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.
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.