KCL Enquiry Stopped Prematurely


In 2019 we exposed the largest fraud ever perpetrated in the history of psychology (Marks, 2019Pelosi, 2019). This audacious fraud was carried out by the UK’s most published and best known psychologist, the late Professor Hans J Eysenck (1916-1997), by all accounts, a maverick and controversial figure.

We called for an enquiry (Marks, 2019).  H J Eysenck’s ex-employer, the Institute of Psychiatry in Denmark Hill, is now a part of King’s College London (KCL).

The enquiry at KCL concluded that 25 publications were unsafe. However, the enquiry report remains unpublished and incomplete.  

KCL reviewed publications written by Eysenck with his collaborator Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. The enquiry failed to investigate 36 other bogus items based on exactly the same data collected by Eysenck’s collaborator.

The KCL enquiry must be properly completed to include the entire set of 61 bogus publications.

The Eysenck affair makes a strong case for a National Research Integrity Ombudsperson.


The Journal of Health Psychology published a penetrating review  by Anthony Pelosi (2019) into Hans J Eysenck’s research on fatal illnesses and personality.

Eysenck’s research had been conducted with a German sociologist, Ronald Grossarth-Maticek, while claiming affiliation to Eysenck’s employer, the Institute of Psychiatry, now part of King’s College London (KCL). In a survey of Eysenck’s publications about fatal illness and personality, I identified  a provisional total of 61 that exceeded any reasonable boundary of scientific credibility. Based on Pelosi’s case and my review of these dubious publications, I called for an investigation by KCL into these publications (Marks, 2019).

On 3rd December 2018  I sent a pre-publication copy of Anthony Pelosi’s review and my editorial to the Principal of KCL, Professor Edward Byrne. On 13th December 2018,  I received a reply informing me that a considered response would follow a KCL review.


On 25th June 2019 I was informed that KCL had completed its enquiry to examine publications authored by Professor Hans Eysenck with Professor Ronald Grossarth-Maticek.  Professor Byrne said that KCL had contacted the University of Heidelberg where Professor Grossarth-Maticek is associated. Professor Byrne confirmed that the enquiry had found “a number of papers” to be questionable and that KCL would be writing to the editors of the relevant journals to inform them. I requested a copy of the enquiry report but heard nothing more until October 4th 2019  when I received the enquiry report dated ‘May 2019’.

The reason for the 4-month delay is unclear.


According to the enquiry report, the Principal had asked the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) to set up a committee to examine publications authored by Professor Hans Eysenck with Professor Ronald Grossarth-Maticek.

Why only the publications co-authored with Grossarth-Maticek? The reason for this limitation in the scope of the enquiry is not given.

The enquiry committee expressed its concerns about the Eysenck and Grossarth-Maticek papers in the following terms:

“The concerns are based on two issues. First, the validity of the datasets, in terms of recruitment of participants, administration of measures, reliability of outcome ascertainment, biases in data collection, absence of relevant covariates, and selection of cases analysed in each article. Second, the implausibility of the results presented, many of which show effect sizes virtually unknown in medical science. For example, the relative risk of dying of cancer for individuals with ‘cancer-prone’ personality compared with healthy  personality was over 100, while the risk of cancer mortality was reduced 80% by bibliotherapy. These findings are incompatible with modern clinical science and the understanding of disease processes.”


“The Committee shared the concerns made by the critics of this body of work. We have come to the conclusion that we consider the published results of studies that included the results of the analyses of data collected as part of the intervention or observational studies to be unsafe and that the editors of the journals should be informed of our decision. We have highlighted 26 papers (Appendix 1) which were published in 11 journals which are still in existence.”


Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 10.10.55.png


As noted, the KCL enquiry was based on the publications Eysenck co-authored with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. Was this a manoeuvre designed to try and shift the blame away from Eysenck towards Grossarth-Maticek?

If so, it failed.

Any implication that Eysenck was a hapless victim of a dishonest act of data manipulation by Grossarth-Maticek is inconsistent with the evidence. After all, a large subset of 36 single-authored publications by the great man himself were  based, partly or entirely, on the same body of research data as the co-authored publications.

There are so many publications both with and without his collaborator. Many of these publications cover exactly the same material. Multiple publication of the same material is definitely not part of the normally recognised process of academic publication.

There is indubitable evidence in Eysenck’s multiple publications of the Questionable Writing Practice of self-plagiarism. 


The KCL enquiry failed to identify the full extent of Eysenck’s fraud. Its enquiry must be extended to examine the ‘safety’ of Eysenck’s 36 bogus single-authored publications.  It should also examine Eysenck’s multiple publications covering the same ground for evidence of self-plagiarism.

On no less than 20 co-authored papers. Grossarth-Maticek was falsely shown as being affiliated to the Institute of Psychiatry  This fraud can be laid squarely at Eysenck’s door. Grossarth-Maticek could not have asserted this false affiliation without the deliberate connivance of Eysenck.

Recent personal communications with Ronald Grossarth-Maticek indicate that Grossarth-Maticek does not have even a minimal command of English.  It can be reasonably assumed that Grossarth-Maticek was 100% reliant on Eysenck to produce the English language versions of the 25 unsafe papers.


In total, Eysenck was responsible for no less than 61 publications using the bogus data sets. This total body of 61 publications includes more than 40 peer-reviewed journal articles, 10 book chapters and two books, each in three editions.

The proper thing for editors and publishers is to retract all 61 publications.

To quote James Heathers: “Eysenck would eclipse Diederik Stapel (58) as the most retracted psychologist in history, a scarcely believable legacy for someone who was at one time the most cited psychologist on the planet” (Heathers, 2019).


