Rupert Sheldrake

Susan Blackmore Doesn’t Get It Right

Dr. Susan Blackmore is a CSICOP/CSI Fellow and was awarded the CSICOP Distinguished Skeptic Award in 1991, and used to be one of Britain’s best-known media skeptics. She started her career by doing research in parapsychology, but left the field and later devoted herself to the study of memes, as proposed by Richard Dawkins.

Blackmore commented on my experiments with Jaytee in an article in the Times Higher Education Supplement, claiming that she had spotted “design problems.” She wrote, “Sheldrake did 12 experiments in which he bleeped Pam at random times to tell her to return… When Pam first leaves, Jaytee settles down and does not bother to go to the window. The longer she is away, the more often he goes to look.

 [Y]et the comparison is made with the early period when the dog rarely gets up.”

But anybody who looks at the actual data can see for themselves that this is not true. In five out of the twelve experiments with random return times, Jaytee did not settle down immediately Pam left. In fact he went to the window more in the first hour than during the rest of Pam’s absence.

In the light of Blackmore’s comments, I reanalyzed the data from all twelve experiments excluding the first hour. The percentage of time that Jaytee spent by the window in the main period of Pam’s absence was actually lower when the first hour was excluded (3.1 percent) than when it was included (3.7 percent). By contrast, Jaytee was at the window 55.0 percent of the time when she was on the way home. Taking Blackmore’s objection into account strengthened rather than weakened the evidence for Jaytee knowing when his owner was coming home, and increased the statistical significance of the comparison.

In addition, if Blackmore had taken the trouble to look at our data more thoroughly, she would have seen that we did a series of control tests, in which Pam did not come home at all. Jaytee did not go to the window more and more as time went on.

Blackmore’s claim illustrates once again the need to treat what skeptics say with skepticism.

Excerpted From:

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
Rupert Sheldrake, Broadway Books.