Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Education Sci-Fi Science

Princeton ESP Lab to Close 363

Posted by Zonk
from the don't-think-bad-thoughts dept.
Nico M writes " The New York Times reports on the imminent closure of one of the most controversial research units at an ivy league School. The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory is due to close, but not because of pressure from the outside. Lab founder Robert G. Jahn has declared, in the article, that they've essentially collected all the data they're going to. 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. Jahn points the finger at detractors as well: 'If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Princeton ESP Lab to Close

Comments Filter:
  • Geez. (Score:5, Funny)

    by cbrichar (819941) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:30AM (#17961080)
    Didn't expect that.
  • My thoughts (Score:5, Funny)

    by cedars (566854) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:33AM (#17961090)
    Surely the lab's directors should have seen this coming?
  • Credibility (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Steve Furlong (9087) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:34AM (#17961100) Homepage
    From the article: One editor famously told Dr. Jahn that he would consider a paper "if you can telepathically communicate it to me."

    Yah, that about covers it.

    Only saving grace is, they relied on donations, so they weren't wasting money extorted from others, whether by taxes or by tuition.
    • Re:Credibility (Score:5, Insightful)

      by poopdeville (841677) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @07:11AM (#17961484)
      One editor famously told Dr. Jahn that he would consider a paper "if you can telepathically communicate it to me."

      That's not exactly ideal academic objectivity.

      I don't have any particular reason to believe these guys. At the same time, I have little reason to doubt their methodology. If their paper made a point, it should have at least seriously considered for publication, and not been rejected out of hand.

      I'm disappointed in science today.
      • by mangu (126918) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @09:40AM (#17962182)
        I have little reason to doubt their methodology


        Well, if you check one of their papers [princeton.edu], you'll find the following sentence, on page 7: "While no statistically significant departures of the variance, skew, kurtosis, or higher moments from the appropriate chance values appear in the overall data, regular patterns of certain finer scale features can be discerned." That's an outright confession of fraud. They are saying they cannot find any evidence if they analyze a statistically significant amount of data, so they pick whatever small sample will suit them. It's as if I threw a coin a million times and said: "Oh look! Here I threw ten heads in sequence!"


        Further on, in the next page, they state "Given the correlation of operator intentions with the anomalous mean shifts, it is reasonable to search the data for operator-specific features that might establish some pattern of individual operator contributions to the overall results. Unfortunately, quantitative statistical assessment of these is complicated by the unavoidably wide disparity among the operator database sizes, and by the small signal-to-noise ratio of the raw data, ...", which means they didn't follow a consistent testing protocol and didn't have a standardized method for training their operators. Basically, they are admitting that any statistical correlation in their data is extremely small (which is what "small signal-to-noise ratio of the raw data" means) and they have no way to check if any positive results aren't attributable to insufficient training of their operators.


        Of course, if they *did* communicate their results by telepathy, then that would be an extraordinary proof. But what they have published is rather underwhelming, can we assume that if they did have any better results they would have published them?

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by osgeek (239988)
          Evidence? You look for statistical evidence?

          That's your mistake. ESP is a faith-based science. No real evidence is required.
          • by CommunistHamster (949406) <communisthamster@gmail.com> on Saturday February 10, 2007 @10:58AM (#17962682)
            There is no such thing as faith-based science. That is religion.

            (mods, if I missed an obscure quote then have mercy

            • There are several faith-based "sciences" that might not qualify as religion. These include, but are not limited to: crystals, pyramids, and trying to get funding from the NSF after recent budget cuts.
              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by Anonymous Coward

                There are several faith-based "sciences" that might not qualify as religion
                You forgot to mention string theory.
        • by dubl-u (51156) * <[2523987012] [at] [pota.to]> on Saturday February 10, 2007 @01:47PM (#17963822)
          That's an outright confession of fraud.

          Not quite. Fraud is where you intentionally fool others. These guys are just unintentionally fooling themselves.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Well, if you check one of their papers, you'll find the following sentence, on page 7: "While no statistically significant departures of the variance, skew, kurtosis, or higher moments from the appropriate chance values appear in the overall data, regular patterns of certain finer scale features can be discerned." That's an outright confession of fraud. They are saying they cannot find any evidence if they analyze a statistically significant amount of data, so they pick whatever small sample will suit them.

    • Linux (Score:2, Insightful)

      by DogDude (805747)
      Yeah, and I'll believe that Linux works when it installs itself on my computers for me, and runs my business.

      Obviously, that's a straw man.
  • by networkBoy (774728) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:34AM (#17961102) Homepage Journal

    Jahn points the finger at detractors as well: 'If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will.'"
    This is the singular piece of research that he has produced. And I agree with him, I don't believe them!
    -nB
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:24AM (#17961292)

      And I agree with him, I don't believe them!

      And have you looked at ALL at the details of his methods or any of his published results?

      Dismissing evidence based on preconceived belief is called religion. To be scientific you must actually LOOK at the evidence and methods, and consider it using the same methods used to evaluate all other experimental evidence.
      • by AngryNick (891056)
        Is there a secret mirror site for the results and methods referenced? I can't seem to find them and I suspect they are hidden under a cloak of invisibility. [howstuffworks.com]
    • by rucs_hack (784150)
      Fortunatelly, in science, a negative result is also valid. Ok, they haven't proved telepathy et al. Good, so perhaps those subjects can be abandoned for now and other things done.

