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Psycasm

Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

[Wherein our Hero defends his skeptical stance regarding Psi, despite those with bigger brains than his own working on finding positive evidence. But is it even a legitimate domain of investigation?]

What the flip is all the fuss? See here (post) and (comment)

 

This particular post way an eye-opener. I’m not going to say a mind-opener, with all its implications, but it definitely made me more aware that important people are working on this topic.

First, I am humbled by some of the authors involved and by some of the organizations and journals endorsing such work.

Second, I stand by my initial mocking tone of the work I cited – and the field more generally.

Third, I believe the question itself is still (currently) without as much merit as Disgruntledphd might suggest.

I’m going to work my way backwards, from point three to one.

The Society of Psychical Research was indeed founded by some great Victorian minds – a most interesting point was that William James (the late, great) was involved in their American operations. I assume, too, that disgruntledphd is accurate in saying they pioneered certain statistical methodologies in order to investigate the question at hand (though I haven’t verified this fact). But the point is moot. A reputable and auspicious origin does not necessitate the same continued status. Indeed, the nature of the question has changed significantly – or at least the zeitgeist has.

At the time Freud, Jung, and Mesmer (among others) were proposing amazingly provocative ideas about the mind and cognition, about the conscious and sub-conscious; and the scientific atmosphere was still coalescing into something tangible. Science, entertainment, illusion, invocations of the supernatural, and (yes) fraud, were sometimes tangled into each other. We were yet to draw the lines in the sand.  This question once had merit.

In much the same way we hear educated, reputable scientists suggesting that the possibility of life on Glise581g is a near certainty (mere weeks after announcement of its discovery):

“I’m not a biologist, nor do I want to play one on TV. Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that, my own personal feeling is that the chances of life on this planet are 100%. I have almost no doubt about it.

-          Lisa-Joy Zgorski, at the NSF [Video here]

Let me first point out the beautiful and articulate disclaimer. That is how a scientist speaks. Unfortunately, her last statement was too bold. We know so little about such things that to propose such an opinion is folly. However, it’s probably one of the most interesting, provocative, controversial and engaging questions of our time. We are just beginning to develop the capacity to find life that’s not looking for us.

Do you think this question, legitimately researched today, will be as legitimate in 150 years? Do you think the pressing weight of the next century and a half of accumulating evidence will bear on it? Answer it? Refute it? Influence it in any qualitative or quantitative way?  We don’t know how it’s going to turn out, but we do know it won’t be the same question.

And so it is with Psi phenomena. Where once the question had merit, today, under the weight of 150 years of empirical research, advanced statistical and methodological practices, and the underwhelming nature of positive evidence, we must ask ourselves “How much legitimacy does this question have?”.

Yes, one can cite interesting findings, endorsed by reputable researchers, organizations and journals; but at what cost do we accept them – without overturning everything we know? The knowledge we generate, empiricize and validate is there to be crushed, overturned and revised. That is scientific progress. But only with great rigor, consideration and consensus. Psi, as it stands, does meet these standards.

This brings me to my second point – my tone and the reputation of the field. This was the accusation:

God, you are an ignorant no nothing scientician. I use the term scientician as you don’t appear to be assessing the evidence, rather reacting based on your own beliefs and when they are contradicted, ignoring this evidence.

My tone was derogatory, and so I do not take exception to the tone in which this was delivered. I do, however, take exception to the content of the statement.

I don’t appear to be assessing the evidence. Well, I do, every time I post – in the 90-or-so minutes I give to my blog (three times a week). You know what the most up-to-the-minute evidence says about Psi? Nothing. You get journals with no credibility, shonky practices, and unaffiliated organizations publishing study after study supporting Psi. The font of Psi knowledge, the well from which it springs, has been truly poisoned. Those that associate with the faith-healers, the mind-readers, the ghost-hunters, and the internet frauds ought rightly to expect mockery. To stand on the fringe, in such company, and bemoan such treatment is naïve. The context of any legitimate Psi research must contend with the woo, the charlatans, and the frauds. That’s a big ask. The best evidence, the most freely available evidence, is not in its favour. Additionally, the next most available and contemporary evidence does not support its existence. My assessment of the evidence led me to conclude that Psi is neither real, nor being validly examined.

Consider, for instance, cold fusion  (which must be the bain of those in Physics) once endorsed with reputation and was (at one time) a genuine question worthy of investigation; Consider the infamous ‘water memory’ study published in Nature by Benveniste, seized by homeopaths. Consider Wakefield and the anti-vax movement. Hell, consider Alchemy and Newton. These were once all genuine questions worthy of scientific investigation – yet they have all fallen into disrepute and have been seized by the willfully ignorant. So too has Psi. You legitimately research water memory today you ought to expect the same treatment as suggesting you can turn lead into gold.

Thus, my reactions, based on my beliefs, are in line with the evidence. I am virtuously standing on the side of science, while there are those (perhaps those with greater virtue) who are investigating further. To accuse me of bad science when I am, in fact, standing with science – is baseless, biased, and ignorant.

And so finally we come to the nature of the work. As previously stated I am rightly humbled to have so openly challenged such an established mind on their methodology and analysis.

