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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

Soal, Dr. Samuel George (1889-1975) Dr. Soal was a mathematician who became president of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) in 1950. He studied spirit materialization, mediumship, automatic writing, telepathy, and clairvoyance.
      In the period 1936-39, Soal began replicating the experiments of the American Dr. J. B. Rhine, who he greatly admired. His results were astonishingly good, and he enjoyed considerable fame as a result. Soon, skeptics began to question his methods, offering many theories on how errors——or cheating——could have taken place. But it was only after Soal's death in 1975 that a well-meaning supporter of his at the Society for Psychical Research, seeking to remove the suspicions that had been expressed, found instead through a computer program that Soal had cheated in grand style by changing the figures on the score sheets.
      Soal's later work (in 1955) with two thirteen-year-old Welsh boys, Glyn and Ieuan Jones, showed that apparently he, too, could be deceived. The boys performed astonishing tests with Soal, being paid well for their success, and the result was The Mind Readers, a highly naive book by Soal that was a best-seller sensation overnight. Sir Cyril Burt raved over the work, which he accepted completely.
      The Jones boys could transmit to one another——apparently by ESP——words, numbers, and the names of cards with animal pictures. The protocol used was farcical, with so many possibilities for communication between the two boys that one cannot believe that Soal was actually fooled. Whenever conditions were improved to defeat signaling, the score dropped to chance and the boys complained loudly. Immediately, the protocol would be relaxed and the scoring would improve.
      But, said Soal:  

      We [the experimenters] were perfectly aware that boys of the calibre of Glyn and Ieuan could never hope to deceive us for more than a few minutes.

      The reference to the “calibre” of the boys no doubt refers to the fact that they were country folks, and therefore probably not very smart, certainly not as smart as the scientist Soal.
      Eventually the protocol for the tests was tightened to the point where the boys could not signal one another, and in the opinion of the investigators, they had suddenly “lost” their powers.
      All of Soal's work is now considered valueless.

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