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Lecture 3: Current Status of Parapsychology

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1 Lecture 3: Current Status of Parapsychology
Modern Parapsychology Psychics Psychic superstars Psychic readings Psychic prediction Psychic detectives Ganzfeld studies Remote viewing Psychokinesis Parapsychology: Science or Pseudoscience? Pseudoscience reconsidered Problems with defining pseudoscience The status of parapsychology Conclusion

2 Psychic Superstars: Uri Geller

3 Psychic Superstars 5 Ways to Bend a Spoon:
1. Distract everyone, bend the object manually, conceal the bend, and later reveal it gradually. 2. Pre-stress the object so that later it will appear to melt and snap. 3. Amongst a large collection of objects, some will be bent already. 4. Substitute already bent objects. 5. Hold the object in such a way than an existing bend is not apparent, but gradually turn the object to reveal the bend.

4 Geller’s Repertoire Spoon bending Watch mending
Thought sending (and reading) Targ & Puthoff (1974)

5 Other Psychic Superstars
J Z Knight, channels “Ramtha” US media mediums: John Edward, James van Praagh, and Sylvia Browne UK media mediums: Derek Acorah, Colin Fry, and Gordon Smith.

6 Cold Reading A technique used to convince complete strangers that you know all about them One aspect is the Barnum Effect: the tendency for people to accept vague, ambiguous, and general statements as descriptive of their unique personalities

7 Ray Hyman’s “Rules of the Game”
1. Show confidence. 2. Make creative use of the latest polls, surveys and statistics. 3. Set the stage for your reading. 4. Gain the client’s cooperation. 5. Use a gimmick such as a crystal ball, Tarot cards, palmistry, etc. 6. Have a list of stock phrases.

8 Ray Hyman’s “Rules of the Game” (cont.)
7. Keep your eyes open. 8. Use the technique of “fishing”. 9. Learn to be a good listener. 10. Dramatize your reading. 11. Always give the impression that you know more than you are saying. 12. Flatter your client at every opportunity. 13. Tell the client what the client wants to hear

9 “Sleight of Tongue” Turn a statement/question about the present or past into one about the future. Broaden the area to which you were referring. Tell the client to go and check. Insist that you know the client better than they know themselves. Reinterpret what you said to make it seem right. Reinterpret the facts.

10 Schouten (1994) The main question asked in most of these studies was whether a significant number of correct statements deviated significantly from chance expectation. Another question, less often addressed, was whether psi ability was necessary to explain the correct statements. The present study indicates that the number of studies with significant positive results is rather small. Moreover, in most of these, one or more potential sources of error were present that might have influenced the outcome.

11 Schouten (1994) It seems, therefore, that there is little reason to expect psychics to make correct statements about matters unknown at the time more often than would be expected by chance. An explanation is offered for the apparent successes of psychics in everyday-life consultations that takes into consideration the role of the client or sitter, which is generally underestimated. Extremely put, it is proposed that it is the client who makes the psychic.

12 Schwartz et al. (2001) Claimed to have proved that mediums could speak to the dead Wiseman & O’Keeffe’s criticisms: Potential for judging bias Inappropriate control group Possibility of sensory leakage

13 Psychic Prediction Nostradamus, 1503-1566
Still the subject of best-selling books and documentaries Said to have predicted “the rise of Napoleon, the rise and fall of Hitler, World Wars I and II, ... the deaths of John F. and Robert Kennedy, to name a few. He is even said to have named Hitler, getting his name correct to within a single letter.” (Hines, 1988, p. 40).

14 Randi’s (1990) Rules of the Prophesy Game
Make lots of predictions, and hope that some come true. If they do, point to them with pride. Ignore the others. Be very vague and ambiguous. Definite statements can be wrong, but “possible” items can always be reinterpreted. Use a lot of symbolism. Be metaphorical, using images of animals, names, initials. They can be fitted to many situations by the believers. Cover the situation both ways and select the winner as the “real” intent of your statement.

