Nits about Nova
James Randi --- Wizard ((no email))
Mon, 10 Jan 94 10:02 EST
Some of you may be aware of a brouhaha going on about my fumbling efforts at
testing out claims. A Michigan sociologist has been making statements
concerning the October 19/93 NOVA program. This champion nit-picker is
obviously in need of further nits. I hereby supply them. I have corrected
the spellings of names.
It's being implied that I mis-stated the situation re a test done of two
amiable women in Russia who claimed that they had "psychic" powers. The
facts about one subject have been questioned. Here are the actual facts:
(1) Serial killer Ted Bundy was married to Carole Boone on February 9,
1980. (Boone at that time had a teenage son, Jamey.) That was the day of
his sentencing in Orlando, Florida. He married her in the courtroom by
exchanging "vows of intention" with a notary public present, a procedure
recognized in Florida law.
(2) There were no visits permitted with inmates at Florida State Prison
that could be described as "conjugal" in nature, thus it would be denied by
authorities that Bundy was permitted such visits. However, weekly personal
visits were permitted in a large meeting room, and it was well known that
sexual intercourse was possible -- and did occur -- in that room. Carole
Boone actually took up residence near the prison in June of 1979 and visited
with Bundy every weekend. According to the statement of one guard as well
as of Bundy and Boone, they engaged in intercourse more than once during
that period that Bundy was incarcerated there. The eventual result was a
(3) The NOVA interview with the two "psychics" in Russia was conducted on
Sunday, November 8th, 1992. At that time, they said that "three years ago,
something happened that was critically important to his fate." My statement
was that Bundy had been executed four years ago; I did NOT say "almost" four
years ago. Actually, it was 3.8 years ago (or 9 months, 16 days, or 9.5
months....) so I was making an accurate statement. The sociologist
"wonders" whether the show was taped almost a year before it was broadcast;
that episode was taped 345 days (.94 years) before the broadcast.
(4) Our nit-picker claims that "The photograph test wasn't a well-conducted
test because there were no control targets used." Really? That was a test
of a specific claim made by the two women. They said that merely by
examining a photograph of an individual, they could provide a personal
description that would specifically apply to that individual. That was the
claim, and we set out to test that claim. We gave them, two days in
advance, a set of 20 photographs from which they could choose. (There had
been a larger target pool, but we were not able to learn enough about some
items, so they were reduced down to 20.) This nit-pick doesn't work.
(5) The matter of the EEG experiment has evoked a statement that my
"calculation of probability" was incorrect. Wrong again. My figures were
correct, and did not involve "probability" but "expectation." The most
likely result of the experiment, by chance alone, was that the scientists
would guess one correct out of the four trials, with the possibility of
three different answers in each of the four trials. For them to obtain zero
correct there was a 20% (very slightly less) chance, one correct was 40%,
two correct was 30% and three correct was 10%. There was a slightly-better-
than 1% expectation that they would get all four correct -- by chance alone.
(Actual figures are: 19.75%, 39.51%, 29.63%, 9.88% and 1.23%.) My statement
on the program concerning the result (they got one out of four correct) was
that this result was "just what would be expected by chance alone." I was
correct. The sociologist is not.
There may have been more said of my tests of which I'm unaware. Since the
integrity and reputation of my producers and researchers at WGBH is also
being questioned here, I will respond to criticisms. As for my own record,
since I know the source of all this, I don't give a rat's ass. I long ago
gave up spinning my wheels with these fussbudgets and their acolytes.
Unfortunately, some incautious readers may give some credence to their
ravings, so a word or two of rebuttal is needed.
That's it for now. I must get back to a real world.