On July 16th, 2007 Anita Ikonen, contacted the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) with claims of psychic abilities in the medical arena.
Date of demonstration:
November 21st, 2009
Courtesy Mark Johnson, et al.
On July 16th, 2007, a Swedish national who, as of 2010, is a science undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, contacted the Independent Investigations Group (IIG) to inquire about our $50,000 Challenge.
Anita claimed that she could look into the human body and diagnose many different types of physical or medical anomalies. She claimed many other paranormal powers including:
- The ability to identify chemical elements based on a vibration she could see.
- The ability to see ghosts – the ghosts of America’s founding fathers, the ghosts of animals, the ghosts of dinosaurs and many others – as well as the ability to communicate with these ghosts.
- The ability to enter into an altered state similar to a chemical “high” simply by looking at an image of marijuana.
She made dozens of other similar claims. Since Ikonen insisted that her most reliable ability was medical diagnosis, the IIG worked with Anita on a protocol to test this ability. After a year of negotiations we could not come to an agreement on what medical conditions would be acceptable for a demonstration. The negotiations stalled without establishing a clear protocol.
In December of 2008, Anita made contact with the Forsythe Area Critical Thinkers (FACT), a group of skeptics that meets monthly in Winston Salem, North Carolina and is led by Jim Moury and Dr. Eric Carlson. Carlson is a physics professor at Wake Forest University and has worked with the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) to test people for the foundation’s Million Dollar Challenge – a longstanding test similar to, and the inspiration for, the IIG’s $50K Challenge.
At Anita’s first meeting with FACT, the skeptics convinced her that if she wanted to be tested by the IIG she needed to narrow her claim to something simple and straightforward that she was confident about demonstrating. At a subsequent FACT meeting in March 2009, Dr. Carlson agreed to let Anita “read him,” telling her in advance that there was “something interesting” to be found. A form was provided to Anita on which she was to write down any medical or physical anomalies she saw. Though Dr. Carlson is a kidney donor and is missing his left kidney, Anita did not note this on her form. However, after Dr. Carlson revealed this fact to her following her reading, she insisted that she had very clearly detected the kidney was missing, but she did not write it down because she second-guessed her own sensations; Dr. Carlson seemed “too healthy” to be missing a kidney, and she was unaware that healthy people could donate kidneys.
Anita decided that her vision of Dr. Carlson’s missing kidney was among her strongest medical sensations to date, despite her failure to write down this feeling during the actual test. By August 2009, based on this experience, she proposed a new protocol idea to IIG.
One person who has had a kidney removed is sitting among nine other persons who have both kidneys. Their order of sequence is determined randomly. The back rest of their chairs is facing to the left so that their backs can be seen. A fabric curtain is attached from the ceiling and comes down to cover head and necks of the persons. A number is placed on the floor by each of the chairs with numbers from 1 to 10 from left to right. The persons are wearing their everyday clothes and their backs do not need to be bare. Once the ten persons are settled I will take a seat behind their row a few feet behind them. I have four hours to look at them.
Such a test would require multiple human subjects, a difficult enough task without the complication that some of them would need to be missing a kidney. We had to design a protocol that would be accurate and practical, not so daunting in terms of time commitment and physical discomfort that it would dissuade people from volunteering to be subjects. Setting up this Challenge was going to be a challenge.
Anita had been posting on the JREF forums for almost two years and had proven to be a prolific and often polarizing presence. By the time the IIG stepped back into the fray, the discourse between Anita and her critics had turned downright nasty. We wanted to stay as far away as possible from this internet imbroglio.
The first order of business was to arrange for a news blackout. Having every step of the negotiation process analyzed and vetted on the JREF boards was not in anyone’s best interests. The IIG would negotiate a protocol with Anita on the condition that both parties not talk publicly or post anything about the negotiations until the protocol was approved or one of the parties withdrew. It was also understood that any protocol Anita and the IIG negotiating team (Muscarella and Newman) came up with would need to be approved by the entire IIG Steering Committee.
The heated discussions on the JREF forums had one benefit: by the time our negotiations began, Anita’s claim and basic test proposal had been scrutinized by a battery of fellow skeptics. Certain ideas, like the use of screens and the pros and cons of “recycling” targets had been examined, and some of the basic odds had been computed. And Anita herself had commented at length on almost all of it.
From the perspective of the IIG negotiating team, with proper procedures and controls and a reasonable field of subjects, the claim could be tested using a procedure that resembled her suggestion. The devil would be in the details.
