James A. Conrad

The Ninel Kulagina Telekinesis Case: Rebuttals to Skeptical Arguments

by James A. Conrad
January 5, 2016

Ninel Kulagina (Нинель Кулагина, pronounced "Nee-nel Koo-lah-gih-nah," born July 30, 1926; died April 11, 1990, age 63, heart attack), born in and lifelong resident of Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg), Russia, was that country's most famous psychic powers claimant to date, with a noted specialty in macro telekinesis. She was at times in her life a teenage girl soldier, housewife, mother of three children, grandmother of eight grandchildren, chronic war wound sufferer, in legal trouble, and the subject of international scientific controversy that would cause the world to wonder even beyond her death if she truly had possessed the power of mind over matter.

Ninel Kulagina
A younger Ninel Kulagina circa late 1950s – early 1960s when she began demonstrating hands-free telekinesis.

Ninel Kulagina's full legal name we can determine with some certainty because she used it in filing a successful defamation lawsuit in a Moscow court against a Russian magazine in 1987. It was Ninel Sergeyevna Kulagina (Нинель Сергеевна Кулагина). With regard to the variation "Nina Kulagina" that has been in widespread use in English language accounts of her story for decades, it appears that someone in the news media or scientific community first used it instead of "Ninel," which then became a popular way to identify her in much of the world outside of Russia. "Ninel," by the way, is "Lenin" spelled in reverse and was a popular name given to girls born in Leningrad, a city renamed for the Soviet leader who had died two years earlier in 1924. This article will use the name she used in her home country of Russia, as the author could not find any evidence that she preferred "Nina." She never traveled to the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, or the United States. Researchers came to her.

Ninel Kulagina Kulagina's maiden name was Ninel Sergeyevna Mikhailova (also reported as Nelya Mikhailova, with "Nelya" likely being an alternate name from her childhood). Her maiden name is what she was known by as a radio operator in a Russian army tank regiment during World War II. She joined the military at age 14 along with her father, brother, and sister to defend their home city of Leningrad against German Army troops in what would historically become known as the Siege of Leningrad, during which over a million residents died, mostly from starvation. In January 1944 at age 17, she was hospitalized after being wounded in the stomach during a battle. Recovering, in July 1944, she was assigned to the regiment's distribution department. For her bravery, she was awarded a "Military Merit" medal and a "For the Defense of Leningrad" medal and was promoted to the rank of sergeant. Her service years were April 1941 to June 1946, from ages 14 to 19. She is pictured at left in uniform wearing her medals.

After the war, she married Viktor Vasilievich Kulagina, a Russian naval engineer (Leningrad/Saint Petersburg is a port city on the Baltic Sea). It has been reported and repeated by many writers that she suffered a nervous breakdown in either 1963 or 1964 and was hospitalized, during which, while knitting or sewing, doctors noticed that she could retrieve a desired colored yarn or thread from her bag without looking at it, and this brought her to the attention of parapsychological researchers who began to do tests with her. The author of this article could not find any reliable evidence directly linked to Kulagina to support this version of the story. The way her discovery was described in court at her 1987 defamation trial by her attorney, who had direct consultation with her beforehand, was that she had been referred to a self-help pain management clinic by her doctor after he told her that, after five operations to her stomach for her war injury, they could do no more for the pain she was experiencing. While at the clinic, during a meditation training session with other patients, guided by neurologist Dr. Belyayev, she suddenly groaned in pain. The doctor discovered that her abdomen area was red with what looked like serious burns. This mystery was beyond the doctor's expertise and he called in others, which led to her being tested by parapsychologists. The subsequent tests, as we know from reports from scientists included various psychic abilities, such as "second sight" and telekinesis.

Ninel Kulagina Also during this time, and which may have provided a basis for the nervous breakdown version of events, between 1961 to 1963, as revealed at the defamation trial, it appears that she got into some trouble with the law over a number of unspecified unsuccessful attempts on her part to act as a purchasing go-between (broker) for neighbors to help them buy scarce refrigerators and furniture, which resulted in a 1966 conviction when they complained. She also reportedly had purchased things at an expensive price, possibly with money entrusted to her and possibly the same said household itmes, and then resold them at a ridiculously low price. At the 1987 defamation trial, her attorney told the court that Ninel realized that something was wrong with her mental thinking and said to her husband, "Help me." Speculating today, it is possible her mental stress and improper actions were related to what we now refer to as post traumatic stress disorder (PSTD) due to her wartime experiences as a teenage girl soldier and serious stomach injuries suffered, further deepened by the grief of knowing that nearly 1.5 million residents had died in her home city.

The exact details of the 1966 legal case have since been lost and it is unclear if she made restitution or if she spent any time in jail. Scientists appear to have had access to her during this time, so a lengthy prison sentence is unlikely to have occurred. This one-time conviction was brought up at the defamation trial because the magazine had falsely accused her of being a repeat criminal and, thus, in its view, more likely to continue on as a fraudulent psychic. In the second instance, someone skeptical had complained to the police about her telekinetic feats, who were then obligated to investigate briefly, and on that basis the magazine decided to portray the second complaint as proof that she was morally a bad person. (More on the defamation trial further in this article.)

