From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: graphology
16 Jan 2011
To the Skeptic:
I am contacting you with regards to your article on graphology. Before we continue further, I feel that it is in our best interest for me to first identify myself as a soon-to-be-published graduate student in Nuclear Engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, originally from the U.S.
Although I have no officially educated background in handwriting, I do have quite the background on statistics, critical thinking, and the philosophy of science.
After reading your article on graphology, I do not feel as though you have been fair enough to it. That is not to say that the claims of graphologists are not absurd, but I feel as though there are some better-than-random (not by much, though) chances of indicating personality by analysis of the handwriting.
As mentioned previously, I am an engineer. As such, there are two specific modifications to my handwriting that I've adapted over the years. Specifically, I cross my "7"s, "Z"s, and "z"s when I write them, so as to avoid confusion with similar symbols such as >, 2, Greek "tau", and Japanese Hiragana "te".
A second modification is that I frequently draw the letter "l" (lowercase L) in cursive, even when the rest of my text isn't, so as to avoid confusion with "I" (capital i) and "1" (one).
Now, although some people who are not engineers (or mathematicians or physicists or scientists) also make these modifications, such people are quite rare, and the vast majority of people who use this sort of writing are engineer-like people.
Engineers, as you may also be aware, tend to have quirky (by "normal" standards) personalities, and have more type A personalities than most, and enjoy playing with technological gizmos. Thus, anyone who knows a little bit about engineers, and a little bit about how engineers write, could deduce that I am an engineer by the way I write, and then guess a little bit about my personality.
I am not an expert in how everyone else in the world writes, but it would not be too far of a jump to suppose that other occupations have similar writing habits. (There are also other modifications that I have made, to avoid confusion of my letters and Japanese script. If someone were intelligent enough to learn about these, he could guess that I have lived in Japan for several years and also be able to guess that Japanese culture has begun to rub off on me.)
Thus, I feel that by analyzing handwriting, one should be able to determine with certainty that is better than pure chance (but not necessarily by much more) the personality of the person who wrote it.
Thus, I feel that your article's overall tone is incorrect. You state via a quote that graphology is no better than chance. I think a partial rebuttal by yourself describing these minimalist effects might make the article more correct, and also give a better understanding to the general public about phenomena such as confirmation biases. After all, if a person only sees, "There is 0 reason to believe this," as opposed to, "There is only negligible reason to believe this, but scrutiny reduces that," then how can you expect that person to learn about confirmation bias, which is arguably more important than the article itself.
Alternatively, it may also be better to state that graphology is no more accurate than a 15-second face-to-face conversation. Of course, I'll trust in you to do the research necessary to show just how valid or invalid my claims in this email are.
-Brian Hales Tokyo Institute of Technology
reply: You can count on me. I'll get right on it. Though you seem to have made the point quite well, it would be better if we had some controlled studies to back us up. I'll see if I can find them. My guess is that if you set up a challenge between a forensic document analyst, some people with much experience reading documents but no special training in handwriting analysis, and some expert graphologists, you would find that the kinds of details you have brought up would probably not be detected by the graphologists at a rate greater than the other two groups. Also, while it might be fudging the issue a bit, one might consider crossing sevens and using foreign language symbols as "content." Graphologists claim they don't use content to read personalities from handwriting; they use just the form of the writing, the shapes and slants, etc.
Anyway, graphologists are having a hard time of it these days since hardly anybody takes pen or pencil in hand to write.
comment on Brian Hales's comments from another reader:
There is a glaring error in Mr. Hales argument. In one paragraph he describes an engineer's personality:
Engineers, as you may also be aware, tend to have quirky (by "normal" standards) personalities, and have more type A personalities than most, and enjoy playing with technological gizmos. Thus, anyone who knows a little bit about engineers, and a little bit about how engineers write, could deduce that I am an engineer by the way I write, and then guess a little bit about my personality.
I don't see any evidence for this. Where are the studies that show there is a specific "engineer personality". In 24 years of working at NASA with thousands of engineer's I've never become aware of any specific unique personality traits that I could assign to engineer's.
9 Nov 2000
Hilarious reading about how handwriting does not reflect a person's personality. The arguments presented conveniently do not explain what handwriting represents.
It's either something or nothing.
It can't be nothing by empirical conclusion. Therefore, it must be something.
I would suppose you would think an EKG pattern was of the same ilk. Just a meaningless pattern.