There are strong reasons to doubt the capability of KCL and other academic institutions to properly and fully investigate academic misconduct because of the obvious conflict of interest. In a previous case when I brought a complaint of academic misconduct to KCL, the institution failed to follow its procedures for investigating the complaint. In the Eysenck case, it has investigated less than half of the publications pertaining to the complaint.

All of which leads one to conclude that there is an urgent need to establish a National Research Integrity Ombudsperson to investigate allegations of academic misconduct.

The need for an independent UK body to promote good governance, management and conduct of academic, scientific and medical research could never be stronger than in the present situation. The Eysenck affair requires the full attention of the institutions that govern scientific practice.

The only professional body for psychologists, the British Psychological Society, washed its hands of the problem by passing the entire responsibility to KCL.

This is not an issue about a single individual’s alleged misconduct, or a single institution, it is about the integrity of science. Without a genuine ability to assure governance, quality and integrity, science is a failure unto to itself, to reason and to ethics.

As James Heathers points out:

the question is, does anybody have the will to do anything about it?


Heathers, J. (2019). Do we have the will to do anything about it? James Heathers reflects on the Eysenck case. https://retractionwatch.com/2019/10/07/do-we-have-the-will-to-do-anything-about-it-james-heathers-reflects-on-the-eysenck-case/

Marks, D.F. (2019). The Hans Eysenck affair: Time to correct the scientific record. Journal of Health Psychology, 24, 4: 409-420.

Pelosi, A. (2019). Personality and fatal diseases: revisiting a scientific scandal. Journal of Health Psychology,  24, 4:  421-439.

[1] Only 25 papers were listed in Appendix 1.

A reset for Psychology as natural science

Homeostasis, the state of steady internal conditions, is a well-established principle in living systems. Here I discuss ‘Psychological Homeostasis’, a construct which gives rise to three ‘big ideas’: a new general theory of behaviour; an alternative theory of evolution; and unifying Psychology as part of natural science.

My aim is to persuade you that these ideas have legs. Psychology’s fragmentation and its separation from the natural sciences can – and must – be repaired. Here I offer one way to take this unification project forward.

We are all familiar with the thermostat on the wall that we use to regulate the room temperature. We are also familiar with a process inside the body called ‘physiological homoeostasis’ which controls variables such as our body temperature and fluid balance to keep them within pre-set limits (Cannon, 1929). What is new and less well established is the idea of a ‘Behavioural Thermostat’, a type of psychological homeostasis striving to control the equilibrium and stability of the external environment. Let’s call this concept ‘Homeostasis Type 2’ or ‘HT2’ for short.


I wish to argue that Psychological Homeostasis is every bit as important as its physiological counterpart. It is designed to keep everything in the surrounding environment ‘ticking over’, not too ‘hot’ and not too ‘cold’. HT2 is an innate process built to quietly keep everything ‘cushty’ (as Jamie Oliver might put it).

There are several popular idioms about this process: it is said that ‘we don’t like to rock the boat’, ‘cause waves’, ‘ruffle feathers’ or ‘upset the apple cart’. I want to suggest that the HT2 is so indispensably routine that most of us for most of the time simply aren’t aware of its existence. Just as fish don’t know they’re in water, we don’t know we’re in homeostasis. Yet – I wish to argue – all of our behaviour, thinking, and feelings are ultimately controlled by it.

If that sounds a little bit scary, it doesn’t need to be. Homeostasis isn’t a malevolent force, it’s doing good, making our lives easier. HT2 brings multiple forms of help and healing free at the point of delivery, like an in-built NHS. HT2 is one of those rare, ‘good-news’ stories. It’s all about preventing and fixing things before there is a breakdown. If we see an apple cart about to turn over, we stop it from happening. If we see one that’s already overturned, a situation in need of repair, then we set about repairing it. HT2 repairs and ‘resets’ on a routine basis, guiding our behaviour.

I explain why this is possible in my new book A General Theory of Behaviour (Marks, 2018). The General Theory consists of 20 principles and 80 auxiliary propositions that make predictions at individual, social and societal levels.

Admittedly there is ‘nothing new under the sun’, and the theory has links with other motivational theories, especially Conservation of Resources Theory (Hobfoll, 1989). Yet the construct of Psychological Homeostasis as an analogue of its physiological cousin has never been systematically developed. In 1848 German physicist Gustav Fechner used the term Lustprinzip. Fifty years later Sigmund Freud copied this idea with the ‘Pleasure Principle’, which has an almost exact equivalent in Cannon’s concept of homeostasis, which in turn has the goal of tension reduction for the sake of maintaining, or restoring, the inner equilibrium (Marks, 2018, p.40). The General Theory holds that striving for equilibrium is a primary motivation of behaviour, not only pleasure seeking or pain avoidance, as suggested by the Law of Effect.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty – how exactly does Psychological Homeostasis work? Firstly, the theory proposes an internal director (a ‘Reset Equilibrium Function’ or ‘REF’) that strives to keep everything ‘cushty’. If, as Shakespeare viaJaques famously asserts, ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players’, actors must each have an internal director. The REF-director guides each individual towards winning rewards and avoiding losses. Individuals can’t win Oscars but they can appear authentic, smooth and convincing to participants and onlookers. The goal of the REF is to strive for the best performance of the actor in balance with, and collaboration from, the other actors in the ‘drama’. By persuasion, recruitment and/or manipulation, gains are maximised and losses minimised in a zero-sum game.

The REF thus directs individual actions, prevents and fixes problems and eliminating barriers before any situation becomes uncontrollable. It helps to make the world livable and as comfortable as possible, an internal fixer and mixer. Wherever we go and whatever we are doing, the REF within us is striving to maintain good family and public relations, and a tolerable balance of safety and stability in our physical and social surroundings. If there are competing drives, conflicts, and inconsistencies pulling the flow of events ‘off balance’, our innate REF system guides us back inside our comfort zones.


