Professor Richard Wiseman, psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire and author of Quirkology, is today undertaking the first ever scientific experiment to be conducted using Twitter.
The experiment is designed to test the existence of a psychic ability known as ‘remote viewing’ – the alleged ability to psychically identify a distant location.
Prof Wiseman is pretty skeptical about the possibility of psychic powers, but, as he notes, “the American government spent millions of dollars examining remote viewing and lots of people believe that it is a genuine ability”.
At 3pm GMT on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week, Prof Wiseman will travel to a randomly selected location in the UK. He will then ask all his Twitter followers to tweet about their thoughts concerning the nature of the location.
Thirty minutes later, he will provide online photographs of five locations (the actual location and four decoys) and followers will vote on which of the five spots they think is the actual target location.
If the majority of people select the correct target then the trial will count as a hit, otherwise it will count as a miss. Three or more hits in the four trials taking place this week will be seen as supporting the existence of extrasensory perception.
Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Prof Wiseman says “three hits would be against odds of one in 125, which would be quite impressive” , although on his website he revises this statistic to 1 in 37.
Extra sensory perception, which includes remote viewing, was chosen as the subject of this study because of the interesting methodological issues involved, including blind judging, the elimination of subtle sensory cues, and randomness. There is also a psychological dimension to the study because everyone is being asked to indicate their belief in the paranormal when they vote as to which location they believe is the true location, allowing Prof Wiseman and his team to look at differences between those who believe in psychic abilities and those who are skeptics.
As of today, 6,500 people have signed up for the experiment, although Prof Wiseman hopes that as many as 10,000 people will eventually take part.
Prof Wiseman has organised several mass participation experiments, not least LaughLab, a worldwide experiment to find the world’s funniest joke.
- To take part, follow Prof Wiseman on Twitter
- For the die hard scientists out there, Prof Wiseman has provided more information about the methods of the experiment on his blog