15 Randi’s (1990) Rules of the Prophesy Game (cont.)
Credit God with your success, and blame yourself for any incorrect interpretations of His divine messages. No matter how often you’re wrong, plough ahead. The Believers won’t notice your mistakes, and will continue to follow your every word. Predict catastrophes; they are far more easily remembered and more popular by far. When predicting after the fact, but representing that the prophesy preceded the event, be wrong just enough to appear uncertain about the exact details; too good a prophecy is suspect.

16 Psychic Detectives Piet Hein Hoebens (1985, p. 634):
The standard skeptical explanation for the alleged successes of psychic detectives is that these sensitives offer their consultants the verbal equivalent of a Rorschach test. Their statements are typically vague, rambling, and verbose. The accuracy of the "readings" is evaluated post factum: "Good" sitters retroactively interpret their ambiguous and often contradictory statements in such a way that they fit the true facts and obligingly forget the many details that were too wide of the mark. Complete failures are ignored or suppressed. The possibility that some of the paranormal information could have been acquired by normal means is quietly discounted. Occasional lucky guesses (consistent with the chance hypothesis) are enhanced by selective reporting and editorial embellishment.

17 Gerard Croiset

18 Nella Jones: "inside the mind of the Yorkshire Ripper"
Psychic News (5th June 1982): Eighteen months before the police arrested Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, Kent medium Nella Jones drew a picture of him, described where he lived and worked and accurately predicted two more murders before he was caught … Eventually Nella went to Yorkshire and accompanied police to help them locate clues and places. Her mental pictures were always accurate. Nella could exactly describe details of a location before they ever arrived on the spot. Police were amazed that the psychic could direct them to places she had never seen.

19 Ganzfeld Study: Receiver

20 Ganzfeld Study: Sender

21 The Ganzfeld Studies Ray Hyman (1985) criticised:
1. the means used to calculate replication rates 2. the use of multiple criteria for scoring hits 3. procedural flaws, such as inappropriate randomisation, statistical errors, the inclusion of the actual target picture in the set to be judged rather than a duplicate, and insufficient details of procedure.

22 Hyman's (1985) Conclusion: The ganzfeld psi data base, despite initial impressions, in inadequate either to support the contention of a repeatable study or to demonstrate the reality of psi. … Indeed, parapsychologists may be doing themselves and their cause a disservice by attempting to use these studies as examples of the current state of their field.

23 Hyman and Honorton (1986, p.351):
We agree that there is an overall significant effect in this data base that cannot reasonably be explained by selective reporting or multiple analysis. We continue to differ over the degree to which the effect constitutes evidence for psi, but we agree that the final verdict awaits the outcome of future experiments conducted by a broader range of investigators and according to more stringent standards.

24 Standards Spelled out in the Report: Bem and Honorton (1994, p.9)
strict security precautions against sensory leakage, testing and documentation of randomization methods for selecting targets and sequencing the judging pool, statistical correction for multiple analyses, advance specification of the status of the experiment (e.g., pilot study or confirmatory experiment), and full documentation in the published report of the experimental procedures and the status of statistical tests (e.g., planned or post hoc).

25 Milton and Wiseman (1999) Meta-analysis of 30 ganzfeld ESP studies from 7 independent laboratories. The studies failed to confirm Bem and Honorton's (1994) main effect of participants scoring above chance on the ESP task.

26 Remote Viewing Receiver based in laboratory with experimenter
Sender(s) at randomly selected remote locations attempt to telepathically transmit impressions from site Receiver’s impressions transcribed for later rating Clairvoyance can be tested (no senders)

27 Targ and Puthoff (1974) Significant results based on two flaws:
Judges given list of targets in same order as used in experiment Cues relating to position of response in sequence left in transcripts

28 Hansen et al. (1992) The research departs from criteria usually expected in formal scientific experimentation. Problems occur with regard to randomisation, statistical baselines, application of statistical models, agent coding of descriptor lists, feedback to percipients, sensory cues, and precautions against cheating. ... It is concluded that the quoted significance values are meaningless because of defects in the experimental and statistical procedures. (p. 97) Undoubtedly some of the poorest quality ESP experiments published in many years. (p. 107)

29 Utts (1996, p.3): Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of a magnitude similar to those found in government-sponsored research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of laboratories around the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud.

