In order to deal with cognitive dissonance, I argue that some skeptics use the same basic methods as religious fundamentalists […who] often perform irrational cognitive contortions to dismiss evidence against their beliefs, such as when creationists try to explain the existence of fossils by saying that “God put them there to test our faith” (or by Satan to tempt us into unbelief). Similarly, if skeptics engage with the evidence for psi or conduct research, they might go to lengths to establish that positive results have not occurred.
– Steve Taylor, Ph.D.
Why Some Scientists Resist the Evidence for Psi, Psychology Today
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Comments on Steven Pinker’s view of the Paranormal
by Brian D. Josephson, Ph.D.
Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge
Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1973
In a talk in his BBC Radio 4 series ‘Think with Pinker’, Steven Pinker asked ‘why do so many of us believe in so much quackery and flapdoodle?’, characterising extrasensory perception as ‘paranormal woowoo’. I can imagine such language slipping out in the course of casual conversation, but on the BBC, in a programme where the text must have been carefully thought out in advance?
Something must have led to this being said in such an uncritical manner, so I thought I’d email Pinker to find out what had led him to speak in this way in regard to the paranormal. In response he came up with two arguments. The first has, at first sight, a degree of plausibility, and is the following: if there really are people with the claimed paranormal abilities, they could use these to win consistently at betting, and we would learn about that. However (as described in a recent Guardian article) it seems this does not happen, because when such people start to win significant sums of money the bookies take note, responding to the threat that they pose by imposing limits on how much they are allowed to bet. As a result, we cannot safely infer that there are no people who can use their paranormal abilities to win large amounts at betting.
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Call for Grant Applications from Researchers in Subtle Energy and Biofield Healing
For researchers interested in exploring the science of subtle energy and biofield healing, the Biofield Research Fellowship Program is now seeking applications for a new grant/fellowship opportunity, which will provide six annual grants of up to $20,000 USD each, plus mentorship and community for emerging researchers across multiple disciplines.
Backed by a collaborative group of philanthropists and foundations called the Subtle Energy Collective (below), the Biofield Research Fellowship Program is funding rigorous examinations of biofield science with the goal of seeding a new generation of biofield researchers to advance the field and bolster its research base. In addition to grant funds, the Fellowship Program will provide Fellows with a collaborative community of emerging and established researchers and will pair each Fellow with a respected research mentor who has expertise relevant to their research. The findings derived from Fellows’ investigations will provide greater insight into biofield therapies and their applications for reducing suffering and promoting health and wellbeing.
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The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism
By Mitch Horowitz
Originally published on Boing Boing, Oct 26, 2020
Several years ago I was preparing a talk on the life of occult journeyer Madame H.P. Blavatsky (1831–1891) for the Rubin Museum of Art in New York City. Someone on Facebook asked sardonically: “Will James Randi be there?” My interlocutor was referencing the man known worldwide as a debunker of psychical and paranormal claims. (That my online critic was outspoken about his own religious beliefs posed no apparent irony for him.)
Last week marked the death at age 92 of James “The Amazing” Randi, a stage magician who became internationally famous as a skeptic — indeed Randi rebooted the term “skepticism” as a response to the boom in psychical claims and research in the post-Woodstock era. Today, thousands of journalists, bloggers and the occasional scientist call themselves skeptics in the mold set by Randi. Over the past decade, the investigator himself was heroized in documentaries, profiles, and, now, obituaries. A Guardian columnist eulogized him as the “prince of reason.”
Wikipedia’s Culture of Editorial Chaos and Malice
Originally published on the Progressive Radio Network, June 19, 2020
© Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
Perhaps the greatest farce in the modern history of technology is the perception of Wikipedia as a legitimate encyclopedia. It has none of the qualifications as such but has all of the characteristics of a compromised propaganda machine disguised as an encyclopedia.
An authentic encyclopedia is transparent. Users can review the qualifications and expertise of its contributors. There is no personal animus or bias. If anything, these are people who are acutely conscious of the facts regarding any given subject. There is no whitewashing, no recasting or repurposing of negative content into positive opinions or vice versa. If an error is detected, it can be quickly corrected.
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James E Alcock
James E. Alcock, PhD, is professor emeritus of psychology at York University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a fellow and member of the executive council of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI), and a member of the editorial board of the Skeptical Inquirer. In 1994 he received CSI’s highest honour, the “In Praise of Reason” award. In 1999, he was nominated by a panel of skeptics as among the two dozen most outstanding skeptics of the twentieth century. He believes that psi phenomena are impossible, and therefore the evidence for them must be non-existent. He therefore tries to explain away the evidence as based on wishful thinking, methodological errors, failure to fit in with the materialist paradigm and blind belief. Ironically, one of his areas of research in psychology is the nature of belief, as summarized in his book Belief: What It Means to Believe and Why Our Convictions are So Compelling.