The treatment given to this paper by Pascal (commenter) found at http://blog.pascallisch.net/?p=180 is excellent, and better than I could hope to do (and is highly recommended; Pascal makes a concise assessment and some insightful predictions) In fact, call it for what it is, but Pascal beat me to the punch on so many analogies I planned to employ – Plate tectonics, Paul the Octopus, the ‘filedrawer effect’ hell, I was actually going to describe Bem as a ‘’Heavy Hitter’ too (a term I use liberally for well established and impressive Psychologists). Did my intentions influence Pascal to write those words? Those analogies? Did Pascal implant them in my mind? No. It’s more likely Pascal listens to the Astronomy Cast [a podcast were I learnt about plate tectonics], is engaged with boxing on some level (or maybe Baseball?) [heavy hitter reference], and watched the World Cup [Paul the Octopus].

See? Testable hypothesis… Pascal can now say ‘Yes, you are right’, or ‘No, you are incorrect’ and we work out the origins of these coincidences. Alternatively we can invoke ‘anomalous retroactive influences’ (without citation in the paper, I should add). In the event Pascal says ‘No, you are incorrect’ we can aim to establish how such things occur. Bem does not attempt to limit this – are coincidences between Pascal and Myself of the same nature as those of Bem’s findings? Are the same mechanisms at work? Bem hypothetically suggests, and rejects, Electromagnetic Signal Transmission (previously proven non-existent); Bem, again, hypothetically suggests explanations from Physics – Quantum Mechanics. But again, rejects this idea.

Bem has found statistically significant findings. Rigor and methodology work to minimize such freakish statistical outcomes, and yet I fall short of crying ‘False Positive!’ – Particularly with 9 studies. Science is not one man’s endevour; where one fails in their capacity to validate, critique or understand (myself, in this case) the slack is picked up by those can. As a friend suggested ‘we should not be a priori skeptics regarding such findings’ (as I so hastily was), yet the weight of the evidence, and the company in which such literature stands, justifies my initial position. Under three conditions do I accept these findings for what they:

1)   If they are reliably replicated, independently and repeatedly under a number of circumstances;

2)   A (plausible) mechanism is established.

3)   A series of falsifiable predictions are made.

This final point is most crucial. Science makes predictions. Bem has not. Bem, however, has simply made a plea that others accept his reality (be it true or false).

Near the end of her encounter with the White Queen, Alice protests that “one can’t believe impossible things,” a sentiment with which the 34% of academic psychologists who believe psi to be impossible would surely agree. The White Queen famously retorted, “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast” (Carroll, 2006, p. 166)

Unlike the White Queen, I do not advocate believing impossible things. But perhaps this article will prompt the other 66% of academic psychologists to raise their posterior probabilities of believing at least one anomalous thing before breakfast.

Bem’s no advocate of believing impossible things, but instead suggests one believe in anomalous things. Clever wordplay, but even anomalies are to be expected and explained.

And yet, most certainly, one will ask – But what caused it? What did Bem find?

I don’t know. You don’t know. Bem doesn’t know. It is scientific to not know things. You (the generalized other) have an hypothesis (Psi), I have an hypothesis (coincidence, type I error, or some methodological invalidity), Bem has an Hypothesis (temporally and spatially displaced mental influences over matter; or temporally and spatially displaced influences of inert matter over mind) [note: no suggestion of anomalies here…]

But as it is scientific to not know, it is also scientific to investigate (especially so). You can investigate my hypothesis via replication (the prediction being no more positive hits); you can investigate Bem’s hypothesis via a mechanism and a prediction; we can investigate Psi (more generally) by investigating the above. Importantly, my hypothesis is a theory driven prediction – Type I error occurs and is a known problem (in fact, that’s pretty much the chief concern of ALL psychological methodology and analysis); Coincidence and statistical freakishness occur and can be refuted by replication; and more rigorous scrutiny and application can aim to reduce error variance. Bem, on the other hand, is chasing phantoms – his work is not theory driven, there is no mechanism, there is no plausible explanation. His null hypothesis is: The world is as we observe; his alternative hypothesis is: We have magic powers. Type I error, coincidence, statistical freakishness all have actual established mechanisms and are predictable; Retroactive Time Effects? No such luck.

Until such time as the rigors of research win out, and scientific consensus over time prevails, I remain standing with the literature and with parsimony – I remain convinced that Psi is neither a genuine explanation, nor a genuine question and has bears little influence regarding our contemporary understandings of the universe, the nature of time, and the capacity of human minds.

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Blog Comments
Pascal Wallisch

Guest Comment

Well put. To answer your questions:


a) No Astronomy cast.


b) No boxing or baseball.


c) Yes, somewhat. On a psychological level, I was particularly interested in the Paul phenomenon and its implications. It seemed to be able to elicit deep emotions.


 


Of course, while these specifics don't hold, we are correlated more generally. Similar cultural experience (I bet), same general profession. Same species. Roughly the same time. I do not think that independence can be assumed. There are many correlated inputs to our brains.


On a deeper level, I agree with most of what you said.


Regarding your specific points at the end:


>>1)   If they are reliably replicated, independently and repeatedly under a number of circumstances;


That is precisely what I am calling for. Usually, science gives little credit to replication (despite the textbook version of how science is done), but in this case, it really is critical.


>>2)   A (plausible) mechanism is established.


I don't think that was Bem's thrust. He explicitly mentions that one first has to establish an effect, THEN go looking for a mechanism. I agree with him. Historically, that is how things worked out. I do think that a dose-response relation would help. We need to establish the conditions under which the effect appears and how it can be modulated. That will hint at the mechanism. Considering a mechanism at this point might be premature.


