(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)
When the Parapsychological Association held its nineteenth annual convention in Utrecht in 1976, hosting professor Martin Johnson decided to treat the assembled scholars and researchers to some educational entertainment. This was in the days before Uri Geller became the most debunked psychic in history and the sort of tricks he performed was still on every parapsychologist's lips. So Martin Johnson invited magician/journalist Ulf Mörling, a.k.a. "El Globo", to demonstrate how alleged paranormal phenomena could be created through magic tricks. The intention was explicit and announced – Mörling was introduced as a magician, not as a psychic.
After successful demonstrations of precognition and metal bending, Mörling performed a telepathy experiment – in essence a variation of the old "draw-something-on-a-paper-and-put-it-in-an-envelope" trick. This also turned out successful but what happened next is truly astonishing (my translation):
"At least ten of the parapsychologists in the audience, some of them having recently earned fame for field studies, expressed their conviction that Mörling really was a genuine "psychic" without knowing it, something that was suggested to be "a parapsychologist's worst nightmare." One of those who most persistently argued that Mörling is a psychic without knowing it, was the same Ed Cox who had accounted for Uri Geller's wonders with a manipulated watch in The Journal of Parapsychology!" (Johnson, 1982, p. 115–117)
In retrospect, such an absurd gullibility and thirst for wonder seems almost sweet and innocent. Uri Geller was thoroughly debunked by Marks & Kammann in 1980 (Marks, 2000) and Randi in 1982 (Randi, 1982), and a multitude of further embarrassing exposures later, no serious researcher will lend any credibility to the Israeli Jesus-wannabe, or to others performing the same kind of carnival tricks he did (and still does).
Randi followed up his Geller exposé with a direct blow to the parapsychological community when he sent two young magicians posing as psychics to the McDonell Laboratory for Psychical Research at Washington University in St. Louis. The magicians, Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards, easily convinced the staff that they were the real thing and they were tested for a period of three years, without anyone even suspecting them of cheating. Prior to the tests, Randi had contacted the director, physics professor Dr. Peter Phillips, and offered to help with controls and protection against fraud and trickery. Phillips rejected Randi's offer. Videotapes from the experiments clearly showed that Shaw and Edwards were cheating, if you looked carefully. But no one at the McDonell lab had the inclination to look carefully. (Hines, 2003, p. 132–133)
When Randi finally revealed the ploy, the parapsychological community was taught a lesson that should be a textbook example in every science methodology and social psychology class. Since then, serious researchers have turned their interest to testing "normal" people rather than flamboyant gold-diggers and attention-addicts. Too bad so few have the spine to give Randi credit for this true progress in a controversial field of science. But enough about what serious parapsychologists have done, let's review what the less serious are up to.
Next to professor Etzel Cardeña at Lund University, Briton Adrian Parker is perhaps Sweden's most renowned parapsychologist. Besides holding a position as senior lecturer in Psychology at Gothenburg University, Parker is also a former board member of the Parapsychological Association and one of three researchers currently listed on the board of the Swedish Society for Parapsychological Research (SSPR). Parker's areas of interest are consciousness and PSI, although the latter seems to be his main preference. Together with the Psychology Department at Stockholm University and the Freiburg Institute, his Gothenburg group is developing an improved Ganzfeld technique. If you're not familiar with the term, Ganzfeld experiments are, according to its proponents, the best way to test individuals for extra-sensory perception.
In 2003, Parker, along with the SSPR chairman Göran Brusewitz, published A Compendium of the Evidence for PSI in the European Journal of Parapsychology (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003). The writers offer a list of studies they claim to provide evidence of paranormal phenomena. But not compelling evidence they point out: "the list is not intended to convince the reader that psi has been proven." In fact, they suggest that it is impossible to prove phenomena in empirical science. Thus it is futile to search for such compelling evidence. Instead, the intent is to collect studies that justify research aimed at understanding paranormal phenomena. Most studies in the compilation are still quoted as providing strong evidence today, according to Parker & Brusewitz, but not compelling. Oh, and there are proof-oriented studies listed, and experimental evidence, just not compelling.
What are Parker & Brusewitz really saying? Where exactly on a "proof" or "evidence" scale are these studies to be placed and does that position mean that paranormal phenomena exist or not? Do paranormal phenomena almost exist? What is the difference between strong evidence (which the writers suggest the listed studies provide) and compelling evidence (which the studies don't provide)? And how does the difference relate to the possible existence of paranormal phenomena? The writers give no answer.
I have tried to find references to this semantic orgy in methodology and science philosophy literature. Nothing, but that might only reflect the poor state of my library. Then I consulted the Cobuild English Dictionary for Advanced Learners, 2001, third edition, pp. 528, 1229:
1. Evidence is anything that you see, experience, read, or are told that causes you to believe that something is true or has really happened.
1. Proof is a fact, argument, or piece of evidence that shows that something definitely true or definitely exists.
Again, there might be scientific definitions that differ from these – a privilege of science is freedom of definition, i.e. freedom to define anything as you please, as long as you motivate and explain your definition, and use it in the same sense within the frame of your research. Parker & Brusewitz apparently don't think it's necessary to explain their definitions, and they toss them around in different variations without demarcation. Perhaps they hope that no one will question their terminology as long as they use it with ease. Or they might be caught up in a relativistic or postmodern frame of mind: what they write is true for them, in their context. Unfortunately, they have made a scientific claim and seek scientific acceptance.
In the dictionary definition, evidence pertains to belief and proof to knowledge. In that respect, I willingly submit to the notion that the Parker & Brusewitz compilation provides evidence, i.e. the studies may cause someone to believe that paranormal phenomena exists. But we don't need science for that. Many people just need to see something fuzzy in the corner of their eye to believe in ghosts. Others believe in paranormal phenomena because their neighbor said he saw a flying saucer. Science is applied when we want to verify that those beliefs are founded in real phenomena, not "seen", "experienced", "told", or "read about" phenomena. Science is applied when we want to know, when we want proof. That is what separates science from nonsense and knowledge from belief.
I suggest that a word-game such as the one displayed by Parker & Brusewitz, or anyone else, has one single purpose: to make nonsense appear as knowledge. That is to say, to give invalid claims the same status as valid ones. Note that they state that proof is impossible in empiric science. That means that nothing we do know for certain about this world can be regarded as proven. So the search for proof is futile, not only in parapsychology, but in any field of science. By denying empirical findings a higher status (or a "better" term) than mere suggestions, hunches or agreements, Parker & Brusewitz hope to narrow the gap between phenomena we know exist and phenomena they want to exist. Thus, they seek to promote a science that is unable to produce verifiable findings by degrading sciences that are able.
Let's see this modus operandi, and some even more disgusting behavior, at work by looking into some of the studies in the compendium. In the following, I will address only Parker since I am assuming that Brusewitz is only decoration – people who don't know that the SSPR is a rather sad group of gullible Gellerites and UFO fetishists might be impressed by the name of its chairman. I'm not. And when I commented on this paper on a Swedish internet forum, only Parker came forward to defend it (although he did not actually defend it – instead, he suggested that we should discuss other things, he complained about not getting the Lund University parapsychology chair and he dropped a lot of names in the field of parapsychology, allegedly his friends.)
The Bill Delmore Experiments
"A possible exception [from studies providing strong evidence] might be the Delmore experiments but as we note below these have been defended by no less critic than Richard Wiseman. /... / Parapsychologist and illusionist George Hansen was of the opinion that Delmore's success could be explained in this way [card skills] while parapsychologist and illusionist Richard Wiseman concluded after practical experimentation that the proposed method could not have been used." (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003)
Please note what Parker is doing here. He is presenting a study that may not qualify as providing strong evidence but claims that Richard Wiseman has defended it. So his reason for having the Delmore tests on the list is that they were defended by Wiseman, a much respected skeptic. Parker even elaborates on this and claims that the critique from one parapsychologist and illusionist has been refuted by another parapsychologist and illusionist through experimentation – it is obvious that Parker is seeking rhetorical points by this repetition of titles. 1-1=0.
