Saturday, January 13, 2007

Adrian Parker's Fabrication of Reality.
Part II: Targ's & Puthoff's remote viewing experiments

(Download printer friendly PDF of all postings on Adrian Parker's paper in A4 format or US letter format.)

In Part I, I showed that parapsychologist Adrian Parker engages in deliberate deception concerning the Delmore tests when he distorts the writings of his peers in order to turn seriously flawed research into "evidence" of paranormal phenomena. Let's continue with another post in Parker's (2003) compendium: Targ's & Puthoff's research on people claiming to be able to close their eyes and "see" distant places.

Remote viewing was launched in the 1970's mainly by physicists Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff at the Stanford Research Institute (no in any way associated with Stanford University). Targ and Puthoff claimed that remote viewing could be performed by anyone and that the very positive results of their research were replicable. In a remote viewing test procedure, someone (X) goes away to a location ("target") not possible to reach by ordinary sensory perception. Another person remains in the laboratory with the test subject. At a chosen time, the impression the test subject gets of the target is recorded. Usually the subject also produces sketches of the impressions he or she gets. A third person, a judge, then brings the subject's recorded impressions and/or sketch to the target and validates how well it corresponds with the location. Ordinarily, several targets are tested in one trial so that recordings and/or sketches can not be matched by other means than the impressions. If you omit the "secret intelligence" terminology used, remote viewing seems to be some sort of telepathy – the impressions X get of the location is somehow transferred to the subject (Nickell, 1992). In more imaginative anecdotes, remote viewers claim to be able to "see" every where, at any time and without anyone being at the target location.

In Parker's listing, the Targ & Puthoff remote viewing research is presented like this:

"The first series of remote viewing experiments by Russel Targ and Hal Puthoff produced a controversy in Nature as to wether references relating to the previous targets, occasionally present in protocols from sessions, could give cues to the judges and thereby explain the successes. Removal of these references by their colleague Charles Tart apparently made little or no different to scoring levels but Marks and Scott insisted there were still some cues." (Parker & Brusewitz, 2003)

From this, you get the impression that the critique raised against Targ's & Puthoff's research was refuted when Tart allegedly showed that the suggested flaws were superficial, but that the critics out of stubbornness maintained that there still was flaws. Was that really the case?

The Targ and Puthoff experiments were part of the government funded research at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) from the beginning of the 1970's until 1992, when the project was transferred to the Science Applications International Corporation (Wiseman, 1998). The tests Parker refers to where conducted during the first decade with alleged high scoring subjects like Pat Price and Hella Hamid. Some of them had been recruited from the Scientology Church, due to the fact that Puthoff at the time were a member of the sect (Alcock, 1998). Targ & Puthoff claimed that they had done hundreds of experiments and most of them had been successful. Some of the subjects performed amazingly well and one of them could even perform precognition by describing the targets, not only before they were visited, but before they were even chosen (Hines, 2003).

The SRI tests followed the standard design; when the subject reported his or her impressions, the recordings were handed to independent judges who then visited the target locations and validated the accuracy. Extrasensory perception was indicated when the judge were able to clearly link an assertion to a target location (Hines, 2003).

Impressed by Targ's & Puthoff's results, David Marks and Richard Kammann tried to replicate the tests with five subjects but failed to find scores beyond chance. Marks & Kammann had found it necessary to edit out information that could have provided the judges with cues to which targets had been visited, while Targ & Puthoff had reported that the subject records had been handed to the judges unedited. This means that if the judges in the Targ & Puthoff trials received transcripts with cues regarding the order in which the recordings had been made and, in addition, a non-randomized list of target locations, they could easily have matched the impressions with the targets, even if they were not consciously aware of the cues' significance.

Targ & Puthoff had reported that all transcripts were handed to the judges in random order, but when Marks visited SRI, one of the judges, Arthur Hastings, told him that the transcripts had been delivered in the order the targets had been visited during the tests. When Marks was able to read the transcripts from the trials with Price, he discovered a multitude of cues clearly indicating the order of the transcripts – for instance, in the third target transcript, reference was made to "yesterday's two targets". When Marks & Kammann conducted additional tests with the method used by Targ & Puthoff, five transcripts were perfectly matched to five targets (Alcock, 1998).

