Teach Yourself Skepspeak

by Guy Lyon Playfair

Extract from a paper by Aristide Esser, et al. (International Journal of Parapsychology, 9 (1) 53-56, 1967), describing an experiment in telepathy between identical twins:

“In a physically isolated subject, we have observed physiological reactions at the precise moment at which another person, the agent, was actively stimulated. We show the complete record of Experiment No. 7 to demonstrate how obvious the plethysmographic reactions are.”

That sounds fairly clear to me, but evidently not to everybody.

Extract from a paper by Susan Blackmore, et al. (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 59 (831) 89-96, 1993):

“Similar studies… (Esser, Etter and Chamberlain, 1967) did not provide evidence of simultaneous responses in twins.”

This is an early example of what has now become a worrying trend, inspired, it seems, by Humpty Dumpty (“When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean”) and by Orwell’s Newspeak, the purpose of which was “not so much to express meanings as to destroy them”. Thus if Esser and colleagues announce that they have obtained instrumentally recorded evidence for telepathy, in what Orwell might have called Skepspeak this becomes “[Esser and company] did not provide…”, etc.

The Enfield poltergeist case of 1977-1978 which Maurice Grosse and I investigated for more than a year has come in for some splendid Skepspeak lately. In a book you may have missed called The Ghost That Haunted Itself, author Jan-Andrew Henderson reveals that:

“Both [the Amityville and Enfield poltergeist cases] turned out to be fakes. The witnesses were misrepresented or had something to gain. ‘Evidence’ turned out to be manufactured. It’s hard to argue with that.”

It is indeed, as hard as would have been to argue with Humpty Dumpty, or Big Brother…

And here is the science magazine Focus wasting three pages of its June 2003 issue on “An A-to-Z of World Mysteries”. E is for the Enfield case, for which Caroline Green informs us “there was no concrete evidence and [the children’s mother] was accused of making it up.”

For the record: Yes there was; and no, she wasn’t and didn’t. The magazine did at least print Maurice Grosse’s robust record-straightening letter in its August 2003 issue.

The Times should know better than to sink to this level of Orwellian revisionism, but it seems it doesn’t. In its Public Agenda section for November 2nd, 2004 its readers were told that the girls involved in the Enfield case “now grown up, admitted that it was all a hoax.” They are indeed now grown up but neither of them has ever admitted anything other than Janet H’s statement on ITV’s News At Six (June 12th, 1980) to interviewer Rita Carter, on being asked if she or her sister had ever played any tricks. Her immediate and truthful reply was: Oh, yeah, once or twice, just to see if Mr Grosse and Mr Playfair would catch us. And they always did.

She made an almost identical statement on Radio France-Inter (June 17th, 1982) to interviewer Lynne Plummer, while in a more recent TV interview with presenter Jane Goldman, her first for more than twenty years, (Living TV, October 19th, 2004) she said it all again at greater length as did Janet’s sister in a signed statement written in 1987. Time for that particular coin to drop, I think.

Now for a real gem of Skepspeak deconstruction from David Myers, in his review of a book on intuition in the Daily Telegraph (January 11th, 2003): The book ends with a swift glance at the evidence for the reality of psychic phenomena such as telepathy – necessarily swift, since there isn’t any.

Finally, the latest from the irrepressible Susan Blackmore, writing in New Scientist (November 13th, 2004). Here is the letter I wrote to the editor of that magazine, who did not publish it:

“‘Throughout history many people have believed in a soul or spirit. Yet science has long known that this cannot be so’, Susan Blackmore opines. Really? Who is ‘science’ in this context? Could we have a reference?”

Remember the meteorites, powered flight, continental drift and of course space travel all were once claimed to be impossible or nonexistent.

To learn Skepspeak, all you have to do is forget all that outdated stuff about arguing logically on the basis of evidence, research, and experience. Ignore all that Platonic rubbish about seeking the truth through rational debate. Just state your particular prejudice as if it has already been engraved in stone and is not open to discussion.

Big Brother (and Humpty Dumpty) would be proud of you.