The Halloween Challenge – the Protocol
Protocol for Halloween Challenge 2012
A number of psychics will be tested in order to ascertain whether or not they can produce accurate and specific readings for five volunteer sitters when all normal means of communication between sitters and psychics are eliminated and all normal means of deducing specific and accurate information about the sitters have been ruled out. The psychics would be required to record their readings in written form for each sitter individually while the sitter is hidden from view behind a screen. When all readings have been recorded, sitters will be asked to choose, for each psychic, which of the five readings produced they believe was the one written specifically for them. If psychics really are able to paranormally obtain accurate and specific information about sitters, each sitter should be able to recognize themselves in one of the five readings, i.e., the one that was written specifically for them. In order for any particular psychic to pass the test, all five sitters must choose the reading that that psychic produced specifically for them. If any psychic obtains a score of four out of five, this will be deemed to be an interesting result worthy of further investigation but they will not have formally passed the test as specified.
Date of Test
Sunday, 21 October 2012 (see Appendix A for specific timing).
Venue of Test
The main testing room will be WB208A in the Whitehead Building at Goldsmiths College. Volunteer sitters will be hidden behind a screen during the readings and on each trial each psychic will enter and leave the testing area without seeing the sitter. Other rooms and areas around the College will be used as required (e.g., as holding areas, etc.).
- Up to five psychics (but most likely two or three), all of whom have agreed to be tested in accordance with the protocol and have signed statements in advance to this effect.
- Seven to nine volunteer sitters, all female aged between 18 and 30. All must be open to the possibility that psychics might really be able to give accurate readings via paranormal means. Only five will actually be used as part of the formal test, with the others being used as reserves if needed (e.g., a sitter is disqualified because of departure from protocol; failure of a sitter to turn up for reading at the appointed time; session is declared null and void because a psychic departs from the agreed protocol; etc.). Therefore the reserves should live near to the College or be on site on the day of testing.
- Volunteer helpers (see separate list).
- Simon Singh (SS), Mike Marshall (MM), Chris French (CF).
NOTE: The remainder of the protocol deals with the test as though only two psychics are being tested and only the five original sitters will be used. The remaining volunteer sitters may be called in as replacements should there be any issue with the original five. The psychics may not call in a replacement, and replacements cannot be used in the event that the psychics cannot read the original five. In the event that more than two psychics are available for testing, essentially the same protocol will be followed but the schedule will be adjusted to include time slots for the additional psychics to make their readings. If more than three psychics are available for testing, it may be necessary for all psychics to produce their readings for each sitter at the same time (i.e., in parallel) although it is unlikely that this situation will arise.
- Screen to conceal sitters.
- Five chairs with folding tablet arms.
- One chair behind screen.
- Five sheets of A4 paper with numbers from 1 to 5 printed upon them (48 pt. font).
- Drawing pins or similar (to attach number to screen).
- Digital camera.
- Two video cameras (one recording the sitters, one recording the psychics) with sufficient recording media.
- Five sheets requesting basic demographic information from sitters, confirming that they are open to the possibility that psychics might genuinely be able to produce accurate readings by paranormal means and noting their identification number (NB: identification number will be decided on the day of the test).
- Up to five sheets (one per psychic) requesting basic demographic information from psychics along with other useful information (e.g., number of years experience) and also confirmation that they agree that the test is a fair test of their alleged psychic ability.
- For each of five sitters, five sheets (one per psychic) of A4 lined paper with sitter identification number and psychic’s name written at the top.
- At least five pens (one per psychic, plus a few spares).
- Up to five sheets (one per psychic) to allow psychics to record a few notes indicating how they felt that particular session went and their confidence regarding that particular reading.
- Photocopier (with adequate supplies of paper).
- Black marker pen.
- Coding Sheet (see below).
- Sessions Record Sheet (see below).
- No mobile phones, walkie-talkies or other communicators, aside from those used by testers, within the test.
- No cameras, camcorders, camera-phones, etc. except for those used by the testers.
- The psychics can bring no objects into the testing room outside of themselves and immediate personal possessions such as jewelry and clothing.
- No sleight-of-hand, trickery, or cheating.
- The psychics cannot, in any way, refer to the physical attributes of the sitters in the readings.
- The psychics cannot, in any way, refer to the sitters’ numbers in their readings.
- The psychics cannot, in any way, refer to the order of the sessions in their readings.
- The test will concern only information given in a written format on the readings. Communication with the sitters after the test has been concluded will not be grounds for reconsidering the test results.
- If any of the above listed are violated, or if it is determined the any psychic has attempted to tilt the results in his or her favour using trickery of any kind, the offending psychic will be disqualified from the test. If there is a setup or technological problem, or if for any reason the test must be halted due to extenuating circumstances other than trickery, the test may be conducted again.
