De onderstaande analyse van de UK-Skeptics verscheen op www.skeptics.org.uk/. Op dit moment is daar om onbekende reden geen tekst meer te vinden. Daarom is de analyse gekopieerd naar skepsis.nl.


Britain’s psychic challenge.

UK Skeptics’ commentary.

UK-Skeptics © 2006.

Table of contents:

Pilot episode.

09/12/05 (John Jackson)

Channel 5 announced:

But what can people who claim to be psychic actually do? Could there be rational scientific explanations for some of the things they claim to be able to achieve, or is it just a matter of luck, trickery and the need to believe? Five is going to find out once and for all by putting some of these so-called psychics to the test.

Yes, “Five is going to find out once and for all”. This suggests that they intend to take a serious approach to the subject. To add credence to this claim the show also features two skeptics: psychologist Professor Chris French (see: http://www.goldsmiths.ac.uk/apru/hitech/index.htm), and mentalist Philip Escoffey (see: http://www.thegreyman.com/); an ideal combination to test psychics and spot any tricks they may be up to.

As it turned out, the skeptics did not have, and as I’ve subsequently found out will not have in the future, any input at all in the tests or their protocols.

A note about testing: Testing, whether done to evaluate a drug or psychic powers, needs to be done carefully and with strict controls so that it can only be passed by that which is under consideration. The problem being that there are always many confounding factors that can lead to false conclusions. If these factors are not controlled for and a flawed test is performed, then the results of that test, whether positive or negative, are meaningless.

That’s an important point to understand. Flawed testing produces results that are meaningless.

The show.

The show had two main tests in it; the rest of it was just filler content such as trying to pass off the fact that animals have better senses than us as proof of them having psychic ability, and that our modern way of living means we have lost our innate psychic ability as we no longer use it to survive.

The first test that we saw was a “body in the boot” challenge. The idea was for a man to choose a boot from one of fifty cars and hide in it. The psychics were then invited into the garage, with no advanced knowledge of what the test was to be, and use their psychic power to locate the man in the boot of the car. The test was overseen by former metropolitan policewoman DCI Jackie Malton.

Six psychics were invited to do the test, and amazingly three of the six managed to locate the body. The odds of this happening by chance are 1 in 6,641. Proof of psychic ability? Well, it is certainly better than the 1 in 1,000 odds which are set for preliminary tests of psychic ability; but, the test was flawed: badly flawed.

Some flaws with the test:

  • Not testing the psychics’ claims.It may not seem like an obvious flaw, but to design a test for a psychic, it should first be ascertained what the psychic claims to be able to do and under which conditions. There is no point in testing them for abilities that they themselves do not claim to posses. If this test had been rigorously designed and all the psychics had failed, all they would have to say is that they never claimed the ability to find a body in the boot of a car. Again, this makes the test meaningless.
  • The cars.The cars were all different. Many of them were too small for a man to get into, and many were so blatantly obvious (stretch limo, bright red, for example) that they would be avoided. It could also be seen that some were parked back to back which eliminates two cars at a time from being used.Many of them were in awkward places to get to, such as parked with their boot facing the wall. This would make it hard for anyone to get into them and, of course, difficult for the camera crew to film the opening of the boot. Put all these factors together and the choice of available car, (reasonable sized boot, easy access, not an obvious choice or colour), changes from 50 to a much smaller number.
  • Unsatisfactory protocols and design.The first flaw, which was pointed out by Chris French, was that the man himself was allowed to choose the car that he hid in. It may not seem to be an obvious flaw, and the point was certainly lost on Trisha, but it introduces a bias into the test. There may have been 50 cars in the garage, but if you are an average-sized man, which car would you choose to hide in? A one that’s easy to get in and out of, one with a nice, large boot, etc. So the test changes from a psychic challenge to a one of deduction. This is why randomisation is so important in testing.To remove bias, a smaller number of cars could have been used as long as they were all of the same make, model, and colour; all parked in a similar fashion; and various weights placed in their boots to avoid the one with the body in it being obvious because it would be lower at the back. Then, the man should have been assigned a randomly-picked number and hid in the boot of that numbered car. The car should have been changed randomly between each test.
  • Lack of blinding.Not only did the man pick his own car, the others who were involved in running the test also knew which car he had picked. This can lead to information leakage. The camera crew knew which car was the target, made evident by the fact that a nice full-on shot of the car was included as the psychics walked anywhere near it, and it may have been possible for the psychic to pick up the increased attention focused on her while she was in the vicinity of the target car.No one involved in overseeing or filming the test should have been aware of which car the man was in.
  • No time limit.It was revealed on the show that the successful psychics also happened to be the ones who took the longest. In fact, it is quite noticeable that the three successes coincided with the fact that Jackie Malton came onto the garage floor possibly with the purpose of speeding the test to a conclusion.Jackie knew the target car, and in one case was standing right next to it as she was encouraging the psychic to pick a car – and she picked the target car. In another case, the psychic was standing near the target car but had not made her mind up. The next clip we see is Jackie Malton out on the floor next to the target car, and then the psychic miraculously picks it!

It should be obvious now why such a test is meaningless. The flaws in this test means that psychic ability has not been tested; and that is not fair to anyone, including the psychics.

After a brief interlude watching what was nothing more than an advert for Deborah Borgen, and a psychic demonstrating cold reading (with some good comments from Chris French), we got on to the second test.

The second psychic challenge.

This took place at Knebworth House, the home of Henry Lytton-Cobold. A photograph of two of Henry’s ancestors were placed in envelopes, and the three psychics who were successful in the first test were meant to psychically acquire information on them; specifically the connection that they were both killed in tragic circumstances.

The ancestors were brothers Antony and John Lytton-Cobold. Antony was killed tragically in the 1930s in a plane crash, and John was killed during a tank battle in WWII. In a nice move, the photographs were placed in a red and a blue envelope – suggesting a male and a female.

The first thing that I will point out is that television presentations of psychic readings cannot be trusted. They are usually edited so that the good bits remain and the misses and wild guessing gets shelved. In this case however, there were no real hits to report.

One reading was a great example of how things often occur in psychic readings so I will reproduce it here with a few comments.

The psychic was Amanda Hart; the test was overseen by Philip Escoffey.

Amanda entered the room in which the test took place and was handed the envelopes.

Amanda: What I’m picking up so far is a boat. It’s got no sails, but it’s got lots of masts. There’s lots of – all I can see is lots of masts and crisscrossing. It’s quite like – I’ve got a little boat.

Henry: Is it definitely a boat, might it be an airplane?

It’s not that clear. It’s like a man with a helmet but it’s made of, almost, leather – and goggles.

This is a wonderful example of how “hits” are achieved in many psychic readings. The psychic comes up with something but it is the client that makes the sense of it. In this case the client is reinterpretingwhat the psychic has said to match his knowledge. These things are often misremembered too. If the cameras hadn’t been there it could well have been remembered as the psychic picking up the fact that one of the brothers was a pilot.

Back to the envelopes:

Is this the wife, partner? [note: she picks the red envelope]

Notice that this is a question, not a statement.

No it isn’t.

Is it a younger brother?

Another question.

It was indeed a younger brother.

Philip Escoffey: When you said younger brother Amanda, did you get a sense of that or was it a picture, and if it was a picture can you describe what perhaps…

No, I just sensed it was a younger brother. He seemed slimmer and taller.

Note: the wife/partner was the first guess, but is conveniently forgotten.

That is true. So is there anything that connects them apart from the fact that they were brothers?

Is it something to do with who they’re married to?

No.

Another question, and an obvious guess.

This is where the reading ends, but Henry goes on to explain that he thought that Amanda was getting close as she was talking about rigging and a boat. He made the connection between rigging on a boat with the rigging on a bi-plane.

Summary.

If Britain’s psychic challenge was meant to test psychic abilities, then it can only be classed as a dismal failure. The first test was so deeply flawed as to be meaningless – in fact it was a great demonstration on how not to perform a test; and the second challenge was again poorly controlled, but it did allow us a good insight on how psychic readings “work”.

These programmes tend to be designed to get viewers, and therefore advertising revenue, and if that is its real purpose (and I suspect it is) then it will be successful in achieving that.

Psychics know that these programmes do not really test psychics and give them an easy ride. Isn’t it funny how many psychics are willing to be tested on shows such as this yet none will apply for James Randi’s $1,000,000 challenge? A real test!

No, the psychics know what they’re doing – getting themselves a bit of free publicity.

Back to top.

Programme 1.

16/01/2006 (John Jackson)

The series Britain’s Psychic Challenge began on 15th Jan. After auditioning almost 2,000 applicants, the best eight were chosen to appear in the programme and be tested to find out whether psychic powers are real or if it’s all in the mind. They showed some applicants being tested and failing dismally, but we never saw how well the eight people who were chosen actually did.

The eight psychics involved are: Amanda Hart; Diane Lazarus; Dave Sumerton; Dennis Binks; Mary White; Austin Charles; Anna Galliers; and Soleira Green. (see:http://www.five.tv/programmes/psychicchallenge/psychics/)

The skeptics are: professor Chris French; Philip Escoffey; and former DCI, Jackie Malton.

Each week the psychics will be taking various tests and at the end of each show, one psychic will be voted off by a panel of judges. This has led to the show being called “Psychic Idol”.

This week’s show contained three tests, none of which could be described as rigorous enough to be meaningful; however, there were some interesting results.

Test 1 – Great Expectations.

Ten women were sat in a room two of whom were pregnant; which had been verified by them doing a pregnancy test on the same day as the test. The psychics’ challenge was to determine which two women were pregnant. They were given the women’s positive pregnancy tests (clearblue type) to help them. The odds of correctly choosing the 2 pregnant women by chance is 1 in 45. The odds of choosing at least 1 correct by chance is just over 1 in 3.

The results were:

  • Amanda Hart        0/10
  • Diane Lazarus      1/10
  • Dave Sumerton      1/10
  • Dennis Binks       0/10
  • Mary White         1/10
  • Austin Charles     0/10
  • Anna Galliers      0/10
  • Soleira Green      0/10

This result gives 3 correct choices out of 16 guesses which is no different to a chance result. Channel 5 duplicated the test with students picked at random and they also got 3 correct guesses. So this test did not show that the psychics can perform better than anyone else or the expected success rate by chance.

What was interesting however, was the fact that one woman in particular, named Debbie, was picked 5 times by the psychics. This could simply be a statistical anomaly. Even in random events there are often clusters of results that can seem meaningful yet are just the result of chance. For example, there’s a 50/50 chance of getting either a head or a tail when flipping a coin, but every now and then 5 or 6 heads may come up in a row.

We have to be aware of these spurious occurrences as they can be the basis for false conclusions. If Debbie had been picked 5 times and actually had been pregnant, how many believers would be happy to accept that it was nothing more than a statistical anomaly?

Of course there’s also another possibility. The test was not a double blind one. The women all knew whether they were pregnant and it could be that there was something about Debbie that suggested that she was pregnant, or Debbie may have been a bit more nervous than the others and reacted when the psychics looked at her. I think that those who think they are psychic are often very good at picking up on people’s signals and expressions and that may be why their attention was attracted to Debbie. If Debbie had been pregnant, it would have made the psychics look good, but they may have picked her for non-psychic reasons. See: the Clever Hans effect.

Setting the odds for forced choice testing.

Tests for psychic abilities usually have the odds of getting a positive result by chance initially set at 1000 to 1 against. This is usually sufficient to guard against statistical anomalies and non-conscious biases so that any significant result is worth looking into more seriously.

If odds are set too low, positive results don’t mean much, and any other factors that can influence results have a large effect. For example, with the Great Expectations test the odds of randomly picking both pregnant women are only 45 to 1 against. This is only slightly higher than the odds of throwing a double-six with 2 dice (1 in 36). This means that if any of the psychics had picked both women, it wouldn’t lend much support to claims it was done by psychic ability.

If several of the psychics had picked the 2 correct women it would seem statistically significant; but with the odds set so low, an anomaly (like choosing Debbie, for whichever reason, and she waspregnant), has a huge impact on the results. The purpose of having high odds in a test is not (as some people like to believe) to ensure that the applicant fails; it’s to ensure that if something significant is happening, it will be noticed.

Test 2 – The matchmaking challenge.

This challenge involved the psychics being given photographs of 5 married couples which were mixed randomly. They had to use the photos to decide who was married to whom. After they had done this they got to see the couples they had chosen all together and if they then wished to change their choices they could do so.

Again, this is a forced-choice test so the odds of doing it randomly can be calculated. The most likely result of a random test is that 1 couple will be matched correctly followed by 0, 2, 3, then 5.

Note: it’s not possible to get 4 correct as the 5th will be correct by default.

The odds of getting 0 or 1 right are just under 1 in 3, getting 2 right is 1 in 6, getting 3 right is 1 in 12, and getting 5 right is 1 in 120. So the only outcome that would be interesting would be someone getting all 5 correct.

A dry run was done using the staff at the hotel they were using and they averaged 1 in 5 correct as expected by chance.

The results were:

  • Amanda Hart        3/5
  • Diane Lazarus      5/5
  • Dave Sumerton      1/5
  • Dennis Binks       0/5
  • Mary White         2/5
  • Austin Charles     2/5
  • Anna Galliers      2/5
  • Soleira Green      1/5

Interestingly the psychics got twice the number that would be expected by chance alone; although if Diane Lazarus’s figures are removed it’s more like 1.5 times for the rest of them which is nothing significant.

The interesting result was that Diane Lazarus scored all 5 correct. So was this evidence of psychic ability? No, not in itself, but this is the sort of result that would warrant further testing of her. One result is not enough (certainly not with odds of 120 to 1) to prove anything, but this is the most interesting result so far.

