CSICOP vs Natasha Demkina, the Girl with the "X-Ray Eyes"...
Note on September 29, 2012: I had additional material on this issue that I took out of my site now. Anyone interested, please send me an email: juliocbsiqueira2012 and then @ and then gmail.com
The content of this text was presented to the three parties involved (i.e. CSICOP/CSMMH; Discovery Channel program producer/director; and Natasha's agent) ten days before its posting on the internet. After this, final feedbacks from Andrew Skolnick (CSMMH) were incorporated, and the final version of this text was presented to them all four days before its posting on December 12, 2004. Minor changes and additions after that, to highlight specific issues, appear in this color, in bold type.
Click here to read CSMMH answer to critics on this issue, with my rebuttal.
Abstract: In May, 2004, skeptics from CSICOP and CSMMH helped the Discovery Channel in a documentary about the Russian 17-year-old girl Natasha Demkina (who claims to be able to look into people's bodies with unaided eyes and spot diseases and similar conditions in organs and tissues), by conducting a test to make a preliminary evaluation on her alleged "paranormal" X-Ray-vision like powers. The test had many flaws, which unequivocally should render it invalid. The worst problems in the test were: 1- The test had a faulty design due to lack of proper contact with the claimant (the researchers failed to do their homework...). 2- There were many instances of serious violations of the test protocols by the researchers. 3- Deceiving and technically incorrect arguments were used by the researchers when trying to convince Natasha, right before the test, to accept the two alien disease conditions that were introduced. Despite these flaws, the researchers who designed and conducted the test have been issuing very definite and drastic conclusions about Natasha's "powers", claiming that their test was scientifically good enough to "close the chapter" on Natasha. The main possible aftermath of this negative and unscientific attitude is a broadening of the chasm between the public opinion and skeptic views of claims of the "paranormal". It is vital that skeptics understand that this chasm can be very hazardous, especially in claims involving public health issues.
Author: Julio Cesar de Siqueira Barros, biologist (non-practicing), MA in clinical bacteriology. Email: juliocbsiqueira2012 and then @ and then gmail.com. Websites: Criticando Kardec (analysis and criticism of the mediumnistic "scientific" religion called Kardecism), and Criticando o Ceticismo (analysis and criticism of the organized skeptic movement).
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Mr. Andrew Skolnick for providing voluminous feedbacks for this analysis. I must say that I used to have no doubt about Mr. Skolnick's commitment to public health issues, like those that obviously, and most seriously, arise from Natasha Demkina's practice as an informal diagnostic "therapist". But the "history" of the making of this text has been such a troubled one that my faith in Skolnick's commitment has grown very thin. I still hope to be wrong in that... I also thank Brazilian skeptic Kentaro Mori, author of the site "Ceticismo Aberto" ("Open Skepticism"). His feedbacks and demands ended up putting me on the trail of the most serious problems that this experiment had. He asked me to stress that he vehemently disagrees with my conclusions. I would like also to thank Professor Brian Josephson for his priceless feedbacks on this issue. He has already written an interesting and informative critique of some aspects of this test (see here). And topmost, I would like to thank Ms. Natasha Demkina, for her courage, sincereness, and openness regarding her "powers". May the near future help her in understanding what is it that she has, and help her find true scientists to help her understand it and perfect the use of it for the benefit of all those that she cares for.
Note: For the sake of clarity, quotings from "skeptics" will appear in blue, and quotings from "believers" will appear in green. And for the sake of conciseness, I will present below in a straight forward manner the points that I consider flaws in the test designed and conducted by CSICOP/CSMMH.
Important Note: The reader is advised to take a careful look at the article written by Professor Brian Josephson in this link, where he treats this issue in some of its broader aspects, especially in its relevance to understanding the role and tactics of the Organized Skeptic Movement.
1- Faulty Experiment Design: Basically, the researchers (Richard Wiseman, Ray Hyman, and Andrew Skolnick) relied on hearsay to design and conduct their experiment (they relied on reports on the internet and in the newpapers). They never talked directly to Natasha to make sure what her claims really are. It is hard to understand why the researchers did not do so, given the ease of access to communication equipment available nowadays (cell phones, video conferences, etc), and given the pressing need for this direct contact due to the obvious internal incoherences in the alleged "Natasha's Claims". The main source of "direct" contact (if one can put it that way) that they had with Natasha was the producer/director of the Discovery Channel Documentary, Monica Garnsey. Skolnick says that she speaks Russian, and certainly she had plenty of time to watch carefully Natasha's performances and statements.
