Saturday, December 08, 2007
Japanese translation of Entangled Minds
The Japanese translation of Entangled Minds is now available. It's beautifully done, with many new, clever illustrations added to enhance the text. I owe special thanks to the translator, Masato Ishikawa.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Survival of consciousness conference
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Intentional chocolate website
Friday, October 12, 2007
Presentiment in the brain
Toward Understanding the Placebo Effect: Investigating a Possible Retrocausal Factor, Dean Radin and Eva Lobach, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Volume 13, Number 7, 2007, pp. 733–739
Objective: Conventional models of placebo effects assume that all mind–body responses associated with expectation can be explained by ordinary causal processes. This experiment tested whether some placebo effects may also involve retrocausal, or time-reversed, influences.
Design: Slow cortical potentials in the brain were monitored while adult volunteers anticipated either a flash of light or no flash, selected with equal probability by a noise-based random number generator. Data were collected in individual sessions of 100 trials, contributed by 13 female and 7 male adult participants.
Outcome measures: Ensemble median slow cortical potentials 1 second prior to a light flash were compared with the same measures prior to no flash. A nonparametric randomized permutation technique was used to statistically assess the observed difference. Electroencephalographic data were analyzed separately by gender.
Results: Females’ slow cortical potentials significantly differentiated before stimulus onset (z = 2.72, p = 0.007, two-tailed); males showed a suggestive effect in the opposite direction (z = 1.64, p = 0.10, two-tailed). Examination of alternative explanations indicated that the significant effect in females was not caused by anticipatory strategies, equipment or environmental artifacts, or violation of statistical assumptions.
Conclusions: This experiment, in accordance with previous studies showing similar, unconscious “presentiment” effects in humans, suggests that comprehensive models seeking to explain placebo effects, and in general how expectation affects the mind and body, may require consideration of retrocausal influences.
To download this article for free, go here.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Intentional chocolate article published
The paper is coauthored with Gail Hayssen and James Walsh.
You can download the pdf for free by going to http://www.explorejournal.com/and clicking on "current issue" or "past issues," depending on when you read this post. The issue to look for is September/October 2007.
I plan to continue a line of research focusing on the apparent intentional effects reported in that paper, across a wide variety of substances.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Because of the dream, later that morning I decided to play it safe and drive to work a different way than usual. The most dangerous part of the morning commute for me is getting on 101, one of the major North-South highways in the Northern California Bay Area. The entrance that I usually take has a very short merge lane that often requires you to drive on the shoulder because both of the two lanes of the highway are congested, sometimes by massive trucks going 70 mph. My adrenaline is always in high gear when I use this entrance because if an unthinking driver decides to park on that very same shoulder (it happens occasionally), thereby blocking the only available place to merge onto the highway, then the drivers on the on-ramp -- who are accelerating and paying attention to oncoming traffic, and not on who is in front of them -- are destined for a bad end.
The safer, alternative entrance is a little out of the way for me, but there is a very long, much safer merging lane. So I took that route.
I'm waiting at the traffic light at the entrance to the highway, along with a few other cars in front of me. The light changes to green, but before any of us have a chance to move, bam!, my car is hit from behind. A Chevy Tahoe smashes my rear bumper and part of the lift gate. The driver saw the green light and his foot responded before his brain realized that there were cars in front of him. The startle I felt on the impact was like what I experienced in the dream, but fortunately it was just a mundane fender bender. The airbags did not inflate.
Now, I had specifically taken the alternative route to avoid what I had experienced in the precognitive dream. But in doing so, I ended up in an accident anyway. Does this mean we cannot escape our destined future? That we have no free will? Or, does it mean that we have potential futures, and that by making this particular choice I had potentially avoided a much worse accident?
I prefer the latter explanation.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Trickster, or failure of imagination?
... Correlation coefficients were calculated for each of the 16 outcome measures with each of the 33 environmental variables, which resulted in a total of 16 × 33 = 528 correlations. Radin reported that the 16 × 33 matrix produced 44 correlations that were associated with p < .05. He then used the binomial probability distribution to compute the probability of obtaining that many, or (presumably) more, correlations associated with p < .05. He reported a value of p = .0004. I have been unable to reproduce this number ... In any event, Radin’s reported result is statistically significant.
