I meant to comment on this last week, but didn’t find time: more mainstream reporting/blogging on anomalistic science/phenomenon, based on an absolute lack of research. I know I do rave on this topic a bit, but it’s just nice to vent sometimes.
A couple of weeks ago, PsyBlog posted this story about Rupert Sheldrake’s experiments on whether a dog named Jaytee showed psychic abilities. It said that when “proper experiments” were carried out by Dr Richard Wiseman (remember him?), “all four trials were a bust for the briefly famous dog. It seemed Jaytee didn’t have a clue when his owner was coming home.”
The controversy over Jaytee has some history, and anybody with a Google will find there is far more to it than Wiseman simply stepping in and debunking the previous experiments. The best resource for an alternative point of view is Rupert Sheldrake’s own commentary, in which he points out that the essential difference between his and Wiseman’s results was the criteria set, not the actual data:
In the three experiments Wiseman did in Pam’s parents’ flat, Jaytee was at the window an average of 4% of the time during the main period of Pam’s absence, and 78% of the time when she was on the way home. This difference was statistically significant. When Wiseman’s data were plotted on graphs, they showed essentially the same pattern as my own. In other words Wiseman replicated my own results.
I was astonished to hear that in the summer of 1996 Wiseman went to a series of conferences, including the World Skeptics Congress, announcing that he had refuted the ‘psychic pet’ phenomenon. He said Jaytee had failed his tests because he had gone to the window before Pam set off to come home.
In Wiseman’s defence, at least he did test the dog, unlike notable others….
Moving on to UFOs, and the always dependable ‘Rusty Rockets’ has posted yet another moronic opinion piece on the science news site Science A Go Go, the latest on UFOs (following up his sterling effort on out-of-body experiences…but more on that at the end). Nearly every paragraph contains something idiotic (from invoking Condon, to saying qualified people don’t see such things…have at it in the comments section if you please), but the main crux of the piece is this:
NASA spends a lot of time and money (billions, in fact) on space projects that really don’t amount to much in regard to improving the human condition – either now or in the future. In relative terms, it’s like you or I irresponsibly dipping into the family budget so that we can go on a holiday to somewhere we’ve never visited before, because you’ve heard that it might be pretty or interesting, because it’s there, because you can. So, much like the creationists, scientists bite their tongues when it comes to UFO sightings, because they know that as long as the public has a vested interest in our skies, then NASA will always have the public on side in regard to space project funding.
Wonderful stuff, or it would be if it had any basis in truth. I’ll let Mr Rockets’s fellow skeptic Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy answer the NASA funding bit. But on NASA/scientists keeping quiet about UFOs, I thought it worth pointing at the astrobiologist in the corner, NASA’s David Morrison, who certainly doesn’t “bite his tongue” when it comes to UFOs (see here and here). SETI’s Seth Shostak is another who Mr Rockets would have staying quiet to keep his project funding, but it just ain’t so. Indeed, contra to Rusty Rockets’s claims, Michio Kaku is one of very few mainstream or space-related scientists I have ever seen to say UFOs are a valid topic for research (and Mr Rockets will find he is arguing against Kaku’s intellect on the topic of why UFOs might be here at this particular stage of our evolution).