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Ray Hyman

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Ray Hyman
Hyman in 2003
Born (1928-06-23) June 23, 1928 (age 95)
Alma materBoston University
Johns Hopkins University
Known forCritic of parapsychology, research on Hick's Law
AwardsIn Praise of Reason Award (2003), Robert P. Balles Prize (2005), IIG Houdini Hall of Honor Award (2011)
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Oregon

Ray Hyman (born June 23, 1928) is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon,[1] and a noted critic of parapsychology.[2] Hyman, along with James Randi, Martin Gardner and Paul Kurtz, is one of the founders of the modern skeptical movement. He is the founder and leader of the Skeptic's Toolbox. Hyman serves on the Executive Council for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.


Hyman was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts to a Jewish family. Although he was bar mitzvahed at 13, Hyman "never had a religious feeling".[3] In his teenage years and later while attending Boston University,[3] he worked as a magician and mentalist,[4] impressing the head of his department (among others) with his palmistry. Hyman at one point believed that 'reading' the lines on a person's palm could provide insights into their nature, but later discovered that the person's reaction to the reading had little to do with the actual lines on the palm. This fascination with why this happened led him to switch from a journalist degree to psychology.[5][6][7][8]

JREF president D.J. Grothe asked Hyman "How does a young psychology student get into this parapsychology racket ... why you?" Hyman replied that it began when he was hired as a magician at age 7 (as the "Merry Mystic") performing for the Parents and Teachers Association at his school.[9] This led him to read all about Harry Houdini and his work with spiritualists. By the age of 16 he started investigating spiritualist meetings. Thinking back to age 7, "I can't ever remember not being a skeptic".[10]

Magicians who perform mentalism debate among themselves about using a disclaimer. The disclaimer is supposed to inform the audience that what they are witnessing is entertainment, and is not based on actual paranormal powers. In an interview with mentalist Mark Edward, Edward asked Hyman if he had ever used a disclaimer during the six years when he performed professionally as a mentalist. Hyman told him he did not remember explicitly using a disclaimer. He remembered always beginning the performance by stating that he did not claim any special powers. He was an entertainer and he hoped they would enjoy the show. After he became a psychologist, he realized that this was an example of the "invited inference." By openly stating that he made no claims about the nature of his ability, Hyman had given his audience no reason to challenge him. Indeed, he had invited the onlookers to make their own inferences about the source of the apparent feats of mind reading. Most of them concluded he was truly psychic.[7][11]

He obtained a doctorate in psychology from Johns Hopkins University in 1953,[12] and then taught at Harvard for five years.[3] He also became an expert in statistical methods. In 2007 Hyman received an honorary doctorate from the Simon Fraser University for his "intellect and discipline who inspire others to follow in his footsteps... (and) for his courageous advocacy of unfettered skeptical inquiry".[13] In 1982, Hyman held the "Spook Chair" for one year at Stanford University during a sabbatical from the University of Oregon. What the Stanford University psychologists informally call the "Spook" chair is officially known as The Thomas Welton Stanford Chair for Psychical Research. Thomas Welton was the brother of Stanford's founder, Leland Stanford.[14]

Along with other notable skeptics like James Randi, Martin Gardner, Marcello Truzzi and Paul Kurtz, he was a founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) (which is now known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)),[15] which publishes the Skeptical Inquirer. He also developed a style guide and etiquette manual to assist skeptical writers and critics. This is called "Hyman's Proper Criticism" and proposes six steps that skeptics can use to upgrade the quality of their criticism.[16]

Hyman speaks at the 1983 CSICOP Conference in Buffalo, NY. With Lee Ross, Daryl Bem and Victor Benassi.

Aside from his scholarly publications and consultation with the U.S. Department of Defense in scrutinizing psychic research,[3] one of his most popular articles is thirteen points to help you "amaze your friends with your new found psychic powers!", a guide to cold reading.[17] According to Jim Alcock, "His article on cold reading, so Paul Kurtz informs me, has generated more requests for reprints than any other article in the history of the Skeptical Inquirer".[18] The guide exploits what fascinated him in his academic research in cognitive psychology, that much deception is self-deception. He has investigated dowsing in the United States and written a book on the subject.[4] He is one of the foremost skeptical experts on the Ganzfeld experiment.[19] According to Bob Carroll, psychologist Ray Hyman is considered to be the foremost expert on subjective validation and cold reading.[20]

Hyman's prestidigitational skills (which he calls "manipulating perception") have earned him the cover of The Linking Ring twice, June 1952 and October 1986 this magazine of the International Brotherhood of Magicians of which he has been a member for over 35 years.[21]

