Wednesday, March 19, 2008

IS IT REAL? Psychic Animals

National Geographic Channel - Original Air Date: 2005-6

IIR casts its skeptical light on the idea that animals possess psychic abilities like the ability to see the future and predict disasters.  Some speculate that animals and people are connected by a psychic field that binds us all together; we only need to be open to it.  Scientists insist that there is no concrete proof for this or any other paranormal theory.  The show interviews people who believe their pets are broadcasting psychic messages to them warning of everything from earthquakes to the impending arrival of the garbage man.  IIR also looks at historic psychic animals, including a horse who could spell out questions to answers posed by patrons.  As it turns out, as proved by a professional magician, the horse was merely responding to cues given by the trainer, and only knew what the trainer did.  The show points out that a domestic animal is well served by being able to read subtle cues from human beings.  Reports of a psychic parrot (now not doing interviews), prompt the show to test a parrot of their own.  The supposedly telepathic parrot lives with a bird fancier in the US, and a scientific test is set up with the human transmitting from one isolated room and the parrot receiving in another.  After 30 tries, the parrot got 2 hits -- a 7% accuracy rate.  While the owner is impressed (and has "good reasons" why the bird didn't do better), the tester points out that chance would have produced the same results.  The tester also points out that the man who found the "psychic" parrot, threw out results where the parrot didn't respond or responded with words not in the test range.  Doing the same for the new parrot increases it's "hit rate" to around 30% -- the same as the "psychic" bird.  It's amazing what results you can get with bad testing protocols.  The show also looks at pet psychics -- and concludes that such people are using a similar set of "cold reading" technique as human "psychics:" 1) use of prior knowledge, 2) telling clients what they want to hear, 3) noting the obvious.  All of these are reinforced by reactions from the owners; the animals aren't being read, the owners are.  Clearly there are both people (like the Dog Whisperer) and animals who are good at reading cues.  The show also speculates that animals' heightened senses may allow them to sense changes in the environment before people do.  A Japanese scientist has tests suggesting that many animals can sense changes in the earth's magnetic field.  The conclusion is that some animals have warning systems that outstrip our modern technology -- though there is not proof any of these systems are psychic.

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