However, the binomial distribution assumes independence for each of the measurements. But the correlations were clearly not independent. For instance, the environmental variables included background X-ray flux and log of background X-ray flux, humidity and precipitation, sunspot number and sunspot number for the day before.... Readers who have some familiarity with statistics may wish to ponder the implications.
The answer to his first concern was due to a simple mistake. I based the calculation on 45 rather than 44 significant correlations. I thank Hansen for spotting this error.
I addressed his second concern in the original article*, as follows:
It might be argued that some of the excess significant correlations in the experimental data might have been due to the fact that some of the environmental variables tested were intercorrelated with each other....
I explored this possibility by, among other things, forming a control correlation matrix using the same environmental variables in their originally recorded order, but randomly scrambling the chronological order of the MMI variables. (Under the null hypothesis, the former and latter variables should not be related in any way.) This control matrix resulted in a nonsignificant number of correlations, supporting the idea that the original matrix contained some meaningful relationships.
Hansen then failed to report that one of the points of this study was to test the idea that one reason MMI is highly variable in laboratory experiments may be due to fluctuations in environmental factors and differences in psychological variables like mood and confidence. Through use of an artificial neural network (Brainmaker, based on a backpropagation design), I demonstrated a genuine relationship between six environmental variables, two psychological variables, and one mind-matter interaction variable. After training the network on half the available data, the correlation between the MMI variable in the other half of the data and the neural network's prediction of the MMI effect was a highly significant r = 0.405.
The conclusions of this study were that (a) the environment appears to modulate MMI performance, (b) there are intriguing hints of space-like and time-like rebounds [in the MMI results], and (c) there is reason to believe that fairly good predictive models of MMI performance are realistically attainable.
To paraphrase Hansen's concern, readers who have some familiarity with his trickster theory may wish to ponder the implications of Hansen failing to report the rest of the story. While I think the trickster concept and lore are interesting, and that Hansen's own book on the trickster is an excellent exposition on that topic, I disagree that psi is forever doomed to a marginal existence.
The reason I don't agree is because similar pessimistic complaints have been voiced throughout history whenever we've been faced with seemingly incomprehensible effects in medicine, physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, etc. In other words, whenever imagination fails, someone will invariably assert that we'll never be able to understand [fill in the blank], and so they come up with trickster-like theories to allow us to place our ignorance into a mysterious netherworld lying somewhere beyond our understanding. Failures of imagination are common, but promoting theories based on those failures is tantamount to glorifying an anti-scientific position.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Two recommended books
The first book is Outside the Gates of Science (why it's time for the paranormal to come in from the cold), by Damien Broderick. This is a comprehensive, accurate and well written examination of psi research by a critically-minded observer of the field who has done his homework.
Broderick is also author of numerous award-winning science fiction novels, and has a PhD in the comparative semiotics of science and literature.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Confidence by ignorance
Such a confident statement will no doubt impress some, but as readers of my blog know unfortunately this is an opinion borne of ignorance.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Presentiment in the brain
This paper has been accepted in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and will be published later in the year:
Models of the placebo effect: Investigating a possible retrocausal factor
Objective: Conventional models of placebo effects assume that all mind/body responses associated with expectation can be explained by ordinary causal processes. This experiment tested whether some placebo effects may also involve retrocausal, or time-reversed, influences.
Design: Slow cortical potentials in the brain were monitored while adult volunteers anticipated either a flash of light or no flash, selected with equal probability by a noise-based random number generator. Data were collected in individual sessions of 100 trials, contributed by 13 female and 7 male adult participants.
Outcome measures: Ensemble median slow cortical potentials one second prior to a light flash were compared with the same measures prior to no flash. A nonparametric randomized permutation technique was used to statistically assess the observed difference. EEG data were analyzed separately by gender.