So what is it Wiseman has tested? In the paper referred to by Parker, Wiseman (1995) reports on how he tested his own notion on the possibility of Delmore having used a "foot shiner". Writes Wiseman:
"While discussing the Delmore case, it occurred to me that the test conditions might not have prevented Delmore from using a "shiner" attached to his foot." (Wiseman, 1995)
From this, we can state that Wiseman did not test any idea proposed by Hansen. Further more, according to Parker, Hansen suggested "card skills" as an explanation for Delmore's test results. A "shiner" is a small mirror attached to the foot, it has nothing to do with "card skills". So not even in the context of Parker's own fabrication does it make sense. But has Wiseman defended the Delmore tests in any way? I asked Wiseman in an e-mail and got this reply:
"You are correct. I only experimented with that one idea and Hansen's other (and many) criticisms of the tests are valid." (Wiseman, 2006)
So Wiseman hasn't defended the Delmore tests at all, and in fact agrees with Hansen's critique. And when I corresponded with Hansen (2006) on the matter of Parker's paper, he commented on the fact that Parker do indeed make it sound as if Hansen has proposed the "shiner" while this is not the case. So Parker is making claims not only contradicted by himself in the previous text, but also by his own reference – Wiseman's paper on the "shiner" test, and by Wiseman himself, corroborated by Hansen. A benevolent conclusion would be that Parker has pulled an "Ed Cox" – contrary to facts, he persists in promoting his own fantasy. A more probable conclusion is that Parker is engaging in deliberate deceit.
Hansen's (1992) critique of the Delmore tests goes far beyond a suggestion of "card skills" (link to Hansen article). Parker knows this, but tries to trivialize it. He also minimizes Delmore's capacity as a conjurer to him having "some, albeit apparently elementary, card skills" -- thus displaying a fundamental ignorance of the time and practice necessary to execute the sort of sleight-of-hand techniques that Delmore bragged about and performed publicly.
The Delmore tests have no place on a list of studies providing evidence for PSI – whatever criteria for evidence you chose. But what is worse is that Parker, an alleged scientist, deliberately distorts verifiable sources, in this case using the authority of one of his more renown and respected peers in a deceitful way. As I will show in the next blog, this is not an isolated incident, but a systematic way of fabricating reality that underlines the entire paper.
Continue to Part II: Targ's & Puthoff's remote viewing experiments
Hansen, G. P., (1992) The Research With B.D. and the Legacy of Magical Ignorance. Journal of Parapsychology, 56, December.
Hansen, G.P., (Hansen's e-mail address). (2006, april, 20). Correspondence concerning the Parker & Brusewitz (2003) article. E-mail to recipient.
Hines, T., (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. New York: Prometheus.
Johnson, M., (1980). Parapsykologi. Försök till forskning i upplevandets och kunskapens gränsmarker. Göteborg: Zindermans. Note: To my knowledge, Johnson's book has not been translated to English. But his comments on the 1976 convention can also be found in Johnson, M., (1976). Some reflections after the P A Conference. European Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 1, 3, 2–5.
Marks, D., (2000). The Psychology of the Psychic. New York: Prometheus.
Parker, A., & Brusewitz, G., (2003). A Compendium of the Evidence for Psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 18, p. 33-51.
Randi, J., (1982). The Truth About Uri Geller. New York: Prometheus.
Wiseman, R., (1995). Testing the notion that a "foot shiner" could have been used during the Delmore experiment. Journal of Parapsychology, The, March.
Wiseman, R., (Wiseman's e-mail address). (2006, mars, 23). Answer to question regarding Wiseman's test of a "shiner" and its relation to Hansen's critique of the Delmore tests. E-mail to the recipient. (email@example.com)