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Skeptical Misdirection

Skeptical Misdirection

In The Mass Media

Misrepresenting The Scientific Evidence

Skeptics Ignore The Results of Their Own Experiments


Skeptical Misdirection During the Era of Psychical Research

More Skeptical Misdirection


More articles on skepticism at "Life in B Flat"

Skeptical Misdirection

There are many examples of prominent skeptics who have obscured the truth. Skeptics often say that believers in the paranormal have been fooled by charlatans but it is the skeptics who have been fooled by prominent members of their community who seem to be more interested in winning the debate than in illuminating the truth. Skeptics often accuse mediums of preying on gullible people to make money but it is often the prominent skeptics who are trying to make money writing books and filming documentaries who are spreading misinformation in the pursuit of personal gain.


In The Mass Media

Ignoring the Evidence in a Film Documentary

In "The Daily Grail", Rupert Sheldrake tells of a prominent skeptic who refused to consider peer reviewed scientific studies of telepathy in a debunking documentary.

[The skeptic] seemed uneasy and said, "I don't want to discuss evidence". "Why not?" I asked. "There isn't time. It's too complicated. And that's not what this programme is about." The camera stopped.

The Director ... confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another [prominent skeptic's] polemic.

I said to [the director], "If you're treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it's not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn't interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise."


Published Misrepresentations of Parapsychological Research

In "Examining the Skeptics", Michael Prescott discusses rampant inaccuracy in a book by a prominent skeptic.

[A prominent skeptic] comes across as a bullying figure, eager to attack and ridicule, willing to distort and even invent evidence - in short, the sort of person who will do anything to prevail in a debate, whether by fair means or foul.

The title of his book thus takes on a new and unintended meaning. From what I can tell, [the prominent skeptic] really is the Flim-Flam man.


Hebard, [the prominent skeptic] says disputes the Targ-Puthoff account. He [Hebard] is quoted [by the prominent skeptic] as saying, "It's a lie. You can say it any way you want, but that's what I call a lie."

Dr Hebard was very annoyed by this claim since, as he explained to me, [the prominent skeptic] had tried to get him to make this charge and he had refused. Dr Hebard later signed a statement to this effect for me.

(From A Skeptical Look At James Randi by Michael Prescott by Michael Prescott at skepticalinvestigations.org)

You have to read the full article to get the full effect, but if one chapter is so full of inaccuracies how many are in the entire book?

Another article by Michael Prescott "Everything old is new again: Let's get Serios" discusses Ted Serios who could psychically impress images on photographic film. Prescott exposes not one but two skeptics who tried to debunk Serios and made no mention of the the fact the Serios worked under controlled conditions that prevented fraud. One of the skeptics even listed the conditions but said they were a "preposterous set of controls" included in a challenge to him to try to produce the phenomena by ordinary means. He made no mention of the fact that the psychic he was trying to debunk worked under those conditions.


Misrepresenting The Scientific Evidence

Parapsychological Research

A prominent skeptic's FAQ makes this incorrect claim about parapsychology:

"And, there is not a single example of a scientific discovery in the field of parapsychology that has been independently replicated. That makes parapsychology absolutely unique in the world of science."

According to parapsychologist Dean Radin, the truth is:

A meta-analysis of the database, published in 1989, examined 800 experiments by more than 60 researchers over the preceding 30 years. The effect size was found to be very small, but remarkably consistent, resulting in an overall statistical deviation of approximately 15 standard errors from a chance effect. The probability that the observed effect was actually zero (i.e., no psi) was less than one part in a trillion, verifying that human consciousness can indeed affect the behavior of a random physical system.
That's 800 experiments by more than 60 researchers over the preceding 30 years demonstrating odds of a trillion to one in favor of psychokinesis being real.

In another case, Chris Carter in "Research of the Skeptics", tells of a skeptic who made entirely unsupportable statements about the supposed lack of evidence for psi phenomena.

Martin Gardner wrote:

How can the public know that for fifty years skeptical psychologists have been trying their best to replicate classic psi experiments, and with notable unsuccess? It is this fact more than any other that has led to parapsychology’s perpetual stagnation. Positive evidence keeps coming from a tiny group of enthusiasts, while negative evidence keeps coming from a much larger group of skeptics.

But as Honorton pointed out, “Gardner does not attempt to document this assertion, nor could he. It is pure fiction. Look for the skeptics’ experiments and see what you find.” For the most part, skeptics have simply criticized from the sidelines, and have produced no experimental research of their own.