Some facts to ponder plus a challenge:
The brain is scientifically based because it is an organized system of repeatable functions called logic. That's what directs people's choices. Otherwise, it would be chaos. If you say, bunk, tell me how we could have developed the sciences without a scientifically based brain. The fact is that everything in the universe is scientifically based, which of course includes your brain.......and handwriting.
Handwriting is brainwriting. You should know that. Personality is in the brain. You should know that. Therefore, handwriting must reveal personality. And, as it turns out, many other things also like the physical condition of the writer......to a degree. It's not an x-ray.
You know: A=B, A=C, B=C.
The "studies" you or whoever cite were performed by inexperienced graphologists many of whom I am quite aware. Your evaluators, not being experienced or knowledgeable, had no idea how poorly schooled these analysts had to have been. Did any of the analysts have 20 years experience?
As an engineer for 36 years, I can tell you I would not have been analyzing handwriting for 23 years if there was nothing to it. But, again, you or whoever, fail to explain the significance of handwriting. And, that is very telling. It takes a long time to understand and gain insight into handwriting.
I was skeptical of handwriting when accidentally exposed to it. Wrote it off. Then investigated and realized it's tremendous significance. I can honestly tell you that what you write about handwriting analysis is totally incorrect. Beyerstein and the rest of those "skeptics" are simply not designing their protocols correctly because they have no REAL knowledge of handwriting or handwriting analysis.
Doesn't it strike you that this subject has been around for centuries, studied by scientists and some of the most intellectually acute people and continues? Universities throughout the world teach it and bestow degrees. These people are not stupid. They apparently can see what you cannot or inadequately test for.
The principles of Questioned Documents (forgeries) you seem to accept. But the principles are exactly the same for graphology. And, whether you realize it or not, when a document examiner is analyzing a document he/she is actually "looking" at their personality similarities or non-similarities. I do both.
Since I am short on time, this is the challenge. If you believe handwriting means nothing, then you should not be reluctant to submit a three page sampling of your handwriting on UNLINED paper for analysis. Signed and a copy of your drivers license with your signature on it for verification that the handwriting is yours.
Handwriting Analysis Inc 15740 Rockford Road Suite 220 Plymouth, MN 55446
I predict you will not submit it out of fear of facing the fact that handwriting analysis is real and is, in fact, the most powerful psychological tool we have.
President Handwriting Analysis Inc.
reply: Jack, you seem to be a logical person, though your reasoning seems a bit peculiar in places. For example, you say that personality is in the brain and therefore handwriting must reveal personality. This begs the question, Jack. Where is the evidence that the brain determines one's personality and one's handwriting in such a way that when one writes, one's handwriting reveals one's personality? We all know that in a trivial sense this is true: one's writing has content and that content can reveal aspects of one's personality. Given the fact that I have over 400 articles and several hundred comments posted on the Internet, my personality is an open book, so to speak.
Or do you propose to uncover aspects of my personality that even I am not aware of? If so, how do we determine whether you are right?
I have another proposal. I would like to submit to you a handwriting sample of a subject you know nothing about. I will have the subject copy three pages of a foreign language text, so you will not be given any hints about the subject from the content of the writing sample. You give me a list of personality traits that you think you can identify by graphology. I will work with the subject to determine which traits accurately describe him or her and send that list to three persons chosen by me. These persons will agree not to reveal to you the personality traits listed. You will then submit your analysis to these persons and they will determine how accurate you are. I will publish on my Skeptic's Dictionary site your analysis and their analyses of your analysis.
What do you say, Jack?
Here is Jack's reply:
Your proposal sounds like what is going on in Florida. I know nothing of who you will "use" in this study and, frankly, knowing your subconscious "goal", I do not trust this proposal.
You may already "know" something of handwriting and have the writer try to deliberately confuse as would be the case in questioned documents.
Besides, you want a person who knows nothing about the foreign language being used to copy a text?????? Obviously, you know nothing about handwriting or handwriting analysis. That is completely absurd. The writer cannot possibly execute spontaneously the unknown language of another system and would confound the display to support your ends. I presume this is the way you have determined that handwriting analysis does not work. Shame, Bob. A scientific investigator using such a ruse.
Further, you have not indicated, as is normal for skeptics, what handwriting means. There is constant avoidance of the issue.
It is interesting you say "trivial" sense. If you mean content, you are totally wrong as that is what is not used to analyze. You say you have 400 articles. There are thousands of other proponent articles which I am sure you are aware of but decline to articulate. Your proposal is simply a neutralizing tactic to avoid having your (angular) handwriting analyzed.