The IIG required three conditions to proceed. First, Anita would have to guess the location of the missing kidney with 100% accuracy in the three sets of ten people provided. It would be too difficult logistically to provide her with a large enough group of subjects that would allow for a less than perfect hit rate. Second, the verification of kidney status had to rely on a live ultrasound exam by a certified technician, and Anita would be responsible for this expense. Other methods of verification, such as a letter from an M.D., a visible scar, or even a set of MRIs, could be challenged by either party. Also, even if both parties accepted these types of proof on their face, such requirements on the part of subjects would likely discourage them from participating and make the demonstration even more difficult to set up. For logistical and financial reasons, the verification was scheduled to be done at the end, after all three trials were completed.
Third, Anita would be required to identify not only which subject was missing the kidney but determine which of their kidneys was missing, left or right. Since her claim was that she could “see” inside the human body, this seemed like a logical extension of that ability. It also significantly affected the odds calculation.
When I look at people I perceive in my mind realistic looking images of their internal organs, tissues and cells… The images are three-dimensional, and only involve relevant structures…I describe the perceptions in great detail. They are very specific and not vague nor open for interpretation afterwards. I reach my conclusions within a few minutes at most… I am very confident in what I perceive… because I have “seen it”.
To avoid any claims that she’d been confused about which side was which following, the IIG made sure that the official selection form provided a clear visual guide.
With the three main points discussed and agreed to, we began to refine the protocol and conditions. Anita had suggested that a screen be placed to hide the heads and necks of the subjects. She refused, however, to use any sort of screen that blocked her entire view of the subject.
The problem with a screen is that my sense of orientation in the body is thrown off, and I would require far more time and be more likely to experience fatigue than if we were to arrange for a test that does not use a screen that covers the kidney area of a person.
Our ultimate decision on how subjects would be viewed would take Anita’s request into account, and be influenced by our research into kidney patients.
The IIG tried to determine if there were non-paranormal methods available to detect the status of someone else’s kidneys. Extensive online research and conversations with a number of M.D.s made it clear to us that, when it came to fully clothed people, there was simply no way to distinguish between a healthy person with one kidney or a healthy person with two. People living with one kidney don’t tend toward any particular body shape, their skin color is normal, they don’t smell different (at least not to a fellow human with normal olfactory function), and they skew neither male nor female. This meant that it was unnecessary to extensively disguise any of our subjects in any particular way. It also meant that, while we would have preferred to standardize the demographic field (same sex, same approximate age, body type, etc.) it was not absolutely necessary provided the odds were high enough and reasonable blinding and sensory leakage controls were in place.
We decided early on to stick to Anita’s basic testing format of three trials and several subjects per trial. For the sake of simplicity, we decided that all subjects would be seen only once, in full groups of ten, and no one would be permitted to leave the viewing area until Anita’s decision was confirmed. Once the viewing period was over, Anita would be able to see the subjects’ faces for long enough for a photo to be printed of each of them and for her to attest by her initial on the actual photo that it represented the subjects (decoys and target) standing in front of her.
Tick, Tick, Tick
Although the negotiations were always friendly, the most contentious issue was the length of time Anita wanted for each trial. Her initial request of four hours to look at 10 subjects was impractical and flew in the face of numerous statements in which she described needing no more than a few seconds to look at someone and form a crystal, clear “vision” of their insides. Anita insisted that though that was true, considering the expense of her trip to Los Angeles, she wanted to make absolutely certain she had enough time.
By the time Muscarella and Newman were ready to submit the protocol for approval by the IIG Steering Committee, Anita had agreed to 45 minutes per trial, assuming 10 subjects per trial, but refused to go any lower. The Steering Committee balked. There was no way we could agree to a demonstration that could take two and half hours to simply view the subjects. Anita seemed adamant about not going less than 4.5 minutes per subject.
After much discussion and number crunching, the IIG decided we could do the demonstration with six subjects instead of 10 per trial and – with 12 potential kidneys per trial – still retain well over 1000 to 1 odds of success by random chance. The odds of hitting correctly in all three trials would be 1736 to 1. There was a 1 in 4 chance she would get one hit. It was understood that, if she passed the preliminary, the protocol for the final Challenge would be, statistically, ten times harder.