Results: Females’ slow cortical potentials significantly differentiated before stimulus onset (z = 2.72, p = 0.007, two-tailed), and males showed a suggestive effect in the opposite direction (z = -1.64, p = 0.10, two-tailed). Examination of alternative explanations indicated that these effects were not due to anticipatory strategies, equipment or environmental artifacts, or violation of statistical assumptions.
Conclusions: This experiment, in light of previous studies showing similar, unconscious “presentiment” effects in humans, suggests that comprehensive models seeking to explain placebo effects, and in general how expectation affects the mind and body, may require serious consideration of transtemporal or retrocausal factors.
Quantum observation experiment
The following paper has been accepted for publication in Explore. It will appear later this year.
This study explored the hypothesis that in some cases intuitive knowledge arises from perceptions that are not mediated through the ordinary senses. The possibility of detecting such “nonlocal observation” was investigated in a pilot test based on the effects of observation on a quantum system.
Participants were asked to imagine that they could intuitively perceive a low intensity laser beam in a distant Michelson interferometer. If such observation were possible, it would theoretically perturb the photons’ quantum wave-functions and change the pattern of light produced by the interferometer. The optical apparatus was located inside a light-tight, double steel-walled shielded chamber. Participants sat quietly outside the chamber with eyes closed. The light patterns were recorded by a cooled CCD camera once per second, and average illumination levels of these images were compared in counterbalanced “mental blocking” vs. non-blocking conditions. Interference would produce a lower overall level of illumination, which was predicted to occur during the blocking condition.
Based on a series of planned experimental sessions, the outcome was in accordance with the prediction (z = -2.82, p = 0.002). This result was primarily due to nine sessions involving experienced meditators (combined z = -4.28, p = 9.4 × 10-6); the other nine sessions with non- meditators were not significant (combined z = 0.29, p = 0.61). The same experimental protocol run immediately after 15 of these test sessions, but with no one present, revealed no hardware or protocol artifacts that might have accounted for these results (combined control z = 1.50, p = 0.93). Conventional explanations for these results were considered and judged to be implausible. This pilot study suggests the presence of a nonlocal perturbation effect which is consistent with traditional concepts of intuition as a direct means of gaining knowledge about the world, and with the predicted effects of observation on a quantum system.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Saturday, May 05, 2007
I knew you were going to read this
Psi Wars, the cartoon
Sunday, April 29, 2007
It is a very good thing to have a built-in bullshit detector, but a bad thing when the bullshit detector crowds out the rest of your brain; that's why they call it being narrow-minded. You quickly reach the stage where anything ambitious, complicated, or merely foreign gets spat on along with the things that are genuinely phoney.I'd add to this that those with HABS (hyperactive BS) syndrome, including cynics who proudly belong to "skeptics" societies, -- which revel in the presumed stupidity of others who don't belong to the club -- tend to reflexively spit on anything they regard as unorthodox or anomalous, including claims of psi experiences and experiments supporting those claims.
This is not to say that a refined BS detector is a bad thing. On the contrary, it is a necessity, especially when it comes to evaluating all those exciting new opportunities arriving in our email every day from Nigeria.
A truly refined BS detector, somewhat rare to find these days, is also recursive -- it applies its discernment not only to unexpected claims, but also to itself. It does this both to avoid the mindless spit reflex and to discriminate between the genuinely interesting and the genuinely phoney. Some day I should write a book on the tension between critical thinking and creativity, and how to apply these two skills to each other.
Friday, April 13, 2007
Some noteworthy books
Another book to consider: The Spirit of Dr. Bindelof: The Enigma of Séance Phenomena by Rosemarie Pilkington, PhD. You can read about it here, including a sample chapter. Warning, this book is likely to push your boggle threshold. But I know Rosemarie, and I know she's meticulous about her facts, so prepare to be boggled.
