Uri Geller - a bibliography - homepage


Flim-Flam!

by

James Randi


Prometheus Books, 1980 - ISBN 0879751983

Chapter 7 - The Laurel and Hardy of Psi

(Excerpts)



 Of all the experiments - if I may use that term loosely - that Targ and Puthoff performed with Geller, the thirteen ESP tests are best known to students of these matters. They were the highlight of the article in Nature. The experimenters chose their targets from a dictionary, using a fairly acceptable random method. Geller, sealed in a test area, was supposed to guess the targets, which were drawings of the chosen words. He had the option of "passing", which was the usual arangement in these tests. Fair enough - if that was the actual procedure.
 Geller was suplied with paper and pen and asked to make a drawing that corresponded to the target. We are told that he was required to stay in the room until each test was declared terminated, at which time he would emerge and submit his effort to the experimenters before being shown the target. Again, a good procedure, if, it was the method used.
 Over a period of several days, Geller made thirteen tries at ESP guessing. Contrary to the usual scientific procedure, the tests were conducted under widely varying conditions that changed every moment. Geller was able, we are told, to identify seven of the thirteen targets. That's 54 percent success, with odds of millions to one since the taget pool consisted of a very great number of possibilities. Sounds impressive, until you remember the usual reporting standards of the two in charge. Actually, Geller correctly indentified only three of the thirteen targets, and there's very little mystery about how he got two of them.
 Targ and Puthoff conducted these tests and drew their conclusions in a way previously unknown to scientists but often used by bunglers.
 The scorecard read:
Test NumberTargetSRI Decision Actual Result
1Firecrackermissedmissed
2Bunch of grapeshitSecurity breakdown
3Devilmissedmissed
4Solar systemhitSecurity breakdown
5Rabbitpassedpassed
6Treepassedpassed
7Envelopepassedpassed
8Camelhitpassed
9Bridgefairpassed
10Seagullhithit
11Kitehitpassed
12Churchmissedpassed
13Heartfairmissed

 The report Targ and Puthoff issued listed only three passes in the thirteen tries. Actually, in the cases of the "camel" (8), "bridge" (9), "kite" (11), and "church" (12), Geller Passed, though this was not reported. According to the rules of targ and Puthoff, a pass is allowed only if you miss! There were several responses to "camel", for example, and Puthoff chose the one closest to it, a horse, as the winner. They reported that "all drawings were published," but there were many that they chose to omit apparently in order to bolster the results. But, we are told, even with all this skulduggery, they did submit these results for "double-blind" decisions by people who did not know the expected findings. yep, and in doing so, they left out numbers 5, 6, and 7, since they were passes, but included the selected responses to numbers 8, 9, 11, and 12 - and these were passes, too! But - when carefully trimmed and weeded - they were very good evidence in favor of Geller's ESP powers! The double-blind safeguards do not take into account such careful "weeding".
 At this late date, with the detailed and careful obfuscation in the reports that has been applied in the interim to conceal the needed information, it is impossible to say just how Geller fooled the experimenters during the tests done at SRI. Suffice it to say that - apart from the accomodating Targ and Puthoff - he had adequate confederates in the persons of Shipi and Hannah Shtrang, two assistants he had trained in Israel to transmit information to him in his act. Jean Mayo, a Geller devotee, was also present, underfoot all the time, and may very well have been of help to Geller as well. She was there to make the drawings for the tests. None of these people ever showed up in the "scientific" report that was published and, according to John Wilhelm's The Search for Superman, Targ specifically instructed Mayo never to admit she'd been there. The "security breakdown" I have listed for test numbers 2 and 4 consisted of a hole in the wall of the room in which Geller was enclosed to insulate him from the target drawing, and a discusion between Mayo and targ about the target that not only could have been overheard but was bolstered, reports Wilhelm, by Targ's out-loud suggestion to "add a rocket ship" and Mayo's humming of the theme music of the motion picture 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sounds like a Keystone Kop affair, and it was. The only mystery is how Geller missed any targets at all.
 But what about the three accepted passes in tests 5, 6, and 7? Why did Geller choose to pass on them, and why were these passes accepted? Beacause on those three and those three only was he up gainst some brains. Charles Rebert, the EEG expert and psychologist at SRI, conducted those three, and Geller didn't like it one bit. Nor did he have a chance to work any trickery.
 Rebert and Dr. Leon Otis, also a psychologist, later ran a series of one hundred tests that Geller flunked grandly, falling back on the tired old "negative vibrations" alibi. The psychologists prepared one hundred targets (drawings) and sealed them in individual envelopes. Geller was asked to guess the contents of each envelope, chosen at random. The proceduaral rules were strict, and Geller was hooked up to the EEG electrodes to get a readout of his bodily functions while he worked. He failed to identify the targets in every one of the envelopes, according to the experimenters, yet Targ and Puthoff lokked over the eresults and declared that six of the hundred guesses could be "reasonably associated" with their targets. The psychologists disagreed with this conclusion. Furthermore, after the psychologists had termintaed the tests, conditions were relaxed at the insistence of Targ and Puthoff, and after Geller made a few trips in and out of the room - a procedure that had been forbidden in the preceding tests - he was able to identify of a set of six new drawings that had been prepared. Why six new ones? Because Geller complained that the others had been produced by persons with negative feelings.
 Rebert was angry when Targ and Putoff submitted their reports to Nature over his objections. He directed them not to include one set of EEG experiments that he had supervised, and he informed them that their presumptous conclusions had no basis in fact, since there was an unusual EEG pattern in only one out of six subjects tested, and even that pattern had not been properly studied. When analyzed, it proved only different not significant. But the results were published anyway. A horrified Rebert also heard that Targ and Puthoff were going to proclaim these erroneous findings before Stanford University's psychology department, and he forbade such a blunder. The talk was cancelled.
 Although targ and Puthoff claimed that Geller failed the Rebert-Otis one-hundred envelope test because of the negative attitude of the experimenters, the fact remains that Geller "succeeded" only after the tight controls imposed by Rebert and Otis were purposley relaxed. Rebert published a statement saying he was convinced that Geller simply cheated.
 In my book The Magic of Uri Geller, I complained that Stanford Research Institute scientists as well as the SRI administration had withheld important information about Targ and Puthoff and their fiasco. Of course, a major reason for that was their embarrassment. As the people at SRI felt increasingly imperiled by the news that kept leaking out, I felt it was time for a bolder approach. I sat down and wrote thirty-one letters to prominent figures there, asking if they were prepared to tell the facts about the entire situation.
 Weeks went by. Then, one evening, I received a call from an individual. I was told that this person represented a group of "dozens" of scientists at SRI who were determined that the truth be told. They adopted the code name "Broomhilda", and during the next few months began giving me the information that should have been included in the SRI reports. Shortly thereafter, I received a communication from a member of a second special committee within SRI charged with looking into the Targ and Puthoff shenanigans ( the first "Psychic Research Review Committee" had found everything perfectly kosher, it seems), asking me for details about my investigations of the situation there. They were asking me, and I've never even set foot on the sacred grounds of SRI. But this group seemed somewhat better organized and genuinely concerned. Regrettably, after months of correspondence with a member of the committee I was informed that their investigation was at a stand-still, and that I was expressly forbidden to mention his name or to quote anything he had asked me or told me in this book.
 Broomhilda verfied for me much of the information I had been holding on to for years. The data now moved from the status of hearsay to documented fact. Additional facts were elicited during conversations and correspondence with individuals. many of these persons were not aware of Broomhilda and were acting on their own. Their completely independent input supported Broomhilda's charges. taken together, the information from all sources amounted to quite an indictment. In essence, it is this:
 ...Targ and Puthoff's assertion that Geller's powers had been established as a result of the work done at SRI, said colleagues there who were involved with the tests, was unwarranted, unscientific, and exceedingly premature. They said that the two scientists should publish an objective and honest representation of the work. Targ and Puthoff chose to ignore this. They published the Nature paper.
 In advance of the submission of the paper to Nature, Charles Rebert, as already mentioned, made no secret of his objections. He told Targ and Puthoff that they were ethically bound to tell Nature that in the thirteen-target series of tests with Geller, numbers 8, 9, 11, and 12 - three of them counted as hits - were passes. They chose not to. The unsuccessful Geller tests were not included in the Nature paper. They should have been, by any standards. Targ and Puthoff knew there had been breaches of protocol during the tests, such as the hole in the wall of the room in which Geller was confined. They did not report this. Rebert reminded them that, according to his own recollection, "hundreds of drawings were made" by Geller during the tests. Where were they? Targ and Puthoff had told the world that "all drawings are shown". Psychologist Rebert complained about Targ and Puthoff's wild rationalizations, in their attempts to account for their failures, and reminded them that though they claimed the targets were never discussed, he was there when they were - loudly and animatedly.
