The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Careful - the SKEPCOPs are Watching

I'm perusing the internets, as I am wont to do, and I come across a site called "SKEPCOP", or The Scientific Committee to Evaluate PseudoSkeptical Criticism of the Paranormal. Yeah, you read that correctly. They're watching us and being all, "You guys don't know what skepticism is! We know what it is and what you're doing isn't it! You guys are all CYNICS!" It's quite hilarious. Watch the little embedded video; in it, there's a reference to an essay by one Winston Wu who has apparently:
...written an essay that brilliantly and decisively rebuts the general skeptical arguments against the paranormal. This is among the best essays ever written on the subject, and deserves extensive study.
Wow. I better take at least a cursory look at the thing. Here it is. Click the link for Occam's Razor, if you would; it's argument number three.

Ok, the first bit of the Occam riff is stupid, but bearable. Sometimes the simpler answer is not the truth, that's for real. Occam's razor falls apart from time to time when we know exactly what's going on and the truth is not always super simple. The point, however, is that when the paranormal believer folks try to introduce their pet idea, they treat it as though it were already proven to exist as a viable option. Look at what Wu says in part two:
...what is “simpler” is often relative. For example, having telepathic or clairvoyant experiences in some primitive cultures is very common (e.g. Tibetan, African, Amazonian) and those who have such abilities all their lives consider it ordinary. As Phil Gibbs points out in the same Physics FAQ:
No one has ever proven that these "primitive cultures" actually had any "powers" beyond our own. To just assume that clairvoyance or telepathic powers existed in these people is naive and unscientific. If you have evidence, show it, otherwise, be quiet.

The quip about Dr. Charles Tart's OBE evidence re: the girl reading the five-digit secret number from a shelf above her bed, seems a bit snarky seeing as there is cause for skepticism about the objectivity in the study. "Miss Z", as Tart refers to her, is described as follows in Tart's study paper:
Psychologically, it is extremely difficult to describe Miss Z. My informal observations of her over a period of several months (undoubtedly distorted by the fact that one can never describe one's friends objectively) resulted in a picture of a person who in some ways was quite mature and insightful, and in other ways so extremely disturbed psychologically that at times, when she lost control, she could possibly be diagnosed as schizophrenic.
So she was a "friend". Doesn't mean she cheated at all, but it's something. Tart describes how he came up with the random five numbers in the adjacent room then deposited the target numbers on the shelf above "Miss Z's" room. He says:
My conversation with Miss Z after I had prepared the target was, of course, minimal and could not have given her any clue as to the target number. In future experiments, however, it would be preferable for a second experimenter, who had had no contact at all with the subject, to prepare the targets.
So he prepared the numbers, put them in an envelope, then chatted with her. Not exactly stringent controls. Plus he admits he fell asleep through the night:
Occasionally I dozed during the night, beside the equipment, so possible instances of sleep talking might have been missed.
So these red flags, along with Tart's research never being replicated since he did it in 1968, make for me not buying it. Could it be real? Sure, why not? But if it's as common as Tart makes it seem, it should be proven beyond a doubt by now.

The Occam's razor entry then says this confusing line: "...if I toss a die, it is more likely that I will roll numbers 1-5 than a 6. But that doesn’t mean that a 6 will never come up." This line, while true, is very misleading. If he is equating paranormal events with being the number 6, it's a false analogy because we can look at the six dots on that one special side and, occasionally, yes, a six will come up. No one has ever reliably read another person's mind or "remotely viewed" a place or target. If he thinks they have, then show it.

Then Wu says: "...if someone had an amazing psychic reading at a psychic fair (not prearranged) where they were told something very specific that couldn’t have been guessed by cold reading..." Um, not to be a dick, but cold reading can produce WAY more specific things than a rope and the will to steal. We get a nice window into Wu's "thinking" from this quote:
A skeptic did that to me once when I brought up how a psychic was able to tell me that I had a tragic period in my life when I was 9 years old, without any other information or clue from me other than my birth date. He kept insisting that I gave her clues which allowed her to predict that, even though I guaranteed him that I didn’t.
I love it when the tiny guy with the Napoleon complex insists that his memory is perfect. It's not, no one's is. Especially when he's having an adult conversation about specific events that happened when he was nine. I barely remember three days ago, let alone decades. To be that certain about what he said and did that long ago is delusional.

Go check out this site and their ridiculous nonsense. I just want to chill and enjoy my Bud Light.

(edited: Thanks to Andy for catching my mistake in the paragraph about "rolling a six on a die". I was really tired last night and made a stupid error. My thanks again.)

(edited again: Of course, after being tipped off by commenter Yakaru, the great Skeptico has already covered this topic. Last year. Way to go, Mike, being right up to date on the latest in skeptical news. Thank you. In any event, the full rebuttal to Winston Wu's fallacy-filled essay is to be found here.)

4 Barbaric Yawps:

At 5/10/09 4:08 am, Blogger Andy said...

I suspect that he means "any number except 6" is more likely to come up than 6 is. Not that each of the other numbers is more likely.

OR, put another way... you're more likely to NOT get a 6 than to get a 6 but you can still get a 6 even though it's less likely.

At 5/10/09 7:33 am, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Thanks, man. Post has been edited. I was super tired, but still wanted to put something up - obviously that was a bad idea.

At 5/10/09 7:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to argue with Winston Wu back in the ancient days of usenet. He's still at it, apparently

At 6/10/09 7:13 pm, Anonymous Yakaru said...

Just for the record, here's a (necessarily) long article from one of the Skeptic Report people about this nonsense.

Skeptico covered it a while ago and Wiston also turned up in the comments section to remind everyone just how useful his ideas are.


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