Saturday, April 07, 2007
The trouble with Wiki
Authors of Wikipedia articles are anonymous in many cases, so expertise in the topic is not vetted for accuracy or depth. Worse, for controversial topics and for biographies of living persons, experts are specifically asked not to contribute to the articles. I discovered this when attempting to correct factual errors in the entry page on my name, and for the Institute of Noetic Sciences. I've been asked not to edit these pages, even though I am arguably the expert on me, and an expert on IONS, because it violates Wikipedia's guidelines.
The most persistent editors on Wikipedia, by the way, largely seem to be 20-something students who are riding high on arrogance, because like all kids, they're suffering under the delusion that they know everything. (I recall this state of mind quite clearly from when I was 20-something.) For you young folks out there, believe me, that grandiosity dissolves with life experience. The fact is that nothing is certain, especially what science pretends to know.
Wikipedia's absurd guidelines means that for topics of interest to many people, namely controversies, the articles are guaranteed to be of poor quality. What a ridiculous state of affairs this good idea has come to, one that very effectively does one thing well -- it perpetuates stupidity.
Friday, April 06, 2007
The stations included WPEG-FM (Charlotte), KXXR-FM (Minneapolis), WOCA-FM (Gainesville), WEOL-AM (Cleveland), WICO-FM (regional Baltimore), KSFR-FM (NPR, Santa Fe), FRES-FM (Columbia), Voice of America, WLRN-FM (NPR, Miami), WMEL-AM (Daytona Beach), WQUB-FM (NPR, Illinois), WFTL (regional Florida), WLW-AM (Cincinnati), KRLD-AM (Dallas), KKZZ-AM (Los Angeles), KXKL-FM (Denver), KFWB-AM (Los Angeles), and KPQ-AM (Spokane). I have a few more stations remaining on the "tour" next week, including KSVY-FM (NRP, Sonoma) and KLPW-AM (St. Louis).
In general, I do not enjoy the self-promotional aspects that are necessarily associated with being an author (that is, necessary assuming the author wants to sell books!). I have author friends who love traveling on speaking tours; they're on the road almost continuously. For me, flying around the world to give talks is the exception rather than the rule. I find travel to be exhausting rather than exciting, especially given the frantic crush one often finds in airports these days. Fortunately, I do enjoy radio shows, which only requires moving leisurely from one room in my home to another.
More lunacy. Not.
The reason I mention this finding and the one recently published by Eckhard Etzold is because over 10 years ago I published two articles on this topic, both finding lunar phase relationships with psi performance, one based on casino payout data. At the time no one paid much attention to those reports (except for a few skeptics, who felt that mixing lunar effects with psi in the casino was further justification for simply dismissing this realm of research). So it is gratifying to see that independent analyses are now finding the same result.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Friday, March 23, 2007
Now, in the current issue of the Journal of Parapsychology, Eckhard Etzold reports a successful conceptual confirmation and extension of the original observation, not in data from a casino but from an online retro-PK experiment:
SOLAR-PERIODIC FULL MOON EFFECT IN THE FOURMILAB RETROPSYCHOKINESIS PROJECT EXPERIMENT DATA: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY
ABSTRACT: Radin and Rebman (1998) claimed evidence of psychokinesis effects in casino payout rates depending on lunar phases. They found the peak effect in the full-moon interval. This paper reports on an experimental data evaluation of 199,632 retroPK experiment trials, covering eight years. The hypothesis of a full moon effect is tested with the large database of the Fourmilab RetroPsychoKinesis Project. An earlier test of these findings by the author, published in 2000, supported the full moon hypothesis. In additional tests with new data, published in 2002, the observed effect changed its sign and disappeared. Some researchers, including the author, suggested in the past an anomalous experimenter effect and assumed the consequences of the model of pragmatic information to be the real cause of these effects. But a new evaluation of the data revealed a significant retroPK solar-periodic relationship which indicates that actually physical parameters are responsible for the change of the full-moon effect in the mentioned intervals. The hypothesis is suggested that the moon’s interaction with earth’s magnetosphere during the moon’s passage through the magnetotail in full-moon times might modulate retroPK performance.