30 Hyman (1996, p. 39) I agree with Jessica Utts that the effect sizes reported in the SAIC experiments and in the recent ganzfeld studies probably cannot be dismissed as due to chance. Nor do they appear to be accounted for by multiple testing, file-drawer distortions, inappropriate statistical testing or other misuse of statistical inference. Having accepted the existence of non-chance effects, the focus now is upon whether these effects have normal causes.

31 Hyman (1996, p. 43) I admit that the latest findings should make [parapsychologists] optimistic. The case for psychic functioning seems better than it ever has been. The contemporary findings along with the output of the SRI/SAIC program do seem to indicate that something beyond odd statistical hiccups is taking place. I also have to admit that I do not have a ready explanation for these observed effects. Inexplicable statistical departures from chance, however, are a far cry from compelling evidence for anomalous cognition.

32 Wiseman and Milton (1999) Discovered a number of potential pathways for information leakage in SAIC Experiment 1 SAIC team produced no less than five different versions of protocols used!

33 Wiseman & Milton (1999, p. 3) These difficulties not only make an assessment of Experiment One extremely difficult, but also call into question whether the assessors commissioned to write a US-government sponsored report on the other studies in the SAIC program [i.e., Utts and Hyman] would have been given accurate information about their unrecorded details.

34 Psychokinesis Macro-PK refers to alleged psychokinetic phenomena which are on such a large scale that they are immediately observable

35 Macro-PK?

36 Psychokinetic Metal Bending? No, Girard is a Fraud

37 Psychokinesis Macro-PK refers to alleged psychokinetic phenomena which are on such a large scale that they are immediately observable Micro-PK refers to much weaker effects which would usually only be demonstrable by statistical analysis of the results of an experiment

38 Rhine’s Dice PK Apparatus

39 Poltergeist: Noisy Ghost?

40 … or Recurrent Spontaneous Psychokinesis (RSPK)?

41 … or nothing paranormal at all?
Sincere misinterpretation of natural phenomena Hoaxes Amityville Horror Tina Resch in Columbus, Ohio

42 Rhine’s Dice PK Apparatus

43 REG Studies Helmut Schmidt
Robert Jahn, Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Group Very tiny but highly statistically significant effects

44 Schmidt’s REG Studies

45 Stages in Schmidt’s Work
Original studies directed at precognition – but could not be distinguished from PK Then studied PK directly Went on to test “quantum mechanical model” of psi using REGs … … then using pseudo-random sequences seeded by single number from REG

46 Alcock’s (1990) Critique research programme is unusually disjointed
failure to consistently apply proper randomisation checks to target series inadequate controls general tendency to work alone and to not make raw data available to others ad hoc hypotheses and experimental goals lack of methodological rigour

47 Jahn and PEAR Group Essentially replicated Schmidt’s findings using REGs Also using mechanical cascade device Effects found regardless of time and space constraints

48 Concerns Regarding Jahn’s Results
Single participant, a member of PEAR team, provided large proportion of data Not as much variability in baseline data as chance would predict Jahn himself has remarked that what makes the situation even odder is that when the baseline statistics and the high and low scores are all added together, the result is a well-behaved Gaussian distribution. It is almost as if the extra hits found in the high and low scores have been taken from what would otherwise have been outliers of the baseline condition.

49 Hyman (1989) ... the only reasonable conclusion to draw from the existing body of data from the [REG] experiments is that we do not know what to make of it. We cannot say that the results were definitely the result of some artifact. On the other hand we cannot say that they were not. The only way that we will be able to draw meaningful conclusions from such experiments is when they have been conducted according to the standards that both the parapsychologists and their critics assert ought to be met by any acceptable parapsychological experiment.

50 Bosch, Steinkamp & Boller (2006)
Meta-analysis of 380 PK studies employing REGs Small but significant overall effect size But effect sizes “strongly and inversely related to sample size” and “extremely heterogeneous” A result of publication bias?