What Will Constitute Passing the Test?
The five readings from each psychic will be collated into a set in random order. Each sitter will read through all five readings in each set and decide for each set which reading they believe to be the one that was done specifically for them on the basis of the accuracy and specificity of each reading. If all five readings by a particular psychic are chosen by the appropriate sitters, the psychic(s) concerned will be deemed to have passed the test. The probability of this occurring just by chance for each psychic is 1 in 3125 (or 0.00032). As we may be testing more than one psychic, the probability of any of them achieving such an impressive result must be adjusted accordingly, e.g., if five psychics are tested, the probability is 1 in 3125/5 = 1 in 625.
NB: To be deemed to have passed the test, a psychic must produce five readings ALL OF WHICH are then correctly identified by the five sitters as being written specifically for them.
If, for any particular psychic’s readings, four out of the five sitters correctly identify the reading that was done for them, this would be deemed to be an interesting result worthy of further investigation but would not be deemed to be sufficient to have passed the test as specified. According to the binomial probability calculator at http://vassarstats.net/binomialX.html the probability of four or more correct identifications out of five occurring purely by chance is 0.00672 (around 1 in 150) for each individual psychic. If five psychics are tested, the probability of is around 1 in 30.
A score of three out of five would not be statistically significant even without adjusting for multiple psychics (i.e., p > .05).
- Each of the volunteer sitters will, before their sitting begins, be given a sheet of A4 paper with a randomly selected number from 1 to 5 printed upon it. The number will be printed in 400 pt. font to maintain visibility from a distance. They will be photographed holding their number.Sitters will be asked to complete a Consent Form, also providing basic demographic information and confirming that they are open to the possibility that psychics might genuinely be able to produce accurate readings by paranormal means. Most importantly, their identification number will be written on to this form at this point.
- Each psychic taking part in the test will be allocated an escort who will stay with them throughout the entire testing session. After the psychics have deposited their personal belongings (e.g., coats, bags, mobile phones, etc.) in a secure holding area, they will be accompanied to separate rooms by their escort. From that point on until the readings are finished, they will only be allowed to move between their allocated room and the testing area (with the exception of toilet breaks). The psychic to go first for the first sitter will be decided by random selection (if only two psychics, the toss of a coin). From then on, if only two psychics are taking part, the one to go first will alternate across sitters (if more than two, the order will be determined by random selection for each sitter).
- All sessions will be filmed throughout including each sitter entering the room holding their number, with no edits, no cuts, and no gaps (except for those required to change tapes which will be done, where possible, between sessions). At the start of each session, the sitter will be accompanied into the testing room. They affix their identification number to the front of the screen and then take their place seated behind the screen.
- Once the sitter is in position, the appropriate response sheets and a pen will be placed on the psychic’s chair. The first psychic will enter the room and sit in the chair allocated. They will be able to see the screen and the sitter identification number. They will be seated upon chairs with folding tablet arms. The start time for each reading should be recorded on the Sessions Record sheet, along with the psychic’s name and the sitter’s identification number.
- Each psychic will record their reading in writing on the A4 sheet. They should aim to complete one side of A4 only and therefore they should concentrate on providing information that will enable the sitter to identify themselves specifically (but they are, of course, free to write anything they please within the stipulations outlined above).
- When each psychic has completed their reading (one side of A4), they should raise their hand and one of the tester’s will collect in their sheet. Once the sheet has been collected in, the psychic will be taken back to their allocated room by their escort and asked to record their impressions of the session and provide a confidence rating. The whole procedure is then repeated with the next psychic until all psychics have given a reading for that sitter. Once all psychics have completed their readings for a particular sitter, the sitter can leave with identification number. They will be asked to hang on to their unique identification number as a way of helping them to remember it. The testing area will then be made ready for the next sitter.
- NEITHER THE PSYCHICS NOR THE SITTERS ARE ALLOWED TO SPEAK FROM THE MOMENT THE PSYCHIC ENTERS THE ROOM UNTIL THE MOMENT THE PSYCHIC LEAVES.If any urgent queries arise during this period, the psychic or sitter should raise a hand (at least one person in the testing area will have a clear view of the sitter). In response, one of the testers will quietly deal with the query by asking the psychic/sitter to write their query on a sheet of paper and then writing a reply.
- Between sessions, psychics can have a 10-minute break should they choose to do so. If any psychic needs to go to the toilet, they will be accompanied to the toilets on the same corridor as WB208A with appropriate steps taken to ensure that they do not come into contact with any sitters.
- The process described above will be repeated for all sitters. Sitters should be available on site throughout the testing period and will be called (by telephone) to a room near the testing area a few minutes before their reading is to begin. They will be accompanied into and out of the Whitehead Building by a volunteer helper. All sitters should remain on site or very close to Goldsmiths so that they can be called back for the judging session at the end.
