Richard WisemanOn 6 May 2009, Patricia Putt, who claims to have psychic powers, will participate in the preliminary test for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge.

Mrs. Putt will be tested at Goldsmiths University by Professor Christopher French, Professor Richard Wiseman, and psychology students Panka Juhasz, James Munroe, Suzanne Barbieri, and Fabio Tartarini.

"It's great that Patricia has agreed to be tested and accepted the protocol," said Professor Wiseman, author of Quirkology, "In my experience, the vast majority of psychics and mediums back down before this point, so this is going to be a relatively rare and exciting experiment.  My hope is that all will go well with the procedure on the day and thus we will get a clear result one way or the other."

chrisf_jsPatricia Putt approached JREF staff claiming the ability to tell personal information about individuals simply by being near them and hearing their voices. Her claim was negotiated into a protocol with JREF staff, and on 6 May, Mrs. Putt will be presented with a series of individuals and asked to write a lengthy reading about each of them. To guard against subconscious cues, the volunteers will wear heavy clothing and sunglasses, and will face away from Mrs. Putt for the course of the reading.

So Mrs. Putt will be able to hear their voices, each volunteer will read a passage from William Blake’s ‘The Auguries of Innocence.’

"I'm looking forward to the test," said Professor Christopher French, “Although I've tested lots of psychic claimants before, it will be the first time I've done so with my good friend Richard Wiseman. On the basis of my previous experience of testing claimants at the preliminary stage of the JREF Million Dollar Challenge, I have to be honest and say that I am not expecting Patricia to pass the test. But I think an important part of being a sceptic is always being prepared to be proved wrong. If Patricia really can do what she thinks she can do, wouldn't that be fantastic?"

Professor French, head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, tested Derek Ogilvie, the baby whisperer.

"I've worked with Randi before on setting up these preliminary tests and I've always been impressed by the fact that he goes out of his way to ensure that the claimants are happy with the way in which the tests will be carried out," said Professor French, “There is just no point at all in carrying out a test under conditions that the claimant feels were biased against them. If psychic powers exist, then awarding the JREF prize would be a very small price to pay for proving it."

The testing protocol requires the volunteers to be separated from Mrs. Putt for the course of the test – which will take most of the day – outside of the time Mrs. Putt will be reading specifically for them. At the end of the day, when all the readings are complete, the volunteers will be given packets containing every reading from the day. They will be asked to identify their own personal reading. If five or more out of the ten of the volunteers are able to identify their reading, Mrs. Putt will pass to the final Challenge test for the million dollars. So far, no individual tested by the JREF has passed to the final Challenge.

"I think it’s great that there is a platform out there for claimants to attempt to prove their abilities, although it is probably not just a coincidence that so far no one has passed the preliminary tests,” said Panka Juhasz, psychology student and assistant editor of UK Skeptic Magazine, "As the famous saying goes: 'Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof'…."

Psychology student James Munroe elaborated. "Science starts from a position of doubt, but that doubt is not sustained by personal incredulity in the face of a difficult idea, but rather by a lack of evidence, and what the evidence suggests, we must accept, at least as being what is most likely.  If this experiment supports the idea of psychic phenomena, it will be extremely interesting to say the least."