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Psychic Ability Claim Doesn't Hold Up In New Scientific Experiments 315

Posted by timothy
from the pre-imagining-the-counterevidence dept.
cold fjord writes with some stunning news from the world of science, excerpting: "A new study has failed to find evidence that psychic ability is real. Skeptics may scoff at the finding as obvious, but the research is important because it refutes a study published in a psychological journal last year that claimed to find evidence of extrasensory perception. That research, conducted by Daryl Bem of Cornell University, triggered outrage in the psychological community when the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology announced in 2010 that the paper had been accepted for publication." Here's a link to the academic paper.
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Psychic Ability Claim Doesn't Hold Up In New Scientific Experiments

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  • by pinfall (2430412) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:24AM (#39388203)
    I see a flurry of dumb comments being posted on /..
  • by mseeger (40923) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:26AM (#39388213)

    I have foreseen that outcome....

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by JamesP (688957)

      Funny how it's the skeptics who 'claim' they knew the results of this beforehand.

      Oh, and by the way, when you do an experiment like that, make sure you use a proper random number generator. (one that has a *tested* uniform distribution - if you're expecting a uniform distribution of course, otherwise, test for the distribution you're expecting)

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Insightful)

        by rgbatduke (1231380) <rgb.phy@duke@edu> on Saturday March 17, 2012 @09:06AM (#39388425) Homepage
        Ah, yes, but then you'd have to know how to rigorously test for uniform distributions to obtain and interpret p-values and the like, and seriously (speaking of probabilities) what are the odds that a psychologist who takes the hypothesis of precognition seriously knows either statistics or how to design double-blind experiments properly?

        rgb (speaking ex cathedra as the author of dieharder, which does indeed know how to test for uniform distributions as well as test random number generators in general many, many ways...;-)
      • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

        by History's Coming To (1059484) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @09:28AM (#39388531) Journal
        Look at the available evidence - if there was any psychic ability then the chances are that it would already be well documented. Even a slight statistical ability would have big impacts in warfare, commerce and many other areas of life. Whether a single study will overturn this is unlikely, so making a prediction that study-X won't show psychic ability is valid.

        If you want an analogy, imagine getting a big crowd of people together who believe in psychics, and who have handed over their name, address, CC details and other snippets of information - you could probably convince them that you're talking to their dead relatives, if you wanted to be a fraudulent shyster who likes making money from the grief and hope of the gullible.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2012 @12:53PM (#39389871)

          Exactly! If there were psychic powers, it would be a world where those with average intellects would control vast fortunes, where hard work and study didn't pay off, and where people mindlessly followed trivial events while ignoring important events.

          Nothing like the real world.

        • by inviolet (797804)

          Look at the available evidence - if there was any psychic ability then the chances are that it would already be well documented.

          No, that's backwards, because:

          Even a slight statistical ability would have big impacts in warfare, commerce and many other areas of life.

          Whatever real psychics are out there, they either a) are getting rich in the stock market (etc.) and not talking about it, or b) have all been sucked into various intelligence agencies.

          The only way an ordinary member of the ballast like yourself would hear of proven psychic powers, is if they were so common that they could not be kept under wraps.

      • Like the sceptics who 'claim' that they knew subsequent tests will show neutrinos don't travel faster than light!

        You use past results and experience to predict the future. That a single study showing positive results for ESP was flawed in some way, is a natural starting position. If this study had backed it up, then I'd still assume both are flawed in some way, just with a little less confidence.

        • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @01:52PM (#39390223) Journal

          That a single study showing positive results for ESP was flawed in some way, is a natural starting position.

          Ah, but Bem's 2011 paper [dbem.ws] was not flawed at all. He successfully and convincingly demonstrated his lack of understanding [wikipedia.org] of statistical techniques and his ineptitude in application of said techniques. He also illustrated the failings of the peer review process [physicstoday.org] in minor fields. His incompetent attempt [csicop.org] at "validation" of ESP was the most persuasive evidence of all, in fact.

          This overwhelming ignorance of statistics is prevalent throughout the social "sciences" and is almost as widespread in medical fields. Bem is not the first to misunderstand and misuse t-tests or to fail to distinguish exploratory and confirmatory [ejwagenmakers.com] analysis. Those in fundamentally innumerate fields should not play with numbers (especially using packaged statistical software) except under supervision of a qualified adult. They are emphatically not qualified [wikipedia.org] to certify themselves as competent in statistics or any other area outside their specialization.

