A Field Guide to Skepticism

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A Field Guide to Skepticism

Dean Radin

Quote:In 1985, psychologist Irvin Child, Chairman of the Psychology Department at Yale University, reviewed the Maimonides dream telepathy experiments for American Psychologist, a prominent journal published by the American Psychological Association.

Child was especially interested in comparing what actually took place in those experiments with how they were later described by skeptical psychologists. The first book he considered was a 1980 edition of British psychologist Mark Hansel’s critical book on psi research. One page in Hansel’s book was devoted to description of the method and results of the dream telepathy experiments. Hansel’s strategy was to suggest possible flaws that might have accounted for the experimental results, without demonstrating that the flaws actually existed, and then assume that such flaws must have occurred because they were more believable than genuine psi. Child found that Hansel’s descriptions of the methods used in the Maimonides studies were crafted in such a way as to lead unwitting readers to assume that fraud was a likely explanation, whereas in fact it was extremely unlikely given the controls employed by the researchers. Even other skeptics, such as Ray Hyman, agreed with Child.

Quote: Child next reviewed a 1981 book by York University psychologist James Alcock. Alcock’s basic theme in this and later publications is his belief that parapsychologists are driven by religious urges, a secular “search for the soul”. With this theme driving much of his writings, Alcock considered any psi experiments with positive outcomes to be flawed due to religious motivations. One of Alcock’s main criticisms of the Maimonides experiments was the assertion that they did not include a control group. For example, Alcock wrote that “a control group, for which no sender or no target was used, would appear essential.” Child responded,

Quote:“Alcock… did not seem to recognize that the design of the Maimonides experiments was based on controls exactly parallel to those used by innumerable psychologists in other research with similar logical structure…”

The next book was by psychologists Leonard Zusne and Warren H. Jones. Zusne and Jones wrote that the Maimonides researchers discovered that dreamers were not influenced telepathically unless they knew in advance that an attempt would be made to influence them. This led, they wrote, to the receiver’s being “primed prior to going to sleep” by the experimenters “… preparing the receiver through experiences that were related to the content of the picture to be telepathically transmitted during the night.” Child pointed out that it would be immediately obvious to anyone that such an experiment, if it were actually performed, would be catastrophically flawed. Obviously if you prime someone before they dream with target-relevant information, the entire experiment is worthless. But given that the description is so described, readers of Zusne and Jones’ book unfamiliar with the actual descriptions of the dream telepathy experiments could reach no other conclusion than the researchers were completely incompetent. Child responded,

Quote:“The simple fact, which anyone can easily verify, is that the account Zusne and Jones gave of the experiment is grossly inaccurate. What Zusne and Jones have done is to describe … some of the stimuli provided to the dreamer the next morning, after his dreams had been recorded and his night’s sleep was over.”

As he discovered one flawed description after another, Child finally concluded that the books he reviewed contained “nearly incredible falsification of the facts about the experiments.” But this was just the tip of an iceberg. It turns out that many introductory psychology textbooks have presented similarly flawed descriptions of psi experiments.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell



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