ESP proponents claim that ESP skeptics are psychic, and use their powers to suppress ESP

Clay sez, "Stuart Ritchie, a psychology doctoral student in Edinburgh, worked with two colleagues to try to replicate the results of a famous recent experiment, claiming people could predict in advance whether they were about to be shown erotic images. When the three failed to find any such evidence for ESP they sent their results out for publication, and the British Psychology Journal, one of the journals to which it was sent, in turn sent the trio's article out for review. When Ritchie et al got the responses back '...there were two reviews, one very positive, urging publication, and one quite negative. This latter review didn’t find any problems in our methodology or writeup itself, but suggested that, since the three of us (Richard Wiseman, Chris French and I) are all skeptical of ESP, we might have unconsciously influenced the results using our own psychic powers.' They are still looking for a place to publish their findings

Anyway, the BJP editor agreed with the second reviewer, and said that he’d only accept our paper if we ran a fourth experiment where we got a believer to run all the participants, to control for these experimenter effects. We thought that was a bit silly, and said that to the editor, but he didn’t change his mind. We don’t think doing another replication with a believer at the helm is the right thing to do, for the reason above, and for the reason that Bem had stated in his original paper that his experimental paradigms were designed so that most of the work is done by a computer and the experimenter has very little to do (this was explicitly because of his concerns about possible experimenter effects). So, after this very long and unproductive delay, we’re off to another journal to try again. How frustrating.

Wait, Maybe You Can’t Feel the Future (Thanks, Clay!)

(Image: Marina Psychic Tells Past - Present - Future, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from dsifry's photostream)


    1. You keep doing that, they’ll catch you. Try to approximate the rate you’d get by random chance. Better yet, try not to participate in the studies. I must go now – I think they’re on to me!

    1. I don’t believe that there are psychics, but this is a scientific study. All rules must be followed or you are just playing. Wouldn’t bad science give the believers reason to wonder?

  1. Anyway, the BJP editor agreed with the second reviewer…

    Well, there’s your problem.  The Bharatiya Janata Party is openly hostile to outsiders.

  2. Actually, there have been other studies where people who didn’t believe in ESP scored lower when tested than those who did.

    My own personal experience has shown a few people who consistently score higher than probability would suggest- Not high enough to be definitive of anything, but consistently enough to warrant further study. 

    Mind you, I’m all in favor of skepticism- But as I’ve said time and time again regarding atheism:  There is a big difference between saying “There is no evidence to support the existence of X” and saying “X does not exist”.  One is skepticism,  one is a belief- based on reason, perhaps, but still a belief.

    1. There is a big difference between saying “There is no evidence to support the existence of X” and saying “X does not exist”.  One is skepticism,  one is a belief- based on reason, perhaps, but still a belief.

      When a belief and reality are one and the same, it becomes pointless to refer to it as a belief.

      1. Many things are knowable.  Those things which are conclusively proven true can be taken as objective reality, to such a degree as is possible without diverging into philosophy.

        You cannot, however, prove the unknowable.  You can prove likelihood one way or another, but whether that likelihood is certain is a matter of faith.

        Imagine that I cut a deck of cards.  I believe that the top card is an ace.  We can know for a fact that the odds of this are 1 in 13.  If we flip the card over, we can prove this one way or another, but if we reshuffle without looking, we will never know.  I still believe I drew an ace, and this can never be proven right or wrong, only proven unlikely.

        As we understand the universe, ESP is unlikely to a degree verging on impossible.  That said, I am entirely certain that we do not at this time possess a complete understanding of the natural laws of the universe. 

        I think there’s something to the ESP thing- This doesn’t mean that I’m going to put my complete trust in a psychic instead of in demonstrative proof.  It means that I’ve looked at the data and decided that it’s inconclusive.  I’ll concede that it’s unlikely, but not that it’s impossible.

        1. There are known knowns; there are things we know we know.

          We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.

          But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.

          – Donald Rumsfeld

          At any rate, can you show us any credible data that’s really “inconclusive” about these types of psychic abilities?

        2. Next time I drop a pebble, it could float upwards, instead of falling. Knowing this, I could spend my life skeptical of gravity, forever dropping pebbles and hoping for the miracle. Or I could accept that Bigfoot is a folk legend, vampires are just good fun in books and on TV, and people don’t have magical abilities to commune with the dead, to walk on water, or to predict the future.

          1. Shouldn’t you be skeptical of everything though ? It helped Einstein to make his discoveries for example. Then he became a famed old fart mistakingly digging the same sterile groove for the rest of his long life as he was missing the talent to be skeptical of himself, but that’s another story.

            There’s little new under the sun. As Descartes said and numerous others found out, before and after him, eternal doubt is no way to ever feel secure but a certain way to feel alive. Which is the best trade off I think.

          2. All I’m saying is that there is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that SOMETHING is happening.  I’m not suggesting that something might be supernatural- while I suppose there’s a chance of some natural law we haven’t discovered yet, it’s more likely to be something equally fascinating like subconscious body language, faulty methodology in the tests, some sort of heightened awareness, or an alternative theory of the math involved.  There’s no reason to be skeptical of gravity, yet, if you saw a pebble
            fall upwards, would just assume you imagined it, or would you look for
            an explanation?

            Just because there’s a rational explanation for something, that doesn’t mean people necessarily know what that explanation is.  There are plenty of people with a natural gift for cold reading who think they’re psychic because they’ve never been told what cold reading IS. 

