Patricia Putt, a woman from the United Kingdom who believes she is psychic, was recently tested for the JREF One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge by Professor Richard Wiseman and Professor Christopher French at Goldsmiths University.
For the test, Putt was presented with ten volunteers - all Caucasian females aged 18-30 - and asked to write page-long psychic readings about each of them. The volunteers were asked, after all the readings were completed, to identify the one that applied best to them. The concept for the protocol was sent to Putt on 18 July 2008.On 6 May 2009, the test was conducted.
As previously agreed upon by the JREF and Putt, a successful demonstration would contstitute a minimum of five of the ten volunteers choosing their own profiles. After the test, though, none of the volunteers picked their own reading. Putt’s score was zero out of ten.
I contacted Putt to find out why she believed she had failed the preliminary test, and what she had thought of the Challenge in practice.
"I'm not in the least disappointed that the results did not go my way. I was stunned at first but when normal thought re-entered my head I realised that I was never going to win the barriers presented in the protocol were too much even for me to surmount," Putt said in an e-mail on 8 May 2009.
Putt continued, ""With them [the volunteers] being bound from head to foot like black mummies, they themselves felt tied so were not really free to link with Spirit making my work a great deal more difficult," Putt said.
During the test, the volunteers were safeguarded from potentially giving information away with subconscious cues by donning a graduation gown and ski mask for the duration of their reading. They also faced away from Putt, and Putt was not permitted to see them enter the testing room.
On 11 August 2008, during protocol negotiations, Putt agreed to the body and face coverings, and said, "I have no objection to the sitter being anonymous as those for whom I do phone Readings are never seen by me the only difference being that I do have voice contact. For me it has been the sound of people's voices that bring Spirit in - and no I am not asking them to give me hints. In fact if I think my client is talking too much I will tell them in a tactful manner to be quiet."
On 12 August 2008, I proposed to Putt a setup wherein the volunteers would be able to speak - only they would all have to say the same thing: an excerpt of William Blake's ‘Auguries of Innocence.' This was approved and added to the protocol.
Putt also said in the 8 May e-mail, "I would have preferred the age group and sexes to be mixed, ages from 18 to 80 would have been perfect. An even amount of boys, girls, men and women would have been better. Unfortunately, as all the volunteers were of an age and from the College unless they had had a really bad childhood (in which case ethically my hands would have been tied) there really wasn't too much to say."
The volunteers within the test were identified by laminated numbers hanging on lanyards around their necks. On 28 August 2008, Putt and I discussed whether or not she would be able to call the identifying numbers for the volunteers in any order she chose. We allowed this concession in the protocol. When I warned her that once she had chosen a number and been in the same room with the volunteer she could not take it back, Putt said, "Once I pick a person I go all the way if I muck it up that's my fault, I will know from the onset if I can work with them."
Putt never chose to bring in the five replacement volunteers we provided in case she did come across someone she couldn't read. If she knows from the outset whether or not she can work with an individual, and we had alternates on-hand to bring in should she not be able to, then the fact that only the ten were used would seem to indicate that Putt believed, at least at the time, that she could read the individuals correctly.
Additionally, the first draft of the protocol, which was sent on 10 August 2008, specified that all volunteers would be of the same gender. On 27 August 2008, the wording was changed to specify that all volunteers would be of the same gender and the same race.
Putt responded to the addition to the protocol by saying, "Sounds perfect to me."
In Putt's final negotiations with Professor Wiseman and Professor French, the age restriction was added with Putt's approval.
All of this took place in advance of the preliminary test.
Putt participated fully in every step of the creation of this protocol. She presented a claim, filled out her application properly, provided all necessary documentation, and patiently waited her turn for a test. She actually showed up, which is more than many others before her have managed. She took her full test with nary a tantrum.
The thing I'm noticing, though, is the tendency of claimants to come up with a reason why the test wasn't valid - even when they sign a statement like the following one which Putt signed before her test:
I, the undersigned, agree to all terms and conditions listed in this document outlining the protocol for my preliminary test in the James Randi Educational Foundation's One Million Dollar Challenge. I agree that the protocol outline describes a fair test of my claimed ability.
I do not believe the James Randi Educational Foundation, nor the individuals chosen by the James Randi Educational Foundation to conduct this test, will intentionally cause my failure through either intended or unintended means.
In the event that I do not pass this test, I will hold neither the James Randi Educational Foundation nor the individuals testing my ability responsible, and understand that in the event of failure I am permitted to re-submit my claim and application one year from the date of the test.
Let's imagine a test of Putt's ability where the protocol was altered in the ways she specified (agreeing, though, that those issues were raised too late, and that they were, in fact, non-issues before she failed the test).
In her ideal test, Putt would have had four male volunteers, of whom two would have been adults and two would have been younger, four female volunteers, of whom two would have been adults and two would have been younger, and then two remaining volunteers, one male and one female of ages not specified since ten is not divisible by four.
The individuals in Putt's ideal test would not have been disguised in any way, either.
In order to pass the test, five or more of the volunteers had to choose their own readings from the packet of ten. Imagine that Putt's ideal test was run.
In this imagined test, one reading refers to problems with a boyfriend. One refers to problems with a husband. One refers to problems with a girlfriend. One refers to problems with a wife.
Even though those sentences say exactly the same thing with only gender and relationship status altered, readings that contain those would more than likely suit, respectively, the younger female, the older female, the younger male, and the older male. And since there are two of each, she has a shot at getting a hit for either one.
Four out of ten (and possibly more) with only those sentences.
Obviously, running a test like Putt’s ideal test would not have provided definitive proof of anything - too much information can be given away by things so simple as gender and age - Still, with all the things above, does it always come down to "Oh, the test wasn't fair after all!"?
Patricia Putt checked out the protocol, agreed in writing that it was satisfactory, and even during the test, made no complaints. Those conducting the tests did so with great care, attention to detail, and accuracy. The test stands.