(From Research of the Skeptics by Chris Carter at skepticalinvestigations.org)


The Double Standard

Skeptics apply different standards of proof for parapsychological research and mainstream science. They justify this double standard by claiming that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. This is a fallacy which is exposed in the chapter on Skeptical Fallacies. That chapter explains that when skeptics apply this double standard, they are simply demonstrating they prefer to disbelieve parapsychological research because that research contradicts their strongly held beliefs and not because there is any objective scientific reason to doubt it. Since there is no objective scientific way to identify an extraordinary claim it is based on personal belief rather than scientific facts. Ultimately, it is hypocritical for a skeptic who claims to require scientific evidence before accepting a belief to use this double standard to reject parapsychological research in order to maintain his belief that ESP does not exist.

The Wikipedia article for Remote Viewing gives an example of this type of skeptical misdirection.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) has said that he agrees remote viewing has been proven using the normal standards of science, but that the bar of evidence needs to be much higher for outlandish claims that will revolutionize the world, and thus he remains unconvinced:[24]
"I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think we do. (...) if I said that a UFO had just landed, you'd probably want a lot more evidence. Because remote viewing is such an outlandish claim that will revolutionize [sic] the world, we need overwhelming evidence before we draw any conclusions. Right now we don't have that evidence." Richard Wiseman Daily Mail, January 28, 2008, pp 28-29 [24]
In fact, Professor Wiseman was speaking about more than simply remote viewing. In this clarification he explains that he was also referring to Ganzfeld experiments and other forms of ESP.
It is a slight misquote, because I was using the term in the more general sense of ESP - that is, I was not talking about remote viewing per se, but rather Ganzfeld, etc as well. I think that they do meet the usual standards for a normal claim, but are not convincing enough for an extraordinary claim."

Chris French has also stated he believes that ESP has been proven to scientific standards. However, he does not accept that those results should be accepted by science until the results have been replicated by skeptical scientists. These results have been replicated by parapsychologists. What French is saying is that replications are not valid unless the researcher has a certain philosophical beliefs. That is unheard of in any other branch of science.

Skeptic Ray Hyman in his 1995 article Evaluation of Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena admits that the results of remote viewing and Ganzfeld experiments have demonstrated statistically significant effects. However, he implies there could be unknown methodological flaws in the experiments. This demonstrates a double standard because in no other field of science would a positive experimental result be criticized because there might be sources of errors that no one can think of. It is impossible for any scientist to defend his work against that type of criticism. Hyman wrote:

...it is premature to try to account for what the SAIC and the Ganzfeld experiments have so far put before us. On the basis of these experiments, contemporary parapsychologists claim that they have demonstrated the existence of an "anomaly." I will grant them that they have apparently demonstrated that the SAIC and the Ganzfeld experiments have generated significant effect sizes beyond what we should expect from chance variations. I will further admit that, at this writing, I cannot suggest obvious methodological flaws to account for these significant effects. As I have previously mentioned, this admission does not mean that these experiments are free from subtle biases and potential bugs....
More evidence of the double standard is described by Chris Carter in his article Does Telepathy Conflict with Science?. Carter quotes Donald Hebb admitting there is sufficient evidence to prove ESP but he won't accept it because it conflicts with his "prejudice". Carter also quotes George Price who published an article in the journal Science where he implied that despite the proof, belief in ESP could be rejected because it conflicts with scientific theories. This is equivalent to saying he prefers to ignore empirical evidence when it conflicts with his beliefs.
...back in 1951 psychologist Donald Hebb wrote this:
Why do we not accept ESP as a psychological fact? Rhine has offered enough evidence to have convinced us on almost any other issue... Personally, I do not accept ESP for a moment, because it does not make sense. My external criteria, both of physics and of physiology, say that ESP is not a fact despite the behavioral evidence that has been reported. I cannot see what other basis my colleagues have for rejecting it... Rhine may still turn out to be right, improbable as I think that is, and my own rejection of his view is -- in the literal sense -- prejudice.
Four years later, George Price, then a research associate at the Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, published an article in the prestigious journal Science that began:
Believers in psychic phenomena... appear to have won a decisive victory and virtually silenced opposition.... This victory is the result of careful experimentation and intelligent argumentation. Dozens of experimenters have obtained positive results in ESP experiments, and the mathematical procedures have been approved by leading statisticians.... Against all this evidence, almost the only defense remaining to the skeptical scientist is ignorance.
But Price then argued "ESP is incompatible with current scientific theory" and asked:
If, then, parapsychology and modern science are incompatible, why not reject parapsychology? ...The choice is between believing in something "truly revolutionary" and "radically contradictory to contemporary thought" and believing in the occurrence of fraud and self-delusion. Which is more reasonable?