>>3)   A series of falsifiable predictions are made.


That was done in all 9 experiments. The prediction was that it should not matter what happens after the choice/judgment of the subject. As in a 50/50 outcome. But it was falsified (according to our rules of inferential statistics) every single time (in one experiment only in women, but oh well).


 


Pascal


qwerky

Guest Comment

Hmm, still no convincing evidence whatsoever for or against PSI in your blog, just nothing arguments about confirmation bias/falsifiability of hypotheses. Bem's alternative hypothesis/underlying mechanism, which you claim to be nonexistant, is precognition. I would be interested to see whether effect size increases in skilled populations, since among those who study it, PSI is considered to be a learnt or sometimes inborn skill which certain practitioners are better at.


Paul the Octopus is NOT a good example of PSI phenomena - even your most acid trippy new age hippy could tell you that was a statistically nonsignificant fluke (8/8); as for your "small effect sizes", might I remind you of the millions of studies returning small effect sizes which are still considered evidence for psychological phenomena, especially in social psychology? People are complex and they change based on the circumstances; indeed, the universe changes - the mere act of observation affects the object.


Why is something Type 1 error if you disagree with it, or can't conceive of a mechanism underlying it, but statistically sound evidence if it falls within your realm of understanding? There are many scientists working on PSI. I suggest a book for you and Pascal to read, which discusses a lot of the research on basic psi phenomena and addresses a lot of the statistical questions you raise, including the file-drawer and selective reporting effect: Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality http://www.amazon.com/Entangled-Minds-Extrasensory-Experiences-Quantum/dp/1416516778 . Furthermore, not all PSI researchers are "true believers" - the afore mentioned author is reknown for his collaborations with sceptics and his desire to produce statistically sound, falsifiable PSI research. Indeed, the first chapter of Entangled Minds reads like an introduction to the scientific method.


Remember that there is also status reasons why certain topics get into certain journals - many of the leading journals are also very conservative, and unwilling to publish anything that is not broadly accepted research; further, universities are unwilling to provide funding to 'risky' or unprofitable research areas. Bem got in cos he's Bem for God's sake. Having said that, there is a funny XKCD comic which refutes this argument for why PSI research is not better funded, arguing that if it were actually real, it would be very well funded and highly exploited by the capitalist machine: 
http://www.xkcd.com/808/


BTW, I've heard that deja vu occurs when tired, wherein your retina re-registers the same image twice, but transmits both images to the macroseconds later at the same time to the visual cortex rather than consecutively, giving the feeling of having "Seen this before" (deja vu - from the french "Already seen"). Having said that, I have had deja vus which I have subsequently identified as locations from dreams I have written down.. mind you, the memory is a fallible (implanted memories, etc, like "remembering" something which one has only seen in a photo)


I actually happen to have a wealth of personal experience with psi phenomena which I am unwilling to dismiss as hocus pocus. Among the more spooky things, my mother has dreamed of car accidents happening, *exactly* as they happened, the night before. She also routinely warns us of upcoming car accidents and picks up the phone before it has rung, or calls people as they are dialing her number. It is weird. I have also seen a medium (who ironically put on his ad, sceptics welcome, so I skipped along), who correctly identified not only the gender, but time and exact circumstance of two friends that died, to improbable detail. My version of reality and the concept of life after death completely shifted afterwards and I have spent hours since trying to rationalise and reformulate into my world view.


As for your statement that PSI is not a genuine question, remember: There are no stupid questions, just stupid answers. As far as I am concerned and the reading that I have done demonstrates, the question of PSI phenomena is VERY far from being dismissable. A true scientist acknowledges that he doesn't know much... At least Pascal had the good sense to admit that the jury is out; you may do well to take a page from his book and that of those far more educated than yourself looking into these things, and put aside your hasty dismissals in favour of an open mind.


 


Pascal

Guest Comment

Paul was significant, do the math.


Deja vu: No, that is not what is going on. I have fairly conclusive evidence of what is (presented it at several conferences), but haven't published it yet.


It is nothing paranormal, though.



Anyway.


qwerky

Guest Comment

Significant, but hello, suffers from an extreme case of limited range....... let him correctly predict 6% of the time over 1000 times and I'll be impressed.


qwerky

Guest Comment

Maybe I should have said insignificant :P But we get belted around the ears for that in college.


qwerky

Guest Comment

PS. RE: Deja vu - go on then, don't leave us hanging - give us a sneak peak!! What's the dealio?



Suzy
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Hi Pascal,


If you presented on the subject of deja vu at meetings, then why not share what you presented? It's not like any of us will scoop you on the subject.


Rift- I was hoping for more evidence either for or against Psi as well.


Pascal

Guest Comment

It is a little complicated. Perhaps I'll prepare a blog post on the topic.


Speaking of blog posts: My post on the topic is fairly comprehensive. It includes the xkcd issue as well as a proper (non-psi) treatment of Paul the Octopus.



And I really need to publish the Deja vu stuff.


 



JanedeLartigue
UC Davis
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Really interesting stuff Rift (and Pascal)! I have absolutely no idea where I really stand on this topic, but it's fascinating not just to read your articles but to see the discussion you get going in the comments.  One thing I would say though, is that I agree that a plausible mechanism shouldn't necessarily have to be established for something in order for it to be accepted. Surely that suggests that we already know everything and have just yet to prove it? Maybe I'm oversimplifying things?


