Thursday, April 10, 2014

No one pays any attention

Do scientists pay attention to psi research? Some skeptics would have you believe that this topic is so far from the mainstream that no one takes it seriously. What do article impact metrics indicate?

For the article Predictive physiological anticipation preceding seemingly unpredictable stimuli: A meta-analysis, which examines experiments studying what I've called "presentiment," Altmetric reports that this is "one of the highest ever scores" in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (ranked #3 of 1,714 articles). The average view of a journal article is typically a few hundred, and that's for a very popular paper. This paper has 47,765 views so far. 

For the article Predicting the unpredictable: Critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity, Altmetric reports that this article "is amongst the highest ever scored" in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, with 10,584 views.

For the article A call for an open, informed study of all aspects of consciousness, Almetric reports that this article is "one of the highest ever scores" in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, with 19,524 views.

For the article Electrocortical activity associated with subjective communication with the deceased, Almetric reports that this "is amongst the highest ever scored" in Frontiers in Psychology, with  6,121 views.

In other words, compared to most journal articles on mainstream (meaning, conventional) topics, these articles are reaching into the rarefied domain of extreme scientific impact -- hundreds of times more interest than the typical article.

I've found a similar response every time I've given a talk to an academic or technical audience. While opinions differ on how to interpret psi data and vigorous debates are common, there is no question that scientists and scholars are interested. And isn't that what a healthy science is all about -- the excitement of exploring the frontiers of knowledge?

As Gandhi famously said, "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Based on interest and impact metrics, it appears that if this were a political battle (which it basically is -- the politics of ideas), as far as the actual mainstream is concerned (mainstream in terms of numbers; not that small minority that desperately holds onto the status quo), I'd estimate that we're somewhere between fighting and winning.

Update: May 7, 2014.  For the sake of curiosity, I wanted to see how my own scientific impact metric would fare against that of the average scientist. According to a study by the London School of Economics and Political Science the average tenured professor from the disciplines of law to economics have (Hirsch) h-indexes ranging from 2.83 to 7.60, respectively. The average h-index varies widely by discipline, but Hirsch estimated (based on physicists) that after 20 years a "successful" scientist will have an h-index of 20, where success in this context is equivalent to a full professorship in physics at a major research university. According to Google Scholar, my h-index is 22.  

20 comments:

Stephen Baumgart said...

In my career as a graduate student and postdoc researching high-energy nuclear physics, in discussions with members of the general public I had been asked for my scientific opinion on psi phenomena almost as often as I had been asked about my own area of expertise. I curse myself for the ignorant answers I gave! I would say stuff like, "it is theoretically possible but there isn't strong experimental proof". Gah! Why did I ever trust Michael Shermer's column in the Scientific American to be unbiased? Now that I am organizing a laboratory to study presentiment, I have to deal with people like the past me. I guess it's only karma. But it's astonishing how undemocratic scientific funding is. If funding was in proportion to popular or even scientific interest, parapsychology would be one of the largest fields.

Michael Shell said...

I still doubt that you could convince magicians like James Randi. They can replicate any parapsychological phenomena and the field has been riddled with fraud.

anonymous said...

Dean,

What do you think "winning" entails? What has to occur that will allow you to declare "victory"?

Thanks

The Thought Criminal said...

Pseudo-skepticism is based in an absolutist and fundamentalist materialist monism. It holds that there are no exceptions to its straight jacket for reality and its sealed maze that our minds exist in. That appeals to a simplistic and insecure assertion that we already have the key to reality, their success with their followers is, actually, quite similar to the success of religious or other ideological fundamentalism is with the people who like those.

But that is also its greatest weakness. In common with creationism, pseudo-skepticism has to maintain a blanket denial of the existence of published, scientific research into the topics that refute their ideology. If there is even one widely accepted experiment that demonstrates something that doesn't fit into their monist model of reality, their model crumbles into nothing. And the positive results that do that already exist in science and it exists in many peoples' own experience. The ban on discussion of the items on their index of prohibited ideas has only been a success in preventing people working in academia from openly discussing this and with the middle-brow audience that wants to be all respectable and sciency, often not having much of any real knowledge of science. Well, there are the lower brows too, the fans of Randi and Jillette.

I think the article by Jeffry Kripal in the Chronicle of Higher Education might be a sign of intellectual glasnost replacing the Stalinist ban on thought in this area within academia. It also got a lot of notice.

Sylvain Frédéric Nahas said...

