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Tags challenges , children , education , kids , paranormal , pet psychics , skepticism , skeptikids , spoon bending

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Old 20th September 2007, 09:15 AM   #1
Miss Anthrope
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[Moderated] Skeptikids Project

Mod Warning This thread is for the discussion by the students in the Skeptikids Club (who will be posting their OP shortly). They are posting here to get advice on paranormal subjects they are studying as a group of young skeptics. They will only be posting at JREF under supervision and in moderated threads set up for them. Please remember they are youngsters when contributing to the discussion. To keep thing clear only a few will be posting for the group.
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Old 20th September 2007, 09:40 AM   #2
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Hi everyone!!My name is Raven(not really hee)and today it is my job to make our first note here. We are the skeptikids club!

OUr club is now full of spoon bending experts. We learned that this is just a party trick. But we broke a lot of spoons trying

We watched a you tube vid where Randi told a TV show about how to make sure Uri Geler was tested right. That taught us I think the most important thing about people who say they can do super natrual things. It must be repeated!!! Why can't these people just repeat it anywhere???!! We think this is why no one has won the challenge yet after all this time.

We will be learning alot about how people like this fool people. We will also be learning why people wish this stuff to be true and real. Things on our list are astrology,card reading, talking to dead people, moving things with your mind, magnets to make pain go away(this one makes us laugh alot!),homeopathic(spelling?) medicine, an d evolution versus god made it.(I am pastafarian so I know who made it haha just kidding)

But most of all our group wants to do a challenge like Randi does. Our club wants to do one test every year. There are a bunch of pet psychics around here. We want to test a pet psychic but it seems like it would be very hard to prove anything!

Do you guys have any ideas how we could test a pet psychic? How would we know if something is true or not? Is it impossible? If it is impossible we need to pick another challenge. We like that this one is hard. It really gets us thinking!

One of us will be posting after we meet about what project we are working on and get help. But we will be working on our challenge for a long time,so we will need the most help working that out.

Thank you for taking time for us and we need all the help we can get!!!

Raven
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Old 20th September 2007, 09:48 AM   #3
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Welcome SkeptiKids! I am your official LibraryLady, so if you need advice about where to look something up, please ask. Notice, I will probably not do the looking up--just giving advice, unless you can't find the information.

I think the pet psychic idea is great! I have a budgie (parakeet), but I always know what she's thinking. Give me food! Play with me! Give me food! Play with me!

Not much of a challenge there.

How do you think you can set up a test for a pet psychic?
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Old 20th September 2007, 10:25 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by LibraryLady View Post
Welcome SkeptiKids! I am your official LibraryLady, so if you need advice about where to look something up, please ask. Notice, I will probably not do the looking up--just giving advice, unless you can't find the information.

I think the pet psychic idea is great! I have a budgie (parakeet), but I always know what she's thinking. Give me food! Play with me! Give me food! Play with me!

Not much of a challenge there.

How do you think you can set up a test for a pet psychic?


Thankyou Library Lady!!!!

I think first we should read some books written by pet psychics. If we can find videos on you tube and some web pages by them we will check those too. I think first it is important to know just what they are saying they can do so we can figure out how to test that.

One lady we saw a story about said that this dog had a painful time being born and it made it scared and nervous about everything because of it. I think the only way we could prove something like that is if we had a person who knew the dog and was there when it was born. Right?

So maybe if we found a dog breeder who had not made their mind up about this stuff and knew alot,they would be able to let us test the pet psychic with their dog! Then we need to make sure the questions are questions that can be answered! That is the really hard part I think.

The devil lady up there(hee hee)says we will be learning how to tell if things are lucky guesses and also how to make sure we don't give away answers by saying anything to a psychic or showing it in our face. That will probably help us think of how to do this too.

Raven and M.P.
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Old 20th September 2007, 10:41 AM   #5
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Welcome Skeptikids! This sounds like a great project and I can't wait to see what you come up with.
To give you an idea for a starting point for the pet psychic test, perhaps you could find a way to show a pet something the psychic doesn't know about and ask them to find out what it is from the pet.
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Old 20th September 2007, 10:50 AM   #6
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I think that it would be rather hard to test a pet psychic, actually, because all they do is (supposedly) tell you what your pet is thinking, and it's very hard to refute that. They go, "Your budgie says he wishes he had a little friend," and how are you going to argue with that? You can't ask the budgie yourself, "Well, did you tell this lady you want a friend or not?"