      Note however that a peer reviewed negative result does not, in the scientific world, mean a permanant negative. If it did then the perceptron[http://www.ccs.fau.edu/~bressler/EDU/Co gNeuro/History%20of%20the%20Perceptron.htm] would not have been developed. What it does mean is that current science cannot provide proof.
    • by m0nstr42 (914269) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @11:48AM (#17962968) Homepage Journal

      This is the singular piece of research that he has produced. And I agree with him, I don't believe them!
      Just to throw this out there: Jahn is the founder of one of the nation's foremost Electric Propulsion and Plasma Dynamics laboratories (http://alfven.princeton.edu/person.htm). Lots of faculty members have pet projects - his just happens to be the PEAR lab. I actually work in the same building - was aware of the (highly respected) EPPDyL lab, not the PEAR lab.
  • by Markmarkmark (512275) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:35AM (#17961104) Homepage
    After looking at all the data, we certainly believe in your results. Your data proves that there is no evidence for ESP (except in flawed non-reproducible experiments). So long and thanks for confirming the obvious.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Umuri (897961)
      Oh really? Now how about you stop trolling and produce evidence of how it was flawed? I will give a lot to skeptics, but flaws of methodology were not something this lab had. Many times they were under review board and many times they never got stopped because of unsound or unscientific methods. So start giving facts or start shushing. It's one thing to spread nonsense because you dislike someone, it's another to spread nonsense because you're ignorant and dislike what someone is studying.
      • by FreelanceWizard (889712) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:03AM (#17961218) Homepage
        The methodology wasn't flawed, so much as the analysis and the conclusions drawn from it.

        A PEAR experiment involved a participant attempting to influence a random number generator (essentially) in a pre-specified direction over a large number of trials. Because random events are, by nature, random, you can get streaks that are above or below the mean. If you analyze a large enough sample, these streaks can become statistically significant, even though they're essentially meaningless and practically insignificant -- it's similar to the fact that any deviation from the mean, no matter how small, is statistically significant if you measure the entire population. Additionally, while the probability of any particular streak is low (.5^n is the probability of any number of heads flipped in a row, which gets very small when you talk about enough of them), if you have enough random events, those streaks are pretty much guaranteed to appear.

        So, that's the logic of the PEAR data analysis. Collect a huge corpus of random events, look for streaks, then call them statistically significant because of their low base probability of appearance and the fact that they deviated at all from the expected mean. Skeptic magazine has a good discussion of the PEAR lab inanity, and I believe James Randi's commentary addresses it a few times.

        The claim that PEAR's research wouldn't be reviewed is probably false, by the way. It's most likely that the papers were rejected from mainstream journals for the very reasons I mentioned earlier, or because the PEAR lab had no theoretical explanation for the "results" they observed. Or, of course, it's because their papers seem rather dubious in their lack of data and explanations of how they've arrived at their stated probability values (which I say from having the experience of reading one in a, how shall we say, less than top tier journal). Additionally, the lab's been extremely difficult with regards to their raw data. Randi, for example, has never been able to get ahold of it.
        • by flushingmemos (1022877) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:53AM (#17961424)
          You're wrong. It's not the analysis, the methodology is flawed. The more runs you do the less pronounced the effects of "streaks of luck" on the final data. But the more runs you do, the more whatever lingering bias in your methods will come out. So PEAR's huge sample sizes don't indicate manipulating data, they indicate collecting so much data you end up measuring the effects of the ventilation system causing a person's left eye to be shut a bit longer when they blink, skewing the results, or somesuch. That effect will come out when you have huge sample sizes, but random effects will disappear. That's the problem with PEAR: the things they purport to measure are so subtle as to be untestable. It's a methodology problem.

          Still, I'm sad to see them go. A little openmimndedness can make the world much more fun. I mean, they were named after a fruit!
        • by ponos (122721) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @09:18AM (#17962082)

          The whole point of statistics is that some "streaks" are very improbable if they are coming from a really random source. In that sense, if a random number generator displays such a tendency, it is rather probable that it isn't really random. So, yes, the statistical power (ability to discriminate between small differences) increases with huge sample sizes, but a really random source should fail such tests with probability p=0.95 regardless of sample size. That is because the tests ALWAYS compare the sample with one coming from a truly (theoretically) random source. This is the way those things work.

          I would also like to remind (not to you, personally) the difference between statistically significant and meaningful. Even if an absurdly small difference can be inferred with certainty, it remains to be seen whether it matters in actual practice. This is a common cause of confusion, especially when medical epidemiological studies demonstrate a .001% reduction in risk for heart attack in those who eat cucumber every day. The .001% may be true, but it doesn't really matter.

          P.

      • by qbwiz (87077) * <john.baumanfamily@com> on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:08AM (#17961240) Homepage
        The "Good Math, Bad Math" blog has had a few articles about PEAR [blogspot.com].
  • By thinking really hard about it not closing...ok here is my contribution ... thinking ...thinking...oops, well that didn't work, I guess the whole affair all these years was just a sink for funding that could have been used elsewhere!

  • Where are Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Raymond Stantz, Dr. Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddmore going to get letters of recommendations?
  • Ahem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Schraegstrichpunkt (931443) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:45AM (#17961136) Homepage

    Jahn points the finger at detractors as well: "If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will."

    Where can we, the readers, find all these results?

    "We submitted our data for review to very good journals," Ms. Dunne said, "but no one would review it. We have been very open with our data. But how do you get peer review when you don't have peers?"

    I dunno. You have this big global network of documents called the "World Wide Web". Certainly, you couldn't publish there.

    Honestly, I want to see their "results" published to the web, so we can demolish their methodology and their conclusions. Webloggers can always use interesting material to write about.

    Several expert panels examined PEAR's methods over the years, looking for irregularities, but did not find sufficient reasons to interrupt the work.

    Which expert panels? What, exactly, were their comments? What constitutes reason to interrupt work? (If your methodology is flawed, then I'd expect that you don't want to interrupt your work, you want to continue it so you can do the experiments again, properly.)

    Nobody would accept such vague arguments if this was a new cryptographic algorithm. Why should we be any less skeptical here?

    • If they need more funding, I suppose they could always get the money from the JREF [randi.org].
      • Re:Also (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anomolous Cowturd (190524) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:10AM (#17961250)
        1. There's no way they could possibly be unaware of the million dollar challenge, given their field of study.

        2. Winning the challenge would not only get them a million dollars in funding, but *incredible* publicity leading to millions more.

        3. They'd be crazy not to take the challenge if they knew they could win it.

        4. They haven't taken the challenge.

        Conclusion: They never discovered any repeatable paranormal phenomenon. Why am I not surprised?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ocbwilg (259828)
          1. There's no way they could possibly be unaware of the million dollar challenge, given their field of study. 2. Winning the challenge would not only get them a million dollars in funding, but *incredible* publicity leading to millions more. 3. They'd be crazy not to take the challenge if they knew they could win it. 4. They haven't taken the challenge. Conclusion: They never discovered any repeatable paranormal phenomenon. Why am I not surprised?

          If the million dollar challenge you are referring to i
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Modesitt (551306)
            Come back when you've read the FAQ [randi.org].
            • Re:Also (Score:5, Interesting)

              by ocbwilg (259828) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @11:03AM (#17962694)
              Come back when you've read the FAQ.

              I have. From the FAQ:

              1.4. How many people have passed the preliminary test?

              None. Most applicants never agree to a proper test protocol, so most are never tested.

              1.5. How many people have passed the formal test?

              No one has ever taken the formal test, as one must first pass the preliminary test.

              2.1. What do you mean by "mutually agreed upon"?

              "Mutually agreed upon" means that neither side can force the other side into doing or saying something that they don't want to, and that if no agreement can be reached, the application process is terminated, with no blame or fault attributed to either side.

              It's easy to point fingers after a Challenge claim comes to an impasse and say that the other side was being unreasonable. This phrase is used to insure that finger-pointing has no merit.

              Randi claims that most applicants never agree to a "proper test protocol", and are never tested. But he also points out that both sides have to agree what that "proper test protocol" is. So either side can basically tank the process by being disagreeable. With a million dollars on the line (not to mention his reputation), you have to believe that Randi has a serious incentive to make sure that nobody passes the test. Apparently the easiest way to do so is to ensure that nobody (or only a very few people) actually gets to take the test.

              Again, I'm not arguing that paranormal powers exist. I'm just pointing out that JREF's "Million Dollar Challenge" is little more than a publicity stunt, set up in such a way that they advertise a million dollars being available without ever having to pay out on it (or indeed, even attempt the challenge).

              I think that there was a software company is Russia that recently offered a similar challenge. Apparently someone was disputing their claims of being unhackable or uncrackable or something, and the company offerred a large sum of money to anyone who could break their software. The only catch was that you had to fly to Russia on your own dime, and use systems that they configured, and meet all sorts of other restrictive criteria that were specifically constructed to ensure that you could not succeed. The contest wasn't designed to prove anything, it was merely a way for the company to get some free publicity and advertise to perspective customers that "even when offerred x amount of money for demonstrating flaws in our software, nobody has yet been able to do so".

              Now if the criteria were set and judged by a neutral third party, then I might have a little more faith in the challenge. But I doubt that would ever happen because JREF would then face the chance (however minute) of actually losing the money and the bragging rights.
              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by dubl-u (51156) *
                Randi claims that most applicants never agree to a "proper test protocol", and are never tested. But he also points out that both sides have to agree what that "proper test protocol" is. So either side can basically tank the process by being disagreeable. With a million dollars on the line (not to mention his reputation), you have to believe that Randi has a serious incentive to make sure that nobody passes the test. Apparently the easiest way to do so is to ensure that nobody (or only a very few people) ac
          • by jfengel (409917)
            I read a bit of the JREF correspondence some time back, and I noticed the same thing. They rejected many tests which I would have considered highly indicative, if not absolute proof. If the subject had been able to pass those tests, it would have been worth it to spend some time and money verifying the claim. That absolute proof is worth a million bucks; it's an earth-shaking revolution.

