From the archives, but I bumped into this on my computer and was reminded how cool of a demo for skepticism it is. Enjoy!
Here is a simple website which claims to read your mind: the Flash Mind Reader! This is a pretty extraordinary claim, so I would want extraordinary evidence. It's a nice exercise in evaluating claims. First, we ask, does it do what it specifically claims to do, regardless of interpretation?. On the site, it asks you to think of a two-digit number, then do some basic math on it to get another number, which you then look up on a table. The table associates the final number with a symbol, and it is that symbol which the "Mind Reader" determines. So regardless of whether the interpretation is a psychic process, or some mundane process, does the process work as claimed? In many extraordinary claims of this sort, the claimant fails even at this preliminary step. This is well documented at the JREF Challenge site.
However, in the case of the Flash Mind Reader, the process does seem to work! Okay, then the next step kicks in. How many ways can we think of this thing to work, and can we test them? Is it overly skeptical to not consider mind-reading in that list? I don't think so, but we could probably come up with some tests even there. For example, would it work done on a group of people all at once? If it did, that would certainly count against mind reading. Here are a few ways that I initially thought it could work, and I could quickly discount them by looking at the table, or trying it a few times.
- does the calculation lead to the same number each time? No!
- is it the same symbol each time you run it? No!
- do all the numbers have the same symbol? No!
With a little imagination, one can come up with a probable explanation that does not involve telepathy, but it is a nice recreation of the way a scientist would address any claim, extraordinary or not.