Written in 2002 for The Skeptical Investigations website
Massimo Polidoro is an inveterate exposer of paranormal claims, author of a forthcoming Prometheus publication, "Secrets of the Psychics" and head and founder of the Italian Skeptics Group CICAP.
His most recent (March/April 2003) article in the Skeptical Inquirer, official organ
of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP),
provides an admirable illustration of the subtle manner in which a skilled skeptic
can present ostensibly accurate summary of a celebrated inquiry into physical mediumship
while subtly contriving to leave the reader with an impression which is the precise
opposite of the truth. His article revives the old controversy over the supposed
gullibility of those who investigated the celebrated physical medium, Eusapia Palladino
during her two decade-
The most extensive expert assessment of Eusapia’s controversial mediumship is contained in the Feilding Report of 1909 (Proc. SPR 23, pt 59). Ten sittings were held in a Naples hotel by three representatives of the Society for Psychical Research, all of them authorities not merely on mediumship fraud but on stage magic and illusionism. None had ever been satisfied of the genuineness of any physical mediums, but all three concluded their intensive investigation with the belief that they had undoubtedly witnessed paranormal events, and that Palladino, whose resort to trickery whenever given the chance was well known to the investigators and freely admitted by her, had nevertheless genuine psychic powers.
There is no need to debate here the merits of the investigation nor the folly or reasonableness of the conclusion reached by the three investigators. We are solely concerned with the way Polisaro presents the sequel to his readers, very few of whom are likely to have access to the two volumes of SPR Proceedings he references, or be likely to wish to bother to do so even if they had.
Before exposing Polidoro’s little ruse, it is worth noting that, having briefly mentioned
the positive conclusions reached by the investigators, he continues, "However, in
1909 and 1910 Eusapia had been caught cheating in the United States" by Hugo Munsterberg.
This implies that the investigators were hitherto unaware of Eusapia’s resort to
deception and took no steps to guard against it. They were not, and this was well
known. It also suggests that Munsterberg was an honest observer, whereas details
of his mendacity were publicly exposed by Robert McLuhan in an address to the SPR
in July 1998. Polisaro then refers to the abortive post-
But what Fielding made clear in his 1911 report was that the conditions of control
ruling at the Naples sittings were wholly different from those permitted in these
Thus what a dutiful reader might sensibly mistake for an implied retraction of his positive report, as presented by Polisaro, is fundamentally different from what Feilding intended. The quotation is correct; the implication is false.