Friday, December 03, 2010

My comments on Alcock's comments on Bem's precognition article

The Skeptical Inquirer (online version) has published a commentary on Daryl Bem's precognition research, written by dedicated skeptic James Alcock. The same story has also bubbled up to the attention of the mainstream media, including the New York Times and NPR. Some of the op-eds border on the hysterical. Others are more rational.

An example of the hysterical type includes Alcock's article. I will not address his critique of Bem's procedure (Bem does that calmly and effectively, hurting Alcock's feelings in the process), but I will comment on his preamble, which I reproduce here in indented blue text.
Parapsychology has long struggled unsuccessfully for acceptance in the halls of science. Could this article be the breakthrough? After all, it apparently provides evidence compelling enough to persuade the editors of that APA journal of its worthiness. However, this is hardly the first time that there has been media excitement about new "scientific" evidence of the paranormal. Over the past 80-odd years, this drama has played out a number of times, and each time, parapsychologists ultimately failed to persuade the scientific world that their phenomena actually exist. Recalling George Santayana’s now-clichéd dictum, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” we should approach Bem’s work with a historical framework to guide us. Consider the following:
DR: One reason for this failure are myths about psi research that are incessantly repeated by skeptics whose Bayesian priors are so close to zero that is it virtually impossible for any new evidence to sway their original beliefs. The strategy of repeating the same talking points ad nauseum is effective because most listeners eventually absorb those words as though they are true. A genuine skeptic would wonder if the critique offered by Alcock is backed up by solid facts. After doing some homework, he or she would eventually discover that most of it isn't.
  1. In 1934, Joseph Banks Rhine published Extra-sensory perception (Rhine & McDougall, 1934/2003), summarizing his careful efforts to bring parapsychology into the laboratory through application of modern psychological methodology and statistical analysis. Based on a long series of card-guessing experiments, he wrote: "It is independently established on the basis of this work alone that Extra-Sensory Perception is an actual and demonstrable occurrence.” (p. 210).

Elsewhere, he wrote: "We have then, for physical science, a challenging need for the discovery of the energy mode involved. Some type of energy is inferable and none is known to be acceptable….” (p.166)

Despite Rhine’s confidence that he had established the reality of extrasensory perception, he had not done so. Methodological problems eventually came to light, and as a result, parapsychologists no longer run card-guessing studies, and rarely even refer to Rhine’s work.

Is this conclusion sound? No. In Rhine's 1940 book, Extra-Sensory Perception After 60 Years, which refers to the period 1880 to 1940 (the authors were Pratt, Rhine, Smith and Stuart), Rhine et al discussed in great detail every critique their work had received and how potential design and analytical loopholes were addressed in subsequent experiments. They also listed all known replications of their card guessing method. This volume makes it clear that Rhine and his colleagues were as methodologically sophisticated and as hard nosed as their harshest critics, and that their data -- when viewed under the most critical light available at the time -- withstood those critiques.

One key reason why Rhine's work failed to sustain the initial excitement it had generated in the 1930s was the rise of behaviorism in academic psychology. Within that paradigm, not only was ESP considered to be flatly impossible, but any form of subjective experience, including conscious awareness, became forbidden topics. The reason few researchers today use ESP cards is not because the method was flawed, but because better methods were developed. Like any other area of research, methods and ideas naturally evolve and build upon the work of previous generations.

  1. Physicist Helmut Schmidt conducted numerous studies throughout the 1970s and 1980s that putatively demonstrated that humans (and animals) could paranormally influence and/or predict the output of random event generators. Some of his claims were truly extraordinary – for example, that a cat in a cold garden shed, heated only by a lamp controlled by a random event generator, was able through psychokinetic manipulation of the random event generator to turn the lamp on more often than would be expected by chance. His claim to have put psi on a solid scientific footing garnered considerable attention, and his published research reported very impressive p-values. In my own extensive review of his work (Alcock, 1988), I concluded that Schmidt had indeed accumulated impressive evidence that something other than chance was involved. However, I found serious methodological errors throughout his work that rendered his conclusions untenable, and the “something other than chance” was attributable to methodological flaws.

As with Rhine, excitement about Schmidt's research gradually dwindled to the point that his work became virtually irrelevant, even within parapsychology itself.

Accusations of "serious methodological errors" provide an easy justification for dismissing this remarkable body of work. But is it really true that such errors made Schmidt's work irrelevant, or that other researchers did not follow up his work? No. Hundreds of studies involving random number generators were published after Schmidt's studies, and meta-analyses of those experiments have been published and debated in mainstream physics and psychology journals. Schmidt's work inspired dozens of researchers to replicate and extend his work, and it continues to do so today in research programs like the Global Consciousness Project. His work has also spawned several psi-related patents.

  1. The 1970s gave rise to "remote viewing,” a procedure through which an individual seated in a laboratory could supposedly receive psychic impressions of a remote location being visited by someone else. Physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff claimed that their series of remote viewing studies demonstrated the reality of psi. This attracted huge media attention, and their dramatic findings (Targ & Puthoff, 1974) were published in Nature, one of the world's top scientific journals. At first, their methodology seemed unassailable, but years later, when more detailed information became available, it became obvious that there were fundamental flaws in their procedure that could readily account for their sensational findings. When other researchers repeated their procedure with the flaws intact, significant results were obtained; with flaws removed, outcomes were not significant (Marks & Kamman, 1978; 1980).

Add Targ and Puthoff to the list of “breakthrough” researchers whose work is now all but forgotten.

Did supposed flaws adequately account for the results of remote viewing studies? No. Were those study designs abandoned? No. Did skeptics like Ray Hyman, who reviewed a small subset of the SRI/SAIC remote viewing studies for the CIA, conclude that the studies were flawed? No. Did this research paradigm, which was an updated version of picture-drawing techniques developed a half-century earlier, disappear? No.

Targ and Puthoff, and later Ed May and colleagues, continued not only to conduct substantial research on remote viewing, but it proved to be so useful for gathering information in a unique way that it was ultimately used for thousands of operational missions by the DoD. Some portions of the history of the formerly secret Stargate program (and other projects with different code names) is in the public domain now, so it is not necessary to go into that here. Suffice it to say that those research programs were very carefully monitored by skeptical scientific oversight committees who continued to recommend funding for over two decades (as long as the program remained secret).

  1. In 1979, Robert Jahn, then Dean of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University, established the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research unit to study putative paranormal phenomena such as psychokinesis. Like Schmidt, he was particularly interested in the possibility that people can predict and/or influence purely random subatomic processes. Given his superb academic and scientific credentials, his claims of success drew particular attention within the scientific community. When his laboratory closed in 1970, Jahn concluded that: “Over the laboratory's 28-year history, thousands of such experiments, involving many millions of trials, were performed by several hundred operators. The observed effects were usually quite small, of the order of a few parts in ten thousand on average, but they compounded to highly significant statistical deviations from chance expectations. 3

However, parapsychologists themselves were amongst the most severe critics of his work, and their criticisms were in line with my own (Alcock, 1988). More important, several replication attempts have been unsuccessful (e.g., Jeffers, 2003, including a large-scale international effort led by Jahn himself (Jahn et al, 2000).

One more name for the failed-breakthrough list.

Other than the flub about a lab closing in 1970 that opened in 1979, again we see a cavalier dismissal of decades of research, implying that the work was systematically sloppy or methodologically naive or both. Nothing can be further from the truth. I was at Princeton for three years and spent enough time in the PEAR Lab to know that the research conducted there was as rigorously vetted and executed as any scientific project you will find anywhere. There weren't just "several replications." There were hundreds. The PEAR Lab's RNG research was a replication and extension of Helmut Schmidt's studies, and their remote perception research was a replication and extension of the SRI/SAIC remote viewing research. PEAR successfully and independently replicated both of those study designs. Even Jeffers, who Alcock cites to suggest that the PEAR RNG work could not be replicated, was later involved in a successful RNG experiment.

