The paper below critiques the handling of deception in parapsychology.

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Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 56, December 1992



When an intelligence service believes it is invulnerable to enemy deception, it is most vulnerable.

James Jesus Angleton (Epstein, 1989, p. 196)
ABSTRACT: Kanthamani and Kelly’s research with special subject Bill Delmore (B.D.) produced extremely high scores and has received wide acclaim in the parapsychology literature. A number of leaders in the field have since lauded the procedures and controls. But B.D.’s behavior should have made the investigators more cautious. In fact, the formal tests were vulnerable to cheating in many ways. This and other problems have not been previously recognized. The technical shortcomings of the research are symptomatic of deeper difficulties. A few prominent parapsychologists are vocally promoting research involving known tricksters. These advocates have been aggressive in publishing their articles in professional forums, but they have no knowledge of conjuring. Several have trained many students and have thereby bequeathed a legacy of ignorance about magic. Priorities set by editors, educators, and managers of research facilities need to be reevaluated, and parapsychologists will need to become more familiar with conjuring. This article includes comments about researchers’ resistance to learning magic and magicians’ reluctance to explain their methods.

    In the early 1970s a substantial research effort was undertaken to study the reputed psychic abilities of Bill Delmore (B.D.), then a law student at Yale University. This effort yielded “perhaps the most dramatic psi results to be produced by a single subject in the last twenty years” according to Palmer (1985, p. 125). Palmer is not alone in his assessment of the significance of this research; John Beloff (1980b) declared that “taken on their own I would regard this series of experiments as, perhaps, the most evidential in the entire parapsychological literature!” (p. 94). A quick glance through the published papers shows a number of CR values above 10. Carpenter (1977, p. 222) reported that he had calculated a result giving z = 51 for some of the data.1 Such numbers are extraordinary.
    An earlier version of this paper was printed in the Proceedings of Presented Papers of the 1991 Parapsychological Association's annual convention.
    I wish to thank Marcello Truzzi and Keith Harary for comments on an earlier draft of this paper. I also wish to thank Martin Gardner for providing material.
    1 A z score of 51 is associated with p = 1.3 x 10-567, one-tailed. For the case considered by Carpenter, the more appropriate exact binomial gives p = 1.6 x 10-86.

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    Statements from these experts, as well as the magnitude of the results, demand that the work with Delmore be carefully considered. I submit that these studies have major implications, not only for the general conduct of research, but also for education, management, and leadership in the field. As such, I will address not only the technical aspects of the reports but also the wider implications of their uncritical acceptance.
    The primary technical issue in the research with B.D. is the adequacy of controls against cheating. In a previous paper, I outlined conditions under which one should be especially concerned about trickery in parapsychological research (Hansen, 1990). Several aspects of the Delmore studies make procedural controls especially important. First, the studies involved a single subject who gave many hints that he was adept at card tricks. Second, modifications were made to experimental procedures, and these were done at the request of B.D. Third, a substantial amount of the research used “subject-based control,” that is, the prevention and detection of deceit depended on careful, continuous monitoring of the subject (as distinguished from monitoring of the target).
    There have been critiques in the past that raised the issue of trickery. The most notable was by Persi Diaconis (1978), a highly respected professor of statistics who “within magic he is considered one of the half-dozen top sleight-of-hand performers with cards, a level he had reached in his late teens” (Waters, 1988, p. 103). Diaconis’s critique led to subsequent debate (e.g., Diaconis, 1979, 1980; Kelly, 1979, 1980). Diaconis had observed B.D. during a demonstration and concluded that he used trickery. Kelly vigorously objected, saying that Diaconis had only witnessed informal tests, but Kelly apparently never provided the opportunity for Diaconis or any other qualified magician to monitor the formal studies. Later, Diaconis was criticized by Palmer (1985) for offering no specific counterexplanations. Rao (1978, 1979) also took issue with Diaconis. Stanford too objected that skeptics had not discussed “specific weaknesses in the published experimental work with Delmore” (1982, p. 258). In my previous writing, I briefly alluded to some of the problems with this work (Hansen, 1990), but several people privately told me that I was not sufficiently explicit.
    Some have claimed that deception is a minor issue in parapsychology. I grant that the problem is limited; however, studies in which trickery is alleged or proven typically obtain high visibility both within and outside the field. The reputation of parapsychology is thus directly affected. Others have told me that trickery is a di-


