Sunday, March 18, 2012

Paranormal activity edition

Two items, oddly about parapsychology (as a means to raise points about science and the public).  First, this article from The Guardian last week is both unsurprising and disappointing.  It is not at all surprising that careful attempts to reproduce almost-certainly-spurious results implying precognitive phenomena have shown that those effects apparently to not really exist.  What is worth pondering and discussion, however, is the fact that the authors who tried to check the original results had such a hard time publishing their work, because the major journals dismiss attempts to reproduce controversial results as unoriginal or derivative.  This is a problem.  Sure, you don't want to take up premiere journal space with lots of confirmations or repetitions of previous work.  However, if a journal is willing to hype controversial results to boost circulation, then surely there is some burden on them to follow up on whether those extraordinary claims withstand the test of time.  

Second, this morning's Dear Abby column (yes, I still read a newspaper on Sundays) had a letter from a woman seeking advice about how to use her "psychic gifts".   It's very depressing that the response said "Many people have psychic abilities to a greater or lesser degree than you do, and those "vibes" can be invaluable."  Really?  Many people have psychic abilities?  How's this for advice:  if you really have psychic abilities, go to the James Randi Foundation and take their Million Dollar Challenge.  Once you pass, you can use the money to make peoples' lives better.  I know it's stupid to get annoyed by this, just as it's pointless to complain about the horoscopes that run in the paper.  Still, if someone has an audience as large as Dear Abby, they should think a little bit about spreading this silliness.

8 comments:

Schlupp said...

ad journals: Yes, indeed!

ad Dear Abby: The state-run-and-owned employment agencies of both my country of residency and my home country offer classes in astrology to the unemployed. So does at least one state-run-and-owned institution of tertiary education (I am loth to use the word "university" here) in each country. Justification: There are jobs to be had in the field.

Further, a person who was the subject of an old post of yours on, ahem, "controversial" science (as well as a post of mine) just got to be a professor at a major university. When I found this out, I went to the fridge for a beer.

I had run out.

DanM said...

Wait, and you couldn't you your psychic ability to tell that the fridge had no beer in it, before even opening the fridge? Surely you're not trying hard enough.

DanM said...

And this post raises another question in my mind: will the guys who are trying to replicate the OPERA superluminal neutrino result have any problem at all publishing their results in a high-profile journal? Will their chances of getting those results published depend in any way on whether their results are positive or negative? I think the answer to both questions is NO. So is this problem confined to psychology journals?

Shrug, I dunno.

Igor Fridman said...

Schlupp, just curious, which country are you talking about? In western europe??

John said...

This reminds me that scary movies Paranormal activity series!



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Schlupp said...

Igor, Western/Central Europe. Admittedly, "major university" is debatable: It is good in some fields, but probably not in that guy's.

DanM, I swear it wasn't be who wrote that letter to Dear Abby!

Anonymous said...

One of the most important scientists in recent decades, Dr. Peter Venkman, was a firm believer in ESP.

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