Hyman retired in 1998 but continues to give talks and investigate paranormal claims. In July 2009 he appeared at The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 in Las Vegas, Nevada.[22] Also in 2011, TAM 9 From Outer Space and TAM 2012.[23] He is working on two books: How Smart People Go Wrong: Cognition and Human Error and Parapsychology's Achilles' Heel: Consistent Inconsistency.[24]

On October 9, 2010, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry announced Hyman (and others) as a part of their policy-making Executive Council, he will also serve on Skeptical Inquirer's magazine board.[25][26]

Ray Hyman speaking at the Los Angeles headquarters of the JREF in 2013
Ray Hyman demonstrates Uri Geller's spoon bending feats at CFI lecture. June 17, 2012 Costa Mesa, CA

History of skeptical movement[edit]

In the 2010 D.J. Grothe interview, Hyman states that the formation of the skeptic movement can be attributed to Uri Geller and Alice Cooper. Randi was touring with Cooper as a part of the stage show, Cooper asked Randi to invite Hyman to a show in order to ask his advice about the audience. While there, "Randi pulled me aside and said... we really ought to do something about this Uri Geller business... lets form an organization called SIR" (Sanity In Research). In 1972 joined by Martin Gardner they had their first meeting. The three of them felt they had no administration experience, "we just had good ideas" and were soon joined by Marcello Truzzi who provided structure for the group. Truzzi involved Paul Kurtz and they then formed CSICOP in 1976.[27][28]

In an interview in 2009 with Derek Colanduno for the Skepticality podcast, Hyman was asked his opinion of the modern skeptical movement. Hyman responded that skeptics need to have goals and a way to measure them. They need to become a resource for the public, and focus on educating journalists and teachers. "That way we will get more bang for our buck." On the current state of the skeptical movement, Hyman stated "The media, unfortunately has made it so we have many more believers." Less science teachers in the classrooms, major newspapers are firing their science writing staff, 24-hour news channels are trying to fill all that time and compete with Fox News. "Things are not good."[29]

Skeptic's Toolbox[edit]

Hyman in 1989 created the Skeptic's Toolbox to teach people how to be better skeptics. Hyman tells James Underdown that "we were putting out more fires by skeptics than by believers... they were going overboard". The first toolbox was in Buffalo, NY with himself, James Alcock and Steve Shaw now called Banachek.[24] With the exception of one year when the toolbox was held in Boulder, CO the toolbox has been held at the University of Oregon in Eugene. The Skeptic's Toolbox originally spanned 5 days. Later it was cut back to 4 days.[30][31]

Speaking to a reporter from The Register-Guard Hyman explains that people come from all over the country to attend the 4-day conference, to hone their critical thinking skills. Hyman is curious about why people who believe in paranormal claims without evidence continue to do so: "'I just want to understand how people get to believe some things... Magic is a perfect example of how people can be fooled'" and it works the same way with paranormal claims.[32] Hyman felt that it was necessary to teach attendees with a "case-based approach... concrete examples as a first step toward extracting broad examples... (giving) the benefit of context" to the learning experience.[33] This approach differs from that of a traditional conference: he has attendees use hands-on participation, splitting them into teams so they are able to spend quality time discussing the readings and lectures. At the 2014 Toolbox, Hyman used Oskar Pfungst’s investigation of Clever Hans as an example of how detailed and exhaustive some investigators are in studying claims.[34]

Hick-Hyman Law[edit]

Hyman published his "classic paper showing that human choice reaction time is related to the information content of an incoming signal" called the Hick-Hyman Law. This helped to lay the groundwork "for the shift from behavioral psychology... to the era of cognitive psychology."[13] This was Hyman's second published paper, and submitted while still a grad student. He states that Hick used a different formula and got his "math wrong, which I corrected" but they still named the law after him because Hyman was "just a student". Sometimes called Hick's Law (mainly in Britain), in America it is more often referred to as the Hick-Hyman Law.[35]

Remote viewing review[edit]

Along with Jessica Utts, he conducted a review of CIA remote viewing experiments in 1995. He noted that the experiments "appear to be free of the more obvious and better known flaws that can invalidate the results of parapsychological investigations" and that there are significant effect sizes "too large and consistent to be dismissed as statistical flukes." However, he stops short of "concluding that the existence of anomalous cognition has been established."[36]

Ganzfeld experiments[edit]