Since Anita had already agreed to 45 minutes for 10 subjects, which breaks down to 4.5 minutes per individual, we adjusted those numbers and reduced the running time to 27 minutes per trial, maintaining the length she’d requested for each subject.
One way to shorten the process would have been to stop the demonstration the moment Anita guessed incorrectly since any miss meant failing the entire test. Unfortunately, this would have created a new set of potential problems. If we indicated to Anita we would stop her when she provided an incorrect guess, she could infer that when she was not stopped her answer must be correct. This information would give her instant feedback about the efficacy of her method, potentially affecting the outcome of the demonstration. Stopping midway through would also leave us vulnerable should that trial be questioned or disqualified later, since it could be argued that if that first trial were invalidated, she might have gone on to complete the other two trials correctly and passed the test. If anything had gone wrong the IIG would have felt obligated to repeat the entire demonstration on another date, on our dime.
All Kidneys Are Not Created Equal
Our kidney research turned up some interesting tidbits, most notably that surgeons removing a kidney for donation tend to remove the left kidney. The right kidney is hidden slightly behind the liver, whereas access to the left kidney is unobstructed. The left kidney also has a slightly longer blood vessel which gives the surgeon more tissue to work with when grafting the kidney in a recipient. We had to presume Anita had stumbled upon this information as well, and if she thought more targets were missing their left than right kidneys she’d probably choose to err on that side (pun intended) of things.
IIG member Spencer Marks was in charge of recruiting subjects and targets for the demonstration, a minimum of 15 dual kidney decoys and three uni-kidney targets for the trials and at least one more uni-kidney person for an open test. As a result of our research indicating that the left kidney was more likely to be missing, Spencer was determined to make sure at least two of the targets were missing right kidneys. (As it turned out, all the targets had lost their kidney due to illness or accident, not as a result of donation.) IIG member Jim Newman also found a few uni-kidney people who eventually volunteered to be targets. On the day of the demonstration both he and Spencer would be sequestered with the subjects. To avoid the possibility of inadvertent cueing, none of the other proctors, including testmaster Jim Underdown, would know the identity of the targets until the official verification process at the conclusion of the test.
Decoys and Targets
Once the recruitment process was underway, our attention turned to the care, feeding, and “cloaking” of the subjects. We’d ruled out the use of screens or any physical obstacles between Anita and the subjects. We amused ourselves with ideas of jumpsuits with hood, burqas, beekeeper suits, etc., but they all seemed like overkill. If we had healthy nondescript targets mixed in with healthy nondescript decoys, and they were all dressed exactly the same from the waist up, that seemed sufficient for our demonstration. Anita preferred that subjects wear a light cotton shirt with no patterns so we purchased 20 identical lightweight t-shirts in various sizes.
As for what to put on the subjects from the shoulders up, our concerns revolved around two things: (1) making sure the subjects would be comfortable sitting immobile for what might be as long as 27 minutes, and (2) preventing the possibility of any subject making eye contact with Anita. A subject who knew he/she was the target might unconsciously reveal that fact through body language or facial expression.
The solution was a rectangular piece of soft, sheer cloth draped over the sides and back of the head of each subject which was secured with a lightweight, pith-style hat made of straw. The cloth, being sheer, was less claustrophobia-inducing than a solid cloth might be but provided the same amount of veiling from Anita’s POV. So without much compromise of comfort, the subjects’ view was limited to only what they could see straight in front of them, and Anita would not be able see the subjects’ faces unless they literally stood up and turned their entire bodies around.
Providing for the creature comforts of the subjects before and after being viewed was crucial. There was no pay involved, and if any of the targets got bored or unhappy or sick and left the demonstration early, or didn’t show up at all, the entire test might need to be aborted. Thus, we wanted it to sound like and actually be a fun and interesting way to spend a few hours on a Saturday. Subjects (decoys and targets) would be sequestered upstairs throughout the three trials and only allowed downstairs for viewing, but once the trials were complete they could go into the Steve Allen Theater to watch the ultrasound verification process. Drinks and food, including a full lunch, would be provided.
On the eve of the demonstration Anita posted the following on her website:
“I feel really good about the test I am about to have, but most importantly of all, I know that it is the best type of test design for my claim of medical perceptions and I can never expect to be able to design a test that would be any easier for me to pass. Therefore the results of the paranormal test will conclude on the claim, and if I fail the test I will be proud to announce that the claim of medical perceptions through extrasensory perception is falsified. I can’t wait to have the test. I am ready.”