Pascal

Guest Comment

Effects typically precede mechanisms. Sometimes by centuries. Case in point: Radioactive effects. To say nothing of electricity or magnetism.



Let's not set the bar too high, shall we? Even showing a robust effect would change everything.



Tideliar
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"I actually happen to have a wealth of personal experience with psi phenomena which I am unwilling to dismiss as hocus pocus"


which is epically unscientific. uncontrolled personal observations, hopes and dreams. bad science. Goodbye.


"have also seen a medium (who ironically put on his ad, sceptics welcome, so I skipped along), who correctly identified not only the gender, but time and exact circumstance of two friends that died, to improbable detail. My version of reality and the concept of life after death completely shifted afterwards and I have spent hours since trying to rationalise and reformulate into my world view."


It's called Cold Reading. a fool and his money are easily parted, indeed.


"As for your statement that PSI is not a genuine question, remember: There are no stupid questions, just stupid answers."


No, really, there are such things as stupid questions.


"A true scientist acknowledges that he doesn't know much... At least Pascal had the good sense to admit that the jury is out; you may do well to take a page from his book and that of those far more educated than yourself looking into these things, and put aside your hasty dismissals in favour of an open mind."


You're a snarky, arrogant prick. Rift has been open and honest about his background, so belittling for lack of formal science education him is crass. and furthermore your personal confirmation bias has obviously rendered incapable of critical thought. "I want to believe" as Fox Mulder's poster read.


Rift has very carefully, cogently and with humility laid why Psi is unscientific woo, and you can't bare to have your magick world ruined. Grow up, and if you want to argue like an intellectual, do try and at least pretend to be one.



Namnezia
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If I could reliably read minds and alter thoughts, I wouldn't be working as a psychic, I'd be in fucking Vegas, baby!



Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Namnezia said:


If I could reliably read minds and alter thoughts, I wouldn't be working as a psychic, I'd be in fucking Vegas, baby!


This.


pascal

Guest Comment
>Namnezia said:

>If I could reliably read minds and alter thoughts, I wouldn't be working as a psychic, I'd be in fucking Vegas, >baby!


>


>This.


 


I make that point.


 


You might want to read the post. It is fairly long, but fairly comprehensive.



Namnezia
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@qwerky: "BTW, I've heard that deja vu occurs when tired, wherein your retina re-registers the same image twice, but transmits both images to the macroseconds later at the same time to the visual cortex rather than consecutively, giving the feeling of having "Seen this before"


 


Cool! In all my years of researching the visual system I haven't heard of such a phenomena, I'm so excited to read the original study on "tired" retinas. Could you send me the reference?


 


Also, how long is a macrosecond?



Tideliar
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100 seconds, duh. Your a  crap scientician!


Pascal

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The deja vu thing has nothing to do with the retina.



Tideliar
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No it happens when there's a glitch in the Matirx


 


 



Pascal

Guest Comment

Let's get to the bottom of this:


http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/bem_psi



Namnezia
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Tideliar said:

No it happens when there's a glitch in the Matirx

Didn't you say this before? Huh....

 


Tideliar
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No it happens when there's a glitch in the Matrix

 

 


Psycasm
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@ Pascal –       I’m glad we agree, replication is needed.

However, we ALWAYS need a mechanism before looking for an effect, otherwise what’s the point? If we were going around searching for effects without possible mechanisms we’re engaging in an hypothesis-free fishing trip. “Oh look the trees move in the wind. The wind normally blows during the day. I guess it must be because the giants who live on the other side of the valley are awake during the day and are sneezing.”

Let’s reverse that – If the giants are awake and sneezing (the a priori mechanism) the we will see wind, but we can also hear them, and see their spittle, and maybe if it’s sneezes it happens more the spring… See the difference? You need a mechanism to make predictions, and in good science there is more than just the focal DV that is predicted.

As such, Bem did not make predictions. You suggested he made a prediction that things should be normal – That’s an hypothesis, not a prediction. If it were a prediction then Bem could say x causes people to reverse habituate, but if this is true, the x will also cause y, z, t.

 

@ Qwerky       (Haha, I like your name). You (also, Jade Ed) have made a fundamental logical fallacy.

You can never prove a negative

Thus, I cannot ever conclusively disprove Psi. Evidence, however, will pile up against the possibility of existence until such a time that the question is rendered moot. The criticism that I ‘didn’t provide evidence that Psi doesn’t exist’ cannot be achieved, and the closest possible example was to provide evidence that suggests it cannot, and show the methodologies and people involved to be less than scrupulous. This was done in my first post.

Second.

There are always stupid questions. i.e. Is the moon made of cheese? Can I fly unaided? Do I have magic powers? These are stupid questions. Stupid questions can be asked in intelligent ways, but the fundamental question remains stupid.

To claim that Psi is not dismissible is to suggest there’s a debate where one does not really exist. Let us teach the controversy, eh? As with stupid questions, there too, are degrees of stupid in opinions.

I certainly hope you get belted around the errors for saying ‘insignificant’. The death of a flea is insignificant. Its effect of a flap of a butterflys upon the weather in Panama is non-significant. It’s a subtle and important distinction. I don’t know why you changed from one to the other?

