Soal, S(amuel) G(eorge) (1889–1975)
Mathematician and important figure in British parapsychology
whose credibility has been attacked. He was born on April
29, 1889, at Kirby Moorside, Yorkshire, England. He received
his degrees at London University (B.S. first class honors mathematics,
1910; M.A. mathematics, 1914). He was for many years
a lecturer in mathematics at Queen Mary College, University
of London (1911–54). After his retirement he was a part-time
lecturer at Queen Mary College (1954–58) and an examiner at
London University (1960–62).
Soal was one of the shining stars of British parapsychology.
From 1919 onward he conducted parapsychological studies, in
mediumship (1919–24), automatic writing (1923–28), and statistical
experiments in telepathy and clairvoyance (1927 on).
He collaborated in quantitative research with Kathleen M.
Goldney, Frederick Bateman, and J. G. Pratt. He lectured
widely on parapsychology in Britain and the United States.
He was the Myers Memorial lecturer (1947); Perrott Student
in Psychical Research, Cambridge (1948–49); Fulbright Research
Scholar in Parapsychology (1951); and president of the
Nottingham University Society for Psychical Research (1938).
In 1950 he was elected president of the Society for Psychical
Soal, at first critical of J. B. Rhine’s early work, carried out
some very successful experiments with Basil Shackleton. The
Soal-Goldney experiments became one of the foundation
stones of the emerging field. As early as 1949 critics began to
complain that the results were too good, that they had to have
been produced by error or fraud. In 1960, C. E. M. Hansel criticized
the claimed precognitive findings in the card-guessing
experiments and suggested a number of ways in which there
might have been conscious or unconscious falsification of the
A March 1971 article in the Journal of the SPR by R. G. Medhurst
initially pointed out inaccuracies in the method of constructing
quasi-random series in the experiments. By 1974,
such criticism had become hostile, with papers by other experimenters
suggesting that Soal had deliberately falsified or manipulated
his data.
It was also suggested that experimenters J. G. Pratt and J.
B. Rhine, who had checked Soal’s statistical evaluation, had
failed to disclose in detail a glaring error in the assessment of
probability, using instead the vague term ‘‘very significant.’’
There may, of course, have been a number of quite valid reasons
for Pratt and Rhine to have failed to be specific. Soal himself
ascribed his initial error to an assistant.
Soal died in 1975. Three years later Betty Markwick, a computer
expert, published a complex technical paper in which
computer analysis indicated that Soal was guilty of fraud. Other
researchers have attempted to defend Soal from the charge of
conscious deception, but their arguments have been unconvincing.
The effect has been to destroy whatever value had been
attached to the Shackleton experiments and, more significantly,
to call into question Soal’s lifetime of contributions to the
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Markwick, Betty. ‘‘The Soal-Goldney Experiments with
Basil Shackleton New Evidence of Data Manipulation.’’ Proceedings
of the Society for Psychical Research 56 (1978).
Medhurst, R. G. ‘‘On the Origin of the ‘Prepared Random
Numbers’ Used in the Shackleton Experiments.’’ Journal of the
Society for Psychical Research 46 (March 1971).
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology.
New York Helix Press, 1964.
Soal, S. G. ‘‘Experiments in Supernormal Perception at a
Distance.’’ Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 123
———. ‘‘Fresh Light on Card Guessing.’’ Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research 46 (1940).
———. ‘‘A Report on Some Communications Received
Through Mrs. Blanche Cooper.’’ Proceedings of the Society for
Psychical Research 35 (December 1925).
Soal, S. G., and F. Bateman. Modern Experiments in Telepathy.
New Haven, Conn. Yale University Press, 1954.
Soal, S. G., and H. T. Bowden. The Mind Readers. London
Faber and Faber, 1959.
Soal, S. G., and K. M. Goldney. ‘‘Experiments in Precognitive
Telepathy.’’ Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research
47 (1943).
Soal, S. G., and J. G. Pratt. ‘‘ESP Performance and Target
Sequence.’’ Journal of Parapsychology (September 1951).
———. ‘‘Some Relations Between Call Sequence and ESP
Performance.’’ Journal of Parapsychology (September 1952).