Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Breaking The Ultimate Taboo Part 1

Yes, I really did mention parapsychology without scoffing the other day.   I broke that taboo among the virtuous and sciencey and lefty and the self-defined "rational" class.   I did so because I first broke the interdict on reading quite a bit of the controlled research into telepathy, precognition and telekinesis.  Several years ago I found that it was almost uniformly conducted at an far higher level of scientific and intellectual integrity than the soc-sci research accepted with little question by the same self-consciously sciency and rational.   That is until that accepted soc-sci goes out of fashion and is junked if not ridiculed.

By contrast, after withstanding decades of attack on its methodology,  lies told by people such as Martin Gardner,  Irving Langmuir, CEM Hansel and Paul Kurtz and ridiculed by their fans, an objective review of research of experiments conducted by J. B. Rhine, J. G. Pratt and others stands up far better than just about any psych-soc research conducted in the same period.  But you're not supposed to actually look at that research or you risk being mocked and discredited,   You're supposed to go with what Gardner, Langmuir, et al or -O the intellectuality!-  James Randi and Penn Jillette said about it, taking them as unquestionably authoritative.

It wasn't until I was thinking of reviving my study of statistics that I came across the crucial paper that changed my thinking about parapsychology as a scientific study.  I bought the propaganda campaign that has become mainstream common wisdom among the leftish since the mid-1970s, one of the few political successes of CSICOP, though it has failed, utterly, in other parts of the population.  I was thinking of buying the big, very expensive statistics textbook written by Jessica Utts and went to her website at the University of California at Davis (she moved to Irvine since) to read more about her.  There I saw that she'd done quite a bit of analysis on the research into parapsychology.   If I had gone with the taboo, I'd have quit there, not buying her book and not reading her papers on the subject.  But I, for my own reasons, read her papers and found them to be entirely convincing.  Utts is a very careful statistician, a very honest and clear thinker and unafraid to take on those who promote the taboo.  Her exchange with Ray Hyman on his little known "file drawer" scandal when he was an appointee of the National Research Council *,  was the first thing that opened my eyes to the real nature of the CSICOP program of intellectual intimidation.   Her  general evaluation pretty much clinched it for me.

From there I read the two books by Dean Radin and some of the older books by Rhine and others. The case they laid out is convincing and moderately stated.

Before going on, here, for anyone who isn't familiar with  Radin or the topic, I'll suggest you listen to this lecture he gave at Google a few years back.  Radin's humor is kind of charmingly corny but his expertise**  is far more impressive than that of just about any "skeptic" you're likely to know by name.  The research I found most persuasive, in measuring physiological response instead of reported experience,  is discussed, beginning at 29:30.

* Hyman’s perceived position as a “responsible critic” of parapsychology has placed him in a position of some influence. He was appointed to the National Research Council committee on enhancing human performance for the U.S. Army. He served as chair of the parapsychology subcommittee, which concluded that there was “no scientific justification from research conducted over a period of 130 years for the existence of parapsychological phenomena” (Druckman & Swets, 1988, p. 22). This NRC report has been widely read by people in a position to fund psi research. Rather surprisingly, not long before his appointment, Hyman cosigned a fund-raising letter for CSICOP (March 23, 1985) that stated:  “Belief in paranormal phenomena is still growing, and the dangers to our society are real ... in these days of government budget-cutting the Defense Department may be spending millions of tax dollars on developing ‘psychic arms’ . . . Please help us in this battle against the irrational. Your contribution, in any amount, will help us grow and be better able to combat the flood of belief in the paranormal.” This strikingly illustrates his prejudgment. In the section on parapsychology of the NRC report, there is no mention whatever of the conclusions of the NRC-commissioned work by Robert Rosenthal; that work was not even cited. Rosenthal’s findings diametrically contradicted the opinion of Hyman’s subcommittee; this was a clear cover-up. Even after all of this, in his 1988 Experientia article, Hyman claims to give parapsychology a “fair and unbiased appraisal” (in Hyman, 1989, p. 141)! Writing of some of Hyman’s earlier work, philosopher Stephen Braude presciently and pungently stated: “Hyman professes one set of attitudes and beliefs, and betrays another. One’s dagger may be brandished openly or concealed under one’s cloak. Real malevolence may be served either way” 

**   Radin's CV includes:  Dean Radin, PhD, is Senior Scientist at the INSTITUTE OF NOETIC SCIENCES (IONS) and Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Psychology at SONOMA STATE UNIVERSITY. His original career track as a concert violinist shifted into science after earning a BSEE degree in electrical engineering, magna cum laude with honors in physics, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and then an MS in electrical engineering and a PhD in psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. For a decade he worked on advanced telecommunications R&D at AT&T Bell Laboratories and GTE Laboratories. For over two decades he has been engaged in consciousness research. Before joining the research staff at IONS in 2001, he held appointments at Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, University of Nevada, and several Silicon Valley think-tanks, including Interval Research Corporation and SRI International, where he worked on a classified program investigating psychic phenomena for the US government.

He is author or coauthor of over 200 technical and popular articles, a dozen book chapters, and several books including the bestselling The Conscious Universe (HarperOne, 1997) and Entangled Minds (Simon & Schuster, 2006). Both of these books are in print, and so far they've been translated into six foreign languages. A new book will be published in 2013. His technical articles have appeared in journals ranging from Foundations of Physics and Physics Essays to Psychological Bulletin and Journal of Consciousness Studies; he was featured in a New York Times Magazine article; and he has appeared on dozens of television shows ranging from the BBC’s Horizon and PBS'sCloser to Truth to Oprah and Larry King Live. He has given over 200 interviews and talks, including invited presentations at Harvard (medical), Stanford (medical and statistics), Cambridge (physics), and Princeton (psychology), for industries including GOOGLE and Johnson & Johnson, and for government organizations including the US Navy and DARPA. In 2010, he spent a month lecturing in India as the National Visiting Professor of the Indian Council of Philosophical Research, a program in the Indian government's Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Compare that to James Randi's and Penn Jillette's records.  Not to mention the late Paul Kurtz, the god(less) father of organized pseudo-skepticism and the new atheism.

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