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An Alternative Take On ESP

An Alternative Take On ESP

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Published by Ben Steigmann
Maaneli Derakhshani, a graduate student studying theoretical physics at Clemson University, here writes a guest post defending parapsychological research on the blog “Rationally Speaking” by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York and parapsychology skeptic. The original can be read hereL http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/12/alternative-take-on-esp.html
Maaneli Derakhshani, a graduate student studying theoretical physics at Clemson University, here writes a guest post defending parapsychological research on the blog “Rationally Speaking” by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York and parapsychology skeptic. The original can be read hereL http://rationallyspeaking.blogspot.com/2011/12/alternative-take-on-esp.html

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Published by: Ben Steigmann on Nov 19, 2013
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03/09/2014

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HomeThe Podcast5-Minute PhilosopherBooks by MassimoContributors
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blogreflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a badword) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, theschools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
By Maaneli Derakhshani[Note: this is a guest post by Maaneli Derakhshani, agraduate student studying theoretical physics atClemson University, a past volunteer for the Centers forInquiry in New York and Long Island, a current memberof the Secular Student Alliance of Clemson Universityand the Clemson Philosophical Society, and a former
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undergraduate student of Massimo’s. We invite readersto apply their critical thinking skills to respond toMaaneli’s challenge. Have fun!]My purpose in this essay is to address some claimsMassimo has made over the years about parapsychology(the scientific discipline that studies claims ofextrasensory perception, or ESP, psychokinesis, andsurvival of consciousness after bodily death), and to show why I think the scientific evidencefor ESP (e.g. telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition) is more plentiful than he seems tobelieve.On many past occasions, I have heard Massimo publicly claim that ESP has been refuted,such as in a Skeptiko podcast interview last year in which he said “... research on theparanormal has been done for almost a century. We have done plenty of experiments, say ontelepathy or clairvoyance or things like that, and we know it doesn’t work.” And in hisrecent book, Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk, Massimo even implies thatparapsychology is a pseudoscience on par with astrology.It would be reasonable to expect, especially from someone as learned as Massimo, thatthese bold claims about research on telepathy and clairvoyance, and the status ofparapsychology as a discipline, were derived from a thorough assessment of theparapsychology literature (a literature which includes informed skeptical criticisms ofparapsychology experiments). However, in my assessment of the parapsychology literature, Ihave been unable to find an evidenced basis for Massimo’s claims. Not only that, my studyof the literature has turned up evidence that strongly supports a conclusion contrary toMassimo’s. Here’s why.In parapsychology, the three research paradigms considered to provide some of the bestevidence for ESP are (a) the Maimonides and subsequent dreamtelepathy/clairvoyance/precognition experiments, (b) the SRI, SAIC, and PEAR remoteviewing experiments, and (c) the Ganzfeld experiments. Here I’ll limit myself to discussing(c) only, and refer the interested reader to this recent anthology which overviews theevidence from (a) and (b).Within parapsychology, the Ganzfeld experiments have probably been the most widely usedto test for the possibility of telepathy, clairvoyance, and to some extent precognition. For
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Massimo's Picks* The apparent "finetuning" of the universe issomething that will puzzlephysicists for a long whileyet. * An extremely de...Rationally Speakingpodcast: Sally Satel andScott Lilienfeld on theSeductive Appeal ofMindless NeuroscienceIt seems like a week can'tgo by without a news story about howneuroscience has discovered theneurological basis of love, morality, ...The pseudoscience blackholeby Massimo Pigliucci As I’vementioned on other
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the unfamiliar reader, a concise account of the Ganzfeld procedure can be read here. Themain point I want to make about the Ganzfeld experiments is that, since 1985, there havebeen 8 independent, published meta-analyses of Ganzfeld experiments; and with theexception of the 1999 meta-analysis by Julie Milton and Richard Wiseman, which was shownby statistician Jessica Utts and acknowledged by Wiseman (personal correspondence, July2011) to have used a flawed estimate of the overall effect size and p-value of the combinedresults, all of them have shown statistically highly significant effects with a replication ratewell above what’s expected by chance. The literature also shows rather convincingly, in myview, that the leading Ganzfeld critic, Ray Hyman, has been unable to account for thesehighly significant effects by prosaic means like publication bias, optional stopping,inadequate randomization of targets, sensory leakage, cheating, decline effect, etc. On thislast point, I recommend reading Bem and Honorton’s 1994 paper, Bem’s reply to Hyman in 1994, and Storm and co.’s reply to Hyman in 2010. As an example of the strength of the statistical evidence, let’s look at the most recentGanzfeld meta-analysis by parapsychologist Patrizio Tressoldi, who applies a frequentist andBayesian statistical analysis to 108 Ganzfeld experiments from 1974–2008. All theseexperiments were screened for adequate methodological quality and have an overall hit rateof 31.5% in 4,196 trials, instead of the 25% hit rate expected by chance. Moreover, using theconservative file-drawer estimate of Darlington/Hayes, the lower bound on the number ofunreported experiments needed to nullify this overall hit rate is 357, which is consideredimplausible by Darlington/Hayes’ criterion.For the frequentist analysis, Tressoldi applied two standard meta-analytic models, namely, a‘fixed-effects’ model (which assumes a constant true effect size across all experiments) anda ‘random-effects’ model (which assumes a variable true effect size across allexperiments). Whereas a standard deviation from the mean of only ~1.6 is needed for theresults of a meta-analysis to achieve statistical significance, the fixed-effects model yieldsan overall effect that’s significant by more than 19 standard deviations from the meaneffect of zero, while the random-effects model yields an overall effect more than 6 standarddeviations from the mean. The corresponding odds against chance for the fixed-effectsmodel is off the charts, and for the more conservative random-effects model is greater thana billion to 1.For the Bayesian analysis (which I know Massimo believes is more reliable and valid than theclassical approach), Tressoldi follows Rouder and co. in considering two hypotheses. Thefirst is the null hypothesis that the true effect size is zero for all experiments, and the
 occasions, my most recenteffort in philosophy ofscience actually concerns what my col...
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