Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

An Assessment of the Evidence for Psychic Functioning

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

An Assessment of the Evidence for Psychic Functioning

Article excerpt

[In this issue of the Journal, we are pleased to publish evaluations of government-sponsored research of psychic functioning, predominantly remote viewing, conducted at SRI International and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) during the past three decades. These evaluations were commissioned by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) at the request of Congress and the Central Intelligence Agency. The purpose was to assess the validity of psychic functioning and its potential applications as a means of determining whether the research should receive continued government funding. The AIR, in turn, formed a panel consisting primarily of Dr. Jessica Utts (a leading proponent of psi research) and Dr. Ray Hyman (a leading critic of parapsychology) to undertake the evaluations. It is their reports, along with a brief reply by Utts to Hyman, that we publish here. The reader should bear in mind that these evaluations were not intended as comprehensive reviews of psi research, and the authors were limited by the instructions they received from AIR. We publish the evaluations as submitted to AIR, with minimal editing. Interested readers are encouraged to submit comments on these papers for possible publication in our Letters to the Editor section.

I am also pleased to announce that in our next issue we will be publishing an article by Dr. Edwin May giving his personal perspective on events leading up to and surrounding the AIR evaluations. Although Dr. May was the research director at SRI and SAIC when much of the research critiqued by Utts and Hyman was conducted, he was not afforded the opportunity by AIR to submit an official response to their evaluations. I believe that our readers will find his remarks both enlightening and provocative. Once again, reader comments will be welcome. - Editor's Note]


The purpose of this report is to examine a body of evidence collected over the past few decades in an attempt to determine whether psychic functioning is possible. Secondary questions include whether such functioning can be used productively for government purposes and whether the research to date provides any explanation for how it works.

There is no reason to treat this area differently from any other area of science that relies on statistical methods. Any discussion based on belief should be limited to questions that are not data driven, such as whether there are any methodological problems that could substantially alter the results. Too often people on both sides of the question debate the existence of psychic functioning on the basis of their personal belief systems rather than on an examination of the scientific data.

One objective of this report is to provide a brief overview of recent data as well as the scientific tools necessary for careful readers to reach their own conclusions based on those data. The tools consist of a rudimentary summary of how statistical evidence is typically evaluated and a listing of methodological concerns particular to experiments of this type.

Government-sponsored research in psychic functioning dates back to the early 1970s, when a program was initiated at what was then the Stanford Research Institute (now called SRI International). That program existed until 1989. The following year, government sponsorship moved to a program at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) under the direction of Dr. Edwin May, who had been employed in the SRI program since the mid-1970s and had been Project Director from 1986 until the close of the program.

This report will focus most closely on the most recent work, that done at SAIC. Section 2 describes the basic statistical and methodological issues required to understand this work. Section 3 discusses the program at SRI. Section 4 covers the SAIC work (with some of the details in Appendix B). Section 5 deals with the issue of external validation by exploring related results from other laboratories. …

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