Customer Reviews: Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics
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on July 3, 2009
Chris Carter, in Parapsychology and the Skeptics, treads the same ground that Damien Broderick did in Outside the Gates of Science. Both show convincingly that parapsychologic phenomena have been demonstrated, repeatedly and with statistical significance, using methodologies which have withstood the criticism of skeptics, over multiple decades. And that despite this convincing evidence, a skeptical community continues in a denial mode, contrary to reason and science. His goal is to demonstrate that the skeptics are ideologues, intent on defending a semi-religious worldview for irrational and non-scientific reasons.

The two use different clubs to make their points. Carter uses Gansfeld experiments, and Broderick uses remote viewing. But the approach and purpose of both books is nearly identical. Carter is the better writer of the two, and has produced the better book. Unlike Broderick, he makes his intent clear from the start, and provides more supporting evidence to bolster his argument.

Initially, carter takes the reader through the history of parapsychology, then discusses the experiments of J. B. Rhine, who moved the field into the laboratory. Rhine developed the methods still used today for statistical investigation of psi phenomenon. By 1940 ~1 million card guessing trials had been done using his card-guessing methods, with statistically significant results shown in 27 of the 33 published experiments.

Gansfeld experiments are a variation on the card-guessing process. Gansfeld uses photographs rather than cards, and puts the receiver in a sensory deprivation environment for 15-20 minutes while they free- associate, after which they pick which of four photos the sender was trying to "send". The first decade of Gansfeld experiments reported 28 studies at 10 different labs, with an overall success rate of 35% vs. the 25% of random results, from 1975-1985. A board member of the skeptical society CSICOP criticized the methodology of the tests, asserting the positive results were due to methodological errors. With a leading psi researcher, he then agreed to a set of changes in methodology that would satisfy his objections. Four laboratories then adopted an even more stringent computer controlled procedure, and by 1995 their 11 studies reported an overall success rate of 34%. Studies since 1995 have reverted to the simpler procedures endorsed by the CSICOP board member, and they continue to show an overall 34% success rate. So 3 decades of Gansfeld experiments have shown a nearly 10% higher success rate than chance, in experiments performed at over a dozen labs, and with results that have been independent of the stringency of the of the experimental protocols. This is decisive and convincing evidence, for anyone who actually believes in empiricism ...

Carter then goes on to discuss the skeptics. They form the only international political lobbying group seeking to shut down scientific investigation of a field. Their organization is called CSICOP (The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal), and their publication is The Skeptical Inquirer. While they bill their publication as the only outlet for scientific evaluation of paranormal claims, it is anything but scientific. Skeptic Elizabeth Mayer describes it this way:

Reading The Skeptical Inquirer was like reading a fundamentalist religious tract. I found the journal dismayingly snide, regularly punctuated by sarcasm, self-congratulation, and nastiness, all parading as reverence for true science.

And the society performs no investigation, at least not anymore. It only performed one. Shortly after its founding, the society did investigate the claims of a pair of astrologers that there was a Mars Effect of great athletes being more likely to be born with Mars rising or transiting. Of the 12 possible orbital positions, random results would put about 17% of births in these categories, but a survey of 2200 European champions showed 22% of them born at these times. CSICOP declared that these were just more likely times for all births, and that a comparison of non-champion births to the champions would show the effect just a spurious artifact. The Skeptical Inquirer said such a test would be a definitive test of the astrologers claim. The astrologers took CSICOP up on the challenge, and (to get good data) collected data from a dozen major European metropolitan centers on their birth times, and compared that to a 300 member subset of the athletes born in these metropolitan centers. The non-athlete data did show 17% born at those times, while the subset of athletes matched the overall 2200 set at 22%. They provided the data to CSICOP per the challenge. It took CSICOP 2 years to publish a reply. Rather than admit to the validity of the data provided, CSICOP arbitrarily discarded women athletes, and the men born in the Paris metropolitan area from the 300, and claimed the rest of the champions also were born at a 17% rate in those periods, so the effect was bogus. CSICOP engaged in a raising the bar fallacy, where a "definitive test" is only definitive until it is passed, then a further test is needed, and a classic case of data fudging, where one arbitrarily excludes subsets of one's own data until the results match a pre-chosen outcome. Irrationally, the 300 champion subset they then fudged was irrelevant to the astrologer's conclusions - their analysis was based on the full 2200 person data set, which CSICOP's data fudging was irrelevant to. Several of CSICOP's board members objected to this deceit and data fraud, and were expelled from the organization. But as a result of the scandal they revealed, CSICOP never conducted another investigation again. Engaging in data fraud in their sole investigation is not a particularly stellar record for a defender of science.

A very few members of the organization still do their own investigations, but their record is not much better than the organization itself. I reviewed the autobiography of Susan Blackmore myself. She is a former psi researcher who converted to skepticism, and is a member of the CSICOP board (fortunately for her reputation, well after the data fraud). In her autobiography she claims that her own negative results in her psi experiments were what convinced her to abandon it. But an analysis of her 21 published papers actually shows that 7 of them achieved the fairly high standard of a 95% confidence level of demonstrating a psi effect. The odds of random events producing this success rate accidentally are less than 1:20,000. This is actually a fairly typical rate for the psi research community, since achieving statistical significance generally take long and expensive tests to acquire enough data. A 33% success rate in demonstrating psi effects would not convince me that one had demonstrated psi was FALSE, but that is exactly what she says (although she does not report what her actual success rate was in these assertions). Blackmore has misrepresented her own work in her autobiography and in CSICOP literature for several decades. This is not QUITE as bad a data fraud ...

Richard Wiseman, a junior CSICOP member, has continued to conduct experiments since joining the organization. He was invited, by a researcher he critiqued, to reproduce a test of animal esp that he disputed. A pet dog would jump up on a bay window frame when its owner was out, generally within 5 minutes of the owner turning toward home. The experiment involved the owner returning at a randomly pre-set time, and the measure of interest was what percent of a 10 minute period the dog spent on the bay window. Graphs of the time show about 5% of the time on the window (the dog was active and moved around a lot) until the owner started home, after which it spent about 55% of the time on the window. Wiseman did four tests, and his video data showed the same result. BUT HE DECLARED THE TEST SHOWED NO EFFECT! He reached this conclusion by looking only at the FIRST time the dog got on the window, and declaring the test a failure if it was before the owner headed home. This is the same sort of deceit used against the astrologers - raising the bar as to what a success consists of, then data manipulation until one finds a set of data (or in this case a measure of effect) that confirms one's pre-selected position. Deceit and data fraud strikes again.

James Randi was in on the original CSICOP data fraud, so we already know he is willing to lie about data, but here are two more examples of his deceit. Both were inspired by the same dog experiment that revealed Wiseman's fraud. In 2000 in Dog World he was quoted as saying "We at the James Randi Educational Foundation have tested these claims (of canine ESP). They fail." When demanded to provide these test results, he wrote (in private correspondence, never making a retraction in Dog's World) that the tests were not done at JREF, but were "years ago" and "informal" and involved two dogs belonging to a friend, and all records were lost. In a TV interview Randi also declared that "viewing the entire tape, we see the dog responded to every car that drove by, and every person that walked by." This is untrue, and Randi has since admitted he has never seen the tape. Randi will simply lie if the truth does not support his worldview.

This dog test brought out the worst in all the CSICOP members it seems, since Blackmore also spread falsehoods about it, declaring incorrectly that the dog increased its time on the window the longer the owner was out.

