Reverse Speech – A Response to Skeptics
By Chris Yangouyian
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”– Albert Einstein
Reverse Speech – A Response to Skeptics – As with all pioneers, David John Oates and this Theory of Reverse Speech are currently outside of the mainstream. Predictably, Oates and Reverse Speech have come under criticism, often intense, sometimes violent.
In the early 1990’s, while Oates was living in San Diego, his home was destroyed and he was the recipient of death threats. Not all opposition, however, is violent. In the foregoing, I analyse the criticism of Tom Byrne and Matthew Normand in their article published at http://www.csicop.org/si/show/demon-haunted_sentence_a_skeptical_analysis_of_reverse_speech, from The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, April 2000 (Skeptical Inquirer, Volume 24.2). In my analysis, I first outline the critique in italics, then offer my response.
“A listener expecting to hear a certain phrase will likely do so.”- When analyzing reverse speech, the analyst would not know what to expect so how could they “be likely to do so.” – In my own case, I had an awful time finding reversals; to the point that I was ready to discontinue my training. If only hearing what you expect to hear were accurate, I believe I would have had an easier time finding reversals. Further, if the author’s claim were true, I would not have been surprised when analyzing my own speech. For one of my assignments, I interviewed myself, and the reversals I found were not expected, far from it. In several instances the reversals that I found on myself were shocking and required a fair amount of introspection to make sense of.
Further along in the article the authors worry that Reverse Speech, if allowed in court testimony, could have adverse consequences. “As expert witnesses they could analyze testimony played backwards and inform a court what a witness is truly saying. The judge and jury, not having the training, will be unable to verify this information.” – While the concern is valid, it is also valid for any expert witness. The judges and juries rarely have the expertise an expert witness has. If this is true for Reverse Speech Analysts, it is true for doctors, accountants, scientist, et al, or any person that serves as an expert witness. Further, to balance the scales, if Reverse Speech analysis is presented in court, the opposition could employ their own Reverse Speech Analyst to corroborate or refute the findings of the first Analyst.
“The person trained to hear reverse messages could intentionally or unintentionally report that speech contains hidden incriminating evidence. Many people are not prepared to refute such contrived evidence.” – While fraud is possible, again, it is applicable to any specialist not just Reverse Speech Analysts. People seeking the advice of a physician are generally not equipped to refute the doctor’s findings. If a person does not believe, or trust the doctor’s findings, they are free to do with it what they will and/or get a second opinion.
“However, some simple investigations of his claims could be easily conducted. For example, subjects could listen to samples of reverse speech and report what they heard. Inter-observer agreement, the percentage of times that different subjects reported hearing the same thing, could be calculated. Such measures can be used to minimize biases that individual observers may have (Kazdin 1982). High rates of agreement would at least confirm the ability for humans to hear the same messages in the absence of specific expectations.” – Here the authors offer a useful suggestion for testing the presence of Reverse Speech. Reverse Speech Pioneer, David John Oates does this, partially, on a regular basis during his radio show appearances. In future appearances, perhaps Oates could conduct the experiment outlined above. The Jeff Rense Show may provide such a forum. Oates could play the forward dialogue and the corresponding reversal. However, instead of telling the audience what the reversal said, he could ask for listeners to call in and convey what they heard. Statistics could then be gathered as to how many callers reported hearing the same, or similar, dialogue. These results could additionally be compared to the dialogue in the original transcript. (Note: an experiment of this sort was conducted by Oates and is available in the Reverse Speech Analyst Manual. To be fair, this article was written in 2000, so perhaps the experiment was done after the article was written or the authors were unaware of it.)
“Both of these studies could be conducted with minimal cost and effort. If Oates is truly interested in the truth, he could set aside a few hundred dollars (much less than the cost of enrollment at one of his training programs) and fund an independent researcher.” – I believe the real issue the authors have with Oates, and the theory of Reverse Speech, is contained in parenthesis above; these authors seem to resent Oates making money on Reverse Speech. There appears to be more than a hint of jealousy in that this is the second time in the article that the authors comment on Oates’ profitable undertakings.
“If reverse speech enters courtrooms and therapists’ offices, lives may be seriously affected. We hope that readers can help expose this potential disaster before damage is done.” – These benevolent critics are offering their opinion for our safety. Of course, it is always for the proverbial, “our”, safety. Perhaps Reverse Speech is not ready for admissibility in court. However, polygraphs, at least in most states in the U.S., are not permissible evidence either, but still widely used in background checks and police investigations. As a means of therapy, the client is free to accept or discard the results of the session.
A starting point for Reverse Speech to gain widespread acceptance, could be that Reverse Speech analysis be used similar to the way polygraphs are used in the investigative process. Although I’m no fan of polygraphs, serial killer Kendall Francios was able to beat the polygraph test convincingly, they do have widespread use in North America. That being said, Reverse Speech analysis could be done in addition to polygraphs and statistics could be kept as to how often the two tests differed or concurred. This is not a fool proof test however, in cases where the two tests differed, it might be difficult or impossible to determine which test was accurate.
Although it is very difficult to trust or believe anything that comes from the United States government or the controlled press, Reverse Speech did receive legitimate consideration from the United States Department of Defense in 1990. At that time, Operation Desert Shield, the precursor to the first Iraq War, Operation Desert Storm, was in progress. David John Oates found interesting reversals in the forward speech of President George H.W. Bush. He subsequently wrote a letter to Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney. Word of the letter was leaked to the press and Oates was subsequently asked not to speak about his findings publicly.
While it is difficult to assess how much stock the DOD actually put into Oates’ findings, given their perpetual disinformation campaign, it is telling that they did not want Oates to discuss his work and findings publicly. This gag request from the DOD and their constant search for new and experimental technologies, to keep us safe of course, offers a hopeful glimmer of Reverse Speech’s eventual mainstream acceptation.