Ninel Kulagina With the support of her husband, who was equally mystified by her strange talents, Ninel Kulagina was filmed in Russia during the 1960s through the 1980s in both black-and-white and color 16mm and 8mm silent and sound films purporting to show her moving objects by means of telekinesis (TK), one of the abilities under the umbrella term of psychokinesis (PK), or participating in experiments to determine what other psychic powers she might have, or filmed discussing her life, at various locations, both indoors and outdoors, by scientists from Russia and other countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Early films show her demonstrating her claimed talent of telekinesis to move objects at a distance without using her hands. In the still frame from a home movie shown here at left, filmed by her husband, she is smiling after successfully moving multiple objects by telekinesis without her hands, while later films show her requiring the use of one or both hands while performing. Speculating today on why she went from using no hands at a greater distance to requiring them closer to the object in a sort of manipulation of psychic energy, it is possible that the effects of aging and giving birth three times had altered her physiology and weakened her claimed power. It is unclear what effect any pain medication she may have been taking for her stomach problems contributed to the development of her claimed telekinesis or its diminishment as she aged. Clips from these early hands-free and later hands-in-close-proximity films, some silent, some with sound, can be found online, including Youtube and Russian websites. Here is rare footage of her early hands-free telekinesis filmed by her husband outdoors and an interview with her in her old age that was included in a Russian documentary. Amusingly, the family dog appears outside next to her in some of the home movie footage in the beginning, which actually tells us something about her physiology: She was not allergic to dogs.

The Rebuttals

These rebuttals, defined as counter arguments intending to refute, are all by the author of this article and will only concern events seen in the most famous of the 16mm black-and-white silent short films shot in 1967 in one evening session at the Leningrad apartment of the Kulagina family by a team led by Russian biologist and parapsychologist Edward Naumov (pronounced "Now-er-mahv"). Naumov was also known in published materials as Edward K. Naumov, Edward Konstantinovich Naumov, and Eduard Naumov. The film crew was made up of experienced professional science documentary filmmakers from the Leningrad Studio of Popular Science Films, now known as Lennauchfilm. Two camera operators shot the footage using two 16mm film cameras each mounted on tripods to keep the images stable, sometimes filming the action simultaneously from different angles.

Ninel Kulagina Edward Naumov (pictured right) is the scientist who subsequently provided copies of these films to researchers in the field of parapsychology in other parts of the world. He was a popular lecturer and supporter of parapsychology in Russia, a distinction that made him the target of skeptical detractors of paranormal topics in his home country. Making a comparison, Edward Naumov was to Russian parapsychology in the 1960s onward as physicist Stanton Friedman was to ufology in the United States from the 1960s onward: two degreed scientists who risked their careers and reputations to bring widespread attention to controversial scientific topics that were perhaps 50 to 100 years ahead of their time.

The Edward Naumov collection of silent short films of telekinetic claimant Ninel Kulagina was given wider exhibition at public lectures given by Naumov in 1968 (perhaps earlier in 1967 as well) and notably at a week long international parapsychology conference hosted by Naumov called the Moscow Conference on Technological Parapsychology in late June 1968. For this article, video animations called gifs and frame stills from some of these short films are presented and discussed. The greater global audience of ordinary citizens and scientists in every field first learned of Kulagina's telekinetic feats on Monday, March 18, 1968 when the Associated Press ran an item on its wire service originating from its Moscow bureau reporting on a news story that had appeared in the newspaper Pravda the day before, itself describing one of Naumov's lectures in which he had exhibited his extraordinary films purporting to show evidence of a Russian woman performing telekinesis.

The Leading Skeptical Arguments

Presented are the arguments against the genuineness of Ninel Kulagina's telekinetic powers by two of the founders of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), James Randi, a magician and former escape artist, and writer Martin Gardner, who gained fame as a mathematical games columnist for Scientific American magazine. CSI was originally called the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). The organization, headquartered in the United States, still uses the csicop.org domain name as its address on the Internet.

Neither Canadian-born Randi, who became a US citizen in 1987, or American-born Gardner ever met Russian-born Kulagina in person. They formed their resolute positions as non-scientists on the claimed phenomena thousands of miles and a continent and ocean away, framing their negative conclusions as fact, not opinion, and being dismissive of the competence of Russian science. It is worth noting that Russians invented or discovered the periodic table of elements, radio, television, space flight, the space station, the helicopter, the airliner, electrically powered railways, the electrical transformer, the solar cell, the light-emitting diode (LED), graphine, viruses, the artificial heart, major organ transplants, and much more, all major advancements in science and technology that changed the course of human civilization.

One of the long-standing and successful tactics used by skeptics of the paranormal is to sow the seeds of ridicule against both the topic and those who would dare to engage in research, report on it in the mainstream media, and provide funding for research. In 1969, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) recognized parapsychology as a legitimate research field. The tactic of skeptical ridicule is noted in bold in the statements below. Copies of the sources cited have been retained offline should these links no longer work.

CSI Founder James Randi:
"I've seen films of a woman . . . She does strange things where objects move across the table and where a compass needle runs around in circles. We used to do that when we were kids. We used to do it by concealing a small piece of magnet in our hands. Being a lady, she is built physically in a different way, and when you see these films, I think you can probably guess where she has the piece of magnet concealed. Of course, the Russians didn't bother to search her in that particular part of her anatomy because they're gentlemen and we wouldn't do that to a lady especially if she has divine powers.

"When she makes objects move across the table, well, a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in New York with a group of magicians and we were very highly amusedwe were falling off the chairs laughing because it's all the same kind of stuff we've been doing on restaurant tables for years now with a little piece of thread running over to the object, an invisible piece of thread, and don't you think there isn't such a thing, because when she moves back from the table, the object moves with her, even though there may be a Lucite cover over the top of it, that certainly doesn't inhibit the operation at all." (Source)
"I'm James Randi, speaking on behalf of professor Paul Kurtz, Chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, founded in 1975 by a group of scientists, philosophers, and specialists to provide a possible alternate answer to psychic claims. . . . This excerpt shows a Russian so-called psychic who is able to cause small objects to move about. This can be performed by means of a fine invisible thread connected to her costume. It is something that only a magician can be expected to detect. Now, for parapsychologists to tell us stories about selected successes, while ignoring requirements of documentation and careful analysis, is not science, it is pseudoscience. . . . We of the Committee have always believed in an open-minded approach to these claims." (Source)  [Note: Randi says 1975 in the video. CSI and news stories at the time say it was founded in 1976.]
"She was also famous for making a compass needle move, and moving small objects like matchboxes, using a very fine nylon thread. In 1978, the USSR Academy of Sciences was so convinced of her powers that they declared her genuine, in spite of the simple and obvious solutions for her conjuring tricks. When the newspaper Pravda declared her to be a trickster, she sued the editors and won, largely on the basis of testimony given by Soviet parapsychologists." (Source)  [Note: She did not sue Pravda. She sued the Soviet magazine Man and Law.]
CSI Founder Martin Gardner:
"Randi and I will happily tell anyone how Nina Kulagina uses invisible threads to move matches and float tennis balls, and how Felice Parise could have moved a pill bottle for Charles Honorton." (Source)
"Nina Kulagina, in Russia, using magnets and invisible thread in ways familiar to magicians, made dupes of scores of investigators." (Source)
"Nina Kulagina, Geller's Russian counterpart, used invisible thread to move matches across a table and to float Ping-Pong balls. It is possible that the thread was manipulated by her husband in a side room. Any magician present could have recognized the method at once and simply passed a hand through the space where the thread went before it could be drawn out of the room." (Source)

1. Skeptics: Ninel Kulagina used an invisible thread to move objects.
Rebuttal: The 1967 Naumov film record indicates the witnesses present knew about and were monitoring for invisible threads.

Not only did the observers at this particular filming session know about possible trickery using invisible threads, they also recognized the importance of devoting film footage to make a visual record of biologist-parapsychologist Edward Naumov waving his hand in front of Kulagina before the demonstration session began. As you will see further below, they also filmed Kulagina sitting with a blank table surface in front of her at the beginning of the test demonstration and all the objects to be targeted for telekinetic movement were situated next to Naumov, who was responsible for placing them in front of her. Kulagina did not have a chance to pre-attach a thread to any of the objects. She was filmed causing movement in five different objects, some of them multiple times, at two different seating locations at the table.

Ninel Kulagina
The film record indicates the witnesses knew about and were monitoring for possible trickery using a fine thread attached to objects on the table surface.
1-a. Skeptics: I have never seen this footage before. It could be a modern fake . . . computer-generated imagery (CGI).
Rebuttal: This footage can be seen (flipped) in the 1978 movie "The Medusa Touch."

The gif animation above made specifically for this article and debuting here for the first time online consists of 53 frames taken from a scene in the British movie The Medusa Touch (1978, ITC / ITV plc, Warner Bros). In the scene, a police detective inserts a VHS videocassette into a VCR and watches a several minutes long videotape on telekinesis research, some of it real, some of it fictional, displayed on a television set in front of him. The scene in the movie includes some additional (now familiar) footage of Kulagina, all of it flipped, tinted, and the resolution lowered.

Scene narration heard on the television's speaker as the Naumov-Kulagina footage is played:

"This film is one of the most famous of telekinetic demonstrations. Kulagina is just a Leningrad housewife and grandmother. Over 40 high-ranking scientists examined her for hidden magnets, wires, and other artificial aids. There were none. They could give no explanation for her power to move objects."
Ninel Kulagina
Images from The Medusa Touch (1978, ITC / ITV plc, Warner Bros). Where to buy this movie: DVD, Blu-ray + DVD, Amazon Video
Thread Rebuttal (continued): The 1967 Naumov film record indicates that Ninel Kulagina had no opportunity to pre-attach a thread to the objects and did not determine their placement on the table.

The test demonstration protocol required that Kulagina not be allowed to touch the objects. The protocol required that film footage be devoted at the beginning to show that Russian biologist-parapsychologist Edward Naumov (pronounced "Now-er-mahv") had total possession of the objects and, always seated next to her, it was he who determined where the objects were to be placed on the table.

Ninel Kulagina
Russian biologist-parapsychologist Edward Naumov and Ninel Kulagina. The scientist determined where the objects were to be placed on the blank table, not the claimant. This is also important regarding accusations that the table itself was rigged, discussed later.
Thread Rebuttal (continued): The film record indicates that Ninel Kulagina moved five different objects in this one session, some of them multiple times and at different table locations in the open air and under a clear plastic box.

The objects filmed moving across the tabletop were a wristband compass, empty metal salt shaker, empty cardboard matchbox, wooden stick matches, and a metal jar lid. The movements observed were a diagonal direction to her left, directly toward her, and in the case of the wristband compass, a clockwise rotation.

If she were an amateur magician using "simple conjuring tricks" as CSI founder James Randi asserted as fact and "made dupes of scores of investigators" as fellow CSI founder Martin Gardner also asserted as fact, she would have had to covertly attach and remove a very fine 1960s era "invisible" thread or monofilament nylon line (same as fishing line, but very fine and used in sewing) to all five of the different objects using tape or magician's wax, with close observers present, with no rehearsal, and the thread or line not breaking or slipping from her fingers as she covertly retrieved and attached it to and from each object.

None of the released films at this session show her touching any of the objects. Granted, if she did touch any of the objects, it could have been edited out. Even if she did touch the objects, however, it would have to be explained how the eight observers, who knew about the possible use of attached threads to fake telekinesis, did not see any. Invisible thread is not literally invisible. If they had spotted a thread or other trickery, they would have stopped filming immediately. The room would have become filled with vocal anger over the claimant wasting everyone's time — and film — and the two professional cameramen, to protect their reputations, would have soon spread news of the hoax throughout the Russian film and television industry. They did not.