The easiest thing to test, IMO, is dowsing. This is because there are lots of people out there who do dowsing, and it's easy to find someone, and because the test itself is ridiculously easy. Dowsers claim that they can find water with a stick or a bent coat hanger--fine, then you get some coffee cans, and you put water in some of them, and sand in the rest (so they're weighted down, same as the ones with water), and put the lids on all of them, and then you ask the dowser to tell you which ones have water in them.

Usually you line the containers up on the ground, with big numbers on them, like #1, #2, and so on, so he can walk up and down, because that's how dowsers usually work. Then you give the dowser multiple tries, and you figure out how many he got right on each try, then you average his results. I can predict that his results will be the same as if he just guessed randomly.

And it's very important that the person who is standing there walking along with the dowser and keeping score on a clipboard does NOT know which coffee cans have water in them. This is because he could unconsciously be giving the dowser visual cues whenever he approaches one of the "right" ones, by his facial expression looking hopeful, like, "Yes! That's one!" So if the scorekeeper doesn't know which ones are "hits", then you remove that possibility.

The person who fills up and arranges the cans goes to where the dowser can't see him, like into the house, or goes and sits in the car.
There is also a ton of information here on JREF about dowsing tests and understanding your statistical results, which I am sure LibraryLady will be happy to tell you where to look in the stacks to find.

Another reason to test dowsing instead of pet psychics is that dowsers never seem to have their feelings hurt when they fail the test. They always insist that it wasn't their fault, and they find some excuse for why they flunked. Pet psychics, on the other hand, sometimes take it very personally if you criticize them, if you even suggest that they can't really talk to animals telepathically.

So your dowser will walk away from your experiment perfectly happy and self-confident. And don't be surprised when you fail to convince him that he doesn't really have the power to find water with his bent coat hanger, because you won't.
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Old 20th September 2007, 12:27 PM   #7
Miss Anthrope
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Originally Posted by In My Spare Time View Post
Welcome Skeptikids! This sounds like a great project and I can't wait to see what you come up with.
To give you an idea for a starting point for the pet psychic test, perhaps you could find a way to show a pet something the psychic doesn't know about and ask them to find out what it is from the pet.
That's a great suggestion!
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Old 20th September 2007, 12:28 PM   #8
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Skeptikids (and Raven) - Welcome!!!

I am your official Oscure Reference Man. If it's "out there", I know about it! (Just kidding. Having a little laugh at LibraryLady's post. But it's partly true - I have some really obscure stuff in my head.)

But seriously... It's great to see kids (ahem, young people) showing initiative and displaying critical thinking skills. I was much more credulous (i.e. I believed everything) when I was a kid.

The pet psychic thing seems very hard to test. There needs to be ways to establish what are things a pet should know - apart from the obvious (I love my owner, etc.). Something I find odd about pet psychics; why do they always have to ask the owner what the pet's name is?

I look forward to hearing more from you. And I hope I can help out in some way. Good luck!!!
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Old 20th September 2007, 12:32 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by ObscureReferenceMan View Post
Skeptikids (and Raven) - Welcome!!!

I am your official Oscure Reference Man. If it's "out there", I know about it! (Just kidding. Having a little laugh at LibraryLady's post. But it's partly true - I have some really obscure stuff in my head.)

But seriously... It's great to see kids (ahem, young people) showing initiative and displaying critical thinking skills. I was much more credulous (i.e. I believed everything) when I was a kid.

The pet psychic thing seems very hard to test. There needs to be ways to establish what are things a pet should know - apart from the obvious (I love my owner, etc.). Something I find odd about pet psychics; why do they always have to ask the owner what the pet's name is?

I look forward to hearing more from you. And I hope I can help out in some way. Good luck!!!

By the way, kids, did I mention that my budgie is actually THE BUDGIE OF DOOM? She doesn't need a "little friend."

I like the idea of showing a pet something and then having the psycho, oops I mean psychic try to find out what it was. However, you need to have Miss Anthrope explain what a double blind test is.
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Old 20th September 2007, 12:39 PM   #10
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I think you have a good idea about reading the books, and I think the idea about showing something to the pet is also a good idea.

