Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Are Different Standards Warranted to Evaluate Psi?/ Sind Unterschiedliche Massstaebe Zur Beurtei Lung Von Psi Gerechtfertigt?/ ?Esta Justificado Usar Normas Distintas Para Evaluar a Los Fenomenos Psi?/ Est-Ce Que L'evaluation Du Psi Necessite Des Standards Differents?

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Are Different Standards Warranted to Evaluate Psi?/ Sind Unterschiedliche Massstaebe Zur Beurtei Lung Von Psi Gerechtfertigt?/ ?Esta Justificado Usar Normas Distintas Para Evaluar a Los Fenomenos Psi?/ Est-Ce Que L'evaluation Du Psi Necessite Des Standards Differents?

Article excerpt

Psi remains highly controversial. This umbrella term, which includes telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and mind-matter interaction remains a taboo subject in most quarters of academia. Nevertheless, a growing body of empirical literature, including meta-analyses in some cases, appears to support some modes of psi (Radin, 1997, 2006; Utts, 1996). These anomalous findings could be important in shedding light on the mystery of consciousness, as well as other aspects of reality. However, these results have not yet triggered substantially new inquiry or acceptance from more mainstream researchers in psychology or stirred much interest in the popular press.

Psi has been greeted with considerable skepticism, if not ridicule, throughout its history. However, evidence has continued to accumulate, perhaps shifting the debate to some (small) degree. Some skeptics have acknowledged that at least by the standards used to assess more conventional claims, evidence supports some modes of psi. But in general, psi skeptics maintain that the unconventional nature of psi requires different measures for assessment. For example, Wiseman, a well-known skeptic, has recently stated in an interview, "I agree that by the standards of any other area of science that remote viewing is proven, but begs the question: do we need higher standards of evidence when we study the paranormal? I think so" (Penman, 2008).

Perhaps relatively few see anything controversial about assessing psi evidence differently from more conventional claims. The maxim "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and Randi's million dollar challenge may have encouraged many to think that standard methods of statistical testing are insufficient to assess unconventional behavior such as psi. On the other hand, arguments that disparage using standard methods in the light of surprising or counter intuitive data could be viewed as attempts to "move the goal posts" in ways that compromise the integrity of scientific investigation.

This debate raises interesting questions and problems for areas of research that are unconventional, surprising, or counter to our preconceived assumptions. Under what circumstances should we assess results differently? Given unusual or unconventional data, how should standards for assessing the evidence change? Also, in a world where scientists posit multiple parallel universes or sentient computers (with little or no evidence), what exactly do we mean by "extraordinary claims"? And what sort of "extraordinary evidence" should be required?

The focus of this paper is on whether additional standards for evaluating laboratory generated psi phenomena are warranted. I'll begin with a brief survey of psi research, with a primary focus on telepathy. This literature includes meta-analyses across several different research methods: forced-choice card guessing, dream telepathy, and the ganzfeld method. I focus on telepathy in order to analyze the strongest data in the least space. However, I should note that many have argued that parapsychological experiments cannot separate modes of psi such as telepathy and clairvoyance. Thus, my use of the word "telepathy" reflects the term best associated with the research method I discuss rather than a strict interpretation that precludes the possibility of clairvoyance or precognition. In this discussion, I will also focus on the arguments against accepting this data, paying close attention to how current arguments offered by psi skeptics have a tendency to require that we apply a different standard than we do for more conventional research cases.

I next consider the various arguments that appear to discourage wider acceptance of psi. The common thread behind most of these arguments is that telepathy (as well as other types of psi) conflicts with the consensus set of facts obtained by scientific means. Therefore, the reasoning usually goes, different standards should apply. …

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