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Open Letter to Julian Isaacs

Dick J. Bierman
Universities of Amsterdam and Utrecht

Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 51-789 (1981), pp.183-184.



Dear Julian,

The purpose of this letter is to reaffirm and formalize the bet that I made in public during the SPR conference in Bristol. Let me briefly repeat the precise formulation of the bet and also explain why I use this mundane method.

I bet $200 that I can reproduce, using no paranormal means, any event taking place in a so-called minilab in a setting where control is based upon instrumentation (unattended setting).

The reason for this bet is that I noticed at the last SPR conference a really na´ve overestimation on the part of many participants of our present-day technology. The view was repeatedly expressed that the 'fraud proof' experiment is coming if only we use modern instrumentation. I think this is a fiction, that we should abandon the idea of convincing non believers by singular evidence, and that we should focus on the detection of strong psi sources (e.g. with the use of the minilab) and do process-oriented research.

I appreciate the concern of our senior colleagues about the risks that young students take in becoming involved in parapsychological research and hence their wish to obtain governmental funding to help those students. However, I myself have had some experience with this type of funding for psi research and I am quite convinced that singular evidence does not persuade the administration. I noticed appreciably more interest if some sensible theoretical framework, more or less speculative, could be given. I agree that we are turning in an apparent vicious circle: for funding we need some form of reliability in our experiments and to get to that point we need some funding.

It seems not to be realized that the sophisticated technology that can be used for experimental control can be used for fraud too!

That I restrict myself in this bet to an unattended setting is not a fundamental restriction. It is simply because I am no conjuror. Once I have the technical reproduction of the psi phenomena working it can probably be used by a conjuror under scientific observation.

Let me emphasize that I do not claim that my bet implies that no such phenomena exist or took place. It only means that a fraud proof experiment does not exist. Stronger: this Utopia is further away than ever. In the time that Eusapia Paladino's hands were held it was not possible to be certain but that control was assuredly not worse than what we have now.

Although betting is an unusual procedure in science, it is a good way to force people to take the responsibility for what they claim. If Carl Sargent wonders, as he did at the SPR conference, at what level of replicability the scientific community will accept his results I can assure him that a public bet with a non-acceptor will give him this acceptance (if he wins of course). One might even defend the opinion that only scientific problems about which people disagree are interesting problems. The disagreement could be operationalized into a bet, not necessarily for money, but perhaps for scientific credibility.

In case you cannot accept this bet please let me know what conditions you would accept so that hopefully we can reach consensus.

If you choose not to accept under any condition I think you will agree that it would be inappropriate to report any experimental results of the minilab as if they were fraud proof.


Dick J. Bierman