Interesting, however the test was not double-blind so clues may have been picked up, and Philip Escoffey pointed out that communication between the brides and grooms and the psychics was not shut off as the same staff were serving coffee to both parties. Jackie Malton pointed out that she didn’t think it was a problem because not everyone got 100%, but of course that’s not the real problem.

If, for example, Diane Lazarus had picked up a clue from a staff member as to the identity of just one couple, that means the odds of her matching the other four now stand at 1 in 24 rather than 1 in 120 for matching 5. I’m not saying that that did indeed occur, but because of slack test protocols, it can’t be ruled out.

Test 3 – The Eagle pub.

This challenge was by far the least satisfactory of the three. The main problem is that the test itself was not clearly defined. The psychics were taken to a pub, The Eagle, which was used by British and American pilots in WWII. They were given a sealed photograph of Lt. Colonel James Harlow, who was known to have drank in the pub, and also his silver bombardier wings medal which was wrapped in tissue paper. The items were supplied by Air-Force historian Clive Stevens. Exactly what they were supposed to connect to was not specified; although it seems that simply connecting to the fact that the pub was used by pilots or military men was good enough. Nothing too hard considering that they are to be supplied with a military medal wrapped in tissue paper.

First up was Dennis Binks. He, as all of the other psychics will be, is blindfolded and handed the items. He can get nothing from the photograph, but when he picks up the medal, he gets a military connection. After revealing nothing else he comes up with a name: James. There’s no other information given, simply the name James. Of course the pilot in the photo was called James, so this is considered a hit.

Dennis, who’s always belligerent with his anti-skeptic views, was pleased with this result:

Better than sex. You could see me. I was absolutely so pleased, you know, with the results. Psychic is real; it’s alive and well. And, you can run, you can hide, people can sit in the glass boxes and talk about skepticism, but there’s a tinder fire burning and you can’t run away from it.

In a whole day of testing, Dennis has missed both of the pregnant women, matched zero out of five for the married couples, and come up with the name “James” without any reference as to who or what James actually was. Psychic? As always, you decide…

Mary White, Austin Charles, and Dave Sumerton, all fail to come up with any significant information. Anna Galliers is next to take up the challenge:

Anna Galliers: I feel I can see what looks like a hat, a uniform type cap hat. And then a battle but I see wings as well of like an emblem. Colonel, and uniform.

NOTE: All of this information came as Anna was holding the wings medal.

Clive Stevens (talking to the camera): The detail there was quite remarkable. Erm, the battle, the guns, the uniforms, the word colonel, the chap in the photograph was a lieutenant colonel.

Despite Clive’s assertion that there was remarkable detail there, it looks more like very vague and general statements to me. Anyone handed a military medal, especially a distinctive one like bombardier wings could easily come up with hat, uniform, battle, guns. They’re all to do with the military. It is interesting to note that “guns” were introduced by Clive, not Anna Galliers.

bombardier wings:

Then both Diane Lazarus and Soleira Green failed to make any military connection. Lastly we see Amanda Hart:

Within minutes, Amanda claims to sense a powerful presence:

Amanda Jayne Hart: I feel I’m looking at someone in a uniform. It’s like a military uniform.

Then, most annoyingly a narrator talks over what Amanda is saying and tells the audience what Amanda has said. It would be far better to have heard it from Amanda herself than have someone give their version of what she said:

Narrator: Amanda describes in detail, an American serviceman who’s survived the war and whose presence she can now sense in the room.

As we don’t actually hear “the detail”, how do we know that what is being said by the narrator is true?

I feel, yeah, I feel it’s either here it’s a strong presence. I can feel big energy now.

Narrator: For Clive who became close friends with Col. James Harlow in later life, it’s an emotional moment.

He feels striking. He feels handsome.

Narrator: but there’s more. In a dramatic twist, Amanda begins to describe a wartime air crash. The crash which sounds remarkably like the one in which James’s brother was killed.

I can see juddering. Like something’s about to crash. And I just see an aircraft going into the ground. And there’s the trees.

Narrator: For Clive the emotion is too much to bear.

At this point, Clive is in tears. The question is: why? If we ignore the narrator’s fanciful interpretation of what has been said and actually look at what Amanda has said then we can see that she has said nothing at all specific. It amounts to a handsome man in military uniform, she feels a strong presence, and that an aircraft crashed into the ground and there were trees. No sign of the “detail” that the narrator keeps telling us is there.

The answer of course is something called subjective validation. This is where people personalise what are often very vague statements and attribute a lot of meaning to them. As we can see from this example, Clive has placed great personal meaning to what Amanda has said by assuming that she has picked up on James; but in reality, Amanda has said very little that is really meaningful, and nothing that is specific.

Narrator: But there’s one final extraordinary moment.

Jackie Malton: Amanda, would you like to take off the blindfold.

Amanda removes her blindfold and after a second or two and sees Clive.

Oh gosh – you’re the man. Is it something to do with a brother?

Of course, she’s seen Clive standing in front of her with tears in his eyes and so realises that he’s involved somehow and I can only surmise, but I suspect that she thinks that it’s Clive’s brother we’re dealing with. The question she asks him is also quite telling and an insight as to how psychics work. Even though she probably suspects that it’s Clive’s brother, she still asks whether it’s something to do with a brother. Saying a brother rather than your brother leaves the door open to so many more interpretations. It’s a trick psychics use all the time; for example, “I have a mother type figure here” – not “I have your mother here”.

Yeah, not my brother, his brother.

Yeah, I feel as if there’s a brother here, something to do with a brother.

As Ian Rowland explains in his excellent book “The Full Facts of Cold Reading” – (see: Ian Rowland – I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in how psychic readings are done. I guaranteethat there is no better book on the subject) – in a psychic interaction, it is the psychic who supplies the words but it’s the client who provides the meaning.

That was the end to this test and it certainly made for good viewing. This final “test” provided us with a wonderful insight into how subjective validation can convince people that they have been given all sorts of specific information that the psychic “couldn’t possibly have known” when in fact they are using generalities and it’s the client who’s supplying the meaning to them.

Interestingly, subjective validation probably plays a big role for psychics too. Imagine believing that you have psychic ability and you do a reading that reduces a grown man to tears. That would certainly validate your belief.

Clive’s words after the test are revealing too:

Clive to camera: Anybody watching this, I understand people are skeptic but, you have to put yourself in this position in order to verify it. And I don’t need any further proof anymore because that was a textbook factual account of what I knew to be correct.

Firstly, he’s stating that Amanda’s reading was a textbook factual account. No doubt it has the potential to be retold as a reading where the psychic was 100% accurate; but where did she come out with anything factual? She didn’t.

Secondly, a lot of people say that they won’t believe in psychic ability unless they have a reading and the psychic comes up with some very specific information. You have to find out for yourself. I call this the “I cannot be fooled” attitude. The problem is that anyone going to evaluate a psychic who has no idea of how psychic readings work and how subjective validation can severely distort one’s perceptions of a reading is just as prone to be as fooled as Clive was.

After the test, Jackie Malton was seemingly impressed that the history of the room went back to 1488 and they were asking the psychics to identify a very small timeframe from over 500 years. The thing is the psychics were given a photograph, which rules out most of that time frame, and a military medal with wings on it; again, a slight giveaway as to the connection they were after. No psychic actually mentioned a time frame and those who did get a connection all got a military one. Psychic or good at recognising a military medal through tissue paper?

I would have liked to have seen the test done with the medal in a box. I wonder how they would have faired without such a huge clue.

One psychic was voted by a panel of judges to be the best and one the worst. The worst being voted off. The best was Diane Lazarus, and the worst was…

It was amusing to see the psychics waiting around to see whose name would be revealed from the envelope. Didn’t they already know?

Soleira Green was the first to bite the dust. It looks like “James” saved Dennis (I like skeptics but I couldn’t eat a whole one) Binks’s bacon this week; which is nice as we can look forward to more of his philosophical pearls of wisdom next week.

Overall, good TV, poor testing, but it’s revealing a lot about how psychic abilities can appear to work. Yes, psychic ability might be real, but we’re not going to see it in this programme. Not that I’m saying the chosen psychics are frauds; it’s because the testing is too sloppy and the odds of success are set too low to recognise psychic ability should it be displayed.

Back to top.

Programme 2.

23/01/2006 (John Jackson)

Programme 2 was the worst display of “testing” for paranormal ability so far. It should be made clear that the tests in this programme were not designed by the skeptics who are involved.

Test 1 – find the ex-criminal.

This test was held in Lincoln Castle prison. The psychics’ challenge was to determine whom out of six men had a criminal past. One man had a criminal past (6 years in prison – 64 convictions including fraud, car theft, and drug offences) and five others did not. The ability being tested for was Aura Reading.

The set-up was that the six men were each placed inside a cell numbered from 1 to 6. The psychics were to enter each cell and discern via aura reading which one was the ex-con. Before the psychics were tested, a control group was asked to walk past the six cells and individually choose their man. Four people out of the ten correctly picked the right target.

The test is inherently flawed as it’s a single-blind one; everyone other than those being tested knew the identity and cell of the ex-con. There was, however, randomisation as the men swapped cells between each psychic’s attempt and the psychics were not allowed to talk to any of the men. To help them, the psychics were given the ex-con’s ring and photo which was sealed in an envelope.

There was some playing to the camera from Amanda Jayne Hart, and Dave Sumerton displayed an unusual technique in that he went into the cells backwards and avoided visual contact with the men. Although this makes for good TV viewing, it should be made clear that histrionics do not add weight to claims of psychic ability; they merely embellish them.

The results were:

  • Amanda Hart        Incorrect
  • Diane Lazarus      Correct
  • Dave Sumerton      Correct
  • Dennis Binks       Correct
  • Mary White         Incorrect
  • Austin Charles     Incorrect
  • Anna Galliers      Incorrect

After choosing correctly, Dennis Binks adds:

I must be psychic. I knew he was a reformed character; and I also know that perhaps he’s helping people who are prisoners or he’s counseling or helping people.

It’s unlikely that someone who’s still a criminal is going to appear on a TV programme so it’s fairly safe to assume that he’s a reformed character. Again, it’s quite likely that someone who’s prepared to have his face shown on national television as an ex-con is going to be working in the field. If he wasn’t, he could have a lot to lose by such exposure.

So, 3 out of 7 got it right. The chances of that happening by chance are around 1 in 13. Is this proof? Well, it’s better than chance, but let’s not forget the control group (although the programme did). The control group scored 4 out of 10. That’s around a 1 in 18 chance. So if we compare the two groups, the randomly chosen non-psychic control group scored better than the psychics in this test.

More notes about testing.

Although forced-choice testing is good in that it allows the odds of results by chance to be calculated, it’s only really meaningful to compare test results to chance if the tests are done rigorously. The choices should also be equiprobable; such as the odds of getting one particular number from a well-balanced die. If the choices are not equiprobable then a bias is introduced.

What we’ve been getting in this programme is results that seem to be much better than chance. This is achieved by both the psychics and the control group. These better than chance results are a reflection of the poor testing procedures rather than any ability. Comparing results to those of a control group helps with such testing – psychic ability is only indicated if the psychics constantly out perform the control group.

An example of poor design in the ex-con test was that there were six men, but two of them were black. I suspect that many people would avoid choosing a black man because they don’t want to appear racist or to hold racial stereotypes. It’s an obvious flaw. Either 6 white men or 6 black men should have been used; and they should all have been as similar in appearance as possible.

Now a look at the analysis of the results. First comments came from Jackie Malton.

Again, it’s a very very difficult test. Men got it – seemed to get it more than women; just one woman got it. I was happy with the people that kind of did get it. I’m happy with the authenticity of the test. And erm, when it does happen it, for me, it’s quite powerful it is, you kind of go Hmmm (nodding).

Although billed as a skeptic, I don’t think that Jackie has any experience of this type of thing and actually displays signs of wanting psychic ability to be real. Focusing on the hits (that the psychics get, not the control group) and counting them as evidence whilst undervaluing contradictory results is displaying confirmation bias. It’s another way that we can be fooled into believing something that’s not real.

Jackie then goes on to say that because the psychics went on to explain that the ex-con was now reformed that it adds to the impressiveness of the psychics’ abilities.

Chris French (to Jackie): I think that some of that would have been fairly obvious deduction anyway, I mean we’re not going to have somebody that’s still an active criminal actually taking part in the programme I wouldn’t have thought.

Jackie Malton: That’s not fair to say though Chris because you could say I no longer commit crime but I’m now… but I’m not doing anything to help others either.

Philip Escoffey: it seems very frustrating to me that… that we are arguing about whether him saying that he’s now reformed and doing good work or he’s just reformed is what whether psychic power sort of hinges on or not and it just… it’s too nebulous for me.

Chris French: Well for me, that’s why we’ve got to have tests where we have got a very clear distinction between passing the test and failing it.

Philip Escoffey: Absolutely. I’m genuinely interested in the truth and…

Jackie Malton: It’s the truth as you see it. There is no such thing as the truth.

Philip Escoffey: Absolutely.

Jackie malton: It is my truth. My truth is my truth; your truth is your truth, and that’s about your relationship with you and your soul.

Philip Escoffey: This programme is about somebody trying to convince me that their truth is the truth, but to make that leap of faith to the fact that something paranormal is going on in there is where I get stuck; and my truth stops fitting with your truth.

Jackie’s making the fallacious “we all make our own truth” argument (see: this article). We can all have our own beliefs, but we can’t simply make our own truth. If something is true, then it is true whether we believe it or not, and if something is false then it’s false whether we believe in it or not. We can’t make things true simply by believing in them. The fallacy goes under the formal title of the Relativist Fallacy.

