ARTICLES

Montague Keen

Montague Keen

Journalist, agricultural administrator, magazine editor and farmer. A member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research for 55 years, chairman of its Image and Publicity Committee and secretary of its Survival Research Committee, he was principal investigator of the Scole Group of physical mediums, and author of the Scole Report, published in the Proceedings of the SPR (Vol 54 Pt 220) in 1999 with his co-investigators Professors Arthur Ellison and David Fontana.

The Ultimate Psychic Challenge - A Challenge to James Randi

Unethical treatment | Three Randiesque escapes | A fraudulent insult | That $1million offer | The Randi/Schwartz episode | The challenge to Mr. Randi and friends | Pre-edited comments | Comment | Post-edited comments | Letter by Trica Robertson To Glasgow Herlad | Letter by Montague Keen to Assistant Producer of "Living with the Dead"

 - Montague Keen -

This note was written in response to James Randi's comments [click here] on The Ultimate Psychic Challenge, screened on the Discovery Channel August 17, 2003, and repeated both on that channel and on Channel 4 on August 23, 2003. It embodies a challenge to Mr. Randi to live up to his repeated assertion on the programme that if only adequate evidence of paranormality could be demonstrated to him, he would be happy to acknowledge it - and give the claimant the $1million prize he so publicly and consistently pledges. I have already commented on the programme as edited, although I reproduce below both my pre-edited and post-edited comments for the benefit of those, including Mr. Randi, who may not have had the opportunity to see them. August 21, 2003.

Unethical treatment 

          A PRELIMINARY comment on Mr. Randi's ethics - and those of Fulcrum TV's producers: When he practices as a stage illusionist, the audience know they are being entertained and deceived: they suspend their disbelief and enjoy the show. To pretend to be a genuine psychic, and to connive with the TV staff without the knowledge or consent of the victims to garner details about members of the audience, their friends and their sitting positions, with a view to misleading them - even though the ruse is later acknowledged - is to employ deception in what was claimed to be a serious programme about a very serious subject.

Three Randiesque escapes

I should first note that Mr. Randi may consider himself fortunate on at least three counts: (1) The edited version omitted his first futile but extended attempts at cold reading which was so unsuccessful that the embarrassed floor manager had to announce a technical fault and stop the show. (2) The editing omitted what was probably the single most impressive piece of evidence, told to me beforehand in the Green Room and later to the audience, of an anonymous and untraceable booking made by a grieving father for a private reading with Keith Charles, the medium, who described to him the detailed contents and design of a sealed letter that had been placed, unbeknown to the father, in the coffin of his daughter by her sister. When Mr Randi asserted what he has since reiterated on his website, that all such messages could be attributable to cold reading as evidenced in Ian Rowland's instruction book, it was lucky for him that no-one had an opportunity to challenge this insult to our credulity. Even with hot reading prior research at his disposal, a stage illusionist could not have struck oil this rich. Charles himself, exceptionally restrained, was shut up, doubtless because of the severe time overrun. Finally, (3), it was lucky for Mr. Randi that Charles was given no opportunity to say why the $1m challenge was both misleading and worthless, an omission I hope to remedy below.

I need hardly say that the excision of the very brief comment I was allowed to make, explaining that serious scientists had long been fully aware of the cold and hot reading techniques, and had safeguarded against them by single or double-blind or proxy sittings, constituted a serious breach of trust by the producers, as well as letting Mr. Randi off the hook. Some idea of the sort of evidence Mr. Randi escaped answering is contained in a letter [click here] to the Glasgow Herald from one of the principal experimenters in a major investigation into the authenticity of mediumship.

A fraudulent insult

The "very obese" and "unattractive" Mrs Veronica Keen. Photograph taken one day after the show.

(As an aside, and to illustrate Mr. Randi's dedication to objectivity, I must also provide a more accurate account of the incident to which he devotes so much spleen on his website: his encounter in the exit corridor with a "very obese, unattractive woman" and his reaction to her "direct affront, a rude insult and an uncalled-for accusation" who "stabbed her finger at me, her face red and contorted with hatred" who called him a fake and a fraud, to which he calmly retorted in his best Churchillian manner, "Madam, you are ugly, but I can reform." 

