Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research

Article excerpt

GUIDELINES FOR EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION RESEARCH by Julie Milton and Richard Wiseman. Hertfordshire: University of Hertfordshire Press, 1997. Pp. x + 94. [POUNDS]12.45 (paper). ISBN 0-900458-74-7.

Milton and Wiseman's Guidelines for Extrasensory Perception Research is a useful little volume that is sure to find its place among the design tools of veteran and student parapsychologists alike. The pamphlet has twelve chapters of basic topics ranging from basic ESP experimental designs to randomization and randomness testing, from issues that arise from the type of participants involved in studies to the necessity for sensory shielding, and from specific problems in free-response judging to data handling and reporting. The chapters are followed by a conclusion, a short list of references, and a methodological checklist (pp. 75-93), the latter being the most useful feature of the pamphlet. Unfortunately, Guidelines does not contain an index.

Milton and Wiseman effectively interweave the results of a survey Milton conducted with the first authors of experimental papers published in the literature in recent years with recommendations drawn from various other methodological commentaries. In addition, Guidelines draws on the first author's experience with meta-analysis in parapsychology, and on the second author's skeptical orientation to the field and its findings. There are many things in this pamphlet that are praiseworthy. However, one could have hoped for more.

Even though the authors claim in the conclusion that "The length of this manuscript reflects the sheer volume of critical commentary that has been published over the years" (p. 62), the length of the manuscript, in fact, belies the complexity and profundity of the topic. Guidelines is hardly long at all, although it does provide an excellent outline for a full-length treatment of ESP methodology. The pamphlet contains a number of very good recommendations that coalesce into a set of rules for experimenters to follow, but it suffers greatly from its brevity. The writing is telegraphic. Each topic is dealt with in short sentences that provide no development for any reader who is unfamiliar with the literature of parapsychology. The list of points to be considered when one designs ESP experiments is nearly complete, but there is little or no depth, and few, if any, illustrations of the points the authors make.

From a pedagogical standpoint, the choice to forego illustrative examples is most unfortunate. Those who write methodological texts commonly adopt the twin strategies of: illustrating their arguments with descriptions of specific studies and research techniques, including criticisms and responses. Single studies, or a group of studies, are sometimes used throughout to form a frame of reference for a wide variety of points. In such texts, methodological recommendations come alive for those readers who do not have the background to fill in the details for themselves.

Sometimes the sketchiness of the writing style used in Guidelines can make knowledgeable readers feel as if they were being subjected to misdirection. For example, this is what the authors have to say about the Pearce-Pratt experiments:

A key procedure for target security during the trial itself is the supervision of the receiver by an experimenter and it appears these days to be a given. This may be, at least in part, due to the heavy criticism that J. G. Pratt attracted when he carried out a telepathy experiment with special claimant Hubert Pearce.. . Pearce was left unsupervised in a room in a different building from Pratt, who acted as the sender, and Hansel ... suggested that Pearce might have left his room and seen the targets either through the transom above the door into Pratt's room or through a trapdoor in the ceiling. Rhine and Pratt... and, later, Stevenson... attempted to rebut this criticism but not to Hansel's ... satisfaction; the potential freedom of action given to Pearce made it difficult to be certain he could not have cheated. …

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