Price, George, R. 1955. "Science and the Supernatural," Science Volume 122, number 3165, August 26, pages 359-367.


Retraction of False Statements

After making false claims "debunking" research by Rupert Sheldrake a prominent skeptic was forced to admit his own deception:

He wrote: "I overstated my case for doubting the reality of dog ESP based on the small amount of data I obtained. It was rash and improper of me to do so."

[A prominent skeptic] stated: "Viewing the entire tape, we see that the dog responded to every car that drove by, and to every person who walked by." This is simply not true, and [the prominent skeptic] now admits that he has never seen the tape.

(From Randi's dishonest claims about dogs by Rupert Sheldrake from www.sheldrake.org hosted at skepticalinvestigations.org.)


NDE Research

A research study in a medical journal showed consciousness can continue without brain function. A skeptic characterized the article as showing the exact opposite.

In his "Skeptic" column in Scientific American in March, 2003, Michael Shermer cited a research study published in The Lancet, a leading medical journal, by Pim van Lommel and colleagues. He asserted this study "delivered a blow" to the idea that the mind and the brain could separate. Yet the researchers argued the exact opposite, and showed that conscious experience outside the body took place during a period of clinical death when the brain was flatlined. As Jay Ingram, of the 'Canadian Discovery Channel' commented: "His use of this study to bolster his point is bogus. He could have said, 'The authors think there's a mystery, but I choose to interpret their findings differently'. But he didn't. I find that very disappointing" (Toronto Star, March 16, 2003). Here, Pim van Lommel sets out the evidence that Shermer misrepresented.

(From Medical Evidence for NDEs by Pim van Lommel at skepticalinvestigations.org)


Government Sponsored Misdirection

In the chapter on Suppressed Parapsychology the section Suppression by the US Government describes how and why a US government agency used a well known skeptic in a disinformation campaign to suppress the results of parapsychological research on the psychic Uri Geller.

Helen Duncan was another medium who was a victim of government sponsored misdirection. Her case is described below in the section Helen Duncan, framed by the British government.


Skeptics Ignore The Results of Their Own Experiments

CSICOP Provides Evidence for Astrology

The article Some Notes on Skepticism (reproduced from Suppressed Science Website and hosted on skepticalinvestigations.org) explains how the skeptical organization CSICOP while trying to debunk astrology, actually found evidence supporting astrology and "In order to get the result they wanted, ... had to commit a total of six statistical blunders...".

The statistician and psychologist Michael Gauquelin had done a statistical analysis providing evidence that astrology might have some basis in fact. His analysis showed a correlation between the position of Mars in the sky at the time of birth and the odds of a person becoming a sports champion...

In 1976, in an attempt to make this embarrassment go away once and for all, Harvard professor of biostatistics and CSICOP fellow Marvin Zelen proposed a simplified version of the original Gauquelin study which he subsequently performed with the assistance of CSICOP chairman and professor of philosophy Paul Kurtz and George Abell, a UCLA astronomer. In order to get the result they wanted, the trio had to commit a total of six statistical blunders, which are discussed in detail in the article The True Disbelievers: Mars Effect Drives Skeptics to Irrationality by former CSICOP fellow Richard Kammann. Proper analysis showed that the new study actually supported the Gauquelin effect.


Ignoring Successful Experiments

A skeptical parapsychologist ignored her own successful experiments in order to make the claim that she could not demonstrate paranormal phenomena.

British psychologist Susan Blackmore ... wrote in 1996: “When I decided to become a parapsychologist I had no idea it would mean 20 years of failing to find the paranormal.

These claims led parapsychologist Rick Berger to critically examine the Blackmore experiments in great detail, and he found that “The claim of ‘ten years of psi research’ actually represents a series of hastily constructed, executed, and reported studies that were primarily conducted during a 2-year period.’” These consisted of a set of experiments conducted between October 1976 and December 1978 for her PhD dissertation.

So, how does Blackmore reconcile the fact of 7 successful experiments out of 21 with her often-repeated claim that her own research led her to become a skeptic? Simple: results from successful experiments were dismissed as due to flaws in the experiment, yet study quality was simply ignored when the results were nonsignificant.

(From Research of the Skeptics by Chris Carter at skepticalinvestigations.org)


Psychic Diagnosis

Skeptics proved that psychic Natasha Demkina can make accurate medical diagnoses. In testing her, their results demonstrated a probability 78 to 1 in favor of a psychic explanation of her performance yet the skeptics said her claims were delusions.