          3. No.  No there isn’t.  Anecdotal evidence is an oxymoron; an anecdote can’t be examined and tested as evidence.  It’s a re-telling of events from selective and flawed memory: a work of fiction even if based on real events.

            Here’s how you can tell whether a phenomenon exists: it doesn’t hide from the experimenter.  If doing more and more careful experiments yields less and less conclusive results, it’s not real.  Psychic phenomena are, by this criterion, not real.

            And why would you expect them to be?  If precognition or clairvoyance were real, we would all be able to do it and it would be no more remarkable than the ability to see light or hear vibrations in the air: our distant ancestors would have benefited so much from it that those who lacked the ability would have been out-competed, and selection pressure would have relentlessly honed and improved it.  We aren’t doing controversial experiments to find out if humans really have eyes.

          4. Interestingly enough, your pebble example is a good approximation of Islamic scientific thought. Koranic scholars in the 12th century found that assuming that the laws of nature would operate pretty much all the time would deny Allah the right to do whatever he damn well pleased with nature, and was thus an impious act, and off with your head. At the same time Thomas Acquinas and other Christian scholars determined that elucidating the laws of nature could ponly increase our awe of God’s foresight, and that He generally played by his own rules.  The result, after some missteps like harassing Gallileo, was that the Christians invented modern science while the Muslims abandoned it.

          5. @facebook-100001992361976:disqus
            I like how you call the Inquisition a ‘misstep.’ Waitta discount the work of the folks that invented the bases of chemistry, algebra, and kept classical knowledge from being burned in a big pile…

    2. Yep, this.

      The argument against is not “this is batshit crazy” (which I think you imply here, Cory).   It’s “studies suggesting that belief of the experimenters affects the experiment are not  something that this particular experiment is focused on.”

      That said, I agree that nothing in science covers this.  Or anything else in parapsychology, of course.

    3. The problem with your statement: “My own personal experience has shown a few people who consistently score higher than probability would suggest.” Is that it is unlikely you had really removed all the variables. Also it depends on how many people you tested and how many tests the word consistently refers to. If thousand of people ar flipping coins, and you were testing for psychokinesis saying try to get heads. You would get a fair number with far more than 50% heads. This would mean nothing in the big picture but would look impressive in a very narrow view of “I told x person to try to only land on heads with psychic power and he achieved an 80% success rate.

      1. I’ve got one of those ESP card sets with the 5 different symbols, and every once in a while we pull them out and see how we do with them.  Statistically, the scores should average out to 20%- you should get approximately 10 cards right out of the deck of 50.  You might get 10 on one attempt, 8 on another, 11 on the next two.

        A couple people I know score between 10 and 15 every time we do this- 20 or 30 times total over the years.  YES, it is possible that this is a statistical anomaly, but they should have pulled an 8 at least once.  Ergo, I believe there is something else going on besides simple probability.

        Again, I’m not discounting the very likely possibility that the something else is some subtle body language or bad shuffling or a barely perceivable difference in the backs of the cards, or some other variable.  I’m just saying that the numbers don’t add up and I don’t have a proven explanation at this time.

        The simple fact is that ESP experiments can’t possibly control every variable we know of, and if it does exist, we have no way to know  what variables might affect it. 

        For the time being, I tend to file it under the same category as faster than light travel:  There is a little bit of sketchy data and a few theories that might support it.  Is it possible?  Probably not, but if somebody figures out an experiment with a demonstrable result, I’m not going to dismiss it out of hand- And if someone shows me something that LOOKS like it moves FTL, I’m going to be interested in WHY it looks that way.

        1. You even admit that there is the very likely possibility that there is a variable at play like a statistical anomaly or something introduced with body language or the deck itself, and then say the numbers don’t add up. If there is no blinding involved, the error bars on either side of a 10/50 probability could be huge. Say they’re +/- 10% (and I would assume them to be much greater than that, depending on how much of an influence you have it could be 100%), then you could score 15/50 all day long and still have it fall under the umbrella of statistically insignificant.

          You can believe there’s something going on besides simple probability, but there’s nothing to back that up.

        2. No worries it seems like you are just saying “there might be something there”. If so who could argue. However since it has been sought after with so much determination by so many throughout the years an evidence based statement would have to conclude the evidence in the big picture suggest the word “might” refers to a miniscule probability.

    4. There is a big difference between saying “There is no evidence to support the existence of invisible floating pigs in my garage” and “there are no invisible floating pigs in my garage.”

  3. Time for a meta study to see how much the results of all ESP tests done to date have depended on the testers’ beliefs. I’d be interested to read the conclusion paragraph of that study.

    1. I think it’d be an interesting paragraph only if the conclusion was not what most people expect. I find “humans are *not* psychic” papers quite sad things. We’re not getting anywhere by repeatedly proving that we can’t see the future and frankly despite the spectacular risk/reward ratio we should probably stop spending resources confirming that.

  4. Can someone explain carefully to me why the editor of the BJP isn’t 100% right here? I mean, if we assume that psychic powers can’t influence the outcome, aren’t we begging the question the study is meant to investigate?
    I agree this is all stupid, but I still think the editor is right and the experiment has to be re-run as suggested.

    1. What if the reviewer decided belief in God influenced the outcome and insisted the test be rerun with a Christian? There’s no evidence that people’s supposed psychic abilities are interfered with by skeptics, its just a trick they use when they can’t prove their “talent” is real. Complete silliness.