But first, I think you should ask a pet psychic to tell you exactly what it is he or she can do. That's one of the hardest parts. You might get folks here to help you come up with some questions, and when you talk to the pet psychic you can tell them you would like to show their answers to some friends of yours in case you have any more questions. That way we can help you look at what they've said and help you figure out if they've left themselves ways to unfairly win a challenge.
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Old 20th September 2007, 03:48 PM   #11
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Welcome. I'm relatively new to these forums, but I've been a scientist and a skeptic since I was kid, too!

I'm sure you've all learned about the Scientific Method for developing experiments in school. I'm glad you mentioned reading books about pet psychics, because the first step of the method is to figure out what you're trying to test! Once you figure out what abilities pet psychics claim to have, you can brainstorm ways to test these abilities.

One way to test pet psychics is similar to a way skeptics try to test human psychics. One tester separates the pet and the psychic in separate rooms and shows the pet an object that the pet will respond emotionally to (like food, a toy, a leash, and so on). Then, the psychic has to write down or say what the pet is looking at. Try this a couple different times with different objects and you should get a pretty good idea of whether the psychic is just guessing, or is really psychic like they claim! Of course, I can think of a lot of problems with this method, but it's a start.
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Old 20th September 2007, 04:16 PM   #12
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Hi Skeptikids, it's great to see young critical minds in action

I think it's a very good idea to test pet psychics. In an earlier post you said:
"I think first it is important to know just what they are saying they can do"

This is spot on. So great job already You may not get any further than this part though because the hardest part of the whole test is likely to be getting the pet psychic to explain clearly just what it is they say they can do.

I look forward to seeing your reports on your experiments. Welcome to the James Randi Educational Foundation Forum
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Old 20th September 2007, 06:38 PM   #13
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Welcome, Skeptikids!

James Randi once told me of something he did for a TV show a long time ago. It isn't really a test, and it may not be very useful to you, but it's pretty funny.

(I may get the details mixed up here, but the basic story is right!)

A man had a pet psychic come to his house to help him with Rex, his shaggy white dog. The man was a large, tough-looking bachelor, and he asked the psychic to tell him about Rex. The psychic told him all about Rex's likes and dislikes, what his puppyhood had been like, and that sort of thing.

A week later, another man had the same pet psychic come to his small apartment to do a "reading" on his dog Ralphy. The man was an average-looking guy, and Ralphy was brownish with medium-length, curly fur. The pet psychic told him all about Ralphy's likes and dislikes and so on.

A week later, a rich woman called the same pet psychic to come to her mansion, where the pet psychic gave a reading to her poodle Foofoo. Foofoo was black, with a french poodle cut (the kind with the poofy balls of fur on its head, at the ends of its ears, the end of its tail and so on), and with a big pink bow. The psychic told the woman all about what Foofoo thought, liked, and so on.

What the pet psychic did not know was that all three of these people were actors hired by a TV show that Randi was working for, and that all of this had been filmed by hidden cameras.

What she ALSO didn't know was that Rex, Ralphy and Foofoo were all THE SAME DOG.

A poodle's fur gets long and shaggy when you don't trim it back, so Mr. Randi had found a shaggy white poodle to be "Rex". After the "Rex" reading, they trimmed the poodle's fur back some and dyed it brown to be "Ralphy." Then they gave the poodle a "French poodle cut" and dyed it black to be "Foofoo".

Of course, the psychic had given very different stories about what Rex, Ralphy and Foofoo liked and disliked, and the "three" dogs all had very different puppyhoods.

When it was revealed to the psychic that she was being filmed for a TV show, and that the "three dogs" were all the same dog, she refused to give them permission to show it on TV, and told them she would sue them if they ever showed it.

It has never been shown to this day!
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Old 20th September 2007, 08:08 PM   #14
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Hello Skeptikids!

A friend of mine was once visited in class by a pet psychic who claimed she could read animal's minds, and that she could do this no matter the distance, she idn't have to meet the animal even. My friend asked her to tell her why her dog had seemed to be depressed lately, and the pet psychic had several explanation to why the poor dog was depressed. However, it was the pet psychic who got mildy depressed when my friend finally told her that she didn't have a dog at all and that she had just been mind-reading a non-existant dog.

