Richard Wiseman

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For the English landowner and politician, see Richard Wiseman (MP).
Richard Wiseman
Richard Wiseman-Emcee-CSICON 2012-Nashville-Opening Remarks-OCT 26 2012.JPG
Wiseman at CSICon 2012
Born 1966 (age 47–48)
London, England
Occupation Psychologist, professor
Website
richardwiseman.wordpress.com

Richard Wiseman (born 1966) is Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom.[1] His research has been published in leading academic journals, with one Scientific American columnist labelling him "…the most interesting and innovative experimental psychologist in the world today". He has written several best-selling popular psychology books that have been translated into over 30 languages. He has given keynote addresses to The Royal Society, The Swiss Economic Forum, Google and Amazon.[2][3]

Biography[edit]

Richard Wiseman was born in London, but raised in Luton. His mother a seamstress and his father an engineer, he learned his trade as a teenage magician working the crowds in Covent Garden.[4]

Like most magicians I got into magic really young. You open that book when you're in the library, and go "this is for me". It happened to me at about age eight.

—Richard Wiseman, Interview The Scotsman[4]

He joined the local magic society and graduated to the Magic Circle in London, where he was one of its youngest members. By 18 he continued as a street performer and went to University College London to study psychology, partly because it "was right around the corner". In his years as a street performer he learned how to adapt or get out of what you are doing because "Sometimes you would start your act and after five minutes there was no audience." He left his magical career, 3 years later, after a bad run in the Magic Castle in Los Angeles and his bag stolen in Times Square, New York City. Wiseman realised it was not a glamorous life and returned to Edinburgh where he graduated in Psychology from University College London (UCL) and obtained a PhD in Psychology from the University of Edinburgh. He went from there to the University of Hertfordshire, becoming Britain's first professor in the Public Understanding of Psychology.[4]

Now he's a professor in "public psychology" at the University of Hertfordshire who divides his time between London and Edinburgh, he's a sceptic who doesn't believe in extrasensory perception or prayer and, as a former magician, he's stunned that people fall for seances in a darkened room where every kind of trickery is available.[4]

Psychological research[edit]

Wiseman is known for his critical examination and frequent debunking of unusual phenomena, including reports of paranormal phenomena. He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).[5] His research has been published in numerous academic journals, reported at various conferences,[6] and featured on television.[7] In 2004, he took part in a preliminary test of Natasha Demkina, a young Russian woman who claims to have a special vision that allows her to see inside of people's bodies and diagnose illnesses. The test, whose validity has been disputed by Demkina's supporters,[8][9] was featured in the Discovery Channel documentary, The Girl with X-Ray Eyes.[10]

In addition Wiseman has studied the principles of good and bad luck, publishing the results in the self-help book The Luck Factor. He showed that both good and bad luck result from measurable habits; for example, lucky people, by expecting good luck, might expend more effort in their endeavours, resulting in more success, reinforcing their belief in good luck. Lucky people are outgoing and observant and therefore have many more chance encounters than unlucky people, each of which could bring a lucky opportunity. Moreover lucky people are more likely to look on the bright side of 'bad' encounters. In a mental exercise describing being shot during a bank robbery, lucky people considered themselves lucky not to have been killed while unlucky people considered themselves unlucky to have been shot.[11]

Public Engagement of Science[edit]

Some people will just see [his work] as fun and say, that's interesting. I would hope a few people then go slightly beyond that and look at the implications. I want people to find that for themselves.

—Richard Wiseman, Interview research.[12]

Many of Wiseman's work tends to be oblique, he prefers to make people go outside, talk, research and think about the implications instead of trying to convey his point in a 45-minute talk. So instead of talking directly about eyewitness testimony in law he would set something up that looked like it, something like the colour changing card trick.[12] In this mind set he has presented keynote addresses to organisations around the world and in well known forums and congresses like the Swiss Economic Forum and ESOMAR Congress.[12][13] Much of this work has involved helping organisation become more successful by embracing the lucky mind-set.