    2. To be fair, the study is meant to investigate if psychic powers exist at all, so assuming that psychic powers *can* influence the outcome is begging the question.

      The main problem is that science operates on a basic underlying principle that “the universe doesn’t care what you think” and this is why you do experiments to prove things instead of relying on your beliefs. A more specific issue is that “it doesn’t work if you don’t believe in it” is a very common form of special pleading used when paranormal events can’t be replicated under controlled conditions. There’s no discernible difference between non-believers having special ESP powers that exactly cancel out regular ESP powers and there not being *any* ESP powers.
      It’s wrong to treat it differently because it’s paranormal. We’re looking at how the universe works. Think about how silly you’d find it if, for example, the paper was about a study of the effect of gravity on rocks and a reviewer suggested that you should re-do it with someone who doesn’t believe in rocks.

      Editors get to refuse papers for all kinds of reasons (it’s their journal) but it doesn’t mean that the reason is 100% right.

    3. No, the idea that mere passive skepticism on the part of experimenters can significantly affect the outcome is a secondary hypothesis, in no way does it follow directly from the assumption that people can psychically anticipate certain outcomes. This study is evidence against the idea that people can psychically anticipate outcomes without that secondary hypothesis, so it should be worth publishing even if parapsychology proponents think additional research should be done to test whether this can be accounted for by the secondary hypothesis (the problem is that no matter how many failures you get, a parapsychology proponent can always come up with new secondary hypotheses to “explain” them–maybe psychic abilities are strongest at a certain time of day, or when the planets are in a certain alignment, and the experiments that failed to find evidence for it were done at the wrong time).

    4. I don’t think it has to be re-run, because it’s not the job of a single study to conclusively answer every question. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s kosher for the study authors to publicise review comments in this way. Peer review is anonymous for a reason, and we have only the authors’ word that they aren’t misrepesenting the reviewers and the editor. And the reviewers can’t respond without surrendering their right to anonymity. There are proper venues to complain, and the internet is not one of them.

      1. Bull.  Shit.

        If a reviewer gives you back a bullshit review, it is your duty to the peer review process to call it out.  If a journal is using bullshit reviews to justify not publishing good papers, it is your duty to call it out.  If there’s misrepresentation, the journal can publish the original review comments (to show misrepresentation) or even allow the anonymous reviewer to step forward and defend their comments.

        Review comments are anonymous so that nobody’s career gets killed when small fry reviewer points out that big name researcher’s paper is full of errors in methodology and reasoning.  Review comments are NOT anonymous to prevent BS from getting passed off as a review.  Too few authors are willing to call out bullshit from reviewers like this in ANY field and it’s a detriment to the whole peer review process.  When reviewers and journal editors are using their power not to weed out poor papers or discover fraud or bad application of the scientific method but rather to squash results that they don’t like it needs to be called out – and frankly that’s what this looks like.  The ESP results are some people’s pet belief and they’re disturbed at the claim that they can’t be reliably replicated so they want it quashed and came up with a bullshit rationale for why.

  5. They should have Marina Psychic run the tests; or to save money, simply pay her to reveal what the results of the test would be if she had run them.

  6. I believe there was a case where two groups did the same ESP study and got different results, then swapped test-subjects, and the results followed the researches, not the subjects. The difference was generally accredited to the fact that one researcher was more open-minded to the idea of ESP than the other… but was ascribed to some element of experimenter bias slipping past the safeguards rather than their belief serving as psyching jamming signal.

    1. Y’know, this is the second comment I’ve read in this thread making a similar statement that there is support in the literature for such an experimenter effect. It really makes me wish people who wish to register their objections would follow the link in the post, where they can read the following:

      The story behind this is that Richard has co-authored two papers where he and a believer in psi both did the same experiment, and the believer found positive results but he didn’t. However, the most recent time they did this – which was the best-controlled and largest size – neither found results. This doesn’t exactly give hugely compelling evidence for an ‘experimenter effect’ in psi research, in our opinion. Here’s that last paper, if you’re interested.

      So: there are studies supporting such a notion – but the most authoritative study does not. And as we’ve all seen with this very post, it’s difficult to publish studies that don’t find an effect, even though their lack of evidence for an effect is in fact very important, as it serves to suggest no such effect exists.

  7. Yes, everybody ever born on the earth is psychic and we all conspire to deprive commercial psychics of a living.  It’s obvious once you think of it.  Fringe beliefs should not be automatically discounted, but taken with a grain of salt when viewed through a scientific lens.  If this lens calls bullshit on it and provides proof, it is up to them to provide evidence to the contrary.  They might not realize this, but the argument stated here sets their case back so far that they stand to lose clients, not gain any. They were better served by keeping their mouths shut than they are by trying to expose everybody as psychics with a chip on their shoulder.

  8. I’m actually the only psychic on earth. I use my powers to control the minds of random crazy people so that they believe they are psychic, thus discrediting the belief in psychic powers among the sane. 

    Now that you have read this I will make you forget it. Unless you are crazy of course…

  9. The best part is, even if they’re right, then that means ESP is so easily blocked that it’s essentially worthless.

  10. Damn you skeptics! Up in mah brain, supressin’ mah powers.

    As soon as you stop being skeptical Ima set you on fire with tha power o’ mah brains!

