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WIlling to Be Shown PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by James Randi   

Reader David Glück  referred me to this site, which prompted me to respond. Perhaps you’ll go there, read the essay, and return to see my response, below…

I read this unsigned essay with great interest. Therein, I found a few canards of which I’d not previously heard. For example, I assure the author that I, as a devoted skeptic but not a cynic, personally have no fear nor worry whatsoever that claimed psi phenomena might turn out to be real, as he thought might be the case with some. In fact, upon being presented with firm evidence establishing this wonderful circumstance, I would delight in trying to solve the modi operandi that might bring about telepathy, precognition, or other such phenomena.

The author writes: “Sceptics – identified as such from prior personality profiling – have been found unconsciously to influence the results of psi experiments by consistently producing results lower than would be expected by chance.” Using that same standard, substitute “believers” for “sceptics,” and “higher” for “lower.” I believe this is properly described by an old saying involving interchangeable sauce for geese and ganders…?

The "It's the kind of thing I would not believe in even if it were true" statement is, to me, unforgiveable, and I cannot embrace that thought. I am a rationalist, and proper evidence will establish, for me, any claim. For the last decade, through the James Randi Educational Foundation, I have offered a one-million-dollar prize to any person who can establish that any paranormal, supernatural, or occult claim is true. The fact that no one has won this prize, nor even passed the preliminary stage of testing, either indicates that no one can do so, or that a suitable applicant has yet to apply. I prefer the latter possibility, though I admittedly have no belief in these wonders, because all that I’ve seen in my 80-plus years, have been the results of trickery or self-delusion.

The author also writes: “A great deal of what debunkers write in their books is not really researched at all closely, but simply lifted from earlier books.” In respect to this comment, I refer you to the geese-and-ganders sauce application mentioned above… I note, too, that the author quotes extensively from staunch believers, and expresses little – if any – doubt that they speak sooth.

True skeptics are always willing to be shown, as I am. And it may happen, though I note that none of the prominent figures of today such as Uri Geller have expressed any interest in accepting my challenge. That, in itself, speaks loudly to the skeptic. But then, Geller appears to be making a bid to tell all, since he now only accepts the designation “entertainer” or “showman,” not wanting to be described as “psychic.” What will the next phase of his newly-adopted stance involve, I wonder?

 

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written by Zirconman, December 01, 2008
Unfortunately, the believers will probably continue to categorize skeptics as cynical, because the people they listen too and believe tell them that we are just a bunch of nay-sayers. I'm not afraid that Psy might be real, but they seem to need it to be. Those dreams die hard.
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written by AMFCook, December 01, 2008
Actually, these self proclaimed parapsycho's have to come out labeling the sceptics like James Randi as being cynical. In doing so they hope no one will take their critical thinking seriously enough and it will further their agendas of pitching woo woo.

Fotunately for us who question unbelieveable claims, we see through their feeble attempts to "debunk" (no pun intended) the debunkers.
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written by RJccj, December 01, 2008
It's like you said in one of the panels at DragonCon this year. The psinuts want to be labeled skeptic because that gives them the ring of scientific credibility. So if they can take the label skeptic, then that leaves true rationalists with the title of cynic.
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written by Bruce Gee, December 02, 2008
The author writes: “Sceptics – identified as such from prior personality profiling – have been found unconsciously to influence the results of psi experiments by consistently producing results lower than would be expected by chance.” Using that same standard, substitute “believers” for “sceptics,” and “higher” for “lower.” I believe this is properly described by an old saying involving interchangeable sauce for geese and ganders…?



I don't understand the point that Randi is attempting to make in this paragraph. If you make the substitutions he suggests, you wind up with the statement that "Believers...[produce] results higher than would be expected by chance." That's exactly what the purveyers of woo have been saying all along, isn't it? Leaving the poultry out of it, Randi seems to be actually supporting the believers' claim here.