Wiseman has studied the principles of good and bad luck, publishing the results in the self-help book The Luck Factor. He showed that both good and bad luck result from measurable habits; for example, lucky people, by expecting good luck, might expend more effort in their endeavours, resulting in more success, reinforcing their belief in good luck. Lucky people are outgoing and observant and therefore have many more chance encounters than unlucky people, each of which could bring a lucky opportunity. Moreover lucky people are more likely to look on the bright side of 'bad' encounters. In a mental exercise describing being shot during a bank robbery, lucky people considered themselves lucky not to have been killed while unlucky people considered themselves unlucky to have been shot.[11]

In 2001 Wiseman led LaughLab, an international experiment to find the world's funniest joke.[14] The winning joke described a caller to emergency services who shoots his friend who has collapsed to comply with the instruction "First, let's make sure he's dead".[14] The experiment also explored regional and cultural variations in humour. These public psychology experiments – such as enlisting people to name, and rate, their favourite gags in the search for the world's funniest jokes – have drawn hundreds of thousands of participants and plenty of press.

In 2011, Wiseman wrote the first section of a collaborative story at Libboo in an attempt to produce a full-length novel in two months. The final result of this experiment, was a novel called, Paradox: The Curious Life, and Mysterious Death, of Mr Joseph Wheeler.[15]

In 2013 Richard Wiseman became the first guest curator at Edinburgh's International Science Festival.[4] He participated in the festival with "Richard Wiseman's Beginners Guide to... Climate Change".[16] In 2014 he does a repeat of his 'Beginners Guide to' but this time with 3 different talks:

  • "Richard Wiseman's Beginners Guide to... Fermat's Last Theorem" with writer and broadcaster Simon Singh.[17]
  • "Richard Wiseman's Beginners Guide to... Astrobiology" with Imperial College's Dr Zita Martins.[18]
  • "Richard Wiseman's Beginners Guide to... the Earth" with earth scientist and broadcaster Hermione Cockburn (BBC).[19]

Wiseman has also become a content creator on YouTube after uploading a video of the colour changing card trick[20] in 2007 that has 6 million views as of January 2014. He is best known for his "Bets You Will Always Win" series, which has amafssed over 60 million views throughout 10 videos. On 7 January 2014, Wiseman uploaded a video to a new channel called "59 Seconds"[21] in promotion of his book of the same name.

Publicity[edit]

Wiseman's research has been featured on over 150 television programmes, including Horizon, Equinox and World in Action.[7] He is regularly heard on BBC Radio 4, including appearances on Start the Week, Midweek and the Today programme. Wiseman also makes numerous appearances on the British television show The Real Hustle, explaining the psychology behind many of the scams and confidence tricks.[7] Feature articles about his work have regularly appeared in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

Edinburgh Secret Society[edit]

The Edinburgh Secret Society organises events for those of a curious disposition. These include verbal, theatrical and experimental presentations intended to inform, entertain and bewilder. This group, as the name states, tends to be low key and has appeared in very few news outlets. The Society motto is 'The king cannot be saved, the king cannot make custard', which is one of many things the group won't openly say the meaning of. It is run by Peter Lamont, friend and colleague, and Richard Wiseman having events involving The Filmhouse, the British Science Association, Edinburgh's World of Illusions, and The Edinburgh International Science Festival.[22] Through the Edinburgh Secret Society Wiseman has found a new following, hosting evenings of irreverent talks and entertainment on topics including self-help and dying. In February 2011 they staged 'An Evening of Death' in A Victorian Anatomy Theatre at Edinburgh University, an event that sold out its 250 tickets within minutes.[4]

Television and Press[edit]

Wiseman's research has been featured on over 150 television programmes, including Horizon, Equinox and World in Action.[7] He is regularly heard on BBC Radio 4, including appearances on Start the Week, Midweek and the Today programme. Wiseman also makes numerous appearances on some British television shows; in The Real Hustle he explains the psychology behind many of the scams and confidence tricks; in Mind Games he's a regular team captain of a panel game of puzzles, anagrams and conundrums; and in People Watchers, a hidden-camera show examining human behaviour. Besides being interviewed in several of these television programmes, he was a creative consultant in an episode of Your Bleeped Up Brain and a researcher of the documentary Unlawful Killing.[7]

Feature articles about his work have regularly appeared in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian.