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Study Suspected trickster Source of allegation
McDonough, Warren, & Don (1989)a Susie Cottrell  Randi (1979) 
Waiti (1990)b Silvio Meyer  Bauer (1981) 
Lomax (1990) Ted Serios Eisendrath (1967) Reynolds (1967)c
Don, McDonough, & Warren (1990) Olof Jonsson Cox (1974)
    aAlthough the date of publication is 1989, the study did not appear until 1990 because the Journal of Parapsychology was approximately 6 months behind schedule.
    bIn the cited, translated version that appeared in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, it was stated that "numerous well controlled experiments have been carried out but as yet no tricks have been discovered" (Walti, 1990, p. 67). This is very misleading because Bauer did describe trickery found in an earlier investigation. For a more recent comment on a possible method of trickery, see Gardner (1991).
    cSee Eisenbud (1967; 1989, pp. 222-228) for a response.
minishing problem. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. As can be seen in Table 1, four papers, each involving a suspected trickster, appeared in professional forums between January and August, 1990, and all reported positive psi results. The problem is not going away.
    During the summer of 1990, I was asked to take part in a research project with a stage performer who claimed psychic abilities. It was apparent to me that he engaged in considerable trickery. The project was to be headed by a prominent parapsychologist. I was surprised when that person argued very strongly against consulting a magician. I then realized that more published, professional-level dialogue was needed on deception in psi research. The Delmore studies illustrate problems of control against trickery and thus can provide a valuable object lesson.
    In this paper, I will focus on the adequacy of safeguards rather than seeking to prove that cheating occurred. The published reports are sufficiently detailed to allow an assessment of the security precautions. On the other hand, it is not now possible to go back to the time of the experiments and set a trap to try to detect trickery.
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Factors Resulting in Wider Implications

    The B.D. experiments are of special interest for a variety of reasons, and the implications go far beyond the work itself. There are two aspects that merit particular attention. The first is that the social circumstances of the experiments would give one confidence in the findings. The second factor is that the work has received evaluation and endorsement by a number of leaders in the field. Outsiders and newcomers to parapsychology are rarely able to judge the technical merits of a study, and they must look to experts for professional evaluation. The assessments of parapsychological experts serve as guideposts to those learning about the research.

Social Circumstances of Experiments

    The research effort was headed by H. Kanthamani, an experienced investigator who had published a number of psi studies before undertaking work with B.D. More recently, she has served as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Parapsychology. More importantly, the studies were conducted at the Institute for Parapsychology, which was the preeminent psi research laboratory at the time. There were a number of other investigators who were on the staff and who were familiar with the Delmore studies. The researchers certainly would have consulted with their colleagues about procedures and findings in order to avoid mistakes. Furthermore, the methods involved card-guessing, which had been regularly used for more than 40 years prior to this work. With that length of time, the procedures should have been well understood and debugged; weaknesses should have long been recognized. Another fact of substance was that the results were not presented in just one or two short reports, but rather, in five long, refereed journal articles as well as at many conventions (conference presentations include: Kanthamani, 1974; Kanthamani & Rao, 1974; Kelly, Child, &: Kanthamani, 1974; Kelly & Kanthamani, 1973; Kelly, Kanthamani, & Child, 1973, 1974). Peer review and feedback after such presentations often assist researchers in avoiding oversights. To a reader new to parapsychology, these circumstances indicate that the results should be reliable.

Later Endorsements

    A second reason the work merits detailed attention is that a number of leading researchers praised the methods of the investi-


The Research with B.D.                         311

gation. The following list briefly summarizes some major endorsements.     1. Gertrude Schmeidler (1977) claimed that the tests had been conducted with “excellent control of conditions” (p. 93). She has reaffirmed that assessment (Schmeidler, 1988, p. 179).
    2. John Beloff (1980a), in defending the Delmore research, declared: “An experiment in which it is possible for the subject to cheat in any way at all is, quite simply, an invalid experiment and no editor or referee who knew his business would allow such an experiment to be published” (p. 119).
   3. Robert McConnell (1983) stated that the work had “unusual evidential interest regarding the reality of psi phenomena” (p. 311).
   4. K. Ramakrishna Rao (1984) reprinted one of the papers in his book The Basic Experiments in Parapsychology and said: “The experiments ... are good examples of successful experimental strategies that may be employed with special subjects” (p. 171).
   5. John Palmer (1985) was more cautious but still concluded that the results “remain a genuine anomaly” (p. 137).
   6. Robert Morris recently claimed that the research provided evidence for a subject’s ability to differentiate psi-hitting from chance guessing (Morgan & Morris, 1991, p. 1).2    Additionally, in a survey conducted by Wickland (1984), Martin Johnson and J. G. Pratt (along with Beloff and Rao) indicated that the studies were methodologically sound and provided good evidence for psi. Except for Wickland, all of the above have served as president of the Parapsychological Association (PA). Rao has held that position three times; Beloff, Morris, Palmer, and Schmeidler have all held it twice. Beloff and Rao serve as editors of major journals in the field. Beloff, Johnson, Morris, Rao, and Schmeidler have all supervised doctoral students doing work in parapsychology; in fact, Kanthamani was a student of Rao. All have written books that have been used as texts for courses on parapsychology. Also, these people frequently serve as referees for papers submitted to journals and conventions. In short, these are leaders, and they set standards, not only for research quality, but for education as well. I know of no one of similar stature within the field who has publicly raised any serious, detailed questions about the work with B.D.
    2 I wrote to Morris asking questions about his endorsement, but I did not receive a reply.

