Sunday, January 28, 2007

Too many numbers

Upon witnessing Mozart's first Viennese opera, "Die Entführung aus dem Serail," Emperor Joseph II reportedly offered the famous criticism, "Too many notes, my dear Mozart." In a recent review of Entangled Minds on Amazon.com, I am admonished with a similar criticism. The reviewer writes, in part:

When I bought this book, I was fully ready to accept every word of it. But, as I read, I found Radin's numbers, especially his quantitative statistics of probabilities, rather ridiculous. 35 trillion-to-one against chance?? Come on. Mr Radin says his experiments gave a 56% rate of success (with 50% being chance). Come on. Chance is not hardcore. Sometimes chance is 42%, sometimes it's 56%. 6% over chance is not scientific evidence of anything. Come on ...

And so on, in a similar vein. What comes to mind is the Emperor's suggestion (from the movie Amadeus), that Mozart "just cut a few [notes] and it will be perfect." To this Mozart responds, "Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?" In the present case, the reviewer's complaint arises because she mistakes effect size for statistical significance. Without going into what that means, all I'll say is that Entangled Minds assumes that the reader has at least an elementary understanding of basic statistics, and at least an inkling of what scientific experimentation is all about. Without that knowledge, the book may well appear to have "too many notes."

8 comments:

Book Surgeon said...

Dr. Radin, my only question is, why waste your time commenting about such ignorance? Clearly, the reviewer doesn't have the first clue. Readers intelligent enough to appreciate the work of you and your peers and understand its potential significance will not be swayed by that kind of facile review.

Dean Radin said...

Partially because I found the review inadvertently funny, but also because anyone can say anything they want on Amazon.com, and such comments do influence potential readers who aren't able or willing to evaluate the merits of each review.

I am less concerned about Amazon.com than the Wikipedia because the former clearly consists of personal opinions but the latter is regarded by many as a reliable source of information. For mundane, well-established topics, some of the Wikipedia articles aren't all that bad. But for anything even mildly controversial, the articles are quite poor because they become battlegrounds between anonymous editors with different axes to grind. That's hardly an effective way to generate a reliable encyclopedia.

Book Surgeon said...

Good points.

Anonymous said...

Many of the pages in Wikipedia concerning PSI and related topics (dowsing etc...) are produced and overseen by Randi fans, and are utterly biased and contain false information. Many of the attempts I've seen at 'debunking' on the web are the products of rank amateurs and embarrassing to read.

A recent poster on Randi's website forum tried to debunk the work done by Munich Physics Professor Hans-Dieter Betz on dowsing by declaring that he was not a Munich Physics professor at all but a Biblical Scholar, and even gave a link to a website to prove it.

It simply hadn't occurred to him that two people can have the same name!

If only he'd looked further down those Google rankings...

The debunkers went on to declare that the JSE is not a peer reviewed journal.

Phronk said...

That guy obviously didn't know what he was talking about. It's too bad that laboratory demonstrations of psi can really only be understood fully with some basic knowledge of statistics. Perhaps this explains why the general public has not been completely blown away by psi research (along with other factors, of course).

I've been trying to clean up some parapsychology articles on Wikipedia. They're not terrible, but could certainly use help of people who are actually familiar with the research. If a fact is cited properly, verifiable, and neutrally worded, it is difficult for bias to enter (though people still find a way).

Solar said...

I have been involved in Wikipedia since 2004 and have been shocked by the levels of animosity many editors show towards even the most minor assertions. It is a real problem. It is not helped by the fact that there is no specific parapsychology project on Wikipedia, this is something I have been considering starting, as at present there is a Paranormal project but that includes areas such as UFOs and Bigfoot, which for me distract from serious parapsychology research.

I have recently attempted to improve things at the Dean Radin article by highlighting the biographical guidelines, but I feel it may need mediation to bring it up to standard.

Dean if you wanted to you could personally comment to Wikipedia through the biography project, which would be taken very seriously and may result in improvements to the article.

Dean Radin said...

How does one go about commenting to Wikipedia directly? I think the guidelines posted for biographies of living persons are fine, but getting anonymous editors to conform to those aspirations is impossible.

Requests that biographies be removed from Wikipedia are acknowledged, but those requests are not honored! I fear the only way this policy is going to change is when someone, like say a Presidential candidate who is falsely accused of something on the Wiki, sues them for libel.

Solar said...

It is very hard to get a biography removed if you are a notable public figure, as you are, and personally I think it would be a real loss to Wikipedia if your article was to be removed. I have found that with time articles do improve as more editors become involved and add other points of view.

If you look here you will find the information on what you can do with regards to articles about yourself. I am preparing some additions to the article when I get some spare-time so I hope to improve the present bias.