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Informative)

        by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @10:34AM (#39388975)

        You mean like this experiment?

        "I. Human-Machine Anomalies"
        http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/experiments.html [princeton.edu]

      • by paiute (550198)

        Funny how it's the skeptics who 'claim' they knew the results of this beforehand.

        Funny how it's the skeptics who 'claim' that an apple is going to fall towards the earth.

    • by unixisc (2429386)
      Problem with this study is that they didn't use genuine, top psychics in the field.
  • Social Psychology? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:35AM (#39388249) Journal

    If ESP is ever proven real, the ones that will be most interested are the physicists.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:46AM (#39388295)

      ESP is already proven to those using it on a daily basis. Physicists shouldn't ever ignore aspects of reality, b/c what they aim to do is to describe reality. They haven't done imaging of electromagnetic fields around brains yet (which are the antennae for our consciousnesses which are located outside our bodies beyond time and space). The brain is a sequencer unit for the sole purpose of serializing perception. There's also a relationship between subatomic particles and their respective consciousness-lets, there's a transitional state between consciousness and matter called not-yet-matter. An Electromagnetic Unit is smaller than the smallest subatomic particle. It will all be proven with scientific studies one day when instruments have become even better. Physicists should use mathematics properly. Math is not a toy, it's a tool.

      • by Nursie (632944)

        What.The.Fsck?

      • by Hatta (162192) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @09:02AM (#39388399) Journal

        ^This is how crazy you have to be to actually believe in ESP.

        • by Tom (822) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @09:42AM (#39388623) Homepage Journal

          You don't have to be crazy. Uncritical or uneducated is enough. Keep in mind that the amount of logical and mathematical education most of the /. audience have is not representative for the general population.

          There are a couple proven psychological traps at work here, such as confirmation bias, our inability to correctly estimate non-trivial probabilities, and more.

        • by NEDHead (1651195)

          Or religion

      • by dargaud (518470)
        Timecube guy, is that you?
      • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

        by rgbatduke (1231380)
        Actually, imaging of electromagnetic fields around the brain is done routinely, not so much by physicists but by scientists (e.g. biological psychologists and neurophysiologists) and physicians. The tools for doing so are things like EEG hardware, fMRI, SQUID-based transducers, implants, and more. The methodology has gotten so advanced that they can observe e.g. maps of lit neurons in the working visual cortex that correspond in a 1 to 1 manner to a presented visual field or differentiate the word you are
        • Everything we know about consciousness (and at this point we know a rather lot)...

          We may know a lot about how to describe consciousness and the parameters around it, but there is still a lot we don't know about it to include the core aspect of what it actually is and why it arises.

      • Dr. Gene Ray, I presume.

      • by rthille (8526)

        TimeCubeGuy, is that you?

      • And

        wishing is making it so

        ?

      • How Evidence of the Paranormal is Bringing Science and Spirit Together http://www.paradigm-sys.com/ [paradigm-sys.com]
        "Charles T. Tart is internationally known for his more than 50 years of research on the nature of consciousness, altered states of consciousness (ASCs) and parapsychology, and is one of the founders of the field of Transpersonal (spiritual) Psychology. His and other scientists' work convinced him that there is a real and vitally important sense in which we are spiritual beings, but the too dominant, scientisti

    • by Poorcku (831174)
      Physicists? if ESP is ever proven real, the ones that will be most interested are the military.

      On a second note, if physicists are so interested why are they not researching it?
      • > if physicists are so interested why are they not researching it?

        Because it is easier to ignore the evidence then to be honest and admit there is something here we don't understand.
        i.e.
        http://www.princeton.edu/~pear/publications.html [princeton.edu]

        • by gardyloo (512791)

          Awww, that's cute! The best thing out of PEAR was the name "Strip Mind Media". The only stuff coming out of there that isn't understood is the fact that someone thought that it should have been funded in the first place.

        • by rubycodez (864176)
          repeatedly linking to a pile of debunked nonsense again and again on slashdot doesn't make it true. the human mind is nothing more than a bunch of electrochemical reactions going on in a head, sorry.
    • by Shavano (2541114)

      Biologists too. They'd be interested in demonstrating the unknown biological mechanism that makes the new sense work.