The REF is triggered whenever a process moves beyond its set point or set range. As a general rule, the majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them.Of course, nobody has the power to win the battle for ‘calm’, ‘balance’ and ‘control’ on every occasion. Inconveniences, mistakes and an occasional calamity raise their ugly heads sooner or later. A measured response is necessary to restore equilibrium and there are certainly different styles and  ‘personalities’ influencing the best way to go about this. Potentially a single action can push a system out of its comfort zone requiring reset. When a process resets, a ‘domino-effect’ tends to occur when other interconnected processes require a reset also.

One drink too many might bring on a sleepless night and an early morning hangover causing a missed meeting and a ticking off from the boss. An angry outburst from one unhappy individual may provoke others and the boss might have to send round an email about the importance of punctuality. It’s all grist to the homeostasis mill. Yet we cannot live without homeostasis, and evolution itself would not have progressed so much in our favour.


At every level of existence, from the cell to the organism, from the individual to the population, and from the local ecosystem to the entire planet, homeostasis is a driving force towards stability, security and adaptation to change. One way in which homeostasis guides evolution is through niche construction (Lewontin, 1983). Like many other organisms, humans actively adapt the environment, not simply adapt to it. Niche construction alters ecological processes, modifies natural selection and contributes to inheritance (Laland, 2017).  The sweep of niche construction is broad, incorporating many aspects of behaviour including ownership of goods and property, self-decoration and design, and the marking of identity.

The individual organism extends its ability to thrive in nature by using HT2 to build niches. Humans are prolific cultivators of food, clothing, construction materials, fuel, alcohol, drugs, and ornaments. All are forms of self-extension designed to create zones of safety and identity. Classic examples in nature are the dam-building of beavers and the propogation of fruit by bowerbirds for use in sexual display. It has been suggested that male spotted bowerbirds Ptilonorhynchus (Chlamyderamaculata use the fruit of Solanum ellipticum not as food but as components of sexual display. Madden et al. (2012) observed that males indirectly cultivate plants bearing these fruit – the first known cultivation of a non-food item by a non-human species.

Niche construction promotes identity, security and survival, which in some cases (e.g. houses) can be passed to the next generation. I believe that niche construction is homeostatically-driven. To quote J. Scott Turner’s book Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It: ‘Niche construction …[allows] organisms to manipulate environments to suit themselves, essentially constructing their own ecological niches, and so, in some sense controlling the selective milieus they inhabit.’

We humans are prolific niche constructors. Tools, weapons, fire, domestication of animals, language, money, goods, agriculture, science, technology, engineering, medicine, culture, music, literature, the Internet and social media all enhance safety, identity and control. By constructing inhabitable zones of safety, humans have learned to survive in extreme environments such as the polar regions, outer space, on the surface of the moon and there are plans to settle on the planet Mars. When a human habitat is extended with possessions, the possessions themselves become part of personal identity. William James (1890) wrote: ‘a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he CAN call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions’.

Other examples of niche construction as identity-marking include clothing and the beauty industry, and the motor car. Enzo Ferrari, once said: ‘The fact is I don’t drive just to get from A to B. I enjoy feeling the car’s reactions, becoming part of it.’ ‘Becoming part of it’, whether driving to maximise safety or to gain the adrenaline rush of speeding, the feeling of oneness is palpable. Driver and car are as one (Marks, 2018, pp. 66-67).

In producing safety, security and thriving, HT2 and niche construction co-direct adaptive evolution. They provide a second pathway for an adaptive fit between organisms and the environment. I agree with Turner who suggests: ‘homeostasis does not derive from natural selection; it is homeostasis that drives selection.’ And note the down-side to niche construction – niche destruction by climate change. Psychological perspectives on this, ‘the largest social dilemma in history’, are reviewed in a recent article in The Psychologist (Brick and van der Linden, 2018).


Homeostasis is a reset and repair agent, a DIY specialist. The Psychology Discipline itself is one object in need of an urgent DIY makeover. The General Theory springs into action to bring unity to Psychology as part of natural science.

Psychology claims to be a science, yet there are so many sub-regions, mini-theories and models, and no generally accepted paradigm. Our professional society for psychologists in the UK, the British Psychological Society, is emblematic of the discipline. The extreme diversity of the Society with dozens of divisions, special groups and sections, is an undoubted strength. Yet it is also reveals weakness. Where is the collective vision of our science? We do not have one. We are lacking a backbone.

Commentators suggest that a major redesign of the discipline is long overdue. The majority of psychologists agree that integration is necessary. Fragmentation has been a longstanding and difficult problem. Over more than a century, fragmentation has been called a ‘crisis’. The extreme plight of the discipline has been the subject of a penetrating book, Psychology in Crisis by Brian Hughes, who wrote about it recently in this very magazine.

So I humbly offer my General Theory as a unifying force, both for psychology research currently out there and to drive future study. I argue that the theory can make falsifiable predictions on a vast range of topics, encompassing the whole of Psychology… learning, striving, action, making friends, falling in love, self-control and addiction, surfing the internet, work, sleep and so much more.

I already see published research which chimes with my thinking on the General Theory:

–       Natural field experiment in a public car park found that subjects for whom other drivers stopped were more than twice as likely to extend a similar act to a third party, indicating indirect reciprocity (Mujcic & Leibbrandt, 2018). This mirrors my prediction that we strive to achieve goals while maximising cohesion and cooperation with kith and kin and, at the same time, striving to take away or minimise the suffering and pain of others.