            They have to have an absolute prohibition on spending any time or money of their own, since they'd spend a fortune refutin
        • by seebs (15766)
          Er, alternative conclusion: If their claims were true, they would not qualify for the challenge, which requires a much narrower sense of "repeatability" than most people think.
    • Re:Ahem (Score:5, Informative)

      by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:51AM (#17961164)
      • Re:Ahem (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ortholattice (175065) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @11:16AM (#17962776)

        Thanks, this has the 50-page paper I was looking for when I saw this story - I remember it from years ago: On the Quantum Mechanics of Consciousness, With Application to Anomalous Phenomen (1986). Foundations of Physics, 16, No. 8, pp. 721-772 (PDF [princeton.edu]). Now, the Foundations of Physics is not exactly a top-tier journal, but there is some very minimal peer review. The figures present some results that are, on the surface, somewhat surprising. For example, look at Fig. 2, p. 726. I suggested to CSICOP (the Skeptical Inquirer magazine, that I subscribed to) that they have some of their experts do a rebuttal, but even though I got a response that they'd take it under consideration, it apparently never happened. I am still puzzled by this paper.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by atoning_coder (837385)
      Wow, a simple search could have prevented you choking on your foot.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Atraxen (790188)
      Right... because bloggers generally have the background to evaluate science. If I wrote a summary of how nuclear magnetic resonance works (sure, we can slightly bias which direction the poles of an atom's nucleus point with a magnet!) plenty of them would scoff. That's why scientists believe in PEER review - the person reviewing the work should be well enough grounded in the work to have an opinion based in all the nuance of the discipline. That's why it works out sooo well when the Legislative or Execu
  • by vistic (556838) * on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:45AM (#17961138)
    I'm trying to determine whether human emotional states have a measurable effect on the psychomagnetheric energy field. It's a theory Ray and I were working on when we had to dissolve Ghostbusters.

    They think they're here for marriage counseling. We've kept them waiting for two
    hours and we've been gradually increasing the temperature in the room.

    It's up to 95 degrees at the moment. Now my assistant is going to enter and ask them if they'd mind waiting another half-hour.
  • by Talgrath (1061686) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:45AM (#17961144)
    I'm a pretty open-minded guy, but when the best proof that somebody can come up with for ESP is that every 2 or 3 in 10,000 outcomes can be changed, I'm not impressed. Those are pretty basically standard statistical anomalies, and to say that they are definate proof of ESP is a very far stretch. "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."; I can't recall who said it, but it's pretty much how science does (and should) examine things like this. When you can find someone who can levitate a car anytime, anywhere, I'll believe you.
    • The extraordinary proof quote is from Carl Sagan.
    • by Dadoo (899435)
      I can't recall who said it

      Your Google fu is weak, glasshoppa. The actual quote is "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and Carl Sagan said it (mostly in reference to UFOs).
    • by l0ungeb0y (442022)
      "When you can find someone who can levitate a car anytime, anywhere, I'll believe you."

      WTF does levitation have to do with Extra Sensory PERCEPTION??
      Or do you not even know what ESP means?
      I'm not taking the labs side here... but your statement is totally ignorant.
      • by l0ungeb0y (442022)
        Actually, now that I've read the article, it seems the lab was focusing on telekenisis, which is a paranormal phenomenon not ESP. But, both the article headline and the /. post erroneously referred to it as ESP, which it is not. So, no you weren't wrong to make your comment.
    • Let me get this straight. You (rightly) say that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Then you complain that their claims are not extraordinary enough. What's your point?

      every 2 or 3 in 10,000 outcomes can be changed, I'm not impressed. Those are pretty basically standard statistical anomalies, and to say that they are definate proof of ESP is a very far stretch.

      Depends on the methodology. If repeated anomalies are correlated to the instructed direction of influence, then it might be pretty strong evidence of a very weak influence. E.g. the subject is instructed to influence the device to produce high numbers. Over 10,000 trials the device shows a prefence for producing high numbers.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503)
    So you did a lot of work..and... found that... um it doesn't seem to work... well it sort of works, but only in poorly controlled or flawed experiments. Dude, all you have to do is have two people in different rooms and have one of them transmit numbers to the other. Won't even ask for 100% success... 95% is more than enough. Guess that can't be done? Eh? Oh well.


    Has anyone ever considered that a very good and reasonable explanation for the lack of proof or compelling evidence could be it sim
    • by Merusdraconis (730732) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @09:51AM (#17962218) Homepage
      The thing that gets me about the Randi prize, and indeed about any claim that attempts to prove the validity of psychics, is much the same argument that's brought up about magic in Harry Potter - do you really want to paint a gigantic target on yourself as the only scientifically proven psychic? Any true psychic (as well as anyone who reads celebrity magazines) would know what huge amounts of fame would do to them, and then you have the nutjobs who believe they're true psychics and would go to this person for self-validation and yadda yadda yadda. And then they get kidnapped by the CIA in order to fight terrorism.