  11. This is how science works.  You can argue that this is not worthy of scientific experiment. But, if they are testing for the presence of ESP, than they need to control for the ESP effect of the experimenter.  

    1. Sure, you can make statements like that. Or you can follow the link, and learn the following:

      Bem had stated in his original paper that his experimental paradigms were designed so that most of the work is done by a computer and the experimenter has very little to do (this was explicitly because of his concerns about possible experimenter effects).

      In other words, contrary to your insinuation, they did control for the ESP effect of the experimenter, in the most obvious and effective fashion, by removing the experimenter from direct involvement in the process – a much more reasonable method than adding additional variables by using both sympathetic and skeptical experimenters. So now if you want to grasp at straws to undermine this rather obvious result, the theory has to be what? That computers inhibit ESP? Computers programmed by skeptics inhibit ESP? Computers programmed by collaborators of skeptics? Where does it stop?

      Or, maybe, you could accept that the woo merchants are as full of it as they so obviously are, and by trying to establish a rule that only studies conducted by believers are valid they seek to make it impossible for nonbelievers to conduct studies that might deflate their cherished nonsense.

      1. Yeah they controlled for experimenter effects, assuming you accept there is no causal system in place that is currently undescribed and undetected by science, and yet which can affect the outcome.

        Which seems like a reasonable assumption, except they are trying to investigate precisely such a system. The system of causation they are trying to detect here is one that could conceivably operate without the experimenter ever meeting the subjects, because their psychic energy could still disrupt the psychic energy of the participants. Thats the sort of shit that goes on all the time in that world. That’s why that world survives, for any exception that might disprove it’s existence, it can elaborate on the theory completely ad hoc to compensate.

        Which is exactly why this is a completely fucking pointless pursuit. It reminds me of a fictional book from ‘Crimson Petal and the White’, called “The Efficacy of Prayer”.

        Surely there’s more pressing matters this fellow could be considering.

        [edit] Actually no, strike that, if there is research suggesting this phenomena exists being published, it is worth trying to conduct counter research. The whole pursuit remains just as pointless overall though.

        1. Once you go down that path, you’re lost. If removing the human experimenter from the conducting of the actual experiment doesn’t remove their ability to influence the result, it is impossible to conduct an impartial study. Once any study that fails to achieve a positive result can be tossed because of immeasurable and inexplicable effects like sabotage from the bad vibes of the fellow who contemplated the experiment two days earlier and two doors down the hall, it becomes easy to prove arcane effects: any experiment that didn’t prove them could easily be disqualified on some spurious basis. If adding a sympathetic experimenter didn’t fix the problem, maybe you have to more effectively banish the skeptic. Maybe merely being sympathetic isn’t sufficient; maybe you need fervent belief. Maybe it’s in the astrological signs of the experimenters, etcetera.

          1. Maybe the guy who ‘believes in ESP phenomenon’ doesn’t REALLY believe in ESP phenomenon, he’s just saying he does for some reason.  And maybe the skeptic really DOES believe, but all the people who are being experimented on don’t really believe and so are getting lower than average scores, but the believer is pushing them back up to the average, which unfortunately skews the results!

            If someone who disbelieves in it can have enough of an effect to render ESP powers worthless, than ESP might as well not exist, because there will always be people around who don’t believe it. 

      2. I don’t know.  What I do know is I have had precognistic dreams.  I have been able to “warn” 2 people of possible death situations.  I seen what happened in my dream, and told those who were involved.  I saved their lives.  They thank me still to day 30 yrs later.

        There IS something to it, but I don’t think computers are involved. It’s physical presence and if they mean something to you.  The first person was my best friend.  The second was a stranger.  It was harder to convince my best friend then it was the stranger.  However each situation was different and I was present.  One was a week before it happened.  The other was 30 minutes or so BEFORE it happened, I had first-aid kit (weird things like I grabbed the suran wrap, why I would need that I had no idea.) I had a bowl of Ice, I had 3 zip lock bags. and I grabbed aluminum foil.  Now tell me how many first-aid kits include those?   I USED all of them when the car crashed in front of my bf’s house. The car HIT the house and I told everyone that was there 30 minutes before it happened.  However, I didn’t know it was a car accident. All I knew was I HAD to be there because something was going to happen that NEEDED ME.  I refused to leave until then.

        I didn’t know the 6 people in the car, but I collected severed fingers, teeth, and eyes all put in zip lock bags, and wrapped with aluminum foil packed in ICE.   I had the Ambulance there with in 2 minutes of the car crashing into the house.

        After all was said and done, I passed out for an hour.  No one could wake me and they were tempted to take ME to the hospital as well.

        I met the two men who were in the front seat, the steering wheel went through 1 man’s chest, (suran wrap was used to close his lungs so he wouldn’t suffocate before the ambulance arrived) All of his teeth were knocked out and I collected as many as I could. Packed in Ice.

        The second man, severed his finger, and eye.  Both packed in ice and placed in their hands as they were loaded in the ambulance.

        I dated the 2nd man 3 yrs Later. 25 yrs after the accident, the sob was arrested for molesting 7 little girls.  Now tell me if I really wanted to save him now?  The irony is not lost on me.

