CSMMH has now answered some of their critic's opinions about CSICOP/CSMMH experiment with Natasha. But the answers sometimes are more embarrassing than the original problems...


Note on September 29, 2012: I had additional material on this issue that I took out of my site now. Anyone interested, please send me an email: juliocbsiqueira2012 and then @ and then gmail.com

The answers from CSMMH to its critics are presented at the link below:

I will comment on all of them, as they appear on December 8, 2004. My comments appear in blue.

Also, click here to read my critique on the experiment made by CSICOP/CSMMH to test Natasha.



Important Note: The reader is advised to take a careful look at the article written by Professor Brian Josephson in this link, where he treats this issue in some of its broader aspects, especially in its relevance to understanding the role and tactics of the Organized Skeptic Movement.



Believers in Natasha Demkina's 'X-ray Vision' Falsely Accuse CSMMH-CSICOP Investigators of 'Cheating' and 'Ambushing' the Young Russian Psychic.

CSMMH (i.e. Mr. Andrew Skolnick...) should make clear that it is not only "Natasha's believers" that have made criticism to their test. I am not a Natasha believer, nor should be so any true scientist. I just think the test was invalid. As far as I am concerned, Natasha may have no "paranormal" power at all. Only good research will tell.



Although the Discovery Channel documentary, The Girl with X-ray Eyes, has yet to be shown in the United States and Canada, its broadcast in Europe and Asia has already generated a lot of criticisms and protests about CSMMH-CSICOP's investigation of Natasha Demkina, the 17-year-old "medical psychic" from Saransk, Russia. Almost all of the criticism involves groundless accusations or mistakes and miscommunications that mostly were beyond the control of the investigators. Here are our answers to some of these charges:

Let's be positive and hope that by using the term "almost all of the criticism" CSMMH (i.e. Andrew Skolnick...) is still open to criticism of the very many flaws that this test had...



Accusations: The debunking investigators deliberately produced a documentary for the purpose of humiliating Natasha Demkina and destroying her brilliant international reputation as a gifted psychic.

Answer: Neither the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health nor CSICOP had anything to do with the production of the Discovery Channel documentary. The program was produced by Monica Garnsey of Shine, Ltd. in the United Kingdom. Neither Monica or Shine, Ltd. or Discovery Channel have any relationship with CSMMH or CSICOP, whose investigators designed and conducted the test.

Agreed! The documentary was as fair as could be. It is amazing to see that a media corporation can produce a higher quality work, and far less biased, than our top skeptic world organizations can.

The Commission and CSICOP first heard of Shine, Ltd. earlier this year when the producer/director contacted CSICOP to ask its help in conducting a scientific test of Natasha Demkina's claims. The Commission's and CSICOP's only role in the documentary was to design and conduct the test. They had no input, influence over, or involvement in any other part of the production. As Monica Garnsey stated in email sent to two of our critics:

"I should say that in my opinion CSICOP's public service motivation is utterly sincere and, unlike the other people who made the programme possible, CSICOP did not ask for or receive payment except travel expenses. "

The rest of the accusation is similarly false.



Accusations: The investigation had been set up with a view to ensuring that Natasha Demkina would fail it.

Answer: Contrary to the accusations, the test was set up to assure that anyone who truly can see abnormalities inside of people's bodies would easily pass.

Not so. The test can be said to have a rather strong bias towards Type One Error (i.e. Rejecting the hypothesis being tested even though it is true, and therefore accepting wrongly the null hypothesis that Natasha has no power). This is not a sin. As a matter of fact this is even a virtue. But the researchers need to acknowledge it, and not misreport it. The researchers failed then, and keeping failing even up to now (despite the fact that I fully explained it to Skolnick...), in understanding that any "vision" has its own internal logic, and has also its powers and limits. There is no way for us to know beforehand if the "special vision" that Natasha has (if true) will fare well in conditions like those of the test. Not until we run the test.

All aspects of the test -- including what score would warrant further study -- were agreed to by the program's producer/director and by Natasha Demkina and her agent five days before the day of the test.

These two parties, I guess, are unsophisticated in scientific matters (at least Natasha and helpers are), and could not know the unfavorable statistics involved in it. And the researchers did not bother to explain it either...

The test was set up to see whether Natasha's claimed psychic abilities warrant a more carefully controlled study. It was designed so that anyone with x-ray-like vision, as Natasha claims, should be able to pass by matching all seven medical conditions to the correct subjects. To give Natasha some latitude for errors, we lowered the required number of correct matches to only five.

Again: if the test was meant to look for x-ray-like vision, why not use a Geiger counter? (Natasha would be either emitting x-rays or receiving them). The researchers failed to take into account the available data about the limits of Natasha's vision! They simply did not do their homework.

