24 February 2015

Cecil King and extrasensory perception

It was not until after he met [his future wife] Ruth that King went public on ESP [extrasensory perception] and began actively searching for promising research projects. The International Publishing Corporation (IPC) – as King’s empire was named in 1963 – gave seven-year covenants of £1,500 annually to the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and £5,000 to the Psychophysical Research Unit, founded by three young female Oxford graduates. ‘Mrs King is very right,’ wrote Sir George Joy of the SPR, after the three of them had visited the Unit, ‘when she says that if one is determined to pursue an objective, regardless of the means to carry it out, and willing to make any sacrifice that it involves – help comes from unexpected quarters – as in this case.’

‘CECIL KING GIVES £35,000 TO DREAM GIRLS’ was a Daily Express headline that caused both unease and mirth among King’s colleagues. The relationship with the young women quickly soured. To a blithe letter from the Unit’s Director, Celia Green, asking if he would like to finance a fund-raising tour of America (‘This might cost £2,000 to do properly’) King commented, ‘I have made many visits to the US, travelling “en prince”, but I never needed “£2,000”.’

‘Is she going round the bend?’ King enquired of Joy when he received what he reasonably described as a ‘preposterous’ letter with mingled demands and complaints. John Beloff, the Edinburgh University psychologist to whom IPC provided £1,000 annually to pay for an assistant, was professionally impeccable, but was unable to report anything very encouraging from their research into parapsychology.

(Ruth Dudley Edwards, Newspapermen, pp.318-319*)
The author of Newspapermen, a book about Cecil King and Hugh Cudlipp, here quotes derogatory remarks made in a controversial situation about a person still living (myself), without having made any attempt to hear that person’s point of view.

Cecil Harmsworth King
Cecil King was a newspaper magnate, and a significant figure in British post-war society. He was Chairman of International Publishing Corporation (now Time Inc. UK), which published the Daily Mirror among other newspapers.

King was our only significant financial supporter, and for a time sounded as though he might become a far more important one, enabling us to do full-scale experimental work which was our aim. He referred to his covenant of £5,000 a year as ‘priming the pumps’, when I pointed out that £5,000 would not go far in supporting research projects.

In practice, King behaved as though his small covenant had bought us as cheap labour.

We were effectively obliged to take on a mass card-guessing experiment, part of which King wanted conducted via the Mirror. It was an operation I would never have chosen to do, and considered futile. As it was a large-scale experiment, there were an enormous number of score sheets to be marked, which required research assistants. (When Dr Charles McCreery, then a young Oxford graduate, first made contact with me, he saw the front room of my house populated by groups of girls marking score sheets and questionnaires in relation to this project.) Research assistants do not work for nothing, and the covenant money did not go far in paying for them.

Since we were forced to do the experiment, I tried to improve the shining hour and make the operation a bit less futile, by thinking of a prediction simple enough to be tested in such circumstances. As it happened, the prediction I made (that deviation from chance would be correlated with birth order) proved successful.

Newspapermen quotes King’s response to our suggestion about organising a fund-raising tour in America, in imitation of a similar tour undertaken by Professor Alister Hardy. King’s reaction seems indicative of his personality, which (as the book shows) could be dismissive and irrational. A fund-raising tour around American universities and lecture halls, undertaken by two or three researchers, is a different matter from a single individual taking a business trip across the Atlantic.

Our correspondence with King was generally vetted by Sir George Joy, who acted as our intermediary with him. The author of the book asserts blandly that it was ‘reasonable’ of King to describe one of our letters as preposterous, a judgment made without full awareness of the facts.

* Newspapermen: Hugh Cudlipp, Cecil Harmsworth King and the Glory Days of Fleet Street, Pimlico, London, 2004.

I appeal for financial and moral support in improving my position. I need people to provide moral support both for fund-raising, and as temporary or possibly long-term workers. Those interested should read my post on interns.

05 February 2015

Why I cannot write long books

Sir George Joy KBE CMG
(1896 - 1974)
Professor H.H. Price, my DPhil supervisor, when saying that I had an alpha mind, also said that I could say more in one page than most people would say in three. In this context he recognised the brevity of my writing as indicating the high quality of my thinking; but this brevity was generally a drawback, which made fulfilling academic requirements even more burdensome than it would otherwise have been.

My book The Human Evasion perhaps illustrates this brevity at its most extreme. In that case a few people seem to have regarded the brevity as a merit. R.H. Ward said in his Foreword to the book, ‘Few books, long or short, are great ones; this book is short and among those few.’ Sir George Joy described it as ‘a great book’.

One of the aphorisms in my book The Decline and Fall of Science states, ‘I cannot write long books; I leave that for those who have nothing to say’.

It was hard work for me to produce a postgraduate thesis of the expected length, even though I had plenty of ideas, and covered the topic exhaustively and in great analytical detail. By contrast, most DPhil theses contain far fewer ideas, but manage to spin their material out to great length.

Professor Price’s recognition of the quality of my writing did not lead him to suggest to the faculty that it had gone on long enough, when I was still far short of the average length. The bookbinding firm in Oxford to whom I eventually took the thesis in for binding commented on its shortness and the difficulty of finding a hardcover binding that was small enough. Perhaps, of course, they were trying to undermine me, as people often did.

A good deal of academic writing has the opposite characteristic to mine, as the reader has to plough through a lot of waffle to discover the point, or points, if any, of the piece of writing.

When people started to do nominal research in the area of lucid dreams, some years after the publication of my book Lucid Dreams, Dr Keith Hearne acknowledged my priority in this field at the beginning of his own book on the subject. I cannot remember whether it was here or elsewhere that he referred to my book as a ‘little book’. As in the case of my thesis, I had managed to say a lot in a very short space in Lucid Dreams, but this only made it possible to belittle it, rather than its conciseness being regarded as an achievement.

The same problem arose in connection with the speed at which I worked. When I was at school, the fact that I could take exams and get very high marks in them at very short notice was taken as indicating overwork on my part, or ‘pushing’ by my parents. I expect it was taken as a contributory reason for rejecting my DPhil thesis, and awarding it only a BLitt, that I had spent only four years on it, while commuting between Oxford and London to work half the week at the Society for Psychical Research.