Luther J. Carter's report of the Key-stone radioactive waste management dis-cussion group (News and Comment,
Oct., p. 32) has gotten me into some hotwater. Some environmentalists aresaying we at Keystone sold out. I did notparticipate at Keystone because rad-waste policy-making is "critical to thesurvival of the nuclear industry." I par-ticipated because radwaste policy-mak-ing is critical to the survival of humanity,whether the nuclear industry survives ornot.Second, because of the above-quotedphrase, environmentalists are saying theKeystone group's statement on repro-cessing is pro-nuclear and pro-repro-cessing. We simply said that the Inter-agency Review Group, which is pre-paring a policy document for the Presi-dent, should discuss reprocessing and itsimplications for radwaste policy. To ig-nore the reprocessing issue seemed in-appropriate to us. To favor a discussionof reprocessing is not the same thing asfavoring reprocessing, which I personal-ly do not favor.
South\vest Research and InformationCenter, Post Ofice Box
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Persi Diaconis thanks me for com-ments on an earlier version of his article"Statistical problems in ESP [extra-sensory perception] research" (14 July,p. 131)*, but except for his potentiallyimportant contributions to clarifyingstatistical problems in cases of guessingwith feedback, I want to dissociatemyself from the rest of his article.As I wrote him in detail about hisearlier draft (which is essentially un-changed in its published form), his con-clusions about modem scientific vara-psychological research are based on asampling of the field far too small in size,
second group of letters concerning the Dia-conis article will be published in a later issue.
grossly atypical, and clearly biased to-ward debunking, and so are quite mis-leading and a disservice to the readers of
There are no legal restrictions on whocan call himself a parapsychologist, somany unqualified people claim that title;but Diaconis' article purports to be aboutcontemporary scientific studies of para-psychology, not popular parodies. I esti-mate that there are more than 600 pub-lished experimental studies of para-psychological phenomena in the refer-eed specialty journals, the vast majorityof them using ordinary subjects ratherthan psychics, having procedures rigidlycontrolled by the experimenters, not thesubjects, and using quite conventionalstatistical procedures to evaluate hy-potheses which were formulated beforethe experiment was conducted. Insteadof dealing with an adequate and repre-sentative sample from this large popu-lation, Diaconis deals at length withatypical and flashy cases that have at-tracted wide lay interest, such as UriGeller's claims of psychic abilities, aboutwhich most respected parapsychologistshave serious reservations. Diaconis'prime example of what he believesare major problems (multiple end pointsand subject cheating) in parapsychologi-cal research is his description of B.D.'sself-controlled demonstration at Har-vard, an event that has no relation to ex-perimental science and that no respectedparapsychologist would have regardedas having serious value as data. Whatwas his point in focusing on such an un-representative event, especially after theunrepresentativeness had been called tohis attention?After describing several atypical caseslike this, Diaconis concludes that fraudand general experimental sloppiness arecommon problems in parapsychology,even .making into an item of faith thatwhile you can't spot the sloppiness andfraud in the published reports, they prob-ably would have been found if a com-petent observer had been there. There is,of course, no way of disproving such ahypothesis. Such faith in the all embrac-ingness of our currently accepted ex-planatory system is touching, but not ap-propriate in a scientific journal.For the reader interested in accurateand representative surveys of scientificresearch on the paranormal, I recom-mend the recently published
Department of Psychology,University of California,Davis
Handbook of Parapsychology
(Van Nostrand-Reinhold, New York,
Diaconis' article on ESP research,which contains some excellent materialon statistics, is unfortunately marred byerrors and faulty reporting in his dis-cussion of contemporary research. Spe-cifically, in discussing our work at theStanford Research Institute (SRI), hereferences erroneous second- and third-hand accounts published in popularbooks and magazine articles. We addresstwo of these errors here.The first error concerns an apocryphalstory of a visit to SRI by psychologistRay Hyman. The claim, repeated byDiaconis, is that Hyman observed exper-iments at SRI performed by the con-troversial psychic-magician Uri Gellerand reported "sleight of hand performedunder uncontrolled conditions, much atvariance with the published reports ofthe SRI scientists involved." The truthof the matter, however, is that when Hy-man and two colleagues arrived at SRIwith a request to observe experiments inprogress, they were denied permission todo so. We had had several such requestsper week and had previously concludedthat it would be impossible to carry outcontrolled experimentation under suchconditions. As an alternative they spentan engaging
hours with Geller them-selves, observing the informal coffee-table-type demonstrations which Gellerfavors, and trying a number of their own(and from our standpoint, uncontrolled)experiments. Therefore, although it istrue that Hyman saw uncontrolled ex-periments at SRI, they were not SRI ex-periments, and we consider it irrespon-sible for him or anyone else to assign re-sponsibility to SRI researchers for theirown unsatisfactory experiments. Sincethe early anecdotal accounts of thismeeting have been corrected in the ap-propriate literature
it is surprisingthat Diaconis would be uninformed inthis matter.The second error concerning our workoccurs in a section on possible pitfalls ofESP experiments involving feedback.Here Diaconis describes our experi-ments in "remote viewing" (2,