Do parapsychologists criticize each others' work? Of course they do. As in any scientific discipline, those who know the most are also the most qualified to provide critiques. This is healthy for advancing any field and for refining methods and interpretations, and such debates can be found in all areas of science and scholarship. It does not mean that colleagues are suggesting a wholesale dismissal of the evidence, as devout Skeptics are wont to do.

  1. In the1970s, the Ganzfeld, a concept borrowed from contemporaneous psychological research into the effects of sensory deprivation, was brought into parapsychological research. Parapsychologists reasoned that psi influences may be so subtle that they are normally drowned out by information carried through normal sensory channels. Perhaps if a participant were in a situation relatively free of normal stimulation, then extrasensory information would have a better opportunity to be recognized. The late Charles Honorton carried out a large number of Ganzfeld studies, and claimed that his meta-analysis of such work substantiated the reality of psi. Hyman (1985) carried out a parallel meta-analysis which contradicted that conclusion. Hyman and Honorton (1986) subsequently published a "Joint Communiqué" in which they agreed that the Ganzfeld results were not likely to be due to chance, but that replication involving more rigorous standards was essential before final conclusions could be drawn.

Daryl Bem subsequently published an overview of Ganzfeld research in the prestigious Psychological Bulletin (Bem & Honorton, 1994), claiming that the accumulated data were clear evidence of the reality of paranormal phenomena. That effort failed to convince, in part because a number of meta-analyses have been carried out since, with contradictory results (e.g., Bem, Palmer & Broughton, 2001, Milton & Wiseman, 1999). Recently, the issue was raised again in the pages of Psychological Bulletin, with papers from Storm et al (2010) and Hyman (2010). While the former argued that their meta-analyses demonstrate paranormal influences, Hyman pointed to serious shortcomings in their analysis, and reminded us that the Ganzfeld procedure has failed to yield data that are capable of being replicated by neutral scientists.

Because of the lack of clear and replicable evidence, the Ganzfeld procedure has not lived up to the promise of providing the long-sought breakthrough that would lead to acceptance by mainstream science.

Add Honorton (and Bem first-time-around) to the list.

Yes, Honorton and Hyman agreed that the results available in 1986 were not due to chance, and that confirmations with new data would be required to be persuasive. Honorton subsequently provided this successful prospective replication, and Bem and Honorton published it in 1993. That should be the end of the skeptical story.

But now we learn that the successful replication was in fact not persuasive because of publications that appeared six years later that presented "contradictory" results. Besides the retrocausal reason for dismissing a successful replication, is it really true that the meta-analyses were contradictory, or that avowed skeptics cannot successfully replicate the effect? No. Neither claim is true. The Milton & Wiseman (1999) analysis was flawed because it used unweighted statistics. When proper methods, based on a simple hit/miss count, are employed, that meta-analysis produces a statistically significant positive outcome. In fact, of the half-dozen meta-analyses of the ganzfeld database published to date, every single one is significantly positive (this is discussed in the online journal NeuroQuantology in an article by Tressoldi, Storm and Radin [Dec 2010, Vol 8 (4]). So rather than being contradictory, the existing ganzfeld database is actually completely consistent. In addition, skeptics have successfully repeated the ganzfeld experiment (it's not obvious from that article's abstract, but it is described in the paper itself).

What is the lesson from this history? It is that one should give pause when presented with new claims of impressive evidence for psi. Early excitement is often misleading, and as Ray Hyman has pointed out, it often takes up to 10 years before the shortcomings of a new approach in parapsychological research become evident.

In other words, Alcock suggests that we don't need to pay attention to new experimental data because it will probably, eventually, be shown to be flawed in some way. If promissory dismissals were regularly applied to any other area of science, everything would come to a grinding halt. No new findings would ever appear in any domain, because research methods are evolving and today's data and analyses are never going to be as good as tomorrow's.

One must also keep in mind that even the best statistical evidence cannot speak to the causes of observed statistical departures. Statistical deviations do not favour arbitrary pet hypotheses, and statistical evidence cited in support of psi could as easily support other hypotheses as well. For example, if one conducted a parapsychological experiment while praying for above-chance scoring, statistically significant outcomes could be taken as evidence for the power of prayer just as readily as for the existence of psi.

Yes, there can be many interpretations of experimental results. It is the investigators' job to devise methods that as clearly as possible distinguish between possible explanations. In any case, it is not necessary to have an explanation for observed results. If it were necessary then science would never had advanced. The moment theory is allowed to trump observations, science will collapse into a dogmatic religion.

Another key consideration: Parapsychology’s putative phenomena are all negatively defined – to claim that psi has been detected, all possible normal influences must be ruled out. However, one can never be certain that all normal influences have been eliminated; the reader of a research report has only the experimenter’s word for it.

This brings us to a related concern. Research reports involve an implicit social contract between experimenter and audience. The reader can only evaluate what has been put into print, and must presume that the researcher has followed the best practices of good research. We assume that the participants did actually participate and that they were not allowed to use their cellular telephones during the experiment, or to chat with other participants. We assume that they were effectively shielded from cues that might have inappropriately influenced their responses. We assume that the data were as reported, that none were thrown out because they did not suit the experimenter, and that they were analyzed appropriately and in the manner indicated. We assume that equipment functioned as described, and that precautions reported in the experimental procedure were carefully followed. We take for granted that the researcher set out to test particular hypotheses, and did not choose the hypotheses after looking at the data. We must take all this on faith, for otherwise, any research publication might simply be approached as a blend of fact, fantasy, skill, and error, possibly reflecting little other than the predilections of the researcher. Obvious methodological or analytical sloppiness indicates that the implicit social contract has been violated and that we can no longer have confidence that the researcher followed best practices and minimized personal bias. As Gardner (1977) wrote, when one finds that the chemist began with dirty test tubes, one can have no confidence in the chemist's findings, and one must wonder about other, as yet undetected, contamination. So, when considering the present research, we need not only to look at the data, but, following the metaphor, we need to assess whether Bem used clean test tubes.

This implies that it is possible to devise a perfect experiment. The clean test tube metaphor is a nice ideal, but in the real world there is no such thing. Nevertheless the ideal always gives the critic a convenient reason to dismiss any result that he or she prefers to disbelieve. If no actual flaw can be found, then one can always raise suspicions, or propose implausible scenarios that never actually occurred, or if all that fails, then they can just default to the catch-all criticism, "let's wait 10 years before we accept this result because by then someone will surely find something amiss."

In sum, Alcock has been an enthusiastic and effective defender of the skeptical faith for decades. His critiques are predictable and at first blush they may even seem reasonable, especially to those who aren't familiar with the research literature in question. But when you do know that literature, the arguments fall apart.

For a recent book that goes into the proponent/skeptic debate in some detail, including more of Alcock's critiques and my responses, I recommend this book:

77 comments:

muzuzuzus said...

"One key reason why Rhine's work failed to sustain the initial excitement it had generated in the 1930s was the rise of behaviorism in academic psychology. Within that paradigm, not only was ESP considered to be flatly impossible, but any form of subjective experience, including conscious awareness, became forbidden topics."

Yes behaviourism. I think the politics of the 'history of ideas' ALWAYS has to be very much acknowledged when you look at the sceptics propaganda.
Looking at the politics must include looking as non-specialized as one can at the whole picture. So for example, to see patterns. This is what I do. Rene Descartes --a 'renowned thinker' in the history of ideas believed animals were machines. Who did this benefit? Well a big industry is the 'AV industry' which tortures millions of animals a day.
Later appaeras on the scene Wilhelm Wundt who believes HUMANS now are merely machines, and his chosen 'science' greatly incites the behaviourist idea of humans and conveniently allows for their exploitation as 'cogs in the State-run machine'!

When this is always kept in mind, and explored, you see the game being played you are seeing through it. You see where the money/funding is going, and the propaganda from their 'sceptics'.

muzuzuzus said...

soon after posting my previous comment here, I came across this video Chi Energy Amazing Footage . I remember seeing this film years ago, and the image that really stayed with me was this guy setting paper alight with his hand. I think it is apropros because it shows--amongst other things-- very amusingly how the 'new state of the art digitalized science-measureing instruments' just aint up to the job lol

alex.tsakiris said...

wow... thx for this excellent and thorough post!

The moment theory is allowed to trump observations, science will collapse into a dogmatic religion.

That moment is now... ok, as you point out that "moment" is status quo for the last 80 years.

Parapsychology researchers have convinced themselves that they can play am admittedly crooked game and win... I don't think so.

Alcock's message, "it's ok... go back to sleep... enjoy the ballgame" is too appealing.

Alex
www.skeptiko.com

Mark Szlazak said...

Dean, I would rephrase this a bit:

"The moment theory is allowed to trump observations, science will collapse into a dogmatic religion."

to

"The moment theory is ALWAYS allowed to trump observations, ..."

I can appreciate dismissal of contrary evidence in favor of theory. After all the evidence can have some problems. However with regards to psi, those days are long over and may never have existed. Materialism was a philosophical/metaphysical stance but not a scientific theory. Now, if I'm mistaken and it is a scientific theory then it's likely been falsified not because of psi but because of the fact the we have qualia. Qualia are outside it's framework.

So what scientific theory do psi experiences actually threaten?

Keith Augustine said...

In other words, Alcock suggests that we don't need to pay attention to new experimental data because it will probably, eventually, be shown to be flawed in some way. If promissory dismissals were regularly applied to any other area of science, everything would come to a grinding halt.

I think this is putting a bit of spin on Alcock's actual comments. That we "should give pause" before accepting the reality of a phenomenon X (or a particular interpretation of said phenomenon) is not equivalent to saying that we should ignore new experimental data relevant to whether X is real (or to whether a certain interpretation of X is correct). Reviewing data relevant to X is not the same as affirming the reality of X, or to affirming the truth of a particular interpretation of X.

Nor does accepting that idea require one to halt research. One can still look into whether X is real (or whether a certain interpretation of X is true) without committing oneself to its reality (or to that interpretation).

That said, I concede that belief that X exists, or that a particular interpretation of X is true, is more likely to motivate one to do research about X.

Kaviraj said...

Dean, have you shared this with Alcock? If not, are you going to?

Dean Radin said...

Yes, "give pause" is often a reasonable attitude to adopt when confronted with strange ideas or evidence. But Alcock is clearly suggesting far more than prudence. He and other devout skeptics have repeatedly recommended only one course of action after pausing: To regard the entire century of psi research as having accomplished nothing.

Matt said...

Hi Dean,

I am sure you have discussed this elsewhere, but what factors likely influence the large variation in outcomes in micro PK experiments? I agree there's something anomalous occurring in these experiments, but I do find the inconsistency/heterogeneity of results troubling, if only because it allows skeptics to dismiss the results all together (as Alcock does)

Aaron said...

The tone of Alcock's analysis is completely belittling to any attempt at psi research. The attitude of people on “skeptic" message boards is utterly dismissive of psi to the point where these people believe that any attempt to do research on psi at all is an indication of idiocy.

Reading through the arguments he made, I kept wondering where the meat of his conviction came from. He offered several peripheral attacks at the research methodology that seem to me to have little persuasive powwer to deny the esults as a whole. The noise of the bark didn't seem to match the substance of the bite.

This is just an ever lengthening playing field. Such an article is purposely loaded with dismissive negativity in order to subdue media excitement. Since about 95% of readers will have no ability to follow the meaning of the arguments in useful context, the tone of conviction from Alcock will rally the troops to agree reflexively that there is some substantive validity to waiving away this bothersome study.

Dave Smith said...

Goodness, that was a scathing critique from Alcock. Still trying to dissect 'the research' section, but doesn't he make a glaring error when he says this about Experiment 1?:

While 60 of the participants completed 18 trials with erotic pictures and 18 trials of "non-erotic positive pictures," and therefore the chance outcome for them would indeed be 50% of the 36 trials, the other 40 participants received 12 trials with erotic pictures, 12 with negative pictures and 12 with neutral pictures. For them, the chance outcome would be 33.3%.

I am aghast. There were always two curtains to choose from, one of which was randomly selected to have an image behind it. So the hit rate for any category of stimulus should be 50% regardless of their frequency across all trials. This was a basic aspect of the protocol and was clearly described.

Dean, like you said, Bem should be the one to reply properly to this critique but I had to get this blooper off my chest it was so blatant.

Mark Szlazak said...

"Give pause" before accepting the reality of this phenomena is tip-off to the lie that Alcock wants to perpetuate. The correct response should be, hey let's investigate this more to understand it even better.

Where I come from the ideas behind phenomena aren't ever really disprove or prove but improve on. That means continual research.

So what am I suppose to make of guys like Alcock?

Unless the real reason to avoid psi research is fear or because it's forbidden knowledge then I think Alcock has spent one to many Canadian winters in Toronto. He needs to get out more.

I'll wager that he will continue his dismissal until the day he dies. A classic story found throughout the history of science where "old guard" never can accept the new reality.

Dean Radin said...

> Dean, have you shared this with Alcock? If not, are you going to?

No. There is a 2007 article in the journal Cognitive Neuropsychiatry entitled "Semantic episodic interactions in the neuropsychology of disbelief."

The paper concludes "that truth judgements are made through a combined weighting of the reliability of the information source and the compatibility of this information with already stored data," and that "semantic episodic interactions also appear to prevent new information from being accepted as 'true' through encoding bias or the assignment of a 'false' tag to data that is incompatible with prior knowledge." This difficulty of responding to new information "can arise from mild hippocampal dysfunction and might result in delusions."

From his critique, we see that Alcock clearly views the source of new psi data as dubious, and his memory thoroughly confirms this, so it would be exceedingly difficult for him to revise his disbelief.

But this is not just being stubborn. As the journal article describes, those who continue to disbelieve something in the face of accumulated empirical data to the contrary may be suffering from a brain-generated delusion.

By the way, Alcock is a co-author of that article on disbelief.

muzuzuzus said...

Yes, I have also heard that Dean. Now hmmm ever remember something but you cant remember where you filed it? If I remember right it was quite recent and was a talk given about Neuroplasticity where speaker said that they had seen brain imagery where the parts where brain lights up for pleasure are affected when a person's worldview is threatened, hence worldviews challanged actually brings on a pain response.

This would make sense, and I am not saying I am innocent and never feel threatened. In fact any debate is dangerous in that regard because you may have a worldview you dont know about lol
But I have noticed so-called sceptics who will choose the most cliched and absurd ad hoc 'explanation' for anomalies that in reality are UN-explainable. many will also be very quick to conclude 'case closed'. So it smell like fear to me anyhoo.

Tor said...

In my experience, any type of mindset or mental state that is kept in place for long periods of time, will eventually get burned into your system. So I have no trouble imagining that extreme skepticism or disbelief eventually reaches a limit, a chronic state, trapping its "host" so to speak.

Most of us are trapped in our mind states anyway. I prefer to have a state that is more open and flexible, one that can be revised and expanded. That means letting go of the illusion of understanding everything, and I guess some would feel much less safe by that.

I think many of those with chronic disbelief or chronic skepticism could benefit from practicing some genuine contemplative method. It can teach them to once again learn to let go, to go beyond the burnt in conditioning. This can be a painful process (especially if mentally clinging to the current state), but the benefits gained can far outweigh the pain experienced to reach this goal.

Dean Radin said...

Perhaps a future edition of the DSM will include CDD: Chronic Disbelief Disorder.

Jime said...

I wonder why Alcock didn't publish his skeptical article in a professional journal of parapsychology.

He's basically preaching for the chorus when he published his article in the Skeptical Inquirer. Most readers of that magazine are hard-core skeptics, or at least very sympathetic to the skeptical (anti-psi) point of view.

The Milton & Wiseman (1999) analysis was flawed because it used unweighted statistics. When proper methods, based on a simple hit/miss count, are employed, that meta-analysis produces a statistically significant positive outcome

In his recent and comprehensive critique of Richard Wiseman's lastest debunking, Chris Carter explained in detail Milton/Wiseman's flawed methods in such 1999 study:

The 30 studies that Milton and Wiseman considered ranged in size from 4 trials to 100, but they used a statistical method that simply ignored sample size (N). For instance, say we have 3
studies, two with N = 8, 2 hits (25%), and a third with N = 60, 21 hits (35%). If we ignore
sample size, then the unweighted average percentage of hits is only 28%; but the combined
average of all the hits is just under 33%. This, in simplest terms, is the mistake they made.

Had they simply added up the hits and misses and then performed a simple one-tailed t-test, they
would have found results significant at the 5% level. Had they performed the exact binomial
test, the results would have been significant at less than the 4% level, with odds against chance
of 26 to 1. Statistician Jessica Utts pointed this out at a meeting Dean Radin held in Vancouver in 2007, in which he invited parapsychologists and skeptics to come together and present to other interested (invited) scientists. Richard Wiseman was present at this meeting, and was able to offer no justification for his botched statistics.

And this was not the only problem with the study. Milton and Wiseman did not include a large
and highly successful study by Kathy Dalton (1997) due to an arbitrary cut-off date, even
though it was published almost two years before Milton and Wiseman’s paper; had been
widely discussed among parapsychologists; was part of a doctoral dissertation at Julie Milton’s university; and was presented at a conference chaired by Wiseman two years before Milton and Wiseman published their paper.

Here we have a case in which Wiseman nullified a positive result by first engaging in
“retrospective data selection” - arbitrarily excluding a highly successful study - and then, by
botching the statistical analysis of the remaining data.


http://www.sheldrake.org/D&C/controversies/Carter_Wiseman.pdf

Given that Alcock doesn't mention the very important technical flaws in the Milton/Wiseman study, his unreliability as a objective scientific evaluator of psi research and his personal bias against positive psi evidence have been fully demostrated.

Anyway, I think Alcock is right when he says that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", because such suggestion is useful to remember us that we should approach professional skeptics' articles with a historical framework (which includes skeptics' misrepresentations, arbitrary promissory notes, double standards and key omissions) to guide us.

Aaron said...

What ever happened about your presentiment experiment? I thought there were multiple replications but I haven't seen anything about it recently. Why was this not considered a replicable psi experiment according to skeptics?

Dean Radin said...

Yes, Bem's work is a logical extension of the results of presentiment studies.

A meta-analysis of all known psychophysiological-type presentiment experiments has been prepared by several colleagues and I'm told they will submit it to a journal sometime soon. I will be doing the same for a successful EEG presentiment study I've recently completed.

Why don't skeptics see these studies as connected? Probably because this entire line of research is too far below the radar to notice.

Abwoo said...

Dean, have you considered a public debate forum such as NPR's Intelligence Squared? Seems to me that this topic would be very apropos to such a venue.

Dean Radin said...

In public debates one can win through a combination of intimidation and oratory skill. Actual facts don't matter much in the hands of a good debater. By contrast, in written debates you don't have to contend with the circus atmosphere of the public forum, and in that context reason and logic have a chance to prevail. So I'm happy to let others do public debates.

David Bailey said...

"In public debates one can win through a combination of intimidation and oratory skill. Actual facts don't matter much in the hands of a good debater."

Rupert Sheldrake did extremely well against Lewis Walpert, but I can see the whole process can be daunting!

Sandy said...

Dean, is it actually possible to change one's mindset in regards to psi? I just came back last week from participating in some lab tests that considered things such as psi functioning. The tests seemed to go well enough, but instead of being happy about that, I'm actually a little upset. This is the second time I've gone for testing, and I've gone through that reaction both times. It makes no sense, but it is what it is.

If someone having anomalous experiences can't easily accept psi as real and struggles with this whole issue constantly... how can a typical skeptic be expected to change?

muzuzuzus said...

Check this out New transit campaign in Toronto will go after Allah, Christ, UFOs

"A new "skepticism campaign" is aiming to roll out on Toronto's transit system in 2011, taking on "well-known and widely believed claims" such as homeopathy, UFOs, Zeus, Christ and Allah, according to the Centre for Inquiry Canada .
If the CFI raises enough funds, it plans to launch the Extraordinary Claims campaign in 2011, featuring two main spots on TTC buses: they would each read "Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence" and then list a variety of things the CFI says are not backed by science, including UFOs, homeopathy, Zeus, Allah, Christ and God."


Read more

These guys mean *business* LOL

Russ said...

For those of us that know ESP is real... I was wondering if anyone has taken a gifted psychic into the lab and observed which areas of the brain are active when the psychic is getting strong results.

Once the area of the brain that is active is located then perhaps some kind of equipment could determine exactly what energies are interacting with the brain cells. This may be the critical step. Do we have instruments yet that can detect these - most likely Quantum energies which are probably multi-dimensional in nature? I realize this is pushing the limits of our science now, but this seems to be the direction we must pursue. If and when Quantum computers become a reality there seems a likelihood that those computers could simulate what is going on in a psychic's brain.

Regards
Russ Browne

Sandy said...

Russ, the answer is "yes".

http://www.neuroquantology.com/journal/index.php/nq/article/view/301/346

Sandy said...

Russ, I'm not sure if my link came out the first time. If not, try here. It may take a minute to get to the article.

Pikemann Urge said...

Rupert Sheldrake did extremely well against Lewis Wolpert

So he should have - he had the data and the research; and he was fully informed on what he was talking about.

However, Wolpert is an awful debater when it comes to representing science. He totally dropped the ball when debating against Intelligent Design on the Unbelievable! podcast. Wolpert's attitude is so bad he makes Richard Dawkins sound like Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Russ said...

Thanks Sandy, I should have known there are clever people putting two and two together.

The skeptics are being left behind in their dogma.

I believe that all University Psychology departments will some day be forced to acknowledge that ESP is very real. The hypocrites will then scramble to cover their one dimensional b.s.

Russ said...

After reading the NeuroQuant article I notice that the author states that the brain cell mechanism remain unknown for why the mentioned psychic's brain is becoming active in certain areas while performing ESP successfully, IE why the psychics brain is able to communicate with other minds or see the shapes of hidden objects etc.

One possible clue is the issue Psychometry, where the Psychic holds onto metal objects like watches, jewelry, keys etc. so that the Psychic can tune into the person's energies more easily. There is something about metal atoms that stores energies associated with ESP. Perhaps if metal receptors were placed around the affected parts of the brain in the active Psychic those metal receptors or antennas could determine some of the energies involved in the linkage between the Psychic and the target person. The key is what materials to construct the receptors out of. I know from personal experience at Simon Fraser University about 25 years ago under Dr. Robert Harper that the Psychic in the classroom that performed very well was able to do psychometry using any metal object. I personally tested her (Maureen Mcguire) and she was able to tell me about my keys having been involved in a boating accident where the boat sank. There is something very real and profound here, that the Alcocks of the world will remain blind to.

kazuba said...

I have read Copernicus published his hypothesis concerning a moving earth and a sun-centered solar system in 1543. Yet it was not until 1851 that physicists were able to devise an experiment which proved, beyond all possible doubt, that the earth really did rotate on its axis.
According to TIME magazine 788 English language science papers have been retracted since 2000.
70% for error, most of the rest for fraud [TIME magzine 29 Nov 2010,page 17]

Let's be cautious and patient about the scientific validity of Bem's paper. Remember we are in the realm of communicating with the dead, astrology, psychic dogs, bent spoons, medium John Edward, a quantum physics brain, a 20,000,000 dollar down the drain Stargate Project, ouija boards, a magician's one million dollar challenge, psychic detectives and according to scientist, Dean Radin, levitating yogis and the, seen only without melted minds, authetic Indian rope trick.