        However, I will never forget either of those two, or the night. It was a nightmare wrapped in awe, because everyone of my friends witnessed my clairvoyance and clear as day with proof. Everyone of them believed me and they still call now and then to see if I have any “warnings”. LOL

        That’s the kind of proof this science major is looking for, however, those kinds of situations can’t be “setup” for, or have any kind of “control”.  While I understand science, and hard facts,  Psychic ability isn’t one of the “hard sciences”.

  12. Indeed.  I’m pleased to read this story. After reading too much politics in the US, it becomes easy to believe that there’s no rational person on earth.  I love the scientific discipline here.  You can’t just disprove the hypotheses you like, you have to tackle them all.

  13. The Amazing Randy had $10,000 for anyone who could demonstrate psychic powers. Everyone who stepped up to claim the prize later said that the rules were difficult to follow, but the rules weren’t that onerous and in fact Randy let the claimant design the test. Now we know that Randy’s skepticism was to blame!

    I’m a skeptic. All that means is that I want some evidence to support extraordinary claims. It doesn’t mean that when presented with such evidence that I will dismiss it out of hand. If a psychic has the ability to perceive what another person sees they just need to show a better outcome than statistically probable. The psychic shouldn’t need to guess, if he/she doesn’t know then just say so!

    1. I believe Randy was offering a million dollars towards the end, and nobody qualified. In fact, very few even tried. This kind of thinking, that “no matter what the evidence (or lack thereof) it will not deter me from my belief” would be humorous and harmless if people didn’t apply it to important things like the President’s birth certificate.

      1. The reason no one “qualified” is because Randi’s standards go way beyond what reasonable, real science asks for. Potential claimants have been quoted as saying that complete testing according to his rules would cost more than the million bucks, so they will continue to pursue real research, thank you.

        And there is plenty of real research on this topic, meeting real experimental standards. Randi doesn’t recognize real science, though–only denialist pseudo-science. That’s the difference between scientism and science.

        I started reading paranormal stuff from the basis of being a skeptical atheist. The deeper I got into it, the more interesting it became. I would urge anyone who’s really concerned about this stuff to do your homework so that you understand what you are criticizing. You will discover some very interesting things. There are many different entry points, not just ESP. Pick one that interests you, and have at it.

        1. >> The reason no one “qualified” is because Randi’s standards go way beyond what reasonable, real science asks for…

          No, they don’t.  Read the rules. They simply adhere to logical, scientific-method based testing.  They are EXACTLY what reasonable, real science asks for.

          You seem to be confusing the approximately 5% hit rate required by many experimenters to determine “statistical significance” with the more stringent requirements of Randi’s tests.  But he is not trying to determine statistical significance–he is offering a million dollars for proof a specific applicant’s claims are true.

          His preliminary tests requires 1 in 100 and, passing that hurdle, his final test has 1 out of 100,000 odds against a random guess.  In tests negotiated between Randi and the applicant. There’s nothing beyond reasonable there.

          1. There’s no practical limit to how much money would be thrown at a psychic able to demonstrate proof… from hedge funds to governments to oil companies.

            The inability to pay for the demonstration is inconsequential. Indeed, if anyone thinks they can do it, why not start a Kickstarter page and put the link, right here, right now?What convinces me that there’s nothing there is what evolution itself would have done with it. Precognition, mind reading, or remote seeing would be of such overwhelming natural advantage that it wouldn’t take many generations for it those with it to out-breed those without it, in humans and every other species.

          2. You seem to be confusing standard science with made up science according to the Rules of Randi. He doesn’t actually get to unilaterally define what’s acceptable and still call it good science, regardless of which direction he moves the line, to his favor, or against his favor. If you accept that, you should be able to accept that I can demonstrate the psychic ability to call a coin reliably 50% of the time. Since all I ask to be able to demonstrate that talent is a 1:2 odds, and IU can probably meet that standard. Randi has moved the goalposts over into the next county to assure his own success.

            I am a little surprised you seem not to be aware of this criticism of his test. I’m pretty sure you aren’t interested, but for those who are, the links along the right side on this site provide some good reading:

          3. Manuel, the only basic requirement is to actually demonstrate a claimed ability in such a way as to eliminate the possibility of trickery.  Most claimants are not even able to describe how they would demonstrate their ability.    Do you have specific examples of people who were asked to do a demonstration with unreasonable controls?

          4. @twitter-263295344:disqus (This system apparently doesn’t allow me to comment on your post, because it’s nested too far in):

            You seem to be confusing standard science with made up science according to the Rules of Randi. He doesn’t actually get to unilaterally define what’s acceptable and still call it good science, regardless of which direction he moves the line

            Can you actually provide us with any specific rules that are “moving the goalposts?”

            It seems to me that Randi’s challenge is simply whether or not you can prove that you can perform paranormal feats at a better than chance rate. “Better than chance” is a statistical term that frequently requires many trials to prove.

            If a challenger says “I can predict that the next coin flip will be heads,” one coin flip is not sufficient, even if it comes up heads. Instead, this feat has to be performed about seven times in a row to get below a probability of 1% where you can say it may not be chance after all. But even then, is a probability of 1% enough to hand over a million dollars? No, because if a hundred charlatans came to try and win, statistically you’d still expect one to win just by chance. Given enough opportunities, someone will always be able to perform some seemingly ESP-like feat just by chance.

            So Randi’s test has to be a little harder. I don’t know the values, but maybe he requires a feat that only has a 0.1% probability of happening by chance. Why should this be any more strenuous for the performer? That’s just calling Heads 10 times in a row.

