To the Editor,
I am a great admirer of both the writings and research of John Randall, so I hope that he does not conceive this letter as in any way demeaning his work. At the recent Cambridge Centenary Conference I argued for more internal criticism and collaboration with external critics. It is with this in mind that I wish to comment on his recent paper (Journal October 1982) in which he referred to the tests of Geller's ability to alter the memory of nitinol wire, carried out by 'Dr Eldon Byrd of the Naval Surface Weapons Center.' The authors also repeat the claim that nitinol 'was not generally available outside the Naval Surface Weapons Laboratory, so that substitution of a previously prepared piece of alloy seems unlikely.' Having read a critical review of this work by Martin Gardner (Humanist May/June 1977, also published in Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus, Avon Books 1981) it would seem important to point out:
To the Editor,
I am grateful to Dr. Parker for his kindly remarks and helpful comments. I certainly agree with his general point, that we should welcome criticism, both internal and external, but—I would add—only if it is presented in a rational and scientific manner, Martin Gardner's attacks on parapsychologist^ are so laden with insults, innuendos and emotionally-toned phrases that I find it hard to take him seriously. For example, in the paper cited by Dr. Parker, Gardner solemnly informs us that Byrd is a Mormon, and darkly hints that this has something to do with his belief in the paranormal. Well, I happen to be a practising Anglican; I wonder what Gardner will make of that! I should feel much more confidence in Gardner's criticisms if he would (a) confine himself to a properly objective scientific analysis of the experiments, and (b) submit his conclusions for publication in the scientific literature, rather than propagandist periodicals such as The Humanist.
Dr. Parker, citing Gardner, says that Byrd's tests 'were not in any way associated with' the Naval Surface Weapons Laboratory. Why, then, was it necessary for the Laboratory to approve the release of Byrd's paper? Panati states that the paper was examined and passed by four staff members of the Laboratory (all named), who checked it for (a) technical accuracy (b) quality and editorial competence (c) compliance with security regulations, and (d) professional ethics. According to Gardner, the Center later denied that Geller had ever been on its premises, and Dr. Wang, the metallurgist who was supposed to have conducted tests on the nitinol sample, 'could not remember' having done so. Obviously, something very strange is going on here. My guess is that all the publicity which followed the release of Byrd's paper caused so much embarrassment to the authorities at Silver Spring that it became necessary to do a 'cover up'job, in the course of which Dr. Wang suffered a very convenient loss of memory.
Byrd tells us that, in 1973, nitinol was not generally available to the public. Gardner denies this, and suggests that Geller could easily have obtained a piece. Which of the two should we believe? I see no reason why we should always accept the sceptic's view of events rather than the parapsychologist's. Since Byrd worked at the centre where the alloy was developed, he was presumably in a better position than Gardner to know about its availability. It certainly was not easy to get hold of nitinol in Britain in 1976, because I tried to do so unsuccessfully for quite a long time after the publication of Byrd's paper.
The only part of Gardner's paper which is really relevant to our work is the section where he describes his own experiments with nitinol. This is a really valuable contribution to the research, and it is a great pity that Gardner did not submit it to one of the parapsychological journals. Since I am not a subscriber to The Humanist, I did not see this work until after our paper had been written. If Gardner is correct, the memory of nitinol can be altered by cold working, so that, as an indicator of paranormality the test is nothing like as useful as we thought. It seems curious that Gardner should have discovered this fact, which is in contradiction to the properties of nitinol described in orthodox papers on the metal. However, I do not doubt his word. Gardner's work in this respect is a good example of the positive contribution which sceptically-orientated research can make to parapsychology. What a pity that he has to present it with so much unnecessary hostility!
To assist the evaluation of our experiment, I am happy to add the following information:
J. L. RANDALL