On 9 November, an email from Skolnick to me clearly stated: "The test was designed to determine whether Ms. Demkina can do what SHE and her supporters claim -- that she can look into a person's body with her x-ray and microscopic vision and see abnormalities anywhere in the body down to the molecular and cellular level. And her diagnoses, they say, are never wrong.". (the capitals in "SHE" were used by Skolnick himself). One can find this kind of misstatements widespread over Skolnick's emails, and even in his official CSMMH site. He says there: "Ms. Demkina and her supporters claim she can see abnormalities on a cellular level and that her diagnoses are 100 percent accurate,".(this link).
Note that Skolnick is saying in email (in November!) that Natasha can diagnose both at the cellular level and at the molecular level! Also, he is clearly saying in his official site (CSMMH) that she can diagnose at the cellular level. Believe it or not, he simply has no trustworthy source to back him up on these statements...
I kept asking Skolnick if he had really watched Natasha herself making those claims (either watching her directly or through video) with a real time translation, or if, instead, he merely heard a narrator making general statements about Natasha's claims. He never really answered me that. He kept saying that Natasha's claims are clearly presented by her in the program (my dialogue with him about this very much reminded me of Hyman's alleged dialogue with Targ and Puthoff about Uri Geller's metal bending power: "Did you guys see him bending metals only when in his hands or also when far away from him?". "He can do it both ways!". "But Did you guys see him bending metals only when in his hands or also when far away from him?". "He can do it both ways!", and according to Hyman they never really answered if they saw it done both ways or not... - Targ and Puthoff's side of the story is different - this previous dialogue is my free rephrasing of what Hyman said, and not his actual words).
Then I saw the documentary, and nowhere is Natasha ever saying that she can see at the cellular level! Nowhere is she saying she never fails! Nowhere is she saying she can see down to the molecular level! Further, nowhere is even a narrator claiming that Natasha ever said these things! And morever, her agent (Will Steward) explicitly replied to Wiseman and Hyman (after the test) that she does not claim to see ALL, but MUCH. And he complained that "Your test has been set for someone who is not Natasha. Had you asked us in advance instead of evidently relying on tabloid newpaper and internet accounts of what she could do, we would have said that there are certain conditions which Natasha claims she can see more evidently than others. One example is that she does not always spot the early stages of pregnancy. Another is a missing appendix." (Stewart to Wiseman, 28 May, 2004). Also, Stewart told Hyman: "She does not claim to see ALL but a considerable amount. (...) We made clear beforehand to Monica that metal implants can be hard in some circumstances.". (Stewart to Hyman, 28 May, 2004).
Only on December 3, 2004 (almost one month after my first contact with Skolnick...), did Skolnick present further evidence of Natasha's "extended claims" (cellular vision, etc). He showed a part of an email he received from the program producer (Monica Garnsey) nearly a month before the test, "containing a summary of Natasha's 'abilities' to help us design the test". Monica is quoted as saying that: "I double-checked a few things with her last night. ... She usually scans people all over first, by making them stand up fully clothed and looking them up and down; delivers a general diagnosis; and then goes into more detail when the patients have discussed their concerns with her. She says she can certainly see ribs, heart, lungs, initially in general 'like in an anatomy book', but can see right down to the cell level if she concentrates.". Note that there is only the briefest mentioning of "cellular vision", and that nowhere is it said if she can diagnose diseases at the cellular level, or even at the microscopic multicellular tissue level, and definitely there is nothing at all about molecular vision.
As to the claim that she never fails, Skolnick presented the following "piece of evidence": "Not according to her mother (and others). Out of thousands of readings (which usually including a multitude of diagnoses per reading), Natasha never got one wrong." (on November 15, 2004). Natasha's mother, a humble housewife with no education in medical or epidemiological matters, indeed claimed that, after hours of her daughter being submitted to the test (she seemed tense and appealing to faith).
