Thursday, March 26, 2009

Huffington Post article

An article entitled "The Science of Distant Healing" by Harvard psychiatrist Srinivasan Pillay appeared in the Huffington Post blog on March 24. It mentioned an experiment my colleagues and I published a few years ago where we tested whether one person's healing intentions influenced a distant person's physiology. You can find the abstract of this article by clicking here.

Some of the comments after the article positively seethe with anger. I've always been fascinated by such apoplectic outbursts, not just because they are sparked by mere ideas, in this case the idea that our minds may have unrecognized abilities, but also because they are shouted to exhaustion by people who probably regard themselves as rational.

It's always tempting to respond to such comments, but I've found that doing so is just a waste of time. Meaningful dialog cannot occur if one side is overwhelmed by strong emotion. My primary reaction now is compassion for those who feel so threatened by ideas that they can no longer control themselves.

27 comments:

Eric Greene said...

"Meaningful dialog cannot occur if one side is overwhelmed by strong emotion."
well said!

imagicalgreek said...

I have also always found it amazing how violently some people react to the idea that there may be something more to us or 'out there' than what we commonly believe. Perhaps these people feel like that idea means they are not in control.

The vast majority of the public seems ignorant of how scientific research is conducted in the areas of psi and other paranormal phenomena. The general perception seems to be that either no one is conducting any research, or that the research that is being conducted must be shoddy and flawed, which is obviously NOT TRUE to anyone who bothers to give the subject more than a cursory glance. Unfortunately, the 'true believing skeptics' have done much to sully the name of anything possibly 'paranormal', and I think this does a lot to discourage many from even looking too deeply at the subject. Fear of ridicule could be a powerful motivator for avoidance.

The book 'Unbelievable', which looks to be an introductory overview of the history of the Rhine lab at Duke, by Stacy Horn of NPR fame is set to be released shortly. There's a decent article about it here:

http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2009-03/science-behind-unseen-phenomena

I've no idea if the book will be any good, but I found the comments at the end of the article (38 of them when I read it) interesting, in that most seem to have an open-minded, curious tone, even when they know little about the subject. So maybe the psi research community needs to figure out a way to get some better, wider PR. That so many folks who profess an interest in the paranormal have never heard of JB Rhine, and/or don't know that there has been serious research into this subject for many decades seem to point to the unfortunate idea that the (severely underfunded) real scientific folk are on the losing end of a battle between the 'true believers' and the 'true believing skeptics', who seem to have tons of resources for PR, especially when they are light on real science.

Sandy said...

Dean, I’m not surprised by such behavior. I’ve been to conferences where scientists have gotten into shouting matches over topics that were much more conventional. Both sides tend to think that they are the ones behaving rationally.

I know it seems self evident that rational behavior would best be served by investigating such ideas, and judging their validity based on the data. If the data shows nothing interesting taking place, well, then move on to something else. No big deal. And nothing to get emotional about.

People become emotional when the data does show things of interest. Because you have to accept that either the universe as you know it may be about to change, or you have to convince yourself that the study was somehow “bad”. I can see how both options might make a person cranky.

The idea that our minds may have unrecognized abilities is not an easy thing to live with. Yes, it is just an idea, but what an idea! It changes one’s entire existence.

anonymous said...

"Some of the comments after the article positively seethe with anger."

People hate to change their world view. People tend to associate a sense of self worth with being intelligent. Our educational system encourages this. No one wants to admit to themselves they were wrong because it makes them feel like a loser.

"It's always tempting to respond to such comments, but I've found that doing so is just a waste of time. Meaningful dialog cannot occur if one side is overwhelmed by strong emotion."

Responding to every ignoramous would take so much time that there would not be enough left over to do anything else. This is especially true when some of them are obsessive compulsives and go on ad nausiam in an attempt to get the last word.

However there are often many more readers than posters on the internet and some will be open minded and some will not be skeptical. These readers often would be very interested in a rebuttal to the criticisms.

LV said...

There are some chinks in the armor. It looks like the status of even special relativity is being questioned:

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=was-einstein-wrong-about-relativity

Dean Radin said...

> ... there are often many more readers than posters on the internet and some will be open minded and some will not be skeptical. These readers often would be very interested in a rebuttal to the criticisms.

That's a good point. If I weren't so deeply engaged in trying to advance the state of the art, I'd probably be more inclined to fight the good fight online. Maybe I'll do that after I retire from laboratory work, or when I'm necessarily more in the public eye while on a book tour or equivalent.

anonymous said...

