Discussions about Psychics and Psychic Phenomena, Extra Sensory Perception, Telepathy, Psi, Clairvoyancy, 6th Sense, Psychokinesis, etc.
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Common criticisms about parapsychology
Constructive criticism is essential in science and is welcomed by the majority of active psi researchers. Strong skepticism is expected, and many parapsychologists are far more skeptical about psi than most scientists realize.
However, it is not generally appreciated that some of the more vocal criticisms about psi are actually "pseudo-criticisms." That is, the more barbed, belligerent criticisms occasionally asserted by some skeptics are often issued from such strongly held, prejudicial positions that the criticisms are not offered as constructive suggestions, but as authoritarian proofs of the impossibility of psi.
It is commonly supposed by non-scientists that skeptical debates over the merits of psi research follow the standards of scholarly discussions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Disparaging rhetoric and ad hominem attacks arise too often in debates about psi. The social science of parapsychology, and the way that science treats anomalies in general, is a fascinating topic that starkly illuminates the very human side of how science really works. A more complete description of this topic is beyond the scope of this FAQ, but is contained in The Conscious Universe by Dean Radin.
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Criticism: Apparently successful experimental results are actually due to sloppy procedures, poorly trained researchers, methodological flaws, selective reporting, and statistics problems. There is therefore not a shred of scientific evidence for psi phenomena.
Response: These issues have been addressed in detail by meta-analytic reviews of the experimental literature . The results unambiguously demonstrate that successful experiments cannot be explained away by these criticisms. In fact, research by Harvard University specialists in scientific methods showed that the best experimental psi research today is not only conducted according to proper scientific standards, but usually adheres to more rigorous protocols than are found in contemporary research in both the social and physical sciences. In addition, over the years there have been a number of very effective rebuttals of criticisms of individual studies, and within the past decade, experimental procedures have been developed that address virtually all methodological criticisms, even the possibility of fraud and collusion, by including skeptics in the experimental procedures.
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Criticism: Psi phenomena violate basic limiting principles of science, and are therefore impossible.
Response: Twenty years ago, this criticism was a fairly common retort to claims of psi phenomena. Today, with advancements in many scientific disciplines, the scientific worldview is rapidly changing, and the basic limiting principles are constantly being redefined. In addition, the substantial empirical database in parapsychology now presents anomalies that simply won't "go away," thus this criticism is no longer persuasive and is slowly disappearing. Given the rate of change in science today, assigning psi to the realm of the impossible now seems imprudent at best, foolish at worst.
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Criticism: Parapsychology does not have a "repeatable" experiment.
Response: When many people talk about a repeatable psi experiment, they usually have in mind an experiment like those conducted in elementary physics classes to demonstrate the acceleration of gravity, or simple chemical reactions. In such experiments, where there are relatively few, well-known and well-controllable variables, the experiments can be performed by practically anyone, anytime, and they will work. But insisting on this level of repeatability is inappropriate for parapsychology, or for that matter, for most social or behavioral science experiments. Psi experiments usually involve many variables, some of which are poorly understood and difficult or impossible to directly control. Under these circumstances, scientists use statistical arguments to demonstrate "repeatability" instead of the common, but restrictive view that "If it's real, I should be able to do it whenever I want."
Under the assumption that there is no such thing as psi, we would expect that about 5% of well-conducted psi experiments would be declared "successful" (i.e., statistically significant) by pure chance. But suppose that in a series of 100 actual psi experiments we consistently observed that 20 were successful. This is extremely unlikely to occur by chance, suggesting that psi was present in some of those studies. However, it also means that in any particular experiment, there is an 80% probability of "failure." Thus, if a critic set out to repeat a psi experiment to see if the phenomenon was "real," and the experiment failed, it would obviously be incorrect to claim on the basis of that single experiment that psi is not real because it is not repeatable.
A widely accepted method of assessing repeatability in experiments is called meta-analysis. This quantitative technique is heavily used in the social, behavioral and medical sciences to integrate research results of numerous independent experiments. Starting around 1985, meta-analyses have been conducted on numerous types of psi experiments. In many of these analyses, results indicate that the outcomes were not due to chance, or methodological flaws, or selective reporting practices, or any other plausible "normal" explanations. What remains is psi, and in several experimental realms, it has clearly been replicated by independent investigators.
“Devotion to the truth is the hallmark of morality; there is no greater, nobler, more heroic form of devotion than the act of a man who assumes the responsibility of thinking.” - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
Have you read "Entangled Minds?"
I haven't yet, but I might one of these days. Unfortunately, the only in-depth review I could find was not very friendly to the author...
Have you? What did you think?
I did. I own it. I went into it highly skeptical of psi but came out a cautious believer. He lays out some very convincing evidence and arguments. He painstakingly attempts to remove from the positive distributions trials which have possibly suffered from experimenter error and/or bias, methodological/protocol/design errors/weaknesses, the file drawer phenomenon, fraud, etc., and even after having done this, the data still shows statistically strong support for various psi hypotheses. This is my open-minded, as-non-biased-as-possible analysis of the book and its data. I do understand, however, that many reviewers will be predisposed and biased towards their convictions and preconceptions (emotions being the motivators), and this mindset is what we often see communicated in book reviews. On one end of the pseudo-spectrum we have pseudo-believers, and on the other pseudo-skeptics. I try to be as much in the "middle" as possible, although I do admit I will from time to time lean towards any one of those mindsets, but I try my best to be as logically reasonable but open-minded as possible.
Thanks for the info Mike and kudos for being fair. Does the book go in-depth on his experiments? Does he begin his experiments with the mindset that he is a believer and tries to find the psi explanation to his results or is he open-minded at the beginning?
The book is very detailed, yes. It's--in my opinion, of course--the most complete and detailed analytical look at decades worth of psi research to date. The book describes decades of parapsychological research, but not only his own. I trust Radin because he seems to be as empirical and unbiased about his research as possible (although you can't completely remove all bias from researchers; some bias is inevitable), something I look for when considering arguments put forth by researchers of this sort. You'll notice this once you start reading his book. Regardless of bias, however, one has to simply look at the data and decide for him or herself. Hopefully, a logically reasonable look at the data will convince one of what the data actually means/reveals, but I don't hold my breath for such "miracles."
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