January 30, 2011

Professor Defends ESP Study on Colbert Report

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Prof. Emeritus Daryl Bem’s, psychology, support for the existence of extrasensory perception has roiled academic circles, especially among the academic psychology community. But on Thursday, Bem continued to defend his findings during an appearance on the national television show The Colbert Report.

Mocking Bem’s belief in ESP, which denotes psychic abilities such as clairvoyance, Stephen Colbert joked with Bem on Thursday’s show.

“Thank you for going to have spoken to me,” Colbert said at Bem’s entrance. “You will have been a great guest.”

Bem defended his study, stating that the 53 percent likelihood of ESP derived from his experiment was significant.

“53 percent sounds small,” Bem admitted on the television show, but said the significance of the number is not immediately evident. “53 percent is what Obama won over McCain … 53 percent is actually quite large.”

Bem’s article, which is going to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, details various experiments that also find that individuals can sense random events.

In Bem’s research trial, a computer screen displayed two curtains, one that concealed a picture and another that was “a blank wall.” Participants clicked on the curtain that they felt contained the picture. Erotic pictures were intermixed in the experiment to test stimuli reactions.

The participants predicted the erotic pictures more often that not, leading Bem to conclude that there is a statistical probability in favor of the existence of ESP.

Over the course of a decade, more than 1,000 Cornell undergraduates participated in Bem’s lab experiments.

After the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a mainstream psychology publication, agreed to publish the paper, many professors have reviewed the paper’s findings.

Prof. Jeffrey Rouder, psychological sciences, University of Missouri, submitted a critique of Bem’s experiment to the journal. He agreed with the journal’s decision to publish Bem’s work, as it was a “delight to read,” but argues that Bem “overstates the evidence of the claim.”

Rouder said Bem uses some “fairly conventional statistical arguments” but his data “overstates the evidence against the Null hypothesis” because the Null hypothesis contradicts ESP.

The Null hypothesis is an agnostic position in the scientific method, which asserts that there is little relationship between two measured phenomena.

Rouder ultimately emphasized that “given the well-worn laws in biology and physics, [there is] no mechanism in ESP.”

For more than 50 years, people have had “experimental truth” for E.S.P., according to Rouder.  Rouder distinguishes that Bem’s findings have garnered media attention, unlike previous claims of E.S.P., because they were published in the leading social psychology journal.

According to Bem, the journal is extremely selective, rejecting 82 percent of all submitted articles.

“It’s unprecedented for people to get ESP papers in mainstream journals,” Bem said.

Several academics besides Rouder have criticized Bem’s paper in venues ranging from The New York Times to academic journals.

Bem responded to his academic critics, contending that “my immediate colleagues are skeptical” but they do not necessarily “have to agree with my conclusions.”

A professional magician, Bem argued for redefining science, not as “a body of fact,” but rather as “a method of inquiring.”

Bem acknowledged that other scientists have contacted him, asking to replicate his experiments.­­

Rouder said that a successful simulation of Bem’s experiment is “the ultimate test of his paper.”

Original Author: Max Schindler