Sunday, May 27, 2012

Debunked Debunkers

Alex Tsakiris recently interviewed Daryl Bem on his webcast. Among other topics, they discussed skeptics of the paranormal, like Richard Wiseman and James Randi. Here are some of their comments:
[Alex Tsakiris:] Here we have Caroline Watt, Richard Wiseman, pretty radical Atheists. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about his Edinburgh Secret Society thing that they do but right on the website it says they contact spirits and summon the Devil as part of their show, their thing that they do.
On one hand, I don’t care what people do in their spare time but on the other hand, I think it paints a picture of the kind of person that is very radicalized in one way towards this Atheistic worldview that really represents a very small minority of the overall population. I’ve just got to feel like that weighs heavily on this culture war debate that’s really right beneath this debate on the surface over psi....
I’ve had Rupert Sheldrake on the show and he’s one of the few people who have just come out and flat out said [Richard Wiseman is] deceptive; he’s been deceptive for 10 years; I engaged in an experiment with him and he fudged the data and recast everything. And he did a lot of unethical, very questionable things....
Well, I think the final chapter in James Randi has been written in this latest legal trouble that he’s gotten into with his life partner where he has clearly broken the law. And Randi has aided him in this really pretty serious identity theft that he’s engaged in for years....
[Daryl Bem:] The journals in parapsychology are among the very few that openly welcome and promise to publish negative results, as well. So you don’t have the file drawer problem nearly as severely because they will do that. I’ve been the editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a section editor on that in the past, and now I’m an associate editor on the Journal of Scientific Exploration, which publishes a lot of the ESP stuff. We’re just as rigorous in our evaluation of the experimental controls. The reason that I was invited was that followed that talk about magic and warning about them, his laboratory was fooled by Randi.
Alex Tsakiris: But I think when you really look at the history of what happened there, it’s another Randi con job. They really weren’t fooled anywhere near to the extent that he portrayed. Isn’t that correct?
Dr. Daryl Bem: Yes, yes. But we ourselves were critical of that particular lab. We thought they weren’t as careful as they should have been. But they never published anything based on the phony guys who had been planted there. So that’s true. But what I was trying to say is this was the era when the fear of God had been put into some of the parapsychologists.
Alex Tsakiris: By the old trickster himself, James Randi. Dr. Bem, what do you think is going to happen with this latest round of debunking that the skeptics have risen up and it seems like a very well-organized, concerted effort to knock down your research. What do you think is going to happen? What do you think is their game plan?
I can see part of the game plan where it was Wiseman originally published some rather kind of obscure objections that you pretty quickly knocked down. Then he wanted a very controlled—you had to file for replication with him to make sure that there weren’t any file drawer problems that you talked about. What do you think the game plan is and how do you think it’s eventually going to play out in terms of this debunking effort?
Dr. Daryl Bem: Well, I think the flurry of activity in the popular media will just sort of die down. When I look at Google News on it there are still four or five articles that pop up in which it just shows how successful Wiseman is at getting his point of view out. I have been replying to people who’ve asked me to reply to blogs and things of that sort.
Without accusing him of actually being dishonest, he has now published the three studies that he and French and Ritchie tried to get published in several journals that rejected it. I replied with a comment on that. If there’s anything dishonest there, it’s when you publish an article, even if it’s of your own three experiments—they did three experiments that failed trying to replicate one of my experiments—you always have a literature review section where you talk about all the previous research and known research on the topic before you present your own data.
What Wiseman never tells people is in Ritchie, Wiseman and French, the thing they published, their three failures, is that his online registry where he asked everyone to register, first of all he provided a deadline date. To be included in that you had to have completed it by December 1st. Well, that’s six months after my article appeared. I don’t know of any serious researcher working on their own stuff who is going to drop everything and immediately do a replication.
Alex Tsakiris: And why would there need to be that kind of deadline to begin with? I mean, it’s completely contrived to work only in support of his effort.
Dr. Daryl Bem: Unless he just underestimated or overestimated how many people were going to drop everything and try to replicate it. Anyway, he and Ritchie and French published these three studies. Well, they knew that there were three other studies that had been submitted and completed and two of the three showed statistically significant results replicating my results. But you don’t know that from reading his article. That borders on dishonesty....
And the other thing that’s funny is you know they’re always hammering at us about the File Drawer Effect, namely that we only know about the positive studies. But it turns out they themselves have a File Drawer Effect. They suppress positive findings. So the file drawer works both ways.

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