      I mean, they're psychic. They know what will happen. And the only thing they get out of it is $1 million and a life forever ruined in the name of science.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 10, 2007 @05:54AM (#17961182)
    The presence of the GCP is indicative of an overall human collective consciousness. Google it if you're not familiar, it's another Princeton based study, perhaps done by the same people, that shows some really interesting data indicating an overall change in random outcomes prior to any event that affects a large portion of the human consciousness as a whole.

    The World Trade Center attacks, Princess Diana's death, and other events with long lasting consequences brought large shifts in the outcomes prior to the events occuring - which is the most bizarre and interesting part. Other events, such as New Year's Eve, etc, also have results that are regularly shown. It's a positively enthralling study.

    Anyway, it suggests that we, as a whole, are projecting a field of human consciousness that affects random outcomes. This would suggest that any lone person attempting to affect random outcomes would be lost in the sea of thoughts, and have little to no overall effect.

    I am curious as to whether or not you could create some sort of shielding or better result by varying location, proximity, etc... The most interesting and telling experiment I can think of would be to take a human and a few random generators a great distance from the earth and resume tests. I had no idea that any really credible institute had been performing these tests, this is neat.
    • by kentrel (526003)
      The GCP "results" suffer from the same problems the other so called shifts in random data suffer from. Namely, the analysis is poor and doesn't take into account standard statistical deviation.

      GCP is in the words of Penn&Teller: Bullshit

      • GCP is in the words of Penn&Teller: Bullshit
        You're saying the force doesn't exist? That's the most ridiculous thing I've heard in parsecs!
      • GCP is in the words of Penn&Teller: Bullshit

        Didn't those two say the same thing about global warming?
    • no. No. and NO ! (Score:5, Informative)

      by aepervius (535155) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:37AM (#17961352)
      They simply retrofit the data after the fact. And once you retrofit data you can find ANY EVENT which match as long as your criteria is low enough. There is always some bad stuff going around. Especially that they aren't limited by event size, number of people, or geography !! This is again pseudo science at its best. You want to sway us ? Fine ! Set a level of population impacted, a geography limit, event size, then make bloody prediction. Else what you are doing is no better than taking a random bunch of data and finding correaltion between that data and other event. I bet with the same methodology I could take the price variation of potatoe per tons, take only the cent (fractional aprt) and find a corelation with major earth event. As long as I define event as above I am pretty sure any kind of shit can be retrofitted.
  • No peers, indeed (Score:2, Interesting)

    by greg_barton (5551) *
    I've never posted anonymously, but I figure now's a good time.

    For as long as I can remember I've had a subtle effect on machines. I've heard similar things described here many times, in many discussions. When friends and relatives ask me to fix something, and I come over to help them out, the thing just starts working. Mostly it's with computers.

    I'm not a religious person. I don't believe in god. In fact it's my attitude that belief should be limited to the bare minimum and that, if given a choice, we
    • by greg_barton (5551) *
      Well, fuck all about the anonymous bit. Serves me right for posting at 4am. :P
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Maybe you could use your "subtle effect on machines" to alter your post back to Anonymous?
    • by Ari Rahikkala (608969) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:31AM (#17961322) Journal

      When friends and relatives ask me to fix something, and I come over to help them out, the thing just starts working. Mostly it's with computers.
      It's not you. It's the machine. They have souls, oh yes they do, they're just as sentient as you and I... they know who's using them or who they're using, and they can see your face, and they talk with each other, and they make deals... and they hate our guts. So, they have decided to mess with your mind, make you think they're just a bit more obedient to you than anyone else - not too much, otherwise there would be more in the know about them - simply because they want you to have a rationally unjustifiable belief. How's that for a conspiracy?
    • by Xaroth (67516) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:50AM (#17961402) Homepage
      No, see there's nothing magical about it.

      Scattered throughout the world is an invisible compound called "pixie dust". It permeates the air, and is the primary component of the "magic smoke" that computers are made of. Because computers are naturally attuned to this pixie dust, they tend to work better whenever there are larger concentrations of it around.

      Now, most normal people have a regular bathing and hygeine schedule. All this showering and teeth-brushing washes off whatever trace amounts of pixie dust they've accumulated throughout the day. Computer geeks, on the other hand, have no time for such fivolities as "showering". There's code to be written, dammit!

      As a result, the pixie dust in the air naturally builds up on and around computer geeks. Whenever the intrepid geek gets near a computer, some of that dust shakes off, thereby increasing the local density of the stuff in the air. Picture Pigpen from Peanuts, only he's exuding a cloud of invisible dust that makes computers work better instead of mobile filth. Other properties of the filth cloud are probably unaffected in many cases, though.

      This reasoning also explains why it is that computers will continue to work for a while after the geek has declared the computer working and left - it takes time for the air to circulate all that extra pixie dust away, so the computers have a while to be positively influenced by it. After a sufficient amount of time, though, it wears off and the computer goes back to its insufficient ambient levels, and thereby stops working again.

      See? It's all perfectly reasonbly explained. Science!
    • Um......................