Is there anyone in your "group" that knows anything about handwriting or handwriting analysis?
You say personality and handwriting (located in the brain) combined do not indicate a demonstration of major personality characteristics. Well then, I guess the "personality brain" and the "handwriting brain" are two different brains when we know the tremendous interaction of all the major brain areas are required to execute such an intricate display. Empirical evidence from thousands of observers over time plus the irrefutable concurrence by persons in your general peer group indicate an overwhelming recognition of handwriting properties.
What you are saying is "If it walks like a duck and looks like a duck, by golly, it isn't a duck." Saying so doesn't make it so.
If people followed your line of logic we would still be debating whether Einstein's notable equation was real. They proved it by accurate demonstration which is what handwriting analysis has accomplished time after time. Once a person seriously studies handwriting and its ramifications, it becomes quite clear the personality inferences that are possible. You must be aware of the elusiveness of the brain's nature making it one of the most difficult systems to analyze and that is where, I think, you have a problem.
Apparently you may not have reviewed the Handwriting Research Corporation's Manual of validity studies. You should do so.
I will not be part of this preposterous proposal. There is no control by HAI. And, how do we know your "analysis" is correct?
So, Robert, tell us what handwriting means.
reply: Jack, you are very nimble and very quick, but I don't think your wick is burning very brightly. I avoided being too critical of your first letter, for fear I would scare you off, but I see I was worried about nothing. I don't think you are going to understand what I have to say, but here goes anyway.
You make a lot of assumptions and seem unaware that you are doing so. For example, you assume that handwriting must be representational. Handwriting (as a verb) is using one's hand to write. Handwriting (as a noun) is the product such writing. It need not be representational. One can write out a list, some notes, a letter, a book. You assume that since the brain is involved in writing and is a major determinant in one's personality that when one writes one's personality is represented. You do not understand that you need to prove that. Let me explain. Your personality is affected by the people you are around. You do not act the same in front of your spouse, your children, your siblings, your buddies, strangers at a bar, a foreign dignitary, the pope, colleagues, etc. You will seem to be a different person to each of these people. Why? Because you act differently around them. You assume that none of these personalities is your "real" personality, but that underneath all these behaviors is some other layer of reality, the real person. Non-sense. You are the sum of all these different, even contradictory, behaviors. The foul-mouthed fellow who tells racist and sexist jokes to drunks at a party is the same fellow who appears to be a feminist saint to his daughter. There is no real you hiding in the subconscious mind, as you seem to think. The point is that everyone's personality is full of inconsistencies and contradictions. You don't have a different handwriting for your mother, your buddies, your colleagues, your priest, your colleagues, your president, etc. Yet, you have a different personality for each of them. Your handwriting could not possibly reflect your personality, or more accurately, your personalities.
You seem to have no sense of purpose when you fill up space saying things like 'it must be something or nothing and it's not nothing so it's something.' Do people pay you to respond with such gibberish?
Your comparison of handwriting to an EKG illustrates your ignorance. An EKG is a machine's response to physiological processes. Handwriting is a person's activity or product of that activity. Handwriting is not a response to a stimulus, as the EKG is. It is a conscious act (most of the time). The patterns of an EKG are meaningful because there is an agreed upon standard which allows us to read them. You graphologists have no agreed upon standard by which to read the patterns of handwriting and what's more you have no way of deciding whether any of you are uttering anything but sophisms and gobbledygook. You may refer to your Handwriting Research Corporation's Manual of validity studies, but the rest of the sane world laughs at your manual as nothing but arbitrary ramblings.
Your claim that The brain is scientifically based because it is an organized system of repeatable functions called logic is gibberish. You may think it is meaningful, but it is just patter. You say That's what directs people's choices. Otherwise, it would be chaos. You are right about predicting what I would say: bunk! But I say bunk because it doesn't make any sense. You say tell me how we could have developed the sciences without a scientifically based brain. The fact is that everything in the universe is scientifically based, which of course includes your brain.......and handwriting. We call this circular reasoning where I come from. The brain is scientifically based because everything is scientifically based. Therefore, handwriting is scientifically based. I think too many years of engineering has short circuited a few of your wires, Jack.
However, you did say at least one correct and meaningful thing in your first letter: handwriting can sometimes reveal something about a person's physical condition. A physician will sometimes ask a patient on certain medications to give them a writing sample in order to see if they can detect any shakiness in the writing. And it doesn't take an expert to detect a flamboyant egomaniac or a self-conscious person with very low self-esteem from the size of their signature. But your ramblings about scientific brains are about as scientific as a wolf howling at the moon.
