work. Julie Beischel, PhD, at the Windbridge Institute has excellent research protocols. Of course, she’s had training in experimental design and frankly, it shows.

      Like all real research, it’s not a one off either. Research is ongoing and protocols refined over time and subject to review. JREF is to the Windbridge Institute what sandlot baseball is to the MLB. They’re not in the same league.

      Anything at JREF can be considered the amateur hour. They’re not qualified.

  5. Mark
    May 12, 2013

    I’m no fan of baseball, or most sports, but I just happened to catch the headline of this one story and was interested in reading it. Maybe it was an instance of some kind of synchronicity, but whatever motivated me to read it… well, I’m glad I did, because I couldn’t help but notice that there is a lesson, here, as to why it’s not usually a good idea to have people who are strongly biased in the judge’s position, unless, maybe, you seriously trust the moral character and judgement of the specific individual. It made me think about The Randi Test. Here is a link to the article:

    The people running The Randi Test and this Angel Hernandez dude seem to have some things in common.

    • marcustanthony
      May 12, 2013

      Yes, that’s a good example, Mark. There’s no way that Randi and his crowd should ever be let anywhere near a psi-test of any kind. It’s like getting a a bunch of southern Baptists to rule on the validity of natural selection.

  6. Mark
    May 9, 2013

    Another thing that I feel compelled to point out is that Randi and others associated with him and JREF have tried, in the past, to argue that The Randi Test is administered by an “independent” panel. It is very sleazy, and just like an immoral magician, to take two people who are heavily involved in the pseudoskeptic movement, though perhaps not JREF, specifically, and try to pass them off as “independent.”

    • craigweiler
      May 9, 2013

      All too true.

  7. Fran Theis
    May 8, 2013

    It is time for psychics and remote viewers to stop trying to prove what they can do to skeptics. Instead, they should refer the skeptics to the scientific literature (Dean Radin’s site is ideal: and move on with the important work they know they can do.

    • Sandy
      May 8, 2013

      I agree. The skeptics count on finding someone so arrogant of their abilities and uninformed in regards to experimental design that they agree to conditions that make no sense in terms of good experimental protocols. I feel badly for Patricia Putt, but she used a lot of bad judgement fueled by ego to get into this mess.

      Ethically, human experiments designed to humiliate the test subject (in this case Patricia Putt), should never have been allowed by the university. Perhaps the ethics committee needs to be taken to task on this case, because they failed to protect the study participant from harm.

      Looking back at my post about what sorts of things to avoid when considering participating in testing ( ), there were all sorts of red flags on this one. A quick Google search could have saved Ms Putt a great deal of trouble. Wiseman does not have a good reputation as a researcher

      “By the autumn of 2004, after a series of other very questionable claims, widely publicized in the media, many of his peers in the parapsychology research community concluded that his behaviour was not consistent with commonly-accepted standards of scientific integrity, and he was voted off the main research forum in parapsychology by a large majority. In addition, for similar reasons, some members of the Society for Psychical Resaerch called for him to be expelled for the Society. He resigned.”

  8. marcustanthony
    May 8, 2013

    It remains fascinating that the hardcore skeptics are apparently immune from having to engage in basic standards of academic rigour. Take this from James Randi’s Wikipedia page: “Most of parapsychology is, he argues, pseudoscience, like homeopathy, but nonetheless is a legitimate science, even if, in his view, it is odd that over 120 years of research practitioners have failed to come up with one positive experiment. He compares this failure to a doctor who, over a career of similar length, has failed to cure a single patient and yet persists in his profession.”

    How can someone who misrepresents the science (I am assuming he is at least familiar with the literature) possibly be a reliable tester of psi abilities?

  9. Mark
    May 8, 2013

    “I think that this demonstrates the problem of skeptical testing. The mindset is all wrong. Their attitude seems to be that if the controls are adequate then it must be a good experiment; they appear to completely disregard the need to create psi-favorable conditions. That’s certainly the problem with this experiment.”