What we asked Natasha to do was easier than what she does during her normal readings.

This is what we call "begging the question". Also, Skolnick is saying above that test conditions are easier than true-life conditions. I think it goes strongly against what is known both in parapsychology and in psychology as well...

For each reading, she examines a person from head to toe and describes all abnormalities she sees. In our test, Natasha didn't have to decide what medical problems are present -- we told her. We asked her to look for six different medical conditions that should be easy to detect with x-rays. We clearly explained what the conditions look like and described exactly where to look. It should have been easy for her compared to her usual readings.



Accusations: The debunking skeptics never bothered to find out what Natasha actually claims to be able to do.

Answer: The CSMMH-CSICOP test design was based on a variety of reports of Natasha's healings plus a report from the producer/director Monica Garnsey's of her interview with Natasha Garnsey on April 6, 2004, during which Natasha described how she does her readings and what she is able to see. The purpose of this interview and report was to help us design the test.

Actually, they relied only on "hearsay" (news reports) and on Monica. The full feedback that Monica gave to them on April 6 is the following: "I double-checked a few things with her last night. ... She usually scans people all over first, by making them stand up fully clothed and looking them up and down; delivers a general diagnosis; and then goes into more detail when the patients have discussed their concerns with her. She says she can certainly see ribs, heart, lungs, initially in general 'like in an anatomy book,' but can see right down to the cell level if she concentrates.". The researchers decided on their own to take the leap of faith of declaring that Natasha could spot molecules from afar, and that she claims never to make a mistake. The celluler level vision is only mentioned very briefly by Monica. And she does not say that Natasha can see abnormalities at this level (contrary to what Skolnick says in his CSMMH site, at this link ). Any true scientist that wants to take that as a working parameter should have asked for additional information on that, and the researchers never did it. Further, all the items listed by Monica under "can certainly see" are far bigger than appendix or circular scars in resected esophagus...



Accusations: Natasha never claimed she can see at a cellular level. The investigators are misrepresenting her claims.

Answer: When the producer/director Monica Garnsey questioned Natasha for information to help the investigators design their test, Natasha claimed she "can see right down to the cellular level if she concentrates," Monica reported.

The interesting thing here is that Skolnick has told me repeatedly that Natasha can see also at the molecular level... (Brazilian skeptic Kentaro Mori can attest to that!). So far, he has not found any trustworthy source to back him up on that. As to the cellular level, again, it is only the briefest mentioning from Monica, and she did not say that Natasha claimed to spot abnormalities at this level, contrary to what Skolnick says in his CSMMH site. It is surprising, to say the least, that the researchers did not probe into that further. Also, Natasha claims to be able to do that when she concentrates. It is important to know exactly what she means by "concentrate", and when she manages to do that, etc. The topmost feedback here is to ask Monica again (and deeper) about this part of Natasha's claim. But Skolnick has failed to do it... Now, imagine if Monica comes now and say: "Maybe I was a little mistaken on that, or slightly exaggerating things, or slightly misreporting Natasha's words". Come on, Mr. Skolnick: do your homework!



Accusations: The test was invalid because it required Natasha to find healed medical conditions that were no longer causing health problems. Natasha only diagnoses current medical problems, and the investigators knew that.

Answer: Natasha's fame has grown in part from news reports of how she has correctly identified long-healed bone fractures, a removed kidney, implanted metal pins, and other medical conditions that are no-longer causing health problems. Furthermore, the test design and rules were presented to Natasha and her agent five days before the test. They didn't object to the test or indicate in any way that Natasha can only see current health problems. One of Natasha's supporters is the Russian journalist Igor Monichev, who reported how she convinced him of her abilities by seeing the well-healed evidence of a broken wrist that he fractured as a child 37 years ago.

I think I might have been the first one to adress this accusation. I have already withdrawn it. Indeed, Monichev's report makes it clear that this accusation is groundless. I only got to know Monichev's report when I saw the documentary.



Accusations: The investigators ambushed Natasha by changing the rules at the last minute and not allowing her to work the way she normally works with patients.

Answer: Natasha and her representatives were informed in writing five days before the day of the test exactly how the test would be conducted and what would be required for her to pass. They agreed to the test rules. None of the test conditions or requirements were changed on the test day -- except for several that Natasha requested to make her more comfortable.