Preliminary Demonstration – November 21st, 2009
Anita flew to Los Angeles on Friday, November 20th. She stayed at a hotel just a few miles from the site of the demonstration taking place the next morning – the Steve Allen Theater at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) building in Hollywood. Anita was invited to visit the CFI building on Friday, but she declined.
On November 21st, IIG members started preparations for the controlled demonstration at 9:30 a.m. The Philips iU22 ultrasound machine, provided by Media Medical Consultants, had been delivered the day before and was wheeled into position on the stage. The technician, Michele Ray, was scheduled to arrive at noon. In addition to various video cameras to document the process, arrangements had been made to stream the demonstration live to the Internet. A Canon XH A1 video camera, manned by IIG member Dave Richards, was set up near the rear of the audience section of the Steve Allen Theater, from which the feed was set up and monitored by IIG members Derek Bartholomaus and Brian Hart.
Additional IIG members and other invited guests began arriving about 10:30 a.m. Since the IIG members running the demonstration were still working in the theater, the attendees waited in the lobby.
A Little Deception
At 10:45 a.m., subjects began to arrive. They were immediately conducted to a holding area on the second floor of the CFI building. Once they were checked in, Spencer divided the subjects into three groups of six. Each of the subjects then drew a number from a hat to determine their order, 1 thru 6, left to right, within each trial group.
Spencer and Jim Newman had gone to some lengths to make sure the subjects were in the dark about the details of the demonstration and the role they were going to play. The volunteers knew the time and place and knew that it was a test of paranormal powers to diagnose medical conditions – but little more. People missing a kidney (i.e., targets) were told they were going to be part of a larger group of subjects also who were all missing an organ.
The subjects would be mingling on the second floor for some time, so it was vital that they understood the rules. They were not allowed to talk about anything medical or the demonstration itself, whether before or after they’d been viewed. Proctors Joe Pingree and Don Chesebro would be escorting the groups to and from the viewing area but were unaware of the decoy/target status of any of the Subjects.
The volunteers understood the need for secrecy but there was still some concern about unconscious cueing of information to Anita. A target who suspected he/she was the target might convey nervousness or exhibit some other relevant tell. To mitigate against this, Jim Newman and Spencer Marks injected some misinformation into the scenario. The subjects were told en masse that some of them were missing organs (not only kidneys) and that others were not. It was explained to them that before each trial someone downstairs would roll a standard six-sided die. The number that came up on that die would determine which organ Anita would be looking for or if she should be looking for someone with all their organs. The purpose of this subterfuge was to instill in every subject the belief that they were just as likely to be the target as any other subject in any given trial.
Anita In Skepticland
The plan was to monitor Anita’s movements from the moment she entered the CFI building until, at very least, the final trial was complete. With the subjects safely sequestered, Anita was alerted by phone and a car was sent to pick her up at the hotel.
Jim Underdown was behind the wheel. Steve Muscarella (wielding a video camera) rode in the passenger seat and Karen Kensek was in the backseat with Anita. Early in the planning we had decided that Anita should have a female escort at all times – someone to look out for Anita’s comfort, accompany her to the washroom as needed, and to generally keep a set of eyes on her at all times.
En route, introductions and pleasantries were exchanged. Anita admitted to being a little nervous and added that she had been practicing. Using a walkie-talkie, Underdown radioed ahead when the car was returning to the Center for Inquiry so Spencer could double check that all subjects were safely sequestered. The all clear was given and the car pulled up to the rear entrance of the CFI building. Anita was escorted directly from the car to the backstage area of the Steve Allen Theater via a rear entrance.
Backstage, Anita signed various pieces of paperwork including a printed version of the protocol and various personal releases. Jim Underdown also used a metal detection wand to make sure Anita was not wearing any electronic devices, which she was not. Anita’s cell phone and purse were set aside until the end of the demonstration. Jim and Karen showed Anita around the stage and explained how the demonstration would be conducted, where subjects would sit, the line she would stand behind and the areas she would be limited to.
During the tour, Anita asked to go on record with something. She wanted us to know that she would not guess; if she didn’t get a clear impression of the missing kidney’s location she would pass. Jim Underdown reminded her that a single pass would constitute a total fail, but it was her decision. Anita confirmed that she understood the ramifications of passing but reiterated her stance.
