19 January 2015


Damien Broderick and Ben Goertzel (eds) Evidence for Psi: Thirteen Empirical Research Reports. McFarland, 2015.

This is a collection of thirteen papers dealing with various aspects of experimental psi:
  • The significance of statistics in in mind-matter research by Jessica Utts.
  • Physiological activity that seems to anticipate future events by Julia A Mossbridge.
  • Anomalous anticipatory skin conductance response to acoustic stimuli: experimental results and speculation about a mechanism by May, Paulinyi and Vassy.
  • Revisiting the Ganzfield ESP debate: a basic review and assessment by Bryan J Williams.
  • Telepathy in connection with telephone calls, text messages and e-mails by Rupert Sheldrake.
  • Empirical examinations of the reported abilities of a psychic claimant: a review of experiments and explorations with Sean Harribance.
  • Assessing psi ability via the ball selection test: a challenge for psychometrics by Suitbert Ertel.
  • Through time and space: the evidence for remote viewing by Stephan A Schawrtz.
  • The PEAR laboratory: explorations and observations by York Dobyns.
  • The Global Consciousness Project: subtle interconnections and correlations in random data by Roger D Nelson.
  • An analysis of the Global Consciousness Project by Peter A Bancel.
  • Psi and the environment : local sidereal time and geomagnetic effects by James Spottiswode.
  • Skeptical responses to psi research by Ted and Ben Goertzel.
  • The future of psi research by the editors.

The first thing I can say, is that this is not the book to present an overview of parapsychological research to the lay audience. Many of the papers require specialist knowledge of statistics and a variety of technical vocabularies, and overall there is considerable opacity. That being said Sheldrake’s paper is something of an exception and is clear enough for high school science clubs to attempt to reproduce, and is close enough to real life to be actually interesting.

Ertel’s 'ball selection test' looks as though it could also be used by high school science clubs, though they would perhaps need more knowledge of statistics, and would have to be far more rigorous than using unsupervised experimenters, with the absurdly naïve comment “why would anyone cheat, what could they gain from it”.

Of the more technical papers, my gut feeling is that those by Mossbridge and May and colleagues might be offering the most challenging evidence for science.

No doubt the bulk of the studies will of greatest interest to the specialist reader, but I doubt if any of them will provide evidence that would change anyone’s mind, and I suspect that the real specialist would find too little information in many of the reports to make a considered judgment.

The editor’s introduction contains much of the naiveté that one has come to associate with the field; at least half belief in the stories told by Brian Inglis, the “how could these uneducated kids get one over on me” type arguments and the curious comment “can creativity or love by switched on and off in the lab”, well creativity certainly can, people with extraordinary abilities, such as musicians, dancers, athletes, painters can act more or less to order, and yes, sex, if not love, can be performed in the laboratory, and by certain people, more or less to order.

In the end we are left where we were at the beginning. There can be little doubt that some 'psi' experiments produce results far above chance, that unless there are some really serious flaws in the reporting, are very difficult to explain, yet they remain fleeting and never subject to the kind of reproducibility that mainstream science would need to take them on board. They don’t reach the three minute mile test, or anything like it. Furthermore the metaphysical world views held by many workers in this field not only set them far more at odds with mainstream science than the actual data does, but probably inhibits performing certain types of experiments or looking for certain types of evidence. -- Peter Rogerson,

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