Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Sceptics, and "Believers"....

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dean Radin exposes moderate skeptic Chris French's misleading claims about the Milton/Wiseman 1999 "failed" replication study

This, and the other articles originate from the intriguing, and well-informed Subversive Thinking Blog.RS

In the book Debating Psychic Experience, "moderate skeptic" Chris French repeats a skeptical fallacy common among professional "skeptics", namely: that the Milton/Wiseman 1999 study failed to replicate Bem and Honorton's 1994 meta-analysis. In his own words: "Although Bem and Honorton’s (1994) original meta-analysis of 11 ganzfeld studies appeared to provide strong evidence of a replicable anomalous cognition effect, Milton and Wiseman’s analysis did not (although it should be noted that some commentators have argued that this is because many of the more recent studies were process-oriented rather than proof-oriented; Bem, Palmer, & Broughton, 2001; Storm, 2000; Storm & Ertel, 2001). (p. 56. Emphasis in blue added)".

This clearly shows that French is not a "moderate skeptic" at all, but a strong anti-psi believer (otherwise, how the hell can we explain that he continues to repeat an objection against parapsychology that is demostrably false? Is it an example of "moderate skepticism"?). Critical thinking, rationality, honesty and objectivity demand to correct our own opinions when the evidence shows they're false or misleading.

French is clever to affect the position of being "moderate" in order to avoid accusations of dogmatism. Affecting to play the impartial observer (making concessions against skeptics and making positive and sympathetic comments regarding to parapsychologists) has the rhetorical adventage of looking as a non-committed individual whose only purpose is to find the truth, whatever it leads. The actual purpose is to get a high credibility in the eyes of naive or ignorant readers.

But you can see French's actual (non-apparent) position in the way in which deals with the most important facts regarding the case for the existence of psi. If these facts are misrepresented, you can be sure the individual in question is motivated by an agenda.

In reply to French's misleading statement, Dean Radin wrote: "But is it really true that the Milton/Wiseman (M/W) meta-analysis failed to replicate the Bem/Honorton (B/H) outcome? The answer is no, it is not true. As I have pointed out (Radin, 2006, p. 118), and later confirmed by statistician Jessica Utts in a conference presentation attended by both Richard Wiseman and Ray Hyman, when the M/W database is evaluated using the same method as B/H (i.e., as a simple hit/miss statistic) it results in a significantly positive outcome. The reason the M/W meta-analysis purportedly failed is because the authors used an unweighted statistic that did not take into account each study’s sample size. If they had performed the correct analysis, M/W would have reached a conclusion that was diametrically opposed to the “failure” trumpeted in the title of their paper. Unfortunately, the skeptical mythos has uncritically adopted the wrong conclusion, and as such this may become an instance where myth is more comfortable than reality, and so the fictional story sticks." (p.114)

Why didn't French mention these problems in the Milton/Wiseman's analysis? Simple: Because mentioning that flaw would cast doubts in the conclusion of that study and therefore it couldn't be used anymore to favor the skeptical case against psi.

In order to give credibility and plausibility to his own skeptical position against the scientific replicability of psi, French is forced to intentionally conceals or disregards the key facts that would destroy his position.

In fact, the rhetorical trick is even more effective when French adds an "although" apparently in favor of parapsychologists (he says: "although it should be noted that some commentators have argued that this is because many of the more recent studies were process-oriented rather than proof-oriented) But note that this "althought" is intended as a red herring in order to look (in front of naive readers) as objective and impartial: the crucial, key and essentially relevant facts about the unweighted statistic used by Milton/Wiseman study that did not take into account each study’s sample size (and hence, which were responsible for the misleading conclusion) are never mentioned.

Explaining and expanding Radin's point, Chris Carter (in his updated review of Wiseman's research), comments in more detail the technical flaws of the Milton & Wiseman study: "The 30 studies that Milton and Wiseman considered ranged in size from 4 trials to 100, but they used a statistical method that simply ignored sample size (N). For instance, say we have 3 studies, two with N = 8, 2 hits (25%), and a third with N = 60, 21 hits (35%). If we ignore sample size, then the unweighted average percentage of hits is only 28%; but the combined average of all the hits is just under 33%. This, in simplest terms, is the mistake they made.

Had they simply added up the hits and misses and then performed a simple one-tailed t-test, they would have found results significant at the 5% level. Had they performed the exact binomial test, the results would have been significant at less than the 4% level, with odds against chance of 26 to 1. Statistician Jessica Utts pointed this out at a meeting Dean Radin held in Vancouver in 2007, in which he invited parapsychologists and skeptics to come together and present to other interested (invited) scientists. Richard Wiseman was present at this meeting, and was able to offer no justification for his botched statistics.