Finally, yes, in psychology effect sizes are small. But Bem’s power, and specifically his effect sizes, were tiny. One might argue marginal.  I accept Bem’s findings as they are, and do not claim Type I error; but propose it as an explanation, one which may/may not be proved wrong in replication. As I’ve said previously, I would love to be able to move mountains with my mind. The science, however, does not support the possibility.

@Janede…      A possible mechanism does need to be proposed. It needn’t be correct, but it does need to make predictions. Thus, Bem might have said ‘Magnetism facilitates retroactive time effects’ and then claimed his findings support his theory. Magnetism, however, provides supporting predictions. If it truly was magnetism then we could stick fridge magnets to his head. This is not the case, thus the mechanisms is wrong. The data remain the same, but unsubstantiated. The prediction is the key to good science.

 

Lastly, why is this important? Why do I care? Because shit like this lowers the critical standards of society. It says ‘believing in unsubstantiated things is OK, just listen to the people in charge’. The last thing we want to do is give the  John Edwards’ of this world more support. As Tideliar said ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’ – let us not make it easier for cons and fools to do business.

Second, shit like this gives false hope to the desperate and kills people. Kills?!? You say? Yeah, faith healers, homeopaths, anti-vaxers. One paper published by Andrew Wakefield has reintroduced measles into first world countries. Measles! You want your kid with Polio? You want your Grandma forgoing Chemo-treatment for a faith-healer she saw on TV? Not me. This is why I care.


Suzy
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You (also, Jade Ed) have made a fundamental logical fallacy.

I thought you were going to write about scientific studies in the post. It was mostly a commentary and opinion piece (which is fine too). What logical fallacy did I make?

I am not asking you to prove a negative. I was just hoping for an overview of what is currently known or proposed by both sides. I don't have an opinion either way as to what is right or wrong. I only have my own unexplainable experiences.

You mainly answered the troll's points in the last article. I wouldn't have given them so much attention.

Pascal

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Whoa, whoa, whoa.

 

While hypothesis testing science is certainly important (hell, that's what I do, for the most part), it is important to keep in mind that it is not the only kind of science there is.

Of course, non-hypothesis-testing science is harder, in a sense (as it *is* a fishing expedition).

But consider Hubel & Wiesel. What hypothesis did they test in their Nobel-prize winning work? Answer: None. They are very explicit about this in their autobiography.

As a matter of fact (I have to crunch the numbers), I strongly believe that Nobel prizes are more often awarded for discovery of effects, NOT for explaining them (hypothesis-driven, mechanism-establishing research). If a Nobel is awarded for a mechanism, it is usually jointly with the guy who discovered the effect.

In this case - psi research - it is especially important to establish that there is something to be explained (the explanandum) before going to look for an explanans. How would hypothesis-driven science even exist in the absence of an established effect? What kind of hypothesis do you have in mind? Needlessly restrictive. If you do exclusively hypothesis driven work, consider yourself lucky that someone established (often by dumb luck or hard work) that there is something to be explained in the first place.

That's just basic theory of science.

Let's keep this real. You are right. This is serious business - the stakes couldn't be higher. That's why all have to get over ourselves and get to the bottom of this.


Psycasm
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Yeah, that's true. I apologize if I came across heavy-handed. I guess I've thrown a lot of time into these last few posts and they're somewhat intellectually draining.

Hypothesis free testing is great. I personally love the concept. Where would neursocience or genetics be without it? I don't contest the validity of Bem's numbers in Bem's study. Replication will win out, one way or another. However, a prediction needs to be made to substantiate those numbers and further validate his findings.

As for addressing the article itself - I bit off more than I could chew. I believe I expressed my primary concerns in this post, despite the fact it was light on actual science-critique. I wish I was capable of doing more in that way, but Bem is so far out of my league it's not funny.

Secondly, and rightly or wrongly, I don't believe there is a debate. Bem's numbers are there. But I think he's wasting his time (as expressed). I don't neither the time nor the inclination to address 'both sides' or the argument, as I don't believe there are valid sides. Secondly, I would have to troll through literally thousands of bullshit articles to find the gold. Bem's article is Psi-gold. But I spent 90 minutes on PsychInfo looking for something like that and couldn't find it. Even those metareviews were somewhat buried. The task of addressing 'both sides' is gargantiun. Qwerky proposed a book which claims to do just that, though I can't speak for it's credentials...

Pascal

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Forget the book. As far as I'm concerned, Bem opens this debate. He is the real deal. I'll try to replicate (or not). Seriously.

 

Anyway. He does - by the way - have the power. He does power calculations in his paper. So that's not the issue.

 

We'll see...


Psycasm
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Jade Ed - you have greater discipline than I to ignore such trolling ;) it's becoming apparent we disagree on a number of points, but that's great, I hope I come across at least half as respectful as you do in your criticisms (though I'm clearly less than half as tolerant).

As for the logical fallacy - I guess I misinterpretted your point - my bad - you ask for more evidence for or against, and in my keyboard-frenzy I just overextended your meaning. No fallacy, and I apologize for the implications made. Retracted.

Pascal

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No worries. But let's see what the empirical function is:

 

www.surveymoney.com/s/bem_psi


Suzy
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I know. Everything you are writing is well thought out and I can tell you put a lot into the post today. I got exhausted reading it. And I am sure there is a lot of bullshit articles too- more than the average scientific field would have.

It's not a simple subject to tackle. I very much appreciate you going for it!!

