A Lesson in Paranormal Cheating with Dean Radin

January 3, 2011

In a discussion on Salty Droid’s blog a commenter was arguing that science refuses to recognize the evidence for psi (psychic phenomena) because of a taboo. By way of evidence he offered a link to a video of a lecture by well known psi researcher, Dean Radin.

The lecture is titled Science and the Taboo of Psi.

Despite what any reasonable person would expect of a lecture with a title like that, Radin in fact does not attempt to argue that there is a taboo against psi in science.

Instead he simply asserts there is a taboo, and then interprets everything as if that assertion were true. He also dismisses all criticism of psi research as being merely the result of the taboo.

Just to make it clear, Radin also does not present a shred of evidence for psi in this lecture either, (though he talks about the subject a lot).

More importantly, Radin’s documentation sucks. His refusal to properly reference his sources (name, title, journal, date) causes problems for his argument which only become clear when you check the sources yourself. When you do this, it becomes clear that Radin is being less than accurate and less than honest with the information he provides his audience. As will be shown, this is not a matter of interpretation of evidence, (let alone alone a taboo). It’s a simple matter of shoddy scholarship being used to mask the most idiotic abuse of data that I’ve seen since last time I read anything from this goose.

I will uncover enough of this to make it clear what Radin is up to, before quitting in disgust a mere seven minutes into the lecture. Am I being unfair? Read first, then argue your case in the comments if you wish.

Dean Radin begins the lecture with a first-person account of a woman who reports awaking mysteriously one night with a feeling of terror. Later she learns that her son was shot dead at the exact moment she awoke, and believes she was experiencing his fear and pain at the moment of his death.

This incident, Radin says, was

published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Okay, that sounds more substantial than an anecdote in the Reader’s Digest or something, but Radin offers nothing more in the way of verification of the basic facts of the account. (He mentions later as an aside that “it’s a true story”, but that’s it.)

Radin also doesn’t tell us the title of the paper or the publication date, although the authors’ names do briefly flash on the screen behind him: Moulton & Kosslyn. The case was originally published, he continues, in a book from 1981 by one Louisa Rhine. Again, no title. Why the shoddy referencing? This is supposed to be a serious lecture of an academic standard, but he’s not doing the basics.

And surely any serious psi researcher would want to get as many of the facts confirmed as possible, but not Radin. He moves straight into considering the ways in which different people are likely to respond.

He “suspects” that a high percentage of academics would label it “superstitious nonsense”. But he also suspects that if you ask them privately, a percentage of those will say that there might be something in it after all.

And that is the sum total of his argument to establish the existence of a “taboo in science against psi”, the central theme of his lecture.

Satisfied that he has made his case, Radin moves on to explaining why this taboo is bad.

Firstly, the taboo leads to

distorted reporting of psi research.

He looks at a Boston Globe article about an fMRI study which “does not support ESP”. The first distortion, he says, is a statement that this was the first such study. Not true, says Radin: there have been four other studies published in reputable journals, and what’s more, they all confirm ESP. He correctly points out that the article does not mention these.

Of course Radin does not mention them either. Why not just list them on the screen behind him like any academic routinely would?

The next distortion, Radin explains, is that one of the 16 trials in the study did actually support ESP and the researchers ignored it. They seem to have written it off as a chance hit. Now, it seems reasonable enough to me to assign one hit out of sixteen to random chance, but Radin insists that if the researchers will do it for one, they would also do it if all 16 out of 16 were hits. In other words, instead of trying to argue that one in 16 was not a chance hit, Radin argues that the researchers would ignore a 100% positive result anyway.

The authors really don’t have any chance at all. Radin accuses them of deception in a pre-emptive strike, despite them having done nothing wrong at all.

….And anyway, the Boston Globe is not exactly a scientific journal, is it? Why on earth would anyone choose it as a representative organ of the scientific community? Why not go back to the original paper the article was reporting on?

Why not, indeed! A bit of googling reveals why Radin did not provide the details of the paper. The paper in question is by two authors whose names sound strangely familiar: Moulton & Kosslyn.

Of course, they were the authors who “published” the opening story about the the grieving mother. And instead of citing the journal as if it lends credence to the story, Radin should have made it clear that the authors were not citing it as a credible account of an actual occurrence.

In fact the authors used that story as an example of why researchers should treat anecdotal accounts with caution: they may seem subjectively compelling, but are too vague to adequately exclude the other possible explanations which the authors list in detail.

So that’s why his referencing is such a dog’s dinner. The first time he used the paper, he cited only the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. That sounds much more impressive than than the 1981 book it originally came from, which is titled (as far as I can tell) The Invisible Picture: A Study of Psychic Experiences. Otherwise, there is absolutely no reason at all to mention the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience in connection with that story. In fact it is deceptive and misleading to do so.

Then he uses the same paper again, this time without mentioning the authors or the journal, and using the Boston Globe instead as a proxy. And now, Moulton & Kosslyn’s work is no longer an authoritative paper from the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience rather it has become an example of “distorted reporting” of psychic phenomenon. (Radin, of course does not even acknowledge, let alone address, any of the serious problems with psi research with the authors identify.)