            Ok, so now what if your performer says that he isn’t always right, but he believes that he has a 51% chance of calling the coin right. Well, now with such a tiny difference between that and pure luck, it might require hundreds or thousands of coin tosses to prove that statistically. But the same rules apply.

            That’s all science. Can you actually provide us with any specific instances of Randi not just requiring science?

        2. What you just said about Randi’s challenge is positively untrue. The tests they offer are very low-cost and simple. And scientific. The problem is that the applicants are mostly delusional, or they see the writing on the wall and back out.

          ESP is interesting, to be sure. So is Bigfoot. That doesn’t make them true.

          You say “do research” so we “understand what we are criticizing”. I DID believe in this stuff. Then I did research. Now it’s all just some weird things I like to read about.

          Doubting the total lack of scientific evidence isn’t healthy skepticism. It’s pure denial, and the gateway to Delusion Town.

  14. Personally, I’m a non-believer in psychic abilites. However, in a truly objective experiment to determine whether psychic phenomena are real, you must allow for the possibility that they are real and therefore a non-believer could sway the experiment. *If* these powers exist then it could happen. Just do the experiment again and prove them wrong!

  15. If you’re testing the hypothesis that ESP is real then you have to test it.  That includes assuming it for the purposes of the experiment.  Otherwise it’s not science.

  16. So we need to get Creationists to re-run every single experiment related to evolutionary biology?  (And presumably adherents of every alternative belief-system to check on *those* results?)

  17. I don’t even know what the point of such an experiment might be: there is literally no end to the random crazy ideas that someone might come up with, unsupported by evidence or even a plausible mechanism.

    You could conclusively disprove homeopathy, telekinesis, aura reading, tarot cards, astrology, precognition, clairvoyance, the existence of Atlantis, the location of R’lyeh  (50°S, 100°W), and every other known kind of woo or work of fiction. But there would always be more.

    We shouldn’t have to *disprove* every single unsupported idea generated by a million monkeys combining randomly chosen words into sentences!  Obviously, out of every statement that you could possibly make, nearly *all* of them must be untrue.  So what makes the random and unsupported claims of psychics even worth entertaining?

  18. I’m just trying to figure out why erotic images are involved.   Did they finally realize that test subjects couldn’t give a darn about stars, wavy lines, etc?

    1. Part of me thinks this might be because brains react to erotic imagery extremely quickly.

      Part of me thinks the press are more likely to report on studies if erotic images are involved.

  19. “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

    Albert Einstein

    1. We scientists see all the wonder that you see. And we see wonders you can’t see. All you see when you see a rainbow is an arc of pretty colors. We see the same pretty colors, and also the intricacies behind it.

      Where’s the ESP believer open-minded enough to interpret negative results as showing that ESP doesn’t exist?

      1. One would assume that you are conversant in ALL the data, since the test mentioned is hardly the first one?  “Scientists” don’t pick and choose only the data they like, right?

        Unfortunately, I see a lot of discussion here from people who are woefully ignorant of the topic they are talking about.

        1. What’s the difference between referring directly to a negative study and referring in general to an area of research which is overwhelmingly negative? There’s no massive body of research proving that people can see the future to be conversant in. There’s lots and lots of studies showing that you definitely can’t and a few showing some depressingly marginal results.

          Really, ESP believers are better off just looking at individual studies. Being able to see the future would be such an important discovery that *a lot* of people have looked into it extremely carefully and despite that there’s still not one guy who wins the lottery every week.

  20. Palladium game’s Beyond The Supernatural table-top-RPG has the Nega-Psychic character class. You have to spend your psychic energy points to cancel out the powers of supernatural monsters.

    And then you also get to roleplay telling all the other wizards and psychics in the party that they’re all a bunch of stupid hippies and there’s no such thing as the supernatural.

  21. @boingboing-125f5a68a53abf9ad86b98e4f27b8a74:disqus  above hits the nail on the head.  I need to memorise this argument for many, many topics:

    “And why would you expect them to be?  If precognition or clairvoyance were real, we would all be able to do it and it would be no more remarkable than the ability to see light or hear vibrations in the air: our distant ancestors would have benefited so much from it that those who lacked the ability would have been out-competed, and selection pressure would have relentlessly honed and improved it.  We aren’t doing controversial experiments to find out if humans really have eyes.”

    Kind of puts things into perspective. 

    I would have replied directly, but apparently the nesting limit on Discus isn’t just visual, which is stupid.

      1. Yeah – but we can, you see. One may not have the illustrious career he had, but NOTHING he did is something another top NBA player couldn’t do.

  22. I don’t believe in ESP, but I do agree that any study should remove any potential for contamination of results.

  23. Maybe it’s the Higgs Boson Particle’s  efforts to delegitimize ESP studies into it’s nature.  So it’s preventing all rigorous ESP studies from being published so no one ever takes it seriously. 

  24. I don’t think the suggestion would work. It would fix experimenter bias. But if they’re really psychic, and influencing the experiment that way, they could still influence the experiment, even when they’ve appointed a believer to carry out the experimenter. If the believer did not have psychic powers. The believer would need to have enough psychic powers to counteract both of them. Or they would need to get two psychic believers.

  25. Sweet! I have superpowers!

    Clearly this makes us superior in every way to our ESP wielding brethren. I mean they have to do all sorts of crazy stuff to get their powers to work, where as ours are automatic!

