Nature 413, 339 (2001) © Macmillan Publishers Ltd.; a duplication in the original that escaped Nature's proofreaders has been corrected.

Stamp booklet has physicists licked


[LONDON] The new stamps mark the Nobel centenary.

British physicists are taking issue with a Royal Mail brochure, published in association with six new postage stamps, which suggests that quantum physics could help to explain the paranormal.

The brochure, part of a presentation package to commemorate the centenary of the Nobel prizes, will be available at 18,000 post offices from 2 October.

The material at issue was written by Brian Josephson, a professor at the University of Cambridge, who won a Nobel prize in 1973 for his work on superconductors. The entry says that developments in quantum physics, combined with information technology, "may lead to an explanation of processes still not understood within conventional science, such as telepathy -- an area in which Britain is at the forefront of research".

Josephson gave his name to the Josephson effect, which describes the flow of current between two pieces of superconducting material separated by a thin layer of insulating material.

But few physicists accept that telepathy even exists, says Andrew Steane, a quantum physicist at the University of Oxford.

Robert Evans, a physicist at the University of Bristol, says he is "very uneasy" about something from the Royal Mail saying quantum physics has something to do with telepathy.

Kathryn Hollingsworth, a spokeswoman for the Royal Mail, says: "If it transpires that what he's suggesting doesn't have a scientific basis, perhaps we should have checked that," she says. "But if he has won a Nobel prize for his work, that should give him some credibility."

Josephson wrote the paragraph at the Royal Mail's invitation. A number of theories, he says, are helping to explain "how a more detailed understanding of paranormal phenomena may emerge from a better understanding of quantum mechanics".