Dean Radin said...

788 papers out of what, tens of thousands of published journal articles? That's a laudably low error rate for any human enterprise at the edge of the known.

I agree that caution and patience are good virtues to cultivate. So is humility and tolerance for strange ideas.

alex.tsakiris said...

@kazuba

"Let's be cautious and patient about the scientific validity of Bem's paper."

Great... how much "extra cautious"? I mean, we have a respected, well-credentialed scientist who's passed peer-review, so maybe we just need a 2-3. Then again, his claims are pretty unsettling to a lot of mainstream scientists, so maybe a 5-6 "extra cautious" is needed. Then again, we're not talking about NDEs or medium communication, so in order to look open-minded we might want to go with a 4.

There we have it, we can now calibrate the scientific method accordingly.

Alex
skeptiko.com

Sandy said...

You seem to have a low opinion of the peer review process, kazuba, at least when it allows papers to be published that don't support your world view. How do you feel when it serves to suppress new ideas you don't like?

I'm surprised you didn't try to somehow connect the Keebler Elves or the Easter Bunny to Bem's paper along with all those other unrelated topics. Can't you at least keep the level of discussion up to some actual consideration of the work in question?

Pikemann Urge said...

I don't think that kazuba's post was unjustified. Redundant, perhaps, but then again so are most comments on blogs. ;-) As long as it's in the spirit of provoking discussion it's fine IMO.

Speaking of fraud, I can't imagine why any scientist would bother. It will get exposed eventually. It's just a matter of time.

julio siqueira said...

Hi Radin,

It seems these "skeptics" never end to make sloppy critiques... I just made a book review identifying serious flaws in a book by Victor Stenger (The New Atheism: Taking a Stand for Science and Reason). In this review, I comment on an incident where two Stenger's fellows (they take part in his email list, avoid-L) were unable to constructively (or effectively...) criticize you. These guys were Brent Meeker (retired Navy physicist) and William Jefferys (statistician; guess you know him).

The link for my review is the one below:

http://www.amazon.com/review/RZWE9OKGGJG4W/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=1591027519&nodeID=&tag=&linkCode=

But, all in all, they are just another brick in the wall...

Very Best Wishes,
Julio Siqueira
______________

Mark Szlazak said...

After reading Alcock's response to Bem's reply, one wonders if Alcock isn't just a bold faced liar. Maybe he hopes that his followers (aka. so-called skeptics) will just read his responses and think that he was right ... but wasn't.

Aaron said...

When I read Alcock's response it didn't make sense to me at all in certain sections. It is a relief to see that it didn't make sense to anyone else either! He admitted his misunderstanding, which seemed to me to be an embarrassing mistake.

Alcock starts with a demolishing of the history of psi research, painting it as a useless joke of an undertaking. Then he goes on to ridicule Bem's work at every opportunity, basically describing him as an incompetent fool.

Bem replies with an appropriate defense of himself considering the crude assault he received, and is ridiculed yet again by Alcock for being arrogant. Wow! What childish banter. I wonder of the committed psi skeptics can see how ridiculous it is.

Ron said...

I'm only an occasional reader of articles in this field but I just ran across this one and I have to comment.

I am skeptical (in the true sense of the word) when assessing this subject matter, but why is it that over the last several years the proponents (like Radin and Bern) are coming across as level-headed, reasonable and logical and the "skeptics" are coming across as hysterical, unreasonable and crazy? You'd think it would be the other way around - that the proponents of a "radical" view would come across as the crazy ones.

But here, on one side, we've got a guy - Bern - who is a professor emeritus at Cornell, which is ranked among the top 20 universities in the world, and we've got the editors and reviewers of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology - a pretty level-headed and sophisticated group who are not strangers to the subject of statistics and experimental protocol. And, as a jumping off point, they are being attacked by another guy - Alcock - who's from a university that's not even ranked in the top 200 in the world. Now, I'm not going to "appeal to authority" and say that one group's position is necessarily correct due to their greater standing. But I AM noting that if we were in a court battle of the experts, Alcock would be measured and found wanting.

But much more importantly, after I give Alcock a fair hearing, he just comes across as spewing nonsense, shading the "facts," and entirely missing (or purposefully avoiding) several of the points that are made by Bern.

What are we to make of this? It seems clear that if you give in to the concept that these scientific results amount to "extraordinary claims" - which I believe to be extremely debatable - and then you admit that they should require "extraordinary evidence" - which, again, is extremely debatable - and then you leave it to the "skeptics" to define exactly HOW extraordinary the evidence has to be in order to prove the claim, you are just going to keep having the goalposts moved on you and, in the end, you're going to be told that your claims simply can't be believed unless you can chop down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring.

What we are dealing with here is simple. We are dealing with how the world works. We are dealing with physics, in that the concept of "time" is implicated, and we are dealing with "psychology" - for lack of a better term - in the sense that we are dealing with how the human mind (and not a machine or other device) perceives time. This is only "parapsychology" if you choose to define it that way.

These experiments are not intended to explain WHY things are as they are - they are not intended to explain the cause of the result. They are simply meant to describe what is happening in the world in which we live.

When Ignaz Semmelweis discovered, through much trial and error, that if doctors washed their hands in a chlorine solution before delivering babies then they would reduce infant mortality by 90%, he was ridiculed and his conclusions were generally dismissed because he could not explain WHY handwashing worked (the germ theory was not yet in existence).

But why should the inability to explain causality either invalidate experimental results or place a higher burden of proof upon the experimenter?

When my son lost a tooth he used to put it under his pillow at night and by morning it had disappeared and a dollar bill had appeared in its place. Over time, he grew to doubt the existence of the tooth fairy, but this did not lead him to doubt the reality of the dollar that appeared under his pillow. The existence of the effect, and the cause of the effect, are two distinct issues and it is quite possible to address the first and not the second.

Miguel said...

Maybe I can get answers here for a few questions about "Feeling the Future".

According to a footnote, some results had been previously presented in 2003.
Am I seeing it right that experiments 5 and 6 are actually different experiments pooled?
Experiment 6 seems to be what was designated experiments 103, 201, 202 and 203 in 2003. Is that right?
What was experiment 5 called in 2003?

Experiment 7 clearly is the same as one that was presented in 2005 at the PA convention, although this is not mentioned by Bem.
There clearly are different outcomes reported. How does this fit together with Bem asserting that multiple analyses did not take place?

In his response to Alcock Bem mentions that the combined odds against chance are greater than 70 billion to one. How can it possibly be justified to combine the results like that?

hwimberly said...

Hi Dean, Great Blog.

I had a question about Psi Research. Has there been any tests that show that Psi effects diminish as the odds of an event occurring increase? So Psi effects might be stronger when the odds are 1/4 and weaker when the odds are 1/20.

This might show that Psi is quantum mechanical in nature and it's based on the probability of an event occurring.

Thanks

Marcus T. Anthony said...

I sometime wonder whether there is actually any real listening or learning which goes on with these debates. I can kind of understand why Susan Blackmore left the field. It seems the human mind finds it difficult to accommodate two sides of an argument at the same time. By the way, that's not meant to be disparaging to Dean's work or Bem's or other parapsychologists. I love reading this stuff, and refer to it in my own research. It's just that when I read some of the bickering between proponents and skeptics it seems like rather a waste of time for people at a personal level. I like what Timothy Ferris says:
"Don't waste time seeking the approval of people you don't like or respect. Who was it (Oscar Wilde?) who received a hostile letter, and replied with: "I sit here with your letter before me. In a moment it will be behind me." Then he signed off!

Dean Radin said...

> It seems the human mind finds it difficult to accommodate two sides of an argument at the same time.

Indeed. But vigorous debates are par for the course when it comes to controversial issues, whether scientific or political. The question in this case is whether science is competent to resolve the "does psi exist" question. My colleagues and I believe it can, and has done so to very high levels of confidence.