So what motivates the skeptics to deny evidence, fudge data, and repeatedly lie? Carter sprinkles throughout his book assertions by skeptics that psi is "in contradiction to all of science", and this is basically what they clam their motive is. But it is NOT in contradiction to science, as he shows by quotes from Carl Sagan, Albert Einstein, and Karl Popper on how empiricism does not prejudge data or effects (Sagan's example of Continental Drift was particularly pertinent - it was ridiculed as impossible for decades). He also cites surveys of actual scientists showing that the majority consider psi possible. So if contradiction to SCIENCE is not the problem, what DOES motivate this political pressure group of deceivers? It appears to be dogmatic belief in materialism, and the fear that psi phenomenon, if accepted by the public, will encourage belief in spiritual dualism. To prevent this catastrophe, they apparently believe all their fraud and deceptions are justified.
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on June 13, 2013
Science and Psychic Phenomena: The fall of the house of skeptics, by Chris Carter, Inner Traditions, Rochester, Vermont, 2007, 320 ff.

This book gives us a rational assessment of the cases for and against the existence of psychic phenomena, and the evidence presented by those who reject their existence. There are many books presenting the empirical evidence that events involving telepathy, clairvoyance, spiritual healing and visions of the afterlife really exist, and that these are not simply the results of fraud or delusion - see Tymn, van Lommel, Moody, Playfair, and many others. There are also those authors who seem to have an emotional predisposition to disbelieve and therefore either ignore, distort or misinterpret evidence to support their case that all psychic events are fantasy. Books by Victor Stenger and Daniel Dennett fall into this group.

Chris Carter was born in Canada but completed his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at the University of Oxford. He gives us here a rational assessment of the empirical evidence for continuing discarnate existence and its statistical interpretation, and especially a critique of those who dismiss such evidence. A little knowledge of the use of statistical probability (`p') values is an advantage. He examines the early attempts to study telepathy and psychokinesis and finds that the majority of those investigators, who included eminent scientists of the day, found the evidence persuasive. He critically examines the work of the well-known contemporary skeptics Susan Blackmore and Richard Wiseman, and finds it wanting in rigour or honesty. Indeed, little research has ever been carried out by those who disbelieve in psychic phenomena.

Carter suggests that the `research' conducted by that emphatic disbeliever, magician James Randi, is so flawed it should simply be ignored. Skepticism is keeping an open mind until evidence persuades you of a conclusion, one way or another. But these people are outright unbelievers and no amount of evidence is ever going to persuade them that psychic phenomena exist.

Skeptics such as Sharon Begley, who dismiss psychic events because they do not conform to pre-20th century physics, are simply not aware of the developments in quantum science with which psychic events are entirely compatible. Carter elaborates on this in the next chapter.

This is the best book I have read taking apart the cases advanced by the so-called skeptics and showing why they are ill-founded. There are 38 pages of Notes and Bibliography at the end of the book which concludes with an effective Index.

Howard Jones is the author of Evolution of Consciousness
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on August 17, 2012
Once upon a time there was a secular humanist who spent much time practising self worship as they always do. With the name of Paul Kurz he published Prometheus books which championed diverse sexual perversions, like pedophilia and zoophilia as a funtime that everyone should enjoy. But sales were not good, and in an extended session of self adoration, the secular humanist Paul Kurz decided it was the peasants many thought crimes, their superstitions, like pondering higher callings, morals, religion, holy books, God, the meaning of life, that were holding back the sales of his sexual perversion books. He hit upon the idea of an organisation, a public lobby group, to be called CSICOP, which could easily scientifically discredit dangerous superstitions, like astrology for example, which could set the peasants free from their intellectual blindness, on the path toward self righteous sexual perversionism, as a revolutionary new scientific Age of Reason , and his naughty book sales would skyrocket.

The first great battle, of his own choosing, on his own battle ground, with his own weapon of choice, statistics, he set out to utterly discredit astrology. It would be a cinch, he thought. But instead he suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of astrology ! Some french astrologer knew more about statistics than "scientific" Paul Kurz ! Mars effect was established for elite athletes. This is where Chris Carters book begins. Fall of the House of Skeptics. He records how it fell, seriously wounded in its first public battle and desperately tried to cover up this embarrassment. The book details how a whistleblower made public the criminal nature of the house of skeptics.
And that first major traumatic reversal caused these pseudoskeptic secular humanists to renounce real science as just too scary and spend the next 40 yrs simply making a propaganda war on all things intangible that the peasants subscribed to, that stopped them buying perversionism books.

