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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Wiseman’

They never give up, do they?

Posted by c. wagner on October 30, 2009

Okay. My head hurts from this one.

A recent article in the Telegraph starts out talking about how Dr. Richard Wiseman, a well-known psychologist who has investigated the paranormal for years, conducted an informal experiment into remote viewing over Twitter. Remote viewing is the supposed ability to “see” things that are happening at a distant place or at least something that they should have no prior knowledge of. Wiseman recruited about 7,000 people, traveled to a location in England, and sent a tweet using his mobile phone. Participants were supposed to use remote viewing and choose from five photographs to locate him. 15% got his location right. That’s less than chance would allow.

More formal experiments into remote viewing (which is a type of ESP), including one conducted for the CIA by Ray Hyman and Jessica Utts, have also shown that remote viewers have a no better than chance … chance of success. Wiseman’s Twitter test only added to the pile of negative reports on remote viewing.

But the Telegraph pairs the summary of the Twitter test with stories about how remote viewing is supposedly “helping” to find missing persons and medical diagnoses. The author cites a person who shows only 2 letters of congrats for finding the bodies of missing persons. No mention of how many times the remote viewers had tried to find missing people.

Then the author relates that remote viewers were asked to apply their skills to her life.

Before my ex-husband died two years ago, I had discovered that he’d been unfaithful. I wanted to know if he’d had any illegitimate children. I waited more than a week for the reply. Four remote viewers came up with colourful, jerky impressions: the effect was like reading blank verse. They did not answer my question but they described my husband, scenes from his life and mannerisms with such accuracy that it made me cry.

This sounds like the Barnum Effect to me.

Besides, an single, personal anecdote doesn’t cancel years and years of research. And like any crappy “psychic” technique, it can distract from more productive avenues of research.

Read the article at the Telegraph.

Watch the Penn and Teller: Bullshit! episode about ESP and remote viewing.

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Concerned with security much?

Posted by c. wagner on October 29, 2009

Skeptical folks investigating supposed “psychics” are generally very concerned with controlling experiments in order to prevent cheating. A team at Edinburgh University took experimental security to the greatest extent I’ve ever seen. They were mailing a deck of 25 ESP cards to a psychic (okay, a group that claimed they were in contact with “psychic entities”) in the United States.

Here’s a summary of the security precautions:

  1. The cards were put back in the case.
  2. The case was wrapped with brown packing tape.
  3. The wrapped case was put inside a plastic security envelope. The envelope was designed to be completely opaque as well as unopenable without taking damage.
  4. The envelope was put inside a clear, waterproof plastic bag.
  5. The clear plastic bag was sealed with plastic tape.
  6. The sealed plastic bag was embedded in a block of industrial resin. The mold for the block had odd, random shapes included, so the shape of the block would be incredibly difficult to reproduce.
  7. Dots of dye were put within the resin and their locations mapped. This was also to make it difficult to reproduce the block.
  8. The documented block of resin was sealed in a plastic security envelope like the one in step 3.
  9. The seal of the envelope was signed by one of the investigators.

The girlfriend said it sounded like the supposed psychics were sent a loud and clear “fuck you” in the shape of an enveloped-swaddled, oddly-shaped, spotted block of resin. I just thought it was hilarious.

By the way, the “psychic entities” failed the test, getting fewer right than chance. Maybe the resin threw them off.

The experiment is desribed in Deception and Self-Deception by Richard Wiseman.

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I’m just a bit suspicious.

Posted by c. wagner on October 20, 2009

Skip the comments and give this super-quick personality test a try.

I’m interested to see Wiseman’s new book when it comes out December 28, 2009.

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