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Initial Grounds for Caution

Delmore’s Practice with Cards

    For a reader unfamiliar with magic, the published reports of Kanthamani and Kelly might give no hint that Delmore was adept at card tricks. In fact, in my own conversations with them, Kelly and Kanthamani indicated that they did not know for sure whether B.D. performed magic tricks. However, anyone familiar with the conjuring subculture would have recognized from B.D.’s behavior that he probably practiced card manipulation. The indications were not subtle.
    In their first published paper on B.D., Kelly and Kanthamani (1972, p. 187) reported that B.D. “performs with cards almost every day, both for practice and for relaxation and entertainment.” Such behavior should have raised immediate doubts and deserved comment in their report. Drills like these are typical of magicians, especially young males in their midteens to early twenties. Some of these persons will practice a “sleight” literally thousands of times a day for months. I have encountered nothing similar in the psychic subculture, although I have been involved with it for years. On the other hand, I have known many magicians to perform like B.D.
    Kelly and Kanthamani (1972, pp. 187-188) gave a few descriptions of Delmore’s informal performances with cards. Those appear to be nothing more than laypersons’ accounts of card tricks. Kelly (1979) later described the spontaneous performances as “quite spectacular events” (p. 23). The authors seemingly took them to be genuine paranormal occurrences and devoted no discussion whatever to the possibility of trickery. For anyone familiar with conjuring, this fact alone could be enough to discredit the paper. A magician might read no further and conclude that the research is without merit.
    Fortunately, there is no longer any question as to whether Delmore was adept at card manipulation, for Martin Gardner reports:

In a long telephone conversation I had with Delmore in 1988, he freely admitted he used trickery to increase the probability of hits during his card demonstrations. He spoke with pride of being able to cut a deck precisely in the center. As card magicians know, this is a valuable ability because it provides the performer with knowledge of the twenty-sixth card. The “center card,” as magicians call it, serves as a valuable key card in endless tricks of the ESP type. (Gardner, 1989, p. 123)

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    Further, in a newspaper article, Herron (1986) reported that Delmore had “done a few shows combining both ESP and magic” (p. 11A). Presumably, Delmore admitted to the reporter that he was a performing magician.

Other Suspicious Aspects

    Delmore’s practice with playing cards is not the only reason for concern. Kelly and Kanthamani (1972, p. 188) noted:

Despite his ability, B.D. presented formidable difficulties as a subject. He is quite temperamental and not particularly sympathetic with the aims and methods of experimental research, which remind him of the unpleasant world of law school. He is also highly articulate, intelligent, and accustomed to doing things in his own way. Accordingly, productive sessions in the laboratory were typically coupled with varied amounts of argument, sometimes heated, regarding the utility of experiments, the present and future organization of parapsychology, and related subjects.
It was also said, “In fact, he prefers performing for groups” (p. 188).
    These statements have clear implications for the conduct of the experiments. The heated arguments might well provide brief distractions that would allow a trickster to make a “move.” Argumentation may put the experimenters in a defensive, nonchallenging mode and thus reduce their vigilance.
    In several passages in their reports, Kanthamani and Kelly implied that an audience could help to detect trickery during an experiment. The contrary is more likely to be true. Having extraneous people present increases the likelihood of small disturbances. Even a distraction as short as a second or two may be enough to accomplish the “dirty work” of a card sleight. The presence of an audience could permit a confederate to deliberately create commotion. It is not usual practice in parapsychology to have outsiders in attendance during testing, especially in experiments with selected individual subjects.
    Palmer (1985) noted that one “ground for suspicion is that in all the card experiments procedural modifications were instituted at B.D.’s request” (p. 136). Comments made by James Randi (1983) regarding another research project are appropriate here: “I warned him not to allow the subjects to run the experiment by changing the protocol. Similarly, I suggested that capricious demands by subjects might well be the means of introducing conditions that would per-
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mit subterfuge” (p. 26). I know of no other published experiments that used the same methods employed in the research with B.D. As I will explain, the procedures were especially vulnerable to cheating.

Experimental Procedures

    There were two classes of procedures in the card experiments. One was referred to as “single-card clairvoyance” (SCC); the other was the “shuffle method.” Both of these methods have serious problems. I will spend most of the discussion on the SCC procedure because the strongest claims have been made with reference to that work.

Single-Card Clairvoyance (SCC)

    The SCC procedure (Kanthamani &: Kelly, 1974b, pp. 17-18) used 10 decks of playing cards, which were shuffled together by hand and placed in a cardboard box. The box was put in the bottom drawer of a large office desk on the experimenter’s side. For each trial, the experimenter would draw out one card without looking at it and place it inside an opaque black folder (3 3/4" x 2 3/4"). This completely covered the card. The folder was held with the back of the card toward the subject about 6 to 8 ft. from him so that he could see the folder. After the guess was made, it was recorded, and then the card was removed from the folder.
    These tests generated extreme scores. In a table displaying the outcome, the pooled series’ results gave CR = 10.73 and chi square = 268 (8 df) (Kathamani & Kelly, 1974b, p. 20)3 These are truly exceptional figures, and with them there is no need to worry about minor artifacts such as optional stopping or multiple analyses.
    The controls were more lax than those usually found in parapsychology experiments. The recording of targets and calls was not done on a blind basis, and apparently there was no dual recording of results. This is especially surprising given the commotion reported in these experiments (e.g., visitors, general arguments with B.D.). However, with the magnitude of the effects, I doubt whether recording mistakes by themselves can account for the results. Nevertheless, they are cause for concern. Why weren’t tighter methods used? It was stated that: “Folders were strongly preferred by the subject, who attached great significance to the manner in which feedback was provided. The folders allowed a quick and clean ex-
    3 A CR value of 10.73 is associated with p = 3.7 x 10-27, one-tailed.

