Legendary 'skeptic' James "The Amazing" Randi has recently been posting videos to YouTube, in which he gives his thoughts on certain topics. A couple of weeks ago, he discussed the "woo-woo" area of parapsychology:
I've remarked previously about Randi's verbal sleight-of-hand, and there's plenty in this particular vodcast. Considering that it has had over 10,000 views, it might be worth pointing out some of his best work.
First off, we are informed that there are just two types of parapsychologist:
One kind, goes through life constantly deceiving themselves, making excuses and rationalizations for failures, and yet turning out many books and papers on their work, always promising further progress - if only sufficient funding were to be provided! And that usually follows, because there are lots of wishful thinkers out there...with money.
The other kind of parapsychologist spends some time at it, then looks at the evidence more closely, and opts to take up another profession. Sterling examples of this reversal can be found in Dr Susan Blackmore, and Dr Chris French - UK scientists who saw the train wreck they could have been part of, but left the track in time to avoid the inevitable collision with the real world.
So, basically if a parapsychologist has not become a 'skeptic', then they are self-deceiving and seeking money. Simple. I do find it odd that Randi considers Dr Chris French to have taken up "another profession", considering he's currently working with Rupert Sheldrake on telephone telepathy research and recently published research into possible causes of haunted houses. He certainly may have modified his opinion, but he has not changed profession. And we've discussed Susan Blackmore's Damascus-road experience previously here on TDG.
Furthermore, I'd imagine a few parapsychologists would have choked on their coffee reading that requests for funding are usually met by wishful thinkers with money...
Randi goes on to illustrate the lack of positive results in parapsychology:
In fact, both Duke University and Stanford, in the USA, gave up their many years of involvement in parapsychology, simply because they had no positive results to support their continued involvement. And the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab, known as P.E.A.R, the 'Pear Lab', closed down operation just recently, after almost 30 years in business. And for the same reason
Randi is either uninformed on the issue, or being deceptive - he can choose either horn of that dilemma. Duke University's parapsychology lab certainly closed down decades ago, but not because of a lack of results. Joseph Rhine moved DU's parapsychology lab off-campus, and continues to this day as the Rhine Research Centre. Rhine's research reported positive results. Stanford University's interest in parapsychology was disrupted when the Stanford Research Institute separated from the University and became SRI International. SRI International was the nursery for the Stargate remote viewing project, of which statistician Jessica Utts concluded: "Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well-established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance...there is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof, since there is little more to be offered to anyone who does not accept the current collection of data." That's a little hard to reconcile with Randi's statement of "no positive results"...
Randi finishes by mentioning PEAR, claiming they closed for the same reason (that is, no positive results). That's a little at odds with the comments of PEAR founder Dr Robert Jahn:
For 28 years, we've done what we wanted to do, and there's no reason to stay and generate more of the same data. If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will... It's time for a new era; for someone to figure out what the implications of our results are for human culture, for future study, and - if the findings are correct - what they say about our basic scientific attitude.
James Randi has a history of similar mis-statements of fact in regards to parapsychology - last year in a newsletter he referred to Dr Dean Radin's experiments in presentiment as "his latest distraction", after negative results in other experiments. Radin had in fact been investigating (and publishing positive results) on presentiment for 10 years. Additionally, Radin had reported positive results in his other areas of research. Again, either Randi has no idea of the scientific research being published by parapsychologists (in which case he has no authority to criticise it), or he is deliberately misleading readers/viewers.
And yet the 'defenders of science and truth' admire him so. Quite amusing really.
Previously on TDG: