David Marks

David Marks

David Marks is a CSICOP Fellow and Professor of Psychology and Research Director, Centre for Health and Counselling, City University, London.

Marks is the author of The Psychology of the Psychic (2000), a revised edition of the book of the same title co-authored with the late Richard Kamman in 1980. Marks laments the fact that “over thirty publishers were approached before Prometheus Books agreed to publish this book”, no less than five chapters of which are devoted to Uri Geller and what is described as “Gelleritis”. He claims to have detected Geller using trickery of various kinds, which many other researchers (including at least 20 magicians) have failed to do. Geller has dismissed Marks’s claims as “fantasy”.

Marks has repeatedly stated that funding should not be wasted on “relatively trivial” subjects like ESP, but applied instead to USP – Urgent and Serious Problems (such as population growth and poverty). Thus he appears to be arguing that psi should not be studied merely because other matters are more important.

Although Marks claims that “I will never refuse to change if the evidence demands a change”, he has devised a formula for ensuring that such evidence is never forthcoming. If the evidence is positive, it is either “flawed” or in need of “replication and further analysis”. If it is negative it is accepted uncritically.

Marks appears impervious to positive evidence of any kind. For example, commenting on the several successful replications of the remote viewing experiments carried out by Harold Puthoff, Russell Targ, and Edwin May (funded for several years by various U.S. government agencies) he dismisses them all as “flawed in a variety of ways”.

In a chapter entitled “The Sloppiness Continues”, Marks mentions positive results of a remote viewing experiment reported by Marilyn Schlitz and Elmar Gruber. Admitting that this was a successful replication of the similar experiments of Targ and Puthoff, Marks gets off this particular hook by stating: “However, we do not know how many nonsignificant studies remain in the investigators’ file drawer. If it is a small handful, which seems likely, the… statistical significance simply melts away like snowflakes in the psring.” He has no evidence that any such “file-drawer” studies exist. Marks has shown once again that when negative evidence is required to disprove a positive claim, he simply makes it up. He also frequently resorts to ad hominem attacks. Scientists prepared to study Uri Geller are referred to as “Gellerites”, biologist Rupert Sheldrake is described as a “paranormalist” and a “latter-day Dr Who”.

The research of Targ and Puthoff, much of which appeared in peer-reviewed scientific journals, is “nothing more than a massive artifact of poor methodology and wishful thinking” In addition, the best positive evidence is simply not mentioned. Robert Morris noted that Marks and Kamman (1980) “disregard altogether the studies considered by those familiar with the field as providing the best evidence for psi” and cite no evidence from parapsychology journals. Theirs, said Morris, was a “biased selection of material [which] cannot be regarded as an adequate review for assessment of psi research”.

Marks now frankly describes himself as a disbeliever and sets his subjective probability of various psi phenomena as between a millionth and a trillionth of a trillionth. He has, however, made a useful contribution to the study of the psychology not of the psychic, but of the skeptic. In the words of the Robert Browning, as cited by Marks himself: “As is your sort of mind, so is your sort of search, you’ll find what you desire.”

In “The Need for Open-minded Skepticism – A Reply to David Marks” (The Skeptic Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 8-13, 2004) Rupert Sheldrake refutes Marks’ criticism of research into human and animal telepathy.