Distorted reporting indeed, Mr Radin.

All this chicanery would have been exposed immediately had Radin followed the simple, normal procedures for academic referencing.

“Conservative, narrow-minded scientists” are not enemies of psi — they’re too busy flying around in spaceships, cloning, mapping the Neanderthal genome, and working out ways to prolong the lives of useless idiots like Dean Radin. Rather, the field of psi research is being hampered by the failure of researchers themselves to adhere to the simplest nuts and bolts of academic practice.


  1. Nice to see someone paying attention to Dean Radin. He is used by a lot of New Wage hucksters as scientific support for their positions. Because he has the ability to “seem” scientific, few people are able to provide proper refutation. A careful review demonstrates his research is more than flawed, it is purposely disingenuous.

    We need more folks with proper research backgrounds to get involved online refuting the nonsense of the few wack job fake scientists responsible for the fraud being perpetuated by the likes of Chopra, Assaraf, Bill Harris, Rhonda Burns, James Ray, Mike Adams, Jack Canfield, and many more.

    Have to cut is off at the source. for example the Emoto “study” on water is still being used as evidence for various quackeries, even though it was just a photo essay and demonstrated nothing. Sorry, water does not contain messages or quantum energy.

    Scientists…. Please step up

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    As you probably know, there are some excellent scientist bloggers who deal at some length with the scammers and loonies you mention. For example, Orac at http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/ has plenty to say about Mike Adams, and there are some good accounts of the misuse of quantum physics for spiritual purposes- http://www.skepticreport.com/sr/?p=555

    Generally, though, it’s not just scientists who should be speaking out, it’s people like us as well. In fact it’s probably easier for people like us to speak out, because any scientist with integrity would feel compelled to sit through that entire lecture from Radin before writing a critique. He wouldn’t just give up after 5 minutes like I did and still feel ok about shooting his mouth off like me.

    The truth is, people like Radin et al are not worthy of a scientist’s time and expertise. And the fact that someone like me with no serious background in science (or psi, even) can find it so easy to shoot his argument to pieces, demonstrates the point.

  3. I saw this video a while back and was equally disturbed by Radin’s seemingly intentional distortions. For instance, when he discusses Ray Hyman’s report on the SAIC remote viewing experiments, he quotes Hyman as having said the experiments were “free of methodological weaknesses” and the “effect sizes…are too large and consistent to be dismissed as statistical flukes.” Radin then says that even Hyman, a skeptic, knew something was going on here. However, Hyman actually said, “We both agree that the SAIC experiments were free of the methodological weaknesses that plagued the early SRI research.” Which is clearly not the same as saying they were free of methodological weaknesses. And though Hyman says that the results are too large to be dismissed as statistical flukes, he goes on to say that there are other things that can account for this (including flaws in the more recent SAIC experiments).

    But aside from suspicious quote-mining, I also find it interesting how Radin seems to be claiming that psi effects are small, so we need to use statistics to prove it, but then he does things like post about his experience with spoon bending http://www.deanradin.com/spoon.htm (something that we don’t need statistics to study). At first I thought he was an innocent quack, but the more I expose myself to his work, the more intentionally skewed the facts seem to be.

    Thank you for this post and the links, Yakaru.

  4. Thanks for adding some details about the rest of the lecture.

    Great blog you have, by the way! Really first rate.


    (I’ll have to organize a blogroll for here sometime soon.)

  5. Thank you, Yakaru. You have a great blog as well.

    Btw, you were wise to only give this lecture 5 min of your time. Although, I must admit that after I’d watched it, I felt a little more trained in the art of misleading people into believing anything I want.

  6. Maybe I should review the first 5 minutes of The Secret as well. That’s far as I got into that too, and that was with deliberate masochistic determination.

    Providing a thorough account of every trick Radin pulls in that lecture would require a post of encyclopedic length, and I can’t write as well or as quickly as Cosmic Connie!

    I appreciate about your blog that you are obviously well familiar with the material and care enough about the issue to hold these people to account, according to the normal basic standards of honesty.

  7. […] time readers (like, um, me for example) will remember a post showing how Dean Radin gave five different sources for the one paper, each time talking about it as if it were a different study; and never gave the […]

  8. […] Radin gave a similar talk to this one by Sheldrake, called Science and the Taboo of Psi. I wrote a short post about it after needing only 5 minutes to determine that his referencing is openly fraudulent. […]

  9. […] a more specific article pertaining to that video, Zoth – being linked through from your link here: A Lesson in Paranormal Cheating with Dean Radin | Spirituality is No Excuse It might be interesting for somebody to read it in the context of that video. Which also was […]

  10. […] is strangely silent about ones that validate it. (An informative critique of this video can be read here.) A few years after Radin’s lecture, Daryl Bem’s (2011) paper that claimed to provide evidence […]

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