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posure of the target. B.D. claimed that this was vital” (Kanthamani &: Kelly, 1974b, p. 24). The authors go on to say that the targets were manually selected at the time of each trial and that “this was also done at the request of the subject” [italics added] (p. 25). There may have been other reasons why B.D. insisted on use of the folders and manual selection. Because of the very short time between the call and the revealing of the target card, Akers (1986) questioned whether the guess and feedback may have overlapped, thus allowing Delmore to change his guess in midstream. Nota bene B.D. was frequently arguing with experimenters and might have created significant distractions. Akers’s comments are especially noteworthy because he conducted informal trials with B.D. using some of the procedures of the formal experiments (personal communication, January 7, 1992).
    Regarding the SCC tests, Kanthamani and Kelly (1974a, p. 374) claim that “the exclusion of sensory cues was total. Therefore (ignoring the possibility of experimenter fraud) the only alternatives to the psi hypothesis would require some severe form of nonrandomness in the target sequence.” In a response to Diaconis, Kelly (1980) asserted that “it is perfectly possible—indeed not all that difficult— to design experimental conditions which are impervious to cheating by any subject including a magician” (p. 123). We may conclude that they had high confidence in their controls and that they believed themselves to be invulnerable to deception.
    Kanthamani and Kelly appear unaware of methods that mentalists or magicians might use to cheat in such a situation. There are several available approaches. A plausible method would be for the subject to make use of a reflective surface behind, or to the side of, the experimenter. As the experimenter withdrew a card from the box, its image might reflect in such a manner as to be visible to the subject. The glass in a picture frame to the side might have been sufficient; even a window behind the experimenter could have served that function. Many rooms of the Institute for Parapsychology have large windows.
    Such possibilities would be immediately considered by an adept mentalist. Bob Couttie’s (1988, p. 7) account of his visit to the apartment of Uri Geller is a good illustration. In his description, one of the first things Couttie noted was the presence of several reflective surfaces, and he specifically commented on their potential use in cheating. Morris (1986, p. 88) and Nicol (1976) also mentioned the use of reflective surfaces in their discussions of trickery. Kanthamani and Kelly appear not to have considered the idea.
    There is additional evidence suggesting that B.D. had access to sensory cues. Kelly, Kanthamani, Child, and Young (1975) tested
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Delmore using tachistoscopically presented images of playing cards. B.D.’s task was to try to name the card presented. A pattern of “confusion structures” was found that produced “consistent missing.” For example, B.D. might confuse a king with a queen, or a 2 of spades with a 3 of spades. Similar errors were discovered in the SCC tests. They also mentioned that they had looked for consistent-missing patterns in an experimental series not using the SCC procedure; the use of reflective surfaces seems less likely in that work, and the consistent-missing effect was not found (Kanthamani &: Kelly, 1975, p. 217). These results are consistent with the idea that Delmore made use of sensory cues in the SCC tests.
    It was reported that “interested visitors were also allowed to watch during some sessions, since their presence seemed to motivate the subject toward better performance” (Kanthamani &: Kelly, 1974b, p. 19). Perhaps a visitor served as a confederate, glimpsed a card, and signalled it to B.D. The authors did not discuss this possibility.
    The SCC method has been declared to be the most tightly controlled procedure with Delmore; the flaws are glaringly obvious to someone with a background in magic.

Shuffle Method

    The testing procedure with the shuffle method involved two decks of cards (Kanthamani &: Kelly, 1975, p. 207). The experimenter first shuffled each of the decks and then gave one to B.D. She then took her deck and shuffled it 10 more times, with the deck out of the sight of the subject. The subject shuffled his deck as many times as he wished; his deck was designated the call deck. After he finished, the experimenter recorded the order of her deck (referred to as the target deck), and then the call deck was recorded.
    It is stated that “during the recording of the call deck the subject was generally allowed to turn the cards one by one because he enjoyed doing so, and the presence of additional experimenters and other observers in many sessions rendered it extremely unlikely that he could at this point change the order of the cards” [italics added] (Kanthamani & Kelly, 1975, pp. 207-208). This is not a single isolated description of a preliminary experiment; another virtually identical statement was made by Kanthamani and Kelly (1974a, p. 361). These statements demonstrate an extraordinary naivete regarding what can be achieved by trickery. There are numerous methods that could accomplish the feat, and these are some of the most common


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sleights practiced by magicians. For a useful description of what can be accomplished by a skilled performer, see Ortiz (1984); a good tutorial on card manipulation is that by Hugard and Braue (1949).
    For some series with the shuffle method, a cardboard box covered the hands of B.D. This modification “was introduced at the request of the subject” [italics added] (Kanthamani & Kelly, 1974a, p. 370). The bottom of the box was removed; two holes were cut along the bottom edge, and Delmore placed his hands and lower arms into the box in order to shuffle his deck. This set-up appears to enhance the possibilities for cheating. Under cover of the box, the subject may have easily marked a few cards tactilely for use in later runs. Perhaps he was able to surreptitiously slide a corner of a card out from underneath the box and steal a glance at it. Such possibilities were not discussed by Kanthamani and Kelly.