Ninel Kulagina
A view of Ninel Kulagina's clothing. If she had a thread attached to her left foot and was pulling on it, she would have had to attach and detach the other end to five objects, some of them multiple times, at two table locations, without it breaking or slipping from her fingers or any of the eight witnesses, who knew about threads, noticing.
Ninel Kulagina
A wristband compass rotates clockwise.
Ninel Kulagina
A wristband compass moves toward Ninel Kulagina.
Ninel Kulagina
A matchbox moves diagonally.
Ninel Kulagina
Wooden stick matches appear to swing diagonally.
Ninel Kulagina
An empty metal salt shaker moves diagonally.
Ninel Kulagina
An empty metal salt shaker moves diagonally.
Ninel Kulagina
A jar lid moves diagonally and topples a standing cigarette.

2. Skeptics: Ninel Kulagina had a magnet concealed in her clothing or in her hand.
Rebuttal: The filmed record of the compass rotating offers evidence against this accusation.

When magician and CSI founder James Randi made the statement that the scientists did not search Ninel Kulagina for a magnet (in her bra) because she was a woman, he likely knew that it is not necessary to physically search someone to determine if they have a magnet concealed on their person. The test demonstration protocol on this day of filming with Kulagina required that a compass be present to detect any signs of a hidden magnet, either on Kulagina or one that had been secretly placed under the table or chair for later retrieval. As soon as scientist Edward Naumov put the compass on the table near Kulagina, he and the witnesses would have seen the needle move if there had been a magnet in the vicinity. Filming would have ended. In fact, the needle is seen pointing north away from Kulagina's seated position and is more attracted to the earth's magnetic pull than her or a hidden magent.

The film record indicates that as the entire wristband compass rotated clockwise, the needle inside the compass was pointed in a northward direction away from Kulagina and was concurrently making a back and forth movement a short distance. If there was a sliver of metal hidden in the wristband, it would have required a more powerful 1960s era magnet hidden in the palm of her hand to make the clockwise movement seen from the distance shown and should have had a different effect on the compass needle that was recorded on film. The same applies if the base of the compass housing had a piece of iron hidden it in and a powerful magnet was under the table rotating it by remote control. The ability to create a remote-controlled, moving compass needle and independently rotating compass housing, all contained in a battery-powered portable device exceeded the technological capabilities of the 1960s, and given that the compass shown has thin walls, has to be ruled out.

The nearly stationary positioning of her hands above the compass as it rotated and the nonmatching simultaneous movement of the internal compass needle pointed northward away from her act to rule out a palmed or finger-concealed magnet. Excluding the psychic power of telekinesis, that leaves two possibilities, either a very fine thread, somehow attached to it by Kulagina with no one in the room noticing and either being secretly pulled by scientist Edward Naumov seated to her right or, as CSI founder Martin Gardner proposed for serious consideration, a very long thread running off the table into the open air and "manipulated by her husband in an adjoining room." The other possibility, a device hidden inside or under the table, is discussed next. Note the very close camera angle in the frame stills below, which Kulagina was unaware was occurring as it happened.

Ninel Kulagina
Kulagina's hands are nearly stationary as a wristband compass rotates clockwise. The compass needle points north away from her and is not attracted to her hands. The movement is jerky because this gif animation consists of only nine frames.
Ninel Kulagina
Two angles: This feat was filmed straight on and from a side-angle zoomed-in close-up.
Ninel Kulagina
Close-up: A wristband compass rotates clockwise while the internal floating needle arrow points north away from Kulagina, moving left and right. If there was a strong magnet in her hands or under the table, the arrow movement would behave differently. The movement is jerky because this gif animation consists of only five frames. The full footage can be seen in the 1993 World of Discovery TV documentary Powers of the Russian Psychics (official YouTube viewing site). URL (same as text link): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BZSEVvhpPE

3. Skeptics: Ninel Kulagina and her naval engineer husband rigged the table with a hidden device.
Rebuttal: The film record indicates that Ninel Kulagina did not have control over where she performed at the table.

For purposes of filming Ninel Kulagina from different angles with two 16mm cameras, she was instructed to change locations at the table. The film record indicates she performed at two different locations. Note the cabinet and curtain as reference points in these frame stills. If there was a track built into the table hidden underneath the top, with a sliding 1960s era magnet operated by Kulagina or her husband, her location and that of the objects at the table would have had to have been precise.

The same applies to a concealed pneumatic or hydraulic cylinder device with an attached sliding magnet. Resetting it for each object would have caused the remote control magnet to act upon any matching rigged object on the table, moving it in the opposite direction as the device returned to its starting point. The technology available in the 1960s was generally bulky and noisy, not miniaturized and silent like today. Electric remote control on-off switches usually required a electromechanical solenoid, which could have been heard making a clicking sound. A manual air-pressure switch would have required a noticeable hose running from the table to an air bulb, operated by Kulagina's foot or an accomplice.

Even if there were two spring-loaded glide tracks built inside a hollow section of the table at the two locations she sat at, operated by pull strings or monofilament lines running down a leg of the table to an accomplice, it still would have required precise placement of the five objects on the table, some of them more than once, and knowing ahead of time that she would be asked to move her location for the two cameras filming from different angles, sometimes filming simultaneously.

Again, resetting the device would have caused a noticeably suspicious reverse movement. None of the objects were filmed moving backward, let alone moving backward following the same path. A 1960s era on/off electromagnet, like a permanent magnet would have caused the compass needle to either lock down or follow the magnet's tracking movement under or inside the table and alerted the witnesses. That did not happen.

The film record indicates that there were eight witnesses present in the room at this particular test demonstration. At times, there were three people sitting at the table with her.

