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Wikipedia – ‘Reader Beware’ When it Comes to Psi Research

by Dean Radin

The Wikipedia entry on Masaru Emoto is a good example of why no one should trust an encyclopedia written by anonymous amateurs. I know it is possible, at least in principle, to edit Wikipedia pages to make corrections. But it is also possible for pranksters to change information on any page just for fun. And I know teenagers who regularly do this to confuse their classmates.

The case in point was brought to my attention by a friend. I will correct the entry here. I’ve tried making corrections to Wikipedia in the past, and I’m not willing to go through that waste of time again. I’ll italicize the Wikipedia entries:

In 2003, [the magician] James Randi publicly offered Emoto one million dollars if his results can be reproduced in a double-blind study.

I was coauthor on such a study, which was co-sponsored by the Institute of Noetic Sciences and published in 2006. You can find it here. As far as I know, Emoto hasn’t received the one million dollar check. I know I haven’t.

In 2006, Emoto published a paper together with Dean Radin and others in the peer-reviewed Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing (of which Radin was co-editor-in-chief).

Yes and no. Yes: I published such a paper. No: I became a co-editor-in-chief of this journal in 2009, three years after publishing that paper. I had no connection with Explore prior to that. Nor did I have any affiliation or financial interest in Emoto’s work then, or now.

The paper itself was not peer-reviewed, as the journal only conducts peer reviews of articles submitted within the ‘scientific’ category, a label which Emoto and Radin chose not to apply to their work.

The citation attached to the above sentence refers to a photo essay about Emoto’s crystals, published in Explore in 2004. I am not a coauthor of that article. I had nothing to do with it. The double-blind paper we published in 2006 was indeed peer-reviewed, and it showed a statistically significant difference between water that was “exposed” to intention vs. identical water set aside as a control. The magnitude of the observed effect was smaller than is implied in Emoto’s books, but the direction of the effect was consistent with his claim.

A better-controlled “triple-blind” follow-up study published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration did not yield positive results.

No. The cited reference points to an article in a popular magazine that got it dead wrong. The abstract of the original journal article, of which I am a coauthor, reads:

An experiment tested the hypothesis that water exposed to distant intentions affects the aesthetic rating of ice crystals formed from that water. Over three days, 1,900 people in Austria and Germany focused their intentions towards water samples located inside an electromagnetically shielded room in California. Water samples located near the target water, but unknown to the people providing intentions, acted as ‘‘proximal’’ controls. Other samples located outside the shielded room acted as distant controls. Ice drops formed from samples of water in the different treatment conditions were photographed by a technician, each image was assessed for aesthetic beauty by over 2,500 independent judges, and the resulting data were analyzed, all by individuals blind with respect to the underlying treatment conditions. Results suggested that crystal images in the intentionally treated condition were rated as aesthetically more beautiful than proximal control crystals (p = 0.03, one-tailed). This outcome replicates the results of an earlier pilot test.

There were, however, potential problems with the “triple-blind” follow up. As the study explains:

Yes, as I explained. Empirical studies regularly contain sections discussing the limitations of the design. No experiment is perfect.

“In any experiment involving intention, the intentions of the ‘investigators’ cannot be cleanly isolated from those of the nominal participants and this in turn constrains how one should properly interpret the results…”

All quite true. But the above snippet starts in the middle of a paragraph. The actual article begins this paragraph with the following:

These design elements excluded obvious environmental differences and conventional subjective biases as plausible explanations for the observed results, and the combined results of the two experiments appear to exclude chance as an explanation (unweighted Stouffer Z = 3.34, p<0.0004).

In other words, when it comes to Wikipedia, reader beware. Meanwhile, I’m still waiting for my prize check. Maybe it’s in the mail.
 

Categories:
Noetic Research, Worldview
  • 12 Comments
  • floatingbones Sep 11, 2010

    James Randi's $1M challenge is real, but it sounds as if may not understand how it works.

    The rules are specified in http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge/challenge-application.html . They spell out what the rules are for winning the challenge, and what you should do to apply. Nowhere in the Randi challenge does it say that they pour over the literature to see what matches their criteria so they will automatically send them a check. Since you haven't indicated that you've even applied, it would be rather silly to be waiting near your mailbox for a check to arrive.

    It also seems you may be confused about the relationship between the Wikipedia and the challenge. The Wikipedia is online media; it's simply reporting on the existence of the challenge. The JREF has its own Wikipedia page, which reports on past attempts to meet the challenge. The Wikipedia has nothing to do with the challenge. I am not certain that your complaint has merit.

    Movies like "What the BLEEP Do We Know" and "The Living Matrix: A Film on the New Science of Healing" speculate that we create our own reality. Are you familiar with those films? Have you considered that your attitude may be shaping your reality around this online encyclopedia?

    I personally find the Wikipedia to be a great resource, and I applaud the volunteers who strive to create, maintain, and expand it. One could simply search the Internet as a whole, but that is far less organized and one would be subject to, as you say, even more "anonymous amateurs". I know of no viable alternative. Do you?

    Have you formally applied for the JREF challenge? If so, when did you apply? What has happened?