51 Comments on Bosch et al. (2006)
Wilson & Shadish (2006) do not accept that any significant effect, however small, is “fundamentally important” Suggest that parapsychologists should concentrate on producing larger PK effects or on specifying the conditions under which they would accept the null hypothesis Radin et al. (2006) question the publication bias explanation, believing the evidence supports the existence of genuine PK

52 Pseudoscience Reconsidered
Defining science and the demarcation problem: Can we differentiate science from non-science? Defining pseudoscience: Do strict criteria exist to allow us to differentiate between science and pseudoscience? Assessing the current status of parapsychology: Is it a science or a pseudoscience?

53 Defining Pseudoscience
“Claims and methods that are falsely presented as science” But what is science? Edge, Morris, Palmer, & Rush (1986): “although there is no easy definition and although there are no hard and fast criteria by which we can easily judge whether a discipline is scientific, there do seem to be benchmarks of good science”

54 Absolute Criteria? Radner & Radner (1982): if a discipline displayed evidence of even one “mark of pseudoscience,” that was enough to condemn that discipline as being pseudoscientific Lilienfeld, Lynn, & Lohr (2003): “science probably differs from pseudoscience in degree rather than in kind. Science and pseudoscience can be thought of as Roschian or open concepts, which possess intrinsically fuzzy boundaries and an indefinitely extendable list of indicators.”

55 Radners’ “Marks of Pseudoscience”
“found only in crackpot work and never in genuine scientific work”, e.g., Irrefutable hypotheses The grab-bag approach to evidence Looking for mysteries Appeal to myths Argument from spurious similarity Refusal to revise in the light of evidence

56 Alcock’s (1981) Summary of Bunge’s (1980) Criteria:
its theory of knowledge is subjectivistic, containing aspects accessible only to the initiated; its formal background is modest, with only rare involvement of mathematics or logic; its fund of knowledge contains untestable or even false hypotheses which are in conflict with a larger body of knowledge;

57 Alcock’s (1981) Summary of Bunge’s (1980) Criteria (cont.):
its methods are neither checkable by alternative methods nor justifiable in terms of well-confirmed theories; it borrows nothing from neighbouring fields, there is no overlap with another field of research;

58 Alcock’s (1981) Summary of Bunge’s (1980) Criteria (cont.):
it has no specific background of relatively confirmed theories; it has an unchanging body of belief, whereas scientific enquiry teems with novelty; it has a world-view admitting elusive immaterial entities, such as disembodied minds, whereas science countenances only changing concrete things.

59 Lilienfeld’s (2005) Features of Pseudoscience
A tendency to invoke ad hoc hypotheses, which can be thought of as “escape hatches” or loopholes, as a means of immunising claims from falsification; An absence of self-correction and an accompanying intellectual stagnation; An emphasis on confirmation rather than refutation; A tendency to place the burden of proof on sceptics, not proponents, of claims; Excessive reliance on anecdotal and testimonial evidence to substantiate claims;

60 Lilienfeld’s (2005) Features of Pseudoscience (cont.)
Evasion of the scrutiny afforded by peer review; Absence of “connectivity”, that is, a failure to build on existing scientific knowledge; Use of impressive-sounding jargon whose primary purpose is to lend claims a façade of scientific respectability; An absence of boundary conditions, that is, a failure to specify the settings under which claims do not hold.

61 Problems with Defining Pseudoscience
Common themes but much variation Influenced by cultural background and potential target for labelling? Problems with falsification as defining feature of science At best, prescriptive not descriptive Hypothesis should not be abandoned following first apparent falsification

62 Problems with Defining Pseudoscience (cont.)
But falsification still useful indicator if either Hypothesis non-falsifiable in principle; or Over-reliance on ad hoc excuses to avoid falsification McNally (2003): “Pseudoscience is like pornography: we cannot define it, but we know it when we see it.”

63 Should the Pseudoscience Concept be Abandoned?
McNally (2003): “When therapeutic entrepreneurs make claims on behalf of their interventions, we should not waste our time trying to determine whether their interventions qualify as pseudoscientific. Rather, we should ask them: How do you know that your intervention works? What is your evidence?”

