In response to:

Parapsychology: An Exchange from the June 26, 1980 issue

To the Editors:

After being challenged by Mr. Martin Gardner in an article which recently appeared in your journal under the title of “Parapsychology: An Exchange” [NYR, June 26], we should like to take advantage of our right of reply to complete the information of your readers about our experiments, since the remarks made about them by Mr. Gardner are astonishingly incomplete and only present partial views on incidental aspects of the problem.

The experiments carried out with J.P. Girard were the subject of a scientific report accepted by the reading committee of a specialist review* ending with a statement by an academician and former president of the Académie des Sciences in which he says, in particular, “in the absence of any proof to the contrary, it is not possible to provide a rational explanation for all these experiments, most of which were video recorded with a considerable wealth of controls…. Having had an opportunity to follow these experiments fairly closely, I agreed to add these few lines simply to vouch for the scientific rigor with which they were carried out by the authors.”

Various factors preclude any possibility of faking:

—sometimes the experiment was filmed from end to end with a video camera: this was the case of a bending produced by J.P. Girard in a stoppered tube: it was the person making the experiment who took back the stoppered tube from J.P. Girard’s hands at the end of the test, removed the stopper and took out the test specimen himself, noting that it had been bent.

—sometimes the tested metal bar was of such dimensions that, even a very strong man (weighing 140 kgs!) could not bend it with his two hands. But J.P. Girard bent strong light alloy bars of a diameter of 17 mm on four occasions.

—in yet other cases, the very nature of the phenomenon precludes faking. This is true of several test specimens in which J.P. Girard produced structural transformations without deformation, martensitic transformation or hardening, by introducing numerous dislocation loops into the metal. It would take too long to describe here the experiments and counter tests subsequently carried out, but it is important to note that it was these tests and controls which most convinced the metallurgists.

Moreover, precautions were taken to ensure that there was no possibility of the substitution which illusionists claim to see everywhere, and these are described in a passage of our report, as follows, “marks had been engraved in the body of the bar, and the positions of small characteristic defects had been observed. It had been conveyed to the experimental station in a different car from the one which had brought J.P. Girard…(after the experiment) we first checked in the laboratory that all the marks, scratches and defects initially in the bar were present on the bar returned after the experiment, so that it can be stated unequivocally that there had been no substitution.”

The eight experiments described in this report were selected from about twenty highly significant tests which were in turn selected from about 150 tests carried out with J.P. Girard. Naturally, among all these tests, some failed, were less sure, or suspect. Contrary to what some people appear to think, we knew from the very beginning all about J.P. Girard’s talents as an illusionist and, in all fairness, he had previously warned us. We consulted other illusionists before and after our tests and we know the tricks which they use to imitate psychokinesis.

Other demonstrations carried out with J.P. Girard were even followed by no less than seven reputed illusionists who saw the deformations of the metal but were unable to find any sign of faking, and they have witnessed to this.

The most important fact is that in the two years and more since our article appeared, nobody has suggested any trick or normal explanation for the phenomena—not even Mr. Gardner!

C. Crussard and J. Bouvaist

Paris, France

Martin Gardner replies:

Since no one I consider knowledgeable about the methods of psychic charlatans was present during the tests described by Charles Crussard, I can make only general comments.

When I reported that Jean-Pierre Girard, Crussard’s superpsychic, was a former magician I did so only because the letter on which I was commenting (signed by four para-physicists) referred to Girard only as a “French medium.” When a magician turns “psychic” it not only is important to let the public know of his conjuring skills, it is more important to conduct no tests with him that are not carefully designed by a well-informed magician, and with that magician there as an observer. Whenever this procedure has been followed, Girard has failed to produce results. Several such controlled tests are reported by Marcel Blanc in his article on Girard, “Fading Spoon Bender,” in New Scientist, February 16, 1978.

Crussard is firmly convinced that both Girard and his counterpart, Uri Geller, have genuine psi powers, but since both are former magicians, both sometimes cheat so as not to disappoint an audience. In NBC’s outrageous pseudo-documentary, “Exploring the Unknown” (featuring as narrator that eminent scientist, Burt Lancaster), Girard is shown making an aluminum bar bend slowly. It is apparent to any magician that the tube was first held so its bend could not be seen, then while one hand caressed the air above it, the other hand slowly rotated the tube through a right angle to bring the bend into view. Crussard’s position on psychic cheating comes down to this. When a psychic is caught using fraud, that is when he uses it. When he is not caught, that is when he uses genuine psi powers.

Crussard speaks of seven magicians who “saw the deformations…but were unable to find any sign of faking.” Note how carefully this is worded. We are not told who the magicians are, whether they helped design the tests, or whether they were there during the actual bending. Watching a videotape of a miracle is no substitute for being present when it occurs.

Crussard typifies a small, sad class of scientists who are experts in their field, passionate believers in psychic forces, supremely ignorant of methods of deception, yet convinced of their ability to detect fraud. They will watch a conjuror vanish an elephant on a brightly lit stage, and readily admit they cannot explain how he did it. Next day they will watch an ex-magician move an empty pill bottle three inches and instantly declare that no conjuring techniques could possibly have been used!

But I waste time. So persuaded is Crussard of Girard’s ability to produce the “Geller effect” that all efforts to disenchant him are like trying to write on water. I suspect, however, that the feeling is rapidly growing among better-informed parapsychologists, hornswoggled for years by fake metal benders, that the Gellers and Girards of the world are doing more damage to their cause than anything a skeptic can say.

This Issue

December 18, 1980