In response to:
The Twist from the May 14, 1981 issue
To the Editors:
I write to defend myself against your correspondent, author Martin Gardner, who calls my competence into question in his rather outdated reply to the letter of four physicists, who were kind enough to single out for mention my no-touch dynamic strain gauge experiments on paranormal metal-bending children.
Apart from their alleged hilarity, the only feature of these experiments specifically mentioned is that mathematician John Taylor, also of London, demolishes them by pointing out that “Hasted failed to take into account amplification by his sensitive strain gauges [sic] of slight static charges produced by body movements.”
To show that no-touch strain gauge signals were of electrostatic origin would require a demonstration that triboelectric charges were generated and also that they were coupled capacitatively into the sensitive part of the circuitry. The second factor is crucial.
Naturally we started with careful screening and earthing, and conducted our own tests for artifacts both with tribo- and with current electricity. With both the children and myself about ten feet away from the metal, normal tribo-effects could not be detected. Any experimental physicist would do the same, and would not even bother to mention it in his articles, since many referees are hard on the inclusion of details which are standard practice.
However, with subsequent children producing effects mostly at shorter distances, about a foot from the metal, some precautions were deemed necessary. We therefore included a dummy strain gauge and amplifier, responsive to electrical artifacts but not to strain. The very few strain gauge signals synchronous with dummy channel signals were always rejected. At a later date a common mode channel was included, more as a protection against touch than against electrical artifacts.
Experience with the common mode channel has indeed revealed no-touch electrical artifacts, but because of the small area of the miniaturized strain gauges, these seldom appear synchronously in the strain gauge channels. Moreover these artifacts do not synchronize with body movements, and occur only in the presence of the child subjects; they are occasionally accompanied by a pricking or tingling sensation in the subject’s hands, and are of entirely different time duration to the effects of (normal) emission of ions by the human skin, which we are also studying. They occur even in an electrically screened room with metal floor and furniture, and it might be argued that they were a paranormal phenomenon in their own right. Their time structures differ from those of most strain gauge signals. John Taylor has not discussed any of these developments, since he has not kept in touch with my experiments, and has operated independently, despite, or perhaps because of, the defection of several families from him to me, the parents being critical of his rather casual methods.
Experimental physicists and engineers, both in England and in other countries, have replicated the no-touch strain gauge detection method, with varying degrees of success. Several have been present at my own sessions.
Much of Gardner’s reply shows that he is still at the stage of reporting, at second or third hand, statements by unqualified investigators, conjurors and media specialists who would be utterly lost in the instrumenting of micro-effects. But science, as usual, has moved on, and it would be wise to recognize this.
Birkbeck College, University of London
Martin Gardner replies:
Hasted’s letter is intended to snow laymen with technical details impossible to check without being there. Recently he sent James Randi the circuit diagrams of his set-up, plus additional details about his latest protocols. Randi had this material, along with Hasted’s published papers, evaluated by Dr. Paul Horowitz, a Harvard physicist with special expertise in strain gauge technology. Horowitz’s opinion was that Hasted had only a dim understanding of how to use these sensitive devices. For details, see Randi’s forthcoming book Flim-Flam!
In his paper on “Paranormal Metal-Bending” in The Iceland Papers (edited and published by Andrija Puharich), the funniest picture is a photo of a glass globe containing dozens of paper clips that have been paranormally “scrunched” into a wild tangle of twisted wires by “Andrew G,” one of Hasted’s superkids. Why is there a hole in the globe? All Hasted reveals is: “We have found it necessary that a small orifice be left in the glass globes in which wires are bent.”
Has anyone actually seen paper clips in the act of bending, or recorded it on videotape? No, a youngster just takes a globe home, or goes into another room, and comes back with the scrunch. Mysteriously, clips never scrunch in globes without holes or when someone other than the child is watching. Other experimenters have had no difficulty twisting paper clips and pushing them into such globes where they intertwine to form tight scrunches, and to do it in just a few minutes.
Teleportation sometimes accompanies metal bending. Hasted reports that “under good witnessing” a dozen crystals were “observed” to teleport in and out of small capsules. Well, not actually seen going in and out. In two excerpts from Hasted’s unpublished “Geller Notebooks,” in The Geller Papers, you can read about how half of a tiny vanadium carbide foil vanished from a capsule during Hasted’s celebrated tests of the first metal-bender, Uri Geller. How trivial this now seems in the light of Uri’s ability to teleport a dog through a wall of Puharich’s house, as Puharich himself “observed,” not to mention Uri’s teleportation of himself from Manhattan to Puharich’s home in Ossining.
For years Hasted’s boundless gullibility and bumbling experiments have been almost as embarrassing to parapsychologists as to his Birkbeck colleagues. Until his strain gauge tests are reliably replicated by competent and skeptical physicists, not just by a handful of true believers, who except Crussard and a few other naïve paraphysicists can take them seriously?