While working at Stanford University and serving as the "Spook Chair'" Hyman decided that he would never be able to read all the literature concerning parapsychology that existed in the 1980s. He then asked parapsychologists "What is the best evidence for psi?" they nearly universally pointed to the Ganzfeld experiment. Hyman wrote to Charles Honorton and was sent 600 pages of information. Three years later Hyman's analysis led to the 1985 issue of the Journal of Parapsychology publishing Hyman's critiques. Hyman's conclusion "By themselves these experiments do not mean anything unless they can be replicated".[10]

In 2007, Hyman noted that the ganzfeld experiments had not been successfully replicated and suggested there was evidence that sensory leakage had taken place in the autoganzfeld experiments.[37]

Ray Hyman, Paul Kurtz, James Randi, and Ken Frazier at TAM8, July 2010, Las Vegas, after their session on the history of the modern skeptical movement

Uri Geller and Stanford Research Institute[edit]

Magician Jerry Andrus and Hyman appeared in 1975 on a TV station in Portland, Oregon, where they explained and duplicated the "paranormal" tricks Geller had performed for host Dick Klinger the week prior. Klinger asked, "Does Uri Geller have any supernatural powers?" Andrus gave the short answer "No." Hyman stated, "(Geller) is an opportunist... which is why it is difficult to duplicate him, he himself cannot duplicate himself. He's always ready to do something... he is going to do something when you think he is doing something else... misdirection... he's excellent at it, he's superb."[38]

In 1972 Hyman was asked by The Department of Defense to investigate psychic Uri Geller. Hyman was intrigued by a story that Geller had taken a ring from one of the scientists, set it on a table, and without touching it, the ring stood on end, broke in half and formed itself into a S-shape. Upon questioning all the scientists at the lab, Hyman discovered that no one had actually seen this happen, but had heard stories from others (who could not be tracked down) that it had happened." Hyman continued to question the scientists and discovered that no one had ever seen Geller bend anything without touching it. In fact "Geller was allowed to take the object into the bathroom... and then come back with the bent object, they took his word for it." "The parapsychologist (also sent to investigate) 'saw a psychic,' and I reported back that I saw only a charismatic fraud."[13][39]

When asked to explain further why people believe in Geller when a magician can do the same thing without paranormal powers, Hyman states, "He's a fraud, but you can't blame people for believing him. Geller is a product of a wonderful public relations campaign... What the audience gets is only one side of the story... He has been caught cheating many times" but people still believe. Speaking as a psychologist Hyman says "If you get people in the right frame of mind and they are cooperating with you... and even give them a poor reading... they will fit it to themselves and believe you are telling them about their unique personality."[38]

Gary Schwartz[edit]

Gary Schwartz conducted numerous experiments at his laboratory at the University of Arizona where he is a tenured professor. Schwartz believes that he has proven the dead communicate with the living through human mediums. Hyman details many methodological errors with Schwartz's research including; "Inappropriate control comparisons", "Failure to use double-blind procedures", "Creating non-falsifiable outcomes by reinterpreting failures as successes" and "Failure to independently check on facts the sitters endorsed as true". Hyman wrote "Even if the research program were not compromised by these defects, the claims being made would require replication by independent investigators." Hyman criticizes Schwartz's decision to publish his results without gathering "evidence for their hypothesis that would meet generally accepted scientific criteria... they have lost credibility."[6]

There have been many follow-up exchanges between Schwartz and Hyman over the Afterlife Experiments conducted by Schwartz. Published May 2003, Schwartz responded that Hyman ignored "the total body of research." Schwartz takes issue with Hyman's opinion that he (Hyman) will not believe in psi. Hyman answered, "Until multiple perfect experiments are performed and published... believe that the totality of the findings must be due to some combination of fraud, cold reading, rater bias, experimenter error, or chance... Why spend the time and money conducting multiple multi-center, double-blind experiments unless there are sufficient theoretical, experimental, and social reasons for doing so?"[40][41]

Proper Criticism[edit]

Hyman wrote a brief guide called Proper Criticism directed at critics of paranormal claims. It has widely been dispersed among Skeptics working in the public eye, including the editorial staff at Skeptical Inquirer. It is also featured in his book The Elusive Quarry.

Proper Criticism gives eight suggestions for approaching criticism thoughtfully in a way that is "both effective and responsible"

1. Be prepared: have responses prepared for commonly asked questions about Skepticism

2. Clarify your objectives: assess your own intentions and determine your intended audience. Hyman warns against criticism motivated by bad intentions, such as attacking the claimant instead of the claim.

3. Do your homework: research to understand the claimant's argument

4. Do not go beyond your level of competence: admit what you do not know and consult experts when needed

5. Let the facts speak for themselves: if you have thoroughly prepared, let the audience reach the conclusion on their own

6. Be precise: use precise language, be as accurate as possible. While discussing Proper Criticism on the Squaring the Strange Podcast, Benjamin Radford expanded on this advice, "often times ambiguous or fuzzy words or concepts reveal ambiguous or fuzzy thinking and obfuscation" [42]

7. Use the principle of charity: give the claimant the benefit of the doubt. Also on Squaring the Strange Podcast, Celestia Ward has called this the opposite of the Straw man fallacy, advising critics formulate responses to the strongest interpretation of the claimant's argument.

8. Avoid loaded words and sensationalism: instead, choose long term credibility [43]


Accepting the NCAS Philip Klass Award


  • Bush, Robert R.; Abelson, Robert; Hyman, Ray (1956), Mathematics for Psychologists, New York: Social Science Research Council, OCLC 2301803
  • Vogt, Evon Zartman; Hyman, Ray (1959), Water Witching USA, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, OCLC 315006378
  • Hyman, Ray (1964), The Nature of Psychological Inquiry, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, OCLC 191376
  • Hyman, Ray (1989), The Elusive Quarry: A Scientific Appraisal of Psychical Research, Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, ISBN 0879755040, OCLC 19455101
  • Andrus, Jerry; Hyman, Ray (2000), Andrus Card Control, Eugene, OR: Chazpro Magic, OCLC 65215589

Selected articles[edit]


