Concerned with security much?
Posted by c. wagner on October 29, 2009
Skeptical folks investigating supposed “psychics” are generally very concerned with controlling experiments in order to prevent cheating. A team at Edinburgh University took experimental security to the greatest extent I’ve ever seen. They were mailing a deck of 25 ESP cards to a psychic (okay, a group that claimed they were in contact with “psychic entities”) in the United States.
Here’s a summary of the security precautions:
- The cards were put back in the case.
- The case was wrapped with brown packing tape.
- The wrapped case was put inside a plastic security envelope. The envelope was designed to be completely opaque as well as unopenable without taking damage.
- The envelope was put inside a clear, waterproof plastic bag.
- The clear plastic bag was sealed with plastic tape.
- The sealed plastic bag was embedded in a block of industrial resin. The mold for the block had odd, random shapes included, so the shape of the block would be incredibly difficult to reproduce.
- Dots of dye were put within the resin and their locations mapped. This was also to make it difficult to reproduce the block.
- The documented block of resin was sealed in a plastic security envelope like the one in step 3.
- The seal of the envelope was signed by one of the investigators.
The girlfriend said it sounded like the supposed psychics were sent a loud and clear “fuck you” in the shape of an enveloped-swaddled, oddly-shaped, spotted block of resin. I just thought it was hilarious.
By the way, the “psychic entities” failed the test, getting fewer right than chance. Maybe the resin threw them off.
The experiment is desribed in Deception and Self-Deception by Richard Wiseman.