The test devised is interesting, it basically consists of each psychic having to do written ‘readings’ for five different ‘sitters’ who they can’t see or talk to. Each sitter then rates the five written readings out of ten for accuracy, and chooses the one they think is about them.
Only one sitter correctly identified her reading from one of the psychics, and gave it an accuracy rating of 8/10. So the test didn’t uncover any psychic ability overall.
A lot of the negative comments about the test focus on the fact that psychics do not normally ‘read’ for people they can’t see or talk to. This made me think of a potential alternative approach.
For each psychic, they get to see, say, 10 people. Five of them are instructed to treat it as a normal reading, give honest answers to the questions/observations, but saying only ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The other five are given detailed false ‘back stories’, don’t wear their own clothes (or dress everyone the same in nursing scrubs or something), and instructed to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the basis of those stories. Call these ones the Liars.
There would now be two different things you could measure.
Firstly you could ask the sitters to assess the accuracy of the ‘reading’ as before – but in the case of the five Liars, they would assess the statements in respect of their real selves. So every correct assertion, even if they replied ‘no’ during the test would count towards the accuracy rating.
Of course it might also be interesting to see how accurate the psychics were against the fake back story too. This might be suggestive of how psychic powers ‘work’.
Secondly you could test whether the psychics can identify who the Liars are. This would be similar to the measurement of confidence in their readings taken in the Merseyside experiment. Clearly there is a risk that they might be reading body language which can give away lies, so for that reason it might be necessary to employ actors to play the Liars.
Reading of body language or other non-psychic intuition would hopefully be mitigated by the fact that sitters would only say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – preventing a detailed interrogation. “Ah but where exactly is the bank you work in? Name all your co-workers, etc…”.
This approach would hopefully eliminate an element of cold reading. If psychic powers are real, and the individuals being tested really have them, then the accuracy of the information they receive shouldn’t be dependent on the feedback from the sitter.
If they could make accurate judgement about who was a Liar it would go some way to adding credibility to their claims about their abilities. After all, if someone tells me an orange is purple I don’t doubt my eyes. Shouldn’t psychic ability be the same?
Clearly the details of the experiment would need to be fleshed out. But I think it could mitigate the criticisms about lack of face to face contact, and introduce an interesting new variable.