As to Chris’s point. Tests should indeed have a pre-determined and agreed upon value that is considered a pass. The problem is that the tests are far too easy to be meaningful so it’s difficult to set a meaningful pass rate.

Test 2 – match the football boots to the player.

This test, done at Lincoln city FC, was as close to a proper test as we’ve seen. The psychics were given a choice if six pairs of football boots to choose from and they had to match them to their owner using their psychic powers to pick up on the “energy”. The players’ watches were placed inside the boots too.

Again, the test was only single blind, but this time Chris French did a good job of making sure that there was sufficient randomisation. Between each test, the boots were moved and renumbered. The test was also ran with three different players. As boots all look similar the choice was also equiprobable. There was no reason to pick one pair of boots over another or avoid any particular pair.

Statistically the most likely result with a 1 in 6 event ran 7 times is that 1 person would match the boots up by chance alone.

The results were:

  • Amanda Hart        Incorrect
  • Diane Lazarus      Incorrect
  • Dave Sumerton      Incorrect
  • Dennis Binks       Incorrect
  • Mary White         Incorrect
  • Austin Charles     Incorrect
  • Anna Galliers      Correct

What was interesting was that the psychics often dithered over which choice to make, often by choosing 2 pairs of boots and then eventually picking one pair. When it turned out to be wrong and the other choice would have been right they were trying to explain it away:

Chris French: You know they give you reasons why it might be this one or I’m being drawn to that one but I’m going to come back to that later and so on and so forth. And, at the end of the day they sometimes end up getting it right, sometimes they didn’t, I mean sometimes they might get it down to two and then choose the wrong one.

Jackie Malton: My interpretation what they’re trying to say is I hear what you say is: my intuition says that, and they’re not, in actual fact they’re betraying what we would say betraying their own soul because they’re betraying their intuition by then sometimes the logic bit coming in and thinking or will comes in and says now I’ve changed my mind. So we can play it a bit both ways.

Chris French: Possibly, but they never say that when they get it right. They never say it, they never say when they get it right, they never say “ah now my intuition was telling me to go for this one but I decided to go for this one and as it turned out this was the right thing to do so it looks like I should trust logical thought processes in future”. They don’t do that; they only ever kind of refer to those kinds of “Oh I should have gone with my instincts” when they get it wrong.

In psychology, there’s something known as a self-serving attribution bias. It is where people attribute their successes to themselves, but when things go wrong, it’s down to external factors or bad luck. e.g. doing well in an on-line quiz shows how smart and intelligent you are; but if you do badly, it’s because the questions were stupidly set.

Psychics do this a lot. Any hits they get is due to psychic ability; anything they get wrong is due to something else: from negative energies from skeptics, headaches, sunspot activity, etc. They always have multiple outs for their failures; although unsurprisingly, lack of psychic ability isn’t one of them.

Test 3 – A shaggy dog story.

In 1877, a poacher named William Clark was hanged for shooting and killing a gamekeeper. Clark had a dog that missed him so much that it pined to death. The stuffed dog was to be visited by the psychics to see if they could pick up on William’s story.

Austin Charles is the first psychic to visit the stuffed animal. This test is overseen by Philip Escoffey:

Austin Charles: I’m being taken to a bed. And the dog stayed with the person who’s in the bed. It did its duty, it did its task, and it showed its loyalty. And the loyalty has always been there.

Austin has described a dog!

Anna Galliers:

Anna Galliers: It’s a very unusual looking dog isn’t it? Whatever it is. A game… OK… gamekeeper, someone keeps saying gamekeeper. I keep being shown the date 1860, but for a lot of the time I feel that it was someone’s pride and joy.

Philip Escoffey: Do you mean in its state as it is now or when it was alive?

Anna Galliers: When it was alive. Sorry.

Anna mentions a gamekeeper which seems impressive, although there’s no mention of his role in the story.

Next up, Diane Lazarus:

Diane Lazarus: I can see this dog going back and forward, back and forward, erm, like as if it’s guarding something. I think it was sweeping back and forward. I’m definitely picking up royalty. 14th century. That’s the thing that came to mind.

Again, nothing at all. Now to Dennis Binks:

Dennis Binks: I feel William the, whether he was here or what, William the Conqueror.

Amusingly, Philip Escoffey gives a look of astonishment. Luckily, Dennis didn’t see it.

Dennis Binks: I feel it’s a she [he has his hands over the dog], I’m not looking, I feel it’s a she. Whoever the owner was, this dog was very close like right next to them all the time. When it walked it would be right next to them, right behind them. Definitely going hunting, biting,

Narrator: Hunting becomes a recurring theme, but so far, nobody has got the full story of the villainous William Clark. He was hanged, remember, after fatally wounding a gamekeeper by shooting him in the left leg.

Dave Sumerton:

Dave Sumerton: [Dave sees a spirit] Somebody’s just come up and ruffled its head. The person who would have been connected with this would have also had difficulty and I feel with this leg here [leg choice not shown]. Whatever it is I feel the gentleman suffered something fighting over this animal.

Dave mentions a leg, but he’s talking about the person connected with the dog (William Clark) and not the gamekeeper whom William shot. I wouldn’t call that a hit.

Amanda Jayne Hart:

Amanda Jayne Hart: [Places her hand over the dog’s head] Erm, I see one of those hats, a white hat like a mop hat. With frills. Would I be right in saying that?

No, she was told. NOTE: a mop hat was worn by women. Now for Mary White:

Mary White: I can see erm, a river now. And with the river though I’ve got trauma it’s as though some incident, some accident, has taken place. I can see that there’s erm, a man that’s been injured; a gentleman that’s been injured. I’m drawn to his leg area with some injury. Linking to the animal again, somebody that connected or was in regular contact. Erm I’ve got the hanging. All I saw was the old-fashioned hanging block. And Ireland, there’s a connection with Ireland. And I’m getting like Lassie, so it must have come home, like it made its way back.

That’s the best reading we’ve had. Again, very tentative hits: mention of a leg area injury (not specifically a leg injury) and a hanging block. We’re not told whether the shooting took place near a river in the programme nor if there was any link to Ireland. Readings like this are difficult to score as what is said is open to interpretation. The links are too vague for me to accept. Who was injured in the leg area? Who was hanged? Why? Whose was the dog? A few pieces of information that connects the links together from the psychic (not interpreted by others) would have been more convincing.

The next phase of the test is for the psychics to discover which grave William Clark is buried in. It’s another 1 chance in 5 test. 5 headstones have been covered and the psychics have to find the right one.

The results were:

  • Amanda Hart        Incorrect
  • Diane Lazarus      Incorrect
  • Dave Sumerton      Correct
  • Dennis Binks       Correct
  • Mary White         Incorrect
  • Austin Charles     Correct
  • Anna Galliers      Incorrect

Again, 3 of the 7 got it right which is around a 1 in 10 chance. As we’ve seen however, that’s a run of the mill score for these single-blind tests so nothing can be read into that score.

Analysing the dog test:

Philip Escoffey: I happen to own a lurcher so I know a little about the breed, and it was interesting because they all gave what I would call the Hollywood dog version – what a dog is: It’s loyal, it’s a guard dog, and lurchers are many things but they’re not guard dogs…

Jackie Malton: Mary I thought was erm, quite quite specific ‘cause she got the man had been shot in the left leg.

Philip Escoffey: She didn’t say “shot”.

Neither did she say “left” leg, or even leg: it was the “leg area”. Again, what was remembered is different to what was actually said.

Jackie Malton: But she got an injury.

Philip Escoffey: It’s important because that would be really impressive. If she said that the man was shot in the left leg. It started off with, “I’m getting pain around here”.

Jackie Malton: Well if you get shot you’ve got a pain there haven’t you really? I think that’s kind of fair comment. If you get shot in your left leg you’re going to get pain. To be fair.

Again, Jackie’s reasoning is faulty. If you get shot you’ll get pain, but having pain does not mean that you’ve been shot.

Chris French: But, we’re not saying it was caused by anything because I mean both Philip and I don’t actually think that she did pick it up, what we think is happening here is that she believes that she’s picking up energies quite sincerely but…

Jackie Malton: I’ve got a feeling that whatever you guys saw, that you wouldn’t believe anything because you would just apply logic to it.

Philip Escoffey: I would desperately like to see something that turns my head, I really would and I don’t think any of the psychics, or Deborah [Borgen], or you really believe that but it’s genuinely the truth. What I don’t want to do is see a mirage and run to it.

Well no one is going to discover the truth by ignoring logic and applying faulty reasoning and fallacious arguments to it all. It’s when applying logic and reason doesn’t explain a finding that we will have to start thinking about the psychic hypothesis. If we simply interpret everything to be psychic then we’ll actually miss it should a real occurrence happen. An important point to understand.

Although this type of test is open to interpretation, a good measure of how successful the psychics were would be to give their readings to people who had no prior knowledge of the story and see if they could work out the story from the readings. This would prevent the situation where people who know the story interpret the readings to match the story; just like Jackie Malton was doing.

Test 3 – picking up residual energy from a tragedy.

Just as last week, the least satisfactory test was saved for last. It’s meant to be a test of whether psychics can pick up on the residual energies left behind by a tragic event.

The test was to take the psychics close to where a 23 year old man was killed by a car whilst just 200 yards from his home where he lived with his mother – called Jo. There’s now a commemorative bench at the place where the crash happened. We see Andrew’s room, which his mother has left untouched; she sees it as her little sanctuary. Of course this is very common with the tragic death of a child.

The psychics are given a sealed photo of Andrew and their task is to reveal details of the tragic story, and to find the scene of the accident. They start the test at a spot half way between where he died and his home.

Although the psychics are not given any prior knowledge of the test, this one is riddled with clues as to what they have to find. The test is done in a street, there’s a woman present aged in her 50s (Jo), they have a photo of a person, and a tragic incident to tune into. The person in the envelope is most likely dead and connected to Jo. A tragedy suggests a child (because of Jo’s age) and the location suggests a car accident; although a fight or mugging are also possibilities in a street.

Again, the test is single-blind, Jo is present and the psychics are allowed to interact with her. With a tragic loss such as this one, emotional responses and feedback are almost guaranteed.

First to go is Austin Charles:

Austin Charles: OK, The first thing, erm, is that there’s a gentleman. There was a tragic circumstances that involved a passing. I want to walk up to a house on the left hand side here. Can we go down there? I’ve also be shown an incident to do with a car.

Jo: Yes.

Austin Charles: And the car incident was actually fatal.

Jo: Yes.

Then Austin reveals 2 names:

Austin Charles: One was Martin, the other was Sally.

Jo: The 2 names you gave. Sally was someone he worked with a long time ago, and Martin is his best friend who lives here.

The link to Sally is again rather weak, and although Martin fits better, there’s no context. Just the name Martin. By omitting context all Austin is saying is that Andrew knew someone called Sally and someone called Martin. That’s true for me too.

Now Amanda Jayne Hart. With just the envelope, she fails to make a connection. She’s now allowed to open the envelope and look at the photograph of Andrew and is also given his watch. Immediately, she springs into action, guided by her spirit guides. She closes in on the house that Andrew shared with his mother:

Amanda Jayne Hart: I’m picking up a lot of energy from here now. This young man’s no longer here.

Jo is now tearful.

Amanda Jayne Hart: I just see this happy connection with this other person’s lady. I feel he was your son.

Jo: Yes, he was.

Amanda Jayne Hart [to Jo]: I see lots of lights around you all the time; I know you work with angels. Very much so. Huge orbs all the time. That’s what I got straight away with you. I see lots of angelics.

Jo: I’ve got a lot of beliefs in angels.

Then we find out that Jo’s house is full of angels. Small statues and such like. Again though, it’s not uncommon for people believe in angels after losing a loved one. Of course, Amanda was standing in the woman’s garden whilst saying this and some of the angel statues were shown to be on a windowsill. Whether she could see them from where she was I can’t quite make out, although there certainly issomething on the windowsill behind the net curtain.

Mary White is next:

Mary White: I feel like that somebody couldn’t get home.

Followed by a confirmatory facial expression from Jo.

Mary White: And I feel that they’re almost home and then I feel that they passed. I’ve got pain in my head. A pain right up around here [she’s indicating the right temple area] and I feel like I don’t know where I am.

She was then drawn towards Jo’s house but was drawn away again. She only really picked up on some tragic event. No name, not even a son/daughter or relative.

Dave Sumerton’s turn; but he draws a complete blank.

Then it’s Dennis Binks:

Dennis Binks: I feel this is a female in here… [turns to Jo] Was it a do it yourself?

Jo [laughing]: No.

By the look on Jo’s face, I think she believes in psychic ability but was seriously unimpressed by Dennis’s effort. Dennis trundles off knowing he’s blew it.

Anna Galliers:

Anna Galliers [holding the envelope]: I do feel rather sad and tragic with this. OK.

Jo: Yes.

Anna Galliers: And I feel that things were taken away, life was taken away rather quickly

Jo: Yes.

Anna Galliers: I keep feeling as though, erm, hit or stabbed in the side; this side of my body [she’s indicating the right side].

Jo: Hmm. Definitely he was hit.

Anna Galliers: This is what I’m getting. And I see a lot of blood [indicating the right side of her head]. I just keep feeling like there was a lot of screeching that came round the corner.

Again, we have a psychic picking up the obvious, but as with all the others, an inability to locate the site of the tragedy or provide anything specific.

Now, finally, Diane Lazarus:

Diane Lazarus: A car hit him. His head was hurting, his head was hurting. And there’s a terrible pain here [she points to the back of her head]. It’s like, which way am I gonna go, I feel sick.