And this was not the only problem with the study. Milton and Wiseman did not include a large and highly successful study by Kathy Dalton (1997) due to an arbitrary cut-off date, even though it was published almost two years before Milton and Wiseman’s paper; had been widely discussed among parapsychologists; was part of a doctoral dissertation at Julie Milton’s university; and was presented at a conference chaired by Wiseman two years before Milton and Wiseman published their paper.

Here we have a case in which Wiseman nullified a positive result by first engaging in “retrospective data selection” - arbitrarily excluding a highly successful study - and then, by botching the statistical analysis of the remaining data."

I ask the objective readers of this blog: Do you think that French is showing a "moderate skepticism" when part of his skeptical case rest on such crucial factual omissions (against parapsychology) concelead with a language of moderation, impartiality and objectivity?

I let you to make your own mind.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Moderate Skeptic Chris French concedes that professional skeptics apply a worldview-induced double standard towards parapsychology

Some self-proclaimed "skeptics", specially the dishonest, propagandistic and charlatanistic ones, like to disregard the influence that ideology (specially, the materialistic-naturalistic worldview) has on the evaluation of the evidence for psi. For these ignorant charlatans, the evidence for a given claim speaks for itself and in the case of psi, there is not evidence at all for such a thing. For them, any reference to "worldview" questions, in the debate about parapsychology, is a red herring. (Obviously, you don't need to be a philosopher of science to know that NO evidence speaks for itself; on the contrary, the evidence is always relative to the hypothesis or hypotheses being tested, or assumed, because a piece of evidence is evidence for or against some hypothesis, and cannot be understood as evidence without any explicit or implict reference to some hypothesis; moreover, its evaluation is done in terms of a conceptual and theoretical backgrounds and assumptions. And the latter are in many cases influenced and even determined by worldview considerations).

For example, essential to the naturalistic worldview is the principle of the causal closure of the physical world. In means that non-physical causation on the natural world is impossible. As consequence, God, spirits, souls, etc. (even if they exist) cannot be causally efficacious. For this reason, you can read in the leading propagandistic website for atheistic naturalism, infidels.org, a definition of the naturalistic worldview in terms of an affirmation of the causal closure and a DENIAL of souls or spirits: "The Secular Web is... an organization dedicated to promoting and defending a naturalistic worldview on the internet... Naturalism is the hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system , which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it. Naturalism implies that there are no supernatural entities -including God" (emphasis in blue added).

Stressed in blue are the essential beliefs of naturalism:

1-It's a worldview (Note: the next time you see a naturalist or atheist denying that naturalism is a worldview, you'll know with full certainty that you're dealing with an intellectually dishonest, ignorant, stupid and sophistical charlatan, not worthy of intellectual respect).

2-The natural world is a closed system (hence, not non-natural/physical causes can be efficacious).

3-There is no God, or non-material spirits, souls, etc. So, naturalism implies ATHEISM.

Are the above worldview's doctrines relevant to the evaluation of some parapsychology's claims? Obviously they are, because some parapsychological claims are contrary to such naturalistic beliefs. Think for example of the efficacy of praying, or psychokinesis, or near-death experiences implying the separation of the soul from the body.

If you're a believer of naturalism, you have (a priori!) to deny at all cost the existence of all these things. A consistent naturalist is necessarily a critic of all of these things (regardless of the evidence), because his worldview demands such position. Any evidence in favor of these phenomena will be relativized, dismissed, undermined, interpreted uncharitably or simply ignored by the naturalist, but the evidence against these paranormal claims will be stressed, supported, interpreted charitably, or even invented, because his worldview demands such consistent double standard.

Chris Carter has been one of the few thinkers who have realized the importance of worldviews in the evaluation of the psi controversy (see his book Parapsychology and the Skeptics and his contribution to the book Debating Psychic Experience). Carter summarizes his case with this words: "I am convinced that the key to a rational resolution of this matter lies in realizing that this controversy is not primarily about evidence, but rather about competing worldviews." (Debating Psychic Experience, p.78. Emphasis in blue added).

I haven't seen any better insight regarding the core of the debate about parapsychology than Carter's.

Sophisticated "skeptics" know that Carter is right. They fully realize that in the evaluation of the evidence for psi, beliefs based on worldviews are important and even determinant. Some of these skeptics, explicitly, appeal to the current "scientific worldview" in order to deny the existence of psi or cast doubts on its probable existence.

