Daryl Bem, professor of psychology at Cornell University in New York, presented results from a re-analysis of 40 studies on telepathy. The work was carried out by Charles Honorton, a parapsychologist from Edinburgh University who died last November. Mr Honorton used a technique known as 'meta-analysis' designed to uncover flaws in the way the earlier studies were conducted and interpreted. The conclusions convinced Professor Bem to submit a paper which has been accepted for publication in the Psychology Bulletin.
He said the probability of the results occurring by chance was less than one in a billion.
The studies involved a 'sender' and a 'receiver', the latter sitting in an acoustically-isolated chamber, wearing headphones playing 'white noise', with translucent ping-pong ball halves taped over the eyes and red lighting. The sender concentrated on an art print or film clip and the receiver recorded the thoughts, feelings and images that emerged. After half an hour, the receiver picked from four images, including the target, the one that most closely matched his or her experience. There was a 25 per cent chance of a hit from pure fluke. Using meta analysis, all the results from all the studies were brought together.
The overall hit rate was typically about 33 per cent, which Professor Bem claimed was statistically significant. Moving images, such as films, produced a hit rate of about 40 per cent, and if the subjects were friends they achieved better hit rates.
Professor Bem believed the new analysis ruled out explanations other than some kind of 'psi' process. Psi is the term used to include telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis - mental influence over physical events. Professor Bem said he had been a magician since he was 17, and had moved on to 'mentalism' - pretending to read people's minds. 'A lot of us magicians went into the business seeking magic and I guess we are still looking for it. Wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to fake it?'