I am sure this is how Mr. Randi would like to remember the episode, but since I was alongside the lady at the time, and observed what went on, as did Dr. Parker and Dr. Puhle who were immediately in front of me, I should say that she takes (USA) size 10 clothes at Macy's, which is way down the obesity scale, is regarded as attractive for her age, smiled at Mr. Randi and said quite politely but firmly, with no finger stabbing, and to his obvious astonishment, "Mr. Randi you're a fraud", whereupon he staggered back and stammered, "And you, you, you, you're ugly," to which the lady responded as he disappeared backwards through the double doors, "But at least I'm honest". There was no Churchillian suffix. The classic Churchillian riposte, by the way, occurred when Mrs Bessie Braddock, a Labour MP of vast dimensions, accused him of being drunk; to which Churchill responded, "Yes, Madam, and you're ugly, but I shall be sober in the morning." This sets the standard for Mr. Randi's dedication to factual reality.)

That $1million offer

Now for the more serious bit: first, the $1million prize. Loyd Auerbach, a leading USA psychologist and President of the Psychic Entertainers Association (some 80% of the members of his Association believe in the paranormal, according to Dr. Adrian Parker, who was on the programme, but given no opportunity to reveal this) exposed some of the deficiencies in this challenge in an article in Fate magazine.

Under Article 3, the applicant allows all his test data to be used by the Foundation in any way Mr. Randi may choose. That means that Mr. Randi can pick and chose the data at will and decide what to do with it and what verdict to pronounce on it. Under Article 7, the applicant surrenders all rights to legal action against the Foundation, or Mr. Randi, no matter what emotional, professional or financial injury he may consider he has sustained. Thus even if Mr. Randi comes to a conclusion different from that reached by his judges and publicly denounces the test, the applicant would have no redress. The Foundation and Mr. Randi own all the data. Mr. Randi can claim that the judges were fooled. The implicit accusation of fraud would leave the challenger devoid of remedy.

These rules, be it noted, are in stark contrast to Mr. Randi's frequent public assertions that he wanted demonstrable proof of psychic powers. First, his rules are confined to a single, live applicant. No matter how potent the published evidence, how incontestable the facts or rigorous the precautions against fraud, the number, qualifications or expertise of the witnesses and investigators, the duration, thoroughness and frequency of their tests or (where statistical evaluation is possible) the astronomical odds against a chance explanation: all must be ignored. Mr. Randi thrusts every case into the bin labelled 'anecdotal' (which means not written down), and thereby believes he may safely avoid any invitation to account for them.

Likewise, the production of a spanner bent by a force considerably in excess of the capacity of the strongest man, created at the request and in the presence of a group of mechanics gathered round a racing car at a pit stop by Mr. Randi's long-time enemy, Uri Geller, would run foul of the small print, which requires a certificate of a successful preliminary demonstration before troubling Mr. Randi himself. A pity, because scientists at Imperial College have tested the spanner, which its current possessor, the researcher and author Guy Lyon Playfair, not unnaturally regards as a permanent paranormal object, and there is a standing challenge to skeptics to explain its appearance.

The Randi/Schwartz episode

That these doubts about the genuineness of Mr. Randi's dedication to objective research are far from theoretical may be concluded from the efforts made by Professor Gary Schwartz of Arizona University in designing his multi-centre, double-blind procedure for testing mediums. Schwartz was not interested in the prize money: he merely sought to obtain Mr. Randi's approval for his protocol for testing mediums - and he duly modified it to met Mr. Randi's suggestions. Having falsely declared that the eminent parapsychologist Professor Stanley Krippner had agreed to serve on his referee panel, Mr. Randi ensured that the other judges would be his skeptical friends Drs Minsky, Sherman and Hyman, all well-known and dedicated opponents of anything allegedly paranormal.