As for trolls, as soon as a person starts throwing insults around and making it personal, they lose all credibility.  This is the adults table.  If they can't behave like an adult, they can go sit with the kids. Certainly, I won't indulge their bad behavior or you just get more of it.


Tideliar
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*Tideliar as moderator*

 

hey Pascal,don't keep posting your survey or I'll start culling links. Refer people back to it if you want to bump it.

 

Cheers mate.

Pascal

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Sorry, won't happen again.

Are there TOS posted somewhere?


Tideliar
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nah, a lot of stuff is work in progress :)

I'm bullying Evil Overlord over stuff, but he's only got one pair of hands. Shame really. I guess...I could do it...

TBH, the amount of alpha personalities on her I think a TOS would be impossible cos we'd argue so much >:)

My favourite is at a Martial Arts website I frequent: The Bullshido.net ToS

(maybe considered NSFW by some folks)

Pascal

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Thanks. Anyway - no harm was intended and it won't happen again.

But everyone seems to care very deeply about this issue, so I would sugget to please take one minute out of your busy life to see if we can get an empirical resolution of why people disagree on this. I think we can, but we need a large-ish n. We're not there yet.

 


Tideliar
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Twitter plug? I'd do it but I gotta run and it might not be your target audience...

Pascal

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Anyone who cares at all about what the Bem study means is part of the target audience. As a matter of fact, a large amount of variance spanning the entire range of prior beliefs is needed. Otherwise, it won't work.

 


Psycasm
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I've looked at your survey. What's the point? what are you trying to find?

Pascal

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This: http://blog.pascallisch.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Conclusiveness.bmp

I made up that distribution (a reasonable guess). If we can measure the shape EMPIRICALLY, we can figure out why people people disagree about this, and perhaps bridge the gap.

Makes sense?


Namnezia
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Tideliar said:

No it happens when there's a glitch in the Matrix

You can say that again!

 


Namnezia
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@Pascal: "But consider Hubel & Wiesel. What hypothesis did they test in their Nobel-prize winning work? Answer: None. They are very explicit about this in their autobiography.

As a matter of fact (I have to crunch the numbers), I strongly believe that Nobel prizes are more often awarded for discovery of effects, NOT for explaining them."

 

I think Hubel and Weisel did a damn good job in describing the mechanism for the complex response properties of cortical neurons and propose some clearly laid out hypotheses about the organization of the cortex.

Pascal

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From their autobiography, page 705:

"Almost absent from our way of working and thinking were hypotheses, at least explicit ones. We regarded our work as mainly exploratory, and although some experiments were done to answer specific questions, most were done in the spirit of Columbus crossing the Atlantic to see what he would find. Today our grant proposals would surely be criticized as not being "hypothesis driven", as not following the rules of Science as taught in high school and as exemplifed especially in physics. We believe that such rules as how science is done are largely fiction, an attempt to retrospectively codify a process that often amounts to groping."

They go on elaborating on this, but I think it is clear enough, and I am sick of retyping it.

Please understand that I would never make a claim without having read the relevant literature.

Lascap

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Also, as a cortical physiologist, I would be curious what mechanism you have in mind. What mechanisms did they establish? They established a whole bunch of neural response properties, using exploratory methods (at least they have the balls to admit this publicly). We are still trying to work out what the underlying mechanisms, even in V1, to say nothing of extrastriate cortex.


Namnezia
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@Lascap: For example they proposed how complex cells result from the organization of simple cells converging upon them, and the properties of simple cells result from the organization of LGN cells converging upon them. They hypothesized about the organization of cortical columns into hypercolumns, etc. Even if they started with pure observation, they definitely developed hypotheses about the mechanisms underlying the response properties of neurons.  Whether these hypotheses were correct, incorrect, or whether physiologists are still arguing about them is a different story.


Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Why is Pascal posting as both Pascal and Lascap? Am I missing something?
Pascal

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Sigh. Those were very hand-wavy "models" if you want to call them that. We still do not understand these mechanisms. But it's ok. We are getting side-tracked. Read their papers. I did. There is nothing remotely in there anywhere that would resemble a hypothesis in the sense that we are discussing here. And that is ok.

Pascal/Lascap: Sorry, I got carried away. I should establish an account here to prevent further mistakes.


Tideliar
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*Tideliar as Blogger*

Difference between hand wavy model and hypothesis by the discussion I've seen here is pretty fucking vague. Pascal, what is your background and experience on this? I ask not to Troll (for a change) you're clearly very educated and articulate.

I would appreciate knowing your area of expertise and your level of training so I can critically evaluate your comments and put them into the meta-point of view.

This is an excellent discussion and commentary. Indeed i'd say totes FTW.

*Tideliar as Moderator*

Multiple 'accounts' is sockpuppetery, even as a guest and even as transparently as inverting you name. Help the conversation flow by posting as yourself, or maintain a constant Pseud.

It might be harsh, but, as a wise man once might have said, "one rule to rule them all, one rule to bind them".

~T (from my phone, apologies for topys)

Pascal Wallisch
New York University
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Tideliar,

I have been a cortical electrophysiologist for 9 years (6 as a grad student and 3 as a post-doc). One of my particular fields of interest are mechanism of neural response properties in visual cortex. I think I earned the right to speak on the issue. Regarding the specific issues: I don't think this is the right place for that, but for now I think it is fair to say that while nature abhors a vacuum, Hubel & Wiesel abhor a model. That was not their point, really.

