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Was He Peeking? (cont’d)

In response to:

Was He Peeking? from the July 28, 1966 issue

To the Editors:

I was glad to see from your July 28 issue that my letter on the Hansel-Gardner attack on ESP (May 28 issue) was published in spite of delays caused by my parapsychological journey around the world. I was glad to see also from Mr. Gardner’s reply that the space limitations under which Mr. Brier and I labored have been removed, because there are a few things more that must be said in reply to Mr. Gardner’s letter.

Incidentally, he admirably used more than half of his reply admitting a number of errors in his review. Why did you not suggest to him the happy alternative of achieving brevity by simply withdrawing the entire review? If he had done so, this would have saved him the embarrassment of further errors that he has now made in his reply to my letter.

Mr. Gardner says: “Nor was I quite correct in saying that Hansel had been requested by Rhine to terminate his visit to Duke University. Hansel has since informed me that he left a week before he was supposed to because Rhine refused to continue to let him have original data sheets unless he signed a form saying he would publish nothing about them without Rhine’s permission. This Hansel refused to do. Since there was no longer any point in staying, he left.”

I spoke to Dr. Rhine in Durham, N.C. this forenoon and read him the above quotation. He gave me permission to quote him as denying categorically Professor Hansel’s revised statement.

Mr. Gardner says that the photocopies he sent me of his later correspondence with Reverend Pearce make it “quite clear that Pearce did not answer that [previous] letter.” It is true that Mr. Gardner’s letter to him three years later contains the statement: “You did not reply to my letter of September 7, 1953.” But Reverend Pearce’s answer to this letter makes no reference to his not having replied to the former one. As a scientist, I am justified by these circumstances only to say that Pearce “apparently did not reply.” How do I know that Pearce did not write a letter that was lost in the mail? Or how do I know that Gardner did not receive a letter which he has since lost and forgotten about? This is a small point and not important except as an illustration of the difference between the scientist who must carefully choose his words and the popular science writer who can take greater liberties in the use of language.

Mr. Gardner is incorrect in implying that I said I had a “true floor plan.” I checked the corridor itself when Professor Hansel first offered his “not-to-scale” plan for publication in the Journal of Parapsychology (June, 1961), and I did not need a floor plan to see that those two windows did not line up as Professor Hansel claimed. It is true that this question is not relevant for the evaluation of the experiment; but it is extremely relevant for the evaluation of the objectivity and care shown by Professor Hansel in making his “scientific” evaluation of ESP.

Now Mr. Gardner prefers to place Pearce (or a collaborator) on a chair in a busy corridor peeking at me through my own transom as I recorded the cards. Is Mr. Gardner quite sure that the door to my room had a transom? If so, how did he learn it? And if he is not sure, would he not feel safer to have Pearce or his collaborator move the chair a few feet along the corridor and peek through the illumination window? But even Professor Hansel could not bring himself to propose such a daily public display of cheating, and that is why he relocated the windows to give the impression that someone could hide across the hall and peek without having to look around corners.

It is no good for Mr. Gardner next to imagine a crack over my door. Professor Hansel has already looked and found none; and for his demonstration of his own capacity for lying and cheating he had to choose a room with a temporary internal partition and a crack over the door and he had to cajole a member of the Laboratory staff into doing him the favor of turning cards in spite of the fact that the staff member protested that the procedure had nothing to do with any experiment. The staff member was not “completely mystified” at all. As soon as the 22 hits were scored from the record Hansel obtained by peeking, the staff member asked (laughing, and completely without surprise): “Okay, what did you do?” Professor Hansel answered immediately that he had peeked through the crack over the door.

Since Professor Hansel acknowledges in his book that I helped him in every possible way, why did he not duplicate Hubert Pearce’s results with me in my old experimental room and working under the same conditions that existed for the Pearce-Pratt Series? Why did he need instead to choose an entirely different room and to take as the intended victim of his effort at deception a staff member who had never completed an experiment and published a scientific report?

Mr. Gardner had nothing to say on the final (and most important) paragraph of my letter which dealt with his (and Professor Hansel’s) abuse of the privilege of scientific criticism.

J.G. Pratt

Assistant Professor of Psychiatry

University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia

Martin Gardner replies:

Pratt’s reference to a “revised statement” by Hansel is a bit slippery. I obviously revised my own statement, in the light of a letter from Hansel. Evidently Pratt believes that, since Dr. Rhine hath spoken, the matter is now settled.

Pratt suggests that Pearce could have answered my 1953 letter but that his reply was lost in the mail, or perhaps I lost it. I can only say that if someone wrote to me and said, “You did not reply to my letter of…,” when in fact I had, I would, in my reply to the second letter, set him straight. Pratt is not being “scientific,” just rhetorical.

When Pratt said in his previous New York Review letter that “a true floor plan would show…” I assumed he had such a plan. Apparently he does not. When Hansel was at Duke, he made a strenuous effort to obtain details about the extensive alterations that had been made in Pratt’s old offices, and to learn who had requested them. Promises were made to send him those details. They never arrived, nor was Hansel’s second letter, requesting them, answered. To Pratt’s question, “Is Mr. Gardner quite sure that the door to my room had a transom?” I will adopt Pratt’s technique of innuendo and counter with: “Is Mr. Pratt quite sure that it hadn’t?” It has a clear-glass transom now. If Pratt has evidence, or even if he remembers, that it had no transom in 1933-34, it would have been helpful if he had said so outright, and not implied it by asking a question.

Actually, two separate offices were used by Pratt during his tests with Pearce. For more than half those tests, Pratt used an office (in the medical building) that now has a transom of ripple glass above the door. (See Hansel’s book, page 76.) Is Mr. Pratt sure that this transom had ripple glass in 1933? If it did, was it a transom that could be opened? These are not trivial questions. A competent investigator would have considered them in his original reports. Since Pratt did not do so, and details of office alterations are not available, one can only guess, and marvel at Pratt’s carelessness.

Pratt suggests that no one would have risked standing on a chair in a “busy corridor.” He does not say how many tests were made in the evening (more than half, I believe), when corridors outside the two offices would have been virtually empty. Besides, both offices had corridor windows (alterations removed the window of one office; the other now has a window of ripple glass) through which any tall person could peek. The clear-glass window removed from one office had a lower edge that was five feet, ten inches, from the floor. It is hard to believe, but Pratt did not deem it necessary to cover this window while he was turning his ESP cards.

My reply to the last paragraphs of both Pratt’s letters is that I do not concede that Hansel and I have abused the privileges of scientific criticism. Hansel has shown in his book that Pratt’s experiments with Pearce were almost as amateurishly designed as Rhine’s early test of Lady Wonder, the mind-reading horse, but Pratt lacks the courage to admit it. No one is now interested in what Pratt has to say about these old tests; it is a statement by Pearce that one longs to see. What, for example, was in that letter that Rhine speaks about so guardedly on page 98 of New Frontiers of the Mind, a letter received by Pearce which so distressed him that from that day forward he has been unable to demonstrate his former ESP talents? A full report by the Reverend Hubert Pearce, on his sensational, unrivaled ESP work when he was a student at Duke, would make a dramatic book. (Publishers take note. He can be reached at the First Methodist Church, Cameron, Missouri, where he is pastor.)

Since scientific truth is also God’s truth, it seems to me that such a report would serve both God and man. But my precognition tells me that Pearce will never write it.

(This correspondence is now closed.)

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