As the ensuing Randi/Schwartz correspondence (which Mr. Randi declined to print on his website) makes clear, when the outcome of the experiment proved an overwhelming success, Mr. Randi subsequently confused a binary (yes/no) analysis with the statistical method required to score for accuracy each statement made by a medium, and falsely accused Dr Gary Schwartz and his colleagues of selecting only half the data for analysis. He then derided the publication of Professor Schwartz's findings in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, the world's oldest scientific peer-reviewed publication devoted to the paranormal, and in which Mr. Randi himself has published contributions. He criticised the fact that the Schwartz findings appeared in neither Nature nor Science, although he must have been aware of the long-standing refusal of these two leading scientific journals to publish anything touching on the paranormal. He then reported that one of the gifted mediums, John Edward, could have seen the sitter through a 2" curtain gap, regardless of the facts that the crack was about quarter of an inch, was subsequently sealed from ceiling to floor, and that readings were later done long distance. Mr. Randi declined an invitation to see all the raw footage for himself, while protesting that he would never [be allowed to] see it. Yet all the media representatives who visited the Arizona laboratory saw the raw footage, as did magicians and visiting scientists. Mr Randi specifically declined an invitation to be videoed viewing the data and commenting on it. 

Equally, despite his confident assertions that cold reading can produce results as impressive as any from a platform medium, he declined an offer to prove it by comparing his performance with that of a genuine medium, surely a crucial test. Similarly, Mr. Randi accused the experimenters of "blatant data searching", i.e. remembering the hits and forgetting the misses. This was false, and could readily have been shown to be so. He thereafter publicly declined to read any of Professor Schwartz's emails, having confined himself to deriding the Professor for believing in the tooth fairy, making wild claims and being a "doctor who embraces bump-in-the-night theories without a trace of shame". Further, that he had been a colleague at Harvard of Dr John Mack, "the man who has never met anyone who hasn't been abducted by aliens", and similar abuse. This is the language and conduct of the gutter, not of an honest difference of opinion expressed in civilized and restrained terms about scientific issues.

Mr. Randi notoriously failed to fulfil his boast to be able to replicate Ted Serios' "thoughtography" tests (as described by his investigator, Dr Jule Eisenbud in The World of Ted Serios, Jonathan Cape, 1968) and has consistently ignored efforts by Mr. Maurice Grosse, the principal investigator of Britain's most famous recent poltergeist event, the Enfield Case[1], to examine the recorded visual and aural evidence to support a claim of paranormality and apparent veridical messages from a discarnate entity.

[1] See Guy Lyon Playfair's book This House is Haunted, Souvenir Press, 1980.

Worse still are the multiple errors of fact, admixed with derision, abuse and misrepresentation, which Mr. Randi makes in his book Flim-Flam (1980) about a number of distinguished scientists, notably Russell Targ, Harold Puthoff and Charles Tart and their roles in the remote viewing experiments with Ingo Swann and the clairvoyant claims of Uri Geller. That Randi's denunciations turned out to be mainly a tissue of lies is apparent from the penetrating account given by parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo in Psychic Breakthroughs Today[2], and devastatingly amplified in a recent website publication by Michael Prescott (http://michaelprescott.freeservers.com/FlimFlam.htm)

[2] Aquarian Press, 1987, pp.216-226.