Others will argue to the contrary. From my perspective, they are cut from the same cloth as the experts who were vigorously denying that it was possible to build a heavier than air flying machine while the Wright brothers were flying every day.

Helen said...

People are entitled to their opinions and I like a good discussion, but if its not productive I agree with Marcus I think I would just leave it. However, I do think it is important to point out factual errors, calmly and clearly, so others can make their own minds up.

I believe that it will probably be in its application that PSI will come into its own. Where I feel some skeptics are dangerous is where they create a climate of intimidation of good, progressive research.

For instance, what if research into PSI could help people with autism? They maybe have no intuitive theory of mind because their feelings and experiences do not just emananate from their one mind (or they get impressions from a transmission mechanism that we currently do not understand – I would call this PSI but others may not). This may not be experienced as a super power, but as confusion and pain, especially if they don’t understand and are told emphatically that all their feelings are their own – that might make them feel disconnected from feelings altogether, or they might turn the knob down on some of their senses to cope, or they might re-focus on absorbing tasks to block it out. They would be labelled as not empathetic rather than just not guessing right about other people's experiences, because they experience the world differently. I believe it is a credible theory that is backed up by enough observation to form a productive thread of research. If someone put in a research application on this, would they be taken seriously? If not, I think that is an example of where skepticism crosses the line into belief, and where it frustrates progress that could help a great deal of people.

Marcus T. Anthony said...

Yes Dean, that's the way it is done, and the comparison with politics is apt, given how political academia and science is these days. I recall Rupert Sheldrake referring to his tenure at Cambridge as being like "a war zone" with opponents "ready to shoot you down" as soon as anyone dared explore any remotely unusual territory. Perhaps I should have made a clearer distinction between those who are professionally involved in these fields and observers and lay people. The latter could probably learn more, and save themselves a little stress by standing back and detaching a little. BTW I'm hardly unbiased myself, having done a doctorate supporting the idea of a psi-based theory of intelligence, having written a great deal on related subjects, and practicing intuitive counseling. So, please do keep up the great work! Marcus

Tor said...

I'm finding it harder and harder to care about what these "skeptics" have to say these days.

My first encounter with this naysayer attitude was when I read the Hyman paper from the AIR review. I remember being really unimpressed when he basically said it all looked good, but then said no experiment can be methodologically perfect and on that ground one should not expect the results to be anything but error somewhere.

Hyman had a quite pleasant tone in that article. Many so called skeptical rebuttals I've read later come across as both arrogant and angry, and with much worse arguments than Hyman had. So now I'm getting the attitude that I don't care any more. Why bother with arrogant, angry attacks without content? Except for pointing this out to the general public it's a waste of time and energy.

julio siqueira said...

"I can kind of understand why Susan Blackmore left the field."

Actually, Marcus, it seems that you do not. Blackmore left the field because she is prone to cheating and lying... But for me to explain that to you, you would have to be able "to accommodate two sides of an argument at the same time." Anyway, basically that gets down to an article by Rick Berger, exposing her misconducts as a researcher. She is not to be trusted, neither when she speaks against psi, nor when she speaks for it. Her contributions to the consciousness debate, though, are priceless. In many respects she is still a must. And that is why we must keep able to accommodate two sides of an argument at the same time.

Best,
Julio Siqueira
p.s.: I have Berger's article. But I believe you will not want it anyway. Just a guess...
______________

Dean Radin said...

> Maybe I can get answers here for a few questions about "Feeling the Future".

Your questions are most appropriate for Bem to answer. Why not write to him directly?

> In his response to Alcock Bem mentions that the combined odds against chance are greater than 70 billion to one. How can it possibly be justified to combine the results like that?

Because this series of experiments all studied the same underlying hypothesis. Thus a meta-analysis is appropriate, and methods for combining results across studies are well understood. Bem's statement is correct -- the likelihood that his series of experiments were due to chance is essentially zero.

wrldtree said...

Dean, the article you cited in the 2007 journal of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry sounded very interesting. But couldn't what sociologists describe as "cognitive dissonance" explain it also? Or perhaps this journal article is a special case, grounded in neurophysiology, of cognitive dissonance.

Thanks for the great post and excellent blog.

Marcus T. Anthony said...

julio iqueira, I would have no problem reading the article, nor in having my errors pointed out. Your over-reaction to what I wrote and the attempt to personalise things is a good example of what I was wrote. It's simply unnecessary, distracts from the actual issues at hand, and is unlikely to lead to any insight. I do have doubts that Susan Blackmore deliberately attempted to defraud research, given peer review and the nature of academia. A more likely explanation for alleged errors is that she is biased, as we all are. She said she left the field because she was tired and felt she was getting nowhere. It was time for a change. I like to think she was being honest. I tend to disagree with her conclusions on psi and parapsychology, by the way, but I don't take her perspectives personally.

julio siqueira said...

Hi Marcus,

"Your over-reaction to what I wrote and the attempt to personalise things is a good example of what I was wrote."

Try as I might, I coud see no over-reaction in what I said. You expressed what you felt and thought was the truth about Blackmore's "demise." I expressed what I feel and think is the truth about it. You personalized it just as I did.

You repeated the often heard, but hardly ever checked..., view of the bold researcher who spent years and years trying to find something and then getting tired. That is pretty much personal. Maybe deceivingly so; that is, it may be the wrong description of how things really happened. People lie. People have unconscious bias, as you so correctly remind us. I presented another side of the story. A hardly ever heard of side. The researcher who did not get tired of anything, most likely. As a matter of fact, regarding these things that you claim lead one (Blackmore included) to get tired of (endless non conclusive debates where the contenders seem not to listen each other well), Blackmore is still fully in. She is still in debates, endless. She even engaged on an internet debate with Greg Stone some years ago (it seemed a somewhat organized debate, with a moderator, etc) and all the while she would just call Greg "zip zap" (I do not know what that means; I felt like it was something like "hasty thinker who comes to wrong conclusions due to this haste"), never referring to him using his name. I felt that very offensive, and very personal. So maybe now you can understand why I insist on "personalising" her, on seeing her as a person, instead of on seeing her as a chair.

"She said she left the field because she was tired and felt she was getting nowhere. It was time for a change. I like to think she was being honest."

Maybe she was. Fully so; to a certain extent so. Maybe. But in the places and articles where she keeps repeating it, she ends up, as a bonus, misrepresenting a whole field of research, that is, parapsychology. As a matter of fact, you misrepresent it too (and surely you will again feel I am over-reacting...). True, there is lots of not-listening-to-ones-oponents in parapsychology. But there is lots and lots and lots of true listening too. Lots of important methodological improvements have come due to it.

There was a time when I believed James Randi. And there was a time I believed Susan Blackmore. I, then, recommended them as revealers of the truth. And I did recommend them to many people. Then I discovered that they lied; as a matter of fact, I discovered that they lied a lot and on important ocasions. Now I remind people that they (Randi-Blackmore) are liars (i.e. people who will lie in important ocasions; apparently deliberately and with an aim, almost an agenda).

Basically I think we should not see people as if they are chairs. People are people (me included). And when people are involved with public-interest activities, like politics, and science, those who read them must try to understand what these people are. That is exactly what you, Marcus, are doing when you portray the picture of Don Quijote de la Blackmore. And that is exactly what I am doing when I am exposing Tricky Susy.

As a matter of fact, the only difference is that you seem to see yourself as... holier than me.

Best,
Julio Siqueira
P.S.: some years ago (in 2003), someone told me about this article from Rick Berger. I was very much surprised (almost shocked, actually). When I got hold of it, I read it very carefully. Before coming to any conclusions, though, I went after her article defending herself. I read it very carefully too. Then, I contrasted the two articles (rather painstaking), and found some suspicious weak points in Blackmore's rebuttal... That is the way I treat people, Marcus. With lots of respect. And with lots of attention...
_____________________

julio siqueira said...

Hi Marcus,

"Your over-reaction to what I wrote and the attempt to personalise things is a good example of what I was wrote."