In the book Debating Psychic Experience, self-proclaimed "moderate skeptic" Chris Franch concedes that there is exist a double standard regarding parapsychology and that such double standard is justified by worldview considerations. In French's words: "Several commentators (e.g., Edge et al., 1986) have quite rightly pointed out that, contrary to popular opinion, direct replications are quite rare in all areas of science, including psychology. Furthermore, many psychological effects reported in the literature have turned out to be difficult, sometimes impossible, to replicate. This often comes as a complete revelation to new postgraduate students who, having been raised upon a diet of practical classes based upon carefully chosen, very robust effects, are shocked to discover that often they cannot even replicate the basic effects that they intended to investigate in their own research. It is argued that it is therefore unfair to single out parapsychology as a discipline that has a particular problem in this respect. Is this another example of stricter standards being applied to parapsychology than to psychology? Indeed it is—but with good reason. In some important respects, the publication of an unreplicable effect in psychology simply matters less than it matters in parapsychology... Firstly, because in the fullness of time a few papers with negative results will be published—and many other experimenters will also have failed to replicate the effects but not bothered to write-up their results. Thus, word will spread along the informal networks of researchers in this area. It may take some time, but eventually it will be generally accepted that this particular interesting hypothesis is not valid. But secondly—and much more importantly—whether or not the hypothesis is valid, no radical revision of our existing scientific world view would be required. In the case of tests of the psi hypothesis, positive results would require exactly such a radical revision. It is therefore much more important that we establish whether or not the claimed effects are replicable... The crucial importance of reliably producing a convincing demonstration of even a tiny psi effect under well-controlled conditions is that to many scientists, myself included, this would require the kind of radical revision of worldview that would make at least some of the larger scale paranormal claims seem more plausible (p.57-59. Emphasis in blued added)

Let's examine French's contention in more detail:

1-He claims that the "scientific worldview" (?) is affected by the psi hypothesis. Therefore, the "scientific worldview" is not neutral regarding psi, but that it is incompatible with it (hence the necessity of radical revision, if psi were real).

This implies that a believer in the "scientific worldview" (?) will be, a priori, hostile to the evidence for psi and will use double standard in order to evaluate psi claims with the purpose of undermine its scientific value. (Note that it is the position of the conservative dogmatist, not of the truth seeker. The latter would never use a double standard based on his own uncritical assumptions regarding what is the current worldview in order to favor certain scientific claims over other scientific claims).

2-Point 1 refutes that objection of skeptical charlatans according to which any reference to "worldviews" in the debate about psi is a red herring, and that "only the evidence" counts for the failure of the acceptation of parapsychology.

3-French concedes that the problem of replicatibility affects all the fields of science, including psychology. Many effects reported as actually existent in the scientific literature are not replicable or haven't been replicated. Therefore, the objection that parapsychological claims are not replicable is irrelevant, at least as an objection specific and distintive of parapsychology as a science.

Note that this concession raised the following problem: If many accepted claims in science are not replicable (and in this respect similar to parapsychology, according to French), then how the hell do we know if the "scientific worldview" is based, at least in part, on many of such non-replicable scientific claims assumed to be true? French doesn't answer this question, because he doesn't mention exactly which are the assumptions or foundations of such "scientific worldview" and which replicable evidence supports it.

Exactly which scientific claims are part of the "scientific worldview"? And how many of these claims are replicable or have been actually replicated? And more importantly, exactly in which respect such scientific claims are incompatible with psi?

French doesn't expand on this crucial point of his argument. He simply assumes that psi, if it exists, is incompatible with the scientific worldview (?) and the latter would require a radical revision in order to accomodate psi. Period.

Again, this is not the position of a true skeptic (let alone a "moderate" one). This is the position of the conservative dogmatist, who assumes that there is just ONE scientific worldview or one interpretation of it (which?), that such worldview is based on scientific claims (replicable or non-replicable? or both? Which ones of these claims are relevant to psi?) and that such claims are incompatible with psi (how, exactly?).

Although "professional skeptics" almost never define or explicate which worldview they have in mind, all of us know their worldview is atheistic materialism/naturalism. They intentionally or unintentionally, conflate science with naturalism, and from there they call "unscientific" any claim which is contrary to the materialistic and naturalistic worldview (like praying, or healing at distance, for example)

I think Chris Carter is right: such atheistic worldview is based fundamentally in the (already refuted) Newtonian physics. They have not incorporated the new physics "quantum mechanics" in their worldview considerations.

As Dean Radin wrote in reply to French: "I will simply state that a radical revision in our worldview has already been with us for 80 years; but because that worldview presents such a radical departure from everyday common sense, it is only now beginning to penetrate into the awareness of the psychological sciences. The “new” worldview is based upon our most comprehensive understanding of the physical world to date, namely, quantum theory."(p.115)

Perhaps you're thinking that Radin is too biased in favor parapsychology, and hence he's misrepresenting quantum mechanics in order to make it fit with parapsychology.

Well, let's quote professional physicists and skeptics of psi Bruce Rozenblum and Fred Kuttner. In their book Quantum Enigma, in the section entitled "Paraphenomena", they wrote:

That widespread acceptance of paraphenomena is sufficient reason for including some comment in our book. A more important reason is that certain competent researchers claiming to display such phenomena cannot be dismissed out of hand. But hard-to-believe things require strong evidence. If someone tells you that there is a black dog outside, you likely just accept it. If they tell you there is a green giraffe, you want to go see for yourself. As yet, evidence for the existence of paraphenomena strong enough to convince skeptics does not exist.