One approach to rebutting dissenting commenters is, rather than dealing with each comment tit for tat, letting the comments accrue and then replying to them en masse. This also works well if you can make a follow up post rather than reply in the comments. A good example of this is in the paranormalia blog. After blogging about the SPR Study Day, there was a follow up post replying to criticisms in the comments, and then a second follow up to criticisms of the first followup.

The original post was SPR Study Day.

The first followup was Reply to Skeptics

The second followup was Unengaged, implausible, illogical.

On the other hand, the advantage of replying in the comments is that it is more likely that readers of the criticism will find the rebuttals if they are physically and temporally near the criticism.

Lawrence said...

It's really cognitive dissonance isn't it? Scientists and the like are as human as everybody else and when their belief systems are challenged by contradictory data they respond in predictable ways, well documented by Leon Festinger, the sociologist who formulated the response patterns people make to avoid dissonance. People are their beliefs after all, a threat to one's beliefs is a threat to one's very sense of identity. And people will do anything to avoid that happening.

In parapsychology somebody who really showed up the irrational resistance to the positive data in psi as well as anybody, was the late Brian Inglis in his book "The Hidden Power". He documented the nature and dynamics of the orthodoxy in explaining away psi as well as anybody I have read.

Quantumfog said...

I just passed around a couple of abstracts from some of your research. Keep'em coming!

David Bailey said...

There is plenty of this anger over at Skeptiko, and some of the most angry (to judge from their comments) were (two were banned!) almost certainly actively involved in biological research of some kind.

My first reaction to this, is to strengthen my suspicion that psi effects in general do exist. These skeptics have distorted and suppressed the facts (and further research) so efficiently, that one has to wonder what the field would look like without them.

I guess the other thing, is that in a way I can understand them. Outside of proper parapsychological research, people can make almost any claim based on almost no evidence. Some of the comments are just reactions to that, made without even realising that there is real research going on too.

Dean Radin said...

I wonder what skeptics, meaning those whose temperaments urge them to violently disbelieve anything beyond their own nose, think about the growing number of physics experiments indicating that cherished commonsense assumptions about locality and realism are demonstrably wrong?

I say this because if one were to just read abstracts reporting these studies, it would be easy to dismiss such ideas as nonsense, or mistakes, or even fraud.

But reading the full papers and understanding how the conclusions were reached -- talk about cognitive dissonance!

Tor said...

David said:


I guess the other thing, is that in a way I can understand them. Outside of proper parapsychological research, people can make almost any claim based on almost no evidence. Some of the comments are just reactions to that, made without even realising that there is real research going on too.


But it does get tiring doesn't it David (as we have experienced with some at Skeptiko)?

You can only explain or point to certain things so many times until it doesn't seem to be any point anymore. My feeling about this is that we do not need to convince the extreme skeptics. We only need to make scientists intrigued enough to check out the data for themselves. Some will always be unable to accept this data because the internal conflict gets to big, but most will think something interesting is going on.

I just don't see the point in arguing with extremists. It's more fun to pound your head against a wall.

Tor

Tor said...

Dean Radin said:

I wonder what skeptics, meaning those whose temperaments urge them to violently disbelieve anything beyond their own nose, think about the growing number of physics experiments indicating that cherished commonsense assumptions about locality and realism are demonstrably wrong?

I say this because if one were to just read abstracts reporting these studies, it would be easy to dismiss such ideas as nonsense, or mistakes, or even fraud.

But reading the full papers and understanding how the conclusions were reached -- talk about cognitive dissonance!


Hehe.. I don't think they read the full papers. Self defence mechanisms automatically kick inn and convince them that it is all rubbish, so no need to read any further. And if you push them on this they will just pay lip service and by no mean internalize what it actually means for their other views on how things are supposed to work.

I've seen this in action a couple of times. It always amazes me.

Tor

Dogmatic said...

Those comments are actually somewhat tame compared to many that I've seen and been engaged in. In the vast majority of those debates the 'skeptic' side always seems to assume that those that support or carry out this type of research are pushing an agenda. Usually they assume its a religious agenda.

I boggle a little bit when so many begin linking pages from csicop or skepdic type sites. Once they've read something that confirms their current view they no longer need to make any use of their own critical thinking skills. If something 'paranormal' looks convincing at first, they only need to check their favorite debunking organization and there is bound to be a page slandering the topic, the research, and/or the researcher. Its like a religious fundamentalist turning to his bible or priest.

Most don't even understand that its not science they're 'protecting'. Its materialism.

Many just assume topics like this are scientifically vacuous simply because mainstream science doesn't accept it. There seems to be a very naive view that the social structure of science has little to no bias and that scientists are just 'out to find the truth'. That truth they assume to be the metaphysical materialist viewpoint.