Anita was shown the projection screen which would be lowered into place between each trial to hide the subjects from view until they were set in their chairs with hats and veils in place. Since the subjects were instructed not to speak or make any noise at ANY time in the process, it was decided that the best place to keep Anita during these transitions was on the stage, her back to the screen. When the subjects were in place, the screen would be raised and Anita could turn and immediately begin her process.
Anita was introduced to IIG member Jerry Buchanan, who would be acting as the timekeeper. During the trials, Jerry would supply a verbal running countdown of time remaining at various intervals – 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes, 1 minute, etc. He would also time the breaks, note the time of day at each juncture, and keep track of the selections in each trial. Should there be any question or dispute about any of the results, we could refer to either the video recording of the trial or Jerry’s contemporaneous notes.
To ensure things ran smoothly later, Jim Underdown walked Anita through the specific steps for completing a trial.
- Anita would be given a generic scratch sheet on which she could jot notes and impressions during the viewing period. This form was blank except for six human forms with kidneys. Any time within the allotted 27 minutes she would indicate to Jim that she was ready to make her selection by walking to the podium where the official selection form was waiting.
- Jim Underdown would watch as she filled out the selection form in ink. Once he had verified the form was complete he would ask the subject that Anita chose as the target to stand, remove his/her hat and veil and face downstage.
- Mark Johnson would be in charge of photographic documentation. Once a photo of Anita’s selected target had been taken, the entire group would be asked to turn around and remove hats and veils. A second photo of the entire trial group would be taken.
- Prints of both photographs would be brought back to the podium, initialed with a Sharpie pen by Anita (to indicate that they accurately represented the status of subjects as they now appeared in front of her) and then stapled to the selection form.
- The subjects would be released, the screen would come down and
the completed selection forms would be placed on a music stand
near the apron of the stage where they would remain in full view until the ultrasound verification phase.
The Open Test
When Anita was satisfied with the conditions (she asked that the temperature in the theater be raised) the Steve Allen Theater was opened to the remaining IIG member and invited guests. The group proctors were alerted via walkie-talkie that the team onstage was ready for the open test — the part of the demonstration that preceded the actual test in which Anita would be given an opportunity to apply her claimed ability with the basic trial conditions in place. If she found anything about the conditions to be unacceptable, or if she was having any trouble using her ability, she was to speak up at that point.
Two men wearing the same t-shirt, hat and veil as the official subjects were seated backwards in two of the six small padded chairs lined up near the back of the stage. Anita was told the status of each of the men – the one on Anita’s left had both kidneys, and the one on the right was missing the left kidney. Anita sat in a chair behind them for about five minutes, and confirmed that her ability was working and that conditions of the test were acceptable. The open test subjects were then allowed to sit in the theater to watch the remainder of the demonstration as they would not be participating in the actual test. The projection screen was lowered and the proctors went back upstairs, returning a few minutes later with the first trial group. The subjects and proctors entered through a backstage door and were guided to their chairs.
The individual trials ran without incident. Throughout the testing, IIG member Mark Edward, who has a background in mentalism and psychic trickery, kept watch for anything suspicious. He witnessed no signaling or anything else in Anita’s manner to indicate she was doing anything other than what she’d promised.
The job of the proctors was to shuttle the subjects, group by group, from the upstairs holding area to the viewing area and back again. The subjects remained onstage throughout the trial and were instructed to keep verbiage of any kind to an absolute minimum. During each trial Anita moved back and forth along the taped line separating her from the subjects, sometimes standing, most of the time sitting in a chair. She occasionally made notes on the scratch form on a clipboard. Before each trial Anita was asked if she was comfortable and she affirmed so at every point.
The subjects were well-rehearsed and conducted themselves superbly. Except for a few body shifts and slight head or foot movements they remained quite still. Their vigilance was greatly appreciated considering that Anita used all 27 minutes of viewing time in each trial. She’d only needed five minutes to confirm the status of kidneys of two people (2.5 minutes per person) during the open test, so we were hopeful she might not use the entire allotted 4.5 minutes during the trials, but she did.
Jim Underdown and Mark Edward were deliberately kept ignorant of which subjects were targets and which were decoys. However, after each trial it was important for them to know if Anita had scored a hit so adjustments could be made to guard against any leakage or cheating. A protocol was put in place to keep the effect of this information to a minimum. After each trial Jim Underdown would write down the number and left/right status of Anita’s choice on a piece of paper. IIG member Owen Hammer would run the paper upstairs and hand it to IIG member Spencer Marks. Spencer would write H for hit or M for miss on the paper, fold it and hand it back to Owen who would run it back downstairs for Jim Underdown to read.