- Once all readings have been completed, the psychics will leave the building and the Coding Sheet will be prepared. Preparation of the Coding Sheet will be recorded.
- At the end of the test, the testers will have the five original handwritten readings for each psychic with sitter identification numbers visible. One complete set of copies of these readings will be made before the originals are put into an envelope which would be signed, sealed and held for safekeeping.
- Next, for each psychic, the sitter identification number will be converted into a randomly determined letter using the die (NB: Note that the sitter identification number will NOT correspond to the temporal order of the readings as the temporal order was randomly determined). Thus, for the first psychic, the die will be rolled and the number noted (if a 6 is rolled, simply roll again). If 1 is rolled, the psychic’s reading for sitter 1 is allocated the letter “A”; 2 = “B”, 3 = “C”, and so on. The result of the recoding is recorded on the Coding Sheet (see attached). The die is then rolled again until a new number between 1 and 5 appears and this is recorded as the code for that psychic’s reading for sitter 2. This procedure is repeated until each of that psychic’s readings has been allocated a unique randomly determined letter from “A” to “E”. Then the whole procedure is repeated for the next psychic using the letters “F” to “J”, and so on, until all psychics have their own unique coding system for their readings. The testers will then make two copies of the readings with the number replaced by the randomly allocated letter (one set will be retained in case it is required for subsequent checking of protocol adherence). This replacement will take place by Tippexing out the number and writing in the letter. The Coding Sheet will now serve to indicate the “correct” response for each reading during the judging phase, i.e., the letter of the reading that was actually done for that sitter.
- The testers will then read the original readings and ensure that each psychic has adhered to all stipulations regarding them (i.e., that there is no mention of the sitters’ numbers, order of sessions, etc.). If any of the stipulations have been violated, the testers will edit the readings (with the letter codes on) with a black marker pen to obscure the relevant material.
- The testers will then make five copies of each of the edited readings (i.e., one for each sitter).
- For each sitter, the set of readings from each psychic (in random order) will be prepared and collated into booklets.
- Once all of the booklets have been prepared, the sitters will be called back to the testing room (WB208A). They will be seated so as not to be able to see each other’s readings and talking will not be permitted until judging has been completed. The judging process will be filmed throughout.
- For each booklet (i.e., set of readings from each psychic), each sitter will (a) put their identification number on the front page, (b) rate the accuracy of each reading in terms of how well it describes them as a unique individual (on a scale from 1 to 10), and (c) choose the one reading that they feel is the one most likely to have been done specifically for them. Once they have judged the readings, they will be asked to record their overall impressions of the test and their overall views of the accuracy of the readings, etc.
- Once each sitter has completed the judging task, one of the testers will check to ensure that all required information has been submitted, the sitter will be thanked and will then leave the building. Prof French will collect in the readings and will then be responsible for entering the responses into a statistical package and analyzing the results.
- Results will be announced on 31 October 2012.
Appendix A: Approximate Timing of Sessions
The timings below simply give an indication of likely timings as a guide, allowing for 20 minutes per reading and an optional 10-minute break between sitters. We may end up getting through proceedings more quickly than this (e.g., if readings do not take 20 minutes or psychics opt not to take a break) or more slowly (e.g., if psychic needs more than 20 minutes for any reading). Tea, coffee and sandwiches will be provided as required.
09:00-10:00: Testing team (CCF, MM, SS) and helpers arrive and set up testing area, ensure all required apparatus and materials on hand. Check that everyone knows their role for the day.
10:00-10:20: Psychics arrive and the procedure is explained. Opportunity to ask questions, etc.
10:10: First sitter arrives (all sitters to be kept away from psychics). Remaining sitters will be called and asked to arrive at the beginning of the second reading for previous sitter.
10:20-10:40: Psychic A, reading 1.
10:40-11:00: Psychic B, reading 1.
11:00-11:10: Optional break.
11:10-11:30: Psychic B, reading 2.
11:30-11:50: Psychic A, reading 2.
11:50-12:00: Optional break.
12:00-12:20: Psychic A, reading 3.
12:20-12:40: Psychic B, reading 3.
12:50-13:00: Optional break.
13:00-13:20: Psychic B, reading 4.
13:20-13:40: Psychic A, reading 4.
13:40-13:50: Optional break.
13:50-14:10: Psychic A, reading 5.
14:10-14:30: Psychic B, reading 5.
14:30-14:40: Psychics are thanked and leave.
14:40-16:00: Randomisation and collation of readings, etc.
16:00-17:00: Sitters rate readings.
NB: Should a third psychic be available for testing, psychics would perform their readings for each sitter in a randomly determined order. Should more than three psychics be available for testing, readings would have to be carried out “in parallel”, i.e., all psychics simultaneously produce readings for each sitter.