You say As an engineer for 36 years, I can tell you I would not have been analyzing handwriting for 23 years if there was nothing to it. But putting in time is no guarantee you haven't wasted all of it, Jack. Many deluded people devote their lives to their fantasies and delusions. Their sincerity and devotion for dozens of years does not transform their endeavors into anything significant.
You continue: But, again, you or whoever, fail to explain the significance of handwriting. And, that is very telling. It takes a long time to understand and gain insight into handwriting. But Jack, you are the one who must show that handwriting is significant. And spending a long time trying to understand it doesn't guarantee anything.
You say: I can honestly tell you that what you write about handwriting analysis is totally incorrect. Beyerstein and the rest of those "skeptics" are simply not designing their protocols correctly because they have no REAL knowledge of handwriting or handwriting analysis. Jack, it is your job to provide evidence and arguments, not simply assert that you are the only one who truly understands and who truly knows how to design a proper test and who truly has real knowledge of things great and small. You are begging the question, Jack--assuming what you should be proving.
Finally, Jack, you seem to live in some sort of fantasy world. Maybe because you own the company your employees pretend the emperor is wearing clothes, but some of your claims seem out of touch with the planet I live on. For example, you say Doesn't it strike you that this subject has been around for centuries, studied by scientists and some of the most intellectually acute people and continues? Universities throughout the world teach it and bestow degrees. These people are not stupid. They apparently can see what you cannot or inadequately test for.
What universities throughout the world offer a course in graphology? Where on our home planet can you get a degree in graphology? Lots of professions have been around for centuries, Jack. That doesn't make them any more respectable.
True handwriting analysts--forensic or questioned document examiners--are not analyzing personalities, Jack. They don't make ridiculous claims about being able to detect pedophiles by their handwriting. They don't claim to be able to tell when a person is lying by his handwriting. They don't claim to be able to tell whether a person is honest by his handwriting, or whether he or she would make a good employee or is likely to abuse drugs. Only pseudoscientists make such claims, Jack. And graphology is a pseudoscience.....oh, I forgot.....it can't be since it comes from the brain and the brain is scientific, so pseudoscience must be scientific. Right, Jack?
14 Nov 2000
Bob, your wick is out. Your pseudologic is laughable. Apparently you do not have an engineering background where reality lives. What is your background, Bob?
Anyway, there are many world universities conferring degrees which I will research and give you a list in a later email.
Regarding physical condition of a person. I have been doing that for 20 years. Nothing new, Bob. Where do you suppose the "information" came from to reveal these "conditions". Hmmm?
Also, questioned documents. In analyzing for forgeries and the known, one is using the exact same principles used in a profiling. The QDE is actually assessing the personality against the forgery. You know nothing about this business and have no insights. Saying we all have multiple personalities would make a psychologist cringe. What nonsense. These are behaviors which could only be "used" by a functioning brain not one with brain damage. That does not change the basic personality. Your mother's handwriting has not changed and neither has her personality ......unless she changes behavior which is not the same as personality. Da!
You made no mention of the angularity word. Do you know what that means? How many possible strokes are there?
Also, you made some mistakes in your email which leads me to believe you are/were quite emotional writing it.
Finally, until next time, conveniently you dodge the question as to what handwriting means and throw the responsibility to proponents. That we have done by demonstration. Let's see your handwriting.
Will communicate later. Need to do business
reply: Really? Are you a scatologist as well?
More from Jack:
As I promised, here is the list from an international association. As you probably know much of the original research work was performed in Europe. We (you) are still quite a bit behind as demonstrated by your last email.
reply: [note: Jack sent me something copied from an unidentified source, labeled 4. Training. It lists a large number of individuals or outfits that offer some kind of instruction in graphology. There aren't many universities listed, but there are some. For example, there is Lumsa in Rome and the university at Urbino. There is the Naftali Institute in Israel, where graphology is very big. Also listed are Universidad de Valencia, Spain; Università di Porto, Lisbon, Portugal; Emerson University College in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a few others in Italy. So, Jack is right about graphology being taught at some universities. But I couldn't find any listed from the U.S.A. Maybe there is hope for our country after all!]
Now, the rest of the story.
Einstein's formula was proven by demonstration. And, so has handwriting analysis. You can demand as many "tests" as you want but unless one can demonstrate by practical use the efficacy of any system saying something does not work is stupid, plain and simple.
