The last two instalments of the Skeptiko podcast are well worth checking out: they feature British skeptic Dr Chris French and well-known ‘maverick scientist’ Dr Rupert Sheldrake discussing various aspects of parapsychology and skeptical thinking. Both French and Sheldrake are excellent to listen to, offering calm and rational insights into what they do, and their thoughts on psi and skepticism.
In Sheldrake’s podcast there’s also an interesting point made about how psi and skeptical experimenters may never be able to reach a conclusion because of the differing takes on the approach required for ‘success’:
Now when Chris French and I discussed this experiment before they did it, you know, I said – we said to each other what we’d probably say, and I said, “Okay, Chris, well, if it gives non-significant results I’m probably going to say that you know, this extreme skeptical leaning on everybody involved in the way that treats them as if they’re under suspicion of cheating all the time is going to inhibit the effect.”
And I said, “What are you going to say if there’s a positive effect?” And he said, “I’m going to say that the controls weren’t rigorous enough, and we’ll have to do it with even more rigorous control.” Chris and I, both of us in advance realized that whatever the result, you know, neither of us was going to say okay, the phenomena or it doesn’t exist. His idea of more rigorous controls would you know, involve stepping up the degree of suspicion with which everyone else is – everyone involved is treated. And then you know, you could probably reach a level where the phenomenon would go away. This just isn’t a feasible way of doing research.
Both podcasts are excellent, I recommend a listen if you have time.