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« Medium: The Dubious Claims of Allison DuBois - Part I The RantsFinal Call for Skeptical Writing »

Medium: The Dubious Claims of Allison DuBois - Part II
2005.03.15 (Tue) 00:00
Dr. Gary Schwartz's Research:
"We believe that the purpose of science is to serve mankind. You, however, seem to regard science as some kind of dodge or hustle. Your theories are the worst kind of popular tripe, your methods are sloppy and your conclusions are highly questionable. You are a poor scientist, Dr. Venkman."
— Dean Yeager, Ghostbusters

Allison claims to be a staunch supporter of science, and she claims that she herself has been subjected to numerous scientific tests. From the Medium web site:

[Allison] continues to support science as a medium used in the research of the afterlife. She has spent the last four years participating in various tests for the University of Arizona. Allison takes an active role in the direction and execution of research as a member of the Veritas Research Program Mediums Committee...

Of course, Allison's claims of scientific validation are only as good as the scientist who validates her. In this case, that scientist is the director of the University of Arizona studies referenced above, Dr. Gary Schwartz. Dr. Schwartz has an impressive résumé, and he is clearly an educated man. But instead of looking at Dr. Schwartz's résumé, let's take a look at his theories, methods and conclusions — the true measure of a scientist.

First, let's explore one of his theories. Schwartz seems to have several, but for now we'll focus on one that, in our opinion, is pretty far out there: Systemic Memory Theory (SMT), which is explained in Schwartz's book The Living Energy Universe. From what we can tell, this theory would have us believe that everything — people, animals, bricks, stars, ball peen hammers, everything — is alive, is evolving, and has a memory. In addition, it appears to advocate the "interconnectedness of all things" approach to the universe.

A review by Marc Berard published in Skeptic Magazine lays out one aspect of Schwartz's Systemic Memory Theory:

According to the book, a story that is on people's minds creates an energy system that is alive, so the story is alive, a living idea that can exist on its own. The example given is that people contacting Jesus could be in contact either with the "original" historical Jesus or a Jesus created from the concepts and stories of people since that time. This means that every different concept of Jesus exists as its own energy system being. Following this logic, that means Santa Claus, Freddy Kruger, Romeo, Ronald McDonald, and many other fictional characters exist as real spirits. And you might meet them since cause and effect are reversed in one chapter where we read that it was energy systems that created matter. "The purpose of physical systems may be to shape the evolution of living energy systems. From this perspective, the purpose of matter may be to evolve information and energy, the soul and spirit of the universe." You'll be happy to know that before time and space came into existence there was a single primal force guiding what came later. That force is Love.

Remember folks, this is really Schwartz's theory. He apparently believes that when people think about imaginary things, those imaginary things can potentially come to exist, and even take on physical existence. Maybe we should change the quote at the top of this Rant to "When you wish upon a star...."

Some people have concluded that, according to this theory, Schwartz must believe in the existence of a host of imaginary beings, including the Tooth Fairy. But does Dr. Schwartz really believe in the Tooth Fairy? According to Schwartz, he does not, and he offers the following answer found on a site calling itself Scientific Support for Evidence Based Mediumship, which recounts an exchange between Dr. Schwartz and well-known skeptic James Randi. The following is a statement made by Dr. Schwartz, which he confirmed to be accurate:

The theory of systemic memory predicts that informed energy can take on a "life of its own." Hence, imaginary beliefs such as the toothfairy, even Santa Claus, can potentially exist as dynamical info-energy systems.

However, this does NOT mean that I believe in the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. Once again, skeptics make the mistake of confusing theory and predictions with personal belief.

Schwartz is saying that the Tooth Fairy et al "can potentially exist" as "dynamical info-energy systems" (whatever the heck that means), but that he does not personally believe in the Tooth Fairy despite what his own theory seems to say. How does this work? Schwartz goes on to explain:

I believe in observations, and I entertain hypotheses. For the record, I have never seen a tooth fairy, I know of no research on tooth fairies, and therefore Randi's abuse of language in making such a claim is irresponsible, inaccurate, and seemingly nasty.

Ah! So if we're reading this correctly, the reason he doesn't believe in the Tooth Fairy has nothing to do with the fact that the idea of the Tooth Fairy is patently absurd, but rather it is because no one has performed adequate Tooth Fairy testing yet. The words "the prosecution rests" leap inexorably to mind at this juncture.

By doing a little more digging, we can also see some of the other theories that Dr. Schwartz subscribes to. For one, he endorses homeopathy, as evidenced by his participation as a speaker at a 2002 conference held by the National Center for Homepathy. For the uninitiated, homeopathy is the use of almost infinitely small portions of some substance in a solution of water to cure ailments ranging from the common cold to cancer. Most scientists agree that physically the solution is nothing more than water, and our guess is that Dr. Schwartz would agree. So how are homeopathic remedies supposed to have any effect on the human body? Here, Schwartz's SMT dovetails nicely with homeopathy. He claims that the water — like everything else — is capable of having a memory, and that it is this memory of the original ingredients that allows homeopathy to work. Where's the proof for this? Beats the heck out of us.

We also found that Dr. Schwartz at least tacitly endorses claims of UFO sightings and alien abductions. In case you aren't familiar with the Phoenix Lights, they were a triangle of strange lights witnessed by thousands of people around Phoenix, Arizona, in 1997, and widely rumored to be alien spacecrafts. What were they? This quote from the February 24, 2004 Arizona Daily Wildcat offers the following:

The mystery went unsolved until 2000, when the National Guard staged an air show to prove to the public that an Air Force maneuver was behind the mysterious "Phoenix lights." They flew planes with flares attached to them over the city to "re-enact" the event.

But the people who had witnessed the real Phoenix lights... were still skeptical.

In case you are still skeptical, we also offer the following eyewitness account, as reported in the Phoenix New Times one year after the initial incident:

That night, Mitch Stanley and his mother were in the yard of their Scottsdale home, where Stanley has a large Dobsonian telescope.

He and his mother noticed the vee pattern approaching from the northwest. Within seconds, Stanley was able to aim the telescope at the leading three lights of the pattern.

Stanley was using a 10-inch mirror which gathers 1,500 times as much light as the human eye, and an eyepiece which magnified the sky 60 times, effectively transporting him 60 times closer to the lights than people on the ground.

When Stanley's mother asked him what he saw, he responded, "Planes."
It was plain to see, Stanley says. Under magnification, Stanley could clearly see that each light split into pairs, one each on the tips of squarish wings. Even under the telescope's power, the planes appeared small, indicating that they were flying high. Stanley says he followed the planes for about a minute, then turned his telescope to more interesting objects.

"They were planes. There's no way I could have mistaken that," he says.

Hey, aren't UFOs supposed to be "Unidentified Flying Objects"? These seem to be pretty well identified as planes.
Dr. Gary Schwartz's favorite card game
So what is Dr. Schwartz's connection to all this? He wrote the introduction to a book which argues the authenticity of the Phoenix Lights, and also spoke at a symposium about the Phoenix Lights and other supposed alien encounters. For the record, we at the Two Percent Company are very much open to the possibility of extraterrestrial life (we'd say that the odds are very good that we are not alone in the universe), but we certainly require a lot more evidence than Dr. Schwartz seems to accept for claims such as the Phoenix Lights.

Homeopathy, alien abductions, and the Tooth Fairy — are there any bizarre theories that Dr. Schwartz doesn't endorse?

These issues aside, let's assume that we accept Schwartz's theories as plausible (quite an assumption, we admit), and move on to his methods. First, we might question Dr. Schwartz on the quote we cited above from the Medium web site. It seems to say that Allison herself "takes an active role in the direction and execution of research" in his program. What? He has a person who claims to be a medium directing and executing tests on other mediums? This seems like a serious failing in Dr. Schwartz's methods right off the bat. From here, it doesn't seem to get much better.

On several occasions, skeptic James Randi delves into the methods employed in Schwartz's lab. From the March 30, 2001 Randi weekly commentary:

Let me tell you, by a striking example, just why I believe that perhaps Gary Schwartz is not quite properly conducting this research. The following event was related to me by one who attended his "debate" recently. The "medium" Laurie Campbell did a demonstration for the audience. She asked, "Is there a John, or a Jonathan?" and she received a reply from an audience member who told her that "John" was the name of his deceased father. She followed up with, "And is there a 'b'?" To this, the man answered that his mother's name was Elizabeth, but that she was known as, "Beth."

In summing up Laurie's performance later, Dr. Schwartz dealt with the "anomalous" aspect of such readings to which he gives great attention, and thereby gave us an excellent idea of just how he derives his startling statistics. He asked for a show of hands from the audience. "How many of you have a father named John?" he asked. Several hands shot up. "And how many of you with a father named John, also have a mother named Elizabeth?" No takers, showing how unique and against-odds this double-hit of Laurie's had been....

Do I have to draw you a picture? Laurie didn't tell that man his father's name was John. The man told her! She just threw out two names, and required someone to pick up on either one of them. He identified with the name, and volunteered that it was his father's name. (In this game, the man is said to have "accepted" the name John.) And she never even said the name, "Elizabeth." The man volunteered that, too. Nor did she identify the "b" she guessed, with that man's mother! He filled her in on that, just as expected by the "cold readers."

But let's not stop there. Ray Hyman, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon and a known skeptic, had this to say about Schwartz's experiments in his article in the Skeptical Inquirer:

The research he presents is flawed. Probably no other extended program in psychical research deviates so much from accepted norms of scientific methodology as this one does.

...

I would have to make this article almost as long as Schwartz's book to explain adequately each flaw. Because any one of these flaws by itself would suffice to invalidate his experiments as acceptable evidence, I will discuss only a few of these here. First, I will list here the major types of flaws in the experiments described in his first four reports (I will deal with the fifth report separately below):

  1. Inappropriate control comparisons
  2. Inadequate precautions against fraud and sensory leakage
  3. Reliance on non-standardized, untested dependent variables
  4. Failure to use double-blind procedures
  5. Inadequate "blinding" even in what he calls "single blind" experiments
  6. Failure to independently check on facts the sitters endorsed as true
  7. Use of plausibility arguments to substitute for actual controls

The preceding list refers to defects in the conduct of the experiments and in the gathering of the data. Other very serious problems appear in the way Schwartz interprets and presents the results of his research. These include:
  1. The confusion of exploratory with confirmatory findings
  2. The calculation of conditional probabilities that are inappropriate and grossly misleading
  3. Creating non-falsifiable outcomes by reinterpreting failures as successes
  4. Inflating significance levels by failing to adjust for multiple testing and by treating unplanned comparisons as if they were planned.

As Hyman suggests, we would have to make this Rant almost as long as Schwartz's combined library in order to discuss every problem that Randi and Hyman identify with his methods, so we'll refer you to the Hyman piece as well as James Randi's commentaries for more information. Of particular note for short reads are a parable Randi tells about how Schwartz's tests are like a leaky boat, and a discussion of specific flaws in some of Schwartz's experiments.

With theories that sound like bedtime stories, and what some have called overwhelmingly sloppy methods, Dr. Schwartz's conclusions might already be deemed to be highly questionable, but we won't stop here. Schwartz claims to enter into his studies without a preconceived belief in the abilities of his subjects. Let's test that position against statements made by Schwartz about Allison DuBois in the Arizona Daily Star (and repeated in the Skeptics' Dictionary):

"As a scientist, I approach all this as an agnostic - I don't believe it; I don't disbelieve it. After testing her under conditions that ruled out the possibility of fraud, I came to the conclusion she's the real deal."

Dubois first called Schwartz four years ago, after seeing him on a "Dateline" NBC segment with John Edward on paranormal powers. She wanted to see how good her "gift" really was.

Schwartz first put Dubois through a direct, informal reading on himself. A beloved mentor of his had just died, but he told her nothing about that woman.

Among other things, Dubois told Schwartz "the deceased was telling me that I must share the following - I don't walk alone," a seemingly innocuous piece of information, but critical to him.

"My friend had been confined to a wheelchair in her last years - there is no way Allison could have known that," he said.

We have two words for this exchange — subjective validation. The term "subjective validation" refers to the observed behavior that "people tend to accept vague and general ... descriptions as uniquely applicable to themselves without realizing that the same description could be applied to just about anyone." The fact that Schwartz seems to have viewed Allison's nebulous statement as such an impressive hit leads us to believe that he has fallen prey to subjective validation. It is clear that "I don't walk alone" could have numerous interpretations. To us, the immediate interpretation is that there are other people present (basically saying "I am not alone in the afterlife, there are others with me."). Although we can only speculate, one read is that to Dr. Schwartz, who had just lost a wheelchair-bound friend, the immediate interpretation was a reference to not being able to walk without assistance (basically saying "I can't walk by myself, someone needs to assist me."). Both could be valid interpretations, and there are likely many more interpretations that could apply. And that's exactly what subjective validation is all about.

This exchange also suggests that Schwartz's statement that he is "agnostic" about the abilities of the mediums that he studies is highly suspect. He may think he's agnostic, but to us, his willing validation of Allison's statement seems to tell a vastly different story. This is the respected academic whose testimony Allison relies on for her scientific validation.

If you'd like more information, you can read Hyman's critical analysis of Schwartz's research, Schwartz's response to Hyman, and Hyman's rebuttal. Also, the Wiseman and O'Keeffe piece that Schwartz references from time to time addresses some of the good doctor's possible scientific shortfalls.