64 Should the Pseudoscience Concept be Abandoned? (cont.)
Truzzi (1996): “there are good reasons to purge the term pseudoscience from our disputes. It may simply prove more useful and less incendiary to speak of bad, poor, or even stupid theories without entanglement in the demarcation problem.”

65 Lilienfeld et al. (2003) “the fuzziness of such categories does not mean that distinctions between science and pseudoscience are fictional or entirely arbitrary. As psychophysicist S. S. Stevens observed, the fact that the precise boundary between day and night is indistinct does not imply that day and night cannot be meaningfully differentiated.”

66 Lilienfeld et al. (2003; cont.)
“From this perspective, pseudosciences can be conceptualized as possessing a fallible, but nevertheless useful, list of indicators or ‘warning signs.’ The more such warning signs a discipline exhibits, the more it begins to cross the murky dividing line separating science from pseudoscience.”

67 Parapsychology Often defined as the scientific study of claims of extrasensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (PK), and life-after-death As exemplified by research published in the Journal of Parapsychology Parapsychological Association became an affiliated organisation of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969

68 Mousseau’s (2003) Analysis
Compared contents of mainstream scientific journals, e.g., Molecular and Optical Physics British Journal of Psychology with “fringe” journals, e.g., Journal of Parapsychology Journal of Scientific Exploration

69 Is Parapsychology a Pseudoscience?
Issues relating to falsifiability (e.g., Alcock, 1981): Experimenter effects Sheep-goat effects Emphasis on confirmation rather than refutation: Mousseau (2003, p. 274) reported that in her sample “almost half of the fringe articles report a negative outcome (disconfirmation). By contrast, no report of a negative result has been found in my sample of mainstream journals.”

70 Is Parapsychology a Pseudoscience? (cont.)
Formal background modest, little mathematics or logic: Mousseau (2003) reported that, “All of the articles that aim to gather new empirical evidence, whether in fringe journals or in mainstream journals, use statistical analysis.” Failure to propose new hypotheses and theories: Mousseau (2003) found that 17% of fringe articles deal with theory and propose new hypotheses.

71 Is Parapsychology a Pseudoscience? (cont.)
Over-reliance on testimonials and anecdotal evidence: There probably is more reliance on anecdotal evidence within parapsychology than within most other sciences. But, as Mousseau (2003) reports, “43% of articles in the fringe journals deal with empirical matters and almost one-fourth report laboratory experiments.”

72 Is Parapsychology a Pseudoscience? (cont.)
Absence of self-correction: Mousseau (2003): “… 29% of the fringe-journal articles […] discuss progress of research, problems encountered, epistemological issues. This kind of article is completely absent from the mainstream sample.” Lack of overlap with other fields of research: According to Mousseau (2003), in fringe-journals, 36% of citations were of articles in mainstream science journals (e.g., psychology, physics, neuroscience). In her sample of mainstream science journals, however, 90% of citations were to articles in the same field (99% in the case of physics).

73 Is Parapsychology a Pseudoscience? (cont.)
Use of impressive sounding jargon: Many proponents of the paranormal often use scientific-sounding terminology such as “vibrations”, “energy”, “fields”, “harmonization”, and so on, in ways that bear little resemblance to the precisely defined meanings that such terms have when used by scientists. However, such imprecise usage is, by and large, not a feature of articles published in peer-reviewed journals within the field.

74 Is Parapsychology a Pseudoscience? (cont.)
Examples of (arguably) failed criteria: it has no specific background of relatively confirmed theories it has a world-view admitting elusive immaterial entities, such as disembodied minds

75 Conclusion Parapsychology can still be judged to be a science even if, as seems quite possible, paranormal forces do not exist

76 Acknowledgement With thanks to Hilary Evans, proprietor of the Mary Evans Picture Library, for permission to use illustrations featured in this presentation. These illustrations must not be reproduced in any form without permission from the Mary Evans Picture Library.

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