In design engineering, all the concepts, drawings and talk mean nothing unless you can prove a concept works by demonstration. And, that has been done. Period.
Your ridiculous analogy about behaviors in front of various people is froth with error. You say the handwriting does not change but the behavior does. True. But that does not mean that the person has multiple personalities. My word, MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES???? Psychologists would go crazy with that statement. If that were true, there should be different handwritings for each behavior (or was it personalities, Bob?). There aren't. You're goofy, Bob. Fuzzy logic.
It just means that the intellect being as acute as it is will simply adjust BEHAVIOR, not basic personality characteristics like dominance, ego strength, analytical ability and the like. There is no way you are going to change that barring brain damage or severe onset of psychological circumstances such as clinical depression and then that is only for a short time. I know. I was there.
You sure were very emotional writing the last email having repeated phrases without checking and proofing plus other errors. I suspect that is the same emotionality you use in your logic also. Pretty bad, Bob.
You are so bent into this skeptic thing (which does have relevance but not in handwriting analysis), that you can't see the forest for the trees. Having spent years debunking handwriting analysis there is no way you could admit error. I understand that. Too bad but that's what happens when the logic system is flawed.
(You say you are the sum of all your behaviors.)
Yet, there are behaviors which people haven't even used yet. So, does that mean they have "invisible" behaviors/personalities (which is it, Bob?)? No. It simply means they have not used their intelligence (creativity to you, Bob) yet to create whatever "other" behavior is engendered. In the case of a Down Syndrome person, there is one "behavior" and therefore only one possible handwriting. No multiples, Bob. How do you explain that??
An EKG IS a response to a stimulus which is ongoing. Your misunderstanding that graphologists have no standards is rationale on your part to defend your erroneous stance on you know what. If you could only "see" how ignorant you "look" to those who understand handwriting you would crawl into a hole and disappear. Pure ignorance or simple purposeful denial. The latter is suspected.
Funny how law enforcement uses handwriting analysis, Bob. The CIA, Interpol, Scotland Yard, Bob.. But we do not need any endorsements from them to prove it works.
Scientifically based. Repeat. Everything in the universe is scientifically based. Circular reasoning. Yes sir, you sure are going in circles. And, the brain is scientifically based because of what I indicated. Which makes handwriting scientifically based also. I think your apparent attempt to be the originator or at the forefront of this "skeptic" group has gone to your head. You have no more intelligence than those who acted in the movie "Planet of the Apes" and tried to deny the astronauts ability to speak and think better than they.
If you were living during Galileo's time you would have been the one insisting "the earth is flat" because he could not prove it EXCEPT by demonstration.
You are wrong about signatures which shows your ignorance again, Bob. Also, you are indirectly admitting that handwriting (signatures) reveals something about the personality. (You missed that boo boo, Bob. That's a contradiction in your argument.)
I submit that it is YOU who have wasted your time and effort trying to debunk handwriting analysis. I have verification everyday whereas you only have your "buddies" with hollow minds and no creative investigative qualities. You people are totally ignorant of relevance and have no real knowledge of handwriting or handwriting analysis. (And, avoid doing so for fear that you may discover you are incorrect.) Right, Bob?
Again, Bob, demonstration is the BEST proof and always has been of any system. We have proven it over and over through practical application and studies (which you people will not ever accept as it would prove you wrong.) You HIDE behind the reasoning that it is US who must prove it. Well, we have. Period. Now it's up to you to disprove it. Good luck as you will never accomplish it.
The principles of questioned documents are the same as for handwriting analysis. The principles are evaluated for different purposes but essentially the personality of the writer is being examined and compared to the "forger". Your ignorance is so blatant, Bob. Your trying to hide behind innuendoes and word attacks that bounce off like water off a duck.s back. Why? Because I have the everyday proof and you have no proof.
If there ever was a pseudo group it's yours Bob. At least for handwriting analysis. You can do tarot cards and horoscope denials but you are totally ignorant and, frankly, stupid about handwriting analysis.
You must a young fellow just learning and trying to make a name for himself. Do you actually go out and preach that handwriting analysis is bunk?? Shame, Bob.
I think you need to obtain a new disguise. One that would fit the movie. You are simply not a good investigator.
Maybe you should sign up at one of the Universities. There are others besides those listed from what I am told.
Contact Handwriting Research Corporation and ask them for their Manual so you can study what they have done. If you are not familiar with their million dollar computer system you should be. Think they would spent that much for handwriting analysis if it didn't work, Bob? Let's see what you have to say about that, Bob. But you won't do it because you are afraid of the truth. Right, Bob?