Diane also fails to find the location of the accident, but then starts to describe Andrew’s room.

Diane Lazarus: His room’s still the same way, you haven’t changed much to it at all. He still sits on his bed. His trainers, you’d would still have his trainers.

Jo: Yes.

Diane Lazarus: He’s going on about his trainers. You’ve still got ‘em. And sometimes you actually sit in his bed when you would cry, which is natural I understand that.

So again, stating the obvious followed by some blatant (but perhaps not intentional) cold reading. If Andrew was coming through from the spirit world, why would he be passing on a message to his mother that she still has his trainers? She already knows that so what’s the point in telling her something so utterly meaningless?

Of course, if we view it as the psychic using trivia to confirm her ability to a person by telling them things that they shouldn’t be able to know it makes sense. It’s easy to tell someone that her dead son is going on about his trainers after that person has just agreed with you that she still has them.

The voting.

This week’s winner was Dave Sumerton. He was picked more for his showmanship of walking in backwards into the prison challenge rather than any psychic ability. This week’s loser was the person who had so far made the biggest impact with her histrionics: Amanda Jayne Hart. Which is a bit of a shame as she’s quite nice looking and that makes the show easier to endure.

If one thing is becoming clear, it’s that psychics can’t perform any better than chance (or non-psychic people) at anything, yet people who want to believe are easily fooled by their claims.

Back to top.

Programme 3.

30/01/2006 (John Jackson).

This week we had much of the same as the previous two weeks: some rather slack and dubious testing, and no sign of psychic ability.

Test 1 – identify the spirits.

This test took place in the Black Swan pub in Helmsley, North Yorkshire. It is reputedly haunted by many ghosts, and the place has been a children’s nursery, a convent as well as a pub and hotel.

There are three spirits that are most frequently sighted by staff and guests: a little girl with no shoes; a woman dressed in black; and a distinguished man in tweeds. The psychics have to tune in to these spirits.

The first problem with this set up is that the psychics stayed at the pub the night before the test. They knew where they were. The problem with this is that they, or someone they were in contact with, could do some background research. One quick google for the pub brought up this:http://www.blackswanyork.co.uk/files/frames/history.html and anyone with more interest in the background of the place simply needs to delve a little deeper to find out more. So we have a fatal flaw in the test before it’s even begun.

First Austin Charles:

Austin picks up a man who wears a grey jacket, who’s very strong and has a moustache. Apparently he stays in the loft, but as Austin prepares to go up some ladders to the loft, he decides to play to the camera and say that he’s too frightened to go up. Which of course proves nothing. Then he gets a haunted figure that walks the corridors but which doesn’t show its face and also a lady in white. Then he picks up two children, a boy and a girl, and a maid. Jackie Malton then tells Austin that he has to commit to identifying the three figures they’re after. Austin tells us that the man figure in particular has been seen, and the children.

So, Austin picks up on a man, a woman, a boy, a girl, a haunted figure, and a maid. It looks like he has covered all the angles, but unfortunately there’s nothing at all specific.

Mary White picks up a nun in black who was ushering some children along the corridor. Dave Sumerton picks up on someone who was in a room and was “sent to do it or something [Dave makes a slashing motion at his neck] and then just walked out”. So two blanks there.

Diane Lazarus picks up a lady who’s very pretty. Then she picks up a gentleman, who apparently is standing in front of her, and he tipped his hat as if to say, “can you really see me”. That’s it! Then she goes downstairs and picks up on children, a little girl. At this point Jackie Malton asks Diane about the girl – which is giving away a clue that she’s on the right track. Another big mistake as this is positive feedback. The girl skipped though as if she was trying to steal an apple…

Now, for Diane, the little girl’s presence is getting ever stronger. She could be reacting to a stronger presence, but then again she could be reacting to Jackie Malton’s giveaway that the little girl is significant. Diane describes the little girl:

Diane Lazarus: Mousy coloured hair, and it’s quite untidy.

Jackie Malton: And wearing?

Diane Lazarus: She would always take her shoes off, and she’s running around, but a little dress on.

Receptionist: That’s something I can confirm because she’s appeared to me before, erm and exactly how you [to Diane] described her with her hair and her little dress, no shoes as well and just running around.

So this is being taken as a hit because the little girl has been described exactly as the receptionist saw her (she has seen the girl and the man in tweeds). Well, if we look at the description that Diane gave it’s not exactly comprehensive. In fact, it’s just a little girl. The match that is being made is in the mind of the receptionist. What would be interesting is if both Diane and the receptionist were to give a detailed description of the girl they had in mind to a police artist each and then see if the girls matched.

Anna Galliers gets a little girl that’s just ran down the stairs. “A little girl?” says Jackie Malton (again giving out confirmatory clues). Then she connects to a strong female presence, then heads back downstairs. Then she goes into the lounge and connects to a man. She says things about how the man is feeling about them being there, but this is not verifiable nor is it anything concrete. So that’s it. A girl, a woman, and a man!

Dennis Blinks gets a young man hovering behind the bar. He also gets a lady who goes up and down the stairs. This lady would have had children around her. Then he goes upstairs and gets the children and the lady again. He asks the question “did she wear grey?” to which the receptionist nodded and said, “yes, sort of”. Well I suppose if we consider black a sort of very dark grey, we can turn this into an amazing hit.

The psychics themselves were not too pleased with the test:

Dennis Binks: I feel if I was to turn around and say: I’ve got an aborigine, I’ve got a cannibal, I’ve got a sailor, I’ve got an army man, I’ve got a monk, I’ve got a nun, I’ve got a kangaroo; and somewhere along the line I’m going to be right. It’s too airy fairy for me, too open ended.

Careful Dennis, you’re giving the game away of how to tune into ghosts. It’s a good idea to connect to a man, a woman, a boy and a girl. Then pounce on any feedback you get back.

No psychic ability revealed in this test.

Test 2 – Match the pottery.

This test just goes along the same lines as others before. There are 4 people, one of whom is a potter, and the psychics have to pick up the “energies” from the pot (which also has a photo of the potter inside it) and match it to the potter. The odds are that this 1 in 4 choice ran 6 times will result in 1 or 2 correct choices purely by chance; 1 being slightly more probable than 2.

The results were:

  • Diane Lazarus      Correct
  • Dave Sumerton      Incorrect
  • Dennis Binks       Incorrect
  • Mary White         Correct
  • Austin Charles     Incorrect
  • Anna Galliers      Incorrect

During the process, the psychics are allowed to say what they pick up and do a reading. There were one or two interesting points that they came out with, especially Mary White, but this was not reading one person at a time. She was just giving out info and it was matched by whoever it was meaningful to. Twice Mary came out with 2 names at a time, something also done by Austin Charles last week. It might seem that giving 2 names rather than one is being more specific, but it actually greatly enhances the chances of a hit. She mentioned the names David and Robert which were matched by one man. David and Robert also have meaning for me. It works very well as long as you mention names but with no context.

A lot of what Mary came out with matched up; but she was not reading any person at a time. The matches were made later to whoever it was most relevant to. Just as Dennis Binks gave away earlier, the more you come out with the more likely that something will be correct – especially if you are reading to 4 people at once. Also, with TV editing, we may not have been shown the things that Mary got wrong.

Final score: 2 out of 6 – exactly what is expected by chance. Interestingly, a control group was also tested, and 4 out of 10 non-psychics picked the correct potter, which is better than chance. So yet again, the psychics actually performed worse than the non-psychic control group and they did no better than chance predicts.

Test 3 – Matching handbags.

Another matching test. This time 2 ladies out of 10 hand their handbags over to the psychics who, using their psychic gifts, are to match the “energies” of the handbag to its owner. The scoring is the same as the great expectations test in the first programme. For any individual, the chances of getting both bags correct is 1 in 45, the chances of getting 1 correct are around 1 in 3. So, purely by chance we’d expect 2 correct guesses if 6 people do the test.

The results were:

  • Diane Lazarus      0/10
  • Dave Sumerton      0/10
  • Dennis Binks       0/10
  • Mary White         0/10
  • Austin Charles     0/10
  • Anna Galliers      0/10

Not one of them made a match. Again, a control group was used and they score 2 or 3 (according to Chris French) which is more like the expected chance result. So yet again, psychics have failed to show any ability of being psychic.

Test 4 – The secret of the cellar.

The psychics are taken to Ye Olde Starre Inn in York. The cellar was used as a military hospital (for surgery) during the English civil war; notably during the battle of Marston Moor (1644).The psychics are kept completely clueless as to the location of the pub. Just as well, as the link they have to find is here: http://www.jiy.freeuk.com/oldstar.htm

Jackie Malton oversees, Anna Galliers is the first to go:

Anna Galliers: The strongest energy for me here is these, erm, lots and lots of these men coming through and they’re hiding. There’s also soldiers now coming through. I feel this goes back way, way in time, like the 16th century OK. But I feel it was a strong sense of erm, getting away from what’s up there [points to the ceiling].

Jackie Malton: And what’s going on up there, what’s happening out there that’s not happening where you…

Anna Galliers: Erm, again I’m aware of battle now, I feel people died, or something happened to them.

Nothing there. Now Dennis Binks:

Dennis Binks: Could this be anything to do with Guy Fawkes?

Note: a direct question, and Guy Fawkes was born in York and lived close by as a child.

Historian: It hasn’t no.

Dennis Binks: This may have been part of a hospital, or er, I’ve got a, I’m aware of like doctors.

Jackie Malton: [to Dennis] Just go with it go. Go with it, [nodding and making a hand gesture], just go with it. You just say what you think it is.

Well Jackie, as you’ve just confirmed what he’s said with the most outrageous feedback, nothing else that Dennis says has any significance. This is a prime example of why those who are invigilating tests should not be aware of the information that the psychic is expected to link to.

Dennis Binks: I’m definitely feeling like I’ve got either [gestures as if listening to his spirit guides].

Jackie Malton: Just tune in and get it.

Dennis Binks: Now I’ve got operations [unintelligible words] operations down here, or cutting.

Of course this was taken as a hit, but Dennis looked as surprised as anyone that he picked up correctly and that Jackie was actively encouraging him to continue with his second attempt. Dennis may not have came up with hospital had he not been given the information that his Guy Fawkes link was incorrect. The negative feedback also helped Dennis immensely.

Dave Sumerton next:

Dave Sumerton: I keep getting people making beer or making alcohol as well, it’s probably because I’m in the cellar. I need a minute. [turns and makes a slashing gesture across his neck and points to the floor] I feel there would have been a death here. I’m sorry, I just see this body being laid out here…see a body being laid out here…

Nothing further from Dave. Now it’s Mary White:

Mary White: I feel children were kept here and made to work…

Nope! Now Diane Lazarus:

Diane Lazarus: I’ve got a fear, terrible fear, That’s all I can sense is this awful fear. I’m, I can’t wait to get out of here.

Austin Charles:

Austin Charles: There’s an awful lot of people, I’m being taken back and there’s people in here. It seems to be quite ill [gestures to his neck area]. I’m also hearing the fact that it was used as a hide out or a hide out place. It’s almost like I feel I want to walk down and there’s people on the sides [gestures with each hand to each side of the room]

Jackie Malton: Mmmm Hmmm.

Austin Charles: It’s like beds. It’s like they’re lying on beds.

Jackie Malton: OK.

Austin Charles: There’s like a nurse, It’s got something to do with some kind of a hospital connection. There’s the illness. My guide’s going “Shhh! nobody should know that they’re down here”.

That was quite impressive from Austin. Of course, we have to assume that he’s never heard of the pub before, had no prior knowledge of the location (however briefly) so he could do a google for info, and had no contact with Dennis Binks who got the medical link.

The voting.

This week’s winner was Diane Lazarus, and this week’s loser was Dave Sumerton.

Again, the outstanding feature of the programme is that psychics cannot outperform chance, or a non-psychic control group, when their abilities are put to the test. They seem to be more at home doing readings; which are hard to quantify objectively. I think that a suitable control group for the readings type tests would be cold readers: people who know how to appear psychic by using techniques and language that is uncannily similar to what psychics use.

Back to top.

Programme 4.

06/02/2006 (John Jackson).

This week’s installment was better than last week, mainly because it provided more insight into the conditions under which psychics can perform well compared to when they fail.

Test 1 – Find the fugitive.

In this test, the psychics are taken to a woodland and their task is to locate an ex-soldier who’s been camouflaged and hidden in undergrowth. The target is hidden 350 feet (107 metres) away. The psychics are given 30 minutes each to locate the fugitive and a hit will be scored by the psychic if they can get to within 15 metres of the target – the same level of accuracy as GPS achieves. The target area was stated as being 675,000 square feet.

Why is there so much obfuscation regarding distances and areas? Why are the big numbers given in feet and the smaller ones in metres? It has the effect of making the area sound bigger than it is, and the target areas sound smaller. So let’s work in metres: 675,000 square feet is around 62,700 square metres an area approximately 250 metres by 250 metres; a target with a 15 metre radius is 707 square metres. So the chances of randomly sticking a pin in a map of the area would result in a 1 in 88 chance of hitting the target area. Other factors will shorten the odds, such as the fugitive not being hidden in open ground, but that gives a reasonable idea of the odds. They’re not particularly low, but neither is this a needle in a haystack test either.

A demonstration was done with a sniffer dog which found the target in 5 minutes, and a professional soldier who found the target in 20 minutes.

First to go was Mary White:

Mary walks around for the full 30 minutes without finding the fugitive. Then the test is over.

Mary White: I feel round here, somewhere [She makes a circular gesture].