It seems that now "Mama's comments about their kids in trouble" are being raised to the level of "scientific evidence"...
Is this only post hoc excuses from the part of Natasha's fans? Not at all. First: during all the documentary (and the Discovery Channel personnel had contact with Natasha for several months), Natasha is only shown or reported as seeing quite macroscopic objects (the smallest of which seems to be 2 centimeters wide). Second: she is never shown or reported as seeing cells or molecules (even less so diagnosing at this level!). Third: she is reported as claiming to have difficulties with certain conditions, for she cannot see into herself and into innanimate objects. Fourth: even Skolnick acknowledged (in email, on November 16, 2004) that she claims not to be able to see into people's bodies if they are behind a cloth screen. And fifth: she is never shown nor reported as claiming never to fail. Morever, Natasha clearly rejected two conditions that were presented to her right before the test: the missing appendix and the resected esophagus (she did not complain of any of the other conditions!).
So it seems clear that the researchers failed to ask the most preliminary question to the claimant: "What can you do, and what can't you do?".
2- Violations of the Test Protocols by the Researchers: one day before the test, there was a pre-test where Natasha was allowed to interact with six subjects in her own way. Five were impressed. One was skeptical. Wiseman said that Natasha got right the pre-stated ailment of only one of the patients. Wiseman was, later on, reported in the Guardian as saying that she did not get even one... "I thought they were going to walk away saying it was embarrassing, but time and again, they said it was amazing. Before each reading, I asked the people what was the main medical problem and Natasha never got one of those right,". this link). Strangely enough, the documentary leads us to believe that Natasha got at least two conditions right (the heart problem and the migraines), and two conditions partially right (pin and needles, and endometriosis).
Skolnick told me (on November 15, 2004) that "No changes in the test were considered necessary based on their (Hyman/Wiseman) direct witnessing of the readings.". That might have been indeed a precise observation. But...who can tell? The only way for us to be really sure of it is if CSICOP can come now with a qualitative and quantitative analysis of Natasha's diagnosis of these six patients. Like: "Natasha made 20 diagnosis of patient number 1, 3 of which were correct (documented in medical records aquired afterwards), 5 of which were clearly 'half-revealed' by the patient himself, 4 of which were evident from looking at the patient, and 8 of which were wrong.". Unless CSICOP can give us that, their evidence for "mere cold reading" is only a weak and unreliable anecdote. Skolnick also told that at the end of the test (the day after the pre-test), Natasha asked to diagnosed him. Skolnick claims that the diagnosis was very bad, and that "I found her reading the second worst one I've ever received from a psychic. I will be describing the reading, with my analysis of what was going on and why she failed in my report for the Jan/Feb 2005 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.". Unless Skolnick has it recorded in video, and makes it available, there is no way for us to trust his observation on that, since he claimed that Natasha made statements in the Documentary that she actually never did, as I clearly showed above.
Quite weirdly, Skolnick also said (on November 15, 2004) that "The day of the test, they (Hyman/Wiseman) seemed to have gone over to the other side, trying to re-write the test rules to allow Natasha Demkina more freedom to get non-psychic information and increase her odds of correct matches by non-psychic means. I had a big fight with them at breakfast before the test. During the test, I just had to bite my tongue and "pray" that we were't going to pay dearly for the numerous compromises that were permitted. We came awfully close to paying for those lapses.". This report is especially intriguing in light of the supposed observation Hyman and Wiseman did of the pre-test, and Skolnick's own comment (also on November 15!) that they came to the conclusion that no changes were necessary. Why fights if no changes were considered necessary? Let's hope Skolnick clarifies this issue in his report to the Skeptical Inquirer next month (January 2005)...
At the beginning of the test, there was an attempt to take Natasha's mother out of the test room. I consider this a clear violation of the rules (the rules guaranteed that her mother could stay), even though only for a brief period of time, until Skolnick settled things out. I asked Skolnick (on November 9, 2004) "...do you feel that she (Natasha) might have felt emotionally upset in any way by this initial confusion?". Skolnick's reply led me to believe that the test had been almost "as happy and relaxed as a picnic"... He said: "Are you for real about this? How could Ms. Demkina be upset because one person there temporarily misunderstood the rules about who could be in the test room? After the confusion was quickly settled, her mother decided on her own not to stay in the test room.".