Effects of intentionally enhanced chocolate on mood
Dean Radin, Gail Hayssen & James Walsh
Objective: A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled experiment investigated whether chocolate exposed to “good intentions” would enhance mood more than unexposed chocolate.
Design: Individuals were assigned to one of four groups and asked to record their mood each day for a week using the Profile of Mood States. For days 3, 4 and 5 each person consumed a half ounce of dark chocolate twice a day at prescribed times. Three groups blindly received chocolate that had been intentionally “treated” by three different techniques. The intention in each case was that people who ate the chocolate would experience an enhanced sense of energy, vigor and well-being. The fourth group blindly received untreated chocolate as a placebo control. The hypothesis was that mood reported during the three days of eating chocolate would improve more in the intentional groups than in the control group.
Subjects: Stratified random sampling was used to distribute 62 participants among the four groups, matched for age, gender, and amount of chocolate consumed on average per week. Most participants lived in the same geographic region to reduce mood variations due to changes in weather, and the experiment was conducted during one week to reduce effects of current events on mood fluctuations.
Results: On the third day of eating chocolate mood had improved significantly more in the intention conditions than in the control condition (p = 0.04). Analysis of a planned subset of individuals who habitually consumed less than the grand mean of 3.2 ounces of chocolate per week showed a stronger improvement in mood (p = 0.0001). Primary contributors to the mood changes were the factors of declining fatigue (p = 0.01) and increasing vigor (p = 0.002). All three intentional techniques contributed to the observed results.
Conclusion: The mood-elevating properties of chocolate can be enhanced with intention.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Opportunity: PhD with a focus on parapsychology from a major university
The Center for Research on Consciousness and Anomalous Psychology (CERCAP), under the direction of Etzel Cardeña PhD, encourages very bright psychology graduates interested in anomalous psychology (including psi) to apply to do a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Lund, Sweden (ranked by Newsweek as one of the top 20 universities in Europe). Selection is very competitive but the top 2-3 students accepted into the department get free tuition and payment; about 3 others will get free tuition but will have to pay their way otherwise. The studies can be done in English. The application deadline (which requires a plan of studies) is April 15th. If you still have questions after reading the information linked below, please contact Prof. Cardeña.
See Annalisa Ventola's blog for more. I recommend her blog for more information on parapsychology in general, and of course the websites of the Parapsychological Association and the Parapsychology Foundation.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Lisby was the best kind of skeptic - she was solidly rational and well grounded, and as a clinician she specialized in discerning the many ways that we fool ourselves and each other. She was very skeptical of claims of "extraordinary" experiences, and yet driven by her own, undeniable experiences, and those of other people she trusted, she became determined to find out what was going on. Lisby systematically surveyed the literature, personally interviewed many of the principal researchers, and eventually concluded that while we still do not have solid explanations for these things, the phenomena are indeed real.
She was then forced to consider why these phenomena remain marginalized within science, especially given that substantial scientific evidence is available for anyone who cares to look for it. I found her conclusions most interesting because she tackled this puzzle from the eye of a trained psychoanalyst.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
Elsevier also tracks the top 10 most-downloaded articles each month, and which journals they were published in. One of those articles was published recently in Explore, so the impact of that new journal is rising fast. I found of special interest their observation that the second most popular download for the September/October issue of Explore was "Double-Blind Test of the Effects of Distant Intention on Water Crystal," by me, Gail Hayssen, Masaru Emoto, & Takashige Kizu.
So who cares? As I've written before, lots of scientists do. I see it directly because I answer emails from scientists all the time. But stats like the present one from Elsevier are beginning to reflect that interest as well. Most scientists are not quite ready to come out of the closet yet. But that closet door is definitely showing signs of movement.
(I thank an alert reader for spotting an error in an earlier version of this post -- the Double-Blind Test paper was not in the December issue of Explore, as I had originally written.)
