British psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman is often consulted by media as a skeptic of parapsychological claims. For almost 20 years, controversy has surrounded his much-publicized “debunking” of an experiment in pet telepathy.
In June, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, who conducted the purportedly debunked experiments, published a summary of the debate in an attempt to vindicate his findings—that a dog named Jaytee displayed an amazing ability to sense when his owner was returning home.
Pam Smart adopted a terrier named Jaytee in 1988. He would stay with her parents while she was away from home, and they noticed that he would go to the window and wait there expectantly before Smart returned home. It didn’t matter what time of day she arrived, and he would be there for minutes before she came within sight of the house.
In 1994, she saw an article in the Telegraph newspaper asking people whose pets seem to sense they are coming home to participate in an experiment conducted by Sheldrake. Sheldrake has a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge University and studied philosophy and history of science at Harvard University; he is known for his research on unexplained animal behavior as well as telepathy in various forms.
In about 100 experiments with Jaytee, Sheldrake ruled out various ordinary explanations. Smart came home at various times, ruling out routine. She came home in taxis, in friends’ cars, or by foot, all to make sure the dog wasn’t just recognizing the sound of her car from afar.
When Wiseman conducted four experiments, he got essentially the same results, said Sheldrake, but he interpreted the data differently.
In both Sheldrake’s and Wiseman’s experiments, Jaytee would go to the window briefly throughout the day, but only when Smart was on her way home would he stay there and wait a significant amount of time. Sheldrake plotted his own results and Wiseman’s results on graphs showing a dramatic spike in time spent at the window when Smart was on her way home—a rise from about 5 percent to about 80 percent.