 The group of scientists at SRI who worked on the tests with Targ and Puthoff objected to their use of the words "totally unambiguous" and "scrupulous" when referring to their experimental procedures. They were anything but that. Targ, told by Leon Otis that his reports were misleading, never responded to the comments. Otis concluded that Targ was willing to present unsubstantiated results to the SRI clients and feared that the scandal resulting from an exposure of such procedures could jeopardize the position of SRI as a research organization. He had underestimated the stubbornness of SRI's administration, which to this day has never publicly admitted Targ and Puthoff's manipulations of fact and of scientific method.
 In all the real work on Geller at SRI, the only data ever gathered proved that (1) Geller could not performed as claimed, and (2) when they gave him the chance to use trickery, observers were convinced that he did just that, and he was successful. All the other tests lacked proper controls and were useless. When scientists within SRI issued strong statements about this situation and other aspects of experiments done by Targ and Puthoff, the two were quick to cover their tracks with further word games. A statement was issued that included a typical doubletalk term, "non-experiment". This apparently meant an experiment that is not under control but is good enough to report anyway.
 Shortly after my book The Magic of Uri Geller appeared and helped to force the retreat of that psychic superstar, Drs. Targ and Puthoff issued a "fact sheet" in rebuttal to twenty-four of the points made in my book. This attempt was a failure, and in response to one claim that the SRI tests were done under tight controls, a scientist who was there declared flatly, "This is b.s. As far as I and my colleagues are concerned, none of the experiments met accepted scientific protocol." I will not burden you with the other twenty-three points; they are as easily demolished.
 However, I must disagree with a member of the press, who described Dr. Russell Targ as "not very smart" after seeing the film that both SRI scientists had prepared to prove the wonders of parapsychology. People can change, even parapsychologists. Now Targ lets Puthoff make all the mistakes by allowing him to answer all the questions.
 Targ and Puthoff prepared that highly deceptive film for SRI, advertising their efforts. It was criticized by others on the staff, and the two issued a masterpiece of evasion and license in reply. They appended to it - without his knowledge or permission - the name of Zev Pressman, the SRI photographer who had shot the film. Some of the objections that had been raised were based on Pressman's revelations about his involvement with it.
 In the film, Geller was shown doing a trick wherin a die was enclosed in a box and shaken about, after which Geller identified the uppermost face on the die eight times in a row. At no time did Geller touch the box, said Targ. Actually, Geller not only shook the box (Targ later reported that he was like a child who liked to rattle things!) but also held it while concentrating and was even reported to have been the one to open it! Pressman, said targ and Puthoff in their statement, was present during these experiments. Not so, according to Pressman, who said he had been present during a few correct throws made in other experiments, on other days - thus also contradicting Targ and Puthoff's claim that there were no other die tests done. Most damning of all, Pressman said to others at SRI that he had been told the successful throws were done after he (Pressman) had gone home for the day. So it appears that the film was a reenactment of that miracle. Yet the transcript of the film includes these words: "The film portrays experiments that we performed with [Geller] just as they were carried out. Each scene has been taken from film footage made during actual experiments. Nothing has been restaged or specially created ... Here is another dice-box experiment ... This is a live experiment that you see." This section of the transcript is headed, in large capital letters, DICE BOX EXPERIMENTS.
 At the close of the film, the narrator refers to what Targ and Puthoff consider to be one of the most important and convincing segments in the film - a segment that is now known to be a restaged and specially created one. He offers a recap "to remind you of those experiments we feel were best controlled ... including the double-blind die-in-the-box experiment."
 I have examined the evidence and can only come to the conclusion that this is blatant misrepresentation. There is no other way to describe it properly. Pressman did not even know that Targ and Puthoff were issuing a statement, he did not sign it, and he did not give them permission to use his name. He knew nothing about most of what appeared under his name, and he disagreed with the part that he did know about.
 We are told by SRI that some thirty thousand feet of movie film about the Geller experiments was prepared. That's approximately fourteen hours of research data on film! May we see this film, gentlemen? Surely it must be astonishing stuff, and valuable as well. But no, we are offered instead only that which was released by targ and Puthoff as the best of their data; not only is this amateur night at the movies but most of what is shown is admittedly not done under proper control!
 The SRI film, shown to audiences all over the world, starts off with a typical blooper. As anyone with experience in the field now knows, Geller used the art of "pencil reading" whenever he could. This consists of watching the top of a pencil as someone is using it and determining what is being written by the motion of the pencil. When the selection is rather narrow - ten digits for example - such a feat is not difficult. And in the SRI film, the first trick is just that. Geller pretends to think of something, then "transmits" it to a member of his audience. He pretends to write, but writes nothing. He tetains the pencil and paper, however. He asks the victim to guess his number and write it. It can be clearly seen in the film that the victim writes a "3", and sure enough, when geller reveals the number he has now written it is exactly the same one! If Geller fooled them all with such a simple trick, he certainly could fool them with other material. In this case, the evidence was right there for them to see. But you know how it is leading horses to water.
 As with all schemes that depend on individuals keeping quiet, the Uri Geller myth had to eventually collapse. Although Geller managed to survive an exposé in Israel when Hannah Shtrang, the sister of his main accomplice Shipi, revealed what she knew to the press, the publication of my book and Confessions of a Psychic (by Uriah Fuller - a thinly disguised Martin Gardner) seemed to write the last chapter of his meteoric career. But Geller's habit of using up people and then discarding them really caught up with him when Yasha Katz, his former manager now in Israel, decided to tell all. Such other "used-up" people as Puharich, Targ, Puthoff, Mitchell and Franklin, no matter how much they suspected that Geller had taken advantage of them, were not in a position to admit it. Katz was different.
 ... His main concern was avery large sum of money that Geller still owed him. An agreement he had with Geller entitled him to a percentage of all income that Geller earned outside the United States, and he had been strung along for many months as he travelled all over the globe with the Israeli wonder. Finally, Geller had dumped him and Yasha knew he was of no further value to his employer. But another facet of all this was obviously a much more important reason for the parting. It developed that Katz had been pressed into service as an accomplice when the usually ubiquitious Shipi Shtrang was unavailable. In other words, Katz was admitting to me that he was not the innocent lackey I'd thought but instead a full-fledged trickster!
 

The rest of this chapter will be added at a later date


This article contains copyrighted material that has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available for the general purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching and/or research. I believe that use of this material is covered under the terms of "fair use". If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes other than that provided by law, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Uri Geller - a bibliography - homepage