Surely what he meant to say was that, in a properly designed experiment, both skeptics and believers should produce results within the chance range. If results fall outside that range (either on the positive or negative side) then that must be evidence either that psychic phenomena are real, or that the experiment had poorly designed controls in the first place. Obviously, the second explanation is far more likely, but either way -- whether psychic phenomena are real or the controls are just poor -- negative results by skeptics on psychic tests would, in fact, be evidence of what the original poster was claiming -- that skeptics don't WANT psychic phenomena to be true, and are (either consciously or unconsciously) producing the "wrong" answers.

I'd want to see the original studies to find out whether there was an actual correlation, though, or the data were just tortured.
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written by Random, December 02, 2008
All he needs is one example of a proved paranormal phenomenon. Does he offer that? No?
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This site has already provided evidence for the occult
written by jensfiederer, December 02, 2008
Every test or experiment that has EVER been reported on this site has had results either exactly at chance or actually below chance. Not once do I recall a report of any so-called psychic ever achieving even a tenth of a standard deviation better than chance.

Surely this proves the power of JREF's psionic suppression field?

Sometimes I ascribe this to reporting bias, but that way lies cynicism!

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The point I think
written by drowven, December 02, 2008
I think Bruce Gee that the goose gander statement is supposed to mean that only believers see a higher than chance outcomes when dealing with psychics. The point being if your experiment is dealing with believers it will probably succeed and an experiment with skeptics will fail. Only a double blind non-biased controlled experiment would provide an accurate answer. This is pointed out later by Randi and is part of his protocol for the one million dollar prize.
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written by Bruce Gee, December 02, 2008
Drowven, I think it's pretty clear, from both the original article and Randi's quote, that the degree of belief or disbelief being measured was present in the experiments' subjects, not those interpreting them. We are in agreement, I assume, that if an experiment "dealing with believers ... will probably succeed and an experiment with skeptics will fail" then that probably means the experiment was designed without proper controls -- but it COULD be taken as evidence that psychic phenomena are real IF proper controls were in place. As far as I know, though, you're correct that no such experiment has succeeded.

I've read the entire article being referenced, and I think it's worthwhile that its main thesis might be true EVEN IF WE ALL AGREE THAT PSYCHIC PHENOMENA ARE FALSE. I see the paper as saying that many psychics are predisposed psychologically to disbelieve, and I take this as a useful warning to all skeptics about the way we are perceived by a larger world. We need to remember two things: first, that open hostility on our part to believers will make it much easier for them to dismiss our claims. The first part of the article contains some useful cautionary tales about those who rejected the Wright brothers' plane or Edison's lightbulb because they were afraid of having their paradigms overturned; if we we show hostility, it will be easier to dismiss us as just being like those stuffy conservatives. My wife, after looking over one of my Skeptical Inquirers, said, "They may be right, but they all sound like cranky old guys yelling at the kids to get off his lawn." We want to avoid that.

But second, I also think we need to be honest about our own motivations, and admit openly whatever predispositions we have. Maybe there are scientists out there able to be purely motivated by a desire for knowledge and nothing else, but most of us, I think, have some psychologically motivation for what we do. I'll start with myself. Why do I like to frequent skeptical blogs? Is it to better educate myself about the scientific method? If that was true, I'd hang out on the science blogs more, or crack actual textbooks. And I don't really expect to learn much at these sites; I'm already convinced that woo-woo is bogus. No, I hang out here because it's great entertainment to see fools being made to look foolish. It's a basic human desire to see the credulous and the tricksters have their phony worlds collapse; it's why we love seeing Falstaff get caught in his lies. A secondary motiviation may be for me to get enough information to put the smackdown on some idiot sometime when I get the chance. But I'm not going to pretend to myself that either motivation is particularly noble.

Read Randi's letter above, and ask yourself, is it really credible? Look at the first sentence, "canards I'd not previously heard" -- do you really believe that this is the first time he's been accused of being predisposed pyschologically to disbelieve? And we've all seen, from his many posts on the subject, that he looks at most so-called psychics as greedy and vile. This is a guy who's dedicated his entire life and a sizable fortune towards a specific end; isn't it a bit disingeuous for him to ask us to believe that he doesn't have an emotional, as well as a financial, stake in the outcome? If Geller or one of his ilk were to show up at hq tomorrow and, miraculously, somehow manage to pass the test and claim the check, can you really imagine Randi handing it over with a smile on his face?