The Trial Results
The target in trial #1 was subject 11, missing RIGHT kidney. Anita selected subject 14, missing LEFT kidney.
The target in trial #2 was subject 24, missing LEFT kidney. Anita selected subject 24, missing LEFT kidney.
The Target in Trial #3 was Subject 36, missing RIGHT kidney. Anita selected Subject 36, missing LEFT kidney.
Anita chose the left kidney at every trial. During the Q & A that followed the demonstration she was asked if she knew the left kidney was more likely than the right to be removed in the case of kidney donations, and she admitted knowing about it and conceded that it might have been in the back of her mind when she made her selections.
Providing Anita with scratch paper with human figures and kidneys was a last minute accommodation. We were hesitant to give her something she might use to try to re-interpret the results. On the other hand, post-diction is unavoidable with paranormal claimants and amorphous doodles on a piece of blank paper could be just as easily exploited. They have no bearing on the outcome or results of the test and we include them here for the record, without comment.
Explanation of Results
Anita failed the preliminary demonstration, in which she had agreed 100% accuracy was required. Anita indicated the correct (i.e. missing) kidney in only one of the three trials, trial #2. This was well below the threshold for success and, statistically speaking, insignificant. One out of four people off the street, or any random generation of guesses, could do about as well. (Incidentally, a straw poll conducted by 11 observers watching the streaming video or sitting in the Steve Allen Theater bears this out. In two out of three trials one of the 11 observers picked the actual target kidney. In two out of three trials one of the observers picked the person missing the kidney but guessed wrong about the side.)
It’s important to emphasize, again, what Anita was not doing. She was not sensing reduced kidney function; she was not reading auras or minds or communicating with spirit guides. She was strictly looking for missing kidneys in three trials. Out of 12 potential kidneys per trial. She located only one.
It so happens that in trial #3 the person she thought was missing a kidney was, in fact, missing a kidney – just not the correct one. Isn’t that still remarkable? Not really. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, the demonstration WAS about picking entire people and not individual kidneys and Anita had correctly chosen two out of three. What are the odds of that? 1 in 13.5. Well within the realm of chance and certainly not significant in the context of the protocol as administered.
Let The Postdiction Begin!
If I fail the test I will be proud to announce that the claim of medical perceptions through extrasensory perception is falsified. (November 2009)
In the aftermath of the demonstration, Anita has backtracked from the above pledge. She admits to having failed the preliminary demonstration but believes that something extraordinary was going on anyway.
In one of the more creative attempts to spin a failed paranormal test into a success, Anita insisted that she was “right about being wrong” on two out of three trials and that this is remarkable unto itself. In her own words:
When I know I’m right, I’m right, and when I know I’m wrong, I’m wrong. I knew that my answers for trial 1 and 3 were incorrect and that my answer in trial 2 was correct, at all times, and well before the results were in. I shared this with IIG members and stated it very clearly and unambiguously. I do not recall a single experience where I would have been certain of a health perception and it would have been incorrect. The way the IIG Preliminary went, further confirms that when I am confident in a perception, it has high if not perfect accuracy, and when I am about to be incorrect, I already knew that beforehand. This means that I still have something to investigate. If I had a single experience of a highly compelling health perception, that I “know” to be accurate, only to find out that it is inaccurate, that would put the claim to rest once and for all.
Anita attributed her miss on trial #3 to the fact that she was fatigued and had to guess on that one. Why, after saying she’d rather pass then guess, did she guess, especially after her assertion before the test that in cases where she was unsure about the location of the missing kidney she would simply pass rather than guess? As for fatigue, if she hadn’t taken all 27 minutes to make a selection in trial #2 – the trial she now says she was confident about “well before the results were in” – she might have had a little more energy for trial #3. Also, she’d agreed to the length of each trial before the test began.
For the record, Jim Underdown asked Anita before every trial if she was feeling good and she answered in the affirmative each time. She was also urged the night before and again the morning of the demonstration to bring any food she might require during the course of the trials. (The IIG did not want to be accused of providing food that impaired her performance.) Despite our suggestions, Anita arrived without food, asked for none after her arrival, and ingested only water during the entire demonstration, the verification process and the post-demonstration Q&A session.