The challenge to Mr. Randi and friends

I am not applying for Mr. Randi's $1 million but only for some evidence that his challenge is genuine. I give underneath my comments on the television programme a list of some of the classical cases of paranormality with most or all of which Mr. Randi will be familiar. I know he will be because he has been studying the subject for half a century, he tells us. And just as I would not pretend to authority and expertise in conjuring unless I could perform some party tricks to bedazzle a troop of intelligent ten year olds, or apply for an assistant professorship in physics while admitting I had never heard of Boyle's Law or the Second Law of Thermodynamics, nor seek admission to the bar without first having some familiarity with the leading cases, so I would not imply that Mr. Randi is ignorant of these cases, many of which have long awaited the advent of a critic who could discover flaws in the paranormality claims. For me to suggest this would imply the grossest hypocrisy on Mr. Randi's part. But to refresh his memory, and help him along, and despite the refusal of some of his colleagues like Professor Kurtz, Professor Hyman and Dr. Susan Blackmore to meet the challenge, I list the requisite references. They are based on (although not identical to) a list of twenty cases suggestive of survival prepared by Professor Archie Roy and published some years ago in the SPR's magazine, The Paranormal Review as an invitation or challenge to skeptics to demonstrate how any of these cases could be explained by "normal" i.e. non-paranormal, means. Thus far there have been no takers. It is now Mr. Randi's chance to vindicate his claims.

___________________________________

And here are the cases from which Mr. Randi may wish to select a handful to answer:

1. The Watseka Wonder, 1887. Stevens, E.W. 1887. The Watseka Wonder, Chicago; Religio-philosophical Publishing House, and Hodgson R., Religio-Philosophical Journal Dec. 20th, 1890, investigated by Dr. Hodgson.

2. Uttara Huddar and Sharada. Stevenson I. and Pasricha S, 1980. 'A preliminary report on an unusual case of the reincarnation type with Xenoglossy'. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 74, 331-348; and Akolkar V.V. 'Search for Sharada: Report of a case and its investigation'. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 86, 209-247. 

3. Sumitra and Shiva-Tripathy. Stevenson I. and Pasricha S, and McLean-Rice, N 1989. 'A Case of the Possession Type in India with evidence of Paranormal Knowledge'. Journal of the Society for Scientific Exploration 3, 81-101.

4. Jasbir Lal Jat. Stevenson, I, 1974. Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation (2nd edition) Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia.

5. The Thompson/Gifford case. Hyslop, J.H. 1909. A Case of Veridical Hallucinations, Proceedings American Society for Psychical Research 3, 1-469.

6. Past-life regression. Tarazi, L. 1990. 'An Unusual Case of Hypnotic Regression with some Unexplained Contents'. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 84, 309-344.

7. Cross-correspondence communications. Balfour J. (Countess of) 1958-60. 'The Palm Sunday Case: New Light On an Old Love Story'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 52, 79-267.

8. Book and Newspaper Tests. Thomas, C.D. 1935. 'A Proxy Case extending over Eleven Sittings with Mrs Osborne Leonard'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 43, 439-519.

9. "Bim's" book-test. Lady Glenconnor. 1921. The Earthen Vessel, London, John Lane. 

10. The Harry Stockbridge communicator. Gauld, A. 1966-72. 'A Series of Drop-in Communicators'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 55, 273-340.

11. The Bobby Newlove case. Thomas, C. D. 1935. 'A proxy case extending over Eleven Sittings with Mrs. Osborne Leonard'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 43, 439-519.

12. The Runki missing leg case. Haraldsson E. and Stevenson, I, 1975. 'A Communicator of the Drop-in Type in Iceland: the case of Runolfur Runolfsson'. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 69. 33-59.

13. The Beidermann drop-in case. Gauld, A. 1966-72. 'A Series of Drop-in Communicators'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 55, 273-340.

14. The death of Gudmundur Magnusson. Haraldsson E. and Stevenson, I, 1975. 'A Communicator of the Drop-in Type in Iceland: the case of Gudni Magnusson', Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 69, 245-261.

15. Identification of deceased officer. Lodge, O. 1916. Raymond, or Life and Death. London. Methuen & Co. Ltd.

16. Mediumistic evidence of the Vandy death. Gay, K. 1957. 'The Case of Edgar Vandy', Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 39, 1-64; Mackenzie, A. 1971. 'An Edgar Vandy Proxy Sitting'. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 46, 166-173; Keen, M. 2002. 'The case of Edgar Vandy: Defending the Evidence', Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 64.3 247-259; 'Letters', 2003, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 67.3. 221-224.