Don't bother replying as I do not want to corrupt my computer logic. I just wanted to see your "thinking?" on this subject. Myopic.
A reply to Jack from an Argentinean: Just to clarify a point. What appears in Jack Cammaratta´s letter (and in other English sources) as the Emerson "University College", as you are probably supposing is not a University at all. A deliberate misrepresentation, not unlike the Maharishi´s "University". In Spanish its logo reads as "Instituto Superior", meaning just a teaching academy for people beyond high school. It is in fact a commercial undertaking --and quite expensive, I was told-- with a scientific value similar to the astrology or tarot schools we also endure in Buenos Aires.
Nothing new there, but what really upsets and infuriates me as an Argentine is the fact that in 1996 our National Ministry of Education approved as a "real" discipline the career of Technician in Graphology. I am now waiting for the day when Intelligent Design will be incorporated into our curricula. Keep up the great work.
All the best Claudio Di Gregorio
15 Nov 2000
First a big thank you for the valuable resource that you have provided. I am a regular visitor to the site and have now perfected my thoughtful, intelligent look as I pass off much of your insight as my own in discussions with the more 'spiritual' people down the pub.
Just a quick note in response to to the ramblings of Jack Cammarta (readers comments - Graphology). I believe that he betrays his simplicity of approach when he states that -
"The brain is scientifically based because it is an organized system of repeatable functions called logic."
"Handwriting is brainwriting".
I hope that I am not being unfair to Jack in selecting these two remarks, but it is my understanding that Jack is attempting to portray a direct mechanistic correlation between brain function and output in the form of handwriting. He seems to believe that an engineering background qualifies him to quantify this correlation. Of course handwriting is a result of brain function, but to assume an understanding of cause and effect is quite a leap.
As it happens, the brain does not appear to operate as a deterministic machine let alone a logical machine. This observation stems from the mathematician Gödel's proof that any formal system is either inconsistent or incomplete. This limitation applies to all existing and theoretical computers (including theoretical quantum computers), but the method of proof has shown that this limitation does not apply to human reasoning. (I know this sounds a bit metaphysical, for a full explanation I would recommend 'Shadows of the Mind' by Roger Penrose and 'Gödel, Escher, Bach' by Douglas Hofstadter'). This is just one example of how the complexity of the brain currently precludes description. An engineering background does not enable anyone to map personality to different styles of handwriting, engineering methodologies are simply not applicable and to pretend otherwise is dishonest. Graphology can never be an exact discipline. Personalities are complex, subjective, unquantifiable and unique, giving a 1-1 mapping between personality and handwriting.
I am puzzled as to why anyone would pay for the services of a
graphologist. Broad grouping into personality traits can provide little
information about a person, especially when Jack points out that a person's
behaviour is separate from their personality. If so much can be claimed for
the analysis of static writing, surely more information can be gleaned from
real time interaction with a person. I would be more concerned with the
behaviour of a prospective employee than with the hidden personality trait
that only Jack and his ilk could 'discover'.
15 Nov 2000
Just a short note to tell you how much I enjoy your site. I found Randi's site a couple of months ago and after reading through that, I found a link to your site. What a great site this is. Not only are your entries interesting and informative, but the readers comments section is just a scream.
Your exchanges with Jack, the graphology expert, had me laughing out loud. Especially his reply to your challenge. It was exactly how Randi describes challengers who are interested in the $1,000,000 challenge react when they hear the ground rules. How these people insist on others believing claims they themselves refuse to even try to prove is amazing.
I don't know how you have the patience to respond to so many e-mails,
but I for one, am very glad that you do.
12 Mar 1999
Your report on graphology has a good side and a bad side. The good side is that you were very clear with the message that graphology is unproven and highly redolent of bunkum. The bad side is that you turned this into a liberal political screed [?]. Without getting too deep into discussions of civil rights and how that meaning has been distorted over the past few decades, let me point out that an employer has rights too. When we make a political statement that "there ought to be a civil right not to be discriminated against on the basis of handwriting", we're saying that we wish to take away the right of the employer to hire according to critieria that he or she deems proper- and he or she is the one laying out the money and taking the risk. Many (I am one) have the view that people ought to have the civil right to spend their money as they please, and that that civil right does not terminate when one is buying the time or expertise of another. Should I not have the right to exercise whatever arbitrary criteria I wish when I hire a doctor? Or an attorney?