If you find a pet psychic who claims he or she can read animal's minds at a distance it should be easy to test this. You just have to present a number of cases, say 5 or 10 that each describes an animal with some sort of problem. Only a few of the cases are true though, and the other cases are just made up animals that don't exist at all. If the pet psychic really can read animal's minds, they should be able to tell which of the stories are the true ones, and which are the fake ones, because they can't read a mind that isn't there, right? If they "can", it's a pretty sure sign they are just making things up.

Good luck, and keep the good work.
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Old 21st September 2007, 07:39 AM   #15
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Welcome, Skeptikids!

I think it's great that you're trying to find ways to test pet psychics. Here's one idea:

Most pet psychics offer to help people find a lost animal. You could ask the psychics if they are capable of this. Ask detailed questions: how does the animal tell them where it is? Does it describe its surroundings? Can the psychic "feel" how far away the animal is, or in which direction?

Let's imagine the psychics say that the animal can tell them things about its surroundings. Then you could do a test that goes something like this:

1. You choose six different places that a pet could be taken to. The places should have obvious differences. Possible choices would be: a small empty room, a large room with a lot of people in it, a kitchen where there's a strong smell of something the pet likes, an empty playing field, a noisy road, a church, a swimming pool...

2. You bring psychic, pet-owner and pet together so that the psychic can "tune in" to the pet.

3. You take the pet to another room, leaving the psychic alone with the pet-owner.

4. You throw a die to determine where they will bring the pet, then take it to that location.

5. Now the psychic has to try to tune in to what the pet is seeing, hearing or smelling to work out where it has been taken.
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Old 21st September 2007, 07:45 AM   #16
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Hello Skeptikids and Welcome.

As the posters here have suggested, the more specific you can get the pet psychics to be about their abilities, the better you will be able to design a test around their claims.

If they are vague, and say they can only give whatever details the pet happens to have on its mind at the time, and general background life information, there may still be an approach that can work well. In that approach, you have several pets, all in separate rooms. The owner is not with the pet, and the pets are not named, but numbered. The psychic goes into each room and gives a reading for the pet, which an observer records. Then, after removing any descriptions from the recordings, the final readings are given to the owners of the pets. Each owner then tries to pick which readings was for their pet, and not for the other pets.

There are many more details to make this approach well, and maybe that would be a good topic for discussion if you decide to use this method.

And good luck with your project!
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Old 21st September 2007, 11:54 AM   #17
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Hi Skeptikids!

I was thinking that if a person were really a pet psychic, they ought to be able to tell certain things about pets without having to look.

If we put a pet in a box that the psychic could not see through, then surely the psychic should still be able to tell whether it's a cat or a dog in the box. To do this test we'd have to be sure there weren't any clues that the pet psychic could use to guess. For instance, if the pet psychic walks into the room with the box and the box starts meowing, that would obviously ruin the test, so the psychic will have to wear earplugs or earphones. There can't be any airholes in the side of the crate facing the psychic, and the psychic must not be allowed to go around the crate to where there are airholes because they might peek. If the psychic says, "I must be able to touch the animal or I can't read its mind," then you cannot use this type of test.

A simpler test might be done with just dogs. If a pet psychic can really read a dog's mind, they should be able to ask the dog if its a boy or a girl without looking at its hind end. Put diapers on all the dogs and ask the psychic to tell you whether each one is a boy or a girl. Be careful to take off the dog's collars, as this can be a clue! The person who brings each dog in to the psychic for the reading should not be the dog's owner and should not know whether the dog is male or female either. That way, the pet psychic cannot look to them for clues. Remember, pet psychics get the majority of their information from the owners, not the pets! Do not let the owners talk to the psychic in any way. This test seems like it would be inexpensive and fairly easy to arrange. All you need is ten dogs, ten diapers, a pet psychic, and a set of rules for the test. There are plenty of people here who can help you design the rules for the test (protocol) to make sure there's no loopholes that would allow someone to cheat on the test.

Good luck on your project!
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Old 21st September 2007, 04:29 PM   #18
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I doubt if you will find anyone that will actually be tested. They may agree to be tested but then when you talk about details they will find some excuse and run away. They know they have no abilities.

Be ready for them to be rude to you and to blame you for any problems. Just remember it will not be your fault.
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Old 22nd September 2007, 08:33 PM   #19
Richard
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Hi Skeptikids!