–       Social observational studies find that police officers frequently employ de-escalation tactics, including the ‘respect’ tactic, the ‘human’ tactic and the ‘honest’ tactic, which are associated with a calming of a citizen’s demeanour (Todak & James, 2018). This mirrors my prediction that the majority of people for the majority of time strive to calm and quieten local disturbances of equilibrium rather than to exacerbate them.

–       Studies suggest that the forebrain provides a common central mechanism for both physiological and psychological homeostasis (Edlow et al., 2016). This suggests that, as I propose in my book, homeostasis of both Types I and II is controlled by a single executive controller in the forebrain.


I have given only the briefest taste of what the theory holds. I know these are bold, wide-ranging claims. If you disagree with what I have set out, challenge me. If you find aspects you agree with, join me on this journey. The next steps require investigations aimed at falsification of the General Theory. However long it takes, our broken discipline needs to be put together into one beautiful whole. It needs a backbone.


Brick, C. and van der Linden, S. (2018). Yawning at the apocalypse. The Psychologist, September, 30-35.

Cannon, W. B. (1929). Organization for physiological homeostasis. Physiological reviews9(3), 399-431.

Edlow, B. L., McNab, J.A., Witzel, T. and Kinney, H.C. (2016). The structural connectome of the human central homeostatic network. Brain Connectivity, 6(3), 187–200.

Marks, David F.. A General Theory of Behaviour (SAGE Swifts) (p. 23). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

Hobfoll, S.E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualizing stress. American Psychologist, 44(3), 513–524.

Hughes, B.M. (2018). Psychology in crisis. London: Palgrave.

Hughes, B.M. (2018). Does psychology face and exaggeration crisis? The Psychologist, October, 8-10.

James, W. (1890). The Principles of Psychology. New York: Holt and Company. pp. 291–292.

Laland, K.N. (2017). Darwin’s unfinished symphony how culture made the human mind. Princeton, NJ: Printeton University Press.

Lewontin RC (1983). Gene, organism and environment. In: Bendall, D. S. (Ed.). Evolution from molecules to men. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Madden, J. R., Dingle, C., Isden, J., Sparfeld, J., Goldizen, A. W., & Endler, J. A. (2012). Male spotted bowerbirds propagate fruit for use in their sexual display. Current biology22(8), R264-R265.

Marks, D. F. (2018). A General Theory of Behaviour (SAGE Swifts) SAGE Publications.

Mujcic, R., & Leibbrandt, A. (2018). Indirect reciprocity and prosocial behaviour: Evidence from a natural field experiment. The Economic Journal128(611), 1683-1699.

Todak, N. & James, L. (2018). A Systematic Social Observation Study of Police De-Escalation Tactics. Police Quarterly, 1098611118784007.

Turner, J.S. (2017). Purpose and Desire: What Makes Something “Alive” and Why Modern Darwinism Has Failed to Explain It. New York: HarperCollins.

Personality and Fatal Diseases: Revisiting a Scientific Scandal

During the 1980s and 1990s, Hans J Eysenck conducted a programme of research into the causes, prevention and treatment of fatal diseases in collaboration with one of his protégés, Ronald Grossarth-Maticek. This led to what must be the most astonishing series of findings ever published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature with effect sizes that have never otherwise been encounterered in biomedical research. This article outlines just some of these reported findings and signposts readers to extremely serious scientific and ethical criticisms that were published almost three decades ago. Confidential internal documents that have become available as a result of litigation against tobacco companies provide additional insights into this work. It is suggested that this research programme has led to one of the worst scientific scandals of all time. A call is made for a long overdue formal inquiry.

Read paper at:


Under the Wallpaper

One never really knows what might be under the wallpaper. Redecorating reveals secrets, a veritable archeology of habitation. When my parents sold up and bought a house about 50 years ago, they left few traces.  I often look down the street from the main road as I go past, to see if the place is still there, but only once have I walked to the house to see it at close quarters. One day when my nostalgia got the better of me I visited the building to take a closer look at our former dwelling, a ground-floor maisonette in Landport, Portsmouth.

Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 14.33.04.png

Three bright orange murals

Quite fortuitously, the owners were redecorating. I took the opportunity to knock on the door, but nobody was home.  Curtains were down, ladders were up,  paint cans, brushes all around, and – surprise, surprise –  peeled back wallpaper. I couldn’t resist taking a quick peak through the window at the bedroom where my brother Jon and I slept and dreamed over a ten-year period (see red arrow).

On Jon’s side of the room, as bold as brass, I could see three bright orange paintings – a trumpet, a bugle and a banjo. Immediately I knew these paintings were Jon’s. I knew how Jon would doodle and sketch things. Jon loved jazz.  If Jon painted anything, it would have to be these. I was seeing them for the very first time.  Jon must have done them after I had moved north in September 1966, shortly before Jon had moved to London as a professional jazz musician.



What are the odds of seeing Jon’s musical murals on my only visit to the building in 50 years?

A) We need to estimate how likely it was that Jon had ‘received approval’ to do these paintings in the first place. It is difficult to put a hard-and-fast figure on this, but it is unlikely to have been more than one in 10.

B) Next, we need to make an assumption about how often the walls were repapered. I expect on average around once every five years, which would be 10 times in 50 years.  The probability that the wallpaper was peeled off on any particular day over 50 years (18,250 days) = 10/18250 = .000548 = 5.48 x 10 to the minus 4

C) Next, we need to calculate the probability that I would pay a visit on any particular day over the 29.5 years (10,767 days) that I was living in Britain over this 50-year period, which is  1/10767 = .0000928 = 9.28 x 10 to the minus 5

The odds for P (A +B+C) = 1/10 x (5.48 x 10 to the minus 4) x 9.28 x (10 to the minus 5)           = 50.85 x 10 to the minus 10 = 5.08 x 10 to the minus 9


5 chances in one billion



Reality or Illusion?