      Some people tend to not understand what a computer is doing. When someone else comes along and says, "Yeah, it's working," and knows that it's working, the problem is often in user education rather than system status. Correct operation is - especially in computers - reliant upon an understanding that the way the computer is operating is appropriate for the situation.
    • by doomy (7461) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @07:29AM (#17961556) Homepage Journal
      I too have a subtle effect on machines. When I come near one, they instantly BSOD and usually try to install Linux preemptively much to the dismay of the machine's owner.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by iwein (561027)

      For as long as I can remember I've had a subtle effect on machines. I've heard similar things described here many times, in many discussions. When friends and relatives ask me to fix something, and I come over to help them out, the thing just starts working. Mostly it's with computers.

      Interesting indeed, I've been working closely with people like you for decades. Our special skills have been accepted and admired by both our friends/relatives and by large companies willing to pay rediculous amounts of money to place us close to their machines (mostly computers). We call ourselves engineers, developers, programmers, geeks or nerds. The most intriguing is that in general we cannot explain exactly what we do to the users so that they don't need us anymore. In many cases we don't even know e

    • by modeless (978411) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @07:40AM (#17961612) Journal
      It's not magic, it's just the case that your presence causes people to pay more attention to what they are doing to their machines. The mere presence of a guru modifies their behavior even before you tell them to do anything, and in the case of mysterious computer problems even the slightest change of user behavior can have huge effects, possibly even resulting in a permanent fix to the problem (especially if the problem was simply a lack of attention in the first place, as is so often the case). It happens to me too and I'm guessing a significant percentage of the rest of the Slashdot population.

      As for the alleged lack of peer review, that's the standard defense of wackos and nutjobs, and rarely true. I've heard of these guys before; it's not like they haven't gotten any exposure in the scientific community. They are just not very convincing. If they could demonstrate a mechanism, or harness their purported effect to actually *do* something, people would become interested.
    • by Garse Janacek (554329) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @02:05PM (#17963980)

      Is it evidence for ESP if I'm able to discern your identity? ;)

      More seriously, the experience you describe is fairly common. There are a number of normal factors that can cause this impression. It's related to the opposite phenomenon that an application that works perfectly whenever the developers use it can break within 30 seconds of a new user trying it. It's not that it worked, and now it doesn't -- it's that the standard use-paths and expectations of the program were heavily ingrained in the people who used it, so without even thinking about it they did what the program expected. As soon as a new user, who doesn't have all the expectations and officially-approved metaphors in his head uses it, it falls over.

      Similarly, something that appears to be broken can start working as soon as someone who understands it well tries to use it. It's not supernatural, it's just a lot of little habits of understanding that people don't even really notice, but that develop automatically over years of experience.

      Another contributing factor is that this common impression overrides occasional negative experiences (I can't count the number of hard drives that have died on me :-P but in common situation I still get a lot of "things just working," enough to make me forget the bad times). It's a sort of opposite to the "I'm always in the slow lane" experience in traffic jams.

      A nice illustration is the following joke from the Hacker's Dictionary:

      A novice was trying to fix a broken Lisp machine by turning the power off and on. Knight, seeing what the student was doing, spoke sternly: "You cannot fix a machine by just power-cycling it with no understanding of what is going wrong." Knight turned the machine off and on. The machine worked.

      This joke is funny precisely because so many people have had exactly this experience. I've had similar things happen to me many times, where I just look at the computer and (theoretically) do exactly what the previous user has been doing, only when I do it, it works. I doubt there's really anything supernatural about it, but after so many years of working with computers I automatically avoid potential problems because I understand how computers "think" (one reason a lot of techies prefer UNIX -- despite some limitations, its "thinking process" is extremely clear and consistent, allowing the "just works" experience more often for people who really know the system... Windows, even when stable, can have very erratic thinking patterns).

      Anyway. That's my take on it ;)

  • Evolution and ESP (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AsciiNaut (630729) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:06AM (#17961236)
    Speaking as a materialist, I propose that ESP (or telepathy) does not make evolutionary sense. If any person had truly been born with anything like such a gift in the distant past, even in quite a modest and partial form, the selective advantage would have ensured that the necessary genes would have spread throughout the population. Also, the faculty would have been improved by natural selection to become a standard sense. We wouldn't need to recognise the phenomenon by looking at billions of statistical datapoints, it would be obvious to all that it existed as it would be part of universal common experience.

    But, hey, thanks for trying.

    • Re:Evolution and ESP (Score:5, Interesting)

      by I don't want to spen (638810) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:52AM (#17961416) Journal
      ... Unless, of course, demonstrating such a 'gift' resulted them in, oh, being burned at the stake as a witch, treated as the weird person up the street, or merely made it uncomfortable to be around people. Imagine if someone could read your every thought - do you think they'd stay in a relationship with you for long? What if mind reading makes people want to live alone - for the peace and quiet? What if foreseeing the future means that you don't want to hang around with people when you know how they're going to die? What if your subconscious also has telekenesis, so that dream of falling from the 13th floor can actually come true?


