Daniel Engber in Slate:
It seemed obvious, at first, that Jade Wu was getting punked. In the fall of 2009, the Cornell University undergraduate had come across a posting for a job in the lab of one of the world’s best-known social psychologists. A short while later, she found herself in a conference room, seated alongside several other undergraduate women. “Have you guys heard of extrasensory perception?” Daryl Bem asked the students. They shook their heads.
While most labs in the psych department were harshly lit with fluorescent ceiling bulbs, Bem’s was set up for tranquility. A large tasseled tapestry stretched across one wall, and a cubicle partition was draped with soft, black fabric. It felt like the kind of place where one might stage a séance.
“Well, extrasensory perception, also called ESP, is when you can perceive things that are not immediately available in space or time,” Bem said. “So, for example, when you can perceive something on the other side of the world, or in a different room, or something that hasn’t happened yet.”
It occurred to Wu that the flyer might have been a trick. What if she and the other women were themselves the subjects of Bem’s experiment? What if he were testing whether they’d go along with total nonsense?