A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview
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J. B. Rhine and the Levy Scandal

The field of parapsychology faced one of its greatest crises on June 12, 1974. That was the day that Dr. J. B. Rhine of the Institute for Parapsychology (in Durham, North Carolina) learned that his own director of research was falsifying the results of his experiments. Between 1970 and 1974, Dr. Walter J. Levy had become a genuine Wunderkind in the field, by reporting a phenomenal string of successful experiments. These experiments primarily demonstrated that small rodents possess ESP. It seemed to be a promising line of research, and Rhine had long been nurturing Levy to take complete control of the Institute. Levy's research was achieving prominence not only within the parapsychological community but also in the scientific press in general. The reason was simple. Parapsychology had long bemoaned the fact that it possessed no repeatable experiment, but Levy seemed to be on to one—until the evening of June 11, 1974, when three of his own associates caught him faking one of his key experiments.

The Background of the Scandal

The background of Levy's meteoric rise within the field dates back to 1968. Two talented French scientists reported a novel experiment that year that purportedly demonstrated that mice possess precognitive ability. Dr. Remy Chauvin and Dr. J. P. Genthon (both writing under pseudonyms) reported that they had placed mice in a box divided by a barrier over which they could jump. Each side of the box could be independently fed an electric shock, and the experimenters wanted to determine if the mice could detect (paranormally) which side was about to be given a jolt on any given occasion. The mice, of course, jumped over the barrier as soon as they received a shock, but the researchers paid particular attention to those times when the mice jumped the barrier for no discernible reason before a shock was delivered. These movements were called "random behavior trials." The original report showed that more than 50 percent of these movements coincided with jumps away from the side of the box about to receive a shock.


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A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology
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