  • So, convince me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:36AM (#39388251)

    A new study has failed to find evidence that psychic ability is real. Skeptics may scoff at the finding as obvious

    No, sceptics may consider the finding plausible but will question whether the evidence supports it.

  • by Qbertino (265505) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:36AM (#39388253)

    The peer review was not a double-blind study.
    Ergo: No scientific evidence, any finite conclusion is worthless.
    You fail. Thank you very much.
    End of discussion. ...
    Then again, as far as I can read out of the article, the initial experiment wasn't a double blind test either.

    However, the experiments setup looks interesting and - in a fully controlled environment - could statistically prove the existence of clairvoyance.

    Bottom line:
    We're just as smart as before.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by UnknownSoldier (67820)

      You do realize Non-locality of Mind has already been proven, right?

      See the documentary "The Quantum Activist". It features Dr. Amit Goswami, Ph.D, retired, Professor of physics at the University of Oregon's Institute of Theoretical Science for 30 years, so its not like it features some unknown nut-job.

      Well worth watching.

      • This guy apparently stars in "science" videos for nut job cults:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amit_Goswami [wikipedia.org]

        So he supports and probably is some nut job.

      • What the hell is a 'retired' PhD? Did he have to give his sheepskin back? It's not like the military where you resign your commission.

        And, looking at his Wikipedia page, I'd have to agree with you that he's not 'some unknown nut-job'. He appears to be a well known nutjob.

      • by Ihmhi (1206036)

        Non-locality of Mind

        Ah, is that the meaning of the phrase "He's not quite all 'there'" -points to head with a twirly finger- ?

      • You *do* realize that an abstract proof doesn't prove a damned thing in real life?

        From his site:
        "This film bridges the gap between God and Science."

        Pretty much have to first prove the existence of God, don't you think?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mr. Slippery (47854)

      The peer review was not a double-blind study.
      Ergo: No scientific evidence, any finite conclusion is worthless.

      I'm not sure what you mean by a "finite" conclusion, but if you think that only double-blind studies count as scientific evidence, then I suppose you don't think astronomy or particle physics or paleontology are scientific fields?

      A double-blind study, when possible, is a great way -- perhaps the best way -- to investigate certain questions. That does not make it the only form of scientific evidence

  • by youn (1516637) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:39AM (#39388265) Homepage

    I bet psychics did not see that coming :)

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      Yeah, if psychic powers were real you'd think that they wouldn't be slinging tarot cards in their little one room shop under the adult video store.

      As bad as those people are, a huge majority of psychics pray on the grieving. I hate cocksuckers like John Edwards and whatever the name of the fat one with the bad haircut and mustache is. Honestly, every time I see a psychic hawking their "services" I want to punch them in the face and ask them why they didn't see it coming.

  • Not really Psychic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:43AM (#39388279) Homepage

    "retroactive facilitation of recall’, which examines whether performance on a memory test can be influenced by a post-test exercise."

    All they are testing is pre-cognition, aka time travel of the mind, and really the least likely psychic power to exist. The ability to do this would pretty much break science.

  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Saturday March 17, 2012 @08:50AM (#39388319) Homepage

    This is the really interesting (and shocking) bit of the story. One has to wonder how much real understanding of the scientific method the editors of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology really have. If they don't understand the value of independent replication - then what are they publishing ? Interesting anecdotes ?

    • by arse maker (1058608) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @09:25AM (#39388513)

      Journals not publishing null results or replications is a widespread problem that many reserches lament.

      I've thought for a while that there should be a journal just for replication or null results to be published im. Even if the goverment has to fund it.

  • "Psychic Network Goes Out of Business Due to Unforeseen Financial Difficulties"
  • by loufoque (1400831) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @09:05AM (#39388415)

    Damn. Thanks for ruining my day.

    • by cellocgw (617879)

      You can, but only in a galaxy far, far away. (assuming Jedi powers haven't degraded since "long ago..")

    • Don't feel too bad. These aren't the Jedi powers you were looking for, anyway.

    • by Goboxer (1821502)
      Just not premonition it would seem (did many jedi even have that power?). Telekinesis and manipulating minds are still up for grabs.
  • The past 100 years hasn't produced any repeatable high quality studies showing any psi effects exist.

    If psi was a drug, the results are so terrible there is no way it would ever be considered for use.

    But they will continue to go around in circles data mining to find anomalies to study then abandoning that modality once it cant be replicated.

