As it is the season of spooks, Michael Marshall of the Merseyside Skeptics Society conducted a test of the psychic abilities of two professional and highly experienced mediums (see report here). The test was similar to one used by O’Keefe and Wiseman (see page 267 of the A2 Complete Companion). Each psychic produced a reading for each of five sitters, all were women and aged between 18 and 30. The sitter was behind a screen and was instructed to think about the kind of issues they might expect a psychic to tell them about. The psychics wrote down their impression of the sitter, and were told especially to include anything that would help the sitter recognise themselves in the reading. Both psychics said beforehand that they were totally confident that the test was a fair test of their abilities and afterwards also reported high levels of confidence in their readings.
Each sitter was shown all five readings and asked to identify which one was their own. None of them correctly identified their own reading. Furthermore the sitters were asked to rate each reading for accuracy on a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is totally accurate). For one of the psychics the mean rating was higher for the non-target reading (4.2) than for the reading that was about the sitter (mean rating 3.2) For the other psychic the mean non-target rating was 2.4 and was again 3.2 for the target reading.
The BBC ran a news item on this study, interviewing one of the mediums afterwards. “Patricia Putt rejected the suggestion that this showed any absence of psychic powers – saying that she needed to work face-to-face with people or to hear their voice, so that a connection could be established.”Psychic energy” was not likely to work in the setting created for the experiment, she said, and her success rate was usually very high. Ms Putt said the experiment was designed to confirm the researchers’ preconceptions – rather than examine the nature of her psychic ability. “Scientists are very closed-minded,” she said.”
PS Patricia Putt also tried, and failed, the James Randi million dollar challenge.