Philip Escoffey asks the fugitive to make himself known.

Narrator: In 60,000 square metres of forest, Mary has achieved our GPS measure of accuracy. She’s got within 15 metres of the fugitive. An impressive result.

The thing is, Mary never picked the spot she was at, she was merely there when the clock ran out. The fact that the fugitive was within 15 metres of her was not impressive at all – it was purely coincidental.

Anna Galliers was next and kept feeling as if she should go left. She did keep going left and was surprised to find that she’d ended up going round in a circle! She missed the target.

Austin Charles also failed to locate the target.

Dennis Binks next:

After 9 minutes of searching, Dennis chooses a spot. The fugitive is revealed and it is indeed within 15 metres, although it’s interesting to note that he is looking in a different direction to where the fugitive pops up from.

Dennis Binks: Yes, yes, good stuff eh? What do you think about that Philip?

Philip Escoffey: I think I’m always amazed that you’re amazed.

Dennis Binks: I’m not amazed, it’s euphoria. I’m amazed that you don’t have an answer.

Philip Escoffey: I don’t believe in psychic ability. [over Dennis’s protest that skeptics won’t believe no matter what psychics do] No, that’s not quite true. I don’t understand why you get this close but then, if you’re psychic, can’t say “he’s there”. For me what would be impressive is if someone just walked straight to them and says, “there they are”.

Dennis Binks: I’m what, 15 metres from him in this wood, I think it’s pretty impressive philip.

Diane Lazarus:

Diane takes 7 minutes to find the fugitive. She actually finds him rather than get within 15 metres. As Philip had previously pointed out, this is the only thing that is truly impressive.

Philip Escoffey: How she did it, I don’t know, and I won’t pretend to know, but I have to acknowledge that she did a really, really good job and she was very direct. So 9 out of 10 for Diane if not 10.

After test analysis:

Jackie Malton: Well the test in the forest. I’ve been waiting for this kind of test for a long time Philip and that, having watched Diane, was pretty amazing.

Philip Escoffey: Yeah, Diane did really well and it, on a level it’s nice ‘cause it shows that when somebody does do something which they claim to be able to do, I’m the first to hold my hands up. One of three things happened. It was either: blind luck, she just got there and had she not spotted it there would have carried on walking; or, she’s psychic; or somehow was getting the information in another way. It’s got to be one of those three, and it’s a question of where you decide to plant your flag.

Chris French: I was impressed by that as well by that, you’ve got to be impressed by that; and the question then is: could she actually do it again? If she could then we might really be onto something. The problem is that on a lot of the other tests this mysterious energy seems to let her down. So it’s nice when we see something that makes us think “Hmmmm, maybe there really is something going on there”, and it’s intriguing.

Jackie Malton: But do any of these psychics ever say that it’s a 100% repeat, repeat, repeat?

Chris French: No but they say it’s a lot more than the kind of maybe 5% that we see; and that’s the thing you’ve got to bear in mind.

This test reminded me very much of the body in the boot test where the camera men were following the psychics around but they were aware of where the target was located. These single-blind tests are always going to be criticised because they leave open ways that the psychics can pick up clues. Was Diane Lazarus led to the target by her psychic abilities or the cameramen?

The point is, Diane could well have used psychic ability but this sort of lax testing will not show it up because there are other explanations available. That is not fair to anyone; especially the psychic!

The test would have been a lot better if the target was randomly assigned a place to hide, and he was hidden without the psychics or those involved in the testing knowing where he was. Then the psychic would have to find the target (not a 700 square metre patch) in a given time. If they can do that consistently, then we really would have something to get our teeth into.

Test 2 – A bag o’ hammers.

In this test, one of five men is given one of five brand new sledgehammers and is told to smash up an old car in a scrap yard. The idea of the test is to see if the psychics can pick up on the violent energy that is left behind and match the sledgehammer (bagged) to the man. The chances of getting either the hammer or the man correct is 1 in 3; the odds of getting both correct is 1 in 25. Again, ridiculously low odds for testing psychic ability.

The results were:

  • Diane Lazarus      0/2
  • Dennis Binks       1/2
  • Mary White         0/2
  • Austin Charles     1/2
  • Anna Galliers      0/2

So, yet again, the psychics score exactly as chance would predict. There was a control group of 10 students who also did the test and they scored 2 getting one right and one student matching both the hammer and the man correctly. The control group outscored the psychics again, although one person from ten getting both correct is only a slightly higher chance than correctly guessing the flip of a coin; so it’s nothing significant.

The test was criticised by Jackie Malton as nothing more than a guessing game. Fair comment, it was a test for residual male energy that was left by a man who’d used a sledgehammer for a few minutes. What if a couple of the psychics had matched the correct hammer to the correct man, would it still have been dismissed as a pointless test? I suspect not.

Test 3 – Sensing murder.

Can psychics pick up on the energies of past traumatic events? This test involves the tragic story of Graeme Neale and his girlfriend Lynne Goldingay. Graeme had discovered that Lynne was having an affair. After a night out where he hoped to win Lynne back, the evening ended with Graeme battering Lynne to death with a hammer. Two months later, Duncan McCracken Lynne’s secret lover, took his own life, and a few weeks later Graeme also committed suicide by hanging himself whilst in prison.

The psychics’ challenge is to unravel the love triangle and describe the tragedy. They are given unsealed photos of both Graeme and Lynne and taken to the bungalow where the murder took place.

Austin Charles is first to go. He’s handed a photo of Lynne:

Austin Charles: There’s a sadness with this lady in particular. They’ve actually, I’m having erm [waves his hand across his right temple area] an effect that’s coming over my head here. Which feels, it feels as if its being hit over the head. And I’m being told assault, assault, assault.

Narrator: Inside the house Austin heads straight for the bedroom where the murder took place. Waiting there is a witness. Someone close to Lynne and who knows the details of the case.

Again a fatal flaw in the design of the test. There is someone who not only knows the story, but who is emotionally involved in it too. Again, this allows for feedback to the medium.

Austin Charles: I keep getting the name Karen all the time. Karen, Karen, Karen.

Carol: I’m Carol. [Carol is Lynne’s sister-in-law].

“It’s an extraordinary moment”, says the narrator. Now, I have listened to this several times and although Austin is not the clearest of talkers, he is definitely saying Karen – not Carol. This extraordinary hit was actually a miss.

Austin Charles: [to Carol] Nobody knows how difficult it’s been for you in particular, because you’re always there trying to lift everyone else up.

Carol: [nodding] That’s right, yes.

Austin is now handed Graeme’s photo.

Austin Charles: I believe there was an emotional connection between the two. It was almost as if the connection split. He blamed her, if you like, for the split. And his anger was well, “if I can’t be there, nobody else will be their neither.” I’m being shown that he put her in a car, and this is where he gets emotional. She was killed.

Diane Lazarus gets nowhere. She claims to be in contact with Lynne’s spirit but is being pushed away.

Dennis Binks:

Dennis Binks: [to Carol] I feel a close connection with you and him.

Carol: No, you’re very wrong.

Anna Galliers:

Anna Galliers: She doesn’t like this man. There’s something not right here. He clearly isn’t really what he seems. You know? I don’t know if there was three people.

NOTE: Chris French is standing nodding in agreement at this point. Even the most experienced of skeptics can unconsciously give out signals. Luckily Anna seems to have her eyes shut. It should also be noted however, that it is common practice for “nodding” (known as “noddies”) to be edited into sequences after they’ve been shot, for effect. So it may appear that Chris French is nodding in response to what Anna has said – but this most likely is not the case.

Anna Galliers: I feel somehow things went horribly wrong and everything escalated and shouldn’t have happened…like this. It wasn’t meant to turn out this way.

Mary White:

Mary White: I feel like tragedy with her, emotionally, erm but also tragedy. And as lovely as he looks, I’ve got more reservations about him. [looking down at the photos which are on the bed] And with this somewhere linking in between the two, but I don’t know which one yet, or how it connects but I’ve got murder.

Was there more than one murder? [waving her hand as if asking the spirits].

Carol: More than one death.

Well Carol, you’ve just given out the fact that Mary is on the right lines and that more than one person is dead. As there’s two photos in front of her, it might be a slight clue that both of them are dead.

Mary White: Because I’ve got, I’ve got, I can see two passings. But, I’m, with one a lot of blood. Lot of blood. It was a tool, erm, I don’t know, a spanner, a wrench, something [gesturing a striking action]. He did it. Murdered her, split second she was gone, she was dead. Quite a shock I feel, when relatives were told I feel that it was such a traumatic shock I feel as if it almost killed somebody else as well – the shock of her passing. I feel it almost took their life.

Again we see that the psychics are at their best (well some of them) when they are doing readings. And again, it’s Mary White who seems to be the best at doing this. As I’ve pointed out previously, these things are hard to place a score on. How well would Mary have done without getting the feedback?

The only way a real judgment can be made is to give what the psychics have said (in full – the TV versions are probably edited down to include only the good bits) to someone who has absolutely no idea of what the story behind it is. If they can give a reconstruction of the original story with a reasonable degree of accuracy then only that can be considered anything like a hit. It’s far too easy to make readings fit the scenario when you already know what the scenario is.

Test 4 – Diagnose the ailment.

This is a test of the psychics ability to use their powers to diagnose illness or medical conditions. Five people with five different ailments are present. The psychics pick out 2 numbers from a bag to randomly be assigned two patients to look at. It is not possible to work out exact odds of doing this by chance as there are too many variables. The psychics are not told the ailments and asked to match them up, they have to diagnose the ailment.

The results were:

  • Diane Lazarus      0/2
  • Dennis Binks       0/2
  • Mary White         0/2
  • Austin Charles     1/2
  • Anna Galliers      1/2

Austin’s hit was going for a hip in a patient who has spine problems. She does get sciatica so it was given as a hit. Diane Lazarus nearly got a hit with diabetes but changed her mind, to which we got the “I should have gone with my gut instinct” argument. Anna got a hit with a bowel condition. The lady has Crohn’s disease.

To me, only one decent hit and that was Anna Galliers (who got 1 out of 2), but of course, we need to know whether she can repeat that performance.

Again though, overall there was no sign of any psychic ability.

The voting.

For the first time, Austin Charles was deemed to be the best, and sadly we lost Dennis Binks this week. He doesn’t like skeptics (or skepticism), but he’s quite a character.

Back to top.

Programme 5.

13/02/2006 (John Jackson).

This week’s programme started with an apology from channel 5. In last week’s “sensing murder” we were told that all families whose members were involved in the tragedy had agreed to the test taking place. It turns out that Duncan McCraken’s family had not been consulted at all. I don’t know whether a formal complaint was actually made by the McCraken family, but I suspect there was.

Although this programme has been focusing on claimed psychic abilities other than mediumship, it has sailed a close to the wind a few times. This is a good point to remember that a lot of hurt and emotional trauma can be caused by self-proclaimed psychics, especially by those who also act as mediums.

Test 1 – The injured horse.

In this test four horses are in stables and one of them is injured – it has a fractured pelvis and there’s no visible sign of that. The psychics have to find the injured horse and state what is wrong with it. After this there are three stable hands, one of whom works with the injured horse, and they have to match him to the horse using the “energies” given off by his grooming brush.

The (purely chance) odds of matching the horse correctly are 1 in 4, matching the stable hand 1 in 3, so matching both is 1 in 12. If four people do the test then the chances of one person matching both the horse and the stable hand are 1 in 3. So, yet again, we have a test for psychic ability where the odds of someone passing are only just higher than predicting a head or tail for one flip of a coin!

A control group of 10 people was used and they all missed the correct horse, which was horse number 1, and they all went for the same one: number 4. A “horse whisperer” also did the test and got it wrong, also going for number 4. So 11 people have done the test and they’ve all gone for number 4. The odds of that happening by chance are over 4,000,000 to 1 against (the odds of 11 people simply scoring 0 is 1 in 24). A slight suggestion that there’s a flaw in the test and that the choices are not equiprobable. The test is also single-blind and is overseen by Philip Escoffey and the horse whisperer is also present (she now knows the target horse).

First to go, Diane Lazarus:

Diane looks at the horses and eventually decides on horse number 1: the correct horse.

Diane Lazarus: [With horse #1] This one’s got so much energy it’s frightening. It’s going to butt me any minute. I think I’ve got the horse, but I haven’t got the condition.[Diane now tries to determine the horse’s condition] It needs injections in its butt.

Horse Whisperer: I think that’s extraordinary. With so little information, to, and the high energy, is right because he’s been on vox(????) rest and he’s very frustrated being in all this time. So that’s a very clever thing to pick up on, then to look that it’s something in his rear end I think is very impressive.

Anna Galliers gets it wrong by picking horse number 2. It’s pointed out that there’s an emotional pull to this horse. It actually has a sad-looking expression (at least it has when looked at in human terms).

Mary White takes 20 minutes before choosing. Mary picks up “sadness” and eventually goes for horse number 2.

Austin Charles tunes into his spirit guides who lead him successfully to horse number 1. He picks up a problem with the back end of the horse.

At which point my DVD starts playing up and skipping some of the recording! Going on from memory, Diane also goes on to match the stable hand to the horse as does Mary, whilst Austin and Anna fail.

Interestingly, Diane’s “injections in its butt” diagnosis was scored as a hit! Remember the condition they were looking for was a fractured pelvis.

Test 2 – dead or alive.

There are 10 photos of 10 celebrities, all of them icons. Some are dead and some are alive. The test is for the psychics to pick up the celebrities’ auras from their pictures and reveal information on them; crucially to state whether they are dead or alive. Each psychic is given 5 photos, 1 at a time, and the celebrity’s picture is also displayed on a screen behind them.

