A Response to Psychic Research

James Alcock of The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry responds to Cornell professor?Darryl Bern‘s controversial recent research on psi effects. “However, this is hardly the first time that there has been media excitement about new ‘scientific’ evidence of the paranormal,” writes Alcock. “Over the past 80-odd years, this drama has played out a number of times, and each time, parapsychologists ultimately failed to persuade the scientific world that their phenomena actually exist.” Alcock reviews past attempts at proving psychic phenomenon and Bern’s experiments. His conclusion: “Early excitement is often misleading, and as Ray Hyman has pointed out, it often takes up to 10 years before the shortcomings of a new approach in parapsychological research become evident.” [%comments]

Chris Masse

Dean Radin (PhD) has responded to the critics. http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2010/12/my-comments-on-alcocks-comments-on-bems.html

Will you please make his arguments available to the public? Thanks.


Isn't it Bem? B-E-M. Not Bern, B-E-R-N.

Why the ruckus? A result with a statistically significant result of say, 1 in 1000 chance of being by chance, will still happen by chance in 1 out of every 1000 experiments. I believe I learned that when I was at Cornell, by ... oh yeah, Dr. Bem. I bet he's laughing right now.


I'm puzzled by the so-called Skeptical Inquirer's attitude. Seems as though their skepticism (like that of global warming "skeptics") is instead dogmatic denial.

Now I don't think that there are likely to be any psi phenomenon in the traditional sense, though I could always be wrong. However, if you but look at current neuropsychological research, you find it full of things like mirror neurons, oxytocin, the idea that some people are "mind-blind" because they don't intuit what others are thinking, and much more. What are these, if not a pretty good stand-in for some of parapsychology?


BEM? Isn't that a monster?




Huh? What do any of those things have to do with parapsychology? I don't see anything in the descriptions of those subjects that in any way relates to foretelling the future.

If I were to guess your train of thought I'd say it was something like, "Hey, brains are weird, why not believe more wacky weird brain stuff."


Well said! Alcock rocks.

James Alcock is one of the foremost critic of parapsychology, and I agree with his statements here. The best thing to do is "wait and see" with those kind of researchs. There are already at least 3 failures of replication published. Let's see if this trend continues...


Re #5: "Huh? What do any of those things have to do with parapsychology? I don't see anything in the descriptions of those subjects that in any way relates to foretelling the future."

Why do you assume that parapsychology only involves foretelling the future? The classic Rhine parapsychology experiment involves mind-reading: having one person look at a card, while a second (who can't see the card) tries to guess/perceive the symbol on it. Seems to me that that's pretty darned simple, in comparison with perceiving complex motivations & emotional states in other people.

(Which, incidently, my dog can do quite well. Either she reads minds, or has such superlative hearing that she can tell the difference between the Ctl-Alt-backspace, Ctl-Alt-Delete keystrokes that shuts down my computer - which means we might be going for a hike! - and all the other keystrokes.)

As for foretelling the future, that's easily done. NASA, for instance, spends billions to build space probes, and launches them off into space with a pretty good record of having them show up where they were supposed to be, some years later.


Panem et Circanses

Per one of Larry Niven's Laws, there is no parapsychology? Why not? Because it if existed, we as a species would have done something with it.

Sophie Boyce

This, just like with any other scientific research, comes with its critics and fans. the shape and form psychic intuition is constantly changing and there are websites such as www.thepsychicweek.com take a new approach to psychic websites, not looking individuals who are seeking guidance but rather looking at news stories. These sites bring a new, less skeptical approach to this industry and let us know that it is forever changing


Re #8: "Because it if existed, we as a species would have done something with it."

Humm... I guess by the same logic, there's no such thing as giant magnetoresistance, 'cause up to the mid-90s, humans hadn't done anything with it. But nowadays, you can buy a 2 Terabyte hard drive for $90 plus shipping.

But cheap sarcasm aside, humans (or at least you neurotypical types) apparently DO use forms of it all the time, and expect the rest of us to use it too; to know what you're thinking or feeling even though you don't tell us - which can make life rather frustrating at times.

David kiefer

I have a question, Im able to feel the biofield around people, and if there sick, inside there body, I can feel the energy they give off. I think I have help some people in my pass, I don't go out all that much because of it. My hands pick up this, and I can feel it, when Im standing near them, I don't really see the aura around people I feel it. Im trying to find out about this what do they call it, of what I read they seem to think its part of sex, I don't see it that way, I don't call it the god thing, I think we were ment to do all these things, but somewhere down the line, we have been given a bowl of bs by people who never wanted us to step in this area. I hope you can help.

Jeffrey Eldred

Critics of James Alcock should address the points he made. Alcock cite sources and goes step by step through the paper detailing what is procedurally problematic about it.

And what does Alcock get for his effort? People say he must be closed-minded. I assure you, it takes quite a deal of open-minded to sift through all this parapsychology bunk.


To the person #11 who says they feel things with their hands; it is probably your imagination. T sounds like the type of claim made by those who feel the presense of God or who feel they just know God is there. Sometimes people convince themselves of all sorts of things.


Thanks for restoring some sanity by citing a skeptical response. Another good response that's been cited is by Wagenmakers et al.

David kiefer,

You could apply for the JREF Million Dollar Challenge, but first watch this test of an aura reader who made a fool of himself.

I guessed better than he did just by timing how long it took people to come out from behind the screen.

John T.

Jeffrey Eldred, please check out the Dean Radin response to Alcock. The link is provided in the first response. He destroys Alcock IMO. I would encourage anyone who agrees with Alcock to read the Radin response. It's a pity, though not surprising, that Radin is not given a forum here.


I read Bem's response to Alcock, and did some math myself. He claims that he did 100 trials, each using 36 images; on some, 18 images counted toward the results, while on others 12 images were included. That gives about 1500 binomial samples, for which the standard dev sqrt(np(1-p)) ~= 19, for p = 0.5 random chance. His claim of 53.1% success in those 1500 trials is +47 successes above chance, which is 2.5 standard devs from the mean -- fairly improbable.

However, this fails to be impressive in light of Radin's idea of research (quoted by Alcock at the end of his critique): take a raw set of data, massage it, analyze it, etc. and then report on whatever seems most unusual about it. The odds of finding a specific outcome are very different than the odds of finding *anything* unusual about your data. The odds of finding something statistically significant in a data set approach 1, as the number of "meta-analyses" of that data increase.

In this case, we are probably seeing a hypothesis that follows one aspect of the data, rather than data that confirmed a hypothesis. As such, I would not expect it to be reproducible.