    We should take pity on these second class ESP citizens. Donate money when you can, its only charitable!

  26. It is objectively true that I am the president of the United States, emperor of the universe, and rightful owner of all the comic books you thought were yours. Those who deny the truth of my status are lying and using their Judo mind trick powers to obscure the facts. Kneel before Zoeb.

  27. It’s the same theory that motivates trolls… those who don’t believe in a rational or respectful discussion can disrupt it by their mere presence.

    1. I see giant bill boards advertising a Psychic Fair every year. And I think to myself, shouldn’t they already know about this?

  28. Similarly, any team searching for the existence of the higgs boson particle needs a team member whose body is entirely composed of higgs boson particles.  It’s the only way to truly get rid of experimental bias.

  29. As much as I wish it were slightly real – and the hope that maybe 1000s of years from now it becomes a common trait, I don’t think ESP is ‘real’.

    There is the issue of Confirmation Bias, but I don’t think that is an issue here.

    The mind IS powerful, though. Mental exercises can affect how we perform physically. But as far as reading minds or predicting the future – no.

  30. I’m going to go blackmail all of the shopfront psychics and card-readers.  “Nice place you got here.  It would be a shame to see it get shut down by a bunch of Skeptics.”

  31. In my humble opinion what we are looking for as ESP seems to embody a desire to find some comic book phenomenon. It is possible that ESP can be as simple as taking something that didn’t exist in the material world and, through irrational belief, the making of its existence. The examples of this span through everything that utilizes creativity. Now pedants will say that it is impossible to create something absolutely novel but I counter with: the individual must only believe that it’s novel. Yes, if your looking for superpowers you will never find them. If your looking to discredit rare phenomenon you will always succeed midst a lack of a scope of reference. I don’t need “data” to believe that belief has played a major role in my life. I don’t need precog or x-ray vision to marvel at the powers of the mind. Reductionist method misses the amazement sometimes. Notice I said mind not brain.

    1. “It is possible that ESP can be as simple as taking something that didn’t exist in the material world and, through irrational belief, the making it exist”

      To be honest, that sounds much, much harder than just reliably and accurately predicting what is going to happen in the future.

      1. I find that individuals who insist on asking the wrong questions, also insist that they are victorious when they get the wrong answers. Stalin sent tens of thousands of gypsies and fortune tellers to gulags in Siberia. And I have to ask myself why. 
        Why is this old mode of thought so dangerous to the new? Why does science try to cannabalize magic? Isn’t science just the new magic? 
        Lucid dreaming is the same. I hear people share stories about how they lucid dream and they find themselves in the Matrix. Aren’t you just having a dream about your favorite movie. I have managed one lucid dream and I was pure ID. People are not very honest with themselves. Skeptics seem mad that strange phenomenon doesn’t exist. Atheists seem to be mad that there is no God. And all of it seems so passive aggressive.Won’t we in a hundred years be poking fun of the beliefs of our ancestors? Who cares if people believe things that have no basis in material reality? Their effects prove their existence.

        1. Who cares if people believe things that have no basis in material reality? Their effects prove their existence.

          “Things that have no basis in material reality” and “things with observable effects proving their existence” are opposite concepts, friend.

        2. I don’t think that has anything to do with what I said so we’re obviously at cross purposes. I’m going to expand on what I said before for clarity.

          “It is possible that ESP can be as simple as taking something that didn’t exist in the material world and, through irrational belief, the making it exist”

          To give an example of something that doesn’t exist in the material world that ESP lets you imagine into reality – ESP is as simple as irrationally believing in a unicorn *so hard* you make it exist. That’s not simple in any way. It’s not being afraid of anything, it’s just pointing out that it’s hard to imagine stuff into reality.

          1. Apples and oranges, I was merely trying to share. Apples and oranges are different just like a belief that hasn’t existed for thousands of years and beliefs that people insist on studying to this day (unicorns and esp). What do people that have the agenda of disproving what we call paranormal phenomenon contribute to master dialogue of humanistic achievement? Are they crusaders of reality? There a people starving and the focus of science is to send a penis shaped missile into space. I don’t know if esp exists or not, the jury’s still out. I just want to know why everyone in this comment section feels so strongly about crusading against what mostly folksy people believe. And have you ever considered that maybe this a crusade against the outdated beliefs of the poor? You should Occupy Science.

          2. Ah, I see what you’re doing now. I’m sorry, my sense of humour just gets stuck sometimes.

            I totally thought you were being serious, well played. #OccupyScience

        3. You know that you’re posting a near-incoherent ramble, right? That makes no valid answer to what you’re replying to? You get that, right?

  32. Seems to me the ESP believers are basically saying psychic powers cannot be measured using the tools of science. Which is fine, unless you’re trying to convince people that there is objectively verifiable evidence of the phenomenon.

  33. If one thinks that the biases of our present science are minuscule they are simply sleep walking. I witnessed a 2.7 billion to 1 event and what I noticed is no one noticed.

    1. I witnessed a 2.7 billion to 1 event and what I noticed is no one noticed.

      You saw an ESP proponent concede that there is no credible evidence that the phenomena exists?

  34. Compare this to the search for exoplanets. They can’t yet look for all possible sizes — the small ones are too small to find. Does that mean they shouldn’t look? Should they refuse to publish experiments that can’t detect Mercury-sized planets? What if they weren’t *trying* to detect Mercury-sized planet.