This is a half-truth from Skolnick. The appendix and the resected esophagus were clearly beyond what could be expected by the terms to which Natasha agreed. There were indeed many violations of the protocols from the part of the researchers: 1- They attempted to exclude Natasha's mother. 2- They introduced two clinical conditions alien to the protocols. 3- They convinced Natasha to agree with these two conditions using deceiving and technically incorrect arguments. 4- The man with the metal plate also had an resected appendix. 5- The man with the metal plate seemed to be improperly blinded. 6- The subjects never showed medical documents to prove their clinical conditions. Maybe I forgot some violation. But I think that suffices...



Accusations: The experimenters didn't allow Natasha to examine the subjects while they are standing, as she usually does in her readings.

Answer: Natasha viewed the subjects standing up, from their front, back, and sides.

Skolnick is right. For example, Natasha's agent, Will Stewart, complained in email about the metal plate covering part of the brain of one subject, for it might be in an area of the skull inaccecible to Natasha' eyes. But the documentary leads us to trust that she asked them to turn their backs and their left sides to her during this specific examination. The accusation seems to be groundless.



Accusations: One of the test persons had a metal plate covering part of his brain, and Natasha failed to identify this. But why should she? The man was not suffering from a medical condition. Whatever he had suffered had been treated, and Natasha did not claim to be a metal detector.

Answer: Natasha has on a number of widely reported occasions identified metal screws, plates, and other surgically implanted metal devices. In addition to failing to see the metal plate, she also failed to see that the subject's skull has a large hole, which had been made to remove a large brain tumor.

It seems to be true, but I think Skolnick shoud give some feedback about a complaint from Natasha's agent, Will Stewart. He said, in an email, that he had made it clear to Monica before the test that sometimes metal implants may be hard to see (for Natasha). If Monica confirms this, then either she failed to report it correctly to the researchers, or she did report it but they failed to probe deeper into that. Skolnick has to contact Monica again. Do your homerwork, please. By the way, Monica was the producer/director of the program. She had thousands of things to do, thousands of things to worry about. That is one more reason for the researchers to have tried to get a direct contact with Natasha, for example, having her on a telephone line together with a translator. It is so easy to do it! Why didn't they do it?



Accusations: The investigators raised the bar so that Natasha would fail. The odds of Natasha getting four correct matches out of seven was 1 in 50 (or 2 percent). Those are odds that are statistically significant and widely regarded in science as passing.

Actually it is not 2%, and it is not 1 in 50. It is 1.39%, roughly 1 in 70! (note added on December 14, 2004: Professor Brian Josephson has explained to me now that the figure should indeed be quite close to 1 in 50, that is, close to 2 percent. This is because it is usually considered not only the exact number of hits, but at least the number of hits. So we must sum the probability of getting four hits to the probabilities of getting five, six, and seven hits, and that adds up to 2 percent, or 1 in 50).

Answer: Those odds are not considered statistically significant for testing extremely unlikely events.*

Yes, but that does not necessarily apply for "preliminary examinations intended to give some guidance as to the warranty of further research". Skolnick seems in his answer here to be borrowing my own words, or ideas, that I directed to him in my first critique of this experiment, sent to him (and to Hyman/Wiseman) on November 19, 2004. I said then: "One reason that may support the researchers in this (that is, using a cutoff value for statistic significance below 1%) is the fact that when it comes to extreme claims many consider that the cutoff point should be even more stringent than the 1% level (see statistician Jessica Utts article for this, especially when she talks about bayesian statistics, at this link). We have to further understand that Natasha's claim is not only extreme: it also has serious impact on public health issues. Personally, I consider the 0.42% cutoff point as quite acceptable in this situation.".

But Skolnick is failing to realize one very important thing: what determines the cutoff value is not the "subject's claim" (in this case, Natasha), but instead the "researcher's claim". For example, Targ and Puthoff had papers published on Nature about Uri Geller even though they did not find evidence for his metal bending. That is because metal bending was not the claim of Targ and Puthoff. It was the claim of Uri Geller. So what is the claim of the researchers (Hyman/Wiseman/Skolnick) in their preliminary evaluation of Natasha? Their claim is clearly stated in the protocols: further studies are warranted! That is what they would be claiming if Natasha had got 5 or 7 hits. That is astronomically less extraordinary than claiming that "Natasha has indeed X-Ray-like vision". So one has to take that in consideration when making bayesian decision to set the cutoff value!

More importantly, the 1-in-50 odds of getting four out of seven correct matches would be for someone blindly guessing. But Natasha was not blindly guessing. She had access to a great number of normal sensory clues that could have helped increase her number of correct matches.

Skolnick is again engaged in half-truths here. He is concluding, based on faith (or worse...), that the flaws of the test could only help Natasha. Now, picture yourselves in the place of Natasha: the researchers, right at the beginning of the test, tried to exclude your mother. The researchers presented to you two conditions that seemed clearly alien to the test rules. Now, you see an old man among the subjects. Is he the one that has metal staples in his chest, or is he only a decoy? What would you answer?