I have provided accounts of five striking coincidences over my lifetime. The five events individually have odds in the range 10-9  to 10-18.  What are the odds that all five coincidences could happen to one individual?

To determine the probability of five independent events, A, B, C, D and E, all occurring, we need to multiply the probabilities of the individual events:

P(anB and C and D and E) = P(A)×P(B) x P(C)×P(D) x P(E) 

The five coincidences, which were independent of each another, are as follows:

A) The Chiswick Coincidence: P=10-18 = one chance in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000  = one in one quintillion (a million, million, million)

B) Coincidence or Luck?: P = 10-10  = one chance in ten billion.

C) Citizen 63 – Marion Knight: P= 4.5 x 10-10  = 4.5 chances in ten billion

D) The Flying Horseshoe:  P = 1.3 x 10-12 = 1.3 chances in a million, million

E) Under the Wallpaper:   P = 5.08 x 10-9 = 5 chances in a billion

The combined probability of the five events is :

P =   10-18 x 10-10 x 4.5 x 10-10 x 1.3 x 10-12  x 5.08 x 10-9

P = 3 x 10-58 

This is one of the smallest probabilities imaginable. 

Yet, according to the accepted scientific theory, coincidences are chance events, and so there is nothing extraordinary here. 

The Flying Horseshoe

A Mysterious Horse Shoe

It is one of our cultural beliefs that horseshoes are lucky. Almost everybody knows it. Many respect it. There is a cottage industry around it. Almost every “olde worlde” pub and inn in Europe displays one or more horseshoes. Almost anybody who has had contact with horses, and many who have not, keep a horseshoe on the mantle shelf, on a wall, or hanging on a door, myself included. Although skeptical about astrology, the Loch Ness monster, and leprechauns (to name but a few) I am today as capable of superstitious behaviour as anybody when it comes to horseshoes. Let me explain why.


DM & Horse Shoe.png


One day I was clearing the junk out of my garage with the help of a local odd-job man, Bert, who had called by one day to see if I needed any assistance. After a couple or so years of neglect the garage was neck-high in newspapers, boxes, and various other recyclables. Bert and I set about the task and spent the better part of a morning cleaning it out very thoroughly.

Before Bert set off with a fully loaded van, he pointed to a rusty old horseshoe lying on the garage floor. I had certainly not been consciously aware of it and, presumably, the previous owners had left it there. “Look,” Bert said, “what’s this doing on the ground? You should hang it up. It’ll bring you luck.” I was surprised that he took this old rusty horseshoe quite so seriously, but, without further ado, Bert placed the horseshoe outside on the garage window sill next to the door. That was the last I thought about the horseshoe for two or three years.

On Sunday, November 1, 1998, I was making a hurried attempt to tidy up my back garden. I noticed the horseshoe lying on the ground. I hesitated for a few seconds, but decided not to pick it up, and left it on the ground. I remember consciously thinking to myself, What on earth are you doing almost taking this silly lucky horseshoe stuff seriously!? As usual in those days, I was fairly busy. After sending off a batch of edited manuscripts to the next issue of the Journal of Health Psychology on Monday, giving a lecture to the fifth-year medical students at Cambridge University on Tuesday, I was off to Milan on Wednesday to visit two research project leaders in northern Italy.

I was accompanied by my colleague Catherine Sykes. Following the two visits, Catherine and I had spare day on Saturday, November 7, to do some sightseeing. We were staying in Breschia, and decided to take a train to nearby Verona to spend a few hours there before returning home to London.

A Mysterious Horse Show

After arriving at Verona train station, we discovered that centre of the city was a bus ride away. We walked out of the station and across the plaza to a bus stop with a mob of excited people, many of whom were foreign (i.e. non-Italian)  clearly in a hurry to go somewhere. Almost as soon as we arrived at the bus stop, a bus arrived and everybody crowded on, us included.  Mistakenly we assumed the bus was going to the town centre. It was absolutely crammed full of people like sardines in a can. After a minute or two of pushing and shoving to get a position in the jam, we asked one of our fellow travellers where exactly the bus was going. “Why, to the horse show, of course!”

So here we were being swept along by a chance decision to a horse show in Verona that we didn’t know existed until that moment! The bus was absolutely buzzing with people excitedly anticipating what – for them, and also for me – was to be a very special event.

Rather than get off at the next stop, we decided to stay on board and see what all the fuss was about. It was, we discovered on arrival at the show grounds, the 100th Fieracavalli, Verona 5-8/11/98.” This was certainly no ordinary horse show.

Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 11.52.49

We were directed to the entrance gate for foreign visitors to discover hundreds of people crowding around with their passports. All foreigners with valid passports were to be admitted free of charge. After a few minutes we managed to get to the front of the line and were given our admission tickets. We entered the stadium and found thousands of people walking around many dozens of stands and marquees with every imaginable equine thing on display. There were saddles, riding gear, horse feed, anything that horses and riders could possibly want. Catherine and I strolled around the park with no real sense about what to look for, deciding to spend an hour there and leave…

A Flying Horse Shoe

After a few minutes of exploration, we came to a large marquee. We could hear applause from an audience inside and we ventured in to find a few hundred people viewing a pony and rider contest from the tiered seating. We found some spare seats near the top of a tier in the second row from the back, and sat down. We observed a contest of skill and speed. Each pony and rider entered the arena and galloped at full speed around a small course marked out by posts, then raced to the exit. We watched three pony and rider teams. Then a fourth pony came into the arena and began its gallop through the course.