In an interview in the Los Angeles Times, he said that the brain is a machine that produces beliefs without any particular respect for what is real or true and what is not.” In 2019, together with Arthur Reber, he published a paper in the American Psychologist called “Searching for the impossible: Parapsychology’s elusive quest.” He and Reber were explicit about the dogmatic basis for their skepticism: “Claims made by parapsychologists cannot be true. The effects reported can have no ontological status; the data have no existential value.” Therefore all the evidence can be dismissed without bothering to consider it. His own brain produces a strong belief that has little respect for what is real and what is not. Like other dogmatic skeptics, he thinks he knows the truth already. Evidence is irrelevant. Alcock is an prime example of a skeptic for whom Science and Reason are a brand, rather than a practice.
The Good Thinking Society
Simon Singh founded the Good Thinking Society (website ) in 2012 as part of his crusade against alternative medicine. The Society aims to fund skeptical projects and to campaign against homeopathy, ear candling and other forms of alternative medicine. It also supports mathematical education, encouraging schools to set up Top-Top sets.
In 2015 the Good Thinking Society threatened legal action against the Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group over the spending of £30,000 per year on homeopathy. Singh said, “Homeopathic treatments when paid for by the NHS are a waste of crucial resources”. Singh then campaigned for all other clinical commissioning groups in Britain that supported homeopathy to withdraw their funding. However he has provided no evidence that this would actually save money for the NHS. The patients who were receiving homeopathic remedies before Singh’s campaign did not simply evaporate. When people who had been supplied with homeopathic remedies were no longer provided with them, doctors might well have prescribed allopathic remedies instead which cost more.
Wikipedia Editors: A Psychological Profile
by Richard Gale and Gary Null PhD
In looking up information on alternative health issues using a legitimate, highly respected encyclopedia such as Encyclopedia Britannica we find a fair, balanced, and scholarly review of the available literature on topics such as traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, etc. Britannica and any of the other six (6) comparable encyclopedias name the editors and provide curriculum vitae demonstrating their expertise in the area of their editing. There is no debasement. There are no attacks. No sense that a person reading any entry should feel mentally incompetent for choosing a particular piece of information. Also, at no point in these highly revered encyclopedias is there character assassination, ridicule, mocking, or disparagement of people supporting any of the alternative and complementary medical approaches. The process is transparent, instructive, and a benefit.
Now let’s compare that to an experience on Wikipedia which calls itself an encyclopedia, but fails even the most rudimentary challenges. Most of the editors are anonymous with no curriculum vitae to see if they have expertise in the area they are editing. Also, words such as “charlatan,” “quack,” “lunatic,” “fringe,” and “pseudoscientific” are not uncommon. There is zero transparency. One feels an oozing sense of condescension viewing the biographies of biologist Rupert Sheldrake, or physician Deepak Chopra, or the investigative work of Sharyl Attkisson. And these are just a few of the many individuals who are held in utter contempt, who have been judged as being of no legitimate value. And even worse, they have been condemned as quacks, charlatans, opportunists, without ever having been interviewed, as if in a Stalinistic show trial—condemned without an opportunity to respond to the allegations.
The Evolution of Barbara Ehrenreich
A Skeptic’s Progress
by Ted Dace
After decades of concealing the mystical experience that wrenched open her mind at age 17, Barbara Ehrenreich was finally coming to grips with what happened that sunny morning in 1959. But now she faced a quandary. Long revered as a dedicated atheist, even accepting awards from organizations of “freethinkers,” a.k.a. skeptics, how could the noted author and theorist tell the world she’d once seen God – or if not God, at least the Other? By writing Living with a Wild God, Ehrenreich courageously broke ranks, demonstrating that the scientific mind need not be burdened by ideological “skepticism.”
Atheism ran deep in her family. Her dad, who’d escaped the mines of Butte, Montana by way of an education in metallurgy, liked to regale the wife and kids Sunday mornings with classic atheist tracts. So when 12-year old Barbara Alexander began to question the point of existence, the one place she would never go for answers was religion. This complicated her task enormously. Paraphrasing Pascal, “How shall we redeem this obscene slaughter called history,” ask Will and Ariel Durant, “except by believing, with or against the evidence, that God will right all wrongs in the end?”
Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), Associated Distinguished Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), and chairman of the biotech company, Cognigenics.
Clever Rationalizations that Get in the Way of Progress
Abstracted from Chapter 13 of: “The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena” by Dean I. Radin (HarperEdge, 1997)
Skepticism, meaning doubt, is one of the hallmarks of the scientific approach.
Skepticism sharpens the critical thought required to sift the wheat from the chaff, and it forces experimental methods, measurements, and ideas to pass through an extremely fine sieve before they are accepted into the “scientific worldview.” A little critical thinking applied to many of the claims of New Age devotees reveals why many scientists are dubious of psi phenomena. Science requires substantial amounts of repeatable, trustworthy evidence before taking claims of unexpected effects seriously. Depending on the claim, providing sufficient evidence can take years, decades, or half-centuries of painstaking, detailed work. Learning how to create this evidence requires long training and experience in conventional disciplines like experimental design, analysis and statistics.