Natasha Demkina, a 17-year-old Russian schoolgirl celebrated in her home town of Saransk for making accurate diagnoses of people's medical ailments just by looking at them, was brought to New York (a gruelling 24-hour journey by train, flight and bus) to have her 'paranormal claims' tested by the self-styled world authorities.

She was required to match seven written diagnoses against seven corresponding test persons wearing black-lens spectacles to avoid any eye contact. She said from the outset that two of the diagnoses were outside her range, but she was kindly reassured by Wiseman that she would pass her test if she scored five out of five on the other trials. Under these fairly taxing conditions she was in fact correct in four out of the seven trials, a result yielding a significant p value of .02, an outcome calling for a fair degree of congratulation.

But there were no congratulations for Natasha. While noting (in passing) that the odds against this result being due to chance were around 50 to 1, Wiseman told her that she had failed, and the patronising Hyman advised that she should forget her delusions and pursue her proposed medical studies (his own delusion being presumably that the diagnoses of medical practitioners are invariably correct). The commentator crowed that the girl would now return to Russia discredited. Mission accomplished!

(From Respected Scientists? by Mary Rose Barrington at skepticalinvestigations.org)

Keith Rennolls, Professor of Applied Statistics, University of Greenwich wrote about Natasha's results:
The chance of the observed 4 successes 7 subjects by pure guessing, is 1 in 78, an indication of a significantly non-random result...


ESP in Animals

A skeptic successfully repeated an experiment that showed a dog can predict when his owner is on the way home. The skeptic claimed the results refuted the phenomena.

With the help of his assistant, Matthew Smith, he did four experiments with Jaytee, two in June and two in December 1995, and in all of them Jaytee went to the window to wait for Pam when she was indeed on the way home. As in my own experiments, he sometimes went to the window at other times, for example to bark at passing cats, but he was at the window far more when Pam was on her way home than when she was not. In the three experiments Wiseman did in Pam's parents' flat, Jaytee was at the window an average of 4% of the time during the main period of Pam's absence, and 78% of the time when she was on the way home. This difference was statistically significant. When Wiseman's data were plotted on graphs, they showed essentially the same pattern as my own. In other words Wiseman replicated my own results.

I was astonished to hear that in the summer of 1996 Wiseman went to a series of conferences, including the World Skeptics Congress, announcing that he had refuted the 'psychic pet' phenomenon. He said Jaytee had failed his tests because he had gone to the window before Pam set off to come home.



Cold Reading Fails to Replicate What Mediums Do

A prominent skeptic who claims mediums routinely use cold reading to fool people demonstrates that cold reading does not replicate what mediums do.

The edited version [of the TV show] omitted his [the prominent skeptic's] 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.


Misrepresenting Evidence of Spirit Communication

Martin Gardner wrote:

"Records of Mrs. Piper’s séances show plainly that her controls did an enormous amount of what was called 'fishing,' and today is called 'cold reading.' Vague statements would be followed by more precise information based on how sitters reacted. Mrs. Piper usually held a client’s hand throughout a sitting, sometimes holding the hand against her forehead. This made it easy to detect muscular responses even when a sitter was silent. Moreover, her eyes were often only half closed, allowing her to observe reactions."

However a commenter in Michael Prescott's Blog explains:

Somehow, Gardner forgets to tell us that many of the readings involved proxy sitters - people who did not know the facts of the case they were inquiring about. Strange how this little fact was overlooked. Could Gardner have forgotten to mention it because cold reading is useless in a proxy sitting?


Skeptical Misdirection During the Era of Psychical Research

Skeptics Pay for False Confessions

Skeptics Pay Medium Maggie Fox to Make a False Confession

The mediumship of the Fox sisters marks the beginning of modern Spiritualism in the United States. In 1848, while they were still children, their family moved into a haunted house in Hydesville, New York. The sisters, Kate and Margaretta, developed a method of communication where the spirit would make rapping sounds to answer "yes" or "no" or to spell out words. The sisters soon began to demonstrate this phenomena to the public. More information about the Fox sisters can be found at:

Unfortunately, soon after the start of their public demonstrations, skeptics began to attack them. The skeptics said they made the raps by clicking or popping their joints. These attacks were preposterous because the clicking and popping sound that would be heard to come from a joint would sound nothing like the raps that were heard to come from the wall or ceiling made by spirits.

The phenomena of spirit rapping is relatively common where mediums congregate. I have heard this sound myself at two different spiritualist churches. There is no possible way someone could pop their joint and make it sound like the raps on the ceiling I have heard with my own ears.

Arthur Conan Doyle give a thorough account of the skeptics' attacks in "The History of Spiritualism" Volume I:

Attempts to expose the phenomena were made from time to time. In February, 1851, Dr. Austin Flint, Dr. Charles A. Lee, and Dr. C. B. Coventry of the University of Buffalo, published a statement [Capron "Modern Spiritualism, etc.," pp. 310-31.] showing to their own satisfaction that the sounds occurring in the presence of the Fox sisters were caused by the snapping of knee joints.
The skeptics attempt at a whitewash didn't fool those who had first hand experience with the phenomena.

In an appended note to the doctors' report in the NEW YORK TRIBUNE, the editor (Horace Greeley) observes:

"The doctors, as has already appeared in our columns, commenced with the assumption that the origin of the "rapping" sounds MUST be physical, and their primary cause the volition of the ladies aforesaid-in short, that these ladies were "The Rochester impostors." They appear, therefore, in the above statement, as the prosecutors of an impeachment, and ought to have selected other persons as judges and reporters of the trial. It is quite probable that we shall have another version of the matter."

Much testimony in support of the Fox sisters was quickly forthcoming, and the only effect of the professors' "exposure" was to redouble the public interest in the manifestations.

Some years after skeptics' transparent attempt at deception failed, they tried another approach. In his book, Doyle goes on to describe how the skeptics took advantage of Maggie Fox during a time of mental distress when she was paid to make a false confession of fraud. She later retracted that confession in a newspaper interview:
The interview was reported in the New York Press, November 20, 1889, about a year after the onslaught.

"Would to God," she said, in a voice that trembled with intense excitement, "that I could undo the injustice I did the cause of Spiritualism when, under the strong psychological influence of persons inimical to it, I gave expression to utterances that had no foundation in fact. This retraction and denial has not come about so much from my own sense of what is right as from the silent impulse of the spirits using my organism at the expense of the hostility of the treacherous horde who held out promises of wealth and happiness in return for an attack on Spiritualism, and whose hopeful assurances were so deceitful."


Skeptics Pay for False Accusations Against the Holmses

The book "People From the Other World" by Henry S. Olcott, in the chapter "The Katie King Affair" exposes a plot by skeptics to discredit the mediums Mr. and Mrs. Holms of Philadelphia. The skeptics paid the Holmses servant, Eliza White, to make false accusations of fraud. Eliza was repeatedly approached by the skeptics and offered money to say that she was playing the part of the spirit of Katie King during seances. Eliza told the skeptics that the Holmses were genuine, but that fact didn't matter to the skeptics who were determined to discredit the Holmses regardless of the truth. After several attempts by the skeptics to suborn her, Eliza eventually succumbed to the temptation and made the false accusations of fraud. However, the Holmses were easily able to refute those accusations because they had a letter written by Eliza before she gave in to temptation where she described the early attempts by the skeptics to offer her money to "confess". Eliza also wrote, in the same letter, that she was not involved in any fraud, and that she believed the Holmses were genuine mediums, and that she had told this to the skeptics.

Here is the private letter from the skeptics' star witness, Eliza, saying that she really believed the Holmses were genuine mediums and that she was offered money to accuse them of fraud.

50 N. 9th St., PHILADELPHIA, PA., I8 August, 1874. MR. and Mrs. HOLMS

DEAR FRIENDS :-I will try and get your things shipped by next week. I could not see the furniture man today but will tomorrow. Doctor Childs comes in here with Dr. Paxson, Mrs. Buckwalter, Mr. Leslie, Mrs. Childs, and they hold séances and go on just as though they owned the house. I don't think Childs is a friend of yours.

He don't act like it. All the time prying into everything and all he cares for you is to make money off of your mediumship. The man that called the other day has called again yesterday. His name is Leslie. Leslie said "Mrs. White are you a medium." I told him I was. He said I saw your advertisement in the Daily Item last June but I could today to ask you if you know anything about the Holmesses as everybody says that it is you that is playing Katie King. Now you are a poor woman and I can't see why you do it. You look a good deal like Katie King and if you know anything and will tell me all about it, several gentleman and myself well pay you $1000, and stand by you and guarantee to protect you, and we will


pay you the money in advance. We want to stop all this spiritual business that is going all over the country and we will put the Holmesses down if you will only tell me and my friends all you know about it. I told him I did not know anything about your affairs, that if you were not genuine mediums there was none. I did not see how it could be a humbug as the people had tested the matter in such a way and had published all over. He said yes I know all that, but we think you are the one that plays K. K. and if you will tell us we will pay you and stand by you. I told him I could not tell anything as I didn't know anything. Soon after a man called to see me about the same thing he does business 1210 Market street. I think his name is Roberts. He came one night to see your seance with a party of young men to tear the cabinet down and catch some body, but they had their trouble for there pains. He is the same one that tried to frighten you by sending a lawyer to get his money back. He talked a long time but acted very strange. I told him same as I did Leslie. Now what does all this mean I wish you would come back to this city. I think it would be best for you as I don't hear anything talked of but K. K. and the Holmesses. How funny that everybody should think that I am the spirit. How absurd. But all this causes me great trouble and I don't like it. I think I will try and keep the house a month. Mrs. Hannis, who lives at 262 Madison Street, will go in with me I will try my hand with her a month. Evans is at me all the time to know if I will take the house. That $50 you gave me to live on and to take care of your things and ship them is all gone, but I guess something will turn up to help me out. Your friend F.-anti.
Your friend

Frank Stephens ELIZA WHITE.

State of Pennsylvania, City of Philadelphia. SS.


The letter was accompanied by a notarized statement asserting the letter was in Eliza's handwriting.

Olcott also produces evidence that at the same time Eliza is alleged to be playing Katie King during a seance at the Holmses, she is known to be in another city.

The occurrence of the phenomena in Blissfield, while Eliza was still in Philadelphia is, furthermore, attested by Doctor Child himself in a letter of July to the Religio-Philosophical Journal, of Chicago, and in this same letter he speaks of knowing the woman, and being able to declare that she was not Katie King.
There is even more evidence of skeptical misdirection in this affair in Olcott's book.


False Accusations Against Sir William Crookes

Victor Zammit includes an article on his web site, "A Lawyer Defends Sir William Crookes", which exposes many attempts by skeptics to discredit the eminent scientist and psychical researcher Sir William Crookes.

The article can be found at:

In the article, Zammit explains that Crookes was repeatedly reported to have been fooled by mediums accused of fraud. In fact, Crookes knew of those accusations before he investigated the mediums and took measures to prevent fraud in his own investigations. In the case of Rosina Showers he exposed the medium as a fraud. In the case of Florence Cook he proved the medium genuine. Cook was accused of impersonating the spirit Katie King, but Cook differed from the materialized spirit in, height, age, weight, Florence Cook has a blister Katie lacked, Florence had pierced ears while Katie didn't and in fact both were seen together at the same time by numerous people.

There is much more evidence of skeptical misdirection in the article.

Additional information is also available in the article "Miss Florence Cook's Mediumship" by Crookes. In that article, Crookes defends the mediumship of Florence Cook and his investigations of it from unfounded accusations of fraud.


Houdini's assistant admits planting false evidence of fraud.

During Houdini's investigation of the medium Mina Crandon, a folding ruler was planted so that it would seem like the medium used it during the seance to commit fraud. This episode is described by Michael Prescott in his blog post "A yardstick for skepticism" which is about the book "The Spiritualists", by Ruth Brandon.

Houdini was invited to investigate Mina Crandon; in a series of sittings he was unable to debunk her. Finally, in one sitting, just as Mina was about to start she suddenly said (while allegedly in a trance and controlled by her spirit guide Walter) that Houdini's assistant had planted a folding ruler in the cabinet that she occupied and that he meant to produce this ruler as evidence that she was cheating.

A folding ruler could be unfolded into a yardstick. In the dark it could be used to manipulate objects that were some distance away from the medium and outside of her normal reach. For instance, it could be used to ring bells or to move things around on a table. If Houdini had "discovered" the ruler, it would have been a smoking gun that would have discredited Mina Crandon for good.


...years later Houdini's assistant did in fact admit to planting the ruler on Houdini's instructions, because Houdini was so frustrated in his inability to discredit Mina Crandon that he had decided to frame her.

According to Troy Taylor writing in prairieghosts.com...
He [Houdini] was widely discredited for it, leading some to doubt the integrity of some of his earlier investigations.
More information on this episode can also be found in the book: "The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls" by William Lindsay Gresham.


Harry Price, debunker, exposed by his loyal associates.

Harry Price was a well known debunker and skeptics cite his work frequently when they dismiss many of the mediums he investigated. There are two things the skeptics usually don't mention about Price. 1) Price concluded some of the paranormal phenomena he investigated were genuine. 2) There is ample evidence that Price was not a reliable investigator. If the skeptics accept that Price was a reliable investigator, they ought to accept his conclusions that some paranormal phenomena are real. If they disregard those conclusions because Price was not a reliable investigator, then they cannot rely on the results of his investigations debunking paranormal phenomena. Either way, skeptics would be better off ignoring his work rather citing it because his work does little to support their position while citing it demonstrates the skeptics' hypocrisy.

The case that made Price famous was his investigation of the hauntings at the Borley rectory in Essex, England. According to the Wikipedia article on Borley Rectory, two of Price's close associates contributed to a report on Price's investigation of the Borley rectory which found Price guilty of deceptive behavior.

After Harry Price's death in 1948, three members of the English Society for Psychical Research, two of whom had been Price's most loyal associates, investigated his claims about Borley and published their findings in a book, The Haunting of Borley Rectory, in 1956, which concluded that any evidence for a haunting was hopelessly confused by Harry Price's duplicity. The "Borley Report", as the SPR study has become known, stated that much of the phenomena were either faked or were due to natural causes such as rats and the strange acoustics due to the odd shape of the house.
The "Borley Report" is available on line at the harryprice.co.uk. It concludes:
The question as to whether Price presented a deliberately distorted account of the Borley affair in his books is not, we think, now in doubt, for this is a matter of simple comparison of the original reports preserved in the University of London with those reproduced in the published literature. Significant examples occur on many pages of this report. (1) The probability of positive trickery on Price's part in addition to his manipulation of the testimony is not, for obvious reasons, so readily capable of proof at this distance of time. However, it may be thought that the curious matter of the medals (pp. 6I-4), the written testimony of Lord Charles Hope, Major the Hon. H. Douglas-Home and Mr Charles Sutton (pp. 33; 71; 132-3; 31) and the odd circumstances surrounding the excavation of the bone fragments (pp. 154-6I), combine to produce a disquieting picture. Most suspicious of all perhaps is the coincidence of the first outbreak of violent objective manifestations at the rectory with the first visit by Price to Borley in June 1929 (pp. 39-4I;45). Extraordinary coincidences do occur, of course, but if this explanation is not accepted the circumstances point somewhat directly to Price himself being responsible for the throwing of stones, keys and medals (of which Price was a collector), for the transformation of liquids into ink (which occurred on one other occasion only, in Price's presence) and for the similar incidents which exemplified the complete change in the pattern of the Borley ‘phenomena' which took place at this time.
Price was also deceptive about the evidence he used to denounce the medium Rudi Schneider. During his investigation of Schneider, Price used a system of stereo cameras with flashes to take pictures of movements made by the medium during seances. One picture, Price alleged, showed Schneider cheating during a seance. However, when viewed in stereo, the picture actually shows the medium couldn't have done what Price accused him of doing. This episode is described in full on the harryprice.co.uk web site:
The stereoscopic pictures show that Rudi would have to be an orang-utan to reach the handkerchief from the position shown, and his arm is not extended towards the table.


Price's whole case against Rudi rests on this one set of ambiguous photographs. The stereoscopic evidence suggests that the double exposure was an accident which Price wrongly and wrongfully exploited when it suited him. That he behaved badly in his denunciation of Rudi is not in dispute. He presented a one-sided interpretation of ambiguous evidence as if it were established fact; and he used suggestion, highly effectively, to cast doubt on all the other sittings in which Rudi had been involved. No firm evidence has been produced to show that Rudi ever cheated. http://www.harryprice.co.uk/Seance/Schneider/schneider-harrison.htm


Helen Duncan, framed by the British government.

During World War II, the British medium Helen Duncan brought through the spirit of a sailor who had died when his war ship was sunk. The Admiralty had wanted to keep information about the sinking secret to protect public morale. Because of this leakage of secret information, the British government feared that spirits might also reveal the plans for the D. Day invasion of Europe through Duncan's mediumship. As a result, an employee of the Admiralty brought the police to a seance held by Duncan and she was imprisoned on trumped up charges of fraud.

According to helenduncan.org.uk the prosecution failed to demonstrate fraud during the trial:

As a debunking exercise the case failed miserably. Skeptics must have winced at the daily reporting of case after case where 'dead' relatives had materialised and given absolute proof of their continued existence . One Kathleen McNeill, wife of a Glaswegian forgemaster, told how she has attended such a séance at which her sister appeared. Her sister had died some a few hours previously, after an operation, and news of her death could not have been known. Yet Albert, Helen Duncan's guide, announced that she had just passed over. And, at a subsequent séance, some years later Mrs. McNeill's father strode out of the cabinet and came within six feet of her to better display his single eye, a hallmark of his earthly life.

By the penultimate day of this ridiculous trial, the defence was ready to call their star witness Alfred Dodd, an academic and much respected author of works on Shakespeare's sonnets. Alfred told the court that during 1932 and 1940 he had been a regular guest at Helen Duncan's home seance's. At one of these sittings his grandfather had materialised, a tall, corpulent man with a bronzed face and smoking cap, hair dressed in his customary donkey-fringe. After speaking with his grandson the spirit then turned to his friend Tom and said; "Look into my face and into my eyes. Ask Alfred to show you my portrait. It is the same man".

The web site gives additional evidence presented at the trial which proved that Helen Duncan's mediumship was genuine. Unfortunately, Helen Duncan was denied a fair trial. Despite testimony by numerous witnesses attesting to the genuineness of her mediumship, and after being denied the opportunity to demonstrate her mediumship to prove its genuineness, Duncan was falsely convicted and sent to prison.

Victor Zammit, a lawyer, gives a thorough dissection of this miscarriage of justice in chapter 11 of his book "A Lawyer Presents the Case for the Afterlife".

  • the crown case consisted of the claim that Helen Duncan or an accomplice was pretending to be all of these 'materializations' by dressing up in a sheet and using false beards, wigs etc. But when the police had 'raided' her séance while she was in trance and producing materializations they had found no sheet, no false beards, no wigs, no accomplice—indeed no evidence of fraud whatsoever.


  • the English and Scottish Law Societies jointly and separately expressed disgust at the miscarriage and 'travesty of justice' in the Helen Duncan tragedy created by cowardly armchair-violent men to do untold harm to a spiritual person.
  • Zammit's book give many examples of testimony during the trial that proved the genuineness of Duncan's mediumship. For example:
  • Mary Blackwell, President of the Pathfinder Spiritualist Society of Baker Street London, testified that she had attended more than 100 materialization séances with Helen Duncan at each of which between 15 and 16 different entities from the afterlife had materialized. She testified that she had witnessed the spirit forms conversing with their relatives in French, German, Dutch, Welsh, Scottish and Arabic. She claimed that she had witnessed the manifestation of ten of her own close relatives including her husband, her mother and her father all of whom she had seen up close and touched (Cassirer 1996: 87).
  • As further evidence that Helen Duncan was falsely convicted of fraud, consider that her mediumship was investigated and validated by the stage magician Will Goldston. More information about this can be found in the chapter Skeptical Fallacies in the section about the fallacy: Magicians can reproduce the phenomena of physical mediumship and other paranormal abilities.

    This case was an outrageous example of a government abusing it's power, using deception to suppress mediumship. Normally, the type of complaint made against Duncan would have been treated as a minor offense. When first arrested, the police charged her with vagrancy which would have been punished with a fine of up to five shillings. However, Duncan was denied bail and the charges were changed several times by the prosecutors. They finally settled upon pretending to conjure spirits under an archaic witchcraft act which was punishable by a prison sentence. This was an unprecedented overreaction. No other medium of that era was ever treated in this way. The only explanation for this miscarriage of justice is that the government wanted Duncan held incommunicado in prison during the time leading up to the D. Day invasion of Europe to prevent spirits from accidentally leaking secret information. That Duncan was denied bail for this minor and non-violent offense is further proof of this explanation.

    The case would have been handled in an entirely different manner if the government truly believed Helen Duncan was committing fraud. In that case, she would have been given a small fine and sent on her way. The only reason Helen Duncan was denied bail and sent to prison for fraud was because her mediumship was genuine.


    More Skeptical Misdirection

    Robert McLuhan, in his blog "Paranormalia", gives examples of skeptics...

    1) Refusing to engage with parapsychological investigations on any level as being of no interest, undoubtedly fraudulent, obviously nonsense, etc.
    2) Engaging with [psychical investigations], but explaining them away with all kinds of implausible scenarios which in any other context no one would entertain for a moment.
    3) Carrying out experiments in order to prove that, when properly conducted, the effect will not appear, getting an effect, and then explaining it away on the grounds of 'experimental flaws'.
    4) Carrying out experiments with psychics on television with a very precisely determined pre-agreed protocol, getting highly significant results, and then refusing to accept the results as valid. ...

  • 12/31/8 TV documentary on Helen Duncan gets it wrong.
  • A "Scientific American" online article omits to inform its readers of the veridical nature of many apparitions and visions of spirits.
    12/4/8 Giving Up the Ghost (Stories)
  • Spotlight on Skeptics by Matt Colborn at skepticalinvestigations.org discusses The Society for Psychical Research Study Day on Skeptics.



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