Ninel Kulagina
Ninel Kulagina successfully performed at two table locations on this day. If the table was rigged, all five objects that moved would have required precise placement on the table. If a wide magnet on a hidden internal track was used, all the objects would have moved at the same time. Resetting the hidden track magnet would have caused the objects to move back to their starting points. No backward movement was filmed. Even if an object was picked up and returned to its starting point manually, the compass needle would have detected a hidden magnet moving under the tabletop and the witnesses would have been alerted. The very presence of a powerful magnet, including an electromagnet, hidden in or under the table would have affected the compass needle, even locking it in position. The film record indicates the needle floated on the pin loosely and pointed north away from the claimant.
Ninel Kulagina
The film record indicates eight witnesses were present to observe Kulagina perform telekinesis, two of them with cameras capable of zooming in for a closeup and some of them seated next to her at the table. At one point, one of the cameramen positioned his camera behind Kulagina and panned the room documenting the seven other witnesses in attendance. The film crew was made up of professional science documentary filmmakers from the Leningrad Studio of Popular Science Films, now known as Lennauchfilm.

4. Skeptics: Ninel Kulagina, her husband, and the witnesses were part of a conspiracy . . . a Soviet Cold War KGB plot during the space race era.
Rebuttal: Kulagina sued a Soviet government science magazine for defamation. Scientist Edward Naumov was arrested by the KGB. Kulagina also performed in front of international scientists at other locations, including the University of Moscow.

The 1987 defamation trial:

Ninel Kulagina was the subject of accusations by skeptics of faking her psychic powers in Soviet newspapers such as Pravda soon after going public in 1968 and later, in articles in the monthly Soviet government-published magazine Man and Law ("Человек и Закон" 1986 number 9 and 1987 number 6), which was published by the Ministry of Justice of the USSR. In 1987, she sued the magazine for defamation, at which scientists and others, including a journalist and a documentary filmmaker from state television, testified in her defense. The one-day civil trial took place at Dzerzhinsky District Court of Moscow on December 14, 1987. Kulagina, 61, did not make the journey from Leningrad due to ill health (she would die two years, four months later). She was represented by a retired military prosecutor, who, like Kulagina, was also a World War II veteran.

During the trial, Scientist Edward Naumov stood before the court and spoke briefly as a character witness. Here is an excerpt from his statement, translated online into English by Google from Russian:

Witness. Familiarity with Kulagina, I know since 1967, was preceded by the following circumstances. In 1962, in the apartment of the author of the book "Biological radio," Gennady Kazhinsky, I met the author of the book "Experimental studies in medicine and suggestion," Lev Vasiliev. They talked about parapsychology and Kulagina. "This unique woman," said Professor Vasiliev, "requires research. I'm old, and if you stand on this path, I will be glad." These words stick in my mind, I remember them more than once, and once, being in Leningrad, called Kulagina, and she agreed to take [meet] me. Me and my friend, she showed how, her hands [psychic power] touching objects, it moves them.

Some time later I asked a friend to hold the operator Lennauchfilm shooting scene. . . . During the evening we made a film! And soon I began to show them to Moscow physicists and journalists. The goal — to draw their attention to an interesting problem. . . . Over the years, I have not noticed in Kulagina nor any desire for publicity or profit. . . . I was always in the position that Kulagina — a phenomenon. This is the property of her body. . . . Over the years, I showed the film material, promoted the physical fields of biological objects and have positive feedback from specialists. Gunmen wrote that I researched Mrs. Kulagina. This is not true. In the classroom [lectures] where I showed [the films], I never said that I researched Kulagina. . . . No, my task is more modest. I'm trying to attract scientists to study these problems.

Ninel Kulagina
Scientist Edward Naumov testifies in a Moscow court in support of telekinetic Ninel Kulagina, December 14, 1987, at her defamation trial against the Soviet government-published magazine Man and Law. Kulagina did not travel to Moscow to attend due to health issues.

One of the things the magazine (accurately) reported was that Kulagina had a conviction recorded against her in 1966 for a cloudy issue of fraud for taking money from neighbors and promising to help them buy scarce household items such as refrigerators and furniture and failing to do so, which resulted in the police getting involved.

It also accused her of being a repeat criminal because someone had complained to the police about her telekinetic demonstrations resulting in a brief investigation. Additionally, the writer of the articles said that she wore a particular type of war medal that she did not earn to boost her standing in the local veterans community and, most bizarrely, that her claimed service in the military as a radio operator was itself all a hoax.

Note: In the interest of fairness to Ninel Kulagina, since her past legal problems have been used against her by skeptics to publicly attack her credibility and character, the reader should know that one of her chief critics, Committee for Skeptical Inquiry co-founder James Randi, quoted at the top of this article arguing against Kulagina's genuineness, admitted in a 1981 New York Times article that he was jailed at age 15 for causing trouble at a church in Canada. In a 2014 article in The Telegraph, he admitted in 2011 to the writer of the article of being an occasional liar in real life, quoting Randi: "I don't know whether the lies are conscious lies all the time, but there can be untruths." See also here where he confirmed that his traveling magic shows when he was a magician decades ago included the theatrical line "I'm a liar, a cheat, a fake, and a charlatan." For a 2014 New York Times report on Randi's connection to an illegal immigration, passport fraud, and identity theft case, see here. Most mainstream scientific organizations would terminate the membership of a high-ranking member who admits to repeat lying, but the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has no plans to do so, considering him an iconic figure of the skeptical movement and, thus, in its view, his faults and legal issues are worth overlooking.