Random Number Generator Tests

    The random number generator (RNG) results have been pointed to by some as evidence of Delmore’s psi ability (Kelly &: Kanthamani, 1972, pp. 190-192). However, there is reason to view these data cautiously as well. It is clear that the RNG testing was only meant to be preliminary. The entire report of the apparatus, procedure, and results filled a mere 2 1/2 pages. For most of the tests, one cannot even tell how the recording was done. Was it by hand? In addition, the authors presented no control runs to check the randomness of the RNG. In a meta-analysis of RNG research, Radin and Nelson (1987) assigned these studies some of the poorest possible quality ratings.


    In November of 1987, I sent Kanthamani and Kelly an early draft of my paper “Deception by Subjects in Psi Research.” That version had a number of comments on their work, and in December of that year I sent them a detailed outline of problems afflicting their research. I received no written response to either of those or to any of the subsequent drafts I sent. Neither have they replied to the published version of my paper (i.e., Hansen, 1990). Kanthamani was also sent an early draft of this paper; I was given an acknowledgment that it had been received but nothing more. Also I received no response to the subsequent version printed in the Proceedings of Presented Papers of the 1991 PA convention (Hansen, 1991b).

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Responsibility of Experimenters

    Many people have pointed out that no one has yet provided conclusive proof that B.D. cheated in the experiments. That is true. However, it is not and cannot be the obligation of the critical reader to provide such evidence. It is the responsibility of the experimenters to impose and document sufficient security precautions to reasonably exclude cheating.
    Experimenters also have a responsibility to their subjects. Those few psychics who participate in research give their time, energy, and talent, often with little compensation. They reasonably expect to contribute to sound scientific research. If serious flaws are found in the studies in which they have participated, they may feel that they have wasted their time, or even feel abused. Furthermore, positive results under inadequate controls may provoke hostile debunkers to impugn the integrity of the subjects. This has happened many times in the past. If Delmore actually possessed psychic abilities, he was badly served by the experimenters.

Wider Implications

    All researchers make mistakes during their careers. If the Delmore research is considered only by itself, one would say that a couple of scientists were unaware of necessary controls. As such, the consequences would be trivial. However, in this case, the problems are symptomatic of deeper trouble. As outlined previously, the research was praised by a number of leaders in the field. Apparently they were not aware of the flaws. As far as I can tell, the mistakes were not caught by colleagues, editors, convention and/or journal referees, or others. This raises serious questions about the capability of the field to address problems of deception. The issue is one of leadership and management.
    To be fair, the criticism must be most strongly levelled at those who endorsed this research in professional forums. However, most of the above-mentioned leaders are quite careful in their work, and frankly, their endorsements are not typical of them. Normally they conduct and evaluate research only within their own areas of competence, which they accomplish superbly.
    Nevertheless, two of these endorsers, John Beloff and Gertrude Schmeidler, deserve special comment. In professional forums, they frequently comment on studies in which potential trickery is a major consideration, but apparently neither has any training in conjuring.


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   Schmeidler and Beloff have made major contributions to parapsychology, and the criticisms here should not detract from those achievements. Both have given selflessly to the field for many years, and both have corresponded most cordially, and at length, regarding issues I have raised in this paper. Recently Beloff (1990a) wrote of  J. G. Pratt: “I have known few people in my life who were so determined to get at the facts. Admittedly, if Gaither had a weakness, it was that deceit was so alien to his own character that it may have made him less suspicious than he should have been about others” (p. 174). That statement might be equally applied to a number of others in parapsychology.

Gertrude R. Schmeidler

    Schmeidler should have been especially cautious in evaluating research with Delmore because she had personally witnessed him in action. Schmeidler (1987b) described her encounter when responding to a question as to what were some of her most mind-boggling personal experiences. Her account appears to be nothing more than a layperson’s report of a card effect. She gave no discussion at all to the possibility of trickery but went on to speculate that “a psychic bridge can be created when a psychic makes a warp in psychic space” (p. 85)! Like Kanthamani and Kelly, Schmeidler seems to have been unaware of the implications of Delmore’s behavior.
    Schmeidler was program chair for the 1990 PA convention and accepted two papers describing positive results from subjects who had previously engaged in highly suspicious behavior. One of the papers (Don, McDonough, &: Warren, 1990) involved the subject Olof Jonsson, whom I have briefly covered elsewhere (Hansen, 1990, pp. 27, 35; see also Cox, 1974, p. 13). The other paper involved the psychic photography of Ted Serios (Lomax, 1990). The paper made no mention of the potential problems of trickery with Serios. This deserves special comment because Schmeidler had previously published a favorable evaluation of research with Serios.
    The Serios studies involved a “subject-based control” methodology. That is, the procedures prohibiting deception depended on experimenters’ continuous observation of the subject. As I have described elsewhere, this is exceedingly difficult to assure (Hansen, 1990). It also requires high expertise by the experimenters. Evidence from subject-based control procedures is typically very weak. 
    The support for Serios’s psi abilities depends heavily on the competence of Eisenbud because he supervised and certified nearly all