17. Mrs Leonore Piper and the George "Pelham" communicator. Hodgson, R. 1897-8. 'A Further Record of Observations of Certain Phenomena of Trance'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 13, 284-582.

18. Messages from "Mrs. Willett" to her sons. Cummins, G. 1965. Swan on a Black Sea. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

19. Ghostly aeroplane phenomena. Fuller, J.G. 1981 The Airmen Who Would Not Die, Souvenir Press, London.

20. Intelligent responses via two mediums: the Lethe case. Piddington, J. G. 1910. 'Three incidents from the Sittings'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 24, 86-143; Lodge, O. 1911. 'Evidence of Classical Scholarship and of Cross-Correspondence in some New Automatic Writing'. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 25, 129-142.

Comments (August 7th) on the pre-edited TV show

The comments that follow were written by Montague Keen immediately after his attendance and participation in the making of "Ultimate Psychic Challenge".

These comments on an extended TV programme due to be screened on the Discovery Channel on August 17, and on Channel 4 on August 23rd are written in response to those eager to know how last night's Fulcrum TV programme was conducted at the London Television Studios. It purported to be a serious television programme aimed at discovering whether there was sound evidence of after-death communication. More immediately, this is an appeal to those responsible for the production to correct in the cutting room the serious imbalance and misleading message of the taped programme.

I had been pressed to attend the studio in order to help provide that evidence, as a counterbalance to whatever James Randi might be presenting or arguing. The filming lasted over three hours, and the show is to be edited down to one and a half hours, less commercial breaks.

Despite doubts of several who believed that Fulcrum TV deliberately conceived the programme to rubbish the concept of survival, and not to present a balanced assessment of the case for and against communication with the dead; and despite at least two pieces of evidence suggesting that this is what they did, I am prepared to acquit those responsible of any charges worse than naiveté, arrogance and inadequate research. But first let me summarise what happened.

The audience was first asked to vote whether they believed, disbelieved or were uncertain about discarnate communication. The initial voting percentages, from a self-selected audience, were respectively 44, 19 and 37. Randi was introduced pseudonymously as a psychic and proceeded to attempt cold readings, with embarrassingly negative results. He was eventually stopped, ostensibly because of some technical hitch, left the room, and later returned to resume his act, this time with more success. The presenter, Kate Galloway, who did a difficult job with considerable skill, then revealed to a far from astonished audience, most of whom said they had recognised Randi from the outset, that it was all faked, and that Randi had access to audience names and addresses, and indeed employed a researcher to show how easily fake mediums could discover information about potential sitters, or clients.

All of this, which took up most of the first hour, was simply to demonstrate how cold and hot reading works. The implication was absolutely clear: this was typical of how mediums, platform or face-to-face, operated. To illustrate this further, we saw a screening of a freshly-coached actor under the guidance of sceptic Tony Youens giving a fake reading to a young and clearly inexperienced client who confessed himself impressed with the evidential standard achieved.

To make certain we got the message there was another clip, this time of a genuine medium, who was present. Her statements were interlarded with comments from Youens aimed at showing how each of them could be reasonably deduced from responses, facial expressions, guesswork, etc. The medium herself, from the front row of the audience, protested most vehemently that by omitting much more evidential material the extract of her filmed sitting had given a false impression, stigmatising her as a fake.

Additional pieces were aimed solely at proving how gullible people are. Randi produced half a dozen so-called psychological studies based on questionnaires previously completed by members of the audience. Each was asked to score the results for accuracy/appropriateness. Only one gave him top marks. The analyses were, of course, identical, and were simply designed to show how readily people attributed general characteristics to themselves. 

Interspersed with this were responses by Professor Chris French to questions on a range of associated psychological and sociological issues. French, a noted sceptic of the less unenlightened kind, gave fairly reasonable responses, and appeared to have ample time to do so. He was not asked to deal with either the leading cases indicating survival (readers of his magazine The Skeptic will have noted that he is too busy to study this sort of evidence) or even the current work of Professors Archie Roy and Gary Schwartz.

