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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Rhine, Dr. Joseph Banks (1896-1980) Dr. Rhine originally planned to enter the ministry, but graduated in botany at the University of Chicago. In 1922 he attended a lecture on spiritualism by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and became interested in the subject, an interest that was furthered when he read The Survival of Man, a book by Sir Oliver Lodge on his supposed communications with deceased persons through séances.
      In 1926, Rhine became acquainted with Dr. William McDougall, and the next year he left botany behind him and began to study paranormal claims. On one of his first investigations, Rhine discovered the medium Margery Crandon in fraud, and when he reported that fact, he was castigated by Conan Doyle and the other leaders of the spiritualists.
      By 1930, Rhine and McDougall had begun studies at a psychology lab at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. A colleague, Dr. Karl Zener, developed the set of five-symbol cards now known as Zener cards, for Rhine to use in testing psychic powers. By 1935, Rhine had established the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory at Durham.
      Dr. Rhine invented the term extrasensory perception (ESP) in one of his first books on the subject. He and his wife, Dr. Louisa Rhine, became known as the paramount experts on the subject of ESP.
      Though there are in the literature many impressive reports of Rhine's successes with “gifted” subjects, it later developed that he had allowed himself to ignore much of the data he gathered, reporting the positive results and ignoring the failures. Very early in his career, he had been taken in by a “telepathic” horse named Lady Wonder, much to the embarrassment of his colleagues.
      The final blow to Rhine occurred when Dr. Walter Levy, a trusted colleague at the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM), a private organization established by Rhine in 1962, was discovered to be cheating on an impressive animal-ESP test that had been reported as a huge success. Levy confessed and was fired.
      At this point in time, Rhine's work, though pioneering and well intentioned, is not looked upon as definitive in any way. His understandable errors, given his lack of sophistication in handling and understanding people, give ample reason for rejecting his conclusions. As with all the exciting breakthroughs regularly announced by parapsychologists, flaws developed that put the work beyond serious acceptance.
      Unlike some research projects in parapsychology, no hint of dishonesty on Rhine's part has ever been seriously suggested, though it may be that a certain amount of trickery was introduced into his lab without his knowledge. Though proponents of ESP are fond of quoting the immense odds against success in ESP tests by chance alone, those figures mean nothing at all if the experiments are not properly conducted.
      See also Lady Wonder and Dr. Walter Levy.

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