Re Pascal/Lascap: Apologies. The rule is completely understandable. The last thing I want to do is to engage in sockpuppetry. Sockpuppetry is completely unacceptable in any form. It was not intentional, though. I use Pascal/Lascap so interchangeable that I actually didn't notice while posting, and I could not figure out how to change it afterwards (I actually realized my mistake). I think the best thing to do is to post as a member. I just created an account - that should prevent future problems. Sorry about the hassle.

 


Tideliar
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LOL 9yrs as a VC physiologist certainly gives you props in that regard! And I speak as someone who spent 6weeks doodling on his notebook during visual system physiology! I skipped that question in my exam :)

Re sockpuppets, no probs at all. Easy to do, I used to do it with my Pseud and IRL.

Now to the question at hand...that will wait in detail till I finish your post. But, what about the comment above about Bem's 'mystic' alter ego (I assume, as in illusionist, Banacheck, Penn & Teller etc.). Credulity is a major issue. Bienveniste and water memory looks good on paper, but simply debunked by a discussion of electromagnetism and the application of Faraday's cage.

Tideliar
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Oh LOVE the Neo avatar BTW.

Pascal Wallisch
New York University
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I have no idea what his background as a mystic is. I only know him as a - quite accomplished - psychologist.


Scientific research is evaluated in 3 dimensions: Objectivity, Reliability and Validity. Bem clearly has reliability. We are debating validity. Unless we establish objectivity (given his background), this is all moot. Someone has to replicate this, anyone. As soon as possible. Any takers?

 

And yes, visual cortical physiology is quite something. Average time from project conception to completion is 3+ years. If it works...

 

Anyway. No more sockpuppets.


Tideliar
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Your three citeria and inherently linked. If your not objective, then your data are inherently unreliable and therefore cannot be assumed to be valid.

Validity is an outcome, not a measure. To sum up the scientific method in bullet points is crass. Rift did an excellent job of describing scientific method in his post. To paraphrase, a falsifiable hypothesis can be used to test, measure and make predictions.

I don't know Bem, never heard of him before this afternoon, so I'm certainly not going to stand in judgement on his objectivity or the validity of his research. However, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Not so simple as Gallileo's persecutors refusing to lookl through his telescope. That's denial. I'm not in denial, I am simply incredulous that the deterministic world is not 'true' and that simple electromagnetic impulses can travel backwards in time to influence future outcomes.

Surely by that measure the sun is our worlds biggest randomiser?

Or are the thought electrograms 'programmed' because they carry information? Can I study after a test to influence the outcome of a friend or stranger who took the test days ago? By that standard SATs should have maximum scores because every kid who studies could effect any kid who didn't?

Or is there an engram programmed into my thoughts so they only retroactively affect me?

And why did I flunk bio 101 first time when I passed it second time?

We'll get to .5+ being close in neuro when I finish your article.

Pascal Wallisch
New York University
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Uhm, that is my point. One cannot have validity without reliability, and none of them without objectivity. They are not independent. It is just that usually, objectivity is a given. When was the last time someone questioned your paper because YOU did it?

Anyway. Bem's stature is really the only reason we are having this debate. Think of the 5 biggest names in your field. Bem has that status in his. And he is aware of all these theory of science concerns. Really, he is.

I think Rift would agree that his two posts on this issue can be adequately summarized as:

1. Making fun of the "little people" and their crazy bullshit.

2. Holy shit, Bem did this, too? Now what?

 

I'm not saying that I know what is going on. I am saying that the title caught my eye and I decided to present the paper to the department in a seminar, with the intention of nailing Bem to the wall. But I could not come up with an alternative explanation that could account for the data short of that they made it up.

This got me thinking: Would I question the paper if it dealt with any other issue? Probably not. What does that mean? And so on.

The lack of real world validation (Casino, etc.) suggests that something is wrong. But what?

I really don't have a dog in this fight. I just want to know what is going on. That's all.

qwerky

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Tideliar said:

100 seconds, duh. Your a  crap scientician!


And you are a nasty, name-calling piece of work. At least I refrained from blatant insult. Perhaps you should grow up and act like an intellectual.

 

qwerky

Guest Comment

@Rift

Rift said:

Second, shit like this gives false hope to the desperate and kills people. Kills?!? You say? Yeah, faith healers, homeopaths, anti-vaxers. One paper published by Andrew Wakefield has reintroduced measles into first world countries. Measles! You want your kid with Polio? You want your Grandma forgoing Chemo-treatment for a faith-healer she saw on TV? Not me. This is why I care.

Point taken. A family friend who was an Ananda Margi (form of Hindu I think) died from breast cancer, because her religion prevented surgery and she believed she could heal herself through meditation. She even went to special retreats overseas for month. Nothing worked: she died, leaving behind a 7 and a 9 year old. I don't think major life decisions should be based on things until they are proven... but I still maintain they are worth investigating, especially since I have seen many things that have made me question my previously sceptical stance.

@Tideliar

BTW - Cold reading, I think not. The guy did it to a whole room, and correctly identified EVERYTHING. It was very scary.

Also - it's "you're", not "your".

 


Namnezia
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A hypothesis IS a hand-wavy model, meant to be disproven.