But if — if!— such a phenomenon were convincingly demonstrated, we would know where to start looking for an explanation: the quantum effects of consciousness, Einstein’s “spooky interactions.” (p.192)

The reference to the view that no evidence sufficient to convince skeptics exists is revealing of the authors' strong skepticism (and ignorance of the best scientific literature about parapsychology). Hence, they're not biased in favor of parapsychology.

The reference to the explanation of these phenomena (if they were proved to exist) based on quantum effects of consciousness, reveals that (contrary to French and other professional skeptics' misleading and pseudoscientific speculations) no radical revision of our scientific worldview is needed. Contemporary science, specially best tested scientific theory, namely quantum physics, provide a theoretical framework to explain these phenomena.

The evidence for psi is incompatible with naturalism and materialism, but not with science.

Don't let yourself be fooled by atheistic ideologues into the idea that science and atheistic naturalism are the same (or that science implies a naturalistic worldiview, as defined by the infidels.org website).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

James Alcock implies that Richard Wiseman is not a scientist plus Wiseman's further concession supporting Chris Carter's case

Richard Wiseman

James Alcock

In a previous post, I discussed one skeptical cavil constantly defended by skeptic James Alcock. In another post, I demostrated Alcock's lack of logic.

In this post, I want to demostrate that one of Alcock's opinions, if taken literally, would imply that his fellow skeptic Richard Wiseman is NOT a scientist.

In the book Debating Psychic Experience, Alcock wrote:

Attributions are also made regarding the continuing rejection of parapsychology and its data by most scientists. While the scientists are likely to attribute this state of affairs both to the absence of persuasive data and to the incompatibility of parapsychological claims with modern scientific theory, parapsychologists on the other hand typically attribute it to dogmatism rooted in the belief that paranormal phenomena are impossible because their existence would violate the laws of physics. (p.31, emphasis in blue added. Note carefully the emphasis in red).

And "While such attributions about scientists’ motives may appear reasonable to the parapsychologist, they fall far wide of the mark in terms of what is really going on. These misattributions unfortunately serve to insulate the parapsychological researcher from an understanding of why parapsychology has such difficulty being heard in the hallways of science, and they preclude due consideration to valid critiques that might promote better research."(p.31, emphasis in red and blue added).

You'll remember that, commenting on that quotes, I argued:

Alcock distinguishes between "parapsychologists" and the "scientists" (implying that parapsychologists are NOT scientists), what is more evidence of Alcock's prejudices.

Note carefully that Alcock's citation is not a typo. He clearly wants to pose a difference between the "parasychologists" and the "scientists", and such difference only make sense if the former don't belong to the group of the latter (otherwise, the distinction and contrast between both groups is stupid, ignorant and ridiculous).

Let's to assume, for the argument's sake, that Alcock's distinction is correct, valid and justified. How the hell should us consider Richard Wiseman's professional status? Is Wiseman a scientist or a parapsychologist? If Alcock is right, and Wiseman is a scientist, then he's not a parapsychologist. And if Wiseman is a parapsychologist, then according to Alcock's distinction, he's not a scientist.

But Wiseman himself has explicitly clarified his actual professional status: he IS a parapsychologist. In this episode of Skeptiko, Richard Wiseman said this about himself: "First of all, I do actually commend parapsychologists. I count myself as a parapsychologist and carry out that research. That is, I was very much part of that community, not so much now. I do commend them for doing the research and doing it in a systematic way and attempting to be as scientific as possible"(emphasis in blue added).

Here, we have a straightforward and crushing evidence that Wiseman regards himself as a parapsychologist. And this implies either: 1)Wiseman is NOT a scientist (if Alcock is right); or 2)Wiseman is BOTH a parapsychologist AND a scientist (in which case, Alcock's distinction is false and misleading). If it is the latter, the following question arises: Why the hell does Alcock consider parapsychologists as non-scientists, but doesn't include in that non-scientific group a self-proclaimed parapsychologist like Richard Wiseman? Why hasn't Wiseman confronted Alcock, saying him for example "Hey James, you're insulting me. Stop saying so silly things about parapsychologists like me"?

I let to you to consider the answer.

Wiseman's concession supporting Chris Carter's main contention:

You'll remember that (as I've published here and here) Wiseman has conceded that the evidence for ESP meets the rigorous standards of mainstream science; therefore, if it were any other claim (i.e. a claim in any other area of science), the issue has been settled by the data long ago.

But this is precisely Chris Carter's contention. In the book Debating Psychic Experience (and in more detail, in his book Parapsychology and the Skeptics), Carter wrote: "I argue that consistent, replicable evidence has in fact been provided. If this were any other field of inquiry, the controversy would have been settled by the data decades ago. However, parapsychology is not like any other field of inquiry. The data of parapsychology challenge deeply held worldviews, worldviews that are concerned not only with science, but also with religious and philosophical issues." (p.77)

In the same Skeptiko episode mentioned above, when asked for his concession that the evidence for ESP meets the rigorous mainstream standards of science, Wiseman adds further qualifications in support of Carter's position: "But if you take the general ESP claim, which might include Ganzfeld and some of the other ESP paradigms as well, I think it’s true - I don’t know there’s any kind of objective way that could be measuring this, but my feeling is if that were a claim about the effect of alcohol on memory, then we’d go, yeah, there’s probably something to it. But the claim here is far more radical than that. It would lead to a massive shift within science. It would overturn most of what we know within psychology. I don’t know about other areas, but certainly within psychology. So for me the evidential bar, as it were, needs to be much higher than that." (Emphasis in blue added).

Note carefully that is not the quality of the evidence for ESP per se that causes Wiseman's resistance against ESP claims (because the quality of the evidence suffices to prove any other scientific claim, like the effect of alcohol on memory), but Wiseman's personal conviction that ESP claims are special because they would "overturn most of what we know within psychology", and therefore, the evidential bar to ESP claims has to be HIGHER (how much higher?) than in claims of any other area of science.

When asked why should subjective measures (like Wiseman's own personal beliefs) other than the normal standard means of science to be preferred in the case of parapsychology and why we would layer on top of the institution that we have on science, Wiseman replied "Well, I think they are. I mean, the basic approach to all of this is that your own belief system magically influences how much evidence you need. So within mainstream science we’ve already said people will be pretty skeptical about the idea of psychic ability because it overturns the current scientific world view. So they will require a very strong database. You can’t really put numbers to it. You can’t say, “Oh, 10 studies coming out of this lab, and 2 studies out here.” It doesn’t really work like that." (emphasis in blue added).

Note carefully Wiseman's explicit reference to WORLDVIEWS and "belief systems", and how they "magically" affect our assesment of the evidence (note by the way and very carefully that Wiseman cannot specify with precision how much evidence would convince him that ESP is real... I ask: Does not such fussy unspecificity enable skeptics to raise the evidential bar arbitrarily each time that positive evidence for psi is produced?)

Is not Wiseman, essentially, confirming Carter's main contention that the hard-nosed skeptic's worldview (specially the materialistic-atheistic worldview which precludes the existence of psi, souls, the afterlife, etc.) strongly influence the rejection of the scientific evidence for psi? Is not Wiseman providing the poweful, definitive, crushing and irrefutable confirmation of Carter's view on why professional skeptics reject the evidence for psi?

I let you to reflect on this.

Just a comment: If you fully and accurately understand Wiseman's position, you'll have understood a large part of the mindset of "professional skeptics" and, more importantly, why is it almost impossible to convince them of the existence of psi on purely evidential or rational grounds. (The practical implication of this fact is obvious: It is a waste of time to try to convince them that they're wrong).

Friday, May 6, 2011

Skeptic Ray Hyman on the lack of scientific replicability of parapsychology and the reply by Chris Carter

Chris Carter

Ray Hyman

In the book Debating Psychic Experience, professional skeptic of parapsychology, professor Ray Hyman, wrote his lastest skeptical reflections on the current state of scientific parapsychology.

I will limit this post to one of Hyman's main objections and criticisms of parapsychology (which he considers the Aquiles' heel of this discipline): The lack of replicability of the evidence for psi.

It's well known that parapsychologists have argued that meta-analyses provide valid scientific replication of psi phenomena. Hyman directly disputes this view.

In his essays titled Parapsychology’s Achilles Heel: Persistent Inconsistency, Hyman wrote:

A meta-analysis is basically an exploratory rather than a confirmatory procedure. The notion of replication (or reproduction) of an experiment in the regular sciences is a prospective (or predictive) one. A successful replication is one that achieves essentially the same result that was predicted on the basis of a previously conducted experiment. The parapsychologists who try to justify the replicability of psi results with meta-analysis are using a retrospective notion. They are arguing for successful replication if a set of already completed experiments show evidence of similar effect sizes whose combined average is significantly different from chance. Replicability implies the ability to predict successfully from the results of a meta-analysis to a new set of independent data. This is where parapsychological evidence falls woefully short. (p.44. Emphasis in blue added).

So, we can construct Hyman's argument like this:

1-Scientific replicability is essentially prospective, i.e. it implies to predict the results of previous experiments to a new set of data which confirms the previous results.

2-Parapsychologists who use meta-analyses as justification of replicability are using a retrospective (not a predictive/prospective) notion.

3-Therefore, the positive results produced by such a meta-analyses done by parapsychologists don't support the claim of scientific replicability.

Hyman's argument is logically valid, so the question is to know if the premises of such argument are true. Premise 1 is correct, so we don't have anything to comment here.

