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
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.
Geller’s Repertoire • Spoon bending • Watch mending • Thought sending (and reading) • Targ & Puthoff (1974)
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.
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
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.
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
“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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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)
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
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)
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Psychokinesis • Macro-PK refers to alleged psychokinetic phenomena which are on such a large scale that they are immediately observable
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
… or nothing paranormal at all? • Sincere misinterpretation of natural phenomena • Hoaxes • Amityville Horror • Tina Resch in Columbus, Ohio
REG Studies • Helmut Schmidt • Robert Jahn, Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Group • Very tiny but highly statistically significant effects
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
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
Jahn and PEAR Group • Essentially replicated Schmidt’s findings using REGs • Also using mechanical cascade device • Effects found regardless of time and space constraints
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.
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.
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?