Scientists put psychic’s paranormal claims to the test

In an article from The Guardian:

Professional medium Patricia Putt was last week subjected to a rigorous scientific test of her powers as the first stage of her bid to claim a $1m prize from the James Randi Educational Foundation

The young female volunteer in front of me could not suppress an embarrassed giggle as she sat there wearing a ski mask, wraparound sunglasses, an oversized graduation gown and a pair of white socks, a large laminated sheet hung around her neck displaying her participant number.

Then things got even weirder. Professor Richard Wiseman knocked on the door to collect our volunteer. He accompanied her into a large room where she was instructed to sit in a chair facing the wall and do nothing for 15 minutes or so. Professional medium Mrs Patricia Putt was then brought into the room and sat down at a small table around 12 feet away. Sometimes Mrs Putt would request that a volunteer read a pre-specified short passage, as she had found from past experience that often “the Spirit enters and makes contact through the sound of the sitter’s voice”. After that, no talking was allowed whatsoever as our medium wrote down a “reading” describing the volunteer using her alleged paranormal abilities. At the end of the reading, Mrs Putt left the room and the volunteer was allowed to change back into somewhat more conventional garb and given a reminder to return later in the day for the all-important judging phase.

What was going on here?

Read the rest of the article here.

Very interesting to see the great lengths the Randi Foundation goes to to make sure the tests are very scientific and are acceptable to the participants. Also interesting to see the excuses brought forth afterwards.

11 thoughts on “Scientists put psychic’s paranormal claims to the test

  1. What I would be interested in is what JREF accepts as proof.  If an applicant said he can predict die rolls, how many would he need to get right? Would near misses count- “Its a little fuzzy- 2? oh no a three- I couldn’t see the middle spot”- obviously a 6 couldn’t be a 1, but a 4 & 5?

    Even if he is right 10000 times in a row, the chance of 10001 is still 1 in 6.  What if he got 95%- infact how much above the 16.6% is ‘proof’.

  2. LH: According to the article, it would need to be statistically significant in order to qualify. The preliminary test has been enough to disqualify most contestants.

  3. LH, I believe the standard is that they’d have to do better than chance. Obviously a 95% accuracy rate would be well above chance. More often than not applicants have a hard time just matching the probably of random chance let alone exceeding it by any statistical amount.

    In the case of the woman in this article she did much worse than chance scoring a solid 0% right.

  4. The preliminary test has been enough to disqualify most contestants.

    All contestants I think.

  5. In the case of the woman in this article she did much worse than chance scoring a solid 0% right.

    That’s a bit of an exaggeration, Les.  The most likely chance outcome of this test would be one out of ten right, true; but zero out of ten is pretty likely too- a likelihood of about 22%, as one of the commenters pointed out.  If she had guessed five out of ten correct, that would have been statistically significant.

    Apparently, many of the disgruntled disqualified blamed Randi’s skeptical vibrations for jamming their mental mojo.  That alone should be proof that paranormal powers exist, if you ask me.  LOL

  6. For the purposes of this test, and with her full agreement of the requirements, she was required to psychically study 10 anonymous volunteers and write a short piece on each one, giving identifying characteristics such that, once the test was over, at least five of the ten volunteer could read through them and pick out one that unambiguously referred to them.

    The details and requirements being decided upon in consultation with herself. Immediately after the test, “According to the testers, Mrs. Putt took this failure well, and did not blame the test or the testers but rather her own powers for failing.” However, after some time had passed, she claimed “I realised that I was never going to win the barriers presented in the protocol were too much even for me to surmount”

    Further details here:

    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/545-patricia-putt-preliminary-mdc-test.html

    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/546-patricia-putt-million-dollar-challenge-test-results-in.html

    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/swift-blog/549-patricia-putt-mdc-test-protocol-failure.html

  7. If it’s anything like the unscientific testing of Natasha Demkina claims, I shall pass.

  8. Which testing do you mean was “unscientific”, Leo: that of the Discovery Channel, which found Natasha to have paranormal diagnostic powers, or that of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, which was not impressed?

    It’s hard to design a test for paranormal ability to diagnose people’s diseases, because there are so many clues that are visible to a practiced eye, and it is very hard to say what counts as a “correct” diagnosis.  But I don’t see any evidence that Demkina has any paranormal ability, and she has somehow not applied for Randi’s million bucks.  Funny.

  9. I agree that the Csicop investigation could have been better designed.  As I said, it’s a fuzzy ability to test.  But if Demkina has any paranormal abilities, I don’t see them.  Why hasn’t she applied for Randi’s million bucks?

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