Wiseman has published studies on anomalistic psychology and the psychology of paranormal belief. He is the author of the book titled Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There (2011) which takes a psychological approach to paranormal phenomena.

In 2011, Wiseman wrote the first section of a collaborative story at Libboo in an attempt to produce a full-length novel in two months. The final result of this experiment, was a novel called, Paradox: The Curious Life, and Mysterious Death, of Mr Joseph Wheeler.[23]

Wiseman has also become a content creator on YouTube after uploading a video in 2007 that has 6 million views as of January 2014. He is best known for his Bets You Will Always Win series, which has amassed over 60 million views throughout 10 videos. On 7 January 2014, Wiseman uploaded a video to a new channel called "59 Seconds"[21] in promotion of his book of the same name.

Focus on Paranormal[edit]

Wiseman is known for his critical examination and frequent debunking of unusual phenomena, including reports of paranormal phenomena. He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI).[5] His research has been published in numerous academic journals, reported at various conferences,[6] and featured on television.[7]

In 2004, he took part in a preliminary test of Natasha Demkina, a young Russian woman who claims to have a special vision that allows her to see inside of people's bodies and diagnose illnesses. The test, whose validity has been disputed by Demkina's supporters,[8][9] was featured in the Discovery Channel documentary, The Girl with X-Ray Eyes.[10]

Wiseman has published studies on anomalistic psychology and the psychology of paranormal belief. He is the author of the book titled Paranormality: Why We See What Isn't There (2011) which takes a psychological approach to paranormal phenomena.

His published academic research has been into parapsychology, the investigation into psychic phenomena – from near-death experiences to extrasensory perception – what causes them and how, and whether they have any basis in reality, or in our minds. He investigated alleged hauntings in Edinburgh's underground vaults. His partner, Dr Caroline Watt, is a parapsychologist at the university's Koestler Parapsychology Unit.

He takes on these popular subjects but as a sceptic from the very start, working with the likes of Derren Brown. "A lot of people believe they have experienced this stuff and I'm interested in why they think they had these experiences. There is the power of suggestion, that somewhere is haunted or a key is bending or something levitating. I find it amazing how malleable people's testimonies are, and also quite terrifying.

"[Another thing is] the problem with prayer; I'm always very sceptical of anything which is low-input, but makes you feel good. Whenever anybody does very little, and it makes them feel good, you almost certainly know it's for their benefit and no-one else," he says.

One of the sessions at the science festival is a debate on the subject of official miracles. "Everyone goes on about ghostly experiences. This country now is covered in CCTV, but in all of those recordings nothing has turned up," he adds. "The whole of central London constantly being recorded, you would think they would have caught one or two ghosts." http://www.scotsman.com/news/interview-professor-richard-wiseman-edinburgh-science-festival-guest-curator-1-1494424

Dream:ON The App[edit]

Wiseman launched the Dream:ON App at the Edinburgh International Science Festival 2012. It is developed and maintained by YUZA, a mobile experience team based in London. The app is powered by an engine which constantly monitors and adjusts the behaviour of Dream:ON; optimising the experience for the user. When the user enters the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep where dreaming is most common, the app delivers unique audio soundscapes which the subconscious is shown to respond to.[24]

"We have created a new way of carrying out mass participation experiments. We still know relatively little about the science of dreaming and this app may provide a real breakthrough in changing how we dream, and record and track those dreams." – Professor Richard Wiseman

The App is also a social experiment: in the morning it presents you with a graph of your movement during the night, allows you to tag any of your friends who appeared in your dreams via Facebook and invites you to post a short description of your dream to their experimental 'Dream Bank'. Creating the world's largest dream experiment.[25]

Controversies[edit]

Wiseman knows that more "serious" academics may question his research. "I would say to those people, why are you in a university? Because people work very hard to give you money to be there. It's all taxpayers' money. And if your attitude is you are not going to tell people, what it is about? People like me go out and tell people what it is they are getting for their tax." http://www.scotsman.com/news/interview-professor-richard-wiseman-edinburgh-science-festival-guest-curator-1-1494424