We were not able to design a truly blind test. We had wanted to test Natasha with subjects behind a screen of opaque cloth -- to blind her to normal sensory clues. However, we were told that, for unknown reasons, Natasha can see through cloth when it is worn by a person but not when the cloth is hanging in front of the subject.

And here Skolnick admits that he came to know some of Natasha's limits (the limits of her special vision) and he simply did not probe deeper into that. That is why I say that they did not try to understand the logic of the claim. And therefore ended up designing a flawed test. Now, they are desperately engaged in face saving...

Therefore, any test we could devise had to allow Natasha the opportunity to study her subjects and pick up clues about their health problems through normal senses. While we could not prevent this, we could try to reduce the problem by choosing subjects who were of similar age and appearance.

Unfortunately, we did not have the time to recruit ideal subjects for the test; the subjects we were able to recruit were not demographically similar and several of their differences may have provided important clues. For example, the subject who had had open heart surgery was the oldest and was male, and the majority of patients who undergo open heart surgery are elderly men. The subject who had none of the target conditions was the youngest and looked athletic and in good health. Indeed, no one who knows anything about hip transplants would have picked him as the subject with an artificial hip!

Interesting... I am a biologist, with M.A. in clinical bacteriolgy, with many relatives and friends working as doctors and nurses, and in no way I would ever guess this seemingly athletic guy had no artificial hip. Maybe 17-year-old girls from Russia have deeper background on those conditions... (By the way, hasn't Skolnick ever heard of the Paraolympics and of the para-athletes?)

In addition, several violations of the test protocols could also have helped Natasha increase her score. Contrary to the test rules, Natasha and her mother, sister, friend, and agent were able to watch at least two of the test subjects climb a flight of steps to enter the test building.

Will Stewart (Natasha's agent) claims that no one saw anything. And further, he says that they waited where they were instructed to. At least for the sake of ethics, Mr. Skolnick should adress these feedbacks from Stewart.

Also, at one point in the test, Natasha's friend, who was acting as interpreter, named out loud the condition that Natasha was looking for, which could have caused the subject to react unintentionally and give herself away. (Even dumb horses are able to react to people's subtle, unintentional responses -- commonly called the "Clever Hans" phenomenon, named after the horse that was once famous for its "arithmetic" skills.)

I hope Skolnick is not comparing his subjects to dumb horses... (he has complained so much about Victor Zammit having compared him to Ku Klux Klan activists). Again he is implying that the only possible reaction would be a give-away. But it could also be a concealing reaction.

There is no way the investigators could estimate how such factors may have improved

Improved or... Hindered!

Natasha's chances of getting four correct matches. But one thing is almost certain: it was very likely greater than 1 in 50 and statistically not significant.

"Almost certain" only if you are engaged in unscientific face saving. If you are engaged in honest scientific debate, your conclusion must be that the test was inconclusive.

* Often unappreciated by those not familiar with the use of statistics in science is Bayes' Theorem, which says that you cannot properly determine whether a given hypothesis should be accepted, based on a particular experimental result, unless you also consider the prior probability that the hypothesis is correct. Whether the P value of an experimental result is statistically significant depends on the context of the experiment. P values must always be interpreted according to the likelihood of the measured events. For many experiments, a P value <0.05 may be an adequate level of statistical significance, but for measuring extremely unlikely events, it's too high. For example, common sense tell us that when testing some bone-like material to see if it is a unicorn's horn, a P value of 0.05 would be far too high. The superiority of Bayesian inference over the use of arbitrary significance levels has been appreciated for two centuries. For more information on Bayesian statistical methods, see: BMJ. 1996;313:569-570 and http://drambuie.lanl.gov/~bayes/bayes.htm

Personally, I am very supportive of higher demands from "extraordinary claims", and that involves using bayesian statistics to analyze this kind of material. So I don't really reject the cutoff value used by the researchers (0.4%). As a matter of fact, even if Natasha had got all the conditions right, I still would consider the test inconclusive (i.e. in need of furthe studies). But the fact is that, so far, the researchers have not presented the bayesian interpretation of the data. So I would very much like to know what a good statistician would have to say about the cutoff value that they used (0.4%) in light of bayesian statistics... And I hope the researchers will tell the statistician that the conclusion to be drawn from Natasha's success in the test would merely be that "further studies are warranted"!



Accusations: Although the investigators acknowledge that their test was only a preliminary exam to see if Natasha Demkina's abilities warranted a more carefully controlled study, they misrepresented it in the documentary as "an experiment specially designed to rule our any ambiguity."