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written by BillyJoe, December 02, 2008
Bruce Gee,

I can't imagine why you got voted down on your first post.
I hope this doesn't happen to your second post.
In any case, I have given it a head start.

Congratulations for seeing through the posturing.
Personally I don't ever expect to see anyone ever pass the test, and I'd actually be pretty upset if these phenomena turn out to exsit.

BillyJoe
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written by drowven, December 02, 2008
Your second paragraph lays out that as skeptics we should avoid being labeled and being similar to cranky old men, but in your third you state you want "to put the smackdown on some idiot". Aren't those ideas contrary to one another?

Secondly in Mr. Randi states that he is not a cynic and would welcome the chance to examine psychic phenomenon. Me I can't know never having met him, but a man who has spent time in the entertainment industry and spent a large amount of time testing and challenging people to prove their claims doesn't put themselves out as a target for every lawyer to sue on behalf of their client for anything less than an altruistic reason if you ask me. So to answer your question yes I think that if Uri Gellar proved to a 95% chance on multiple double blind tests that he had an extraordinary power that Randi would not only give him the check, but tell the world that this person has discovered something important.
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written by BillyJoe, December 03, 2008
...with a smile on his face?
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written by dr pepper, December 03, 2008
Ok, who doubted the Wright Brothers? Others had flown before them in gliders, some had even managed a start at a controlled flight before crashing. By the time the Wrights got involved it was pretty well understood that reliable controlled flight was an engineering problem. "They laughed at the Wright Brothers" is something believers say, but without citation.

As for Edison, when he said he was going to work on the problem of electric light, there was a great deal of public excitement and anticipation. Who was doubting him, other than perhaps Westinghouse?
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Who doubted the Wright brothers?
written by Bruce Gee, December 03, 2008
Good question. Fortunately, Wikipedia is always just a click away. There, I read:

"Root offered a report to Scientific American magazine, but the editor turned it down. As a result, the news was not widely known outside of Ohio, and was often met with skepticism. The Paris edition of the Herald Tribune headlined a 1906 article on the Wrights 'FLYERS OR LIARS?'

In years to come Dayton newspapers would proudly celebrate the hometown Wright brothers as national heroes, but the local reporters somehow missed one of the most important stories in history as it was happening a few miles from their doorstep. James M. Cox, publisher at that time of the Dayton Daily News (later governor of Ohio and Democratic presidential nominee in 1920), expressed the attitude of newspapermen—and the public—in those days when he admitted years later, "Frankly, none of us believed it."

The citation given is Tobin, James. To Conquer The Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. Page 211.

Later, in 1908, Wilbur was "Facing deep skepticism in the French aeronautical community and outright scorn by some newspapers that called him a "bluffeur"
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Before the wiki slams start
written by cwniles, December 04, 2008
A lot of people will not give wiki references much creedence so it's always a good idea to find alternate sources, referencing wiki's source however was a nice addition and adds substantial weight to the reference.

Just to be safe however, here is a link the the National Parks Service site, specifically, a page that talks about the initial scepticism the Wright Bros. were met with.

http://www.nps.gov/nr//twhp/wwwlps/lessons/109wrightnc/109facts4.htm


These are the references they list...
compiled from William R. Chapman and Jill K. Hanson, Wright Brothers National Memorial Historic Resource Study (Atlanta, GA: Southeast Field Area, National Park Service, 1997); Harry Combs, Kill Devil Hill: Discovering the Secret of the Wright Brothers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979); Tom D. Crouch, The Bishop's Boys: A Life of Wilbur and Orville Wright (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1989); Tom D. Crouch, First Flight: The Wright Brothers and the Invention of the Airplane (Harpers Ferry, WV: National Park Service Division of Publications); Russell Freedman, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane (New York: Holiday House, 1991); Susan Hitchcock, Wright Brothers National Memorial Cultural Landscape Report (Atlanta, GA: Southeast Field Area, National Park Service, 2002).

¹ As quoted in Russell Freedman, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane (New York: Holiday House, 1991), 81.
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