Namnezia
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Pascal - Wait! I just put two and two together (I'm a bit slow). You're one of the dudes that's blogging the SfN meeting. I like what you've done with the blog so far, I apologize for being skeptical at first, but there were no posts to judge by. Anyway - looking forward to reading your blog throughout the meeting, since I won't be able to attend.

 


Pascal Wallisch
New York University
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Thanks. Yes, I'm one of the official SfN bloggers. Apologies for the nudity of the blog when SfN announced it, but there was very little time between "picking" and "announcing". They actually didn't want me to post anything SfN related until THEY announced it officially, so I had one measly post on it. I intend to change that, Tideliar actually said he would re-review the blogs at some point.

 

On the topic of the topic:

They did have a hypothesis (the psi guys), I'm copying this from the end of my blog post on this:

d) To restate the premise: They can’t test a specific hypothesis, because the existence of an effect (the explanandum) is itself in question. They do – however – test a general (null)-hypothesis to establish the effect. That (null)-hypothesis is that common sense and our current understanding of the physical world suggests that *nothing* that happens *after* the choice point should affect the choice itself. They find that it – statistically speaking – does matter quite a bit what happens afterwards and they reject the null hypothesis. Establishing the existence of an effect. This is done all the time in science, and in psychology in particular. They conclude that we are dealing with a psi-effect, because that is how psi is defined (an effect which is (currently) unexplained by our understanding of biological or physical processes, see the definition above).

 

We really have to be careful. Here is why:

 

The author of this post claims that he is defending science with this stance. I'm afraid that is not the case. Just the opposite.

Science is credible because it follows a set of agreed upon, transparent and systematic procedures to establish knowledge. It is agnostic about the content itself. It is a formal-logic process.

That is our protection against all the crazy cooks. They claim something, and we say: "Well, this was not peer-reviewed research". That kills most of the claims right there. But let's say it is. We can then say: "Well, it was not published in a reputable journal". Killing even more of the crazy claims. But let's say it is (as in this case, JPSP is the "Current Biology" of Social Psychology). We can then say: "Well, I don't trust the guy who did the research, all his claims are crazy". Killing almost everyone. But if someone passes that tests also (as in Bem's case), and produces clear empirical evidence, we have to admit that something potentially interesting might be going on.

Because if we still dismiss it out of hand AFTER all that, it demeans science. Instead of following the data wherever they lead (which is what we are supposed to be doing), we are just affirming our preconceived notions. That has nothing to do with science. If it is conflated with science, it corrupts science. Because the sword cuts both ways. If we establish this kind of double standard, why should I believe anything else that is published in JPSP? A very dangerous road, to be sure.

Why? Here is why. My original training is in Psychology and I am still interested in it, so I actually read some of the papers Rift posted on his blog before. In addition - for the purposes of this exercise, I looked at some others that were posted on this blog. I'm afraid to say it, but the Bem study is far clearer in its design, the results are more clean and the effects are actually STRONGER than the vast majority of the papers posted on this blog in support of the "scientific" position (whatever that might have been, in a given post). Remember that hitchhiker study, for example? Yeah, I read that too. 18 vs. 14% of "pick-up" rate. BARELY significant. Sketchy experimental design (wigs), barely discernable hypothesis, and so on. In every sense of scientific rigor, that study is inferior to the Bem study. That's why it was published in Perceptual and Motor Skills and Bem published in JPSP. Yet, Rift accepted that (and countless others) on face value. Why make an exception for the Bem study? One cannot have it both ways. We (I?) evaluate papers based on their individual merits (Claims, Design and Data), not on (my) ideological preconceptions. If there is a flaw in the Bem study that can account for the results,  I would like to know what it is. If Bem actually did what they report they did, his results are more unimpeachable than most posted on the Rift blog so far.

Anyway. That should settle it. Let's be fair.


Tideliar
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qwerky said:

Tideliar said:

100 seconds, duh. Your a  crap scientician!


And you are a nasty, name-calling piece of work. At least I refrained from blatant insult. Perhaps you should grow up and act like an intellectual.

 

Irony fail on aisle 7, can I get an irony fail on aisle 7?

 

 


Psycasm
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Well, that's an articulate and just response (@Pascal), to which, in some ways, I have little defence.

Perhaps my inexperience is shining through, but I still am skeptical.I still require a prediction beyond It might happen. Agreed, the wigs were generally flimsy - but it was based on (correct/incorrect) prediction that attractive women have some sort of persausive advantage. In this manner they predicited that blondes (which were hypothetically more attractive) would get a better response. They equally might have predicted that more feminine jawline and pouty lips could have done the same - as the breast-size study aimed to do (which itself was correlational and suffered it's own problems) - but lips and jaw-lines would have changed the DV by necessity.

I agree with your criticisms, yet I hold that a substantiating prediction is still required. His data is as it is. A post-hoc prediction is also acceptable - based on what I [Bem] found I suggest that x, y and z; where x, y, and z are meaningfully different from original findings. Yes, effects may preceed the mechanism, but without even a hint of mechanism I'm still left wondering 'What's the point?'

Perhaps I'm overly conservative in my definition of scientific endevour - a criticism levelled at my institution in the manner in which they teach (but perhaps not the way they practice). I have heard it levelled before. And so, should this be criticism be valid I may have to reconsider what I understand it to be - yet, as it stands, I hold the mechanism and prediction to be incredibly important when making such bold claims.

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