Answer: We have been deliberately clear about the preliminary nature of the test from its very beginning. Indeed, the CSMMH-CSICOP test protocols state:

"It is imperative that the Test Proctor be allowed to explain in the Discovery Channel program that the CSICOP/CSMMH test is not in any way a definitive test. It is too simple and brief to determine the truth of Natasha's claims with comfortable certainty. It can only help decide whether further study of Natasha's claimed abilities are warranted."

Unfortunately, these important points were not provided in the documentary, against our expressed wishes. In a recent email, the producer/director Monica Garnsey explained:

"...though we appreciated this was an important point, we had a lot of competing priorities. In a television programme you have to balance editorial concerns against boring but inescapable practical points such as duration, shot size, background noise, pace, etc. ... Unfortunately the decision was made not to include this 'provisional' clause in the commentary. You as CSICOP certainly made it clear."

Yes, and since Discovery Channel decided not to include that line, CSICOP and CSMMH decided to jump onto the bandwagon and start claiming that they have closed the chapter on that issue, etc, violating that very test rule. So convenient.



Accusations: Natasha's testers stated during the test that it was necessary to place Natasha under stress. Why on earth would you want to place a sensitive psychic under stress during an experiment of this kind?

Answer: The CSMMH-CSICOP investigators made no such statement and did not do anything to purposefully increase her stress. The investigators worked hard to meet Natasha's needs and make her as stress-free as possible during the test. This is supported by a recent comment from the documentary's director/producer, Monica Garnsey:

"We remain incredibly grateful for all the work CSICOP put into the Natasha test. I'm very sorry that you are coming in for abuse on your website about the way the test was designed and conducted. I thought it was very well thought through, that Natasha was treated with courtesy through-out, and that any difficulties were probably caused by the presence of the film crew, and the fact that we'd insisted the test be in new york, and that we'd only got together the night before. I said as much to your critics."

Skolnick is not saying the truth here. Actually, Hyman says this in the documentary. At first I thought it was a problem, but now actually I think it is not. I think Hyman was merely describing the problems of any kind of such tests, when you take a person out of his/her ordinary environment and place him/her under the constraints of laboratory testing. Hyman was not supporting this action, he was merely presenting it as an unavoidable problem. His speech on that was even cut in the middle of his phrase. So I think now that it is unfair to pick on him for that. But Skolnick's answer is still untrue. We did not have a problem before this answer, I think. But we do have one now after it...



Accusations: The CSMMH and CSICOP investigators have unethically used the media for propaganda purposes.

Answer: The CSMMH-CSICOP investigators were contacted by the documentary's director/producer Monica Garnsey, on behalf of Natasha Demkina, who wanted to be tested by skeptical scientists -- so the charge is clearly false. In addition, the researchers designed and conducted the test with careful consideration of all ethical considerations, whether in regard to Natasha. the volunteer subjects, documentary production company, or the general public.

The unethical use of the media happened after the test, with reports to the Guardian where Wiseman implies that Natasha could have cheated, and saying that a failure is a failure. Also, at CSMMH site there is plenty of unethical statements on this issue.



Accusations: The investigators had used their economic power over Natasha coercively, insidiously, unfairly, and inequitably.

Answer: CSMMH and CSICOP had absolutely no economic power over Natasha. They had no financial involvement either in testing Natasha Demkina or in the documentary program. Nor did they offer or provide Natasha any financial support or compensation. The Commission and CSICOP were invited by the producer to test Natasha's claims and in the interest of advancing science, public health, and public education, they agreed and did so. In a recent statement to critics, the program's producer/director wrote:

"I should say that in my opinion CSICOP's public service motivation is utterly sincere and, unlike the other people who made the programme possible, CSICOP [and CSMMH] did not ask for or receive payment except travel expenses."

Agreed. Unfair charge.



Accusations: The test was much too rigorous.

I don't really agree with this accusation. Let's turn to the answer to it now:

Answer: What the test required of Natasha was much easier than what she normally does for her regular readings.

Again: there is no way to know if it was really easier or harder than her true-life readings. It is unscientific to claim so.

Instead of having to scan the entire subject from head to toe and describe all the abnormalities she sees, the test only required her to look at seven people and indicate which of them had six different specified medical conditions. These target conditions are easily seen on an X-ray or CT-scan.

Are these two conditions really easily seen in an X-ray, I mean, removed appendix and resected esophagus? It is hard to believe, but I will check that out.

She didn't have to figure out what is and is not normal. She was told exactly what to look for, what each condition looks like, and exactly where to look.

Actually she had to figure out what was normal or not. She was presented two men with no appendix (the metal plate guy also missed his appendix) but was told that only one had a missing appendix. If indeed Natasha has any power, it must have been quite confusing to her...