Whether or not using graphology in hiring decisions is a stupid idea is certainly appropriate fodder for a skeptic to discuss. What the legal implications ought to be is a political discussion, not amenable to skepticism. A more cogent explanation of the view of employer's rights and the harm that comes from legal interference with those rights can be found in Thomas Sowell's "Knowledge and Decisions".
reply: I'm afraid you have me here, Stuart. I have no idea whether legal implications and political discussions are amenable to skepticism. I do know, however, that the Constitution of the United States guarantees certain rights, regardless of what you or I think about them. If you are a hospital administrator, you are forbidden by law to have a hiring policy that illegally discriminates against applicant doctors. If by "hire a doctor" you mean going to one, then of course you are free to make your selection by discriminating in any way you choose. You could even ask a potential doctor to give you a writing sample to take to a graphologist (or perhaps you are a graphologist and could do the analysis on the spot).
21 Jul 1998
Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your remarks about graphology. I've found that a distressing number of people assume there must be "something to it" without thinking about it at all. Let me share an anecdote regarding my brush with graphology:
When I graduated from college in 1986 with a degree in chemistry, I went to an employment agency, which got me an interview with a local paint company I'll call FooBar Paint. The unusual thing was, they asked me to submit a handwritten essay about my hobbies before they would schedule the interview. I complied with this request, and a few days later was told they would not interview me since they had determined some unspecified character flaw through graphological analysis.
I was livid, of course -- Both because they had dismissed me without even talking to me, and they had been dishonest in failing to tell me what they planned to do with my essay. I wanted to do something, but I was an impoverished and unemployed 21-year-old. Unable to hire an attorney, I contacted the Seattle Human Rights department, who was very interested in my story. SHR filed suit against FooBar, and subpoenaed all of their documents regarding hiring policy. We were suing for a job and back pay. It was quite a heady feeling.
Two days later, I got a phone call from the president, Mr. FooBar himself, asking me to come in for a personal interview. Mr. FooBar wanted to "set things straight" as it was costing him time and money to comply with SHR's document subpoena. When I got to his office, he explained that graphology was their preferred method of determining who fits into the "FooBar mosaic," as he put it. I explained that this was a totally unsubstantiated method, and asked him why he didn't employ witch doctors or use a magic 8-ball to determine a candidate's fitness. He had no answer for that, instead offering me a job if I'd drop the suit and take another handwriting test. Apparently, one of the qualities FooBar likes in its "mosaic" is unmitigated gall.
I ended up dropping the suit after FooBar twisted in the wind for a while. I had to get on with my life, and the best I could get was a job working for those clowns. Still, I felt I had made my point.
I sincerely hope that people refuse to take workplace pseudoscience lying down. If this type of "new age" employer is given free reign to evaluate people on graphology, I Ching, auras, or whatever, they'll just keep doing it.
There wasn't that much at stake in my case, but there could have been much more if
my circumstances were different. People need to educate themselves about pseudosciences
like graphology, so they might have the conviction to stand up against it as well as the
facts to win the fight.
26 May 1998
First of all, let me just say that your Skeptic's Dictionary is one of the most comprehensive skeptical resources on the web, and I enjoy it a lot. I wish to contribute to your dictionary with my 17-year-old brother's brush with graphology, which I hereby give you permission to post on your web page, if you see fit.
My brother is a skeptic, and subscribes to the Skeptical Inquirer. When his aunt and her two daughters told him that they found this AMAZING graphology "expert" and that he simply MUST have his handwriting analyzed by her, he decided to turn it into an experiment. He repeatedly asked his aunt whether the content of the writing matters to graphology, or whether it is (supposedly) "content free" and takes into account only the handwriting itself. Of course, he was reassured that he can write anything he wants, since all that matters is the shape of the handwriting. So he agreed to give my aunt a writing sample of his handwriting, to be analyzed by the graphologist.
As his writing sample, he deliberately wrote a page or two that looked as paranoid and schizophrenic as he could possibly make them--that he is hearing voices, that he wants to kill his parents, that he was abducted by aliens... you name it, it was there. Needless to say, two days after he told me about this little experiment, my aunt called my mother in total hysteria. As was to be expected, the graphologist "discovered" that my brother was showing signs of "paranoia," that he needs "immediate psychological treatment," and that this better be done SOON, before he kills someone.