Suddenly, without warning, we became aware of a fast-spinning object flying through the air. In a split-second it became apparent that it was hurtling straight toward us. Catherine shouted out, instinctively I ducked, and like a huge bullet, the fast-flying object passed a few millimetres above my head. I felt its slip stream across my hair.

The object hit a man seated directly behind and above me squarely in the body. His wife screamed, but he was unharmed, the padding of his coat having protected him. It was a flying horseshoe!

Had I not quickly lowered my head beneath the horseshoe’s trajectory, I quite possibly would not have survived. At best I would have received a serious head injury. At worst it could have been fatal.

I thought immediately of the horseshoe lying in my garden. I had faltered over it but picked it up. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking that I should have picked the horseshoe up and put it back where it belonged, on the windowsill.

We left the stadium is a state of mild shock. As we discussed the incident, the ‘take-home message’ was clear: Horse shoes are lucky.  Handle with respect!

The next time I was in the garden I immediately put the horseshoe back ‘where it belonged’ – on the shed windowsill.

What would you have done?


We can calculate the odds of the flying horseshoe events as follows:

A) Find a horseshoe in the garden shed – 10 to the power -1 = 1/10

B)  Find the horseshoe lying on the ground immediately before visiting Italy, faltering, and finally leaving it there – 10 to the power -2 = 1/100

C) Following a crowd on a bus in Verona – 10 to the power -1 = 1/10

D) Discovering the horse show — 10 to the power -2 = 1/100

E) Entering a particular marquee – 10 to the power -1 = 1/10

F) A horseshoe flying precisely toward me. There are 360 degrees horizontally and 360 half-degrees vertically – 1/(360 x 360) = 1/129600 = 1.3 x 10 to the power minus 5

The combined probability of above A – E,  P = 1.3 x 10 to the power minus 12.

This represents odds of 1.3 in one million, million.

This coincidence was originally published in: Marks, D. F. (2000). The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd ed.), pages 248-250.


Citizen 63 – Marion Knight

What I Missed Seeing

It was 1963. I had played a minor role in a BBC documentary film “Marion Knight’ but had missed seeing it because I was travelling abroad. This was an era without video recorders or YouTube. If you missed something, you missed it, and that was that.

The ‘Citizen 63’ series received critical praise. The series was described as “One of the most significant TV shows of 1963“. Five individuals had been shown dealing with their everyday lives, their pressures, problems, beliefs and values: a businessman, a police inspector, a shop steward, a scientist and a ‘rebellious’ teenage schoolgirl, Marion knight.  The director, John Boorman, was working for the BBC in Bristol.  He later directed other documentaries, such as The Newcomers (1964). A few years later he was in Hollywood (Point Blank, 1967, Hell in the Pacific, 1968). Boorman returned to the UK to make Leo the Last (1970), Deliverance (1972), Zardoz (1974) and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977). He became more famous for Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985) and Hope and Glory (1987) which brought a second Academy Award Nomination.

Commenting on Citizen 63, one reviewer wrote: “1963 was very much the coming-of-age for those children born in the aftermath of the Second World War. Free of the threat of war and no longer constrained by National Service and of the austerity years that followed there was a new found hope for the future that manifested itself in pop, fashion and a rejection of Victorian values and the social taboos that Britain had been steeped in since the turn of the century…Citizen 63 is an extraordinary record of a transitional period when conventions were being challenged at the very point when youth culture was about to explode in a way that would define the whole era.”

To quote Philip Larkin's poem:

"Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP."

Citizen 63 - Marion Knight








‘Marion Knight’ was screened on 11th September 1963.  Marion was depicted as a so-called “rebellious girl” from a secondary-modern school in Portsea.  Marion was a follower of the trad jazz scene and dismissive of the pop music explosion that was erupting at the time. Selected for “her feisty, opinionated approach to life…with qualities of “leadership and grace”, Marion was the girl-friend of my school mate, Nigel Banister. 

John Boorman – Director and Narrator opened with the comment: This film is about one person, you may admire her, you may dislike her but from her we may learn something about ourselves, for she is part of our society – a “Citizen ’63”.

I saw or heard nothing more about this film for 42 years.

Citizen 63 pic 2Still from Marion Knight (1963) with Nigel Banister (left) and Marion Knight 

What I Finally Saw

On 24th October 2005,  I was napping in front of the TV.  This was not a casual nap.  It was a definite mini-sleep, fully prone on the sofa.  When I opened my eyes, astonishingly, there on the TV was a B & W film showing two people I knew, Nigel and Marion, riding a motor bike. In one of life’s circles, this was the opening scene of ‘Marion Knight’, the film I had missed seeing in ’63.

IMG-8917.JPGWhat caused me to wake at that particular moment, I will never know.  I thought I must be dreaming. As I opened my eyes, this is what I saw: my two teenage friends Marion and Nigel, on a film made 42 years earlier.

The clip was included in a BBC2 documentary  The Battle for Britain’s Soul  about the decline of the Christian church in 1960s Britain.  The BBC website states: “Angels over battlefields, the birth of the welfare state, US evangelism and a revolution in sexual freedom are all factors in the evolution of today’s largely secular society.”  The film was presented by the ‘Hippie Vicar’, the Rev Peter Owen-Jones.  According to Peter Owen-Jones, Marion Knight’s comments about free love among teenagers were emblematic of the ‘sexual revolution’ that is alleged to have taken place in the 1960s, when church congregations went into  a sharp decline.

What Were the Chances of Seeing This Clip?

I obtained copies of both programmes from the BBC Preservation Services Department. The Marion Knight clip lasted 40 seconds.  I normally watched TV during the evenings for around three hours. With four channels, I need to calculate how much television content was available for the whole time I lived in Britain in the 29 years from September 1986 to August 2015.  Removing holidays or trips abroad would reduce this time by about six months, leaving 28-and-a-half years.

