This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 04 table of contents.

Fraud and Deception

Fraud in ESP research is distressingly common. A noted critic of ESP research, C.E.M. Hansel, documented so many cases of fraud that he refused to believe any ESP research unless a non-believer could replicate it. That never happened.

In J.B. Rhine's famed Institute for Parapsychology in Durham, NC, researcher Walter J. Levy admitted to tampering with a computerized apparatus to make it look like rats had psychokinetic abilities. One of Levy's associates "ratted" on Levy.

How did Hansel react to cases of fraud in ESP research? What was the Levy affair, at the Rhine Institute?

Jim Davis, an electrical engineer who did the computer programming and hardware design for the experiment...said that on more than one occasion he witnessed Levy pulling a plug out of the back of the random generator, causing the equipment to record only "hits" for a period of time. Levy's data would thus indicate better than chance scores for the rat. Meanwhile, Davis had secretly set up a duplicate set of recordings that confirmed only random stimulations. He and his associates went to Rhine with their findings.

Rhine confronted Levy with the evidence. Levy quickly admitted his guilt and resigned. (Asher, 1975)

Rhine's institute is often cited as a source of valid research proving the existence of ESP. Experts on fraud in ESP research believe otherwise.

Zener card symbols

Rhine became famous in the 1930s for experiments involving Zener cards -special cards with different symbols on the front. In classic experiments, Rhine showed that a divinity student named Hubert Pearce could guess which symbol was on the card at levels far greater than chance.

Why did Hansel find Rhine's earlier reports of ESP unconvincing?

Hansel visited Rhine's laboratory during those years. He did not observe any cheating, but he also did not see any precautions against cheating. To Hansel that was just as important as actual cheating. It meant the results could easily have been faked.

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