We didn’t see the test in its entirety so it’s not possible to judge exactly how well the psychics did but we were given a few of their attempts.

Austin Charles: This person would have been shy of publicity. [Target: Muhammad Ali].

Diane Lazarus: This person is alive. [Target: John Lennon].

Mary White: This person must have had a love for cars, fast cars. [Target: Mother Teresa].

Anna Galliers: Might even be sort of, facial hair. [Target: Princess Diana].

There were of course a few hits too

Mary White: I feel there’s been some scandal with this person. [Target: John F. Kennedy].

Austin Charles: Stage performer. Audience. [Target: Elton John].

Mary White: I feel again they’ve passed. [Target: Mother Teresa].

Anna Galliers: Still here. [Target: Elton John].

The actual scoring however, was done on the dead or alive test. Purely by chance a score of 2 or 3 is the most likely result.

The results were:

  • Diane Lazarus      1/5
  • Mary White         3/5
  • Austin Charles     1/5
  • Anna Galliers      4/5

As we can see 9 hits from 20 guesses is bang on target for pure guesswork. With a 50:50 chance of being right on each guess a score of 10 out of 20 is what chance guessing would achieve. Although it may look more impressive, Anna’s 4/5 is no more likely than Austin and Diane’s 1/5. The odds of scoring either are actually the same.

So, there’s no sign of psychic ability there. Could they have done better with a real celebrity? Well, that’s the next part of the challenge. They are to read a real celebrity’s aura, although they will be blindfolded.

I’ll print the psychics’ readings before revealing who the celebrity is. See if you can tell who it is by the information the psychics give:

Anna Galliers: I feel a sense of energy and sport and a real like of outdoors, a like of being active. I don’t know if they enjoy golf but I’m seeing that, I’m seeing that. I see lots of colour with them; they have a specific style. They like music, lots and lots of music.

Chris French: Are you getting any sense of a name?

Anna Galliers: I’m only aware of an initial: “J”.

Now it’s time to take off the blindfold.

Anna Galliers: Gosh. Oh hello [talking to the celebrity], do you know what? I actually thought of you at one point….

Well if Anna had told us the celebrity’s name when she was thinking about it, it might just have been a bit more impressive than stating the fact after seeing who it was.

Mary White is next.

Narrator: As any psychic will tell you, reading someone who’s not open to being read, is almost impossible. [The celebrity] definitely falls into that camp. So for all of our contestants, this is going to be one very hard nut to crack.

This is a very revealing comment. Why do psychic readings only work on people who are “open” to them? Well, as we’ve seen time and again on this programme, the psychics are no better than anyone else at guessing, but they are very good at reacting to feedback. It seems that the less feedback they get the more their “powers” diminish.

There are two ways in which psychics can be confounded. One is to offer no feedback, the other (and better way) is to offer false information feedback. In the first instance they will struggle, in the second they will go with any information you feed them; even if it’s entirely fictitious.

Mary White: I feel the name Paul links in with this. I can see that this person thinks – like 2 people constantly in the spirit world. I want to give them the name Julie as well, they would link in with the name Julie.

Next, Diane Lazarus:

Diane Lazarus: This person don’t stop talking when they start. I can see him walking back and fore. Conscious of fitness and getting very fit. Very conscious. Doing the exercise. He’s talking with his hands and he’s very [making hand gestures] strong. He’s a very strong character and he has to think about his stomach.

Narrator: Then an amazing connection.

Diane Lazarus: There’s a horse.

Diane removes her blindfold and looks at the celebrity.

Diane Lazarus: I knew it was you. Oh my God. I could see the horses like this. You’re mad.

Yes, truly amazing! Yet another psychic knew who the celebrity was after looking. Like Anna, why didn’t she say who it was before removing the blindfold?

Austin is next:

Austin Charles: There’s a very strong sports connection. Very strong willed, very determined. They come across from the outside as a very hard person, but inside, soft-centred. Soft heart. I’m standing in crowds of people now. I’m standing in front of a crowd full of people. “J” is the first letter. I know John links in, John is a connection.

So what have the psychics told us about the celebrity?

We seem to have a colourful, strong-willed, active person who likes music and might like golf. They seem to be a hard person, but are soft-hearted really. There’s a link to the letter “J”. John and Paul are also links as is Julie. This person does exercise and keeps fit, but needs to think about their stomach. This person may be found standing in a crowd of people and there’s a horse.

If you didn’t see the programme and you have worked out who the celebrity is from the psychics’ info (and a bit of help from the narrator) then we have a hit. If you can’t work out who the celebrity is then the psychics have failed.

The celebrity was (printed in white highlight the text): > Racing pundit John McCririck <

Interestingly, the psychics all thought they did well and it was the celebrity’s scepticism that got in the way; however, the panel of experts agreed that the dead or alive test was pure guesswork and the live readings were similar. The psychics threw out a lot of information hoping that a link would be made, but with no feedback they all bombed.

Test 3 – A Jockey’s tragic tale.

This test is along the same lines as many others. The psychics have to discover the tragic tale of former champion jockey, Fred Archer. Fred was the most successful jockey of the victorian era, and he’s described as the David Beckham of his day for fame and popularity.

Sadly, his wife died giving birth to their daughter, and two years later, after illness and depression, he committed suicide on November 8th 1886 by shooting himself through the head.

Although this week’s challenges were in Newmarket and have had a horse racing theme, we are informed that this was actually the first test the psychics undertook and they were not aware that there was to be a horse racing theme to the tests.

Firstly, the psychics are taken to a hotel and are given a sealed envelope containing Fred’s photograph, and a cardboard tube containing his favourite riding whip. Jackie Malton invigilates along with the curator of the national horse racing museum, Graeme Stelling.

Mary White: I’ve got tears with it, a great emotion with it, somebody crying; but it’s like a bittersweet. I’ve got the word “victory” and I’ve got like er, but it’s like bittersweet. And I don’t know whether there’s some link to a gentleman that got shot with this. [Mary is indicating the contents of the cardboard tube].

Narrator: It’s a dramatic moment.

Not a hint of drama shown in the programme but never mind. Again the narration is telling us that something dramatic is going on, but all that Mary said was that she’s not sure whether a gentleman got shot with the contents of the cardboard tube. Remember, it contains a riding whip, so no one got shot with it.

Austin Charles: It’s material things that are buried or hidden.

Anna Galliers: I keep seeing a bi-plane or a little plane.

Both completely wrong.

Diane Lazarus: Let’s have a look here. Hmmmm. He just said, “you talk to me and I’ll answer you”. He’s got a bit of a beard and talks to me [puts on a posh voice] “and I’ll answer you”. He likes horses as well ‘cause as he’s turned his head around he’s looking at horses. And it’s a case of “they’re mine”.

Graeme Stelling: Mmmm Hmmm. [confirming the horse link].

Diane Lazarus: So he owns all horses and he would have all different breeds. And I can hear his boots, his leather boots are kind of crunching as he’s wandering around.

Graeme Stelling: Are you getting any sense of period?

Diane Lazarus: I’ll try my luck. I don’t know, I’m getting 57 whether that’s got anything to do with life.

Diane has made the link with horses, which was confirmed by Graeme. NOTE: one very small “Mmmm Hmmm” or nod of the head in agreement can help the psychic immensely. The role of positive feedback should not be underestimated in psychic readings.

Fred Archer was born in 1857. Diane did not state this as a fact, she merely mentioned the number 57 without any context. Graeme made the match between 57 and Fred’s birth year – shoehorning meaningless data to fit the facts.

In stage 2 of the test, the psychics are taken to stables which Archer built in the 1880s. The atmosphere of the place supposedly helping the psychics piece together the information of Fred Archer’s life and death. Stables, of course, being a bit of a clue as to Fred’s occupation as is the fact that they are also now shown, and allowed to handle, Fred’s whip.

First this time Diane:

Diane Lazarus: I just keep hearing that this has been used to touch a champion horse. And also I can see it being tapped on the boots of this gentleman that I linked with this morning.

Jackie Malton: None of that’s wrong, but be specific; ‘cause we are in Newmarket.

Diane Lazarus: OK. Yeah that’s right, yeah OK. It was somebody famous, or somebody to do with royalty, who kept his horse here and he used this. [looking at the whip].

At this point Diane is stumped and her reading ends.

Austin next:

Austin Charles: It all started here, it all started here.

Graeme Stelling: Can you give us a period of time?

Austin Charles: Yes, I’ll ask and I’ll find out for you. [Austin, presumably contacting his spirit guides, writes numbers in the air with his finger] Eighteen, six, one, 1861. This man died in his sport, in his field.

Nothing matches. Anna next:

Anna Galliers: I get a sense of falling, a falling and getting hurt. Of something really er, just happened so quickly.

Again, absolutely nothing. Mary now:

Mary White: I think, it’s Red Rum.

Jackie Malton: What is?

Mary White: It’s something to do with Red Rum.

Jackie Malton: It isn’t.

Negative feedback, but feedback all the same. Wouldn’t it have been better to just let Mary go with it rather tell her she’s wrong and give her the chance to try something else?

Mary White: No? [Mary stops and thinks for a couple of minutes]

That man, that got shot, was he here? I feel, erm, that he links, the man that got shot links to this room. I feel really cold and clammy, erm it’s like, a fear and an illness like cold and clammy as though, that’s, big shock. And I don’t know whether the name Matt somewhere links in.

Narrator: Uncannily, Matt Dawson was the name of the trainer Fred Archer worked for as a youngster. And it was Matt Dawson’s niece that he later married. So an impressive day for Mary, and less so for the others.

Again, Mary seems to have done better than the rest when it comes to reading type tests. She picked up on a shooting, but thought it was to do with the contents of the cardboard tube: the riding whip. She thought it was all to do with racehorse Red Rum. Totally wrong, but of course she was helped by being told that and allowed another go.

So she goes back the the man who got shot (Note: not the man who shot himself), and states that he links to the place. Links how? They wouldn’t have been there if no one linked to it. She got an illness, cold and clammy. Fred had Typhoid before he died; an illness that includes fever in its symptoms: high temperature. She got the name “Matt” which “links in”. Links in how? Again, the “link” is made by others who already know the story.

None of the readings the psychics gave got anywhere near the story that they were supposed to get – even with the help they got. Remember, Fred was a superstar of his time, a champion jockey, and a man who lost his wife, fell into depression and eventually committed suicide. Could anyone who didn’t already know the story reconstruct it from the psychics’ readings? I don’t think so.

Test 4 – remote viewing.

We’re told at the beginning of this test that the CIA and US army had enough belief in remote viewing to spend millions of dollars on remote viewing experiments. This is true, but what we weren’t informed of is the fact that those experiments were ended when they came to realise that remote viewing didn’t work.

The test performed in the programme was not really a proper remote viewing test. Remote cold reading is probably a better description. There’s a mystery location involved, but there’s also a phone-link to this location and the psychics can talk to a woman (Nora Gardener) who’s in the mystery location, which is a room. The psychics’ challenge is to tell us all they can about the room using remote viewing – oh yes, and a chat with Nora.

Austin is first to go:

Austin Charles: I’m seeing white walls but it’s very dark it’s a very old place. It’s very cold, and I keep seeing a grand portrait of a man. He’s got dark, long hair, quite slight in the build of the body, he would have had a pointy nose as well. I’m seeing him dressed in the old clothes. There’s a very strong legal connection, very strong law links. Not a man, I’m being told, to mess about with, if you affect his beliefs.

Nora: No. I think you’re right on the nail there, yes.

Austin Charles: I’m being shown a rebellion, a rebellious act. I also get he was responsible for people’s passings.

Nora: He was responsible for people’s?

Austin Charles: Deaths.

Nora: Deaths. Absolutely, yes.

Austin Charles: And I get the name Charles as well.

Narrator: It’s an extraordinary moment.

No it’s not – more stupid and annoying narration. Austin is right about the portrait, which was a good hit, but he then went into a cold reading, with feedback, about the character in the portrait. He’s meant to be remote viewing the room and describing it.

Mary next:

Mary White: I could see a gentleman that would write but would write with a quill. There’s books, there’s knowledge, there’s the written word and I can see the quill again. And I feel that there was been meetings in that room…

There’s some link with, I can see the Taj Mahal.

Nora: I don’t know that connection Mary.

The quill pen is also a hit, although quills were commonly used until the mid to late 19th century so would not be out of place in a room older than that. Still, it’s a hit.

Diane, who claims to be good at this kind of test, next:

Diane Lazarus: I keep seeing books.

Nora: No, there aren’t any books in this room.

Diane Lazarus: I’ve got expensive objects there as well, erm such as ornaments and things.

Nora: I’m not really sure that would be right.

Diane Lazarus: [Shaking her head] This should not be difficult for me. it should be easy for me.. I can’t….

Complete failure for Diane. Anna now:

Anna Galliers: There should be a table right near you.

Nora: There is a table, yes.

Anna Galliers: I feel that there is an object on the table.

Nora: Yes.

Anna Galliers: I’m aware of the colour silver.

Nora: yes, that would be right Anna.

Anna Galliers: I feel I want to talk about history and the historical room and I’ve got a picture in my mind of a gentleman that was dressed of a different era. And it’s like he’s stood there very erm, almost to attention, you know what I mean, he’s proud. He’s someone that would be recognised and known,

Nora: He certainly would be recognised and known.

Anna Galliers: I feel like they’re saying to me, I just want to go back 2 or 3 hundred years. Seventeenth that thing.

Nora: Are you thinking of the number seventeen?

Anna Galliers: I thought it was seventeen hundred but I keep seeing seventeenth….. office or government.

