by Rupert Sheldrake

Wiseman's Article — How Much is that Doggie in the Window? (PDF)

This article was posted on Richard Wiseman's web site in 2011, after repeated controversies about his claims to have debunked the "psychic pet" phenomenon.

He starts misleadingly by portraying his own investigations of Jaytee as independent and original research, commenting on my own work by saying "At roughly the same time, Rupert Sheldrake (RS) conducted additional work with Jaytee." In fact I had been doing research with Jaytee for over a year when Wiseman and his colleague Matthew Smith did their first experiment with Jaytee in June 1995. The results of the first phases of my research with Jaytee, from July 1994 to February 1995 are described in a paper co authored with Pam Smart, Jaytee's owner, here: A Dog that Seems to Know when his Owner is Returning: Preliminary Investigations.

Wiseman was aware of this work and indeed refers to it in his paper, co-authored with Matthew Smith and Julie Milton called The "Psychic Pet" Phenomenon: A reply to Rupert Sheldrake (PDF).

In April 1995, I started a long series of videotaped experiments with Jaytee, in conjunction with Pam Smart and with the help of her family. Pam Smart and I invited Richard Wiseman to do his own experiments with Jaytee during this period. He did two tests in June 1995 and two in December 1995. He published his results while we were still doing our research and tried to portray this work as if he was the primary investigator of this case, and I just happened to come along around the same time and did 'additional work'. In his recent book Paranormality, he starts the book with a description of his work on Jaytee with no mention of the fact that I'd done research on the dog at all, except in an obscure footnote.

In his paper, Wiseman draws attention to some small discrepancies between the data published in my book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home and the paper co-authored with Pam Smart on our video-taped experiments and observations: A Dog That Seems To Know When His Owner's Coming Home: Videotaped Experiments and Observations, Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14, 233-255, (2000).

There were indeed some small discrepancies. The data published in the book were based on my initial analysis. I recalculated all the data that were published in the paper, and the data in the paper are the definitive and more accurate ones. For example, I classified 12 experiments with randomised return times into the 6 that involved a relatively early signal for Pam to go home and the 6 that involved a relatively late signal. Two of these experiments were on the borderline and when I recalculated the data, one was moved from the early to the late category and the other from the late to the early category. But this makes very little difference to the overall results or conclusions.

Wiseman goes onto argue that there are two possible explanations that could account for Jaytee's behaviour, and for the fact that he was waiting at the door much more when Pam was on her way home than before she came home. His first explanation is what he calls the "sensory leakage" hypothesis. He suggests that Jaytee could have "gleaned a rough return time from several sources including Pam's normal routine, her interactions with Jaytee before leaving the house, the behaviour of her parents, the way she was dressed etc." In fact the data themselves show that her times were not at all routine and her return times varied from 11.13am to 10.45pm, with absences ranging from 85 to 220 minutes. She did not tell her parents when she would be returning and usually did not know in advance herself. So Wiseman's sensory leakage explanation is implausible, and as he himself admits, it cannot apply to the series of trials in which Pam returned at randomly selected times, communicated to her via a telephone pager, and unknown to her in advance. He also ignores the fact that in a series of 50 videotaped experiments, Jaytee was left alone in PS's own flat when she went out. On some of these occasions he did not show signs of anticipation of Pam's return, perhaps because there was no one to signal them to, but on others he did and behaved similarly to the way he did in Pam's parents flat.

Wiseman then tries another hypothesis, the "anxiety" hypothesis, according to which Jaytee might visit the window more frequently over time as he became more anxious about Pam's return. However, as Wiseman concedes, there was no evidence from the data that this was the case. Wiseman also ignores a series of control tests in which Jaytee was filmed on occasions when Pam was not coming home. These data, shown in Fig 5 of Sheldrake and Smart (2000) provide absolutely no evidence for increasingly frequent visits to the window as time went on. Wiseman ignores this evidence because it does not fit his hypothesis.

In this discussion, Wiseman does not mention the data from the three experiments he himself conducted with Jaytee in Pam's parents' flat. In those tests, Jaytee was at the window an average of 4% of the main period of Pam's absence, when she was not coming home, and 78% of the time during her return period, a statistically significant effect.

The data from the experiments conducted by Pam and myself, as well as those conducted by Wiseman and Smith, strongly suggest that Jaytee was in fact picking up when Pam was coming home in a way that cannot be explained by so-called "normal" explanations. As a committed sceptic, Wiseman will always attempt to explain away by other hypotheses, but this tells us more about Wiseman's sceptical beliefs than about Jaytee's behaviour.

Pam and I conducted an entirely separate series of experiments with a different dog, Kane, which also showed that he seemed to know when his owner was coming home in a way that could not be explained in terms of normal sensory information. (Testing A Return Anticipating Dog "Kane" Anthrozoos 13, 203 — 211 (2000)).

For many years, Wiseman has claimed to have debunked the psychic pet phenomenon and is frequently quoted by skeptics as having done so. He has publicised his claim very widely in the media and has been reported in the press under headlines like "Psychic dog fails to give scientists a lead", "Psychic pets are exposed as a myth", "Pets have no sixth sense, say scientists", and so on. As this unpublished 2011 paper on his website shows, he himself now rests his claim not on findings of his own, nor on a debunking of mine and Smart's, but on an "anxiety' hypothesis, which is already refuted by the data. His sceptical claims are simply not supported by the evidence. However, they illustrate very clearly how the media can be manipulated by skeptics to give a completely misleading impression, one which is then echoed by other skeptics who are all too credulous when it comes to claims that seem to confirm their beliefs.

November 2013.