Then I came to know of an email co-signed by Natasha herself, and by her mother, friend, and agent, (to the researchers, three days after the test) where they complain that " It was clear and disappointing to us that several people running or closely associated with the test had either not read or not understood their own rules. One of these was Professor Richard Wiseman. The abrupt, humiliating and to us wholly unexpected attempt to throw us out was stressful to Natasha...". Further, Skolnick complained about the documentary, in an email to its producer, Monica Garnsey, by saying that "The program also wrongly stated: "At the last moment, to Natasha's distress, [the investigators] decided to exclude her mother and sister" from the test room. That's not true. While there was brief confusion at the start of the test over who could be in the test room, it was quickly settled when I informed Will Stewart that the rules allow her mother and sister to be present.". Monica replied on November 24, 2004: " I'm afraid this was my clear understanding of what happened - Joe Nickell felt strongly and expressed his feelings strongly that Natasha's mother should not be allowed in the test room. I know you were not involved in this because you were not there, ( you were in the smaller room).". Also, Wiseman acknowledged, in an email to Natasha's agent, Will Stewart, on May 6, 2004, that "...you are right in saying that I did not realise that one line in the protocol referred to the presence of you and Natasha's mother in the test/briefing room".
So when Skolnick tells us that "one person" made a mistake, we should actually read "two persons"? And these two persons are Richard Wiseman and Joe Nickell (Take a look at this link to see just who they are...). What are we, then, to expect from his analysis of the reading Natasha did on him if he does not present us video proof alongside?
There were four people from CSICOP/CSMMH involved in the test: Andrew Skolnick, Richard Wiseman, Ray Hyman, and Joe Nickell (they all appear in the documentary). And, believe it or not, half of them (including the "experienced expert in this kind of research", Richard Wiseman...) did not read the protocols correctly! And it was a very important item of the protocols, for it was meant to give Natasha reassurance.
From my point of view, the mere attempt to exclude Natasha's mother was a serious violation of the test rules. For a moment, she (Natasha's mother) was not allowed to stay. Instead, she had her staying vehemently denied ("Nickell felt strongly and expressed his feelings strongly that Natasha's mother should not be allowed in the test room"), even though she objected to it and ended up being given the choice.
A second serious violations of the test rules, for me, was two of the clinical conditions presented to Natasha: a removed appendix and a resected esophagus. The test rule number 2 list examples of clinical conditions, or ones similar to these, that could be used: The Subject Recruiter will choose and "shepherd" the test subjects to the testing facility and will provide us with each subject's "target" medical condition, such as implanted pace maker, resected lung, bone plate and screws, that are clearly documented by medical records and/or x-rays. The target conditions will all be different, no two subjects will have the same condition - see this link and this link. Those two conditions differ drastically from the examples used in protocols.
At the very beginning of the test, Natasha complained about these two conditions. She did not complain about any of the other items. She only complained about these two medical conditions. It is sure that it was beyond what she herself considered to be her actual claims. In the documentary, it is easy to get her feeling of frustration with those two conditions. The researchers heard about Natasha's having diagnosed sarcoidosis, and watched her (in the pre-test, the day before) identifying cysts in the ovary, and then jumped to the conclusion that she could spot any kind of "similar conditions". But that was never her claim. Further, she was so frustrated with those two clinical conditions that Wiseman conforted her by saying something like "Don't worry, for even if you get these two wrong, you will still pass the test, because there are five other ones". [The actual words from Wiseman were: "So if she scored these two (conditions) wrong it wouldn't matter; if these five were correct (pointing to the remaining test cards), we would still consider that a success.". My previous rephrasing of Wiseman’s actual words was heavily criticized by Andrew Skolnick in the forum www.museumofhoaxes.com. Even though I am confident that I did not change the meaning conveyed by Wiseman, and even though I had already stressed in my first version of this article that those words that I quoted referred to something SIMILAR to what Wiseman had actually said (I said above: ...“Wiseman conforted her by saying something like ‘Dont worry, for’”...), I nevertheless recommend that the readers take a look of Mr. Skolnick’s postings on the afore mentioned forum regarding this and other Natasha-related issues, at this link] Well, to begin with, this is technically untrue, for there would actually be three people from which she could swap wrong diagnosis: resected esophagus, removed appendix, and none condition. She could have said that the "none condition" had resected esophagus, that the "resected esophagus" had missing appendix, and that the "missing appendix" had none condition, thus making three misses due to this poor design, due to this lack of direct talk to the claimant, and due to this violation of protocols. Thus, she was taken in to accept the test by deceiving arguments (deliberate or unconscious) from Wiseman. More, what Wiseman was actually saying is that she would be tested only in five conditions, and not in seven. So the only one that she got wrong was the metal plate man.