Try as I might, I coud see no over-reaction in what I said. You expressed what you felt and thought was the truth about Blackmore's "demise." I expressed what I feel and think is the truth about it. You personalized it just as I did.

You repeated the often heard, but hardly ever checked..., view of the bold researcher who spent years and years trying to find something and then getting tired. That is pretty much personal. Maybe deceivingly so; that is, it may be the wrong description of how things really happened. People lie. People have unconscious bias, as you so correctly remind us. I presented another side of the story. A hardly ever heard of side. The researcher who did not get tired of anything, most likely. As a matter of fact, regarding these things that you claim lead one (Blackmore included) to get tired of (endless non conclusive debates where the contenders seem not to listen each other well), Blackmore is still fully in. She is still in debates, endless. She even engaged on an internet debate with Greg Stone some years ago (it seemed a somewhat organized debate, with a moderator, etc) and all the while she would just call Greg "zip zap" (I do not know what that means; I felt like it was something like "hasty thinker who comes to wrong conclusions due to this haste"), never referring to him using his name. I felt that very offensive, and very personal. So maybe now you can understand why I insist on "personalising" her, on seeing her as a person, instead of on seeing her as a chair.

"She said she left the field because she was tired and felt she was getting nowhere. It was time for a change. I like to think she was being honest."

Maybe she was. Fully so; to a certain extent so. Maybe. But in the places and articles where she keeps repeating it, she ends up, as a bonus, misrepresenting a whole field of research, that is, parapsychology. As a matter of fact, you misrepresent it too (and surely you will again feel I am over-reacting...). True, there is lots of not-listening-to-ones-oponents in parapsychology. But there is lots and lots and lots of true listening too. Lots of important methodological improvements have come due to it.

There was a time when I believed James Randi. And there was a time I believed Susan Blackmore. I, then, recommended them as revealers of the truth. And I did recommend them to many people. Then I discovered that they lied; as a matter of fact, I discovered that they lied a lot and on important ocasions. Now I remind people that they (Randi-Blackmore) are liars (i.e. people who will lie in important ocasions; apparently deliberately and with an aim, almost an agenda).

Basically I think we should not see people as if they are chairs. People are people (me included). And when people are involved with public-interest activities, like politics, and science, those who read them must try to understand what these people are. That is exactly what you, Marcus, are doing when you portray the picture of Don Quijote de la Blackmore. And that is exactly what I am doing when I am exposing Tricky Susy.

As a matter of fact, the only difference is that you seem to see yourself as... holier than me.

Best,
Julio Siqueira
P.S.: some years ago (in 2003), someone told me about this article from Rick Berger. I was very much surprised (almost shocked, actually). When I got hold of it, I read it very carefully. Before coming to any conclusions, though, I went after her article defending herself. I read it very carefully too. Then, I contrasted the two articles (rather painstaking), and found some suspicious weak points in Blackmore's rebuttal... That is the way I treat people, Marcus. With lots of respect. And with lots of attention...
_____________________

dawnow said...

A little off-topic, but it has been pointed out that at least some of Bem's results could be explained by micro-PK as an alternate to precognition. Could Dean comment on this?

Dean Radin said...

> at least some of Bem's results could be explained by micro-PK as an alternate to precognition ...

Yes, when the random selections are susceptible to change. If a deterministic random system is used, the likelihood of PK is reduced. When a true RNG is used, it is possible to infer PK vs. precognition based on what images come up. E.g., in my presentiment tests I've checked to see whether people are getting more erotic images than gory images, assuming that most people would prefer the former. A few individual subjects received significantly more erotic images, but overall there was no indication that people were able to bias the results to get what they preferred.

koizumi said...

This is on a completely different note but have you seen this research? http://arxiv.org/abs/1012.5166

levis said...

D.Radin, please do you have any comments on this article: Journal’s Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage
http://tinyurl.com/6665cfe
Thank You!

Dean Radin said...

> Journal’s Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage

The Bem article is seen as horrific to some orthodox thinkers whose reactions only display a disappointing failure of imagination. In context the article is seen as a clever twist on a long line of similar studies with similar results.

Those who reject precognition out of hand because it violates well accepted scientific fundamentals never seem to explain what fundamentals are in jeopardy. In fact, nothing is in jeopardy. The scientific understanding of fundamentals such as time, space, causality, etc., have all drastically changed over the last century. Critics seem fond of equating absolute reality with common sense. Perhaps they should have spent more time in their science classes.

Besides the failure of imagination, op-eds like the NYT article harm the spirit of science because it implies, and other op-eds have stated this more forcefully, that controversial topics should not be published in mainstream journals. This kind of thinking sustains ideological prejudices, which have no place in science. It also threatens the editorial process, which is exactly why it is so difficult to publish psi studies in the mainstream. Some would like to believe that it isn't a matter of prejudice, and that the work simply isn't good enough. But anyone who actually knows the best literature knows that this is false.

Marcus T. Anthony said...

Julio Siqueira, I read tour post. It feels good to move on. Marcus

Sante said...

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1715954

Bem replication

MickyD said...

Great Interview with Professor Schooler, Dean. Looking forward to the presentiment meta-analysis (where ever it gets published, hopefully in Science).
Schooler mentioned a failed replication of one of Bem's experiments. This was a surprise given his success (at least, initial success!) with earlier precog type experiments. What's your take on the success of Bem replications? You mentioned one successful replication and Alexander Bethany has posted a successful experiment (was this the one you referred to?).
It's certainly encouraging when mainstream researchers such as Schooler take an open minded interest in psi phenomena.

Dean Radin said...

See the previous comment for a link to the successful Bem replication. I think it's too soon to comment on the replications. Not enough of them have been formally published yet to see if any patterns are emerging.

Sante said...

Hi Dean: Slightly off topic but since you mention the book "Debating Psychic Experience" I have a question/observation about this (in many ways excellent)book.

In the two main sections, Presentations and Rebuttals there are two proponents (you and Chris French)and four counteradvocates.
This doesn't seem really fair. Especially since only one of the proponents (you) are actually directly doing research and Chris French, even though a great proponent have a tendency to come out as slightly angry and emotional.
Why wasn't other researchers like Sheldrake or Bem there? Why not someone like Jessica Utts? Any comments?

Enfant Terrible said...

Alcock did new critics to Bem:

http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/
response_to_bems_comments

Keith Augustine said...

Hi Dean,

Since this is off topic you may approve this or not as your inclination dictates, but I wondered if you had any reaction to, or were aware of any other parapsychologists' public reactions to, this article about when we should be wary of questionable medical conclusions and those in other sciences. The article is not about parapsychology per se, but the issues it raises could seemingly be extended to cover parapsychological studies as well:

"Why Most Published Research Findings Are False" by John P. A. Ioannidis

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1182327/

Dean Radin said...

> Why wasn't other researchers like Sheldrake or Bem there? Why not someone like Jessica Utts? Any comments?

That would be a question for the book editors. I just wrote two chapters, as requested. Other anthologies are in the works that will focus more on evidence and valid criticisms, and less on predictable complaints by professional skeptics.

Dean Radin said...

> this article about when we should be wary of questionable medical conclusions and those in other sciences.

Yes, I'm sure in an ideal world with unlimited resources that basic experimental research in all domains can be improved, including methods of statistical inference. But we don't live in that world. In any case, at least for psi research the appropriate use of statistics was a hot topic three quarters of a century ago, but it was settled long ago. Bringing it to the fore again is legitimate only in the sense that we should all be aware of frequentist and Bayesian methods, and their limitations.

In particular, while Bayesian approaches can be useful in some applications, they are not without their own problems. They make it far too easy to hide behind one's prejudices, most of which are driven by acceptance of current theories. This can make it so difficult to accept novel ideas that it virtually guarantees that science would come to a screeching halt if only those methods were considered valid.

dawnow said...