To be clear, we personally do not think that Dr. Schwartz is lying. From what we have read about him, he seems to have a large emotional investment in his research, and he seems to have absolute belief in what he says. And perhaps this is the cause of the problems that so many observers are pointing out. Perhaps he wants to believe so fervently that he becomes blinded by the very emotional attachment that drives him forward.

Regardless of Dr. Schwartz's motivations, there are serious questions about his theories, his methods, and his conclusions, although he readily promotes his work throughout the popular media. We wonder what Dean Yeager would say.

— • —

Tomorrow, we will explore Allison's widely touted claims to have assisted various law enforcement agencies in their investigations — the claim that is the basis for the show Medium.

The Two Percent Company's Allison DuBois Week:
% Monday: An Introduction to Allison DuBois
% Tuesday: Dr. Gary Schwartz's Research (this Rant)
% Wednesday: Allison's Track Record Assisting Law Enforcement
% Thursday: The Success Rate of Allison's Powers
% Friday: Allison's Answers to Skeptics

— • —

Disclaimer: Throughout our posts, we are presenting statements and opinions of various third parties. The Two Percent Company makes no claims as to the accuracy of the statements of any third parties. In addition, any statements attributed to the Two Percent Company are strictly our opinion, and are not meant to be statements of absolute fact.



Allison DuBois: Debunked! (2%Co)

— • —
[  Filed under: % Allison DuBois Week  % Bullshit  % Two Percent Toons  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/84

Comments (10)

Richard Rockley, 2005.03.15 (Tue) 22:56 [Link] »

FYI, this article in Skeptic Report has more detail on the Schwartz / Dubois / Keen readings.



The Two Percent Company, 2005.03.15 (Tue) 23:16 [Link] »

We were pretty amazed at the sheer amount of information available which clearly casts massive doubts on Schwartz's work. As we said, to include all of it would have turned this already lengthy Rant into a shelf of phone book-sized documents.

This article delves more deeply into the GS/AD/MK reading we only touched upon in the previous post, and it does so very effectively. Well worth the read! Thanks!



% Trackback » 2005.03.16 (Wed) 18:13
"Alison DuBois Week At Two Percent Company" from Unscrewing The Inscrutable

Back in January I wrote about the television show "Medium" and it's real-life inspiration, super-duper crime-fighting "research medium" Alison DuBois (UTI, Jan 8, 2005 - "I Like My Medium Well Done").Starting last Monday, UTI friends The Two Percent C... [More]


patricia lopez, 2005.04.20 (Wed) 07:25 [Link] »

Dr. Schwartz ... homeopathy.... He claims that the water — like everything else — is capable of having a memory, ... that allows homeopathy to work. Where's the proof for this?

In many places, actually. Here's a good one: http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/~bdj10/lectures/benveniste99.html

(For your own credibility you really could do with being less emotional and more obective, rather than ranting about your subjective beliefs and disbeliefs. A lot of things once thought magical are now commonplace. If you are so closed to possibilities you'll be the only one who misses out. And sheesh, you gotta be good company...)



The Two Percent Company, 2005.04.20 (Wed) 10:07 [Link] »

Wait...someone who believes that water has a memory is instructing us on how to seem more credible? Wow. Thanks for the tip, but please understand if we take it with a grain of salt.

Patricia — part of what we think is missing from the skeptical contingent is emotion. When confronted with ridiculous claims, most skeptics (including us, mostly) scoff, but do little else. If we had half of the emotional investment in reality that most "true believers" have in whatever brand of bullshit they subscribe to, perhaps reality would win out a little more often. And if that means that our credibility suffers in your eyes, then so be it.

For the record, we are completely open to new ideas. However, this is by no means a new idea. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is an old idea that people have been trying to prove for a long time, with no success. Perhaps the advice we should give you is to be less open to old and silly ideas that are a waste of time and which pose potential risks to people who blindly believe in them. And if our skepticism means that we will "miss out" on the vast "benefits" of homeopathy, well, then we'll just have to accept that terrible loss.

Getting back to your "proof" that water has a memory, we think that you have a lot to learn about what constitutes proof. In fact, that seems to be a common problem these days — just about any statement can be labelled as "scientific proof" and be believed by the majority of people even though it is not scientific and is not proof.

We've only skimmed the article you linked to, but at a glance it seems to fit nicely into the above category. Most importantly, there is no actual research outlined in the abstract, so we can't comment on the methodology employed. Really, this is just anecdotal evidence, which means very little in the real world. The article also very clearly states that the results are not repeatable — that means that no one but this one guy has ever gotten the results that he claims to have gotten. Shouldn't that tell you something? All in all, the academic in question sounds a lot like the English Gary Schwartz, which is hardly a comparison that would win us over.