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the published work with him. Randi (1981) demonstrated that Eisenbud had essentially no knowledge of conjuring. The devastating implications of Randi’s analysis have been widely overlooked. In 1979, Eisenbud undertook some card-guessing tests with Susie Cottrell (Eisenbud, 1981). One may infer that Eisenbud was supremely confident in his controls because he published the study in The Skeptical Inquirer. In a few short paragraphs, Randi (1981) described how the precautions could have been easily overcome with standard magic tricks. It proved that Eisenbud was not aware of how simply magicians might evade his security measures. One can only conclude that his witnessing of the Serios phenomena provides little evidence for a psi effect. It is surprising that a paper on the Serios photos was accepted for a PA convention. Rick Berger, one of the referees, strongly objected to the paper, but he was overruled (personal communication, July 1990).
    Schmeidler (1977, 1982, 1984, 1987a) has prepared extensive reviews of research on psychokinesis. In many of the cases she has examined, the primary alternative explanation for the results was trickery. Although she regularly contributes to the professional parapsychology literature on such topics, she seems to have no background in conjuring. In 1984 she wrote: “Serios, under conditions which sometimes appeared to preclude trickery, repeatedly produced changes in camera film or TV pictures” (p. 21). The conditions appeared to Schmeidler to preclude trickery; however, her complete ignorance of conjuring renders her evaluation of little scientific worth. Further, magicians Eisendrath (1967), Reynolds (1967), and Diaconis have observed suspicious behavior on the part of Serios, a fact that Schmeidler failed to mention.
    Schmeidler also served as one of the three-person program committee for the 1983 PA convention. She accepted a paper from W. E. Cox (1984), who claimed findings of matter-through-matter under “exceptional conditions of security.” There was strong, published evidence that the group Cox tested had previously engaged in trickery (Hansen &: Broughton, 1983). Cox’s controls had many loopholes (Hansen, 1985b). One can only conclude that Schmeidler was unable to perceive the defects of Cox’s work, and presumably she did not consult a competent magician when making her evaluation. The deficiencies in Cox’s work were even more severe than those in the work with Delmore.
    Schmeidler has given a favorable assessment of Uri Geller’s PK ability, saying “on the few occasions when he permitted himself to be tested under tighter ones [conditions], there sometimes was evi-


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dence of PK (e.g., a metallurgic examination of a bar he had stroked and broken indicated that the break was caused by heat rather than muscle pressure)” (1984, p. 21). She gave no citation. Puthoff and Targ (1977) stated that in their work on metal bending they were unable “to obtain data sufficient to support the paranormal hypothesis” (p. 173). Given the many questions raised about Geller and problems with other metallurgical tests (e.g., Franklin, 1977; Franklin & Cornie, 1979), Schmeidler’s assessment is unwarranted.

John Beloff

    A number of Beloff’s professional writings deserve scrutiny. Regarding the Delmore experiments, he declared: “The set-up was so simple that one can say without fear of contradiction that there was just no conceivable way in which the subject could have cheated however skillful he may be at card-tricks” (1980a, p. 119). Beloff’s endorsement is simply another in a long line of similar pronouncements.
    Bert Reese is one of the performers about whom Beloff has expressed a favorable opinion. Reading Beloff (1977, p. 15), one might get the impression that Reese was another star psychic who had been unfortunately overlooked. To support the claim for Reese’s psi ability, Beloff cited no scientific journal papers, but mentioned two popular books, authored well after Reese’s death, and a celebrity testimonial. Perhaps Beloff was not aware that magicians had written much about Reese and his methods (e.g., Annemann, 1936; Frikell, 1930; Mann, n.d.; Mulholland, 1938; Rinn, 1950).
    Beloff (1984) has advocated that research be undertaken with Glenn Falkenstein. Presumably Beloff was impressed with some feat of his. Falkenstein is a well-known mentalist who does a blindfold act and performs a spectacular spirit cabinet act with his wife (Booth, 1984; Dawes & Setterington, 1986; “The Falkensteins,” 1990). Was Beloff unaware of that fact?
    Recently, Beloff (1988, 1989, 1990b) has been touting the Margery mediumship as evidence for psi. In fact, he has claimed that “no credible counter-explanation has ever been offered” for some of her phenomena (Beloff, 1990b, p. 175). Beloff cited no papers from scientific journals to support his contention.4 There is massive
    4 To support his position, Beloff (1989, p. 337) quoted a portion of one sentence from an “outside specialist” who was cited in a Fate magazine article regarding wooden rings supposedly linked by Margery (the Fate article was apparently written more than 50 years after the fact). That article did not identify who made the statement or the qualifications of the so-called “specialist.”

