Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Beyond the Coin Toss: Examining Wiseman's Criticisms of Parapsychology/ Jenseits Des Munzenwurfs: Eine Nachprufung Von Wisemans Kritik an der Parapsychologie/ Mas Alla De Lanzar Una Moneda : Un Examen De la Critica a la Parapsicologia De Wiseman/ Au-Dela Du Pile Ou Face : Examen Des Critiques De la Parapsychologie Par Wiseman

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Beyond the Coin Toss: Examining Wiseman's Criticisms of Parapsychology/ Jenseits Des Munzenwurfs: Eine Nachprufung Von Wisemans Kritik an der Parapsychologie/ Mas Alla De Lanzar Una Moneda : Un Examen De la Critica a la Parapsicologia De Wiseman/ Au-Dela Du Pile Ou Face : Examen Des Critiques De la Parapsychologie Par Wiseman

Article excerpt

Written in the spirit of the contributions made to Krippner and Friedman's (2010) book, Debating Psychic Experience, we aim in this essay to contribute to the ongoing conversation on psi and science. Many reviews and meta-analyses have been published which examine the data, including very recent ones--our aim is to examine the criticism. For this purpose, we selected a well-known general critique of the field by Wiseman (2010a).

The arguments of that critique have not been extensively rebutted before. Carter (2010a), in "Heads I Lose, Tails You Win: How Richard Wiseman Nullifies Null Results and What To Do About It," replied to Wiseman, but his rejoinder concentrated most heavily on Wiseman's own conduct as an experimenter and not so much on his arguments. We address the latter to the best of our ability, and we keep our analysis manageable by placing special emphasis on the ganzfeld experiments, the "flagship" of parapsychology (Parker, 2000).

In the interest of full disclosure, our position is that these experiments and others have produced robust evidence for a communications anomaly of the type outlined by Bern and Honorton (1994)--though we reserve opinion on whether this is, ipso facto, psi--to such a degree that they necessitate analysis and replication from the mainstream. This is due both to careful precautions of investigators over the years as well as to surprising consistencies in the data, which we explore. Our paper ends with a point of agreement between us and Wiseman, illustrating the possibilities for future research.

If our comments and suggestions aid the development of parapsychology as a field, or conversely, the improvement of skeptical analysis, we will consider our job well done.

The Perception of Null Results

The major premise of Wiseman's critique is that parapsychologists tend to accept positive results as evidence for psi but dismiss null results with post hoc explanations. In this regard, Wiseman writes:

Parapsychologists frequently create and test new experimental procedures in an attempt to produce laboratory evidence for psi. Most of these studies do not yield significant results. However, rather than being seen as evidence against the existence of psychic ability, such null findings are usually attributed to the experiment being carried out under conditions that are not psi-conducive. (Wiseman, 2010a, p. 37)

Crucial to the strength of Wiseman's critique is the question of how much weight null results should reasonably carry in the assessment of the evidence for psi--and what kind of null results are at issue. But before we address this, we note that although it is true that most studies in parapsychology databases do not display significant results, it is also true that the number that do is significantly above the null hypothesis expectation. Consider, for example, the post-PRL database, which consists of the studies in the Milton and Wiseman (1999) and Storm, Tressoldi, and Di Risio (2010) meta-analyses, covering the period 1988-2008. These 60 studies were conducted following a seminal report from Honorton's Psychophysical Research Laboratories (PRL; Bern & Honorton, 1994), after the strict methodological guidelines proposed by Hyman and Honorton (1986). Only 15 of these post-PRL studies (25%) were significant at p [less than or equal to] .05, whereas under the null, only 5% should have met this threshold, and the probability of getting 15 or more significant studies by chance alone is less than 1 in 5,200,000. Thus, average investigators have a probability of producing significant results that is five times what they would have if nothing significant was occurring in these experiments. We consider that important. Indeed, it is on this sort of observation that the ganzfeld, and similar domains of research, rest their claim to repeatability.

But is it sufficient? We note that there are several valid metrics by which to gauge reproducibility, and it is beyond the scope of this paper to present them all (see Cumming, 2012; Utts, 1991). …

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