Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Scientific Experiments On Janet Hodgson's Paranormality

Guy Playfair and Maurice Grosse wrote:

Carrying out fully controlled experiments in somebody else's home is not easy, especially when the home is suffering from poltergeist activity. However, at least one fully instrumented experimental PK [psychokinesis] session was held under the supervision of David Robertson with Grosse as witness. Janet was asked to deform a piece of 'unbendable' eutectic alloy without contact. On separate occasions, a pulse counter and a three-channel chart recorder produced readings that could not be accounted for. The metal sample broke while under observation. (Playfair 1980, ch. 9).

With the cooperation of Professor J. B. Hasted, it was possible to carry out a fully controlled experiment in a laboratory. Janet was taken to Birkbeck College for an experiment in which she was seated on a specially constructed weighing platform and asked to alter her weight. She was one of three subjects out of more than 20 tested who managed to produce anomalous chart readings. (Journal Of The Society For Psychical Research, vol. 55, 1988-9, "Enfield Revisited: The Evaporation Of Positive Evidence", p. 213)

I've already discussed the experiments on Janet's ability to bend metal. Watch here until 19:13. But what about the "fully controlled experiment in a laboratory"?

Grosse discussed it in 1998 when he appeared on a television program hosted by Esther Rantzen. You can watch a three-minute clip of the discussion on YouTube. The host kept asking him for more information, but didn't have much to say about the information once it was provided. Neither did the skeptics on the program. One of them, sitting in the audience, makes some comments about the Hutchison Effect without explaining what the relevance is supposed to be.

Unfortunately, Grosse didn't remember where the article he cited had been published. Apparently, what he had in mind was "Recording Of Sudden Paranormal Changes Of Body Weight" on pages 105-6 in the 1982 edition (vol. 25) of Research In Parapsychology (published in 1983). The article was written by John Hasted, David Robertson, and Ernesto Spinelli. You can read the whole thing by registering here. The article is a research brief on some preliminary scientific work apparently conducted in the early 1980s. They tested more than twenty individuals. Though Janet's results were the best among the group (the large majority didn't produce any results), I'm not aware of any further testing done on her.

The experiment was conducted close to the time when Janet got married. She became much less public about the Enfield case around that time. She's become more public again in recent years, perhaps in part because her children are now older and she's less concerned about the effect of the publicity on them. She's mentioned concerns about her children in some of her more recent comments. She may not have been interested in participating in any further experiments, even if they'd wanted her to do so.

The journal the article appeared in had a few editors at the time, one of whom was John Beloff. He was one of the foremost early critics of the Enfield case. When people cite early skeptics of Enfield, Anita Gregory and John Beloff are the two individuals named most often. In addition to Beloff's editorial position with the journal, skeptics often contributed to it. The same edition of the journal that has the article Grosse cited also contains a research brief by James Randi, for example (see pages 112-13). Richard Wiseman, a prominent skeptic of the paranormal, cites that piece by Randi on pages 12, 45, and 59 of his book found here. So, while the paper Grosse apparently had in mind is just a research brief, it comes from a reputable journal that skeptics have contributed to and cited.

Something should be kept in mind about two of the men who conducted this test, Hasted and Robertson. In a response to Anita Gregory that I wrote earlier this year, I documented the assistance she had received from Hasted and Robertson in the process of doing her work on Enfield. They had attained evidence of the Hodgson girls faking phenomena and had shown that evidence to Gregory. As I documented elsewhere in that post, a bad relationship had developed between Janet and Robertson. That probably happened at least partly because he was so critical of her at times, which led to Janet's making disparaging comments about him in an interview with Will Storr (Will Storr Vs. The Supernatural [New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006], 194). So, Hasted and Robertson demonstrated their willingness to be critical of Janet and to publicize evidence against the paranormality of her phenomena. The fact that they published these test results indicating genuine paranormality on her part is significant accordingly.

Here's the most relevant part of the article:

In the only session with erstwhile (Enfield) poltergeist subject, J. H. [Janet Hodgson], in the presence of Maurice Grosse and the authors, more interesting data were recorded. Instructions had just been given to the subject to rock the body slowly forwards and backwards, but the normal signals obtained when this maneuver is carried out do not depart from the mean value for any appreciable time.

The J. H. data show two sudden five-second weight-increase signals of about one kg and a minute gradual weight increase which eventually returns to normal. We can find no explanation of these data in physical terms. (106)

There were at least four witnesses to this scientific experiment, along with Janet: Grosse, Hasted, Robertson, and Spinelli. If we consider the experiment some form of evidence for levitation, we can add these witnesses to the people who claimed to have seen Janet levitate in other contexts (Hazel Short, John Rainbow, etc.). Peggy Hodgson claimed to have seen Janet levitate many times, at different speeds, in different patterns, and apparently in a horizontal position at times rather than in the vertical position seen in the famous photographs. For documentation that these individuals claimed to have seen Janet levitate, see my series of posts on Enfield here. The posts responding to Chris French and Joe Nickell and the one on Ed and Lorraine Warren, for example, have a lot of material on the levitation issue.

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