But is premise 2 true? Answering this question is essential to the debate about parapsychology, because Hyman's whole case rests on the truth of this premise 2. If Hyman's premise 2 were true, then his position would be essentially correct, and any rational person would be forced to accept that the evidence for psi lacks replicability in the scientific sense. This would seriously undermine the parapsychology's scientific status.


In order to support premise 2, Hyman mentions the following example:

Consider the parapsychological claims that the autoganzfeld experiments successfully replicated the original ganzfeld database (Bem & Honorton, 1994). At least two parapsychologists now agree with my assertion that the autoganzfeld experiments failed to replicate the original ganzfeld data base (Bierman, 2001; Hyman, 1994; Kennedy, 2001). In the original database the average effect size was derived from studies that all used static targets. The autoganzfeld experiments used both static and dynamic (action video clips) targets. Only the dynamic targets produced a significant effect. The results on the static targets were consistent with chance and differed significantly from the results on the static targets in the original data base. (p.49. Emphasis in blue added)

Please, read carefully Hyman's example above. It's absolutely essential that we understand exactly what Hyman's objection is, and interpret it in its best, strongest formulation. No straw man is allowed in such an important question.

Hyman is arguing that the results of the original database of the ganzfeld experiments WERE NOT replicated in the autoganzfeld experiments because:

1-The original ganzfeld database consisted of studies which used only STATIC targets and produce positive results.

2-The autoganzfeld database consisted of both STATIC targets and DYNAMIC targets, but only the dynamic targets produced a significant effect.

3-The results of the autoganzfeld database on the static targets were consistent with chance

4-Therefore, the autoganzfeld experiments didn't produce positive effects in the case of STATIC targes amd hence they failed to replicate the original ganzfeld database (whose positives effects were precisely obtained with the static targets).

Therefore, Hyman's concludes, the autoganzfeld experiments don't provide evidence for replication of the original ganzfeld database.

Again, if Hyman's argument is correct, then his conclusion is valid and true, and any rational person must agree with him. But is Hyman right?

Chris Carter's reply to Ray Hyman:

In his reply to Hyman's argument, specially regarding the example mentioned above, Chris Carter wrote this:

The truth of the matter seems closer to the opposite of what Hyman tells us. The original ganzfeld experiments used quasi-dynamic targets (View Master “slide” reels) in addition to completely static targets. Studies using the View Master reels produced significantly higher hit rates than did studies using single-image targets (50% versus 34%). Meta-analysis of the original data led to the prediction that dynamic targets would show greater results than static targets. (p.158. Emphasis in blue added).

Note that Carter directly denies one of Hyman's factual premises, namely, the claim that the original ganzfeld database used only static targets.

According to Chris, the truth of the matter is that the original ganzfeld database used TWO kinds of targets (not one as Hyman misleadingly says), namely:

1-Quasi-dynamic targets (View Master "slide" reels)

2-Static targets

Keeping this fact in mind is absolutely essential, because it actually destroys Hyman's example.

Why? Because according to Hyman, the original ganzfeld database used only static target and hence it implies that any future replication of this database only will can be attained if future experiments produce positive results using static targets. And given that the autoganzfeld experiments produced results consistent with chance in the case of static targets, the original database wasn't replicated.

But Carter's mention that the original database used both (static AND quasi-dynamic) kinds of targets, leave open the possibility that at least regarding the dynamics targets, the autoganzfeld experiments produced positive results consistent with the original ganzfeld database and hence results which replicate the previous findings on dynamic targets.

And this is what actually happened. As Carter mentions: (regarding the non-static, dynamic targets) "Meta-analysis of the original data led to the prediction that dynamic targets would show greater results than static targets"

So, the autoganzfeld experiments didn't replicated the ganzfeld experiments regarding static targets, but they replicated the ganzfeld experiments regarding the DYNAMIC targets. and therefore, the parapsychologist's claim that the autoganzfeld experiments offer evidence of replication is demostrably true (contrary to Hyman's misleading position).

This point has not been understood by some readers of this book (even by readers sympathetic to the evidence for psi). For example, in Michael Prescott's blog, leading Brazilian psi researcher Vitor Moura posted the following comment regarding Carter's reply to Hyman: "But this clearly was not Hyman's criticism. What he said was that "the results on the static targets were consistent with chance and differed significantly from the results on the static targets in the original data base" Carter clearly missed the point here. Carter wrote about the dynamic targets, which Hyman admits to be significant. But the criticism of the static targets remains untouched."
Moura clearly missed Carter's (and Hyman's) point here. The debate is not about static targets or dynamic targets, but about the REPLICATON of the evidence for psi.
Certainly as Moura realizes, Hyman accepts that the results about dynamic targets were significant while denying that the original positive evidence of the static targets were replicated. But Hyman concludes from this fact that the autoganzfeld didn't offered any replication at all of the original database, which is false. Even agreeing with Hyman about the chance results of the static targets, the dynamic targets got positive results, and such positive results WERE PREDICTED by the original database, which is everything what Carter needs in order to refute Hyman's charge of lack of replication.
So, Moura's charge of irrelevance against Carter ("Carter wrote about the dynamic targets") is unjustified, because precisely the positive evidence in the case of dynamic targets replicates the prediction about dynamic targets (not about static targets in which Hyman misleadingly focused his criticisms) done on the grounds of the original database.
As Carter concluded this part of his reply to Hyman: "This prediction was in fact strongly corroborated, as Bem and Honorton (1994) reported:

Dynamic versus static targets. The success of [these studies] raises the question of whether dynamic targets are, in general, more effective than static targets. This possibility was also suggested by earlier meta-analysis, which revealed that studies using multiple-image targets (View Master stereoscopic slide reels) obtained significantly higher hit rates than did studies using singleimage targets. By adding motion and sound, the video clips might be thought of as high-tech versions of the ViewMaster reels. The 10 autoganzfeld studies that randomly sampled from both dynamic and static target pools yielded 164 sessions with dynamic targets and 165 sessions with static targets. As predicted, sessions using dynamic targets yielded significantly more hits that did sessions using static targets (37 percent vs. 27 percent, p < .04). (p. 12)

As Hyman observed, “replicability implies the ability to predict successfully from the results of a meta-analysis to a new set of independent data.” And because of these results, virtually all ganzfeld studies ever since have used only dynamic targets. (p.158)

In conclusion, I agree with Carter and other parapsychologists that this evidence for psi has been scientifically replicated and therefore Hyman's objection that the evidence for psi is not replicable is demostrably fase.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Dean Radin on the positive definitions of PSI and James Alcock's skeptical cavils

James Alcock

One of the main and repetead objections of James Alcock against parapsychology is the use of "negative" definitions.

In particular, Alcock says: "Not only does parapsychology have difficulty in deciding just what is its legitimate subject matter, but unlike the various domains of mainstream science, it deals exclusively with phenomena that are only negatively defined. Extrasensory perception? It can be said to occur only when all normal sensory communication can be ruled out. Psychokinesis? It is claimed to have occurred when an individual can produce effects on the physical environment without the application of any known force. Such definitions tell us not what the phenomena are, but only what they are not."(Debating Psychic Experience, p. 33. Emphasis in blue added)

When we're examining an objection, we have to try to read it in his best, strongest formulation, in order to avoid straw men, and give the critic the best or more sympathetic reading of his argument (it is not say that it's always easy; many times we unconsciously misrepresent other people's position. But we need to do an effort in order to avoid this).

So, read carefully Alcock's objection. He's saying that psi phenomena are not defined positively, but negatively (i.e. in terms of what they're NOT).

Let's to examine this objection in detail:

1-It's false that psi is defined negatively. In 2006, in his book Entangled Minds, Dean Radin addressed this objection: "As a positive definition, psi is a means by which information can be gained from a distance without the use of ordinary senses"(p.284)

Now, Alcock would reply that it is still a negative definition, because psi is still a phenomenon which occurs when the use of ordinary senses are discarded. In fact, in his reply to Chris Carter (when Carter quoted Radin's above citation in order to refute Alcock's objection), Alcock said: "He [Carter] totally misunderstands my concern about the negative definition of psi, and quotes Dean Radin’s view that psi is positively defined as a means by which information can be gained from a distance without the use of the ordinary senses. This of course means that one must first rule out “the use of the ordinary senses,” which is, of course, the very essence of a negative definition." (p.130)

Alcock clearly missed Carter's and Radin's point. The essence of the definition of psi is not that "one must first rule out" anything. The latter is only a methodological requeriment in order to test psi in the laboratory (not in order to define it).

Alcock, showing again his lack of training in logic, conflates the definition of psi with the methodological procedures used to detect it under controlled conditions.

As Dean Radin mentioned in Entangled Minds: "the "what psi isn't" definition reflects how psi is investigated in the laboratory, not what's thought to be"(284).

Alcock clearly conflates the methods of investigation of a phenomenon (which in case of psi, implies discarding normal sensory perception) with the definition of the phenomenon (which says what the phenomenon IS, regardless of how it is investigated in the particular cases).

The reason why Alcock doesn't understand this difference is because he is ignorant of logic. In any textbook on logic, in the chapters about definitions, you will never found that definitions of an object are identical to the ways to test the existence of such object.

So, I don't think that Alcock is being dishonest in his criticism. I do think his criticism is fully rooted in his sound ignorance of logic and how to define a construct.

In fact, look carefully at Alcock's definition of extrasensory perception given above: "Extrasensory perception? It can be said to occur only when all normal sensory communication can be ruled out."