In the documentary, it is said that the researchers told Natasha that the portion of the esophagus that had been removed was big. Contrary to it, Skolnick told me that she asked him about it, and he replied that he did not know the size, and so he instructed her to look for the circular scar that would be present at the joining of the two remaining parts. I believe that both an appendix (which is a collapsed sac the size and shape of the smallest finger of a human hand, a pinky) and a circular scar like this one are smaller than the smallest things that Natasha seems to have identified according to the data available to me and available to the researchers as well (cysts and sarcodosis granulomas: both sometimes two centimers wide). Besides, "size" is not all that there is in phenomena with psychological and biological basis. If Natasha's phenomenon has an added "parapsychological" basis (even if a weak one), then it would raise the complexity of the situation enormously.
It is nevertheless interesting to take a look at Natasha's misses in the test. And also her hits. The first condition she had to identify was a surgically removed upper third of the left lung. She took one hour to identify it. Interestingly, the woman that had this condition seemed to me to be the only subject who had one shoulder lower than the other, but it was not the left shoulder, as I might expect: it was the right one. Could these "shoulders bent in the wrong way" have been responsible (unconsciously or half consciously) to a certain extent for this so very long delay in this "diagnosis"? Perhaps yes. Perhaps not. The man with the metal plate on his head was a strange miss. In the email that was co-signed by Natasha herself, it is said that: "One (of the subjects) appeared to her to be laughing at her. Another dozed off to sleep (this was a man who later admitted that he had read up about Natasha on the internet prior to the test, spoke about her in a demeaning and unsympathetic manner, and appeared prejudiced against her).". This one that slept was the metal plate guy... Strangely, when the camera focused on each subject at the beginning of the test in the documentary, he was the only one that seemed to react to it, apparently not being properly blinded (they all wore glasses with bands of adhesive black strips to make them blind). He raised his eyebrows in clear perception of being focused at. Now, if we think that the blinding was due to the possibility that the subjects might somehow give away some clues when observed by Natasha, it does not seem altogether unreasonable that they might just as well conceal clues when observed by Natasha. This possible leak in his blinding may have been a problem, I think, especially if he indeed had some "ultra skeptic attitude" towards Natasha. It is important to stress that due to an artifact astronomically tinier than this one, Hyman himself declared that Bem and Honorton's 1994 Ganzfeld experiment was unconclusive... (see this link). So why should we now change the rules and consider this new artifact meaningless?
There was also a further unintentional violation of the protocol: actually there was not only one person with a missing appendix. There were two! The subject who had not revealed this before (or worse, that had not been properly checked for this before) was, guess who, the sleepy metal plate guy... And, naturally, a test that begins with violations of protocols can only end with further violations of protocols: the patients did not have medical documents to corroborate their alleged "medical conditions". Not in May, and still not now! (and, as it seems, they never will...).
So, believe it or not, even in the quantitative part of the test, almost all that we have is anecdote evidence. The only exception seems to be the metal plate guy, who let people touch his metal head after the test.
Ray Hyman, in the documentary, made some very bad remarks that are clear violations of the protocols (test rule number 25). He said, referring to the Natasha phenomenon: "How come smart people can get to believe in things that aren't so?". And also: "My hope for Natasha is that she will grow up and go to medical school, like she wants to, and become a good doctor, and give up this aspect of her life.". Soon after it, he added: "I don't think it is good in the long run to any of us to be living an illusion.". These are violations of protocol, for it is said clearly in the protocols that the test was preliminary and too brief to support such conclusions as stated right above by Hyman.