    If psi was real, the mechanism would be truely astounding. Physists would really have their work cut out for themselves. Strange they have never seen anything that could

    • Depends upon the effect and depends upon how rigorous you want the testing to be. I'd have to hunt around to find the sources, but there have been a couple studies over the years that were more rigorous that showed that clairvoyance may be possible on a limited basis due to studies that resulted in predictions slightly better than pure chance. Most of these studies involved people in separate rooms either drawing cards or similar while someone else tried to predict what they were doing.

      Personally, part of
      • The PEAR studies were discredited, which I'm sure is what you're referring to.

        • The PEAR studies were discredited...

          They might have been on the list, but I'd have to pull out the research folder. Some of the studies have been outright discredited over the years, but others are a bit more of a question mark and are just "inconclusive." As a whole it makes for some interesting reading at times, but I doubt we are going to get a satisfactory answer any time soon.

          ... which I'm sure is what you're referring to.

          Please don't assume you know what people are thinking as it tends to be quite off putting.

  • Go in and tell them you have no money. Ask them for the winning lottery number, and tell them you will be back the next day to pay them.
  • Of course anybody with a hint of scientific curiosity, as I define as a genuine adherence to the search of knowledge through science/the scientific method, should conclude that this would only further SUPPORT the idea that no such thing exists [as opposed to adhering to the idea that it PROVES it outright exists, or doesn't exist], given how we don't know what methodology and technology will come out in the future, and what they will show about the human brain, or other areas of scientific study - look at o
    • In my mind's eye I see you writing a run-on sentence in the very near future.

      That will be five dollars.

  • Of course. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 17, 2012 @11:04AM (#39389203)

    All the real psychics never admit to being psychic. They win in vegas or the lottery or the stock market and keep their mouths shut.

    Because they can also see being cut up into little slices and studied by someone if the world ever really gets proof they are psychic.

  • by ArgumentBoy (669152) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @11:46AM (#39389465)
    I don't think ESP is real either, but the journal editors had first class reasons to reject the replication-failure paper. The sample size of each replication was 50. They tried 3 times, for a total of 150. It is very hard to prove a null hypothesis--this is not the same as failing to support a research hypothesis. Roughly, the quality of support for a research hypothesis is measured in terms of Type I error, which is assessed by p levels (e.g., p LT .05). The quality of support for a null hypothesis (and not everyone agrees that this is possible in principle) is measured in terms of Type II error, or the power of a statistical test. The power of a test depends on the sample size, the expected effect size, and which statistic (e.g., r, t) is in use. A replication test of the original ESP paper must have substantial power because the expected effect size is, well, zero. To find a tiny effect size, which would be the fair design, requires more than N=50. Doing the same underpowered study three times doesn't help very much, but even N=150 wouldn't be decisive. The journal in question is one of the most prominent in psychology. Whether they publish replications or not (and they do--replications aren't done for their own sake, they are implicit in follow-up studies), they certainly shouldn't publish bad ones.
  • I believe in ESP. Don't freak but I think what people call ESP is not magical. ESP is more like a hyperactive portion of the brain that lets you see patterns the someone else doesn't. Its not about being smarter or telepathic, its an unconscious ability to just recognize things that have happened and what will more likely happen in the near future. For all I know it could happen like a seizure.
  • by cyberchondriac (456626) on Saturday March 17, 2012 @04:31PM (#39391113) Journal
    is full of naysayers who lost sight of the true goal of science - to observe, to be open-minded, and honest.
    Science should never be wielded like dogma, leave that to religion.
    For example:
    http://web.mit.edu/randy/www/words.html [mit.edu]
    Most of these "experts" should have known better, and not gotten cocky with their current state of known science. At no point will we ever know it all. At no point can we say, we know this currently understood law of physics is 100% irrefutable. (Although it' may be 99.9% irrefutable, jus' sayin')

    It just may be -however unlikely- that psychic phenomenon is real, but **extremely** rare and not really reproducible -something that can be tapped into on demand- and it's more even probable that most to all psychics are frauds, or at the very least, people who may have experienced some level of ESP once or twice but who greatly overstate their ability as something they can use when they want to, as though it were a reliable tool, a superpower even. Hah.

    Of course, on the other hand... it's not good to be so open minded that yer brain falls out. Maybe it's all coincidence.
    Either way, bias will always taint this subject, from one end of the argument or the other, but I predict the argument will go on for the foreseeable future.

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