>That would be a question for the book editors. I just wrote two chapters, as requested. Other anthologies are in the works that will focus more on evidence and valid criticisms, and less on predictable complaints by professional skeptics.

The book editors must have been biased from the beginning. Calling it a real "debate" seems incorrect. The book is dominated by the skeptics in terms of sheer volume of writing. Based on the table of contents "Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential or Human Illusion?" contains 11 chapters, epilogues, postscripts, etc. by seven skeptics versus 4 chapters by two proponents.

Dean Radin said...

Actually, the editors (Stan Krippner and Harris Friedman) are both very favorable about psi. They worked on an earlier book entitled "Mysterious Minds: The Neurobiology of Psychics, Mediums, and Other Extraordinary People" (which I also recommend), for which my historical overview chapter was originally intended. As they were working on the Mysterious Minds book it became so huge, with so many fine contributions, that they had to split it into two. The "debating" volume became the second book.

Marcus T. Anthony said...

They really should have a Kindle version of this book, and all academic books for that matter. There are a lot of researchers (like me) and laymen who would buy such books if the price was more reasonable. As it is, paying $45 makes me think twice. The pricing largely limits the book to libraries and academic institutions. I have a book published via an academic publisher and it's the same price, which is rather disappointing to me. Oh well, when I get the re-printing rights after a few years, I'll put out a Kindle edition!

hwimberly said...

Dean,

Have you heard of anyone trying to replicate Bem's Retroactive Priming experiments? I think they were experiments 3 and 4.

These experiments really stood out to me because I think they're solid evidence that supports precognition.

Mark Szlazak said...

Marcus, for free copies of "Mysterious Minds: The Neurobiology of Psychics, Mediums, and Other Extraordinary People", try the library and Google also "comes to the rescue", at least for readers, with most book pages online to view:

http://books.google.com/books?id=p_vHZCr0XrYC&pg=PP1&lpg=PP1&dq=%22Mysterious+Minds:+The+Neurobiology+of+Psychics,+Mediums,+and+Other+Extraordinary+People%22&source=bl&ots=ihW4Enz5r6&sig=kwa0hoCXDlFwfWeuJlLNfFDV1xw&hl=en&ei=hlpATZW5DIGosQPB0OGTCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false

dawnow said...

A little off-topic: The latest issue of the Journal of the Society for Scientific Exploration (Vol 24 No. 4) contains a paper on a very successful presentiment study with animals, rather than with humans. The title is Anticipitory Alarm Behavior in Bengalese Finches, by Fernando Alvarez at the Doñana Biological Station, Seville.

The research demonstrates a precognitive phenomenon with good effect sizes (P < .0012 for female finches). This indicates that human unconscious precognition could be an old evolutionary mechanism which obviously confers a survival advantage. The question then arises about how a Darwinistic purely physical random genetic variation plus selection mechanism can produce psi.

Unfortunately the paper is only available to subscribers at this time (though past issues are online at the SSE website).

Abstract: The ability for short-term alarm precognition was explored in Bengalese finches. During the experimental trials, subjects were put individually for 20 minutes in a testing cage and in the last 5 minutes a 15-second video clip of a slowly crawling snake was shown to them in a TFT screen. The video clip was presented at random starting out from 20 possible randomly predetermined options. During the control trials, no snake video clip was shown to the birds. Subjects were filmed, and, in a double-blind fashion, the frequency of their display of alarm was registered 0-3, 3-6, and 6-9 seconds immediately before stimulus presentation and before the same moment of the control trial for each bird. As a second control, behavior frequency was also registered immediately before the 10-minute point after initiation of the experimental trial. The results showed that the birds reacted to the snake video clip at least 9 seconds before presentation, the frequency of the alarm display during that period being higher than that during both controls. Females and males did not differ significantly in any of the measures.

hwimberly said...

@dawnow,

Good point and Rupert Sheldrake has done similar experiments with animals. I think it's related to biology because consciousness evolves from simple to complex. I think consciousness is a force and this means there's a field associated with this force that extends outside of the body.

Humans have a complex consciousness that gives us access to this field. There's a few theories on this and one I like is the Cemi Field Theory by Johnjoe MsFadden.

Here's more on the Cemi Field Theory
http://www3.surrey.ac.uk/qe/cemi.htm

Enfant Terrible said...

Bad news for Daryl Bem:

http://tinyurl.com/5rp29jp

Dean Radin said...

The last line of the NYTimes article reads: "What are the odds, for instance, that the journal would have published Dr. Bem’s study if it had come to the ho-hum conclusion that ESP still does not exist?"

Historically the odds are much greater that a mainstream journal would quickly publish a null psi effect than it would even consider publishing a positive psi effect.

Witness the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, which published a paper reporting a null psi effect a few years ago, and yet when I recently submitted a paper reporting a neuroscience experiment involving presentiment, with a positive result, they didn't even send it out for review. Another example is the "experiment" by a child published in the New England Journal of Medicine that purportedly showed that Therapeutic Touch didn't work, even though that was the wrong conclusion.

See here for a more comprehensive list of media commentary on the Bem article, some positive and some negative:

http://www.thewop.org/?p=1325

vittorio said...

Despite the NYTimes article's implication that Bem's findings would be nullified if it were subjected to Bayesian statistical analysis, the data apparently still holds up after Bayesian reevaluation. In "An assesment of evidence for feeling the future with a discussion of Bayes factor and signifiance testing," by Jeffrey N. Rouder & Richard D. Morey (JPSP in press, 05/01/11), the authors state:

"...We find the evidence that people can feel the future with neutral and erotic stimuli to be slight, with Bayes factors of 3.23 and 1.57, respectively. There is, however, a surprising degree of evidence for the hypothesis that people can feel the future with emotionally-valenced nonerotic stimuli, with a Bayes factor of about 40...Hence, while the evidence provided by Bem is certainly worthy of notice, it should not be sufficient to sway an appropriately skeptical reader."

Granted, Bem's findings have indeed been deflated - but not to the extent of nullification, and certainly not to the extent to justify a cavalier dismissal of the entire study's evidentiary value, as in NYTimes article.

Given that the exorbitantly "skeptical" community has expended all of its (usually) unwarranted objections, and has resorted to stressing how classical methods of statistical inference (i.e., those typically used in science, for better or worse) should be superseded by Bayesian statistical inference, I wonder if parapsychologists will begin using the latter method to evaluate data in future studies (I know physicist Edwin May already uses Monte Carlo bayesian analysis in his studies...) I doubt this would quell the "skeptics'" dogged crusade to halt scientific inquiry into parapsychology, but I do think the criticisms of using classical statistics - in any area of science - are valid to some extent.

Mark Szlazak said...

I think this debunker, Steven Novella, needs to have expose done on the article he just posted about Bem's work:

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=2701

I hope it's done here and maybe "Jime" can post it on his site.

http://subversivethinking.blogspot.com/

I know people will say why bother since it's not a science site. But Novella is biased, deceptive and when people search the net then they will have a counter and expose on him and his post as well.

Helen said...

I had a quick look at Mr Novella's article. Some comments are:

He says that Bem's study should be replicable, be stated as preliminary research and use Bayesian stats. Bem states explicitly in his paper that his studies are specifically designed to be replicable. Bem says he hasn't used Bayesian stats specifically in order to enhance its replicability.

Mr Novella makes some assumptions about what Bem's results purport to show - namely that effect can precede cause. This is not what Bem shows - he shows that memory can appear to work backwards but that he doesn't know how that can be. That's it. Nothing else. Skeptics like Mr Novella are often the ones who feel that such a phenomenon is extraordinary and make wild and unjustified (by the empirical evidence) claims about what is being shown. Bem doesn't do this. Mr Novella does.

Yes Bem's results have a small effect size. However, interestingly, he can increase the effect size by for instance asking subjects to visualise words (which enhances memory). This is I think the most telling aspect of Bem's research. It leads to lots of new experiments - do people that have a better backwards memory for faces have a better forward memory for faces etc etc