The attorney for the Soviet magazine Man and Law was unable to provide proof for its published accusations that Ninel Kulagina had never served in World War II, that she was a repeat criminal with multiple convictions, and was faking her psychic powers with magnets and threads. A military veteran testified that he had known her as a radio operator during the war and documents were provided that proved her service and war-related injury. The unearned war medal issue had some truth to it, explained by Kulagina's attorney that she had found it at a dance on the carpet, put it on as a prank and was photographed, and it was later returned to its owner. The defamation trial judge rendered a partial verdict in favor of Kulagina. The magazine was ordered to print a correction. The magazine filed an appeal, which was denied, and on January 26, 1988, the verdict went into effect. Kulagina was not seeking money. Here is the decision, translated online into English by Google from Russian:

DECISION OF THE NATIONAL COURT Dzerzhinsky district:

"Claim is satisfied partially. The editors of the journal "Man and Law" in relation to NS Kulagina [must] write a rebuttal within one month from the date of entry into force of this sentence for causing her insults regarding allegations of fraud and quackery."

If Ninel Kulagina and her Russian supporters were part of a Soviet government propaganda effort, it is unlikely that the two articles appearing in a government-run publication defaming her would have been published in the first place or they would have been quickly retracted.

Edward Naumov's arrest:

Scientist Edward Naumov, the researcher filmed sitting next to Kulagina in the film frames and animations seen here, was sentenced in a Moscow court on March 26, 1974 to nearly two years in a Soviet labor camp on a trumped up charge of receiving money for a public lecture without permission, but the suspected real reason according to his colleagues, as reported in a US Defense Intelligence Agency report (Soviet and Czechoslovakian Parapsychology Research, 1975 PDF icon (4.06 MB), was his continuing to have unauthorized contacts with foreign parapsychologists after being warned to stop.

Here is how Naumov's arrest was described in a US Air Force/Defense Intelligence Agency report (Paraphysics R & D — Warsaw Pact , 1978 PDF icon (2.8 MB):

Page 15: "Naumov became very active, gave numerous public appearances, and was very open to Western researchers. . . . In 1974, Naumov was arrested by the KGB and sentenced for over a year to [a] labor camp in Siberia. The official KGB charge against him was taking fees for a lecture he gave on parapsychology.

There are mentions in various written works describing Edward Naumov as a biologist, including the above-mentioned defamation court case. Here is how Naumov was described in a US Army Medical Intelligence Office/DIA report (Controlled Offensive Behavior , 1972 PDF icon (4.06 MB):

Page 32, 1960s: "Professor E.K. Naumov, Chairman of the Division of Technical Parapsychology at the A.S. Popov Radio and Technical Institute in Moscow."
Page 116 (after the above position): "Naumov, E.K. Department of Physics, State Instrument Engineering College of Moscow."

Scientists in the parapsychology community around the world publicly rallied in Naumov's defense and he ended up serving approximately a year of his sentence and was released in May 1975. While imprisoned, he wrote an open letter appealing his case to the Department of Science of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR, a letter that was also circulated among his friends and colleagues (for the full letter, see the book Psychic Warfare: Threat or Illusion by Martin Ebon, 1983).

Here is an excerpt, which also provides evidence for a discussion as to whether the 1967 Naumov films of Ninel Kulagina may have entered the public domain by reason of their being part of the criminal court case against him and as such placed in the public record:
Edward Naumov, translated excerpt of letter written while in prison, dated May 11, 1974:

"Present circumstances compel me to address the following appeal to you. . . . The meetings with foreign parapsychologists demonstrated the great interest of Soviet scientists in foreign research. Later, these meetings became more frequent and took on a permanent character. I personally established scientific and fraternal contacts with more than thirty-five countries and two hundred scientific centers, institutes, laboratories, corporations, and firms. In my contacts with foreign scientists, I publicized the achievements of Soviet research, defending the competence of Soviet science. I regarded this as my patriotic duty.

"Recently, in our country and abroad, high-frequency photography (the Kirlian effect) has achieved widespread fame. . . . A similar situation emerged in our case, when I and many Soviet scientists observed psychokinetic effects. I shot film of the effect that had stimulated such interest and discussion abroad.

"At present, I have been accused by investigative organs of the MVD of unlawful lecturing (which has been characterized as criminal), of illegally publicizing parapsychology, and of engaging in criminal activities. To this day, I do not understand why my scientific-practical activities are considered in the least criminal. I cannot imagine how scientific publicizing, a desire to support the prominence of Soviet science, stand behind one's country, and awaken in people an awareness of new scientific issues could be considered criminally punishable. In the Soviet state, there are no laws forbidding lectures such as I gave. Therefore, the accusation was not judicially motivated, and the conclusions, summarized in the verdict, do not correspond to actual fact.

"I never lectured for mercenary motives [financial gain]. And, if I was paid for several lectures, I spent that money on parapsychology (that can be proven by consulting a list of expenditures in my criminal file). Besides, I gave more than four hundred lectures without compensation. . . . During the investigation and search, the following scientific materials were confiscated: thirty-five films, a card-index of names and addresses of Soviet and foreign scientists interested in parapsychology, and a corresponding-member diploma from the Parapsychological Association.

"These documents were filed and identified as material evidence of my criminality. During the investigation, I handed over scientific materials to the investigating organs, hoping to prove the lawfulness of my lectures. Later, however, these materials were used against me." (More)

If Edward Naumov was an agent of the Soviet government in 1967, it is highly unlikely it would have sentenced him to a labor camp in 1974 and risked exposing the government's role in the supposed Kulagina propaganda effort proposed by skeptics.

Other scientists witnessed Kulagina's feats:

Ninel Kulagina also performed telekinesis in 1974 at the University of Moscow, as seen in this photo and in front of scientists from Australia, England, and the United States.

Scientists at the USSR Academy of Sciences formally went on record in 1978 validating her psychokinetic abilities. It was reported in a World of Discovery television documentary Powers of the Russian Psychics (official YouTube viewing site), which aired on the now Disney-owned American Broadcast Company (ABC) broadcast television network in the United States on March 25, 1993, that Kulagina was "the most studied psychic subject in Russian history," that "over 40 top scientists, including two Nobel laureates studied Kulagina," and that "The judges' ruling made history. Never before had a psychic been validated in court."

Ninel Kulagina
Without hands, Ninel Kulagina telekinetically moves a vertical tube toward her first in the open and then under a glass vase. Filmed from at least two angles.
Ninel Kulagina
Ninel Kulagina sits in a Russian laboratory as scientists prepare for an experiment.
Ninel Kulagina
Ninel Kulagina being tested in a laboratory in Russia.
Ninel Kulagina
Ninel Kulagina in a laboratory psychokinetic test on instrumentation as Russian scientists watch the results on an oscilloscope.
Ninel Kulagina
Ninel Kulagina uses telekinesis to cause a standing cigar tube and matches to move at the same time, then the cigar tube alone in these still frames from a television show appearance. The full footage can be seen approximately six minutes into this short video [update April 11, 2017, no longer available] found in this collection of Russian videos [Internet Archive; the video discussed is "Video 1," not archived.].
Ninel Kulagina
Later in life, Ninel Kulagina agreed to be tested to see if her powers were still active.

5. Skeptics: There are videos on Youtube of magicians claiming to replicate Ninel Kulagina's feats as seen in the famous 1967 black-and-white films.
Rebuttal: No magician using 1960s era technology has ever replicated in front of a well-known parapsychologist, seven other witnesses, and two operating cameras with zoom lens capability the totality of feats accomplished by Ninel Kulagina in the one-day session as seen in the 1967 Edward Naumov black-and-white 16mm films.

In all of the videos online claiming to "expose" Ninel Kulagina's feats by causing objects to slide across a table surface by the exercise of force derived from the "mental powers" of the magician, it is the magician who decided where the objects were to be precisely placed on the table, not a scientist or other unaffiliated observer. If an independent witness were able to observe a large compass sitting on the table next to the magician, he or she would be alerted by the instrument to any concealed magnet on the magician or under the table.

The videos online of magicians seeming to replicate Kulagina's claimed telekinetic powers are carefully rehearsed and staged events. In one instance that originated on a German-language television show, the magician has his own rigged table and props brought in as the camera records and he is the one who places the objects to be mentally targeted by his "telekinesis" precisely on the table where the effect would work by means of a magnet device hidden inside the table and operated by remote control. These are clever simulations achieved by modern technology, including improvements in magnet strength and size and stronger magician's threads, not replications or duplications of what actually occurred.

To date, no magician or illusionist has duplicated the totality of Ninel Kulagina's feats in one cold (no rehearsal) demonstration session under the same observer conditions, using only technology available in the 1960s, in the presence of a well-known parapsychologist, seven other witnesses, and two cameras with close-up zoom lens capability as seen in the black-and-white Edward Naumov short films made in the Kulagina family apartment in Leningrad, Russia in 1967.


6. Skeptics: No magician was ever present during the filming of alleged feats of telekinesis by Kulagina; therefore, the evidence has to be invalidated because scientists are easily fooled when investigating seemingly magical phenomena.
Rebuttal: Throughout history, magicians were not present during most of the world's great discoveries.

Like ridicule, invented terminology ("pseudoscience," "fringe science," "voodoo science," "woo woo," etc.), and the citing of logical fallacy phrases (sometimes in Latin), this argument is a standard tactic used by the organized skeptical community to obstruct scientific research of psychic powers and the paranormal.

In Kulagina's 1987 defamation trial in Russia, the magazine Man and Law, published monthly by the Soviet government, could not prove its case that Kulagina used magnets or threads to cause movement in objects at a distance, either during the original court proceeding or on subsequent appeal. It certainly had an incentive to do so and the resources to do it if it could. Declassified United States intelligence documents from the 1970s describe Kulagina as someone the Russians believed was genuine and gave no independent information from US agents operating secretly in Russia to refute that belief.

As for the claim that no magician was ever present during the testing of Kulagina, the reader may wish to read a report on the Kulagina case by Manuel Carballal, a Spanish investigative journalist and criminologist, who confirmed that a famous Russian magician, the Great Hakobyan, did participate in a laboratory test of Kulagina in 1982 (see "Nina Kulagina REPORT: A unique case in the history of parapsychology" December 9, 2013; ENGLISH translation, Original SPANISH).

A magician or illusionist; that is, someone knowledgeable in the methods of trickery and illusion, was not present for any of the following discoveries that when first proposed by scientists were considered magical, absurd, dangerous, or worthy of ridicule at first by mainstream science; in other words, by the institutional skeptics of the day.

Proved to be true without the endorsement of a magician:

  • The earth revolves around the sun.
  • Dreams are natural occurrences and not messages from gods.
  • Rocks fall from the sky.
  • The continents are drifting apart from an earlier single landmass.
  • Information can be teleported.
  • Sleep learning is possible (once labeled "pseudoscience" and a "crackpot" idea by skeptics, as seen in this one example in a published 2006 book).

7. Skeptics: Wikipedia's article on Kulagina says she was caught cheating.
Rebuttal: Wikipedia is well known to have a negative editing bias on paranormal topic articles and therefore has to be read with suspicion.

In the case of Kulagina, editors with organized skeptical agendas have cited statements made by famous skeptics such as James Randi, Martin Gardner, and other writers who have sourced their material from defamatory Russian articles as their "proof" that Ninel Kulagina was a fraud.