    I don’t entirely agree with this, Craig. I think that the problem with the experiment is that the pseudoskeptics are in a mindset where they just know that there cannot be anything to any of this psi stuff, and they also hate all who think that there might be something to psi, so they think about how they can, not necessarily win per se, but how they can make the pro-psi side look as bad as they can and make the pseudoskeptic side look as good as they can. I would not be surprised if this guy is right:

    • craigweiler
      May 8, 2013

      Neither Wiseman nor French has any history of outright cheating and as far as I know, Patricia was in the room the whole time, making the switching of readings possible, but unlikely. Also, you will see that she was provided with her original readings which have been posted on line. A sitter could conceivably come forward to point out that this is not what she saw.

      I don’t think that’s a plausible scenario.

      • Mark
        May 8, 2013

        I’ll take your word for it. Still, it doesn’t mean that they didn’t do it in other cases. I think that there should be more investigation into this possibility with other cases. After all, most pseudoskeptics like to brag about being successful in the use of fraud conspiracies, like The Project Alpha Hoax, although they don’t, typically, call them conspiracies, even though that’s what they are.

        • craigweiler
          May 8, 2013

          Remember that these are university professors. The example you cite is from James Randi who represents no formal institution outside of his own non profit. There is a big difference in what they can get away with.

          • Mark
            May 8, 2013

            Yeah, I meant the pseudoskeptics, generally speaking, not necessarily these two. Although, I think that Wiseman, at least, has done some pretty sleazy things, in the past. Even if he was not lying, exactly, he does seem to have that typical, pseudoskeptic, “do anything it takes to beat the other side” mentality. I think that it should be looked into, by someone, even though I take your point that it is unlikely to totally pan out. Maybe we’ll find other stuff that we can use against them.

  10. Rupert McWiseman
    May 8, 2013

    Repeat after me:


    How often does this need to be said?

    If the owner of a tobacco company funded a million-dollar challenge open to anyone who claimed they could prove smoking was harmful, and the experiment was administered by a well-known pro-smoking academic, just how impartial would one expect the whole thing to be?

    For Dawkins’ sake, can’t we please stop taking Randi’s Greatest Illusion seriously, and start seeing it for the piece of theatre it really is?

    • craigweiler
      May 8, 2013

      Like it or not, this challenge protocol was designed by a scientist familiar with parapsychology. Therefore it was necessary to critique this protocol on scientific grounds. Mrs. Putt’s good name could not be cleared any other way.

    • MindBody
      March 21, 2017

      Often enough that we are all capable of responding in an informed way to support that statement about a publicity stunt.

      I have lost count of the number of times I have seen people come out with the argument that the failure to claim that prize is evidence that psi abilities do not exist.
      Whats worse is that the argument is influential.

  11. Frank Matera
    May 7, 2013

    Unfortunately Patricia Putt is as much to blame as Richard Wiseman is here. She should never have agreed to any of this and was obviously way out of her comfort zone. What did she expect that Wiseman was going to do? Organise a favourable PSI study design on behalf of JREF? It was never going to happen.

    • craigweiler
      May 7, 2013

      I basically told her the same thing. She agrees that she was hard headed and stubborn about this and learned one of those less than pleasant life lessons from it.

      • MindBody
        March 21, 2017

        — and that lesson was, I suspect: Hanging out with pseudoskeptics is likely to be tiresome and unpleasant!

        However, the issue of having Richard Wiseman involved was raised and I would ask if he was not under some ethical obligation to clarify Mrs Putt’s position – as the experiment should not have been done if she was that uncomfortable with it. The methodology as I have heard it discussed does leave the test subject at a disadvantage.

  12. moniquestevenson
    May 7, 2013

    This is one of the things that pisses me off about skeptic ‘experiments’ where a skeptic will go and try to get read by a psychic, then crow when the psychic gets it wrong. Of COURSE they got it wrong! YOU SCREWED UP YOUR EXPERIMENT, YOU IDIOT! If you’re checking your radio’s ability to receive a station, do you send out a totally different song on the same frequency? So why are you doing the same to psychics?

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