The poor graphologist was so distressed that contrary to her regular custom she called my aunt late in the evening with the "horrible news" and they even discussed whether to call the police, but luckily for my brother they decided to call the little paranoid's mother first. This little experiment almost lead to a serious family feud, since my aunt could not comprehend WHY my mother was laughing so hard on the other side of the phone after hearing such terrible things about her son.
Why am I not surprised?
16 Mar 1998
Just a short note on the content of your Skeptic's Dictionary. While I agree with most of your arguments, like most of these perpetrators, your arguments are lacking proof and scientific method. For example, in graphology, you state that there is no sound theoretical basis for it. That is an unsupported finite statement.
reply: "an unsupported finite statement"? I've been accused of many things, but this is the first time I've been accused of making an unsupported finite statement. In fact, this is the first time I've ever been accused of making a finite statement, period. It sounds dangerous. What is it?
I think most of my readers would understand that what I mean is that those who practice graphology and defend it as a way of determining personality do not provide an adequate theory which would explain how people all over the world who are taught many different writing techniques and who bring to their writing their own personal quirks and eccentricities, would universally follow the same personality laws which allegedly govern handwriting. In fact, graphologists seem particularly uninterested in providing a theoretical basis for their work. If, however, you know of a theory which is generally accepted by graphologists which explains how it works, I would love to hear it so I could evaluate it.
Where is the proof that no theories exist? What did your research show and what were your research methods? (These are rhetorical questions.)
reply: I suppose it is bad form to respond to a rhetorical question; however, your
calling it one doesn't make it so. Your question is a real question. It may even be a real
finite question, for all I know. My research method is called reading. I
have read the works of graphologists and while they are quick to establish all kinds of
rules governing particulars of writing and personality traits, they do not seem concerned
with providing a theory for graphology. But perhaps I am ignorant of the universally
accepted theory among graphologists. Again, if you know of it, please send it to me so I
can evaluate it.
Further, in the lie detector snippet, you explain how a polygraph works. What happened to galvanic response?
reply: As a person of your superior vocabulary must know, 'galvanic' refers to the production of electric current. For the record, though, the polygraph does measure, via electric current, various physiological processes.
Your document is no better than the claims of the scammers. You offer very little definitive proof against these topics. Your arguments are loaded with authoritative speech whereby a reader is supposed to believe you because of who you are, not what is presented. Why not trying to back up your claims with scientific method. For the lie detector, conduct a study where known questions are purposely answered incorrect. With graphology, a similar study.
reply: thank you for the suggestions. However, I think you are making them to the wrong person. The one who should be conducting studies are the graphologists and polygraphers. You would think it would be a fairly simple thing to demonstrate the validity of both graphology and the polygraph. Why hasn't it been done, then?
I'd like to believe your arguments as you have covered the spectrum of bunk
operations, but without sufficient proof, I am left feeling the same way as having read
Tony Robbins' web page: Scummy. This is not intended to be a critique of you personally.
Just your scientific methodology. Thanks for the entertainment though.
reply: you're welcome. I'm glad you at least have a sense of humor and get a kick out of feeling scummy. This is unusual, but any port in a storm, I guess. This is another first for me: being compared to Tony Robbins. Though I did have a student once proclaim that the first session of one of my introductory philosophy classes was "just like est!"
27 Oct 1997
Excellent job! It's about time somebody debunked some of the nonsense people are walking around with in their heads.
I have a great deal to say about your take on G-d and belief, but that's for another time.
Re: your entry on graphology. The practice of having a graphologist check your
handwriting prior to employment is extremely common here in Israel. Many employers will
accept only handwritten resumes.
08 Apr 1997
On handwriting analysis, I was always fascinated by the idea of knowing people's characters by the loops and swirls of the writing. However, as a left-hander, I wonder how accurate that can be. I had to teach myself to write since the teacher had no experience teaching lefties. Now, I wonder how anybody's character could be discerned by handwriting. The question of disability is also not addressed. Senator Dole comes to mind. How could anyone tell his character from his writing? He has only the use of one arm, and had to be retrained to use his left hand. The only thing about his character that can be found from his writing is his war injury.
05 Jul 1996
Reviewing a student's paper (I teach human resources at a university in Atlantic Canada) on graphology, I was searching the web for information and ran across your site. The student's paper was light on skepticism and high on reported success (100's of companies in France, the US, Israel-- and "I'm sure lots in Canada but they don't report it") and I was gearing up for a full frontal rebuttal about validity.
Your item on graphology is a good basis for our discussion--focused, challenging.
Thanks. I'll dip into more of your items.