This week the always fascinating Skeptiko podcast features Chris Carter (not the X-Files guy, nor the musician) discussing his new book Science and the Near Death Experience (audio and text transcription of the podcast are available). I’ve been meaning to talk to Chris about his new book for a while, but meatspace issues keep impinging on my time. But for those who can’t wait, Alex has (as always) done a good job of exploring Carter’s take on a topic we discuss pretty regularly here on TDG: anomalous science and the role ‘skeptics’ play in keeping it apostate.
In my first book I had a section on Susan Blackmore and it basically showed that her claims-she went around for years claiming that she failed to find any psychic abilities in her experiments. So one of my friends, Rick Berger, went back and re-examined her experiments and found that they were also sloppily conducted. Nothing-no conclusions could be drawn from them. If anything, her experiments showed the existence of telepathy.
He printed this up in a scientific journal and Blackmore was asked to respond. What she said was, “Hey, I agree. No conclusions can be drawn from the Blackmore experiments.” In other words, she was saying that her work was an absolute failure and for the past 20-30 years, however long her career had been on at the time, she had accomplished absolutely nothing. It was based upon absolutely nothing.
But then I examined her writings in a scientific journal before the Berger article and her confession, and then I examined her writings in the popular press right after. And I saw absolutely no change at all, both before and after. She was still saying, “Hey, I did years of careful research and I found nothing.” Even though she had admitted just a few years previously in a scientific journal, that her experiments on psychic abilities were absolutely useless. They were just too sloppy, too small, too poorly conducted to draw any conclusions.
So I don’t have a lot of respect for Susan Blackmore. I think she’s a shameless self-promoter.
As can be seen above, Chris has some pretty strong thoughts about ‘skeptical’ individuals and organisations, which he discussed at length in his previous book Parapsychology and the Skeptics. The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research has also recently published his critique of prominent ‘skeptic’ Richard Wiseman, titled “‘Heads I Lose, Tails You Win’, Or, How Richard Wiseman Nullifies Positive Results, and What to Do about It” (free PDF download). It’s a great article, showing that all of Wiseman’s criticisms of parapsychology can be turned against himself.
Wiseman, yet another magician-turned-skeptic, has some serious punch in the scientific community – he’s listed as one of the most followed psychologists on Twitter, with over 50,000 followers. He’s at least worth following for a laugh – he seems obsessed with self-publicity (to an almost pathological level), and my own conclusion is that this obsession with media coverage is what drives most of his experiments, rather than actual scientific curiosity (encapsulated in his response to media coverage of his Twitter remote viewing study: “#twitterexperiment getting lots of media attention. Well done us!”). It’s also fascinating to watch his presentation of paranormal topics to the media, as he tends to get fairly ‘creative’ with his statements (see for example this previous TDG story, “Hampton Haunting Debunked?“) – a trait he shares with other magicians-turned-skeptics (not least, Randi).
But who am I to criticise…it seems to be paying his bills, and some. Wiseman has an upcoming book on his experiences researching the paranormal, titled Supernormality (also sometimes listed as Paranormality), which reportedly sold to a publisher in the UK “in a ‘big’ six-figure deal“. Maybe I should start getting ‘creative’ myself when I write about the paranormal, seems a sure fire way to bring attention to yourself…
Previously on TDG: