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Outstanding Proof of Psi and Debunking of Skeptics
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.