The world's biggest psychic experiment yesterday failed to come up with a shred of evidence for telepathy. But then, the true psychics would have known that anyway.
Over the course of 10 experiments, several hundred people failed to project a set of images to volunteers in a sealed room several hundred feet away. The volunteers should have got between two and three images right just by random chance. In fact they scored one out of 10.
Scientists last attempted to carry out an extra-sensory perception experiment on the same scale during a rock concert by the Grateful Dead 30 years ago. Then, as one of the scientists later observed, the volunteers needed little help getting into the sort of relaxed, out-of-body state required.
Yesterday's research was the brainchild of Dr Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire who attempts to put paranormal claims under rigorous scientific scrutiny. The aim was to see whether a large number of people could boost the strength of any telepathic signals.
For the first eight experiments, groups were shown a single image in a room in the Museum of the Unknown on the South Bank in London. For the final two tests, the image was projected on the outside of the building. The groups were asked to project the picture to a receiver in a room in a nearby office block.
The receivers were placed in a distraction-free, relaxed state of mind known as a ganzfeld state. Half ping pong balls covered the eyes, their faces were bathed in red light and white noise was pumped through headphones. The receivers were asked to describe any images in their minds and to pick out the correct picture from a selection of four. They were also asked to rank the other three images in order.
The results were not convincing. Five of the experiments were "direct misses", where the receiver ranked the correct image as the one least likely to have been sent. Caroline McCormick, 29, should have been receiving a mental picture of two gophers, but she ranked that as the least likely picture.
She said: "I couldn't have been much further out. The relaxation process was extremely effective and initially I saw landscapes and rural scenes. They turned into graphic shapes but none of them were recognizable from the slides."