Thursday, February 15, 2007
On March 8 at 10PM/9C on the A&E Network I'll be on a special program about premonitions. A&E's description of the show:
Everyone has dreamt that somebody they love has died. Most of the time, we wake up in horror, only to realize that it was only a dream...But what if it wasn't – What if your dream foretold real tragedy? How would you know that it was really going to happen? Could you do anything to stop it? Cutting-edge research now suggests we may all have the ability to predict what is about to occur. Premonition... precognitive dreams...presentiment...These phenomena might not be a matter of faith, myth, or just making a lucky guess. Premonition will explore extraordinary cases of real people who have had their dreams and nightmares come true.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Original in the New York Times.
By BENEDICT CAREY
Published: February 10, 2007
PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 6 — Over almost three decades, a small laboratory at Princeton University managed to embarrass university administrators, outrage Nobel laureates, entice the support of philanthropists and make headlines around the world with its efforts to prove that thoughts can alter the course of events.
But at the end of the month, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory, or PEAR, will close, not because of controversy but because, its founder says, it is time. The laboratory has conducted studies on extrasensory perception and telekinesis from its cramped quarters in the basement of the university’s engineering building since 1979. Its equipment is aging, its finances dwindling.
“For 28 years, we’ve done what we wanted to do, and there’s no reason to stay and generate more of the same data,” said the laboratory’s founder, Robert G. Jahn, 76, former dean of Princeton’s engineering school and an emeritus professor. “If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced, then they never will.”
Besides the annoying use of the term "telekinesis," which no one in the field uses, and the fact that Princeton University administrators were supposedly embarassed, as though embarassment has any role in evaluating scientific research, this article implies that the PEAR Lab was an academic anomaly reporting anomalous results, and as such, it was justifiably shunned by all sober scientists. What the article does not ask is whether the PEAR Lab's results have been independently confirmed by other scientists. The answer is clearly yes, as anyone can discover with a bit of homework, or by reading Entangled Minds or The Conscious Universe. This makes the Princeton lab's interests not so anomalous after all, and their empirical results not anomalous at all.
Was their work actually dismissed by most scientists? Perhaps in public within university circles, but certainly not in private. As the PEAR Lab found, I've also discovered that there's a large and growing network of mainstream academics who are privately very interested in these topics. But taboos in academia prevent scientists from openly discussing their real interests.
There is much said about the lofty ideals of academic freedom, the freedom to explore any topic with impunity. But the ideal is a myth. It is not possible to study any topic one wishes without risk. Scientists who attempt to study controversial topics will find that they do not get tenure, or if they already have tenure they will not get promotions, and if that fails the administrator will attempt to avoid embarassment and try (usually unsuccessfully) to fire the violator. In this sense the PEAR Lab showed incredible fortitude by simply surviving within an environment that tried every trick in the book to make the lab disappear. This emotional side of supposedly rational academia is a hidden and shameful secret, not often seen by those outside the ivory towers.
I recently had a conversation with an intelligent, highly skeptical scientist who vehemently insisted with unshakable confidence that there is no reason to accept any claims of psychic phenomena because there are no peer-reviewed publications supporting their existence. Thus, any claims to the contrary, even by places like the PEAR Lab, are necessarily flawed or fraud. And further, if there were such evidence, then it would have won the "million dollar prize" by now. Ipso facto, there is no evidence. It's all fraud run by scam artists.
I calmly pointed out that there are in fact hundreds of such publications, most in peer-reviewed journals. The scientist was incredulous, refusing to believe that this could possibly be true, and even if was true, those journals couldn't possibly be any good. I could only sigh. There are tens of thousands of journals. No one can know more than a tiny sliver of information appearing in journals that are not within one's speciality. To assume that because you haven't heard of the information it doesn't exist is the height of hubris. As Prof. Jahn said in the NYTimes piece, “If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced, then they never will.” I'm afraid that is quite true.
Saturday, February 03, 2007
Debunking the debunkers
... He then detours into an attack on ESP debunkers. A history of psychic research follows (neglecting to mention that some of the pioneers later admitted faking their results)....