The principal - indeed virtually the only - counterbalance to this was the performance of a genuine medium, Keith Charles, an ex-detective. Two of his former clients gave impressive testimony to the accuracy of statements he had made, e.g. about the precise contents of a sealed letter deposited in the coffin of their daughter. His appearance in person was preceded by a clip in which Philadelphia police officials testified to their conviction that Charles could help trace missing persons. His on-floor readings were likewise impressive, save when an opaque screen precluded sight of a studio guinea pig.

The only other person of whose presence I had previously been advised was Dr Adrian Parker, who spoke briefly on Near Death Experiences as an indication of the independence of consciousness from brain.

I had been given four questions the responses to which, albeit necessarily brief, were aimed at addressing the issue of communication evidence. One related to the SPR and its membership; a second asked how compelling was the evidence from people like Professor Gary Schwartz, Professor David Fontana and myself. A third asked why I thought some within the scientific community had rejected that evidence, and a fourth asked whether there was any particular experience that had convinced me - with special reference to the Scole investigation and report.

I was given very little time to deal even with the first and last question, but had virtually no opportunity to explain the steps that had been taken both in the distant past and at present to eliminate all of the sensory clues on which skeptics like Randi continued to dwell, and to indicate the measure and importance of the recent work of Roy, Robertson and Schwartz, with which I had assumed the programme to be essentially concerned.

The programme ended with a slightly botched experiment in psychometric reading by Charles for which there was quite inadequate time, and then an entertaining card trick by Randi, who stated that everything Charles had told the audience could be attributed to cold reading, a statement so grotesquely at variance with his own performance as to be risible. Clearly a good many of the audience felt the same way, since at the end the percentages of believers, non-believers and uncertains had changed to 54, 24 and 22.

But, as Randi rightly said, the evidence is determined by scientific investigation (plug for his $1,000,000 offer amid cries of "phoney") not by votes.

Comment

Before offering my general comments on what was wrong with the entire conception of the programme, which is likely to be seen by a very large number of people, may I examine the two aspects which I find disquieting? One is the vehemence and distress of the medium who said her interview gave a wholly false impression and left the clear impression that she was a fraud. I believe an independent person or group should be invited to examine the uncut and the edited version and issue a report.

The second concern relates to a very positive instruction I received from the person whom I believed to be the producer (actually assistant producer, I later learned) that I was not to mention the Jacqui Poole case when giving examples of impressive evidence of posthumous messages. (Many will know that this refers to a large number of highly evidential statements about a murdered woman given to the police shortly after the crime and resulting eventually in the conviction of the person accurately described and named). Ostensibly this was because it would cause distress to the relatives. The murder was more than 20 years ago. Details have been widely circulated on the Net and in the Police Gazette, and the case was the subject of a half hour TV programme in Ireland where the medium lives. It seems to me far more likely that the producers did not wish to confront Youens and French, both of whom are familiar with the strength of the case, with evidence they couldn't answer. I may be wrong, but this arbitrary prohibition is suspicious, all the more so since I learn that Youens, desperate to find holes in the evidence, has contacted the police officer responsible and found his theories shot to pieces by facts.

ALTHOUGH it will be seen that some attempt at balance was achieved, undue emphasis was given, and time devoted, to the views of Youens and French, neither of whom addressed themselves to the evidence, but concentrated (as indeed they were doubtless asked to) on such interesting but strictly irrelevant issues as human gullibility and techniques for fraud.

The deepest flaw in the entire programme was obsession with entertainment, based on the conviction that audiences interested in the most profoundly important issue for mankind need gimmickry, and are liable to switch off or over because "talking heads" aren't stimulating enough. While this is a belief common to television producers generally, when a serious topic is supposed to be under expert examination and discussion, it constitutes an insult both to the television studio audience and to subsequent viewers.

So quite apart from the more personal issues arising from cavalier and misleading treatment of invitees (one man told me he had spent three days rehearsing the answers he was to give to three questions from the production team, but was not only ignored but left stranded at the studio late at night after the departure of his last train), the uncut programme spent far too much time on matters essentially irrelevant to the question at issue, and on sheer gimmickry, and far too little time to learn from those familiar with the evidence what it was, how strong, and why all of the demonstrations seen by the audience were based on the wholly false premise that serious investigators of mediums were either unaware of those dangers or had been unable to devise safeguards against them when experimenting with mediums.

Despite the fact that there was a significant swing towards belief, the audience did so in the absence of the scientific evidence they should have been given the chance to consider, and for the presentation of which I had been specifically invited. Had I been given one quarter the time devoted to Randi the audience would have been in a better position to form a judgement.

As it is, I trust this message arrives in time to influence the cutting process.

Post-edited comments (August 18th)

Not all addressees will have seen my earlier note of August 7th written immediately after the filming of Fulcrum TV's "Ultimate Psychic Challenge" which was screened last night on Discovery Channel on Saturday, August 23rd, in advance of its repeat on Channel 4 during a Paranormal evening devoted to three programmes on mediumship and associated phenomena. I therefore append my original note (in italics) which explains the reasons for the criticisms which I and others had of the manner in which the show was formulated.

To fit over three hours of programming into the (slightly less than) one and a half hour slot, some severe cutting was necessary. The substance of this complaint is not that the programme as edited lacked balance between the negative and positive approaches, but that there was deliberate suppression of important and relevant material in favour of irrelevant gimmickry, with the result that viewers were denied what small opportunity they could have had to be aware of at least one crucial fact about the scientific evidence from mediumship.

We were constantly reminded that the programme was devoted solely to discovering the answer to the question: can we talk to the dead? I had been invited to give the scientific evidence, and given prior notification of four questions, previously discussed with the assistant producer Victoria Coker (see below) and recorded on email. Probably the most crucial question, which I was given all too little opportunity to answer, was:

"There are a number of scientists who are investigating the existence of the spirit world: how compelling is the evidence they are producing? (you, Fontana, Gary Schwartz etc)"

It would be reasonable to conclude that this went to the heart of the issue. As stated below, I had barely an opportunity during the filming to point out that from the earliest days scientists had been aware of the need to guard against sensory leakage when testing mediums. However, this question and answer was cut entirely from the edited text. My contribution lasted a fraction over one minute. This compares with the minimum of five which I had been led to believe I would have, and contrasts with 40 or more minutes devoted to Randi. 

What made this worse, and which I cite to justify my accusation that this crucial omission from what was already a severely truncated contribution was dishonest as well as deliberate, was that three and a half minutes at the end of the programme was devoted to a card trick by Randi which had not the remotest bearing on the subject. Yet the brief passage excised from my remarks would have shown that most of the programme devoted to Randi's hot and cold readings, and to two film clips and subsequent discussions by Tony Youens on the same subject, were irrelevant to the scientific evidence, particularly in the light of the single and double blind procedures adopted by Gary Schwartz and Robertson and Roy during the past five years.

Letter by Trica Robertson to the Glasgow Herald

For anyone of truly open mind, Discovery Channel's Ultimate Psychic Challenge last Sunday suffered badly from sins of omission. I am a psychical researcher of long standing who has published papers in a peer reviewed scientific journal, unlike James Randi who is not a psychical researcher or indeed a sceptic but one who sets his sights as a debunker of anything loosely called paranormal. Some television programmes operate under a ruling which says that anything to do with the paranormal must be scheduled under the umbrella of entertainment. This is truly sad. The first 30mins of the programme were designed to show how a person might cheat, should they wish to do so. Anything in life can be faked, even an orgasm, so what! As a scientist I am prepared to look at evidence and follow that to a logical conclusion. I have been involved in an in depth study of honest and credible mediums for over five years, conducting experiments under double and triple blind conditions where cheating was just not possible. This means that the mediums were not in the same room as the audience and therefore could not see the blindly chosen recipients; they did not know who the recipients were and the experimenter who reduced the data from each experiment did not know who the chosen recipients were. After long and arduous experimentation over this period of time employing a strict protocol, a graph was produced with 2000 points on it that shows that the odds against chance that the mediums were making "good guesses" are millions to one. These mediums made relevant statements (not generalities) to the intended recipients to an accuracy of up to 85%. Mr Randi made a scathing remark towards the end of the programme ( and I paraphrase this kindly) which indicated that he thought that all mediums must be fraudulent. This is just not so and let us remember that he is a conjuror and not a scientist. Psychical research is not an entertainment or a visually pleasing show but a science that can be studied and evaluated by using statistical and evaluation techniques.