Nora: Yes, yes you’re right.

Anna Galliers: He was very powerful, his opinion was highly thought of, an MP.

Nora: Yes.

Narrator: It’s been an impressive performance from Anna.

Anna gets a table (hardly significant), an object and the colour silver. There is a silver object on the table, but Anna doesn’t say what the object is, nor does she actually say that the object is silver. “I’m getting an object and the colour silver” is not the same as saying “I’m getting a silver object”.

She has done the same thing that Austin has done. She’s turned the remote viewing test into a cold reading one by focusing on the character of a “gentleman” and then relied on the feedback she got to look impressive. Remember, she’s meant to be remote viewing and describing the room that Nora’s in. Something she fails to do.

Again, the proof of the pudding is whether anyone who didn’t see the programme can give an accurate description of the room that the psychics were meant to be describing. I very much doubt that anyone could get it. Here it is: The target room.

Even with the cold reading feedback, how many would correctly guess that the “gentleman” was Oliver Cromwell?

The voting.

For the second week running, Austin Charles was voted as the best performer. Anna Galliers was the one who was voted worst this week and so we lose her. Next week is the final.

This week’s programme added to the conclusions of previous ones. Psychics cannot do anything that they claim they can do, but they are very good at reacting to feedback in interactive situations.

Back to top.

The final.

20/Feb/2006 (John Jackson)

This week’s programme was the final. The one where one of the psychics is chosen as the winner of Britain’s Psychic Challenge. As usual the psychics were tested in much the same way as they have been before. Trisha, as with every other programme in the series, introduces each section and insists on telling us that what we’ve seen is “truly remarkable”; which is nothing more than an Argumentum ad Nauseum: the incorrect belief that an assertion is more likely to be true the more often it is heard.

Test 1 – connect the events.

The psychics are to be taken abroad for the first test, but before they are told where they are going a little challenge is given to them to to see if they can work out where they are going to by using their psychic powers.

An item from the location is placed in a sealed box, and the psychics have to sense what’s inside to reveal their destination.

First to try is Diane Lazarus:

Philip Escoffey: [Touching the box and talking to Diane] What do you think’s in there?

Diane Lazarus: I’m trying. Oh I don’t know. I keep seeing clovers. I’m getting all excited. It’s a place that I love: Dublin.

Next, Mary White.

Mary White: For some strange reason, I’m drawn to my own ears with it.

Philip Escoffey: To your own ears?

Mary White: Yes.

Philip Escoffey: We are going to be taking a flight into your ears.

Mary White: [Smiling sheepishly] No…. One place which I have been drawn to, that I’ve been talking a lot about, is Jersey.

Austin Charles now.

Philip Escoffey: Have you had any thoughts before this?

Austin Charles: [Nodding affirmatively] Norway.

Philip Escoffey: Norway. And is that changing?

Austin Charles: No

The box is now opened in front of the psychics and a pair of clogs is revealed.

Mary White: I thought shoes as well.

Oops! Another “hit” that a psychic got but forgot to mention at the time.

The location that they’re going to is Amsterdam. They have to find out about two men and the violent link that connects them. In their first test, they are taken, blindfolded, inside a large house. All photographic clues as to whom the target is have been removed, and each psychic is handed a sealed photo of the target. The target’s brother (Martin) is present, as is an interpreter. Again, a flawed test: it’s single-blind and feedback is allowed.

First in is Austin Charles.

Austin Charles: I feel anger. A strong sense of anger. But he also hurt other people who got their revenge in the end.

A look of interest is shown on Martin’s face.

Austin Charles: There’s a pain around my head area now [indicating the right side of his head] as I’m holding this [photo]. And again, my breathing, and my chest area.

Next Diane.

Diane Lazarus: I’m picking up a man with authority. He has connections with the government too.

This is the end of Diane’s reading. A reading that must have been edited down for broadcast as no reading would be so brief. Obviously Diane must have got a lot wrong, and the one tentative link she got was left in for broadcast.

In the after reading interview Martin gives his interpretation.

Martin: There was a political element without any doubt although he was more the enemy…

Diane Lazarus: Nothing to do with shooting?

Philip Escoffey: Well, let’s give you the story Diane. This [Martin’s] brother was assassinated.

Diane Lazarus: Ah! I kept seeing a rifle.

Philip Escoffey: You always do this after the event.

Diane Lazarus: Oooh I know, but I kept seeing a rifle and I kept stopping myself.

Philip Escoffey: Why?

Diane Lazarus: I don’t know. ‘Cause I thought my mind was starting to jump again. You know.

Yet another post-hoc hit from a psychic. Although the target was shot in his assassination, a rifle was not used.

Mary White next:

Mary White: I’m getting the word mystery, mystery. I feel erm, because of the system it’s not getting justice, but systems do create injustices.

Again, a suspiciously short reading. I suspect that most of it is on the cutting-room floor.

Martin confirms that his brother’s death is surrounded in conspiracy theory. I think that we’re meant to conclude that Mary’s allusions to mystery and injustice are therefore hits.

If we look at the information that the psychics have revealed, could anyone piece together who the target person is or what the story is? I don’t think so. The target was actually Pym Fortuyn. Although his was a high-profile case of assassination, the psychics did not pick up on that. In fact, they got nothing at all. What they said only seems to fit if it’s retrofitted to the story.

Austin’s pain in the head area and chest area for example. What information is he giving? None. Pym was actually shot twice in the head and once in the chest but could anyone have drawn that conclusion from Austin’s words alone? No. All psychics and mediums when trying to ascertain how a person died will go for the head and chest areas – it gets a hit around 95% of the time.

The second part of the test reveals another huge flaw in the way most of these tests have been designed. As we saw last week with the tests in Newmarket, whoever thought up the tests is rather keen on using themes. The second part of this week’s test was to see how the assassination of Mr. Fortuyn linked in with another assassination: that of Theo Van Gogh. Theo had made a film about Islamic culture that was highly critical and he was murdered by an islamic fundamentalist in revenge. He was also a friend of Pym Fortuyn and was making a film about his assassination when he himself was killed.

So, once the psychics have learned the background of the first case, it’s a fairly safe bet that the second half of their test will be another assassination in Amsterdam. As the tests were done on consecutive days, this allowed for the psychic’s little helper Google to come into play; or at least the possibility can’t be ruled out.

Theo was shot, stabbed and had his throat cut when he was killed, so he’s a very poor choice of target as there are too many ways to link into it; especially if you already suspect it was an assassination.

Thomas Ross, a journalist with a detailed knowledge of the case, joins Philip Escoffey in invigilating the test.

Austin first:

Austin Charles: Everything in his life was running smoothly and it changed quickly. It was almost he was blamed, or there was a blame, a charge, that was put on his shoulders that wasn’t directly to do with him. He was blamed for something that he didn’t do. And I keep getting drawn to my throat area. Stabbed. I’m being told “stabbed in the back” but this could mean, I have to work out now whether or not it’s a physical or the deceit, but I’m being drawn to my neck area.

Theo was not physically stabbed in the back, and again we’re given “neck area” without any context. To someone who doesn’t already know the story, what does “I’m being drawn to the neck area” actually mean?

Diane Lazarus.

Diane Lazarus: Jekyll and hyde. A feeling of Jekyll and Hyde. It’s like five person… five people in one.

Thomas: Your expression of the five people in one – that’s the way he was always described. [To Diane]Could you tell us something about his profession or..?

Diane Lazarus: I’m picking up this person within the media. I’m seeing, I know we’ve got a camera here, I’m seeing cameras all the time.

Mary White.

Mary White: Strong. Strong person, erm, I’m picking up a health problem that there’s been. Erm, throat and swallowing. Initials: “V” and the initial “G”.

Again some suspiciously short readings. Cherry picked for broadcast?

Now we are taken outside to the street where Theo was assassinated. Thomas is joined by Claus: a former police official who was involved with the case.

Again the psychics are given the seemingly obligatory sealed envelope. This time it contains a picture of the crime scene. Can the psychics describe the killing? Theo was riding his bike along the street when his killer shot him twice in the back, then stabbed him in the stomach with two knives, and then removed one of the knives and used it to cut Theo’s throat.

First is Mary White:

Mary White: I know we went yesterday to one murder place but I don’t know whether it’s relevance to this but I feel like somebody must have got shot on here as well. There must have been somebody, I feel, could have been somebody else that got shot on here. Erm, but I feel very hurried, there’s been a very hurried situation here.

Nothing from Mary other than revealing that she’s cottoned on to the fact that there’s a theme running through the test.

Diane Lazarus:

Diane Lazarus: Erm, I don’t know, it’s a bit of a dispute or some sort. I’m drawn, somebody, it’s blood – I can see a lot of blood here. Loads of blood, a lot of blood and some blood pumping from somebody. So there’s, I don’t know if there’s killings gone on. There’s a connection between the killings.

Again nothing other than the obvious connection between the killings.

Austin Charles:

Austin Charles: I’m being taken back now to the incident and that there was a lot of curfuffle in the street. An incident to do with the law, police, erm, panic if you like.The road was closed. All the area of this [unintelligible word] area was closed off to the public.

Philip Escoffey: Any final thoughts on what you believe the link to today’s test and yesterday’s test may be?

Austin Charles: Er, the link is they were well-known people that were either murdered or assassinated.

Thomas then gives his evaluation of what the psychics have come up with.

Thomas: What striking was actually was what Austin said. Two were assassinated, you were right with that, then you three all said the throat, the throat, which is good, [to Diane] you said the blood was pumping out of it. That’s exactly what happened and it was a horrible sight on TV, […] and you [to Mary] were right, of course, very much with the name VG, Van Goch.

It’s very difficult to say, but I would say I was most impressed by you [indicating Mary White].

That’s quite a summary!

Austin, of course, only got the assassinations link after he knew the story of Pym Fortuyn and was prompted by Philip. It’s actually surprising that they didn’t all get the themed link. Diane never said that there was blood pumping out of Theo’s neck. She did mention blood pumping out of somebody, but at no time, despite Thomas’s recollection, did Diane mention anything about a neck. Austin got the “neck area” but failed to mention why, and Mary mentioned a throat and swallowing but thought it was a health problem.

Mary was not right with the name “Van Gogh” either. She never gave a name, she simply gave the initials V and G without saying whose they were or even if they went together. Were V and G meant to belong to the same person? A first name and a Surname? Middle names? Two people? One a first name of one person and the Surname of another? Without context they could be made to fit in many ways. How many dutch people are called Van something? Also, a point to consider, if Mary had come up with two initials that didn’t fit, would the miss have ended up on the cutting-room floor?

I don’t think that the psychics got anything at all worth mentioning in this test.

Test 2 – Find the missing boy.

This test is the same as the “find the fugitive” test done in programme 4. It takes place in Holkham Bayin north Norfolk. A young boy named Sam is hidden amongst the sand dunes and camouflaged and the psychics have to locate him to within 15 metres with a time limit of 30 minutes.

To see how hard it is to find Sam, a trained search and rescue dog does the test. It takes the dog 36 minutes to locate Sam. A team of coast guards were also tested and they failed to find Sam within the 30 minute time frame too. So this does look like a fairly tough test.

Over to the psychics who are given an item of Sam’s clothing and a photo. First is Mary White.

Mary looks bemused by the size of the area that she has to choose from and walks around looking completely lost. After thirty minutes the test is over and Mary didn’t have a clue.

Narrator: Our measure of accuracy will be a car’s GPS: accurate to within 15 metres. If she can beat that, she will have done amazingly well.

Absolute rubbish! Mary clearly hasn’t got a clue where Sam is and if she happens to be within 15 metres of him it is purely down to luck. It turns out that she was 150 metres from Sam.

Austin Charles is next. He ends up a long, long way from Sam in the end. The distance is not so important however, it’s the fact that like Mary, he didn’t have a clue where to go.

Diane Lazarus is next. Diane scored well in the find the fugitive test by quickly locating the target. Could she do the same thing again? Diane immediately sets off in the right direction. She’s quite convinced that she’s on the right track showing none of the indecision that Austin and Mary did. After only 10 minutes, Diane locates Sam.

Now. It’s a single-blind test, others (Chris French, the camera crew etc.) know where Sam is, and of course being on a beach there could be visual clues which could be followed should they be picked up. However, Diane has done this type of test twice now successfully, and in very short time. This, amongst all of the tests we have seen over the weeks, is the only one that has impressed me. It does not mean that she is psychic, there may be other perfectly natural explanations for what she has done (including deception such as collusion with a crew member), but it is the only instance of someone doing something repeatedly against high odds.

Chris French: Right. Well you’ve seen the beach test and I have to say there’s obviously just one star performance there for me which was Diane. Particularly in light of the fact that she’d already done a very similar test under Philip’s supervision where she found the soldier in the forest. What I would say is, I’m sufficiently impressed by Diane’s performance on that test that I would like to carry out follow up tests. It was impressive.

This is the important issue. Will Diane Lazarus take part in follow-up testing so we can find out whether what she did was down to some real psychic ability? If she can repeat her performances under properly controlled conditions then it would be hard to argue against her ability in performing this type of test.

Chris French: I think there might be times when we act on what we feel is our intuition, and we’ve no idea where the answers come from, but there are reasons why that information is there and is available; we’re just not consciously aware of it. Now whether we’re seeing something like that when we see Diane in action. I mean, even if it is that then it’s incredibly interesting and you want to get to the bottom of it.

This is an important point. Seeing something like Diane’s tests does not mean that we have to jump straight for the psychic explanation. Firstly it has to be ascertained whether her ability is still present under properly controlled conditions, and if so look for natural explanations for such an ability. It’s when natural explanations cannot account for such an ability that the psychic hypothesis should be looked at.

