Friday, September 08, 2006

Sheldrake: Spruiking Again

Our friend of the wacky and poorly tested ideas, Rupert Sheldrake, is at it again.

Many people have experienced the phenomenon of receiving a telephone call from someone shortly after thinking about them -- now a scientist says he has proof of what he calls telephone telepathy. Rupert Sheldrake, whose research is funded by the respected Trinity College, Cambridge, said on Tuesday he had conducted experiments that proved that such precognition existed for telephone calls and even e-mails.

Of course, many people have also experienced receiving telephone calls and having no idea who's ringing, or even guessing the wrong person, but they tend not to remember the errors, only the "hits".

Each person in the trials was asked to give researchers names and phone numbers of four relatives or friends. These were then called at random and told to ring the subject who had to identify the caller before answering the phone. "The hit rate was 45 percent, well above the 25 percent you would have expected," he told the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. "The odds against this being a chance effect are 1,000 billion to one."

Now this may be the real genuine 100%-proof evidence of psychic powers. Or it could just be a poorly conducted trial with selective data. Given Sheldrake's recent poor example with the amazing psychic pooch (who got excited every time his owner was coming home - never mind he also got excited every time his owner wasn't coming home as well) his veracity and trustworthiness rating is already very low (though Sheldrake maintains that the dog is truly psychic). Then there's the psychic parrot. Oh, and how many people remember morphic resonance? Others are not so wide-eyed in wonderment...

His sample was small on both trials -- just 63 people for the controlled telephone experiment and 50 for the email -- and only four subjects were actually filmed in the phone study and five in the email, prompting some skepticism. Undeterred, Sheldrake -- who believes in the interconnectedness of all minds within a social grouping -- said that he was extending his experiments to see if the phenomenon also worked for mobile phone text messages.

So, if minds are so well "interconnected", why do we need the email, mobile phones and telephones? According to an interview with Tim Thwaites (science correspondent for New Scientist) on the radio this morning, Sheldrake banned his strongest critic (unnamed, but EoR suspects Richard Wiseman would be the man) from the presentation. Refusing to be open to critics is, in EoR's opinion, a sure sign of pseudoscience, and the smell of fish here is strong indeed.

EoR looks forward to the study being replicated by other scientists. Preferably those without a predilection for public aggrandisement and a fulltime career in barrow pushing.

The BA Festival of Science report of Sheldrake's presentation
provides further information:

"Many people have been having these kinds of experiences for years," remarked Sheldrake "this is the first time it has been put to the test, and the results suggest that for at least some people at least some of the time it may be a real telepathic experience."

What? If you discount the many people who for most of the time don't have the "real" telepathic experience? The call to log on to his website to "get involved with his new Text Message Telepathy Test and other experiments" is a bit strange too. Statistics are so much easier to gather if you have a self-selected (ie believing) group of test subjects rather than a truly random sample.

1 comment:

  1. "Statistics are so much easier to gather if you have a self-selected (ie believing) group of test subjects rather than a truly random sample.

    Yep. Like the homeopthy "trial" where a British Homeopathy Hospital asked return customers if they felt better anytime after their previous visit.

    Cheesh, and this is the big "outcome" study they all crow about now as being the only legitimate scientific way to research homeopthy.

    Do these folks even listen to themselves?


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