On October 23, 2008, the State of Texas Court of Appeals for the 14th District ruled that Wikipedia articles are inherently unreliable. In a footnote of the two-Judge ruling, which can been seen here, the State Appeals Court judges officially declined a request to visit a particular Wikipedia article offered as support for the appeal and gave as their reason the following quotation from an August 8, 2008 Wall Street Journal article (italics emphasis added by the judges): "Anyone can edit [a Wikipedia] article, anonymously, hit and run. From the very beginning that has been Wikipedia's greatest strength and its greatest weakness."

Also in 2008, the French news organization Agence France Presse (AFP) banned its journalists from using Wikipedia as a source in a news story.

For more on Wikipedia and the skeptics, the reader may wish to visit the website of the organization Skeptical About Skeptics. For a report on Wikipedia editors covering up incidents of quotation fabrication by a famous scientist who also happens to be a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, see this news article.


Conclusion

James A. Conrad comments:

Thanks to the Internet and researchers worldwide uploading material from their collections, there is much more information available today to examine and form an opinion on the Ninel Kulagina telekinesis case of the 1960s through the 1980s. Unlike James Randi and Martin Gardner, two of the founders of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and their assertions of having factually solved the mystery, despite, like me, having never with met Ninel Kulagina or saw her perform in person decades ago, an opinion is all that a modern-day reviewer of this case can reasonably offer at this late date. I was thirteen years old living in the state of Connecticut in 1968 when news of her mental powers was first published in American newspapers.

My opinion on Ninel Kulagina is that she genuinely possessed telekinetic powers, at least for a time in her life. Further, as an American-born researcher with experience in laboratory telekinesis research in the United States, it is my opinion that Russia is entitled to be declared the winner of the Psychic Powers Race (Psi Race) with regard to telekinesis and that Ninel Kulagina deserves to be honored posthumously by the President of Russia with the award "Hero of the Russian Federation." One day I believe she will be, but perhaps only after another country comes forward with a telekinesis superstar and claims that they won the Psi Race.

The detractors of Ninel Kulagina deserve to be publicly identified and not allowed to have their legacies cleansed of being scientific obstructionists and evolutionary obstructionists. Decades of research with promising psychic power claimants that never occurred worldwide because of bullying, ridiculing, and lying by pathological skeptics have been lost and can never be recovered. If Ninel Kulagina had not been hounded by skeptics, a different timeline would have been created for her, perhaps one less stressful and with the best medical care available internationally that would not have led to an early death at age 63.

This opinion article represents my position on the Ninel Kulagina telekinesis case.


Ninel Kulagina
A full-length photo of Ninel Kulagina, who is pictured center.
Ninel Kulagina
A still from Ninel Kulagina's final filmed test, in which her telekinetic powers had left her, which itself provides a research clue as to what caused them in the first place. If something in her aging body had changed enough to make her telekinesis nonfunctioning or dormant, then that means there is also a biological basis to it, as the author of this article believes and has written about elsewhere, and it is not entirely a mental ability that everyone has and can be accessed through training, as some parapsychologists believe. She had it, lost it, her mind still wanted it, but her aging body would not perform.
Below: Graveside ceremony for Ninel Kulagina, who died of a heart attack on April 11, 1990, age 63.
Ninel Kulagina death
The burial of Ninel Kulagina in mid April 1990, attended by family members and friends, including scientist Edward Naumov, who knew more than anyone how important the woman he filmed in 1967 was to science and the history and future of the human race.

About the author: James A. Conrad is co-author of "Filmmaker's Dictionary" (2000) with Emmy Award-winning producer Ralph S. Singleton and author of "The Model-Actor's Dictionary" (1988). He is also an American telekinesis researcher with full-scale laboratory research experience. For 15 years, from 1993 to 2008, he was a published member of a skeptics organization in Florida, a time during which he enjoyed the educational experience and interaction with numerous open-minded skeptics (yes, there are some). Contents copyright © 2016 James A. Conrad except where noted.

All animated gifs used in this article were created personally by James A. Conrad using a Photoscape editor. All images are copyrighted to their respective owners and used here under fair use scientific and critical commentary. Additional credit and photo caption information will be displayed if provided. If you are someone connected to the life story of Ninel Kulagina or are a relative of the Kulagina family or Naumov family and would like the author to have your contact information in case there is interest someday by a motion picture producer in developing a theatrical film about Ninel Kulagina, please provide it, which will be kept confidential. This article strives to contain accurate information. If you wish to discuss something stated, feel free to contact the author. Reports of non-working links or problems with the web page are appreciated.

Waiting for CSI to duplicate the 1967 Naumov-Kulagina film sessionCount Up
Clock is set to count up from March 18, 1968, the date of the first Associated Press story.
How to cite this page:
Conrad, James A. January 5, 2016. The Ninel Kulagina Telekinesis Case: Rebuttals to Skeptical Arguments. Available online at http://jamesaconrad.com/TK/Ninel-Kulagina-telekinesis-case-rebuttals-to-skeptical-arguments.html; accessed [month] [day], [year].

Updates to this page:
Updated: February 29, 2016. #7: A quotation and two links were added regarding the State of Texas Appeals Court's ruling on Wikipedia's reliability.
Updated: June 18, 2016. #1-a photo caption: "Where to buy this movie" links were added for The Medusa Touch. #2 photo caption: displayed YouTube address for the documentary Powers of the Russian Psychics where it already occurred as a text link. #3 photo caption: Added "The film crew was made up of professional science documentary filmmakers from the Leningrad Studio of Popular Science Films, now known as Lennauchfilm."
Updated: April 11, 2017. Changed description throughout the article of "Man and Law" as a "science magazine." It was a magazine published monthly by the Soviet government on various topics to promote the Soviet way of life. The defamatory content was in a science article written by a skeptic. / Noted in photo caption that a link to a Russian-website-hosted Kulagina video is no longer available live on the Internet. Internet Archive links to the linked pages they were described on are included instead.

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