We here at Mystery Investigators in Australia have made some free skeptical magazines for kids (and anyone). You can download them at:

http://www.mysteryinvestigators.com/magazine.htm

also, we have made a video on testing the paranormal claim of knowing when someone is staring at you:

http://www.mysteryinvestigators.com (just look for the video)

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Old 23rd September 2007, 07:31 AM   #20
Ryan O'Dine
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Welcome Skeptikids!

I would suggest that simplest is best, which is why I think Apology has the right idea.

A quick Google for “pet psychics” produces a lot of offerings for “over the phone” readings, as well as the finding of lost pets. This indicates “psychics” can read the minds of pets from a distance. The simplest protocol, it seems to me, would follow an Apology type test, perhaps simply asking, over multiple trials, whether there’s a dog in the next room. Protocols for this kind of thing have been worked out for people “psychics” in the past. In this case, you might have to be more careful that the test subject could neither hear, smell, nor be allergic to () a dog in the next room. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be a difficult procedure.

If you haven’t seen the Skeptical Inquirer article by Joe Nickell yet, it can be found here.

A brief excerpt:

Quote:
Having studied pet psychics at work—including Gerri Leigh (with whom I appeared on Springer) and Sonya Fitzpatrick (star of the Animal Planet channel's The Pet Psychic)—I find that they impress audiences with some very simple ploys. Consciously or not, they are essentially using the same fortunetellers' technique—"cold reading"—that is used for human subjects. This is an artful method of gleaning information from someone while giving the impression it is obtained mystically (Hyman 1977).
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Old 23rd September 2007, 08:24 AM   #21
Denver
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Originally Posted by Ryan O'Dine View Post
Welcome Skeptikids!

The simplest protocol, it seems to me, would follow an Apology type test, perhaps simply asking, over multiple trials, whether there’s a dog in the next room. Protocols for this kind of thing have been worked out for people “psychics” in the past. In this case, you might have to be more careful that the test subject could neither hear, smell, nor be allergic to () a dog in the next room. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be a difficult procedure.

A brief excerpt:
I think there are many types of tests that can be arranged, but it can be disappointing after going through all the work to set it up, the Psychic finds some kind of excuse for it not to have worked. That is why so many people above have emphasized the importance of first getting the Psychic to clearly explain their claims, and even to get advice, from the Psychic themselves, how they would like to be tested.

A couple excuses you could expect, for example, in the dog-in-the-next-room test, is 1) Oh, I can only tell if there is a dog in the next room if the dog wants me to know it. 2) Oh, even though you really had a cat in the room and I thought it was a dog, it is because the cat thinks its a dog. 3) Oh, even though the room was empty, there was a dog in there, and wherever that dog is, it is still thinking about the room.

And the list goes on...
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Old 23rd September 2007, 09:08 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Denver View Post
I think there are many types of tests that can be arranged, but it can be disappointing after going through all the work to set it up, the Psychic finds some kind of excuse for it not to have worked. That is why so many people above have emphasized the importance of first getting the Psychic to clearly explain their claims, and even to get advice, from the Psychic themselves, how they would like to be tested.

A couple excuses you could expect, for example, in the dog-in-the-next-room test, is 1) Oh, I can only tell if there is a dog in the next room if the dog wants me to know it. 2) Oh, even though you really had a cat in the room and I thought it was a dog, it is because the cat thinks its a dog. 3) Oh, even though the room was empty, there was a dog in there, and wherever that dog is, it is still thinking about the room.

And the list goes on...
I agree that the details of the protocol should be worked out in partnership with the psychic.

Also, the psychic should be asked to sign a statement after the tests are conducted, but before the results are revealed that say something like, “I agree that the trials I have just undertaken represent a fair and accurate test of my abilities as a psychic,” or some such thing.
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Old 23rd September 2007, 08:44 PM   #23
deathduck
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Talking Idea for a test

I have a good idea for a test, and a pet psychic may agree to this one because they believe in their ability to read animal facial expressions.

Have someone behind a screen where they cannot be seen showing a pet various objects related to their life. The pet will notice these objects and have thoughts about them. See if the psychic can pick up on these thoughts.