The calculation follows:

ACTUALLY VIEWED (AV) 180 minutes a day for 28.5 years = 180 x 365 x 28.5 =  1,872,450 minutes of TV. Multiplying by 60 gives 112,347,000 seconds.

Bearing in mind that the total amount of evening television across 4 channels over this time would have been a lot more than this. Let’s say an evening lasts for 6 hours from 18:00 to 24:00.  Then the total evening TV content would have been:

TOTAL TV CONTENT AVAILABLE (TA) 6 hours = 360 minutes a day for 28.5 years = 360 x 365 x 28.5 x 4 = 14,979,600 minutes of TV which is 898,776,000 seconds.

The probability that the clip would have occurred in the TV content I actually saw would have been: AV/TA = one-eighth ( .125).

The clip lasted only 40 seconds. What are the chances of seeing this 40-second clip at the precise moment that I awakened?  Bear in mind the entire amount of TV I had actually viewed over the 28.5 years was 112,347,000 seconds.  The answer is:

40/112,347,000 = .0000003560

To allow for the fact that I only saw one-eighth of the total evening TV available, we must multiply this figure by 1/8, which gives: .00000004450

or 4.45 x 10 to the minus 8.

A Boundary Condition

There is another factor to consider. The only possibility to view this clip was dictated by the fact that the producer of the 2005 BBC documentary ‘The Battle for Britain’s Soul’ decided to include this particular clip from the 1963 BBC film ‘Marion Knight’.  The chances of this event are difficult to estimate.  In round figures we could guess that it would have been be in the region of one in a hundred (10 to the minus 2).

This would put the combined probability of seeing the clip at around:

4.45 x 10 to the minus 10


4.45 chances in ten billion. 








Coincidence or Luck?

How many striking coincidences can we expect in a single lifetime? Setting the bar high, let’s define ‘striking’ as a probability of less than one in a billion. I list here a few of my own. The first set of coincidences was an incredible run of luck while travelling as a student. I feel entitled to count these as coincidences because, in each case, whatever we set our minds to, happened a few minutes later. It was a case of coincidence combined with luck. I estimate the probability of each of the four events as we go along, and give a final probability estimate at the end.

1) No Money in Cologne

In August and September 1963 I went travelling with a school friend Graeme Locke.  We travelled through the UK, Scandinavia and the two Germanies.  The trip of 2000+ miles took us over land by road and rail, and over sea ferry routes. For the road parts, we couldn’t hitchhike the whole time but we did so whenever we could. In East Germany, we travelled by train from Berlin to Cologne, one of the few approved routes available.

On arriving at Cologne station, we had a slight problem – we still needed to get back home in Portsmouth but were completely out of money. I say ‘slight’ problem, because it was soon resolved. We started a ‘porter service’ for people in need of help with their luggage. We stationed ourselves at the taxi drop-off point and, within no more than 3 minutes, arrived an elderly lady in furs with a luxurious set of four suitcases.

Möchten Sie eine Hand mit Ihrem Gepäck? 

Sure enough, the dear lady needed some help to take her considerable luggage set to platform 13. We took it over, about three minutes work. Thanking us, the lady gave us a tip – a very large tip. From memory, is was 40 Deutsch marks – four of these:


In today’s money, it must have been worth at least €60, enough to buy our train+ ferry tickets to Dover, plus some change for a slice of pizza  [p = 10 to the minus 4].


2) No Money on the Ferry

OK, so far so good, we were aboard the Calais-Dover ferry, but now we were skint once again. In those days, before health and safety regs took over everyday life, people would be crammed into every available space on board the ferry. On every deck from aft to stern and from port to starboard, passengers were sitting cheek by jowl.

We got chatting to a Turkish student squatted next to us on his way to Fresher’s week at Newcastle University. He had a lot of questions because this was his first visit to England.

The bell rang for the first sitting of lunch. C’mon he said, let’s go for lunch. We explained our predicament, and instantaneously he just said, no worries, lunch is on me. We enjoyed a fulsome lunch with our new found Turkish friend [ p = 10 to the minus 2].

3) No Money at Dover

Here we were in Dover, as skint as badgers, and so we started hitching again. A vehicle driver stopped within a couple of minutes offering to take us to Brighton. The driver kindly dropped us at Brighton station with a 10/- shilling note for our fares to Portsmouth [p = 10 to the minus 2].

4) Ten Bob in Brighton

No way were we about to waste ten bob on train fares!  Off we went to the A27 hitching the last remaining stage to Portsmouth.  Our final driver, in the first car that came along the road,  lived at Havant, a few miles east of Portsmouth. He kindly took us to his house, cooked us beans and poached eggs on toast, and drove us to our respective homes in Portsmouth.

After our 2000-mile journey, we arrived home with a crisp 10 shillings profit! [p = 10 to the minus 2].


Probability of the Sequence

The four events are estimated to have the following probabilities:

1) Lady gives us 40 D-marks at Cologne station: p = 10 to the minus 4

2) Student buys our lunch on the ferry : p = 10 to the minus 2

3) Man gives us lift to Brighton and a 10 shilling note : p = 10 to the minus 2

4) Man cooks us a meal and takes us home: p = 10 to the minus 2

The combined probability of these four events is: 

P = 10 to the minus 10 = one in a 10,000,000,000

or one in ten billion.


Polyfilla Science

Screen Shot 2019-11-04 at 19.50.03.pngGap Filling

Like any other science, Psychology contain myriads of variables, A,B,C…N…X,Y,Z.  An established strategy for developing new research is for the investigator to identity ‘gaps’ in the field and to set about filling those gaps with correlational and experimental studies. The latter involve almost every possible permutation and combination of variables.

