Last week on Twitter, skeptical psi researcher Richard Wiseman quickly mentioned, “Next week Richard Wiseman and New Scientist conduct a mass participation expt on twitter – to join in, follow @richardwiseman“. Today, New Scientist has posted details of the experiment, which will investigate ‘remote viewing’ – the supposed ability to ‘see at a distance’ without the use of the ‘normal’ senses:
Can some people correctly identify a place using mind power alone?
Psychologist Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, UK, wants to find out, and New Scientist readers can help.
Over the course of this week, we’ll be carrying out an experiment to find out if there’s any substance to claims that some people are “remote viewers” – able to psychically identify a distant location without being shown or told where it is through conventional means.
The US military spent $20 million and 30 years trying to find out – but the only equipment we’re going to use is an iPhone and the Twitter social messaging service, which we’ll use to gather data from thousands of participants.
…During each day of the study, Richard Wiseman will travel to a randomly selected location within the UK. Once there, he will send a tweet asking participants to tweet their own thoughts concerning the nature of the location. There will be a warm-up session at midday BST on the first day, Tuesday 2 June.
Twenty minutes later, he will send another tweet directing participants to a website where they can choose between photographs of five possible locations. If more participants guess correctly than can be accounted for by chance, that will support the existence of extrasensory perception.
I’ve got mixed feelings in posting about this. On the one hand, it’s a great idea in terms of using new technology to do some science on an oft-neglected and unfairly ridiculed topic. On the other hand though, I have some reservations. Not least, that Richard Wiseman is quite the ‘media-slut’ (a crass, but apt description), and so in posting about this I’m – against my inner desire – helping aid him with his publicity (both for this experiment, and with his Twitter feed). Additionally, many have suggested over the years (including myself) that Richard Wiseman is not averse to bending facts to suit his POV (whether consciously or not) – see here and here and here.
However, in this case I can’t begrudge someone getting off their butt and doing some high-profile parapsychology research, no matter what their motivations. So I encourage y’all to become involved and give it a shot.
One of my main concerns with this experiment is of using remote viewing as the basis of a mass experiment – anyone that has read the history and documentation on RV knows that there are a number of pitfalls, such as trying to avoid ‘analytical overlay’ (AOL), where the analytical brain imposes itself on the process and makes an early guess. Techniques have been evolved to deal with these issues, but most people taking part in this experiment won’t have any knowledge of them. If you wish to ‘bone up’ on these, make sure you download Daz Smith’s PDF collection of RV docs – given the short time frame, the best thing to do would be to check out Daz’s ‘Open Source CRV Guide’ at the end for a crash course.
Also, some people seem naturally talented at RV, while others are not (often, the latter category are ‘left-brained’ people – the most likely to take part in Wiseman’s experiment). So the averaging out could well see any effect disappear…which is kind of contrary to the start of the New Scientist article, where it says “some people” (not “all people”). Hopefully the data collection will include some extra questions which might aid in ‘drilling down’ into some of these areas (eg. define yourself most closely with artistic, or scientific), and the data will be available openly to anyone that wishes to analyse it.
Perhaps a good idea might be to create our own Daily Grail subgroup (if we’ve got enough numbers willing to take part). When taking part in the experiment, send your submitted data to me as well on Twitter (@DailyGrail) or via email (greg ‘symbol for at’ dailygrail.com), and we’ll analyse our results as a group. In case its not in the actual experiment, let me know also whether you consider yourself more an artistic/intuitive, or scientific/logical thinker, and your gender.
And it would be good to have some all-stars. Though it’s really short notice I’ll see if I can get hold of any known RVers – it would be interesting to see their data as opposed to the average from the experiment. Midday BST is a pretty stupid time as well – it’s unlikely too many in the US will be able to participate at that time. Short notice, bad time…who organised this thing?
Note: If you’re interested in taking part, can you send me either an email or Twitter message beforehand so that I can prepare.
Update: Richard Wiseman has posted more details on his blog. In particular, the benchmarks:
If the majority of people select the correct target then the trial will count as a hit, otherwise it will count as a miss. There will be trials at 3pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week. Three or more hits in four trials will be seen as supporting the existence of extrasensory perception.
I can’t really understand why you would do a mass participation study, then divide the success benchmark into just four hit/miss criteria. Why not just study the complete dataset for significance?