Richard Wiseman, Ph.D., is a fellow of CSICOP, a consultant editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, and an associate of Rationalist International. Having started his career as a conjuror, he took a degree in psychology (University College, London) and a PhD in parapsychology from Edinburgh University, and is now based in the Psychology Department at the University of Hertfordshire.
Wiseman’s speciality is the psychology of lying and deception, and he is the author of Deception and Self-Deception: Investigating Psychics (1997). He is Britain’s most ambitious and ubiquitous media skeptic and has appeared in hundreds of TV and radio programmes. In 1995 he was awarded a Perrott-Warrick research fellowship for psychical research, and according to his web site has received more than £400,000 sterling in grants. He has been at the centre of many controversies with researchers in parapsychology, and has often been accused of deliberately misrepresenting data.
In 1995, he replicated Rupert Sheldrake’s results with a dog that knows when its owner was coming home, and then claimed to have debunked the ‘psychic pet’ phenomenon (“Richard Wiseman’s claim to have debunked “the psychic pet phenomenon’.” – Rupert Sheldrake).
He has been described by the President of the Parapsychology Association as motivated by “obvious self-interest”, and by a desire “to support an a priori commitment to the notion that all positive psi results are spurious and all methods which seem to show the presence of psi are flawed” (see Richard Wiseman and Ganzfeld Telepathy Research).
In December 2000 he carried out what he described as the “world’s biggest ESP experiment” which, like many of his activities, was widely publicised in the media. A skeptical observer of the experiment claimed that he had designed the experiment to fail and interfered with the procedure in such a way as to gain the non-significant result he expected (see Richard Wiseman’s “Experimenter Effect” Examined).
In September 2004 he took part in a classic CSICOP debunking excercise, claiming that a young Russian girl who had seemingly psychic powers of diagnosis had failed a test he and his fellow skeptics designed. In fact the girl scored at a level well above chance. Prof Brian Josephson, FRS, a Nobel Laureate in physics, investigated Wiseman’s claims about this test and found them to be seriously misleading (“Scientists’ Unethical Use of Media for Propaganda Purposes” – Cavendish Lab).
A lively debate between biologist Rupert Sheldrake and Richard Wiseman reveals a wide rift between skeptics and psi proponents (Sheldrake and Wiseman on Skeptiko, March 8, 2010).
Mary Rose Barrington takes Wiseman and his colleagues to task (The Natasha Demkina Case – Respected Scientists?).
In our Media Watch feature, Guy Lyon Playfair doubts Wiseman’s claim of a “breakthrough” in his attempt to debunk Remote Viewing (Breakthrough to Nowhere).
By the autumn of 2004, after a series of other very questionable claims, widely publicized in the media, many of his peers in the parapsychology research community concluded that his behaviour was not consistent with commonly-accepted standards of scientific integrity, and he was voted off the main research forum in parapsychology by a large majority. In addition, for similar reasons, some members of the Society for Psychical Resaerch called for him to be expelled for the Society. He resigned. Despite his strong skeptical beliefs, in 2004 he applied for the newly-established chair of Parapsychology in Lund, Sweden, which was endowed to promote research in this field.
In an interview with Skeptiko (April 2011) Rupert Sheldrake accused Richard Wiseman of “persistent deception” in Wiseman’s book Paranormality: Why We See What Isn’t There (2011).
JSPR has published a penetrating critique by Chris Carter of Richard Wiseman’s attack on parapsychology in Wiseman’s paper published in Skeptical Inquirer, A Response to Wiseman’s (2010) Critique of Parapsychology (PDF).
Wiseman’s ability to manipulate the media misleadingly is not confined to psychic phenomena. Much has been written about a scientific “study” of his that claimed to show that people could not tell the difference between cheap and expensive wines. But the test was seriously flawed, in that subjects were not asked to compare two samples of wine blind, but were given just a single glass and asked to say whether it was cheap or expensive. The wine blogger Jamie Goode comments that this “study” was “in essence a clever publicity stunt to boost the profile of the [Edinburgh science] festival by generating column-inches.” Wiseman was on the Advisory Board of the festival at the time (The Wiseman ‘Study’: Cheap Versus Expensive Wine – Jamie Goodwin).
Rupert Sheldrake, June 2015
Adrian Parker, YouTube, August 12, 2014
“Richard Wiseman performing a simple card trick on the Scandinavian talk show Skavlan and saying it was done by ‘reading body language’, and claiming to demonstrate how spiritualistic mediums give readings to sitters. Such subtle cues would never give a reliable life television success but many naive skeptics buy this.” (YouTube)
Photo credit: Richard Wiseman