In light of revelations that came out after the demonstration, this failure to eat anything has an ironic twist to it. In 2002, Anita Ikonen, going by the name Alenera, toured Poland espousing Breatharianism – a bizarre belief that maintains it is possible to survive without eating for weeks, months, even years. As silly as it sounds, people have actually died attempting to follow the lunatic Breatharian lifestyle. Since being outed Anita refuses to distance herself from Breatharianism and maintains the following website:
Anita further claimed that her poor performance might be a result of a hitherto unnoticed idiosyncrasy that, despite years of experience and weeks to prepare and practice, she only discovered during the IIG demonstration: the denser a person is, she claims, the harder it is to see inside his or her body. This is why she claims she could not locate the missing kidney in subject 12, who was a heavy man. She even jotted this down on her scratch sheet. However, if there was a kidney missing in any one of the other people (as there was in subject 11) it was simple enough to deduce that subject 12 was NOT the target.
In May of 2010, the post-diction increased in intensity. Encouraged by pundits (on both sides of the aisle) who did not carefully read the protocol and were otherwise misinformed about the rules, statistics and procedures – Anita simply started lying about the claim she presented to the IIG in 2009:
Also the process by which I find missing kidneys starts by finding the sense of imbalance in a person, and to then narrow down to which side the imbalance is felt. It is a two-part process, whether you like it or not. (May 2010)
Never in her dozens of extremely detailed descriptions of her ability to see into the human body has Anita referred to experiencing anything but a direct, immediate vision. This two-step process to sense imbalance she refers to now is a post-facto fabrication that, while changing nothing in terms of her performance, provides a telling glimpse into Anita’s mind, motives and modus operandi.
The claim will be falsified when I state that I have made a compelling medical perception of something either being there or not being there and I state confidence in that this perception represents the very best of what my claim tries to do, only to find that this perception is inaccurate. And that is when the claim can be falsified. And that has not happened yet.
And, we might add, will never happen because Anita will find a way to make sure it doesn’t.
In the course of conducting a demonstration of this scope and complexity, mistakes were made and some valuable lessons were learned. For every refinement or shortcut in one area there is a price to pay in another. Practical trumped elegant almost every time. Nothing occurred that would invalidate the results of the demonstration but there were some things we failed to anticipate, some procedural missteps, and some dicey judgment calls worth noting.
1) Since the demonstration some criticism has been aimed at the wording of the protocol:
“The Applicant claims to be able to detect which subject in a group of six Subjects is missing a kidney, to further identify which kidney (left or right) is missing in her selected Subject, and to be able to do this with 100% accuracy in three consecutive trials.”
To some the language is imprecise and, thus, vulnerable to challenge or mischievous misinterpretation. Was Anita being asked to identify who was missing a kidney, and then being asked to identify which kidney? This question is only of interest to someone trying to parse things so as to turn Anita’s selection in Trial #3 into a partial hit. Nevertheless, we might have done more to prevent this ambiguity, since the deliberate injection of post-test confusion comes with the territory when testing psychics.
In our defense, getting the grammar correct was a linguistic challenge. It would have been easier if we could have lined up 12 individual kidneys, like some weird scene from a sci-fi movie, but the reality is kidneys come in living humans. It was impossible not to include a reference to the host (subject) carrying the potential kidneys. Imagine, if you will, that we’d numbered the kidneys, 1 through 12, left to right, and ignored the human carrying the kidney. Would that, in the long run, have clarified things or confused them?
In the end we trusted that a full reading of the protocol would make it clear that there was no point system in place. Anita was not circling or Xing human figures on the sheet. She was circling and Xing kidneys. And there was only one correct permutation per trial.
2) Should we have set the demonstration up differently in terms of randomization and distribution of targets? For example, offer the same amount of targets and decoys but randomly distribute them so Anita could not know how many were present in any given trial, only that she would see three in the course of three trials. This would have greatly complicated the backstage organization and require a foolproof system for tracking targets as they moved through the three trials. Considering Anita’s performance, there’s little reason to think a more randomized testing process would have made any difference, but it is certainly open to debate.
3) Care was taken to keep the subjects as ignorant as possible about the true nature of the demonstration, particularly the fact that kidneys were the specific organ being sought in all three trials. To guard against the subjects getting a glimpse of Anita’s selection form (with the six figures and 12 kidneys) during the photography phase at the end of each trial, the completed sheet was supposed to remain on the podium until the subjects were removed from the viewing area. That is how we rehearsed it. But during trial #1 Jim Underdown walked across the stage with the stapler and attached the photographs to the completed selection form. We know that at least one subject glimpsed the form because when she got back upstairs she told Jim Newman. The subject was reminded of the pledge of silence and the information flow stopped there.