I'm not saying all are this way. Just the vast majority I've come across.

Daniel said...

Dr. Radin,

I read The Conscious Universe some years ago and it frankly rocked me. I placed it beside my other favorite book, a hard cover first edition of The Reach of The Mind by JB Rhine.

I find this site an island of curiosity in a world that despite its scientific depth, is still filled with small mindedness and ideologues.

Thank you for this.

Zetetic_chick said...

Dean,

I agree that debating online with ignorant skeptics is a waste of time.

However, maybe you'd consider to reply to some online skeptical articles like those published in the skeptic dictionary. The author (Robert Carroll) has some silly "reviews" of your books, misrepresenting your arguments and evidence.

An online reply to such skeptical misrepresentations would be probably a good idea.

Rach said...

Dean,

I am a regular reader of your blog, but have never posted a comment prior to today. I also own, and have been fascinated by, both of your books.

I can understand why you would not want to be engaged in aggressive, impassioned arguments with people who haven't bothered to read the study in question. It's quite pointless.

However, the Huffington Post article also links (within the attached comments) to an analysis of the study on the Skeptiko blog (not the podcast site, hosted by Alex, the other one).

In this analysis, the writer claims to have read the full study and, amongst other criticisms, states that there was no control group used in the experiment. Yet the abstract states quite clearly that there was. Which of these statements is true?

Regards.

FB said...

I think the movement needs public speakers as well as researchers.

Probably it would be best if each individual focused his efforts on a small area. For example, if I decided to take up the cause of publicizing the paranormal, I would optimize my resources for that task, and exclude other tasks like personally executing research.

Tor said...

Talking about new findings in physics, have anyone read the Nature article (April 2007) Evidence for wavelike energy transfer through quantum coherence in photosynthetic systems by Egel et al?

I've only seen the popular recounts of the findings and not the article itself. But if what they say is true, that the findings suggests the most efficient pathway of the energy transfer process is decided retroactively by a probability collapse, then this is basically Wheeler's delayed choice happening in biology.

Now, if the above is what they actually think is occurring, then the natural question for me to ask is:

Who or what does the collapse?

If we think orthodox quantum mechanics (e.g. Stapp), then I would say that the plant seemed to have made a conscious choice, whatever that really means for a process like this.

This may be bad news for vegetarians..

Tor

Dean Radin said...

> ... the writer claims to have read the full study and, amongst other criticisms, states that there was no control group used in the experiment. Yet the abstract states quite clearly that there was. Which of these statements is true?

Sigh. Of course there was a control group.

By the way, an anonymous someone posted a new angry rant that I will not repeat here because it is abusive. The point of the rant was that the skeptic's anger is justified because the only motive for publishing articles and books on psi is to make money off of the weak-willed. The underlying assumption seems to be that psi is impossible, and thus any articles or experiments reporting positive scientific evidence must be a con.

I've met people before who get angry because they cannot grok that it is possible to do real science in unusual areas. But this is a new one that raises the skeptical delusion to whole new levels. That anyone can possibly believe that I do psi research to bilk the ignorant is just laughable. Ask anyone who has attempted to push the prevailing scientific paradigm in any discipline and you will learn how socially and economically dangerous it is to follow the road less traveled.

The ranter would also have us believe that skeptics are really gentle, kind people who feel that they, as superior intellects, must watch over the "weak willed," so as to protect them from bad ideas. This was the same mentality that spawned the horror of the Spanish Inquisition. Fervent, unreasoned scientism is every bit as dangerous as religious fundamentalism.

Lawrence said...

Just be honest Radin this skeptic has busted you, we all know that you have earned millions through that con called parapsychological resarch. You have been seen driving your new porsche around town, you have bought a holiday villa in Pacific Palisades, and another one in Monte Carlo, and a private game reserve in South Africa, all with the proceeds gulled off of the gullible masses through the peddling of this new-age superstition you try to pass off as science. The game is up Radin, I have uncovered all this in my uh research. This will all be revealed in my forthcoming book, 'The Quack Peddlers of Pseudo-Science: Radin Sheldrake Jahn Targ' to be published by Prometheus Books.

I went undercover to find out what guys like Radin do with all the tens of millions of taxpayer money they con off us through AAAS and NIH grants and their book sales. Well Radin's luxurious assets are only one small part of the whole debauchery.

I document in detail the wild parties, the hordes of young female student groupies Radin and his fellow Svengalis take advantage of. We all know how beautiful university students just throw themselves at parapsychologists, these naive girls will do anything and I do mean anything, to impress these conmen they perceive as heroes on the so-called cutting edge of science. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppellin had nothing on the debauchery of these men who dare to call themselves professors of science.

