March 14th, 2012

A paper in PLoS One reports “three unsuccessful attempts to replicate” Daryl Bem’s “Feeling the future” experiment.

The paper, “Failing the future,” can be read/downloaded here.

The senior author is Christopher French, who runs something called the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at the University of London — a bunch of ghostbusters who don’t believe in ghosts, I guess.

My two cents worth on this paper: Responding to controversial results with new experiments, as these guys have, is better (more useful) than responding with a list of nitpicky methodological criticisms — particularly when these experiments are so easy to do.

This disconfirmation won’t end the debate, of course.

But it might — and, imho, maybe should — reduce the enthusiasm for psi experiments that use ordinary people (students, usually), as opposed to apparent “naturals” selected by wide-scale screening. If SRI/SAIC’s government-funded remote viewing experiments with such “naturals” were good enough to move Ray Hyman, of all people, to write that “… I tend to agree with Professor Utts that real effects are occurring in these experiments. Something other than chance departures from the null hypothesis has occurred in these experiments” — then that seems like a better way to go.

Also fun reading : this 11-year old paper I just found, which has 11 hypotheses for psi’s seeming elusiveness.


Postscript (15 March 2012):

French in a piece in the Guardian today raises an important point, which of course applies to scientific debates generally, and hints at a deep problem with the publication process:

Although we are always being told that “replication is the cornerstone of science”, the truth is that the “top” journals are simply not interested in straight replications – especially failed replications. They only want to report findings that are new and positive.Most scientists are aware of this bias and will rarely bother with straight replications. But straight replication attempts are often exactly what is required, especially when dealing with controversial claims.

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