Why am I hard on the "ESP debunkers"? Because some of their statements are bunk. A good example is the parenthetical comment above. It is pure fiction. In the 120+ year history of systematic scientific study of psychic phenomena, there is a single case where an investigator admitted faking data. That occurred in the 1970s by one researcher at J B Rhine's laboratory. Historically there are two or three other suspected -- but not proven -- cases. In all instances the suspects were identified by other parapsychologists. High integrity among parapsychological investigators is comparable to that found in any other scientific discipline.
I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as fraud. - Carl Jung
Friday, February 02, 2007
About the chocolate
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Too many numbers
When I bought this book, I was fully ready to accept every word of it. But, as I read, I found Radin's numbers, especially his quantitative statistics of probabilities, rather ridiculous. 35 trillion-to-one against chance?? Come on. Mr Radin says his experiments gave a 56% rate of success (with 50% being chance). Come on. Chance is not hardcore. Sometimes chance is 42%, sometimes it's 56%. 6% over chance is not scientific evidence of anything. Come on ...
And so on, in a similar vein. What comes to mind is the Emperor's suggestion (from the movie Amadeus), that Mozart "just cut a few [notes] and it will be perfect." To this Mozart responds, "Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?" In the present case, the reviewer's complaint arises because she mistakes effect size for statistical significance. Without going into what that means, all I'll say is that Entangled Minds assumes that the reader has at least an elementary understanding of basic statistics, and at least an inkling of what scientific experimentation is all about. Without that knowledge, the book may well appear to have "too many notes."
A new website called Skeptiko is now devoted to addressing how the scientific debate proceeds among more controversial topics like psi, where the friendly nature of disagreements sometimes break down. The Skeptiko site aims to provide a "balanced discussion of new scientific discoveries and the methods for validating them." I was recently interviewed by the owner of this site. You can reach the site and the mp3 interview by clicking here.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
On militant atheism
The thrust of Harris's best-sellers is that with the world so crazed by religion, it's high time Americans stopped tolerating faith in the Rapture, the Resurrection and anything else not grounded in evidence. Only trouble is, our country's foremost promoter of "reason" is also supportive of ESP, reincarnation and other unscientific concepts.
Later Gorenfeld continues:
Another book he lists is The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. "These are people who have spent a fair amount of time looking at the data," Harris explains. The author, professor Dean Radin of North California's Institute of Noetic Sciences, which is not accredited for scientific peer review, proclaims: "Psi [mind power] has been shown to exist in thousands of experiments."
Gorenfeld's statement that IONS "is not accredited for scientific peer review" is not merely wrong, it is meaningless. The mistake suggests a bit of motivated inattention.
Gorenfeld presumably added his meaningless clause in an attempt to reduce the credibility of IONS, and by association the credibility of my book. While it is true that institutions providing academic degrees can be recognized by various educational accreditation organizations, IONS does not provide degrees and so accreditation is irrelevant. In addition, "scientific peer review" is not something that institutes do, rather it's what journals and granting institutions do. The IONS research staff has published numerous articles in scientific journals and have been awarded many research grants, including from the National Institutes of Health, so on that score our work is certainly vetted through scientific peer review.
But all this aside, what I find amazing is that some militant atheists, including Gorenfeld but not Harris, equate belief in religion to belief in psi. The fallacy of this belief is that the former is based on an unquestioned acceptance of dogma, whereas the latter is based on a rational, scientific evaluation of empirical evidence. One would think that atheists would support all efforts to understand the world through scientific means, regardless of controversial status. But apparently this is not the case.
But what about ...?
The answer is "Not much." In most cases I've found it to be a waste of time to respond to long-winded, free-ranging critiques appearing on blogs and in magazines. Articles published in journals aren't perfect either, but at least they provide a first-pass verification that the critiques seemed reasonable to a few referees. One hopes that the selected referees were knowledgeable about the topic at hand, which is not always the case, but compared to the level of discourse one sees in most op-eds, journal articles are a far superior way to debate controversial topics.
So my response to most web critiques is this: If the author of a detailed critique is confident about their opinion, then they should publish it in a journal. Sometimes when I run across a comment on a web page that is flat wrong, and it's easy to correct, I may comment on it here.