Those of you with teenage daughters and sisters will know exactly what I am talking about, there was a time not that long ago when young impressionable girls had posters of the Rolling Stones and Kurt Cobain on their walls. Now as you know, Dean Radin's beady eyes, Stan Krippner's smirk and George Hansen's pearly whites stare down at you from the posters on their walls. These men know exactly what they are doing and they have no shame.

Also in my book I document how this snare of pseudoscience that is parapsychology will lead to a possible new outbreak of bubonic plague, widespread electricity blackouts, drought, famine and the collapse of agriculture in general, the loss of civil rights for women and minorities and devastating hurricane activity off the Australian west coast, and possible civil war in the Balkans (again).

So Radin enjoy your ill-gotten gains while you can, but maybe you should put off buying the ferrari F430 you have had your greedy eyes on.

The game is up. I am going to succeed where even the great James Randi (my hero) failed, I am taking you down. Your career built on greed and deception, trickery and manipulation is toast, my exposé is withering and watertight. The game is over you understand?

Seriously you have to laugh when you hear how any scientist is doing parapsychological research, or writing on it, for the money. What money? It's more like putting a sign round your neck with the words heretic written on it. If it's job security you want in the sciences, and a steady stream of funding from the universities and conglomorates, accolades from the editors of the big circulation journals and the like; the way to go is to go along with the status quo of scientific materialism and scientism, not swim against the current. Would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

Sandy said...

Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppellin had nothing on the debauchery of these men who dare to call themselves professors of science.

You know, Lawrence, you really had me looking forward to that book. Hehehe…

Liz said...

Hi Dean,
As someone who has experienced the irrefutable result of faith healing first hand - of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia at a time when it was regarded as universally fatal (so pretty miraculous in other words!) - I welcome any scientific research or studies which bring us closer to proving, beyond the smallest doubt, its efficacy to the uninformed masses. However, also from experience I can quite clearly recall those doctors/skeptics who would give my healing ANY explanation other than a "cranky" mind-over-matter or supernatural connection, regarding it as superstituous twaddle. I think this has alot to do with the myth-like and far-fetched religious connotations of the words, "miracle", and "healing"! The word miracle is merely used to describe an extraordinary event beyond our (current) scope of understanding. There's a probably warranted in some respects knee-jerk reaction there people will never quite move beyond. Suffice to say with all the proven experiments in the world, the hardened skeptic will, doubtless, still find reasons to disbelieve!! I, personally, don't need them but I'm still hugely curious as to the specific "ingredients" which bring about healings where a death sentence is, according to the medical profession, absolutely certain; which was my case. It's not an exact science by any means.

matthewx78 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
matthewx78 said...

I keep seeing from the Skeptico bunch "There was no control "group.""

You did have a control, just not a group...

"Outcome measures using nonparametric bootstrap procedures, normalized skin conductance means recorded during the intention epochs were compared with the same measures recorded during randomly selected interepoch periods, used as controls."

They are also saying you altered Data post hoc, but I cannot get access to this particular article through my school library so I am not sure... But I doubt that since "The File Drawer Problem" was significantly covered in The Conscious Universe.

Dean Radin said...

> They are also saying you altered Data post hoc ...

I am guessing that this refers to artifact removal, which is a standard procedure when dealing with psychophysiological measurements. It has to be done post hoc because (duh) you can't remove artifacts before you've collected the data.

The relevant paragraph from the article is: "To reduce the potential biasing effects of movement artifacts, all data were visually inspected, and SCL epochs with artifacts were eliminated from further consideration (artifacts were identified by D.R., who was not blind to each epoch’s underlying condition). This analysis slightly reduced the potential total of 1,170 to 1,140 epochs (97%) as follows: 387 of 410 trained epochs (94%), 360 of 360 wait epochs (100%), and 393 of 400 control epochs (98%)."

If biased artifact removal was responsible for the reported effects, then this should not be the case in the wait group because 100% of those data were retained. And yet, that group also showed a significant increase in SCL, in fact the same overall effect as seen in the trained group.

Unknown said...

I ventured over to Huffington post by mistake. I followed the link from google. That being said wow! The uneducated are swarming over there. You can't have a decent discussion if you tried. Why? The headline lie. Which puts you on the defense before you read the article. Which most don't there obviously or they would know most are full of crap. I've called out so many so called writers there to back up their statements with facts I gave up. The misinformed, misunderstood, poor little me people over there are ridiculous.