Chris Carter then documents how CSICOP heaped derogatory rhetoric on particular PSI scientists for decades in a fashion that curiously resembles malicious stalking. Parapsychology is the only science that is faced with this self appointed vigilante opposition. Which has had, (LOL) the opposite effect on parapsychology. From Chris Carters excellent account, the skeptics rhetorical objections have all been incorporated into experimental safeguards and Telepathy is unambiguously proven. Chris Carter discusses the proof for telepathy and precognition in some depth, providing numerous references, from leading light scientists.

And the forever undead Susan Blackmore reveals her sad affliction- that she is beyond that critical dullness point so that she cannot perceive her own incompetence, like, apparently, all the others in the house of skeptics. Psychologists, academic bottom feeders, just cant do any other course at uni, their grades are too low. Even Richard Wiseman is revealed as not knowing maths and science, as his work is corrected by the remedial maths teacher Dean Radin so that even Wiseman unwittingly, and quite accidentally proves the existence of Telepathy.
Chris Carter also explains how telepathy and precognition actually fit in comfortably with modern science, entire chapters devoted to this. Useful reference book is this.

If you want to see overrall the House of Skeptics atrocious behaviour toward science and society generally, laid bare, read this book. The skeptics crashed badly in their first operation, went from bad to worse as the decades went by, have been left behind and utterly irrelevant by the scientific method, while the "superstitious" peasants happily carry on doing their usual telephone telepathy, and precognition, now scientifically proven. I thought Chris was just too polite and too kind describing the delinquent behaviour of pseudoskeptics. He is such a balanced presenter. Such a gentleman. Quite a few little unexpected gems I found in this delightful book. Like Charles Darwin having a strong interest in mediums. Thanks Chris, for a most enoyable read. Your book is a landmark work. kimbo99 on youtube.
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The understanding that "consciousness" plays a much greater and more sophisticated role in the understanding of living, biological organisms than currently accepted by the scientific and academic "Establishment" is gaining greater and greater momentum. This book is one in a trilogy that the author has written to describe many of the new, breakthrough scientific discoveries that are leading open-minded people away from last century's failed, atheistic "scientific materialism' and into a new paradigm of thinking that will replace it in the 21st Century. If you want to be on the correct side of the coming debate this book is required reading. Robert Steven Thomas, author: Intelligent Intervention
Intelligent Intervention
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on June 16, 2012
I really disliked Philosophy in college, not seeing the point in all the hair-splitting going nowhere. Chris Carter's book brought it all back to me, but thankfully his talent for lucid explanations and his ability to connect the different schools of thought to their attitudes towards scientific enquiry vs psychic phenomena made all the difference. (College teachers take note!)
Skepticism toward the unknown, and perhaps unknowable has been central to philosophical debate since the 1700's. It has certainly been a hallmark of the modern era when reproducible, evidence-based experiments became the gold standard of "truth." The core argument in the book rests on affirming the logic of a conceptual shift from observation and replication of a phenomenon, therefore inferring that that is absolute proof of truth, to a more empirical approach of acceptance of an observation as a valid phenomenon, putting forth a tentative explanation of how it might have come about until a better explanation comes along.

This distinction is profound, because science was, and still is, riddled with the attitude of rejecting inconvenient phenomena that don't fit into the accepted theory of the day. This attitude still has reverberations into all of society, and spawns ridicule of uncomfortable truths in journals and in the media, as well as ostracism of any researchers prepared to swim against the tide of conventional wisdom.
In the case Carter makes for the reality of psychic phenomena, the anecdotal evidence is overwhelming; quantum physics implies the action of consciousness.

This book is important because it suggests that we could or should be on the threshold of mainstream acceptance of psi phenomena, which implies the primacy of consciousness in the manifestation of physical reality. Like most scientific books or papers the evidence takes up 98% of the book before you get to the conclusion, but you can either skip to the end or enjoy the ride like I did.
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on September 10, 2009
This is an extremely important book that examines a pervasive prejudice and pre-judgment that permeates science and many other fields of inquiry.

Healthy skepticism is an essential pre-requisite for good science, but as this delightful and well-reasoned book shows, parapsychology can bring out the worst kind of unhealthy - and unscientific - skepticism. It also highlights the way in which some scientists and popular science writers have used polemic rather than reasoned debate to promote their views. For example the opinion that all human ills can be reduced to genetics, or that there is but one interpretation of quantum mechanics. This is a trend that has been questioned by many scientists who have no connection with research in parapsychology.

Throughout my career I have seen how the mere mention of psychic phenomena such as telepathy would incite derision or apoplectic disgust amongst my professors, colleagues and many of my own students. Yet as this book shows, these reactions have more to do with personal and cultural attitudes and beliefs than they do with objective data.

After an excellent and thought-provoking foreword by Rupert Sheldrake, the book is broken into three parts and eighteen chapters:

1: Origins of the Debate
2: The Modern Critics
3: The Historical Evidence

Part I
Is there Conclusive Experimental Evidence for Psi?
4: The Early Years
5: Psychokinesis: mind over matter
6: Telepathy: silent communication
7: The Great Ganzfeld Debate
8: The Research of the Skeptics

Part II
Would the Existence of Psi Contradict Established Science?
9: The Roots of Disbelief
10: Modern Science versus Classical Science
11: The 'Extraordinary Claims' of Parapsychology
12: Psi and Physics
13: Towards a New World View

Part III
Is Parapsychology a Science?
14: The Impoverished State of Skepticism
15: The Nature of Science
16: The Scientific Status of Parapsychology
17: Hume's Argument Revisited
18: Paradigms and Parapsychology

These chapters are followed by a Postscript, Chapter Notes, a well-rounded Bibliography and an Index.

Carter uses many examples to support his thesis that rather than using science, many of the detractors of parapsychology use rhetoric and obfuscation. For instance the late Martin Gardner once claimed that the only evidence for parapsychology comes from a small group of enthusiasts, while negative evidence comes from a much larger group of skeptics. Not so, says Carter, who could find only three credible skeptical researchers. This is at least an order of magnitude less than the number who has produced positive data in peer-reviewed journals.

This is an important book that shows us the true nature and value of healthy skepticism and the dangers of wrongly associating it with mere disbelief. It is a good read, not only for people interested in parapsychology, but also for anyone interested in the way in which there are powerful forces that try to crush unorthodox ideas or concepts, including holistic health and integral perspectives on science, psychology, ecology and spirituality. It

Very highly recommended.

Richard G. Petty, MD, author of Healing, Meaning and Purpose: The Magical Power of the Emerging Laws of Life
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on August 7, 2007
Chris Carter has put together quite a treatise. In thoroughly readable, engaging and clear prose, he provides an erudite and comprehensive review of the skeptical and scientific studies of events that don't fit present paradigms. Despite having researched the subject extensively myself, I found a deep well of new information. "Parapsychology and the Skeptics" contains abundant information about the history and current status of psi phenomena. It is easy to read, and most interesting.

Robert S. Bobrow MD (Author, "The Witch in the Waiting Room: a physician examines paranormal phenomena in medicine")
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on March 20, 2012
What do quantum physicists do when faced with the incredible nature of subatomic particles? Let's forget about what it means, they say, and just do the calculations. What do psychologists do when faced with scientific experimentation showing the reality of telepathy and telekinesis? Well, they too try and ignore it. And if the evidence keeps amounting so that they can't ignore it, then they attack the studies and try their damndest to find flaws in the studies. What happens when the flaws are fixed and new experiments are run still showing a statistically significant positive result? Then they retreat ever further into their shells of belief and yell out "Fraud!" Well either all parapsychologists are a bunch of fraudulent wackos who are producing ficticious made-up results, or science needs to create new theories to incorporate them. Or maybe science just needs to finally own up to the philosophical implications of its own flagship theory: Quantum Mechanics. Whatever the case may be, don't make up your mind until you read this excellent book by Chris Carter.