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evidence for trickery in that case (Tietze, 1973); I know of no convincing scientific evidence for genuine psychic phenomena with Margery.
    Beloff’s naivete has been detrimental not only to himself but also to his students. Michael Thalbourne completed a doctoral degree under his direction. After Thalbourne finished, he went to work at the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research and became a victim of Project Alpha (Randi, 1983; Truzzi, 1987). Prior to the disclosure of Project Alpha, Thalbourne’s professional writings demonstrated that he did not understand how to detect trickery in his experiments. For instance, Thalbourne and Shafer (1983) discussed the use of a radio transmitter to circumvent security measures in a GESP experiment that gave real-time feedback to the sender. They claimed that there should be semantic correspondences between the target and response if a transmitter was used. However, even a brief glance at some of the advertisements for these devices in magic periodicals would reveal that such correspondences would not necessarily be expected.
    Deborah Delanoy was another graduate student poorly served by Beloff’s supervision. During her studies, she investigated “Tim,” who claimed macro-PK abilities (Delanoy, 1987). For one of the experiments, magician James Randi was given control of procedures and evaluation of results.5 This was an abdication of scientific responsibility. Earlier, Collins (1983) had warned that magicians’ values are not those of science and that magicians “are a group whose values include secretiveness and financial self-interest above the quest for truth” (p. 931). Collins went on to explain why magicians should not be given control of scientific procedures. Furthermore, Beloff received a strong private warning about this from a knowledgable scientist-magician specifically in relation to the Tim case, but he chose to ignore it. Despite their limitations, conjurors can and should play an important role as consultants and commentators, but they must not be given control of scientific procedures.

Consequences for Students

    Some of the most serious implications of these matters pertain to students. Newcomers to parapsychology must recognize that most leaders and institutions will not be able to provide much guidance
    5 There are many reasons to question Randi’s reliability. For a list of citations documenting his errors and misrepresentations, see Hansen (1992a, p. 47).


The Research with B.D.                   323 

regarding deception. The problem is particularly severe in the U.S. The Institute for Parapsychology, which is under the direction of K. R. Rao, has offered a summer program for students. The library of the Institute subscribes to no periodicals on conjuring. Nor, apparently, has Rao provided any resources for staff members so that they can educate themselves on magic. Rao has also directed the Department of Psychology and Parapsychology at Andhra University. That department, too, subscribes to no magic periodicals. A similar situation can be found at the Division of Personality Studies (formerly named Division of Parapsychology) at the University of Virginia, which is under the direction of lan Stevenson. That research facility has undertaken studies of tricksters in the past. More recently, Stevenson has advocated studying “psychic surgeons” (Azuma & Stevenson, 1987).    There have been a few bright spots. When John Palmer was in charge of the parapsychology program at JFK University, he helped establish a course on magic. His students have benefited. Also, two students are undertaking research in deception in the parapsychology program at Edinburgh University (Wiseman, 1991; Roe, 1991). While James Matlock was librarian at the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), that library instituted a more active acquisitions program and began subscribing to several magic periodicals. After Matlock’s departure, the ASPR, under the direction of Patrice Keane, reverted to its previous policies.

Magic and Magicians

Resistances to Learning Magic and Confronting Deception

    Issues of deception are often unpleasant to confront, and there are a variety of pressures to avoid doing so. At times there is social pressure to avoid the matter entirely, and some researchers take great offense when the topic is introduced. It was illuminating to observe the audience’s reaction to Jerome Frank’s 1990 PA convention banquet address when Frank discussed deception. The expressions on the listeners’ faces revealed clear discomfort. In another instance, my own personal integrity was publicly questioned by Dobyns, Dunne, Jahn, and Nelson (1991, p. 6) because my colleagues and I simply raised the issue of potential cheating (Hansen, Utts, &: Markwick, 1991)!6 Delanoy (1987) pointed out that investigators
    6 The research in question involved a very high-scoring subject (“Operator 10”),

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often wish to think well of their subjects, and this may even be helpful in eliciting genuine phenomena, but such a wish can potentially lead one to neglect the consideration of possibilities for cheating.
    For many years, psychical researchers with a background in conjuring have been urging others to become familiar with magic. Hereward Carrington and Eric Dingwall are notable historical examples. Martin Johnson (1976) graphically demonstrated the need for knowledge of conjuring, and Nicol (1976) discussed some specific examples. Marcello Truzzi (1984) and Loyd Auerbach (1987) both organized panel discussions on magic for PA conventions. Morris (1982, 1986) has discussed methods of trickery. I myself have been discussing the issues for some time (Hansen, 1984, 1985a, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991a, 1992b). However, recent articles primarily have been of a general or abstract nature. Few commentators have explained how trickery might circumvent specific safeguards used in practice, perhaps to avoid giving offense. This may have contributed to the complacency of other investigators. Unfortunately, the task of assessing studies’ vulnerability to cheating has been left largely to outsiders who typically do not publish in refereed journals (e.g., Gardner, 1989; Hansel, 1959; Randi, 1981).
    Several people in the field have suggested to me that I write an article explaining the things parapsychologists need to know about magic. Such a request is like asking a mathematician to give an hour-long lecture on differential equations to physics students and then expecting them to be completely prepared for their careers. The topic of conjuring is vast, and the needed information cannot be given in just a few lessons. Not only are the technical portions of magic important, but social aspects of the conjuring subculture need to be understood as well.
    Frequently, people have given me the excuse: “Of course parapsyehologists should know more about magic, but also they should become more educated in statistics, psychotherapy, electronics, etc.” This excuse is inappropriate because the relationship of magic to psi research is not comparable to the other areas. In most domains of expertise, the field of parapsychology has considerable depth to draw on within its membership. There are a number of authorities on various topics, and they are well recognized within the field. Editors, researchers, and program chairpersons regularly consult such experts, and they recognize when such outside consultation is nec-
about whom no details were given. The procedures had no controls against cheating, and Operator 10 was involved in more than 70% of the formal trials.