Ruling out normal sensory communication is needed to KNOW the occurrence of ESP under experimental laboratory conditions, not to define ESP. In fact, if ESP exists, it could occur even in cases where we have not idea of such occurrence, and outside of laboratory conditions. In other words, if ESP exists (as an ontologically real fact), it is independent of the methods used in order to know it (which is an epistemological problem, not an ontological one).

Alcock defines ESP not in terms of what it is supposed to be (ontologically = as a putative objective fact in reality), but in terms of how we KNOW that such ESP has occured (which is an epistemological and methodological question). He conflates methodology of psi research (which implies excluding and ruling out certain factors in order to ascertain the existence of ESP in the laboratory) with the definition of ESP in ontologically terms (which positively asserts what ESP is supposed to BE regardless of the methodological controls used to test its putative existence).

So, it's unlikely that Alcock will recant of such objection. His objection is based on a studied ignorance of the distinction between ontology and methodology, and specially of the different kinds of definitions (e.g. essential definitions and operationalist definitions).

The only remedy to this is a deeper knowledge of logic and philosophy.

2-But let's assume, for the argument's sake, that psi is defined purely in negative terms, which is the problem with it? Why is it an objection against parapsychology? Which is exactly what is supposed to follow from this?

As Radin wrote in his reply to Alcock: "Even if this assertion were true, so what? Negative definitions are common in many disciplines, ranging from physics, where concepts like dark energy and matter are defined by what they are not, to psychology, where concepts like inattentional blindness, implicit cognition, and unconscious processing are defined by contrast to conscious awareness, i.e., to what is not conscious. (Debating Psychic Experience, p.119)

Look at wikipedia for scientific definitions of many scientific facts in which the definitions are clearly negative ones:

-Spontaneous remission: "The spontaneous regression and remission from cancer was defined by Everson and Cole in their 1966 book [1]: "The partial or complete disappearance of a malignant tumour in the absence of all treatment, or in the presence of therapy which is considered inadequate to exert significant influence on neoplastic disease."" (emphasis in blue added)

Note that in order to call a healing of cancer as a "spontaneous remission" according to the above definition, you need to rule out the use of "all treatment". And that ruling out is, according to Alcock, the "very essence of a negative definition". So, the scientific definition of spontaneous remission of cancer is demostrably a negative definition.

Is Alcock (and his skeptical fellows) going to challenge that scientific definition of spontaneous remision on the grounds of being a negative definition?

-Unconscious processes: "Unlike in the psychoanalytic research tradition that uses the terms "unconscious", in the cognitive tradition, the processes that are not mediated by conscious awareness are sometimes referred to as "nonconscious"... Specifically, the process is non-conscious when even highly motivated individuals fail to report it, and few theoretical assumptions are made about the process"

Is the psychologist Alcock going to challenge scientific concepts like the above ones, because they're "negatively" defined?

Even concepts beloved by "skeptics", like scientific naturalism or metaphysical naturalism are defined negatively. According to infidels.org, naturalism is defined like this: "The hypothesis that the natural world is a closed system, which means that nothing that is not part of the natural world affects it... naturalism implies that are no supernatural entities- including God"

So, the view that nature is a closed system (essential to naturalism) means that NO entities outside of this system will be causally efficacious in that system. In other words, EXTRA or SUPER natural entities can NOT affect the natural world. And this implies that causally active on nature entities (like God, minds, spirits, etc.) DON'T exist. So, naturalism implies atheism (=the negation of theism).

Would Alcock criticize the infidels.org explicit definition of naturalism as a anti-scientific or pseudo-scientific definition? Is the "hypothesis" of naturalism a wrong one, because it's defined negatively (i.e in terms of which it discards or rules out, namely God and other extra-natural entities with causally active powers?).

Obviously not. Alcock's objection against parapsychology is a mere cavil, rooted in his ignorance of logic and in his personal prejudices against psi research (prejudices which are direct and necessary consequences of his ideological commitment to the negatively defined metaphysical naturalism and atheism).

3-Moreover and finally, Radin also offered in his reply explicit positive definitions of particular kinds of psi phenomena: "In any case, a positive definition of telepathy is easy to state: “A means of communication between people who are isolated by distance or shielding.” Likewise, precognition may be defined as “a means of perception through time.” Psychokinesis as “mind/matter interactions.” And so on." (emphasis in blue added).

Such positive definitions should settle the question once and for all, and prevent skeptics of using this cavil again.

Why does Alcock keep repeating his cavil about negative definitions of psi as an objection to parapsychology, when POSITIVE definitions are available and have been explicitly mentioned? Is Alcock being objective in his criticisms? Is it a valid criticism or objection against parapsychology which is unanswered or unanswarable by psi researchers? Obviously not, the criticism is invalid, irrelevant, based on injustifiable double standards and demostrably false.

So, the next time that you see a professional skeptic repeating the same objection about "negative definitions", you'll know you're dealing with a person with a personal ideological agenda against parapasychology, not an objective and reliable researcher.

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