The gap filling approach is one strategy for keeping productivity high but, often, it is at the expense of developing new theories. There are more than 5 million publications listed by Google Scholar that address a gap in the literature. Another five million address theoretical integration.

Guaranteed Results

The academic world is based on quantitative measures of performance and the number of publications a researcher can claim matters [1]. This drive towards publications leads to what I call ‘Polyfilla Science’. You’ve used it, I’ve used it, everybody’s used it. It does the job perfectly well.  For every ‘hole’ investigators fill, they are almost guaranteed a peer-reviewed publication. ‘Polyfilla Science’ exists on an industrial scale, keeping hundreds of thousands of scientists busily occupied in hot competition. The ‘winners’ of the Polyfilla competition are the ones who tick the highest number of boxes and harvest the most citations.[2]

‘Polyfilla Science’ can be represented as a multidimensional matrix of cells where the task of science is viewed as filling every last cell in the matrix (see Figure).  This method of doing science is more akin to a fairground shooting gallery than to theory-driven science.  In the absence of theory, many researchers use a Polyfilla ‘shotgun’ by testing a dozen or more “hypotheses” in one shot. Popular though it is, ‘Polyfilla Science’ isn’t the only game in town, and a theory-driven approach is also available.  Theory is used to identify the principles behind questions that need answering in a process of confirmation and disconfirmation of predictions. When one considers the fact that there are one hundred thousand psychology majors in the US alone, all needing a research project, it is no wonder the Polyfilla approach is so popular.

Never-ending Process

It doesn’t matter how may gaps and holes you plug, new ones always appear.

In comparison to the scientific discoveries in other fields, Psychology has made no world-changing discoveries in the last 50 years. By this, I mean discoveries that are worth telling your grandchildren. In my opinion, the lack of significant theoretical developments, and the Polyfilla Approach, are two of the main reasons for this lack of progress.  All this needs to change.

[1] Numbers of publications, citations, grant monies, prizes, promotions and awards.

[2] One of the world’s most published and ambitious ‘Polyfilla’ psychologists told me a self-effacing story about the occasion he went for an interview at the University of Oxford. A member of the panel asked: “Dr X, you have a huge number of publications. But what does it all mean?” He didn’t know the answer and got rejected for the post.

[3] Polycell Multi-Purpose Polyfilla Ready Mixed, 1 Kg, i#1 best seller on Amazon.co.uk, 16 May 2019.


A New Ponzo Illusion

Most visual illusions are produced using carefully contrived drawings or gadgets to fool the visual system into thinking impossible things.  Recently,  waiting at a train station, I encountered a real-life Ponzo illusion.

The Illusion

The traditional form of the Ponzo illusion is produced by drawing a pair of receding railway lines. The context suggests different depths in the drawing. An object towards the top of the drawing appears larger than an identical object near the bottom of the drawing.  Using a principle of size constancy, the visual system estimates the size of any object as its retinal size multiplied by the assumed distance. Thus, the ‘most distant’ of the two identical yellow lines appears to be longer.


The Setting

The setting of this new Ponzo illusion is a railway station situated at Vitrolles Airport, Marseille (see photo below).  The station has glass panelled shelters on the platforms on each side. The glass panel at the front of each shelter displays two rows of grey rectangles. Apart from their decorative function, one assumes that these rows of rectangles are intended to help prevent people from walking into the glass panel as they move in and around the shelter. The photo below shows the arrangement of the two rows of rectangles on the shelter.


The Stimuli

The stimuli for the illusion consist of rectangles that are slightly longer than a credit card, approximately 10.0 cm long x 1.5 cm wide with a separation of about 3.0 cm between successive rectangles. The plate glass window is about 5 mm thick and is marked with rectangles on both sides of the glass in perfect alignment so that a 3-D effect is created indicating a false sense of solidity to these rectangles. This ‘3-D look’ may strengthen the Ponzo effect illustrated below.


The Illusion

The illusion is demonstrated in the photo below.  Two people sitting directly in front of the shelter are waiting for a train. The upper set of rectangles appears as a set of columns positioned along the railway lines at a distance of approximately 7 metres in front of the two passengers. In this case, the upper set of rectangles appear to have a height of around 2-3 metres. The lower set of rectangles are perceived at their correct location and size on the plate glass window, behind the two passengers. The lower set are actually physically smaller, owing to the camera angle, but the illusion exaggerates the size difference enormously.


Further illustration of the effect indicates how the brain scales the stimuli to the context. When the rectangles are projected onto the opposite platform they appear huge – almost as high as the lamp post of around 5 metres.

When the rectangles are projected onto the nearby platform, however, they appear proportionately smaller (1.0-1.5 metres).


IMG-9389.JPGOwing to the camera angles, the actual size of the rectangles in the upper picture is larger (5-10%) than in the lower picture, but nowhere near the illusory ‘expansion’ that takes place when they are projected by the brain to the opposite platform.

Blocking the Distance Cues

The magnitude of the Ponzo illusion becomes somewhat indeterminate when the distances cues were fortuitously blocked by a passing freight train. In this case the rectangles are ‘drawn into’ the scale of the passing wagons, stretching in size beyond the appearance when the wagons are not there.



The Ponzo illusion can be most easily explained in terms of linear perspective. The rectangles looks longer when they are projected to the distance of the opposite platform because the brain automatically interprets them as being further away, so we see them as longer. An object located farther away would have to be larger than a nearby object to produce a retinal image of the same size.


The more visual cues surrounding the two vertical lines, the more powerful the illusion. The passing freight train obliterated some of the distance cues and so the length of the lines were more difficult to assess.

%d bloggers like this: