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Added: 03/25/2001

A psychical investigator has accused academic and magician, Richard Wiseman, of actions likely to mislead the press and public about ESP, most recently in his "World's Largest ESP Experiment Ever". The accusations are made by Mick O'Neill in an article just published, along with Dr Wiseman's reply, in the "Paranormal Review": the Magazine of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). The London-based SPR is the world's oldest organisation investigating psychic claims: since 1882.

O'Neill, a proponent of psychic phenomena, thinks he detects a pattern in Wiseman's big experiments since 1995. That year the late Carl Sagan, the world's most eminent scientist and outspoken sceptic, broke ranks with the more hard-line sceptics like Wiseman and conceded that there were three areas of ESP research which had indeed produced impressive results*. O'Neill says "since Sagan's announcement, Wiseman has been performing high profile experiments in all these areas. However, Wiseman's experiments do not seem like genuine attempts to succeed. For example Wiseman's "Mind Machine' experiment, launched with a great media fanfare in 1999, was an attempt at predicting or influencing a random number generated (RNG) coin toss. However it employed PSEUDO not TRUE RNGs. In 1997 Jahn et al, the leading exponents of Sagan's recommended study, reported significance of ONE IN A TRILLION using TRUE RNGs but no effect with PSEUDO RNGs. Most journalists can't be expected to be aware of the importance of such subtle differences. Wiseman still hasn't announced his "Mind Machine' results."

O'Neill believes that "Wiseman is trying to associate these experiments in the press and public's mind with failure. In courting failure, Wiseman has another card up his sleeve that he doesn't tell the media about. A series of his own experiments with Marilyn Schlitz show that, simply by being the experimenter he fails where others succeed!. Such persistent failure is called "Experimenter Effect'. However, his failures enhance his position as the media's leading ESP sceptic in the U.K.".

Wiseman's latest high profile replication of one of Sagan's chosen experiments was his poorly attended "World's Largest ESP Experiment Ever" on the 7th of December at London's 'Museum of the Unknown'. The experiment involved 10 trials where groups of "senders' tried to telepathically transmit an image to a distant "receiver". The receiver then had to try to choose the correct image from a set of four. Sagan was impressed that numerous researchers around the world have found evidence that it really does work. However, statistically it usually requires at least 100 trials to reveal itself.

Wiseman didn't tell the SPR, of which he is a Council member, about the experiment. O'Neill, suspicious at this, taped the event and claims the experiment could hardly have been better designed to fail. "Statistical analysis reveals that with only 10 trials it was an experiment which should fail whether ESP exists or not." wrote O'Neill. In his 1,200 word reply Wiseman doesn't dispute this.

O'Neill also thinks he has found a source of Wiseman's Experimenter Effect: "At the most crucial moment of the day, just after the crowd succeeded on the first and just before the other large outdoor trial, Wiseman committed five serious irregularities, including inconsistencies and breaches of the protocols & precedents laid down by previous experimenters to prevent undue influence. Again, Wiseman doesn't dispute that any of the five irregularities took place. The most blatant irregularity was that at 7 p.m. he described some 1971 experiment results as "one was not bad and the other was absolutely dreadful" whereas at the 4 p.m. trial, he had said of exactly the same results "one was fairly successful, one wasn't". No fair scientist could describe these results using Wiseman's 7 p.m. descriptors. Worse still, he omitted to mention that the "absolutely dreadful' result was a "control'. The irregularities dramatically show the subtle ways Wiseman seems to have subconsciously undermined the crowd's confidence. If he influences a large public gathering like this, heaven help any individual who manifests ESP in the privacy of his laboratory".

O'Neill says "Magicians, being skilful manipulators, are often used in psychical research to show that they can do what a psychic claims is paranormal. I think Wiseman's magician skills are being used to do the exact opposite: show no apparent psychic effect. However, I'm NOT saying Wiseman was CONSCIOUSLY using his magician's skills of crowd manipulation to try to make the experiment fail" explains O'Neill." these things can easily happen subconsciously - he has a growing media profile as a debunker of ESP. A positive result live on national television would have compromised this"


Written by Mick O'Neill, 24/3/2001 phone:(020) 7419 2303 - [email protected]
Flat J, 14 St Albans Road, London NW5 1RD.

I am happy to give more information over the phone or by e-mail, or to debate with Wiseman, now or on future experiments. He is usually keen to speak to the media also.

Copies of the articles are available by email, fax or post from me & the Paranormal Review itself from the SPR.

Other useful contacts referred to, but not responsible for press release:
Chris Roe(editor Paranormal Review) -Tel:(01604) 735500 Fax:(01604)720636 [email protected]
SPR - Peter Johnson (secretary) - (020) 7937 8984
SPR - Monty Keen (Council member) - Tel:(01787) 280215 Fax:(01787)280395 [email protected]
Dr Richard Wiseman is from the Psychology Department of the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield.

* Carl Sagan wrote on page 285 of The Demon-Haunted World. (1995)"... At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images " projected' at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation...."

I have taped evidence of everything in quotes here that Wiseman said.

REFERENCES: - copies of any of these are freely available by post.
1971 experiment details from the book: Dream Telepathy by Ullman, M., Krippner S. & Vaughan A., Turnstone books, London, 1973, pp174-177

Jahn, R. G. , Dunne, B. J. et al (1997) Correlations of Random Binary Sequences With a pre-stated Operator Intention: A review of a 12-Year Program. Journal Of Scientific Exploration vol. 11, #3,345-367

O'Neill, M. (2001) "The World's Largest ESP Experiment Ever": Wiseman's Experimenter Effect Examined.
& Wiseman, R. (2001) Reply to O'Neill The Paranormal Review, 17, 5-8 & 8-10,

Wiseman, R. & Schlitz, M. (1998) Experimenter Effects and the Remote Detection of Staring Journal Of Parapsychology, 61, 197-208.

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