4) As we were setting up for the ultrasound, Anita noticed that she had NOT initialed the photographs stapled to the selection form for one of the trials. She went ahead and did so but this was clearly an error in the procedure. Initialing the photos was supposed to be done AS she was still looking at the subjects so there could be no question that the photo was a true representation of her answer.
5) Anita’s sole hit was in trial #2, so naturally and properly this trial came under some scrutiny. The target, subject 24, was a man named Anthony who was a trusted friend of IIG member Kitty Scott. Kitty was a fairly regular contributor to various threads about Anita on the JREF forums. In September 2009, responding to comments Anita had made about her encounter with Dr. Carlson at FACT, Kitty mentioned she had a friend who was missing a kidney. She also described how the man had recently been in a terrible motorcycle accident and now had various titanium implants in his body. In a later posting Kitty mentioned that this man had nasty scars on his arms and walked with a limp due to a brace he wore on his right leg. We know Anita was aware of the friend and his physical characteristics because she wrote a personal message to Kitty about it. Kitty’s JREF avatar listed no city, but on another thread (about the psychic John Edward) Kitty had mentioned that she lives in Los Angeles. We know that Anita monitored and posted on numerous JREF threads, so Kitty’s hometown and, thus, the possible location of her kidney-less friend was out there to be cobbled together. There were several exchanges on JREF about it and by September Anita expected she would be coming to Los Angeles soon, so it’s possible she consciously or unconsciously knew these facts.
A week or so before the demonstration, Kitty volunteered herself as a subject and her friend Anthony as a possible target. Kitty warned Spencer Marks and Jim Newman about the JREF threads and the possibility of leakage. Spencer felt there was little chance Anita would recognize Anthony as being the man Kitty described on JREF. He also thought that since Anthony was missing a left kidney, he would use him for the open test, which rendered the issue moot. However, on the morning of the demonstration we were presented with a conundrum.
Our volunteers did not know the specifics of the test, but they did know Anita was a psychic who claimed to be able to diagnose medical conditions. During a casual chat the man who Spencer had planned to use as the target in trial #2 asked Spencer if – when the demonstration was over – Anita might be willing to give him a free reading! Spencer was concerned that a target with belief in psychic powers might, consciously or otherwise, cue Anita in some way. There were only four targets on hand and it was vital that the two people missing right kidneys be part of the demonstration. Forced to make a judgment call, Spencer swapped the two men and Anthony became the target in Trial #2.
We have no reason to think that Anita connected the person written about on the JREF forum with Subject 24. Anita says she did not sense anything about subject 24 but, of course, she may have known something unconsciously. In our opinion, Anita’s single hit was simply a lucky guess. She had a one out of six chance of guessing the correct subject and, as we have seen, chose left in every trial. But we can’t rule out that something about the guy reminded Anita of the JREF postings. Tattoos on a motorcyclist are a cliché, but not an unreasonable association. The scars on his arms or the brace on his leg may have been visible to Anita, and it’s possible these things may have implied an accident, and damage to vital organs, and that the JREF postings never figured into it.
Regardless, Anthony should not have been used as a subject/target. There was inherent leakage potential that should have disqualified him on general principle. That said, on the day of the demonstration we only had four uni-kidney volunteers to work with. Using a subject missing a right kidney for the open test was not acceptable and, in retrospect, that strategy turned out to be a good one.
Hindsight is 20/20. But research scientists – and lowly skeptical investigators – must be vigilant when it comes to anticipating problems. It goes without saying that having extra targets would have eliminated the problem. The trial 2 snafu also highlights the importance of carefully screening subjects and targets. Anthony’s shortcomings have been acknowledged, and if the man who wanted a reading from Anita had been identified sooner, the search for suitable targets would not have stopped short and the dilemma on the morning of the demonstration might have been avoided altogether.
The testing of Anita Ikonen was the most elaborate demonstration the IIG has undertaken to date and, as is hopefully abundantly clear now, conducting a demonstration with multiple human subjects is fraught with pitfalls. We are proud of our effort and hope that any applicant who is considering the 50K Challenge will have seen that the IIG is not only scrupulously fair, but friendly and respectful of the claimant and their investment of time and effort.