Dear Mr Radin. Altmetric generates metrics from "the web at large" and is not necessarily representative of the influence on the scientific endeavor itself, as measured in number of citations in articles.

To try to get a sense of this impact, I have generated metrics using Google scholar and pubmed - and also for the sake of comparison metrics for three of the 5% biggest impact articles according to Altmetric. Please find this data below.

My comments:
1. It's hard to defend the idea that these articles have had a significant impact on scientific research, for now. but...
2. These psi-related articles are very recent, so a comparison with the three other health-related articles is not really valid and should be done again in some 16 months or so.
3. Despite their recent date of publication, the psi-related articles have already generated considerably more public interest than the comparison group as measured in number of hits in Google web - this may indicate a discrepancy between the topics officially preoccupying scientists from one side, and the preoccupation of the general population from the other.

So my conclusion is not so triumphant as yours: these metrics show that the interest in the general public is huge - hence falsifying the "No one pays any attention" meme - but not that this research is leaving the fringe to become mainstream science, yet.

Maybe it's simply too soon for any impact to show off in publications? Time will tell. :-)

------------

"Predictive physiological anticipation preceding seemingly unpredictable stimuli: a meta-analysis" (17 October 2012)
web 35300
scholar 19
pubmed referenced citations 3

"Predicting the unpredictable: critical analysis and practical implications of predictive anticipatory activity" (25 March 2014)
web 897
scholar 1
pubmed referenced citations 0

"A call for an open, informed study of all aspects of consciousness" (27 January 2014)
web 4220
scholar 6
pubmed referenced citations 0

"Electrocortical activity associated with subjective communication with the deceased" (20 November 2013)
web 8880
scholar 5
pubmed referenced citations 0

-----------

"Public health: The toxic truth about sugar" (02 February 2012)
web 12200
scholar 103
pubmed referenced citations 28

"Physical activity for cancer survivors: meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials" (Published 31 January 2012)
web 6200
scholar 98
pubmed referenced citations 0

"Effect of a vitamin/mineral supplement on children and adults with autism" (12 December 2011)
web 6190
scholar 32
pubmed referenced citations 8

Dean Radin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dean Radin said...

Winning will mean that this topic will be just become another discipline comfortably residing within academia, that science journalists will understand the different between paranormal entertainment and science, and that references to magicians, fraud and other mythologies will fade away.

anonymous said...

The pseudoskeptics are consciously using the tactics of propaganda and disinformation. Can science alone win against such a deliberate strategy? Wouldn't it be wise to understand those tactics as thoroughly as the pseudoskeptics and use that knowledge to devise a strategy to counteract them?

What worked more than 100 years ago still works today: Ignore the evidence and ridicule anyone who tries to discuss it so everyone else will be afraid to bring up the subject.

I am not optimistic about the power of the truth to win out against a dedicated propaganda crusade. What is different today than 100 years ago? There was a time when mainstream scientists including Nobelists Richet, the Curries, Strutt and other non-Nobelists but still well renowned mainstream scientists such as Lodge and Crookes, even Robert Boyle in his day studied psychic phenomena. There is still a long way to go before the field even catches up to where it once was.

There are too many examples of successful propaganda. So many people confuse political propaganda with truth that world leaders are elected because of it. There are complete DNA sequences for three individual Sasquatch and mainstream science ignores it while disinformants spread false stories to discredit the research.

Parapsychology needs a strategy that recognizes and deals with the true nature of the problem: propaganda and disinformation.

anonymous said...

Dean Radin said... Winning will mean that this topic will be just become another discipline comfortably residing within academia...


That is an admirable, but long range goal. It might help to develop a plan, with intermediate goals and milestones, to achieve that end.

Dean Radin said...

> It might help to develop a plan, with intermediate goals and milestones, to achieve that end ....

Under way.

The Thought Criminal said...

Michael Shell, you have a very naive understanding of science and you have bought the Randi myth without looking into what his career really consists of.

First, James Randi cannot "replicate any parapsychological phenomeon" to do that he would have to conduct the same experiments under the same conditions those were done in and produce the same results. He's never done that as far as I'm aware of. Where are his experiments doing that published? We do know of one case where he claimed to have done that, claiming to have done Rupert Sheldrake's experiments with dogs and gotten a nul result in an article published in "Dog World". Only, when Sheldrake asked to see his data, and only when forced to answer by his scientific advisory panel, he claimed that he had lost the data in a flood, which is the equivalent of "my dog ate my homework". Of course he never published it anywhere. I'm unware of anything he's ever done being written up and subjected to peer-review. Oh, and for good measure, he lied in the same article about having looked at Sheldrake's video of his experiments.