This is your "good" example of proof of homeopathy?



Art Scott, 2005.06.25 (Sat) 01:16 [Link] »

I'll do my best to be brief, though by nature I'm not the most compendious. First, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack. Second, just because person A knows Richard Fineman and says Richard Fineman talks to them from the afterlife, yet when put in a laboratory, the person can't get Fineman to speak. Does that mean they don't speak to Fineman? Is it possible Fineman might be talking to someone else then? Or have a 10:00AM Bridge game with Einstein, Sagan, and Newton and can't make to speak with person A.

As for the statements that cops NEVER have been helped by psychics? Why do so many cops who can be referenced as being from law enforcement agree to go on television and give their name and unit (which check out) and agree they've used psychics as a last gasp and yes, perhaps ONE has come through of the 500 quacks they dismissed.

Isn't is just possible there is an afterlife, or reincarnation, or absolutely no afterlife? Do we have scientific proof of any of the three?

Again, lack of evidence is not evidence of lack.

Maybe they can't talk to you and maybe they just don't WANT to talk to their "medium" in the laboratory because they just don't want to? What? Have they all of sudden been forced to talk to whomever whenever now? Who wrote these rules?

About all scientific method has proven is a) human beings CAN alter the thrown of penny (Unless it's changed, last I heard a Princeton professor proved humans can vary the outcome of a computer based coin toss by 1% over 1 million throws) b) we don't have concrete evidence in a laboratory of psychic phenomena. c) We don't have proof some psychics AREN'T perhaps a little more psychic than the rest of us. Refusal to be tested in a laboratory doesn't make them wrong, NOR does it make you right.

If we believe in the multiuniverse theory of quantum physics instead of a seamless whole, there are all sorts of ways a person might be able to tell you a little bit about something but not everything about it, whereas another person can't tell anything about it. After all, there are people who can smell wine and taste wine and due to their larger number of taste buds are more sensitive to smells and tastes. Therefore it IS possible there's a part of the brain, or even a simple single strand of DNA which might allow a person to pick up small singles from EITHER the multiverse or the seamless whole.

People are NOT created equally when it comes to sensitivity. Just because YOU can't feel it, doesn't mean they can't. If that were true, a lot of these people could claim the highest levels of theoretical math DO NOT EXIST because they see no proof of it, even though you've written it on the board. Does that mean it doesn't exist? Not at all. It just means you're more adept to it than they are AND, were you to be asked a very complex question and not given any pencil or paper to write everything down (after all, you take the psychic out of THEIR element and they can't prove they're right. If they take you out of your element they could claim higher levels of math don't exist because you're not in an element where you CAN prove it exists)

So what do we know for certain? Is there an afterlife? We don't know!! Can psychics talk to souls which have left a body, perhaps on the way to another life? We don't know? Have you lived before? We don't know!

Lack of evidence is NOT evidence of lack. For heaven's sake, that's PART of the scientific method. I would expect more of an intelligent skeptic. Their answers should be "WE DO NOT KNOW AND HAVE NO EVIDENCE EITHER WAY, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT'S NOT REAL, NOR DOES IT MEAN IT IS REAL. PERIOD, FULL STOP!"

Remember skeptics, in a 1980s Skeptical Enquirer, there was an entire article "PROVING" lucid dreaming was impossible.

In the 1990s (late 80s?) They corrected themselves because it was proven lucid dreaming is not only real, but can be taught, even to the point where women can climax on command. One would have thought that would have shut up all of the skeptics, but it didn't obviously. I do know my brother and I now BOTH answer, when it comes to the question of "are aliens visiting the earth? "I DO NOT KNOW!"

ART SCOTT, M.S. (working on the Ph.D but it has nothing to do with psychics, but with another group of maligned people... Investigative Psychologists)



The Two Percent Company, 2005.06.26 (Sun) 14:26 [Link] »

Art,

What the holy hell about what we wrote led you to believe that we think that "lack of evidence means evidence of lack"?! We do not think that. We have never thought that. Yet you said that three times. Thanks, we agree. Frankly, we expect more from our readers than simply shouting things out in an attempt to correct a position that we do not hold. If you don't know what we think, then ask us, and we'll tell you. Don't assume. And if you are going to assume and make an ass out of yourself, then at least get that clever turn of phrase correct: absence of evidence does not comprise evidence of absence.

Now we're going to use our imaginations and play along with you — let's lay this out for you as if you had asked.

First of all, just about anything is possible. It is possible that there is a god, it is possible that there is an afterlife, and it is possible that some people can communicate with those in the afterlife. It is also possible that small gnomes live in our asses — hey, absence of evidence doesn't mean evidence of absence. From our perspective, all of these things are about equally likely. In addition, they are all supported by equal amounts of proof — i.e., none. For our part, we choose to believe in none of them, since we require proof in order to believe in something. Which of these do you choose to believe in? If not all of them, why do you draw the line where you do? Please elaborate.

In addition, it isn't even possible to disprove the existence of paranormal phenomena. For an explanation of why that is, please read a previous Rant, "Only God Can Prove a Negative, and There Is No God."

So, when you ask:

Second, just because person A knows Richard Fineman and says Richard Fineman talks to them from the afterlife, yet when put in a laboratory, the person can't get Fineman to speak. Does that mean they don't speak to Fineman? Is it possible Fineman might be talking to someone else then? Or have a 10:00AM Bridge game with Einstein, Sagan, and Newton and can't make to speak with person A.

Sure it's possible, just not very likely, and without any proof we choose not to believe it. Now, let's expand this to the real world. Instead of talking about one psychic who isn't able to contact one Mr. Fineman (obviously you weren't referring to the famous scientist, Richard Feynman) in one lab setting, let's talk about every psychic who's ever been measured in a proper scientific test and who failed to demonstrate that they have any paranormal abilities at all. We're not talking about an isolated incident, we're talking about the entire history of psychic testing here. This is why we believe that paranormal abilities are so unlikely that they are not worth believing in. If you believe in these abilities, elaborate: why?

One of our readers, Myrddin, said it best in a comment to Part I of this series:

Way back in caveman days we looked up in fear at the sound of thunder and had to fight for our food. We also knew people who claimed to have seen ghosts or have psychic powers. We've come so far since those days — we've harnessed electricity, and have made so many labour saving inventions. But how come ghosts and psychics are still regarded as amusing tales ? You'd have thought that by now we'd have everyday tools that used ghosts and psychics. Perhaps a cheap telephone system powered by ghosts, or psychic technicians using telekenesis to assemble complex computers?

One of the main characteristics of mankind is that it has a huge drive to investigate and innovate. Mankind leaves no stone unturned in its drive to get further, faster, easier ...
Why would there be such a blindspot, if the paranormal really worked?

Why indeed?

You go on to ask:

As for the statements that cops NEVER have been helped by psychics? Why do so many cops who can be referenced as being from law enforcement agree to go on television and give their name and unit (which check out) and agree they've used psychics as a last gasp and yes, perhaps ONE has come through of the 500 quacks they dismissed.

We've answered this on several occasions already. Please take a look at our comments to Part I, specifically our reply to shane patrick which reads, in part:

One factor involves what defines "helping" the police. A routine tactic for psychics is to contact the police proactively and offer a "tip" on a case. In the Chandra Levy case, there were hundreds of such psychic tips received. Could the psychics who phoned in now claim, rather generally, to have "assisted the police in an active investigation"? Probably so, even if the tip had no value whatsoever. And if, on their 50th attempt, a given psychic's nebulous tip that the body would be "found near water" turned out to be true, could the psychic claim to have been correct in their prediction? Sadly, yes. In cases like these, the psychic isn't really making a fraudulent statement, they are just massaging the truth to suit their needs. Is this the case with Allison's claims? We don't know, but it's possible.

Read the rest as well as it fully explains our position on this question.

Meanwhile, back in your diatribe:

Maybe they can't talk to you and maybe they just don't WANT to talk to their "medium" in the laboratory because they just don't want to? What? Have they all of sudden been forced to talk to whomever whenever now? Who wrote these rules?

Sure, that's all possible, just pretty unlikely. Hence, per above, we choose not to believe it. The far more likely explanation is that these abilities just don't exist. In addition, though, if these "abilities" functioned like this and sometimes failed and sometimes gave incorrect answers, and sometimes gave vague answers, then what differentiates it from outright guessing? Not much in our book.

About all scientific method has proven is a) human beings CAN alter the thrown of penny (Unless it's changed, last I heard a Princeton professor proved humans can vary the outcome of a computer based coin toss by 1% over 1 million throws)

We did a little digging on this, but we weren't able to come up with many details. What we did come up with was hardly convincing. We found two articles, one in Wired and one reprinted from Knight Ridder, that referred to these studies. Neither cited many details. The Knight Ridder one did contain the following statement:

"I think I represent 95 percent of the physicists that I know in not believing that this kind of work is sound or worth doing," said Philip Anderson, professor emeritus of physics at Princeton and a critic of the PEAR lab. "I don't think (the lab) has reproduced any effects that have convinced any unbiased observers."

Does this mean that the tests were bogus? No. But it does mean that your statement that the scientific method has "proven" that the mind can affect the outcome of a tossed coin is bogus. Unless we've missed something since 1995, these studies have not been replicated and have not been accepted as sound scientific proof. One test does not proof make. Please direct us to further sources if you have any.

b) we don't have concrete evidence in a laboratory of psychic phenomena.

We agree with you there!

c) We don't have proof some psychics AREN'T perhaps a little more psychic than the rest of us. Refusal to be tested in a laboratory doesn't make them wrong, NOR does it make you right.

What does this mean? That's perhaps the most vacuous statement we've heard in, oh, about 18 hours. You're talking about proof that they aren't "perhaps a little more psychic than the rest of us"? We have a better set of tests in mind. How about they make a claim, and we test it under proper scientific controls? Oh wait, that's been done over and over and over, and the results have always been the same — no evidence of any "powers."

After all, there are people who can smell wine and taste wine and due to their larger number of taste buds are more sensitive to smells and tastes. Therefore it IS possible there's a part of the brain, or even a simple single strand of DNA which might allow a person to pick up small singles from EITHER the multiverse or the seamless whole.

Yes, there are people for whom the actual senses that humans possess (in reality) are sharper than average, and those for whom those known senses are weaker than average. This is largely a function of exercising those senses starting at (and even before) birth and creating strong, persistent neural pathways associated with not only a particular sense, but also particular types of sensory stimulation of that sense. It is a known and understood process how this occurs. That said, it has nothing to do with "extra" senses that no one has shown to exist. So if you are trying to draw a parallel, it has failed. Miserably.

So what do we know for certain? Is there an afterlife? We don't know!! Can psychics talk to souls which have left a body, perhaps on the way to another life? We don't know? Have you lived before? We don't know!

Lack of evidence is NOT evidence of lack. For heaven's sake, that's PART of the scientific method. I would expect more of an intelligent skeptic. Their answers should be "WE DO NOT KNOW AND HAVE NO EVIDENCE EITHER WAY, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT'S NOT REAL, NOR DOES IT MEAN IT IS REAL. PERIOD, FULL STOP!"

Go read our post called "An Ongoing Conversation About Beliefs" before you assume that you know what we believe. Be sure to read the comments as well as they all address your assumption that we "know" that there is no afterlife (et cetera). In brief, we don't profess to "know" this, we only say that it is incredibly unlikely.

Frankly, we expect more of an intelligent person than making assumptions like this, especially when the research involved only requires you to go to other related posts on our site. Sheesh.

And by the logic of your statement of how a "real" skeptic should act, are you trying to imply that because we have no disproof of paranormal events that we should just be neutral regarding our beliefs on all of them? Sweet Jesus, you beat your old record — now that's the silliest thing we've read in at least 36 hours! If we were to follow that axiom, we would have to believe in any silly statement made by anyone. Is that how you behave? For our part, we have no intention of doing so, and we think anyone who does is severely misguided.

Remember skeptics, in a 1980s Skeptical Enquirer, there was an entire article "PROVING" lucid dreaming was impossible.

In the 1990s (late 80s?) They corrected themselves because it was proven lucid dreaming is not only real, but can be taught, even to the point where women can climax on command. One would have thought that would have shut up all of the skeptics, but it didn't obviously.

We hate to break this to you, but we aren't affiliated with the Skeptical Enquirer, nor were we involved in the article you mentioned. We haven't read the article, but if they said that they proved that lucid dreaming is not possible, then they were clearly wrong. However, we haven't said anything like this about any phenomenon. Please don't lump us in with "other skeptics" as we cannot speak for them, and they do not speak for us. In general, we support other skeptics, but we certainly won't be chastised for their errors.

As far as thinking that such an event should have "shut up all of the skeptics," why should it? Your logic has no logic here. Just because one group of skeptics was once wrong about one thing it doesn't follow that all skeptics should stop being skeptical and just admit defeat on all fronts. A saying about babies and bathwater comes to mind here, Art.

Now, we hadn't heard about this whole "women can climax on command" part of lucid dreaming research. Can you provide a reference? We'd really like to read up on that.

I do know my brother and I now BOTH answer, when it comes to the question of "are aliens visiting the earth? "I DO NOT KNOW!"

Hey, that's actually a pretty decent skeptical answer! However, to be a little more detailed, why not do the research, check the references, examine the evidence, and — assuming any native intelligence on your part — come to the exact same conclusion we do: "I don't know, but it isn't very likely."

In general, you should avoid assumptions about other people's beliefs. If you actually want to understand our beliefs, then check out the posts and comments we referenced. Or just ask us about them and we'll be happy to respond.



Grendel, 2005.07.08 (Fri) 23:31 [Link] »

RE: A thing being "possible".......

It is "possible" for every dog on planet Earth to bark at the exact same time. Nothing in physics prevents this. That a thing is "possible" is a meaningless attribution that furthers investigation not a whit.

Science establishes no absolutes, rather, it assigns assertions on a scale that runs between 'extremely improbable' to 'extremely probable'. Based ON THE EVIDENCE, evolution is near the extremely probable end of the scale, while homeopathy is at the the extremely improbable end of the scale.

Anything is 'possible'... so what? That informs us not at all. The question to ask is "is it probable?"

~*~

RE: Skeptics or Scientists being "wrong"....

Who is this guy to insist on infallibility among any human? Damn, he had The Answer, the very tail of enlightenment firmly in his grasp but, alas, he let it slip away.

The one thing that raises scientific method so far above the intuitive, subjective approach of so much of parapsychology is the understanding that the scientific researcher's worst enemy is his or her self; science acknowledges the human propensity for making errors. Accordingly, science has structured it's methodolgy to account for inevitable error by striving always to control for it, by sharing data and protocols, and by subjecting all of its works to the unforgiving scrutiny of peers via peer review.

Conversely, the most of parapsychology designedly circumvents scientific methodology, fails to properly control for variables, hordes its data like Silas Marner hordes pennies, and allows review only by like-believing peers certain to endorse findings. Ask Gary Schwartz for files on his experiemntal protocols sometime -you'll get what I got, flat-out refusal and an abusive diatribe against anyone who would doubt the findings of His Excellency. My error? I asked by email from an email addy that had the word "skeptic" in it.

Science has built-in mechanisms for correction of error. The process isn't always pretty nor always quick, but that is the fault of the very factor that tells science that corrective mechanisms are required -human nature. What constitutes scientific fact is extremely important because new theories are built upon established knowledge. It is imperative we be as certain as possible as to what we label 'fact'. It is necessary that both the establishment of knowledge and correction of error be slow and tedious -to ensure exactitude and reliability. There is a reason science is called a 'discipline' as opposed to an art.

Parapsychology has established, in modern times, a 150 year record of ineptitude and failure. Only one thing-has emerged from parapsychology to the usual trajectory into further research and eventual practical application -and that was a total accident. Some psychiatrist whose name I now forget invented a machine to (hopefully) measure whatever it is in the brain he believed caused 'psi' effects. We now know this machine as the EEG, used in medical practice to measure brain waves. Nothing in the way of new knowledge has emerged from parapsychology in the 150 years of its modern-era history. It is a field devoid of progress that persists in repeating the same mistakes over and over and over. It flat refuses to acknowledge the only ghost in its machine -the subjective, believing parapsychologist himself.

(To be sure, there are parapsychologists who practice proper scientific methodology. They find nothing. Reference Susan Blackmore's career history as a parapsychologistas a very good example).



Peter Holt, 2005.07.09 (Sat) 07:53 [Link] »

Since it appears that the coin tossing data was a product of the PEAR lab at Princeton, this from James Randi seems relevent:

http://www.randi.org/jr/052005la.html#7

They don't exactly seem like a reliable source.



Tom from the Two Percent Company, 2005.07.10 (Sun) 13:33 [Link] »

Peter — thanks for the link. We should have checked the JREF site for these PEAR people. Randi shows them to be the typical "we won't share our methods" and "we're too busy to try for $1M" crackpots.

Scientists, indeed.



% Trackback » 2005.07.11 (Mon) 16:26
"Wher do You Draw the Line?" from Rockstar's Ramblings

This is my question to all the true believers out there: Where do you draw the line? Why do you believe in some silly things and not others? To quote the Two Percent Company: [More]


The Two Percent Company, 2005.08.21 (Sun) 21:53 [Link] »

Looking over the past few weeks, we've come to the conclusion that the commentary on the Allison DuBois posts have bottomed out. Accordingly, we are closing all five posts to further comments. If you feel that you absolutely must make a comment in support of the luminously illuminated Allison DuBois, may we suggest that instead of posting it here, you simply shout it over the edge of a cliff of some kind so you can hear your own annoying echo validating your moronic statement. In fact, go ahead and throw yourself over the edge when you're done and do the world a favor. 'Kay?



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