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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Blackburn and Smith In 1882 the team of Douglas Blackburn and G. A. Smith were authenticated by the Society for Psychical Research for their amazing telepathic demonstrations. Smith, blindfolded and sometimes concealed under a blanket, was able to name words that had only been shown to Blackburn and could also reproduce drawings secretly shown to Blackburn. The “experts” embraced, at last, this most welcome and undeniable evidence that supernatural forces did indeed exist.
      In 1908, the investigators all having died, and Blackburn believing that Smith had also died, he revealed the methods the pair had used to perform their trickery, a hoax that had  

      originated in the honest desire of two youths to show how easily men of scientific mind and training could be deceived when seeking for evidence in support of a theory they were wishful to establish.

      Smith immediately showed up to complain and denied everything, but Blackburn was intent on telling the story. One example will serve to show how ingenious and original the team was. In the London Daily News of September 1, 1911, Blackburn explained how, with Smith covered in blankets, he had been able to transmit to him a drawing he'd been handed by one of the experimenters. Smith was to draw on a piece of paper he had with him in the dark under the blanket, the impression he'd “telepathically” received from Blackburn, who revealed to the News:  

      I also drew it, secretly, on a cigarette paper. . . . and had no difficulty while pacing the room collecting “rapport,” in transferring the cigarette paper to the tube of the brass projector on the pencil I was using. I conveyed to Smith the agreed signal that I was ready by stumbling against the edge of the thick rug near his chair.
      Next instant he exclaimed: “I have it.” His right hand came from beneath the blanket, and he fumbled about the table, saying, according to arrangement: “Where's my pencil?”
      Immediately I placed mine on the table. He took it . . . under the blanket. Smith had concealed up in his waistcoat one of those luminous painted slates which in the dense darkness gave sufficient light to show the figure when the almost transparent cigarette paper was laid flat on the slate. He pushed up the bandage from one eye, and copied the figure . . .
      Presently Smith threw back the blanket and excitedly . . . produced the drawing . . .

      Without this confession the parapsychologists might have today their prime case for ESP. The single example above shows how scientists can be easily deceived by simple means, having not even recorded in their reports such details as the handing over of the pencil and the stumbling on the rug since such small items seemed not to be important. As one can see, they are.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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