The same can be seen at the very website of the CSMMH. On the main page about Natasha, the title reads: " Natasha Demkina, The Girl with Very Normal Eyes". (this link). So, final conclusions are abounding. But there is still more. Skolnick himself is quoted as saying: "Skolnick says: Despite allowing Demkina to ignore rules designed to prevent her from gathering information through non-paranormal means, she still did not pass the preliminary test. 'That's why I think this test, as preliminary as it was, will likely close the chapter in this case,' he concludes.".
So, even though Natasha was asked to agree with test rules that clearly stated (rule number 25) that "It (this test) is too simple and brief to determine the truth of Natasha's claims with comfortable certainty. It can only help decide whether further study of Natasha's claimed abilities are warranted.", we are being presented with very clear and definite conclusions about the truth of "Natasha's" claims.
Further, there is a "humorous" comment about Natasha's belief that appendix can grow back after removal. (see this link). There is a red bold type line saying: "Do Russians really grow their appendix back after an appendectomy?". These comments look a little like inadequate mockery to me. I could say that it is even not polite to say it. Natasha seemed to be a very nice, cooperative, and sincere girl. She ought to be treated with deeper respect.
Still, at the main page on Natasha at the CSMMH site, there is a link to a report from the Guardian (this link). The official link for this Guardian article is this one. On it, we see the researchers quoted as having said that "a failure is a failure" (brutally conflicting with test rule number 25) , and "I wasn't convinced there wasn't other stuff going on" (right after a comment about the talks Natasha had during the test with her friends, etc), which seems to indicate suspicion that Natasha had fraudulent conduct during the test. (Just by the way: Natasha's agent replied to that in email as follows: "The messages concerned were to and from Natasha's boyfriend in Saransk, Russia. If you are concerned about them, we can provide documentary proof of the phone numbers and all the intimate love messages." - in an email from Stewart to Wiseman in May 6, 2004).
I must say that I haven't found so far any quoting from Natasha about the test that could be classified as a hundredth as rude as these ones described in the paragraphs above. I hope this is not an indication that Modern Science has come to such a state of affairs where it is in need of learning politeness from a 17-year-old girl...
There is also an interesting page at CSMMH site where they adress the issue of a "sarcoidosis diagnosis" that Natasha allegedly made. (see this link). The researchers believed (and keep beliving...) that the drawing that Natasha did was of something she saw at the cellular level. So they asked an expert on sarcoidosis about it, Dr Yale Rosen. He said, obviously, that it does not resemble sarcoidosis microscopically. But, surprisingly enough, I found a picture of a macroscopic lung with sarcoidosis at the very website of Dr. Yale Rosen (!) that, to my untrained eyes, seems similar to Natasha's drawing (this link). And it is described as a "honeycomb lung with emphysema in the upper part of specimen" (this link). I sent an email to Dr. Rosen about it. No reply... Hope Skolnick and colleagues will talk about it in their report. So far it seems to me another instance of embarassing lack of attention from the part of the "researchers" (Note added on November 27, 2005: finally I managed to get a reply from Dr. Yale Rosen. His reply is not supportive of Natasha's claim or of my views). By the way: even though the researchers believe the drawing was of a microscopic structure, they never bothered to ask Natasha about it, as it seems. Moreover, they understood wrongly that passage in the documentary. Actually, the man with sarcoidosis only showed the drawing to the doctor after she made the diagnosis looking into the microscope, and it could very well be that when she said that "I see the same thing" she was not really referring to what she saw at the cellular level, but to macroscopic lungs instead.
3- Suspicious Statistics...: The researchers decided that Natasha must achieve at least five hits to pass the test (out of a total of seven possible hits). She got four hits and three misses. So, she failed. Getting right four conditions, blindly, would have odds of 1 to 50, according to the documentary. That would be 2%. Brazilian skeptic Mori told Skolnick that the actual figure is 1.39% (he got it from engineer and skeptic Jose Colucci). That is dreadly close to the usual more stringent cutoff value for statistical significance, which is 1%, and clearly satisfactory for the usual less stringent cutoff value, which is 5%. The researchers are now claiming that the test ended up not being blind, and that Natasha could easily identify that the healthy guy was healthy, that the old man had staples in his chest, etc. To me, the test seemed pretty blind. Natasha could not know if the "obvious conditions" were not actually decoys (the old man with staples in his chest and the seemingly healthy man with "none of the conditions"). It is clear that it is not only the "believers" that have decided to engage in post hoc excuses...
Also, Skolnick is talking a lot about the false negative dianostics that Natasha did. He put that into cute statistics of his own, saying that "In the end, she missed finding the target conditions in three of the seven subjects, and then wrongly identified the conditions in three subjects, which is a total of six misdiagnoses vs. only four correct 'diagnoses'.". (see this link). In his statistics, Skolnick decided to leave aside altogether the true negative diagnosis that Natasha did (that is: when she said that subject A had staples in his chest, she was also saying that he did not have a resected lung, etc). Though I agree with Skolnick that true negatives are mostly irrelevant, I still have some suspicion that they may not be totally irrelevant, as Skolnick is clearly implying by leaving them aside altogether in his private statistics...
4- Conclusion: To me, basically, the test was not designed to test Natasha's powers or Natasha's claims. It was designed to test a fantasy the researchers nurtured in their minds. A fantasy that very much reflects the lore that surrounds the real Natasha. The first time I told this to Skolnick, he seemed to take it as a nonsense. But, believe it or not, even Richard Wiseman says very much the same thing in the documentary. He says: "Sometimes you don't fully understand all aspects of a claim.". That is exactly what I think happened. The researchers worked with the notion of an "X-Ray-vision girl" who could spot molecules from afar with a hundred percent precision. They were ready to test an apparatus, not a human being.
As a matter of fact, even a trustworthy apparatus might have failed their test... The two violations at the beginning of the test (attempt to take her mother out + the unexpected appendix and esophagus) were like hard kicks to a delicate diagnostic device. Therefore, the test was more a shock-proof test than anything else. They have proved that Natasha is not shock proof. Not much more. Maybe next time they will try to prove that she is not water-proof either...
But if that is really the case, as I think I have fully documented in the text above, what can be said of Natasha's power? And what, if anything, can be gathered from the test CSICOP/CSMMH did with her?
I think Richard Wiseman may be partially right when he said that Natasha might have some extraordinary imagery skill. She could be creating images inside her head. The question is: are these images solely a product of her imagination, or does she incorporate feedbacks from the outside world? I believe the latter is more likely to be the case. So maybe she gets feedbacks through normal ways (her usual senses plus unconscious cold reading, etc) and turn that into images. One interesting possibility is that she has some sort of mild "paranormal perception", and that this is also used in the creation of imagery. The fact is that the current status of the parapsychological research is very robust in regards to the possibility of "telepathy" in Ganzfeld experiments. Many, like me, claim that telepathy has advanced to the status of a scientifically proved phenomenon (see this link for recent updates on this issue, in the Journal of Consciousness Studies). As a matter of fact, skeptics' refutation to it has grown so thin that it is virtually invisible to the naked eye... (Have you ever tried to find a recent article from Ray Hyman on that? Forget it! It is nowhere to be found...). And we must not forget that actually all of our senses work exactly this way, that is, they turn inputs from the "outside" world into imagery (visual, auditory, etc).
But CSICOP/CSMMH's test had a priceless result, which must not be forgotten, I think. I believe they have really proved that Natasha is fallible (despite her having ever claimed otherwise or not). And they did not prove it in the second test. They proved it in the first one.
The fact that she is indeed fallible in her "powers" (no matter super paranormality, or mild psi, or mere cold reading) is already serious enough. The possibility of her making false positives and false negatives is a real hazard, a hazard she must be made aware of. That is a point in which I think CSICOP, and especially CSMMH, failed terribly in their social role while conducting their test. They failed to seize on the opportunity of helping in educating Natasha about the need for her to keep on trying to understand what exactly she possesses (no matter real or ilusory), and trying to know what types of errors she may commit, and with what frequency those errors may appear.
Thank goodness Natasha decided on her own to go to medical school. And there, she will learn all the things that skeptics failed to tell her about: false positives, false negatives, etc. At the very end, it turned up that Natasha proved to be not only more polite than her "analists":
She proved to be wiser too!
December 8, 2004.