That there has been fraud in a few cases in controlled experiments in this area is true. It is also true that fraud occurs in just about any scientific field. The fairly recent and massive Marc Hauser scandal, by your standard, would pretty obliterate the evolutionary psychology that is so heavily relied on by materialists these days, as, indeed, the fraud that is documented on the Retraction Watch blog would take down enormous areas of science.

But that's not how things work. Fraudulence by one researcher doesn't negate the work of an honest researcher. And, while lies about an honest researcher can make it impossible for them to continue working and cause ignorant people to disrespect them, it doesn't negate the validity of their work. And the pseudo-skeptical effort has relied mostly on lies, unevidenced innuendo, derision and stunts such as those Randi engages in.

Speaking of which, if an act of fraud discredits a group of field or ideological identity, then pseudo-skepticism and, indeed, James Randi, should have been brought down by the sTARBABY scandal which was exposed by one of their own, Dennis Rawlings whose accusations against CSICOP, including, by name, James Randi, was confirmed by another member of that group, Richard Kammann.

David Bailey said...

My impression is that the science establishment's treatment of ψ phenomena is not unique. There are a variety of other areas where science holds on to an orthodox position by ignoring a mass of contrary evidence. I am pretty sure everyone reading this can think of at least one or two such high profile examples.

This may mean that we are coming up to a point when one of these can no longer remain hidden, and this will trigger journalists to explore other areas - producing a chain reaction, and a general reappraisal of how much science really knows. Hopefully ψ research will become respectable again as part of that process.

anonymous said...

I still doubt that you could convince magicians like James Randi. They can replicate any parapsychological phenomena and the field has been riddled with fraud.

Magicians cannot reproduce psychic phenomena under the same conditions that psychics do it: Skeptical Fallacies

Randi can't either. Randi fails at cold reading: Montague Keen

anonymous said...

I'd estimate that we're somewhere between fighting and winning.


Dean,

Do you have any opinions on whether the frequency and or strength of psychic abilities are changing in the general population?

I spend a lot of time on internet discussion forums for people who have psychic abilities/experiences. I haven't done a scientific statistical analysis, but it seems to me that there are more and more people reporting having strong psychic abilities and intense experiences. I don't know if this is a real increase or if it is just that the internet makes it possible for people to communicate more easily so the number of reports increases.

Do you have any opinions on this? If psychic experiences are increasing, it might partly explain why there is increased interest in psi as more and more people experience psi themselves or see people they know experience it.

Dean Radin said...

> it seems to me that there are more and more people reporting having strong psychic abilities and intense experiences ...

Perhaps. Based on some data and much speculation, I would guess that psi performance in general ebbs and flows. Some of these variations may be related to cyclic behavior like sunspot activity; others to more sporadic effects like geomagnetic fluctuations. Some of the variance may also be linked to current events or the zeitgeist in general.


anonymous said...

Some of the variance may also be linked to current events or the zeitgeist in general.


And poltergeist in particular.

anonymous said...

This may mean that we are coming up to a point when one of these can no longer remain hidden, and this will trigger journalists to explore other areas - producing a chain reaction, and a general reappraisal of how much science really knows.


Hi David,

I agree with the above. It's one reason I think the UFO occupants are keeping a low profile. They could completely turn things upside down if they are not careful.

anonymous said...

The government remote viewing program was classified. They claim they cancelled it, but that was based on an analysis of only unclassified data so many people think it was actualy moved deeper into the black budget. When the government wants to protect a classified technology, they prevent it from being developed by private citizens and corporations. So there is a good possibility that there is some involvement of the intelligence agencies etc. in suppressing the truth about psi. Some evidence of this is the fact that DARPA employed Ray Hyman to debunk Uri Geller.

Simon Fraser said...

Clearly the general populace is interested in this. But like you've said, inertia is a serious problem. In addition, that many people don't even know that there is serious scientific inquiry into such phenomena is another problem, coupled with what someone on the skeptiko forum pointed out, was that most scientists get a very skewed version of psi from just Randi et al. This has to change if there is going to be a shift.

Natasha said...

Hi Dr. Radin (first time commenting),

I have come across a few (negative) mentions of you and psi research. I just would like to get your thoughts.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/unique-everybody-else/201401/is-there-scientific-taboo-against-parapsychology

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_dEsw1Ff1U

Thank you for your time,