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essary. With magic, the situation is far different; many do not even realize when they need help. Further, magic is not a scientific discipline, and its norms and values are not those of science. Few seem to understand the consequences of this.    One referee of this paper commented, “I agree in principle [that parapsychologists should be well educated in conjuring methods], but in practice I do not think it is likely a habit.” That same referee said, “I know magicians are always worried about giving away the secrets of their tricks. But I think this needs to change.” This person seems to believe that he can dictate norms to a group of which he is not a member and of which he has no knowledge. Nevertheless, these candid statements undoubtedly reflect the opinions of many leaders of parapsychology, despite lip service to the contrary. Such attitudes are entrenched in psi research and typify the resistance to learning magic.

Magicians’ Views

    As the reader may recognize, the methods of trickery can seem very simple, once they are known. The methods described above will likely now seem obvious, but I remind you that they probably were not obvious to you before. Indeed, many powerful magic effects are based on very simple principles. Learning a few techniques can lead to overconfidence. I must admit that in preparation of this paper, I had reservations about explaining the approaches magicians might use to circumvent controls. I myself have had the experience of privately describing how trickery might overcome security measures in an experiment. On the basis of my comments, the experimenter made changes but did not realize that his modifications still left him vulnerable. He did not seek to gain a broader background in conjuring. It is precisely for this reason that some magicians have been reluctant to reveal methods to researchers.
    Some readers may have wondered why the preceding points were not previously presented by conjurors. There are many reasons. In preparing my critiques of psi research, I have had the opportunity to discuss many issues with other magicians. Two general types of opinions were expressed.
    Some magicians thought that I was wasting my time in preparing such papers. They pointed out that if researchers really wanted to
    7 The methods are also subtle. In fact, a number of people reading earlier drafts of this paper thought that I had described only one method!

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know the truth, they would have studied magic many, many years ago. These conjurors view parapsychologists’ “findings” as articles of a religious “faith” much like the faith some spiritualists place in phony mediums. Some of these magicians are very sympathetic to parapsychology but argue that it would be traumatic for the dupes to have the deception revealed; it is not necessary, and besides, the parapsychologists really are not hurting anyone. In a similar vein, Morris (1986, pp. 73-74) questioned whether one should expose a fraudulent medium in front of believers who receive emotional support from the medium’s performance.
    Another group of magicians also concluded that such papers written for parapsychologists are a waste of time, but for a different reason. They observed that psychical researchers are intelligent people, and in some cases the “obvious trickery” had gone on for a long time. These conjurors reasoned that the parapsychologists must have caught on to the methods, but nevertheless some are still promoting the fake psychics. Their conclusion was that some researchers are now part of the scam, perhaps to fleece wealthy donors. In fact, I even know of one case in which a parapsychologist made a similar suggestion about another researcher. In the specific instances I am aware of, I believe the suggestions to be unfounded; the deceived researchers seem only to be victims, not perpetrators.
    I do not think that either of the two positions is correct, but they both may contain grains of truth. In fact, the deceived person often does have a direct interest in promoting the reputation of the deceiver. As more and more is published about a “psychic,” the experimenter obtains greater and greater recognition. The researcher is eventually motivated to provide “explanations” or excuses for suspicious behavior. An almost identical situation occurs in spying with spy managers and double agents. The dynamic is described in some detail by Epstein (1989) in his book Deception (chapter 14, “The Confidence Game”). Occasionally the agent is able to con the manager into going over to the other side because the manager had contributed unwittingly (at first) to the deceit by promoting the reputation of the double agent.


    The research with Delmore had many problems with controls against cheating. Unfortunately these long went unrecognized, and many leaders of parapsychology praised the rigor of the work. This


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fact alone demonstrates serious problems, but the Delmore research is not an isolated example. Published papers continue to describe psi effects of known tricksters. Prominent PA members have aggressively promoted such work to the wider scientific community. Those most vocal in touting research with cheaters have typically been the most ignorant about conjuring.     If progress is to be made, the leaders of the field will need to reassess programs with attention to issues of potential deceit. This must occur, not only in research, but also in refereeing, preparation of reviews, and in education. Staff members of laboratories need to receive support for studying magic. Libraries need to reevaluate acquisition policies. Journal editors and convention chairpersons need to consult more extensively with appropriate experts in conjuring.  If such changes are not made, we will see the continuation of the legacy of magical ignorance.


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