For example, one of the subjects had had a large brain tumor removed and a large metal plate now covers the hole in his skull. If Natasha's claims are true, then it should have taken her only a few minutes to look at the heads of the seven subjects to see the big hole and metal plate. This was a lot easier -- not more rigorous -- than what she normally does during her readings.

That is begging the question. Also, this guy seemed to be unblind. And had ultra skeptic attitude towards Natasha. And he (conveniently) forgot that he had had his appendix removed... Weird, isn't it?



Accusations: The experimenters were unfair in not giving Natasha a chance to rest after her 6000 mile flight from Russia. They required her to take the test even though she had no time to recover from jet lag or to adjust to the 8-hour time difference.

Answer: We were not in anyway involved in planning Natasha's travels. The timing of her travel was decided by Natasha, her family and supporters, and the program's producer. Natasha arrived in New York two days before the test. The day before the test, she gave six people full readings, which most described as very impressive. So both Natasha and her claimed abilities appeared to have been in good form the day before the test. And immediately after the test, Natasha went on to give individual readings, which strongly suggests that she was not overly taxed or tired.

In the documentary Natasha seems perfectly ok for the test. She was only anxious, very anxious. But at the moment she got to know about the appendix and the esophagus, she got clearly depressed.



Accusations: Natasha had told the investigators at the beginning of the test that appendixes are one of the organs she has trouble seeing, yet they still insisted that she find the subject without an appendix.

Answer: Natasha told the investigators no such thing. She complained only that her vision was being blocked by surgical scar tissue and also complained that appendixes can sometimes grow back after an appendectomy. Which of course, they cannot.

Furthermore, such post hoc explanations are inconsistent with claims of Natasha's abilities that were widely reported before the test. For example, one of Natasha's supporters is the Russian journalist Igor Monichev, who reported that Natasha told him, "I see everything that happens inside the human body." (Igor Monichev's report)

We don't get to know her actual words in the documentary (translated in real time), only the narrator's general comments about her words. She definitely complained about those two conditions, and only about those two conditions. This is very important, but Skolnick keeps downplaying it. Also, Skolnick is being a hundred percent denotative in his interpretation of "I see everything". If he was a policeman, and he came across a man who claimed to have seen "everything" in the bank during the theft, he would surely start to ask about microbes and atoms and molecules in all corners of the bank, etc...



Accusations: Natasha got five of the matches correct, not four, and therefore passed the test. Natasha was told to find the subject who had a scar on her tummy from an appendix operation. Because she considered the scar on a woman's tummy from a gynecological operation more important, she pointed out that scar instead, but was not given any credit for that correct answer.

Answer: Natasha was not asked to find tummy scars or any scars to correctly identify the subject without an appendix. She was instructed to look for the subject who didn't have an appendix. She was shown pictures of an appendix. In addition, the test briefer held up his pinky and told her, "You should look for the appendix, which is about the size and shape of the person's pinky. And the way to find it is to look at the spot where the large intestine joins the small intestine. You'll find the pinky-shaped appendix right near there -- or you won't, if the appendix was removed." She was not asked to look for scars on the tummy or anywhere else.

It seems ok. But I believe that appendix sometimes are not the shape of a pinky, for sometimes they are collapsed (just as some parts of the intestines sometimes are). So they would be thinner then. Much thinner.



Accusations: Despite the fact that Natasha told the investigators at the beginning of the test that finding a missing appendix and a surgically shortened esophagus was outside of her abilities, the investigators insisted that she find them.

Answer: Natasha did not tell the investigators that finding missing organs or large parts of organs was outside of her abilities.

First, appendix is not exactly an organ, but rather an "appendix to an organ" (an appendix to the intestine). That is the reason why it is called "appendix". Second, there were no "large parts of organs" missed. Skolnick himself told Natasha that he did not know the size of the resected esophagus.

Natasha did offer explanations why she was having difficulty finding the subjects with these two conditions. She complained about "post-operative scar tissue" confusing her and she said that she thought the surgically removed appendix may have grown back, which of course, it cannot.

The scar tissue explanation was not plausible, because even if the subject with the missing appendix had post-operative scar tissue blocking her view from every angle, she still would have been able to identify him by eliminating the subjects who still had their appendix. In addition, the presence of post-operative scar tissue around the site of the appendix should have been an powerful clue that the subject had had an appendectomy!

Also, her excuses are self-contradictory: If she can see post-operative scar tissue blocking the appendix area, then she should not have had any trouble seeing the post-operative scar tissue around the surgically shortened esophagus -- the very clue that she was instructed to look for to find the resected esophagus!