    So, they were trying to find psychic text subjects; they were not trying to find psychic researchers. Someone else can do a different experiment to find psychic researches; that doesn’t mean that this experiment to find psychic text subjects should not be done or not published: that’s just stupid.

    BTW the results of this experiment do not even pretend to show that psychic powers don’t exist; all they attempted to do is detect whether these subjects could evince psychic powers in these circumstances. You do not have to control for whether the researchers were coincidentally doing something anti-psychic, anymore than you have to test for a basic anti-psychic field surrounding the lab, or the planet, or the Solar system. Nor do you have to test for magical unicorns that pierce into the souls of the test subjects from other dimensions thus cancelling their psychic fields. Because none of those things are proven to exist, and the experiment only concerned a fully disclosed set of circumstance: on Earth, likely in a lab, involving researchers and subjects, and without any verification of the absence of unicorns.

    1. “Compare this to the search for exoplanets.”

      OK, I’ll bite.  When we look for planets, at least we have some idea what a planet is and where to find one.  

      What are we supposed to be looking for in the case of ESP?  Is it a particle, some kind of energy?

      So instead of looking for the actual cause of ESP we are forced to look for it’s effects.  And really you can always claim that something was the effect of ESP as long as you forget to prove that it wasn’t the effect of something else.

  35. I’m deeply disappointed by the attitude of the BJP editor and the pro-ESP parapsychologist reviewer on this.
     The original Bem publication in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology itself did not contain details of a failed-replication carried out by skeptical Harvard psychologist Samuel Moulton apparently at the request of the Editor (see comment 78 posted on 5th January 2011 in the New York Times>>  so it appears that the Ritchie et al. replication is being held to higher standards than the original Bem research.
    Equally, the pro-psi reviewer is holding skeptics to higher standards than those prevalent in the parapsychology community, unless the same academic has also written to the few remaining parapsychology journals to demand that henceforth the editors require  all papers be submitted with a balanced pro-psi & skeptic authorship??

    ~Wendy Cousins

  36. I find it interesting that anyone would believe that someone with real psychic/telekinetic/etc. abilities would want anyone to know about it.

    1. I find more interesting that someone with real psychic/telekinetic/etc. abilities wouldn’t be either stinking rich and/or banned from every form of profit making enterprise known to man.

      1. I find more interesting that someone with real psychic/telekinetic/etc. abilities wouldn’t be either stinking rich and/or banned from every form of profit making enterprise known to man.

        What makes you think that A isn’t true and B isn’t why they hide it? Haven’t you noticed that every film and book on the subject has a ‘torches and pitchforks’ scene? It’s just silly to say “Why hasn’t anyone come forward?” when doing so would likely be suicidal if it were legitimate. Up until a few years ago, there were whole countries that didn’t have even one single gay person in them. Not one.

        1. That’s a point. I just always assumed that I’d be able to see their massive pile of money. It basically would be suicide for a psychic to go to a casino.

        2. But there are a whole lot of people who do their damnedest to convince the world they have such powers. Uri Geller, Sylvia Browne, John Edward and countless others have built entire careers on the claim that “no, seriously, I have psychic powers!” Many are wealthy today despite the fact that their claims were dubious at best. Wouldn’t a genuinely psychic person have at least as much to gain?

          To borrow your gay analogy, it would be like if thousands of straight people built successful careers claiming to be gay while all the real homosexuals stayed hidden for fear of how society would treat them.

  37. This reminds me of friends claims about magic (or magick) powers. I don’t think they are real so I don’t think they have any effect. But I couldn’t help but consider the (most likely fictional) notion that I am such a skeptic that I exert a powerful “anti-magic” force. Either way, I’m safe.

  38. All people are psychic to some degree. It’s an inherent human skill that can be trained, although first it must be acknowledged.  Our society and religions teach us to avoid psi.
    The church says “it is from the devil,” so we will give all of our attention (and money) to them, and use priests as our sole intermediaries to the sacred.  Society and government mock and belittle those who would use psi, while secretly training psychics to use for espionage and war.
    I have always felt very comfortable with this part of me, and have made efforts to train and control this skill. I have done much reading in an effort to broaden my frame of reference, use meditation and am a trained and successful remote viewer. Some have questioned why our worldwide culture seeks to repress and squelch this talent, which is just another sense, like seeing or hearing. Why indeed? There’s a fabulous book called The Trickster and the Paranormal, by Hansen, that I would recommend to anyone interested in this topic, especially to the people who have commented here. It does a masterful job explaining the social onus placed on psi, and issues such as hoaxing and the real issues behind “skepticism.”
    I’d also like to remind everyone that if they close themselves off to learning and to the possibility of new experiences, they will not learn, and they will not experience. They will however, feel safe.

  39. p.s. Forgot to say that ARV remote viewing is used with success to wager and buy stocks. Why do you think the IRVA convention is in Vegas every year?

    1. Las Vegas is one of the cheapest places to host an event ever – the more guests you bring, the cheaper it is. Further, even the most rigorous tests of psychic ability show chance-like odds, and the best we get is a small deviation from chance – this isn’t the frame of an actual skill or sense, this is the mark of a smaller than average sample size. Do you have any specific studies to point to, other than a 564-page book? The evidence overwhelmingly has shown that there is a vast majority of frauds practicing psychic powers, and that the rest tend to just be misinformed folks who are mistaking confirmation bias.

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