So what did Tart do? According to Parker, he conducted re-tests but omitted the cues and was still able to replicate Targ's & Puthoff's results. The problem is that no one was actually able to verify this – Targ & Puthoff refused to submit data until July 1985 and Tart had in part used material already public and even published (Hines, 2003).

But the question of cues in the transcripts is only one of several charges brought against the Targ & Puthoff remote viewing research. Alcock (1998) suggests four other serious flaws.

First, the tests were not conducted independently of each other. For instance, the subjects were taken to the target locations and received immediate feedback after each impression had been recorded. Thus, subsequent statements were not independent of prior targets. Hastings had also told that different subjects tended to focus on different factors. One was focused on architectural and topographical factors, while another focused on X's behavior. In addition, the subjects' names were noted in the header of the transcripts, which might have helped the judges.

Second, when analyzing the Hammid tests, Marks and Kammann found that sketches were missing for three out of six tests. They also found references to additional tests with Hammid that had not been accounted for by Targ & Puthoff. In the so called Technology tests, they found that anything from one to five tests with five subjects was reported. Why had Targ & Puthoff reported only on one of five tests with three of the subjects, four out of five with a fourth and all five with Hammid? Sketches were also missing from the records of these tests.

Third, there was no control or control groups, and thus no reference or relation to lack of remote viewing occurrence. A subject might for example have been asked to make two statements, one for a real target and one for a fictitious – without revealing to the subject that one of the targets did not exist. The judges would then have had to evaluate the "fake" statements too, resulting in a much more reliable notion of whether something paranormal really had occurred. There were also indications that the tests and the data analysis was subject to considerable sloppiness.

Last, but not least, the evaluations were completely subjective and Marks and Kammann noticed, during their own tests, that both X and the judge could feel very strongly for a correlation between subject and target, a correlation that de facto did not exist.

The best summary of the Targ & Puthoff remote viewing tests is perhaps Alcock's own words:

"Given these various criticisms, there should remain little doubt that the Targ-Puthoff studies are fatally flawed, and that rather than trying to save something from them by arguing whether or not a given flaw pertains to a given subset of trials, remote viewing proponents should instead design and run a proper, well-controlled experiment with an appropriate control group." (Alcock, 1988)

What is evident in the Parker compendium, is the fact that he again belittles the rather massive criticism raised against a study he lists as giving evidence for PSI. And again he claims that the fragment of criticism he do mention, has been refuted. What is compelling regarding the Targ & Puthoff research is that it so obviously constitutes "crank science". They refuse to submit data when requested – as they did in their Uri Geller "tests" too. All their research, not just the remote viewing experiments, shows fundamental methodological flaws. They have rightfully been called the Laurel & Hardy of parapsychology (Randi, 1982). But what do you call a scientist that refers to those clowns' activities as "evidence for PSI"? I don't know if Parker's merits stretches beyond psychology but any serious scientist engaging in experimental research should be able to recognize crap science when confronted with it. Targ's & Puthoff's "research" is without doubt utter crap but Parker doesn't want to see it. What does that make Parker?

I will comment on Parker's listing of the Schmidt experiments in my next blog. Stay tuned.

Go back to Part I: The Delmore Tests

Continue to Part III: The Schmidt experiments


Alcock, J., (1988). A Comprehensive Review of Major Empirical Studies in Parapsychology Involving Random Event Generators or Remote Viewing. In Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories, and Techniques. Washington: National Academy Press.

Hines, T., (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. New York: Prometheus.

Nickell, J., (1992). Missing Pieces. How to Investigate Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, & Other Mysteries. New York: Prometheus.

Parker, A., & Brusewitz, G., (2003). A Compendium of the Evidence for Psi. European Journal of Parapsychology, 18, 33–51.

Randi, J., (1982)., Flim-Flam. Psychics, ESP, Unicorns and Other Delusions. New York: Prometheus.

Wiseman, R., (1998). Experiment One of the SAIC remote viewing program: a critical re-evaluation – Sience Application International Corporation. Journal of Parapsychology, The, December.

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