Sunday, February 18, 2007

Who cares?

Elsevier is the world's largest publisher of scientific journals and books. One of the journals is relatively new, called Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing. Elsevier tracks visits to their websites to help rank the scientific impact of their 2,000 journals. In a survey reported in December it recorded over 1 million visits by customers who viewed 4.8 million pages.

Elsevier also tracks the top 10 most-downloaded articles each month, and which journals they were published in. One of those articles was published recently in Explore, so the impact of that new journal is rising fast. I found of special interest their observation that the second most popular download for the September/October issue of Explore was "Double-Blind Test of the Effects of Distant Intention on Water Crystal," by me, Gail Hayssen, Masaru Emoto, & Takashige Kizu.

So who cares? As I've written before, lots of scientists do. I see it directly because I answer emails from scientists all the time. But stats like the present one from Elsevier are beginning to reflect that interest as well. Most scientists are not quite ready to come out of the closet yet. But that closet door is definitely showing signs of movement.

(I thank an alert reader for spotting an error in an earlier version of this post -- the Double-Blind Test paper was not in the December issue of Explore, as I had originally written.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

TV shows

I was on the Oprah Winfrey show today. The topic was mediumship. I provided a few words on what science has to offer about "the sixth sense." Oprah will have a follow-up show on the same topic later in the month, and I might be on that one too.

On March 8 at 10PM/9C on the A&E Network I'll be on a special program about premonitions. A&E's description of the show:
Everyone has dreamt that somebody they love has died. Most of the time, we wake up in horror, only to realize that it was only a dream...But what if it wasn't – What if your dream foretold real tragedy? How would you know that it was really going to happen? Could you do anything to stop it? Cutting-edge research now suggests we may all have the ability to predict what is about to occur. Premonition... precognitive dreams...presentiment...These phenomena might not be a matter of faith, myth, or just making a lucky guess. Premonition will explore extraordinary cases of real people who have had their dreams and nightmares come true.

Saturday, February 10, 2007


Original in the New York Times.

Published: February 10, 2007

PRINCETON, N.J., Feb. 6 — Over almost three decades, a small laboratory at Princeton University managed to embarrass university administrators, outrage Nobel laureates, entice the support of philanthropists and make headlines around the world with its efforts to prove that thoughts can alter the course of events.

But at the end of the month, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory, or PEAR, will close, not because of controversy but because, its founder says, it is time. The laboratory has conducted studies on extrasensory perception and telekinesis from its cramped quarters in the basement of the university’s engineering building since 1979. Its equipment is aging, its finances dwindling.

“For 28 years, we’ve done what we wanted to do, and there’s no reason to stay and generate more of the same data,” said the laboratory’s founder, Robert G. Jahn, 76, former dean of Princeton’s engineering school and an emeritus professor. “If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced, then they never will.”

Besides the annoying use of the term "telekinesis," which no one in the field uses, and the fact that Princeton University administrators were supposedly embarassed, as though embarassment has any role in evaluating scientific research, this article implies that the PEAR Lab was an academic anomaly reporting anomalous results, and as such, it was justifiably shunned by all sober scientists. What the article does not ask is whether the PEAR Lab's results have been independently confirmed by other scientists. The answer is clearly yes, as anyone can discover with a bit of homework, or by reading Entangled Minds or The Conscious Universe. This makes the Princeton lab's interests not so anomalous after all, and their empirical results not anomalous at all.

Was their work actually dismissed by most scientists? Perhaps in public within university circles, but certainly not in private. As the PEAR Lab found, I've also discovered that there's a large and growing network of mainstream academics who are privately very interested in these topics. But taboos in academia prevent scientists from openly discussing their real interests.

There is much said about the lofty ideals of academic freedom, the freedom to explore any topic with impunity. But the ideal is a myth. It is not possible to study any topic one wishes without risk. Scientists who attempt to study controversial topics will find that they do not get tenure, or if they already have tenure they will not get promotions, and if that fails the administrator will attempt to avoid embarassment and try (usually unsuccessfully) to fire the violator. In this sense the PEAR Lab showed incredible fortitude by simply surviving within an environment that tried every trick in the book to make the lab disappear. This emotional side of supposedly rational academia is a hidden and shameful secret, not often seen by those outside the ivory towers.

I recently had a conversation with an intelligent, highly skeptical scientist who vehemently insisted with unshakable confidence that there is no reason to accept any claims of psychic phenomena because there are no peer-reviewed publications supporting their existence. Thus, any claims to the contrary, even by places like the PEAR Lab, are necessarily flawed or fraud. And further, if there were such evidence, then it would have won the "million dollar prize" by now. Ipso facto, there is no evidence. It's all fraud run by scam artists.

I calmly pointed out that there are in fact hundreds of such publications, most in peer-reviewed journals. The scientist was incredulous, refusing to believe that this could possibly be true, and even if was true, those journals couldn't possibly be any good. I could only sigh. There are tens of thousands of journals. No one can know more than a tiny sliver of information appearing in journals that are not within one's speciality. To assume that because you haven't heard of the information it doesn't exist is the height of hubris. As Prof. Jahn said in the NYTimes piece, “If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced, then they never will.” I'm afraid that is quite true.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Debunking the debunkers

On the Barnes & Noble website for Entangled Minds there is an anonymous review by Kirkus Reviews. It says in part:

... He then detours into an attack on ESP debunkers. A history of psychic research follows (neglecting to mention that some of the pioneers later admitted faking their results)....

Why am I hard on the "ESP debunkers"? Because some of their statements are bunk. A good example is the parenthetical comment above. It is pure fiction. In the 120+ year history of systematic scientific study of psychic phenomena, there is a single case where an investigator admitted faking data. That occurred in the 1970s by one researcher at J B Rhine's laboratory. Historically there are two or three other suspected -- but not proven -- cases. In all instances the suspects were identified by other parapsychologists. High integrity among parapsychological investigators is comparable to that found in any other scientific discipline.

I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as fraud. - Carl Jung

Friday, February 02, 2007

About the chocolate

For those who listened to me on the Coast to Coast AM show Thursday night, click here to go to the Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate website that I mentioned. The experiment involving chocolate will be published probably sometime this summer. When I get word that the article is in press, I'll post the abstract on this blog.