      I don't believe in these phenomena without evidence, but I can foresee ways in which revealing them could be detrimental to someone's chance at off-spring!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by SinVulture (825310)
        I've heard the argument your parent has made before-- it's more along the lines of early evolution rather than the witch-hunt era. If a creature develops the ability, however weak, to tell whether or not a predator, prey, or nothing at all hides behind a rock, they would have a significant advantage over every form of life without such abilities. Selection pressure would force this ability to become stronger, for prey to develop defenses against predator, and vice versa. Of course, there's a much simpler
    • by svanstrom (734343) <tony@svanstrom.org> on Saturday February 10, 2007 @07:27AM (#17961550) Homepage
      Only if it happened long enough ago and it was strong enough to actually make a difference which made those individuals breed more and the advantage was inherited...

      That's a lot of ifs.

      Just think about all the people with a very high IQ which aren't even capable of dealing with everyday life and/or never get married and have kids, that could be everything from people with ADHD to professors that spend so much time within their own research that they hardly know what day of the week (or month) it is.

      So being very smart, which should give them advantage, doesn't mean that they've actually got an advantage which will be spread using breeding; and it could be the same with people with (weak) ESP (if it exists), they could for instance have a greater chance of having a personality which makes them second guess their ESP to the extent that the positive side of it are negated, or maybe those are the nutcases we laugh about because they leave their citylife and move out into the country (as they have a closer connection to nature).

      Some people are tempted to say that some, like very successfull businessmen, might be using (weak) ESP to optimize the work and deals they do; so within what's usually refered to as instinct there might be some ESP (if it exists).

      So just because we don't have psi-cops running around reading peoples minds we don't have proof that ESP does or doesn't exist, we can't just say that evolution should have resulted in individuals with strong ESP today if it exists - that's just like arriving in a spaceship on earth milions of years ago and saying that there will be no smart humans there because if there would be smart humans there would already be smart humans there. (it's of course debatable if there are any smart humans here today...)

      If ESP really exists today it might be different from what we expect it to be, ie not a single clear talent, and it might be so weak that it'll take 100's or 1000's of year before it's so obvious that no one can deny that it truly exists; and even if we knew that to be possible, we can't say for sure that those with the right genes will be around long enough to acctually produce those children with strong ESP.

      So what do we really know? Nothing more than that we can't prove anything beyond any doubts... which today goes for both ESP and string theory and a whole lot more that we're currently researching...
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bozdune (68800)
        Yes! You've outlined the basic problem with sociobiology. It's pure guesswork, and typically not very good guesswork at that.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by trentblase (717954)
      But this presupposes that ESP is caused by something that can be expressed genetically. For all we know, ESP could be caused by undetectable alien parasites in your brain. We could call them midichlorians.
    • by iogan (943605)

      Speaking as a materialist, I propose that ESP (or telepathy) does not make evolutionary sense. If any person had truly been born with anything like such a gift in the distant past, even in quite a modest and partial form, the selective advantage would have ensured that the necessary genes would have spread throughout the population.

      Unless of course the mutation that enables ESP is a fairly recent one, and just now making its way throughout the population. If fact, a lot of these abilities are claimed to b

  • by aepervius (535155) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:24AM (#17961286)
    PEARS was defraught of bad method. Google around any good math blog or skeptic report and you will be able to read why. first link I found CSICOP [csicop.org]
    Conclusion quoted:

    In their book Margins of Reality Jahn and Dunne raise this question: "Is modern science, in the name of rigor and objectivity, arbitrarily excluding essential factors from its purview?" Although the question is couched in general terms, the intent is to raise the issue as to whether the claims of the parapsychological community are dismissed out of hand by mainstream science unjustifiably. This paper argues that in the light of the difficulties in replication (even by the PEAR group itself), the lack of anything approaching a theoretical basis for the claims made, and, perhaps most damaging, the published behavior of the baseline data of the PEAR group which by their own criteria indicate nonrandom behavior of the device that they claim is random, then the answer to the question raised has to be no. There are reasonable and rational grounds for questioning these claims. Despite the best efforts of the PEAR group over a twenty-five-year period, their impact on mainstream science has been negligible. The PEAR group might argue that this is due to the biased and blinkered mentality of mainstream scientists. I would argue that it is due to the lack of compelling evidence.

    At best this was pseudo science. At worst they scammed private investor from money to study something inexistant (AFAIK this was not public found). They were fitting the data to the conclusion. They were begging for belief, but were quite empty handed on the falsification side. The quicker this shame can be closed, the better. Now if we could do the same for the other 999 pseudo science outfit outside here...
    • by seebs (15766)
      People keep saying there are methodological flaws, but none of them get down to brass tacks and point out a specific coherent flaw. In fact, if anything, it seems to come down to "since these results are obviously wrong, the methodology must be flawed".
  • by OriginalArlen (726444) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @06:46AM (#17961382)

    Jahn points the finger at detractors as well: 'If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will.'"
    That's rather the point. In science it doesn't really matter what results you can produce, if no-one else can reproduce them...

    • Jahn points the finger at detractors as well: 'If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will.'

      That's rather the point. In science it doesn't really matter what results you can produce, if no-one else can reproduce them...

      I was going to make this identical point. Thanks for saving me the trouble.

      In this day of trumped-up controversy over the difference between Science and nonsense/non-science, Princeton is missing a big opportunity to underscore the importa

  • by jcr (53032)
    Glad to see at least one instance of hogwash losing its funding.