  1. ^ Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon Faculty Information, Eugene, Oregon: University of Oregon, archived from the original on February 27, 2009, retrieved July 27, 2009
  2. ^ Alcock, James (March/April 2014). "In Praise of Ray Hyman" Archived 2018-12-08 at the Wayback Machine. Skeptical Inquirer. Volume 28, No. 2.
  3. ^ a b c d Shermer, Michael (January 1998), The Truth is Out There & Ray Hyman Wants to Find It, Skeptic Magazine, archived from the original on August 28, 2005, retrieved July 27, 2009
  4. ^ a b Ask The Scientists: Water, Water Everywhere – Ray Hyman, PBS.ORG, archived from the original on July 17, 2009, retrieved July 27, 2009
  5. ^ Hyman, Ray. "Water, Water Everywhere – Ray Hyman". Ask the Scientists. PBS. Archived from the original on 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-07-27. When I first began doing palm reading for money, I did not believe that it really worked. However, I was amazed when my clients insisted that everything I was telling them was uncannily accurate. By the time I began college, I was a true believer. I had no doubts that palmistry worked. When I was a sophomore in college, a friend suggested that I try and read my next client's palm by telling her the opposite of what the lines said. If her heart line indicated that she did not like to display her emotions, I would tell her that she was the sort of person who displays her emotions openly. If her head line said she was a practical person, I would tell her she was imaginative and somewhat impractical. To my astonishment, this client was thrilled at how accurately I had captured her personality. So I tried the same experiment on my next few clients. The results were the same! By now, I was coming to the realization that whatever was happening in a palm reading session, it had nothing to do with the lines in the hand. I was majoring in journalism when I came to this realization. I immediately changed my major to psychology.
  6. ^ a b Hyman, Ray (Jan–Feb 2003). "How Not to Test Mediums: Critiquing the Afterlife Experiments". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2012-04-29. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  7. ^ a b "Skeptic Toolbox Interviews Pt 1". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
  8. ^ "Skeptic Toolbox Interviews Pt 2". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
  9. ^ Hyman, Ray (June 2015). "Birth of a notion". The Skeptic. 35 (2): 53.
  10. ^ a b "Ray Hyman – The Life of an Expert Skeptic, Part 1 – For Good Reason". JREF. 2012-01-20. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  11. ^ "Ray Hyman & Mark Edward discuss disclaimers in mentalism". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  12. ^ Hyman, Ray (1953), "Stimulus information as a determinant of reaction time", Journal of Experimental Psychology, 45 (3), Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University: 188–196, doi:10.1037/h0056940, OCLC 30554829, PMID 13052851
  13. ^ a b c d "2007: Dr. Ray Hyman". Simon Fraser University. 4 October 2007. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  14. ^ "Conversations with Ray Hyman – Part 3". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  15. ^ a b Alcock, James (March–April 2004), "In Praise of Ray Hyman", Skeptical Inquirer, vol. 28, no. 2, archived from the original on July 22, 2009, retrieved July 27, 2009
  16. ^ Radford, Benjamin; Ward, Celestia. "Hyman's Proper Criticism". Archived from the original on 6 March 2021. Retrieved 5 September 2020.
  17. ^ Hyman, Ray, Guide to "Cold Reading", Australian Skeptics, archived from the original on July 23, 2015, retrieved July 27, 2009
  18. ^ "In Praise of Ray Hyman". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2018-12-08. Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  19. ^ Novella, Steven (May 17, 2006). "Episode #43". The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. Archived from the original on February 23, 2009. Retrieved July 27, 2009. (This is his first podcast interview, it runs from 27:34 to 1:04:50)
  20. ^ Carrol, Bob (14 August 2012). "Hope in Small Doses". Skepticality. Archived from the original on 2020-08-07. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
  21. ^ 2008 Order of Merlin Inductees and Awardees, The International Brotherhood of Magicians, July 22, 2008, archived from the original on June 26, 2010, retrieved July 27, 2009 (Hyman is listed as a Shield Awardee – 35 continuous years)
  22. ^ "The Amaz!ng Meeting 7 Speakers". James Randi Educational Foundation. February 23, 2009. Archived from the original on August 8, 2009. Retrieved July 27, 2009.
  23. ^ "TAM Workshops". JREF. Archived from the original on 2012-08-14. Retrieved 2012-08-14.
  24. ^ a b c Ray Hyman – Honorary Degree Recipient, Vancouver, BC, Canada: Simon Fraser University, October 4, 2007, archived from the original on September 30, 2008, retrieved July 27, 2009
  25. ^ Frazier, Kendrick; Barry Karr (January–February 2011), "CSI(COP) Renews and Expands Executive Council, Plans for Future Activities", Skeptical Inquirer, 35 (1), Committee for Skeptical Inquiry: 5.
  26. ^ "Meet SI's Editorial Board and CSI's Executive Council". Center for Inquiry. CSICOP. 21 February 2011. Archived from the original on 2020-12-24. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  27. ^ "Ray Hyman – The Life of an Expert Skeptic, Part 2 – For Good Reason". JREF. 2012-01-20. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  28. ^ a b Hyman, Ray. "IIG Award: Ray Hyman 2011". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-09-30.
  29. ^ "Skepticality 108 – Stars of TAM7". Skepticality. 18 August 2009. Archived from the original on 2012-05-03. Retrieved 2012-08-20.
  30. ^ The Skeptic's Toolbox 2009 Registration, Eugene, Oregon: The Skeptic's Toolbox, archived from the original on April 7, 2009, retrieved July 27, 2009
  31. ^ "Conversations with Ray Hyman – Part 2". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  32. ^ Baker, Mark (August 17, 2003). "Skeptics gather to sort out normal and paranormal". The Register-Guard. Archived from the original on 2017-01-13. Retrieved 2017-01-11.
  33. ^ Goldstein, Steven (1994). "Watch What You're Thinking! The Skeptic's Toolbox II Conference". Skeptical Inquirer. 18 (4): 11–13.
  34. ^ Gerbic, Susan (13 November 2014). "Susan Gerbic Reports on the 2014 Skeptics Toolbox". csicop.org. CSI. Archived from the original on 16 August 2018. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
  35. ^ "Conversations with Ray Hyman – Part 5". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  36. ^ "Evaluation of Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena". Archived from the original on 2017-06-16. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  37. ^ Ray Hyman. (2007). Evaluating Parapsychological Claims. In Critical Thinking in Psychology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 216–231. ISBN 978-0521608343
  38. ^ a b "Jerry Andrus and Ray Hyman on Uri Geller". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  39. ^ "Conversations with Ray Hyman – Part 1". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-12. Retrieved 2012-06-18.
  40. ^ Schwartz, Gary (May–June 2003). "How Not To Review Mediumship Research: Follow-up". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  41. ^ Hyman, Ray (May–June 2003). "Hyman's Reply to Schwartz". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2012-07-10. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  42. ^ "Episode 84 – Hyman's Proper Criticism". Squaring the Strange. Archived from the original on 12 April 2021. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  43. ^ Hyman, Ray (July 2001). "Proper Criticism". Proper Criticism. Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 12 April 2021. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  44. ^ Hyman, Ray (May–June 2006). "Testing the girl with X-ray eyes". Skeptical Inquirer: 13.
  45. ^ Hyman, Ray (May–June 2005). "Testing Natasha". Skeptical Inquirer. Archived from the original on 2020-08-25. Retrieved 2012-05-22.
  46. ^ "Apr 24 NCAS Philip J. Klass Award Presentation to Ray Hyman". National Capital Area Skeptics. 2010-03-13. Archived from the original on 2012-05-03. Retrieved 2012-05-21.
  47. ^ "About the IIG Awards". IIG. Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2012-07-26.

External links[edit]