Interesting answers. But, are they real? Skolnick told me repeatedly that Natasha claimed in the documentary to see at the molecular level, to see at the cellular level, to never commit a mistake. In the documentary, nowhere could I find her saying so. And nowhere could I find even a narrator saying so. So he'd better have all this above recorded in video, and make it available to us, for he is surely a man not to trust when his observations are concerned. In the documentary, it is indeed said that Natasha claimed that post-operative scars may be confusing (regarding the appendix), and that the esophagus may be different lengths in different people. But it is not sure if this is all that she said. What is certain is that those two conditions were the only ones that she complained about! It is something that must not be downplayed.



Accusations: Contrary to what the investigators led us to believe, Natasha never claimed she never makes a misdiagnosis.

Answer: A number of news reports have reported she never makes a misdiagnosis.


In addition, the documentary shows Natasha's mother saying, "Natasha never makes a mistake. In six years, she hasn't made a single mistake."

Mother's say...

The documentary also shows Natasha explaining, "If you did it [the test] my way, I would probably have guessed not five but seven of them [all the conditions of the seven subjects]."

Can anyone find Skolnick's missing Webster (dictionary)? Meanwhile, could someone please tell him the meaning of the word "probably"? My biggest amazement and disapointment in analyzing this Natasha issue has been to repeatedly witness a 17-year-old girl being more scientific than "respected academicals", even in what she says and in the terms she uses. Also, Skolnick is misreporting (for the thousandth time...) what the translator said. What the translator actually said was: "If you did it my way, I would probably guess not five but seven of them.". It was not something that Natasha said after the test, as a post hoc excuse, as Skolnick is trying to deceive his readers into believing. It was something that Natasha said before the test! [Important note included on November 2005: Skolnick corrected me in this issue above. The actual phrase that the narrator said was: "If you did it my way, I would have probably guessed not five but seven of them.". Despite this, it is still necessary to stress that Natasha said this BEFORE the test, and not after it. But my accusation that, in this instance, Skolnick was misreporting the translator was unfair, and for that I must apologyze].

So, if we read it carefully, we get to understand that Natasha was stating precisely that even if she was allowed to do it her way, she was not sure that she would get all the conditions right. And topmost, since she told this before the test, it ended up being a true prediction (or self-knowledge from her part), for she was not allowed to do it her way, and she failed precisely in those two conditions that she was complaining about. Yes! Skolnick seems to be hiding it too: this phrase from Natasha was uttered when she was complaining, at the beginning of the test, about the appendix and the esophagus!



Accusations: The CSMMH and CSICOP investigators subjected Natasha to a highly stressful situation by changing the protocol and refusing to allow her mother to stay with Natasha during the test.

Answer: The investigators only changed protocols Natasha requested in order to make her as comfortable as possible. They introduced no changes to the test rules that she didn't request. This false accusation is based upon an incorrect statement in the Discovery Channel documentary.

That is a Lie. The statement in the Discovery Channel documentary is precise. Skolnick knows that. He received recently a reply from Monica Garnsey where she lays it clear. The accusation is false. But Skolnick's replied to it with a lie. There was an attempt to take her mother out, and even Monica (Discovery Channel producer) said that "Joe Nickell felt strongly and expressed his feelings strongly that Natasha's mother should not be allowed in the test room".

At the beginning of the test, a couple of the investigators misread the rules and created confusion about who was allowed to stay in the test room.

To me, before I got to see the test, Skolnick told it was only one person that created the confusion (Joe Nickell). Now, he is admitting that it was two persons. Half of the personnel from CSICOP/CSMMH!!!

That unfortunate confusion was settled when Natasha's representative, Will Stewart, asked Andrew Skolnick to explain the rule. Skolnick confirmed that Natasha's family members and friends were allowed to stay. Nevertheless, Natasha's mother decided to wait outside the test room with her younger daughter, so that the young girl could move about and talk. The investigators did not bar them from the room and when Natasha asked for her mother, she was immediately brought in.



Accusations: The investigators also tried to change the rules to disrupt Natasha's concentration by substituting their own interpreter.

Answer: The investigators did not provide their own interpreter. There were two interpreters, one hired by the producer and her teenage friend. Natasha was allowed to use her friend as an interpreter thoughout the test.

Unfair charge.



Accusations: One of the investigators (Andrew Skolnick) misrepresented his credentials by claiming to be a "medical doctor" when he is not.

Answer: Andrew Skolnick never made such a claim. He is the executive director of the Commission for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health. He is a medical journalist, who worked nearly a decade as an associate editor at the Journal of the American Medical Association, but he is not a physician. That error was made by the documentary script writer.

