Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics

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Article excerpt

Following certain other proponents of experimental parapsychology, Carter considers meta-analyses as providing definitive evidence for psi. He does not mention the limitations of meta-analyses or the strong arguments and increasing consensus that retrospective or post hoc meta-analyses as used in parapsychology cannot resolve controversial issues. For example, he claims the nonsignificant meta-analysis results by Milton and Wiseman occurred because they "botched their statistical analysis of the ganzfeld experiments" p. According to Carter, the statistical mistakes included not doing an analysis of direct hits that pooled all the experiments and using a cutoff time that excluded a certain study.

However, these controversial decisions are examples of the large number of decisions that must be made in a post hoc meta-analysis, and they show why post hoc meta-analyses are intrinsically unconvincing for controversial topics. The many methodological decisions for post hoc meta-analyses have no clearly right or wrong answer, and different decisions produce different results.

For example, the analysis of pooled direct hits is not a standard meta-analysis technique, but it can be applied in some parapsychological meta-analyses and has sometimes been reported as a secondary analysis. Carter's opinion that it is the correct analysis appears to be largely based on the fact that it happens to give an outcome that he prefers in this case. The large number of methodological decisions for meta-analyses, like other types of post hoc analyses, provides great opportunity for researchers to consciously or unconsciously bias the results.

The endless debates about different possible statistical tests, inclusion cutoff criteria, data trimming, data transformations, and so forth, have no convincing resolutions. My experience working in medical research for the past two decades has been that researchers increasingly recognize that meta-analyses cannot be used to resolve controversial issues Kennedy, Different conclusions from the same set of data have been reported in medicine as well as parapsychology Kennedy, For controversial topics, the most convincing experimental research comes from well-designed prospective studies.

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This is a well-established principle in medical research. Like other proponents of psi, Carter notes the large studies of aspirin and cardiovascular disease as an example of small effect sizes that are useful p. However, this misses the main point of these studies. Worried about the reputation of their schools and labs, administrators seem far more reluctant to express favorable opinions of psi research than ordinary working scientists.

The skepticism of those who run the scientific establishment is surely one reason why, throughout its history, the resources devoted to psi research have been extremely meager.

Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics

Psychologist Sybo Schouten compared the funding directed toward parapsychology over the one hundred years spanning to and found that it was approximately equal to the expenditures of two months of conventional psychological research in the United States in Not when scientific journals continue to publish hostile attacks on the scientific validity of parapsychology. For instance, the prominent journal Nature published the following in a commentary by skeptical psychologist David Marks: Parascience has all the qualities of a magical system while wearing the mantle of science.

Until any significant discoveries are made, science can justifiably ignore it, but it is important to say why: parascience is a pseudo-scientific system of untested beliefs steeped in illusion, error, and fraud. Clearly then, many scientists find the claims of parapsychology disturbing. The existence of psi implies that the minds of people can sometimes communicate, perceive events, and influence objects without the use of the five ordinary senses or their limbs. Science in its present state cannot explain these phenomena.


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This in itself should not be a problem: there are plenty of other phenomena that science cannot currently explain, such as consciousness, the placebo effect, and the fact that the expansion of the universe appears to be accelerating. But is the existence of psi in conflict with well-established scientific principles?

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  6. Add to Wishlist. USD Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Explore Now. Buy As Gift. Documented, reproducible evidence exists that these abilities are real, yet the mainstream scientific community has vehemently denied the existence of psi phenomena for centuries. The battle over the reality of psi has carried on in scientific academies, courtrooms, scholarly journals, newspapers, and radio stations and has included scandals, wild accusations, ruined reputations, as well as bizarre characters on both sides of the debate. If true evidence exists, why then is the study of psi phenomena--parapsychology--so controversial?

    And why has the controversy lasted for centuries?

    Einstein's Mistake?

    Exploring the scandalous history of parapsychology and citing decades of research, Chris Carter shows that, contrary to mainstream belief, replicable evidence of psi phenomena exists. The controversy over parapsychology continues not because ESP and other abilities cannot be verified but because their existence challenges deeply held worldviews more strongly rooted in religious and philosophical beliefs than in hard science.

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    Carter reveals how the doctrine of materialism--in which nothing matters but matter--has become an infallible article of faith for many scientists and philosophers, much like the convictions of religious fundamentalists. Consequently, the possibility of psychic abilities cannot be tolerated because their existence would refute materialism and contradict a deeply ingrained ideology. By outlining the origin of this passionate debate, Carter calls on all open-minded individuals to disregard the church of skepticism and reach their own conclusions by looking at the vast body of evidence.

    The author of Science and the Near-Death Experience , Carter is originally from Canada and currently teaches internationally.

    Journal of Scientific Exploration

    Originally from Canada, Carter currently teaches internationally. Rupert Sheldrake is a biologist, a former research fellow of the Royal Society at Cambridge, a current fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences near San Francisco, and an academic director and visiting professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut. He received his Ph.

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