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WA Attempts on the $A100,000 Prize
None have been successful

The following account draws on reports in POST Newspapers, 5-6 September 1990, page 9, and the Skeptic 27(2), 15, 2007.

Contenders for the Australian Skeptics $100,000 prize for proof of paranormal ability rarely raise their heads in Western Australia. The first serious challenger was a young psychic called Gwen (not her real name). Gwen contacted the WA Skeptics to say she was willing to have her psychic skills tested. We made it clear that our test would be only a pre-test, which if successful would lead to a test by the national body for the $100,000 prize. She was then asked to provide two testimonials from people who had witnessed her powers and to put in writing what she claimed to be able to do. Once she had done this, we worked together to draw up test conditions that both Gwen and WA Skeptics were happy with.

Gwen is a well-known psychic with very satisfied clients. She said in her letter that she regularly read auras (supposedly some sort of light energy emitted by people). She said she was like a radio or TV receiver sensitive to the energy coming from people. She said she was able to tell people facts about themselves with great accuracy. Accordingly our pre-test would measure her accuracy. If it was significantly higher than could be explained by chance, she would proceed to a full test by Australian Skeptics for the $100,000 prize.

The WA pre-test
The test subjects were two people provided by us who were unknown to the psychic. Gwen spent an hour with each one, giving each a reading that was videotaped by two cameras. We told the subjects not to speak, display any body language or to communicate by facial expressions, nods or hand movements. For her readings Gwen used two packs of cards, including tarot cards. All the statements made by Gwen were subsequently transcribed and reduced to a series of statements that were checked for accuracy by the subjects.

Gwen making a reading

July 1998. Gwen (back to camera) making a reading. The background is plain to help her see auras. Only Gwen and the subject occupy the room. There are no observers. The subject is sitting on her hands to minimise cues from body language.

Both subjects said Gwen showed warmth, empathy, friendliness and a willingness to talk. And both said that, with training, she would make an excellent psychologist or counsellor. But Gwen was not happy with the lack of response from the subjects. She accepted that it was a necessary part of the test, but in her everyday work her clients were much more responsive. She was not used to working in silence.

Of the 59 specific statements Gwen made about the first subject, 3 were correct. The score for the second subject was 8 out of 62. Altogether there were 121 testable statements, of which 11 were correct or partially correct. Which, to everyone's disappointment, was clearly not enough for testing to proceed further. Gwen had failed the pre-test and was therefore not eligible for an attempt on the $100,000 prize. But the results were not unexpected.

Results agree with Dutch test
The biggest known test of psychics was a remarkable five-year study by the Dutch parapsychologist Hendricus Boerenkamp published in 1988. He monitored a total of more than 130 readings by twelve of the Netherland's top psychics, and then rated their accuracy against matched groups of non-psychics who were given the same task as the psychics. Typically each reading involved 60-90 statements spread over personality, occupation, relationships, and health, ie the normal topics of a psychic reading. Nearly 10,000 statements were obtained, of which 10% were sufficiently specific to be tested, of which 14% turned out to be correct (vs 9% in Gwen's case); that is, only 1.4% of all statements were both specific and correct, and for every such statement there were six that were both specific and incorrect. Unknown to the psychics, the same person was sometimes the target in two successive readings, but no psychic noticed it, and the second reading was often in conflict with the first. Furthermore there was no appreciable difference in hit rate between psychics and non-psychics, which would seem to deny that psychic ability (or at least claimed psychic ability) could play a role in such readings. Boerenkamp concluded that the accuracy of psychics was no better than that of non-psychics, but their sensitivity to human ills and their huge experience (their own lives were often traumatic) made them useful counsellors.

Other WA challengers for the $100,000 prize
In 1999 WA skeptics made contact with a lady who claimed her telepathic powers could move objects like dishes and tarot cards. She appeared most enthusiastic about challenging for the $100,000 prize, so we sent her the details. To date she has not responded.

All remained quiet until August 2006 when we were approached by Matt McGillon and Sharee Briggs who live 45 km south of Perth. They claimed to be in continuous telepathic contact, so a series of words given to one would be reproduced by the other. A test procedure was agreed to, as was a date (9 March 2007) and place (our usual meeting room). We then went to much trouble to book the room, devise test material, prepare forms for signing, arrange video recording equipment, and enlist helpers. It had been agreed that if the telepaths got 15 or more words correct out of 20 (a quite staggering feat, but they insisted it was merely routine), we would recommend a test by the national body for the $100,000 prize.

Waiting for telepathic no-shows The day before the test the telepaths told us they
would definitely be there. But on the test day they
failed to show up. They also failed to answer calls
to their mobile. The following day we received an
email to say Sharee had not felt like it. No hint of
an apology for wasting our time. We emailed back
our disappointment in no uncertain terms, to which
McGillon responded by saying they might challenge
again sometime in the future. Again, no hint of an
apology. How can they expect anyone to take
them seriously? Picture shows WA skeptics with
video camera waiting patiently for the telepaths to
not show up.

Enter bloggers
But the story does not end there. Unknown to us at the time was the interest McGillon had aroused by posting his claims on the JREF blog site. Bloggers had duly asked McGillon for some kind of formal statement attesting to his powers, but he had refused. The bloggers were not impressed. One commented (25 February 2007) that although: "[McGillon] has had ample opportunity to provide information, he chose to keep mostly quiet or provide wild unsubstantiated claims paired with misinformation".

Another added that the statement he was hoping McGillon would make was something like: "I have tested my ability by having my friend make a list of 20 words and telepathically send them to me. I wrote the words down and after the transmission, we compared the lists and counted the number of correct words".To which McGillon replied, not with an appropriate statement, but with a description of what it was like to be telepathic: "Yes, with the [i.e. our] setup the result is 100% everytime. We're able to talk to each other exactly like normal spoken word but by mental telepathy. As I write this, my friend [Sharee] is about 50 km away and we're talking continuously". Amazing if true.

By 12 March 2007 the bloggers had heard how the telepaths had chickened out. One commented: "Give them some slack. When is the last time you tried to negotiate city traffic while telepathically linked to another driver on a different road? They are probably both laid up in hospital". To which another responded: "Not in Perth, Western Australia. It's a VERY quiet town. They hardly have enough cars to cause a traffic jam."

But all that mental traffic! It seems that this time the WA Skeptics were taken for a ride. But we live in hope. Maybe the next contender will show us something amazing.

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