The program's producer/director, Monica Garnsey, regrets the mistake and says it will be corrected in future broadcasts.

Unfair charge.



Accusations: The documentary clearly shows evidence of cheating by the investigators. At one point near the start of the test, when the camera is aimed at the man who had a metal plate in his head, you can see him hm raise his eyebrow, which shows that he could see through the supposedly opaque glasses and was not truly blinded.

Answer: The documentary shows CSICOP research fellow Joe Nickell preparing the sunglasses immediately prior to the test. They were made opaque simply by covering the lenses with duct tape. This allowed the subjects to be able to see to their sides and above and below them -- so they would not get disoriented and dizzy -- but not straight ahead.

The opaque glasses prevented them from seeing when Natasha was looking directly at them and, more importantly, it prevented Natasha and others from seeing their eye movements -- which might provide unintentional clues. The subject's eyebrow movement was more likely a reaction to something he heard than to what he saw going on in front of him, since it was impossible for him to see straight ahead.

I don't know if I was the first one to realize this weird incident. I don't think the researchers were cheating. I think they sealed those glasses in a faulty way. At first, it was only a suspicion. But now that I know that it was Joe Nickell that did the blinding, I have no doubt that he must have placed that black band in a faulty way. It seems that he was careless in his reading of the protocols and careless with his words (Joe Nickell felt strongly, and expressed strongly...). I believe that he is also careless with his hands... (note added on December 14, 2004: I would very much like to know what behavioural psychologists would say about the likelihood of someone reacting to "something he heard" with an eyebrow movement... especially at the precise moment the camera is being turned to him!)



Accusations: The skeptical investigators went after Natasha Demkina to discredit her as a phony.

Answer: The CSMMH and CSICOP investigators did not go after Natasha Demkina. Earlier in 2004, the investigators were contacted by the program's producer/director and were asked to scientifically test Natasha's claimed abilities. The investigators agreed.

I don't think they did. But I think they are terribly misreporting events, and that is serious enough. They are supposed to be respected academicals. They should live up to their credentials.



Accusations: The investigators took advantage of an underage girl by inviting her to come to New York for a test where they ambushed and tricked her.

Answer: CSMMH and CSICOP did not invite Ms. Demkina to come to New York. The investigators were invited to come to New York to test Ms. Demkina by the program's producer/director. Although 17 years of age, Ms. Demkina was accompanied and represented by her mother and an English journalist acting as her agent. The test, which was straightforward and fair, was agreed to by all parties prior to meeting in New York for the examination.

Same as above.



The Investigators' Most Noteworthy Mistake

There is one actual mistake in the test that few if any critics are complaining about.

Quite wrong. I have already complained about it!

Although the test design required no more than one subject to have any of the target medical conditions, the investigators discovered after the test was over that the man who had metal plate in his head following brain tumor surgery also had had an appendectomy.

That is: they did not check for it properly before...

He had forgotten to mention this

So convenient. Forgot that he had been opperated on...

when he had been recruited but brought it up after the test because a missing appendix had been one of the test target conditions.

The reason Natasha Demkina's supporters may not be complaining about this error is that it hurts rather than supports their case.

Only from your point of view, Mr. Skolnick, since you did not do your homework of asking Natasha what she could see and what she could not see.

It means that Natasha had twice the chance of correctly guessing which subject was missing his or her appendix -- roughly 28% rather than 14%. Despite this doubling of odds, she incorrectly chose a woman who still has her appendix.

Yes. She saw two men with missing appendix where there should be only one. Then she surely thought: "That thing cannot be a missing appendix!". Brilliant Messrs Respected Academicals! You ended up giving Natasha a splendid argument for having failed to see the missing appendix...

Natasha also missed a golden opportunity to convince the researchers of her claimed abilities, and perhaps most other skeptics in the world. During the test, she had an opportunity to say, "Something is wrong here! There are two people who are missing their appendix. But you told me there's only supposed to be one." The investigators would have been embarrassed by the unintentional mistake. But they also would have been convinced.

Yes. She also could say something about cells and molecules, whatever you think are her actual claims... But, one has to live up to his/her actual claims, and only to the actual claims.

I don't think the researchers were responsible for all the problems in the test. I don't even think they had bad intentions. And I do agree that they are respected academicals, and academicals that deserve to be respected (that is, they are not only respected academicals, but respectable academicals too). But I don't think they have been acting accordingly in these last months after the test, regarding this Natasha issue. There is still a chance to revert this situation. All they have to do is to stick to the test rules. And to avoid counter-productive face-saving strategies!


Julio Siqueira
email: juliocbsiqueira2012 and then @ and then gmail.com