This book is a homerun for any curious mind in many ways. First, it presents excellent analysis and overview of the studies that have been conducted to test things like telepathy and telekinesis. Secondly, Carter's book examines the skeptical arguments put forth to discredit those same studies. So you really get insight into the tactics used by skeptics, whether it's fooling around with the statistics to suit their point of view, pointing out possible flaws in the study design, or just blantant lying and suppressing information. Carter tackles all of this and shows the arguments from both sides. Finally, and most importantly Carter explains the scientific theories that may explain psi phenomenon.

Carter writes clearly and logically so that even if you're unfamiliar with science and statistics you should still be able to grasp the material. Carter explains concepts and ideas very clearly. He's writing for a broad audience. One example is when Carter brings up Type 1 and Type II errors in statistics. He explains what these errors mean so that even an untrained reader can understand. But it's not all science and numbers if that turns you off. This book is an intricate interweaving of science and philosophy, explaining both the hard science and the philosophical ideas that have been used to either interpret it or discredit it.
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on May 25, 2012
Chris Carter provides extensive evidence for the existence of awareness and sensitivity beyond what can be explained by conventional models of consciousness and physics.

His discussion and analysis of this evidence (and of those who have created experiments to attempt to demonstrate the existence of psychic phenomena) is fascinating in and of itself. Equally important, however, is his careful analysis of those who have attempted to deny the possibility of the existence of such phenomena. He provides substantial evidence which illustrates that these skeptics often employ double standards and in many cases appear to be motivated by their desire to assert their skeptical dogmas rather than to provide an honest assessment of the data.

He also provides evidence showing that many of the most ferocious critics do not conduct actual experiments themselves but confine themselves to attacking the experiments of others. In the cases in which skeptics have conducted experiments, Chris Carter shows that their results appear to confirm the existence of psychic phenomena. Even these results, however, do not change their minds but are publicly proclaimed to have reinforced the evidence against such phenomena!

Thus Chris Carter's book is important for (at least) two reasons: it provides extensive calm and deliberate analysis of the evidence supporting the existence of powers that go beyond the conventional "scientific" paradigm, and it also provides a fascinating look at the extent to which some skeptics will go to deny such a possibility, even to the point of what can only be seen as either self-delusion or deliberate dishonesty.
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on March 29, 2009
As a professor teaching about and carrying out research in the fields described in this book, I often encounter the question: If these phenomena are real, why does the scientific mainstream not accept them? Why doesn't someone accept the million dollar challenge and demonstrate the phenomena to the world? In fact, many researchers have demonstrated psi (ESP and psychokinesis) repeatedly and published their results in peer-reviewed publications. So how has this been suppressed?

Chris Carter's book answers these questions clearly and honestly. On one side, a host of scientific investigators carry out careful research, and publish their results in high-quality but limited-distribution journals. On the other side, debunkers who usually do not have a scientific background and very rarely carry out any research themselves throw stones. Mainstream scientists, who do not take the time to read the primary literature, glance at the the skeptics' comments and consider the case closed: their initial impressions that the parapsychology literature is bunk appear confirmed.

At the University of Colorado at Boulder I offer an Honors course called the Edges of Science. There are two required texts, both of which are outstanding: Dean Radin's "Entangled Minds" and "Parapsychology and the Skeptics" by Chris Carter. Radin's book gives more details about the scientific experiments that have been carried out, and Carter's book gives perspective on where psi fits in the scientific world and why it has had such a hard time being accepted.

I highly recommend Chris Carter's book. It will change your worldview.
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