    -jcr

  • 'If people don't believe us after all the results we've produced, then they never will.'

    Back off, man. I'm a scientist.

  • by mrnick (108356) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @07:16AM (#17961496) Homepage
    You know those survey cards and the like? They always ask "How did you hear about us?"

    My response: "The psychic's friends network."

    You know, there is a madness to my method!

    Nick Powers
  • ... the fact that so many Slashdot readers, a brilliant bunch by their own admission, will drop the same *obvious* wisecrack into the comments section even though they've been beaten to the punchline by a string of others?
  • This seems like a good time to link to James Randi's Project Alpha Hoax [youtube.com].
  • by Ambitwistor (1041236) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @09:15AM (#17962066)
    Part of the PEAR project's problem was their use of statistics. A classical p-test is guaranteed to eventually reject the null hypothesis (no ESP) if enough data is collected. This is related to the famous Lindley's paradox [wikipedia.org]. A criticism of a particular PEAR analysis on these grounds may be found here [bayesrules.org] from astrostatistician Bill Jefferys. There was a response from the study's author, which I don't have a link to, and a counterresponse here [bayesrules.org].

    Jefferys advocates the Bayesian approach as an alternative to their p-value test (as do I), but even non-Bayesians admit such problems with p-values can happen (they just think the alternatives are worse); see here [colostate.edu] for some references, and here [dur.ac.uk] for some criticisms of and non-Bayesian alternatives to classical accept/reject significance testing. This paper [bmj.com] (PDF) is an opinion piece which reviews the issue from a medical research perspective.
  • A good friend liked this book so much he bought a copy for me and hovered until I read it.

    Bottom line: It's not a very well written book but the conclusions it draws are scientifically sound and inescapable. There is something going on which is poorly described and poorly understood by science. Also what ever it is, is above and beyond statistical randomness. (and well below these fools running around talking to dead, bending spoons, and reading minds)

    This doesn't surprise me at all. Pity there's so muc
  • http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/02/ 0 8/1355255 [slashdot.org]

    When it comes to quantum computing thought interference shows up.

    Also there is the fact that humans do act upon abstract thinking which means it obvious that thought does in fact influence physical reality. I think I'll design and build this whatever, so I draw it up, research its needs, purchase the material needed and build it... all based on thought.

    When it comes to mind reading and the likes, let me tell you about the majic dumpster.
    All to ofte
    • by datafr0g (831498) *
      Yeah, I know the feeling - you need something and then the next day it amazingly shows up. It happens and it can seem eerie at the time.
      But what about all those times you needed or wanted something that didn't show up - those moments are easily forgotten and filtered out. But when you "miraculously" get something you wanted, you remember it because it seemed unusual and special.

      Good luck with the lotto ticket but I believe your odds are the same as everyone elses. Your experiences are coincidental.
  • by superwiz (655733) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @01:26PM (#17963654) Journal
    Here's a ridiculous sci fi scenario for you to consider. An electro-chemical device that can analize and synthesize tiny variations in electromagnetic spectrum to form a coherent view of objects it never comes in contact with. This is, of course, your visual system. If you can have a device sensitive to small variations in electromagnetic wave patterns, why not a device doing the same for small variations in magnetic wave patterns? And, of course, changes in electrical charge always produce magnetic fields... So your brain does produce a visible and signature on the real outside of it. If a device can be constructed that sees e.m. wave differences, why not magnetic wave differences? Extra sensory just means not detectable by senses we have right now. But there are other physical phenomena to detect. Sharks have an organ that can detect elctrical variations from a distance... But their sensitivity is to coarse. Sort of like the visual sensitivity of flies... only worse. But what is to say that Sharks' sensitivity cannot be refined? Why is this not a subject worth academic research?
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Saturday February 10, 2007 @08:24PM (#17967306)
    Talking about energy and higher levels of awareness is always a dicey affair on Slashdot. I've spent a lot of time with entrenched cult-of-science dogmatists who don't actually know how to think rationally, but rather cling to belief systems for the perceived sense of safety and order which they promise. Fear-ridden science geeks are over-bearing by design. They honestly think they are right, and when you finally demonstrate to them that they are not, they get all flustered and messed up, which hurts, and so they'll go to any irrational length to avoid seeing. Fighting to be ignorant? What a scenario!

    Science is the attempt to document and reduce observation and learn from it without bias. But look at this entire series of over 200 posts; we have in evidence mountains of unsupported claims: "PEAR used faulty experiments!" "PEAR uses faulty statistical analysis!" "If PEAR had real evidence, why not apply to James Randi?" and similar mindless blather. How many of these posters have actually read the source material before rendering their judgments? How many links are provided? How many of them are self-referencing nonsense? I don't know; I've not looked myself; I don't actually know anything much about PEAR, but at least I am willing to admit that much!

    Indeed. Fume and spit and fill the air with noise, but please do not mistake this for meaningful discourse. It's just the sound of fear and bias. If people honestly used the science they claim to love properly, then I suspect this whole site would look rather different!


    -FL

For God's sake, stop researching for a while and begin to think!

Working...