Awards[edit]

Richard Wiseman (left) during TAM9 in 2011, with Phil Plait and Joe Nickell

Books[edit]

Richard Wiseman talks about 59 Seconds on Bookbits radio.
  • Wiseman, R. & Morris, R. L. (1995). Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press (US edition: Amherst, USA: Prometheus Press).
  • Milton, J. & Wiseman, R. (1997). Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press.
  • Wiseman, R. (1997). Deception and self-deception: Investigating Psychics. Amherst, USA: Prometheus Press
  • Lamont, P. & Wiseman, R. (1999). Magic in Theory: an introduction to the theoretical and psychological elements of conjuring. Hatfield, UK: University of Hertfordshire Press (US edition: Hermetic Press).
  • Wiseman, R. (2002). Laughlab: The Scientific Search For The World's Funniest Joke. London, UK: Random House
  • Wiseman, R. (2003). The Luck Factor. London, UK: Random House
  • Wiseman, R. (2004). Did you spot the gorilla? How to recognise hidden opportunities in your life. London, UK: Random House
  • Wiseman, R. & Watt, C. (2005). Parapsychology. London, UK: Ashgate International Library of Psychology. Series Editor, Prof. David Canter
  • Wiseman, R. (2007). Quirkology. London, UK: Pan Macmillan
  • Wiseman, R. (2009). 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot. London, UK: Pan Macmillan
  • Wiseman, R. (2011). Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there. London, UK: Pan Macmillan

References[edit]

  1. ^ "University of Herfordshire Phonebook". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  2. ^ "About Richard Wiseman". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  3. ^ "Quirkology". Retrieved 23 January 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Interview: Professor Richard Wiseman, Edinburgh Science Festival guest curator". The Scotsman. 11 February 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "CSI Fellows and Staff". Skeptical Inquirer. 
  6. ^ a b "Papers". 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Richard Wiseman (I)". IMdb. 
  8. ^ a b Baty, Phil (10 December 2004). "Scientists fail to see eye to eye over girl's 'X-ray vision'". Times HIgher Education. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  9. ^ a b Rennolls, Keith (17 December 2004). "Distorted visions". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 20 March 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Hyman R, Skeptical Inquirer, May 2005, "Testing Natasha"
  11. ^ a b Carter, Christine. "Happy-go-Lucky". Psychology Today. 
  12. ^ a b c Bain, Robert (19 September 2011). "The illusion and reality of research". research. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  13. ^ "Keynote Speech: Professor Richard Wiseman". 7 June 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "LaughLab". 
  15. ^ Libboo (19 July 2011). "The Mercury is Rising Fast". Libboo.com. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  16. ^ Pirie, Emma (1 March 2012). "Environment News Earth and Environment". EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FESTIVAL. Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  17. ^ "RICHARD WISEMAN'S BEGINNERS GUIDE TO... FERMAT'S LAST THEROM". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  18. ^ "RICHARD WISEMAN'S BEGINNERS GUIDE TO... ASTROBIOLOGY". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  19. ^ "RICHARD WISEMAN'S BEGINNERS GUIDE TO... THE EARTH". Retrieved 7 March 2014. 
  20. ^ Wiseman, Richard (28 April 2007). "Colour Changing Card Trick". Quirkology. Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  21. ^ a b "Quirkology". YouTube. Retrieved 3 March 2014. 
  22. ^ "The Edinburgh Secret Society: About Us". Retrieved 10 March 2014. 
  23. ^ Libboo (19 July 2011). "The Mercury is Rising Fast". Libboo.com. Retrieved 29 June 2013. 
  24. ^ [1]
  25. ^ [2]
  26. ^ a b "Education Guardian March 2, 2004". London: Education.guardian.co.uk. 2 March 2004. Retrieved 29 June 2013. 
  27. ^ "Turning scientific papers into best-selling prose". 

External links[edit]

Official
Publisher
Interview