You need to be careful not to choose obvious objects such as a bone to a dog. The dog would probably start drooling and this would be a dead give away. Spend time and consideration on choosing unique objects which the psychic may not thing of. One example may be: Showing a scratching post to a cat. The cat will look interested but the psychic won’t know it's a scratching post. Maybe they will guess pet mouse? I'm sure you guys can think of better ideas than this.

A psychic may agree to this because initially they will believe they can read animals expressions well. Actually, you could trick them during your initial phone call by using an example like "we will show a dog a bone and see if you can read the dogs thoughts.. or something like that", and the psychic will think "ha-ha foolish kids, I can do that!".

Just beware the psychic will try to over-generalize everything such as "the cat sees excitement, exercise, fun, blah blah" so try to pick some very interesting objects. Good luck!
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Old 24th September 2007, 04:39 AM   #24
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Good start. You have hinted at one of the problems of this sort of test. Vague answers. Who is to say that such a answer is wrong? If you want to show the dog an object and then ask what object did we show the dog then the psychic should be given a list of possible objects. To make it double blind the person with the psychic would not know the answer themselves.

Homework - Find the meaning of double blind and work out how to impress the teacher by using it. Warning - Teachers may not know what double blind means especially if they are not trained in science.

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Old 24th September 2007, 09:34 AM   #25
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Just a quick note: A few of the kids are meeting up tomorrow and will be adding to the discussion
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Old 25th September 2007, 06:44 AM   #26
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One thing I haven't seen anyone mention yet is the Clever Hans effect. This is named after a horse from the beginning of the 20th century that was thought to be able to solve maths problems. It was found out that the horse was actually responding to clues from his owner and not doing the maths himself. This is now known to be a very important problem that must be avoided, especially when performing any tests on animals and babies. In fact, it was referenced in an episode of The Simpsons, where Maggie seemed to be very intelligent because Lisa was subconciously giving her the answers.

When you are performing tests on pets, you will need to be very careful to make sure that you are actually testing the pet, and not their owner.
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Old 2nd October 2007, 09:05 PM   #27
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This is rather late, but another note for pet psychics and dogs...

The psychic is naturally going to attempt to describe emotional states of the dog and try to convey them in human-like ways. The best counter for testing that is to use a dog that has a very established personality, and an owner who knows that personality very well (preferably from knowing the dog from a very young age). Dogs do have emotions, but we humans love to interpret those emotions the way we would other people, and that just isn't realistic. There are loads of books out there explaining how dog emotions work: they're really simple, actually!

I'm very impressed at your focusing on a pet psychic. I've had a mind to challenge some local to my city, because I know my dog so well and have established a very good communication with him through much training (for us both!) and body language. He's a larger breed of dog (German shepherd) and has a very expressive looking face (but it's just colors of fur!), even though his actual expressions don't come from his face, they come from his ears, his tail, and the way he stands (or sits). If you know someone who has done a lot of this kind of training with their dog or with dogs in general, you will have found someone who can not only challenge the pet psychic, but can explain in very descriptive terms for an audience exactly what they are seeing in the dog's behavior.

I can't wait to see how things go!
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Old 10th October 2007, 06:15 PM   #28
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Testing a pet psychic huh?

First, be real clear about just what they say they can do...the psychic not the pet. Then you just need to get them to do it.

Maybe you should all inventory you own pets various toys, get someone impartial to verify the inventory and let the psychic "read" your pets. If the psychic can get the pets to describe their toys then he/she should be able to pick out which toys belong to which pets or at least do better than chance.

Good luck guys.
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Old 11th October 2007, 09:41 AM   #29
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Hi All--The kids have been meeting but I have had a few major crisis issues going on, so I've been absent from the forum and haven't had time to get the kids on. They have a lot to discuss and will be doing so in the near future!
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Old 11th October 2007, 11:54 AM   #30
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I look forward to it. In my opinion, the skeptikids are the most important members of this forum.
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Old 9th November 2007, 08:20 AM   #31
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Hello skeptikids. Glad to see that young minds are scientifically/critically thinking about topics that rational adults should be pondering in the same way. Unfortunately, most do not!
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Old 9th November 2007, 08:42 AM   #32
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Good to have you back, Ms. A. In the meantime, I'm really looking forward to hearing from the skeptikids!

ETA: I'm an idiot--I didn't look at the date.
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Old 9th November 2007, 08:46 AM   #33
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She's not back yet. I've sent a letter to see if everything's ok.
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