Tricia Robertson
Vice President - Scottish Soc. for Psychical Research
Hon Sec - Prism (psychical research involving selected mediums)

Letter by Montague Keen to the Assistant Producer of Living with the Dead

Dear Justine,

I cannot imagine you are particularly proud of the programme on Channel 4, of which you were the assistant producer. Since you spent some hours at my home getting an insight into the extent and nature of the scientific evidence, you could hardly be unaware of the grotesque imbalance in the presentation of material which was so heavily weighted with the comments of sceptics. Apart from the moving and sincere story by Justine Picardy, much of the material was concerned with the socio-psychological aspects of a desire to believe in the paranormal in general and survival in particular, and ignored the question whether any scientists had produced anything which would warrant ever taking the issue seriously. Indeed, there was nothing to indicate the existence of a huge volume of carefully researched and analysed evidence published by such bodies as the Society for Psychical Research for well over a hundred years.

This was an exercise in the presentation of Hamlet without the Price of Denmark. I was dumbfounded, although I ought not to have been surprised, by the grossly misleading presentation of the history of spiritualism summarised by Ruth Brandon, whose hostility to any evidence of the paranormal is apparent throughout her book on The Spiritualists. In an effort to reverse the facts, it was stated that spiritualists in the latter Victorian years sought to present their work and findings under a scientific cloak. In fact it was the curiosity and the doubts of scientists like Sir William Crookes, from the 1870s onwards, which initiated careful scientific investigation, first of physical mediumship and later, as a result of the formation of the SPR in 1882, of both physical and non physical forms of mediumship, with strikingly evidential results.

But none of this was mentioned. Nor was anyone with a reasonable claim to familiarity with the evidence given an opportunity to correct the balance. Those who did appear were either skeptics of the most pathologically bigoted kind, like Nicholas Humphrey, or psychologists who notoriously steer clear of any involvement in experimental work in the field of survival research, or sociological commentators none of whom would be able to even recognise most of the leading cases strongly suggestive of the survival of human consciousness.

It was quite false to lead viewers to believe that modesty precluded adequate precautions being taken against physical mediums producing ectoplasm, or that photographs of this phenomenon could all have been doctored: the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming - and overwhelmingly ignored. I could readily have cited it.

Worse still, considering the well publicised peer-reviewed papers in the SPR Journal and the Journal of Scientific Exploration in the last three years of the single and double-blind experimental work of Prof. Gary Schwartz and his colleagues at the University of Arizona, and the still more extensive analyses published by Professor Archie Roy and Mrs T Robertson here, it was lamentable that no hint of its existence was conveyed.

I trust you will be kind enough to draw this email to the attention of Mr Samir Shah. Ms Sarah Cox, Mr. Jason Savage and, in particular, Mr. Damon Thomas, coupled with the request that, if they wish to redeem their inevitably tarnished reputations, they invite me to give a structured 40-minute interview to enable at least some of the damage to be remedied.

Sincerely,

Montague Keen

P.S. It may be some consolation to be told that the programme was not as appalling as Ten Ways to Contact the Dead, which was screened later that evening.

Note: 

This article is copyright © Veronica Keen 2004. It is published on this website with permission.

 

Related articles by Montague Keen

The Ultimate Psychic Challenge - A Challenge to James Randi

A Further Response to James Randi

What will the Critics Accept as Evidence?

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