Test 3 – Psychics helping the police.

After the one, and in my opinion only, good result from the series, we are now subject to one of the low points. The psychics are asked to shed light on an unsolved murder case. Joanna Young, 14, was murdered just 2 days before christmas 1992 and the murderer has never been caught. Her trainers were found in a lane, and later, on boxing day, her half-naked body was found half submerged in a farm pond. Her skull was fractured and a post mortem revealed that the cause of death was drowning.

One of the clues at the time was a note sent into a local newspaper which contained: Griston Rd Watton, 23/12 9PM, a motorcycle, a youth, and a girl. Another curious fact was that someone revisited the scene 2 weeks later to discard Joanna’s missing blue jeans.

Can the psychics pick up on the circumstances of Joanna’s death, and can they shed new light on this case which was never solved? All they have to go on is a photograph of Joanna.

This challenge is overseen by Jackie Malton and Joanna’s ex-headmistress and family friend Jan Godfrey is also present.

Diane Lazarus is first to go.

Diane Lazarus: First I want to go through here and I want to go to that direction; to the right.

Diane heads to the lane where Joanna’s trainers and jeans were found.

Diane Lazarus: Joanna’s walked this path before, I know she has. Joanna’s walked this path before.OK. A bit of a tomboy really, erm, I will say that as well because she’s sort of pulling her socks up and sort of, you know, it doesn’t matter if she gets a bit dirty.

Jackie Malton: [To Jan] Was she a tomboy?

Jan: Yes, absolutely.

Diane Lazarus: She liked drama, she liked to play the other person, and I feel that erm, a strong character still coming out.

Jan: That was her strength at school [nods in agreement].

NOTE: Diane is Cold Reading at this point. She is giving out Barnum Statements and using thefeedback she’s getting.

Diane Lazarus: I can hear somebody walking behind her. I can hear the crunch. [Jan visibly reacts to this statement]. [Diane starts crying] This is not happening. She’s smiling. It’s not obvious what happened to her. It is not obvious. She was facing something that she couldn’t see from, She was pushed into a situation where she was facing something and she couldn’t see anythink. I can’t see anythink.

Narrator: Joanna disappeared in thick fog.

Yet again, we are being told by the narrator that there is a link there when there’s not. Diane said, “She was pushed into a situation where she was facing something and she couldn’t see anythink [sic]” – that does not sound like a description of fog!

Diane Lazarus: I feel I want to keep walking, OK.

Narrator: Diane is now standing next to the spot where Joanna’s trainers were found.

Diane Lazarus: I been looking. I could see the bike. As is I’m looking for the bike. Can you see it, can you see it, can you see it?

Jackie Malton: [Nodding] Mmmm Hmmm.

Diane Lazarus: And it’s a clear vision. I know. She’s working very hard here, to show me this bike. It’s important you say? [pointing to Jan].

Narrator: Diane has been told absolutely nothing about the relevance of the bike, nor the note sent to the local newspaper.

I find Diane’s usage of the bike rather than a bike slightly odd. The relevance of the note has not been established. It was sent into a local paper and it may or may not be relevant to the case. Either way, the note mentions a motorcycle not a bike.

Diane Lazarus: I know she was lying here. I don’t know if she came off the bike or, because I’ve got her on the bike then I’ve got her off the bike. And I can’t do anything about it, I’m, “I want to go home” but she can’t go home. [To Jan] And you, every single day thinking about her, every single, there’s not a day that goes back. Past. And you help youngsters, and she loves that, and in fact it’s as if I’m drawn to give you a big hug ‘cause she hugs you like that… [Diane hugs Jan].

All good for the camera, but none of that can be corroborated.

Jan: I’m just amazed at what she came to the conclusions of. There were the thing about, erm, Joanna not being able to see, and the fact that it was such a foggy night. Her description of Joanna was that she was fun, that she loved drama, all of these absolutely spot on; and they’re things that you couldn’t possibly know from a photograph. Just amazing.

Diane was very vague actually, yet Jan seemed to think she was very accurate. It’s subjective validation again. Although Diane has come out with characteristics that would probably match most young girls at some point, Jan has interpreted what Diane has said as being unique to Joanne. We’ve seen this several times now in this series of programmes.

Diane is now asked to identify a second significant location. She walks, unprompted we’re told, for half a mile until she comes upon a copse.

Diane Lazarus: I want to go down there. [Diane enters the copse] I feel she’s been murdered. I wanna go there [indicating nowhere in particular].

Jackie Malton: Go on Diane [hand gesture points the way].

Narrator: Diane has been drawn to the very spot where Joanna’s body was found.

Drawn?

Diane Lazarus: She died with tears in her eyes. She died when she was crying. And leaves, show me the leaves

Narrator: Police believe that the killer returned to the scene of the murder and deliberately covered the body with leaves.

Diane Lazarus: The leaves in her mouth. I’m seeing wet hair, I don’t feel she was found straight away. I feel she’s got no voice. I’m not saying that it’s an accident; I know there’s a man involved in this. So he was following her. I know she was being followed. I feel 100% that she was being followed, and she was aware of him being there.She panicked, she went, and he was there. I know he was there.So somebody’s out there who’s living with this on his conscience.

Narrator: At this point Diane began to describe in detail, the person she believes was responsible for Joanna’s death. For legal reasons, we cannot broadcast her comments in case it should hamper any future police investigation.

Diane Lazarus: He smokes regal cigarettes.

Narrator: But we did put her comments to Jan Godfrey who confirmed that the description matched one of the original police suspects.

Jackie Malton: What’s happened today must go to the Norfolk constabulary for them to look at it and assess it and erm, take what, take from it what they want, but it is a central part of their investigation to have a look at what Diane has achieved.

All very dramatic and good for TV but nothing of what Diane said has been verified and most of it is unverifiable. The thing is, no one knows what happened (hence the lack of an arrest) so to say that Joanne was followed, was on/off a bike (not motorcycle), that she panicked, that she was crying, etc. is meaningless.

It would be nice to know what the Norfolk constabulary make of what Diane “achieved”; however, I suspect that an arrest will not be imminent – and that would be the measure of success in a case like this.

Austin Charles got nowhere on the test and Mary White got little either although she did locate the pond after being told the general area it was in.

The test was concluded with assertions that what Diane had achieved was somehow meaningful and amazing. Interestingly, there was no comment from the skeptics shown. I think that this piece of melodrama was left for last to leave people with the impression that something significant went on – to make the psychics and the programme look good.

Remember though, the verifiable points: the trainers; the blue jeans; the drowning; the fractured skull; the date (Xmas time); etc., were all missed by Diane. I think that that is significant.

The voting.

Well, voting time. The panel assess what the three finalists have achieved throughout the series. In third place is Austin Charles. In runner-up spot is Mary White. The winner is Diane Lazarus.

I too would have opted for Diane, simply because throughout the entire series she is the only person to actually do anything impressive. The find the body tests. Apart from that she’s blown hot and cold just like the others.

Back to top.

Conclusion.

This series of programmes was meant to get to the bottom of what self-professed psychics can actually do. In that aim, it largely succeeded although perhaps not in the way intended. The tests were never robust enough to show up genuine psychic ability had it manifested itself as the odds of passing were set far too low and the test protocols were never strict enough. I think that we got enough of an insight to learn something however.

What did we find out?

  • The most striking thing that first came to light was the fact that the psychics can perform no better than chance, or other people, at tests where they can be measured. When doing tests by sensing auras, residual energies from photographs, with information from spirit guides, their third eye, 6thsense, or whatever, they simply do not have any paranormal ability at all. The tests varied from sensing pregnancies, criminals, handbags, football boots, medical conditions, pottery, etc., but they all had one thing in common: the psychics perform no better on average than chance in such tests.
  • They can be more convincing when they are in a situation involving readings. When doing a reading for someone, whether it’s directly for them or not, the psychic’s ability seems to be proportional to the amount of feedback they get and the level of the recipient’s belief. Doing a reading for someone like John McCririck results in few (if any) hits, yet reading someone face to face with feedback often results in great emotion and tears.

How do readings work?

Readings work on many levels. It’s not simply a case of someone doing a reading and it will work every time. Readings are interactive; they depend on how the psychic gives the reading and how the recipient reacts to it. I’ve introduced a few terms in this commentary. Cold Reading is one of them. Whilst it consists of a large and varied set of psychological techniques that are used to convince others that you are giving them information that you couldn’t possibly have known, the basic way that it works is for the reader to start by giving out vague, but varied, information to the recipient and wait for any feedback to what you’ve said. It is the feedback that guides you to where you go next.

An important point about Cold Reading: you do not have to be a fraud to do Cold Reading. It is quite possible to use Cold Reading without being aware of it. Psychics often spend years, and a lot of money, developing their psychic skills. What they’re doing a lot of the time is learning Cold Reading by trial and error; they just don’t realise it. A good example to illustrate this is the fact that psychics often give out paired information. They don’t get one name or one initial they get two. By getting a “K” and a “J” there are a whole load of ways that they can connect up and it vastly increases the chances of a hit over a single letter. Whether you learn that from a book or by trial and error the result is the same.

The most important aspect of the way readings work however, is the recipient’s reaction to it. You don’t have to be a “believer” for a psychic reading to work. All that is required is that you don’t understand how they work at all. There were a few good examples shown in this series of programmes of people being surprised and amazed at the readings they got.

Some of the reasons people are fooled by readings:

  • They have a large emotional investment.Emotion often plays a major role in psychic readings. A good illustration of this is where Clive Stevens was overwhelmed by Amanda Hart’s reading where she connected to his old friend James Harlow. All she got was a “strong connection” and “big energy” – terms that don’t actually mean anything – yet that was enough for Clive. He obviously had a great affection for his old friend and the thought that James had somehow come through was such an emotional experience that he was convinced by it all.This aspect of readings also explains one of the ugly sides of psychic readings. Those who have lost loved ones often turn to mediums in the hope that their lost loved one will come through. With such a high emotional investment, people are not too hard to convince and many people develop an emotional dependency on mediums.
  • Confirmation bias.We all have a tendency to see what we want to see. We look for evidence that confirms what we already believe or supports what we are willing to believe. Confirmation bias often goes under the guise of “remembering the hits and forgetting the misses”. I’m sure that people who believe in psychic ability will have watched the series and been pleased every time a psychic got a hit, and those who don’t believe likewise when they got a miss.The best example in the series was actually Jackie Malton. I think it made her look unduly bad as she was cast in the role of Skeptic (someone who looks for the truth in matters) yet openly stated that she found it quite “powerful” when the psychics got hits. They scored no more hits than the control groups (often less) yet it wasn’t powerful when the non-psychic control group scored hits, or indeed when the psychics scored misses.The correct way to look at things is to look at the hits and the misses. The misses are just as important as the hits. I could claim to be psychic because I correctly predicted the roll of a die 10 times. If it took me 60 attempts to get the 10 hits however, I would only be deluding myself that I had psychic ability through confirmation bias if I disregarded the misses.A note about accuracy: This programme has obviously been edited. It’s inevitable that they will end up with more material than they could broadcast so some content will have to be shelved. It’s the misses that end up on the cutting room floor. Granted, the programme did show many of the mistakes the psychics made, but it’s the negative content that gets shelved. Many times we saw snippets of psychic readings where the psychics seemed to do quite well – just remember the actual reading could have been many times longer but only the good content was shown.
  • Subjective validation.This is where people personalise, or give personal meaning to, words and statements that are very vague and generalised and deem them valid. Again, Clive Stevens was a good example of this and we saw it again in the final when Jan took a couple of very vague statements from Diane and actually thought that she was talking about Joanna.An astrology statement like “you’re concerned about the health of someone around you” relies on the same principle. Many people are, but reading it or being told it by someone else makes it seem very real to you personally.
  • Reinterpretation.People often misremember what was said in psychic readings, as we all do with things in general. It’s often beyond our capability to keep in mind and retell a story that contains a lot of information. What we do is known as sharpening and leveling: this is where we focus on and enhance the good bits of a story and underplay or leave out the less interesting bits (incidentally, it’s also why it’s not wise to place too much weight on anecdotal evidence). A good example was in the final where Thomas remembered Diane Lazarus’s “some blood pumping out somebody” statement as blood pumping out of Theo’s slit throat.

Did we see anything psychic?

Personally I don’t think so. The tests were not properly controlled so there’s always ways for information leakage to occur so the few good results that came in cannot be trusted for accuracy. There was one interesting result however, and that was Diane Lazarus’s find the body tests. She needs to be tested properly to see what extent her ability really is. Professor Chris French intends to invite Diane for testing in the near future. I hope she accepts.

Was it all worth it?

That depends on what can be taken from it. If we’re looking at it from the point of view of testing psychics to ascertain their level of ability “once and for all” then it was an utter waste of time. If tests are not done properly the results are meaningless.

I think the series did reveal a lot about psychics and their claimed abilities. Unless psychic ability is ever proven to be real, it’s all about how others can fool us and how we can fool ourselves. That includes the psychics too. They may believe that they are psychic, but confirmation bias, subjective validation, etc., works just as much on them as it does on their clients.

Points to revisit.

  1. Will Joanna Young’s murder be solved directly by the information given by Diane Lazarus?
  2. Will Diane Lazarus undergo further testing for her ability to locate bodies?

I’ll be keeping watch for developments.

Links and further reading.

Subjective validation.

Confirmation bias.

The Barnum/Forer effect.

For anyone interested in Cold Reading, there is no better book on the subject than Ian Rowland’s: The Full Facts of Cold Reading.

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