  • Anonymous Icon

    Lokingin Sep 12, 2010

    Explaining to Dean Radin how he doesn't understand Randy's challenge (which is intentionally constructed to be cost prohibitive to satisfy) and that he doesn't appreciate your categorization or your admiration of Wikipedia is a straw man attack. Yawn. Who are you? Why would you challenge his facts with nothing more than distractions? Has he watched some movies? It makes you appear to have malice. How about challenging his facts with your own provable facts?

  • floatingbones Sep 12, 2010

    Why do you think that applying for the Randi Challenge is cost-prohibitive? You may have a point, but you've provided no evidence to support that claim. Please make your case or provide a reference where someone has done that.

    Waiting for a check makes no sense if Dean has never even applied for the challenge. And I am interested: what viable alternatives does he find to the Wikipedia? What viable alternatives have you found?

  • Dean Radin, PhD Sep 17, 2010

    See

    http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2010/08/how-to-win-million-dollars.html

    for a cost analysis and

    http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2010/07/compassion-for-skeptics.html

    and the follow-up comments for reasons why I think that particular challenge is something I have no interest in.

  • floatingbones Sep 17, 2010

    The http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2010/07/compassion-for-skeptics.html article blog entry clearly notes that Dr. Radin understands how to apply for the JREF challenge and that he has not applied.

    It is rather disingenuous -- if not outright deceptive -- for Dr. Radin to imply in his blog post above that, "[he is] still waiting for [his] prize check. Maybe it’s in the mail." He knows darn well the fist step to win the JREF challenge starts is to actually apply for it.

    The wikipedia article has some inaccurate information about the JREF challenge, but so does Dr. Radin's blog entry. Dean says we shouldn't trust the Wikipedia; should we also not trust the information in the noetic.org blog?

    It is certainly important for Wikipedia articles to be accurate. I will enter a note that the Emoto page contains inaccurate information about the JREF challenge. In a similar fashion, I fondly hope that Dr. Radin will post an addendum to address the factual errors in his article above.

    http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2010/08/how-to-win-million-dollars.html is a cost analysis for a completely different kind of experiment than the Emoto experiment. Is that cost analysis applicable to the Emoto experiment? The paper notes that 2,000 people were gathered to "send the intention" to the water in Petaluma. I saw nowhere in the paper explaining why 2,000 people would be necessary to perform that experiment.

    Finally, I'm interested in what Dr. Radin thinks is a viable alternative to the Wikipedia. One could simply search the Internet as a whole, but that is far less organized and one would be subject to, as you say, even more "anonymous amateurs". I know of no viable alternative. Do you?

  • Dean Radin, PhD Sep 17, 2010

    A much improved alternative to Wikipedia is http://www.scholarpedia.org/.

  • floatingbones Sep 23, 2010

    The key word in my question was "viable". At this point in time, the Scholarpedia is not a viable alternative.

    The English Wikipedia has over 3.4 million articles; all languages of the Wikipedia contain over
    1.74 billion words in 9.25 million articles in approximately 250 languages ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Size_comparisons ). The most recent stats I found for the Scholarpedia were in the Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholarpedia); that article noted: " In April 2009, Scholarpedia amounted to 500 peer-reviewed accepted articles and about 1400 articles at diverse stages of completion." For English-language readers, the Scolarpedia is less than 1/10 of 1% of the size of the Wikipedia. For non-English readers, the Scholarpedia currently provides nothing.

    Searches of the Scholarpedia yield no hits for Emoto, or "noetic sciences". There's not an article about the scientific method, and no articles about psi.

    The <i>concept</i> of the Scholarpedia may be superior, but its current deployment is sadly lacking. Using the Scholarpedia would be like having a smattering of pages from one volume of a 30-volume encyclopedia. Information on any scientific topic would be a hit-or-miss proposition.

    It's also unclear if Scholarpedia articles will contain generous cross-references to other Scholarpedia articles in the style of Wikipedia and the internet in general. By its nature, the Scholarpedia will lack the fluidity of Wikipedia articles (often updated within minutes after events) or even references to other websites (because they couldn't be "controlled" by the Scholarpedia curators).

    Is it a viable model? It may be someday, but not today.

    The presence of the controls of the Scholarpedia does not guarantee the accuracy of information contained in the archive. Rules in place for peer-reviewed print journals have been violated in the past ( see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sternberg_peer_review_controversy ).

    Scholars don't always speak in a straight fashion. It is rather disingenuous -- if not outright deceptive -- for Dr. Radin to claim in his blog post above that, "[he is] still waiting for [his] prize check. Maybe it’s in the mail." He knows darn well the fist step to win the JREF challenge starts is to actually apply for it. Dr. Radin has yet to acknowledge his deliberate misstatements.

  • Sandstone Jun 04, 2012

    I have to wonder if floating bones is part of the movement to promote disinformation on wikipedia in order to push forward the agenda of people calling themselves "skeptics".

    http://forum.mind-energy.net/skeptiko-podcast/3817-guerilla-skepticism-wikipedia.html#post103826
    http://guerrillaskepticismonwikipedia.blogspot.ca/

    It's very sad that there are groups out there proud of the fact that they are using disinformation to promote a poorly informed dogma.

  • Anonymous Icon

    cougarB2010 Apr 05, 2014

    In my view, James Randi is a magician by trade, and his $1M challenge is just his most famous magical trick. Like all magicians, he controls the variables, uses patter to get people to look the wrong way, and manages the audience.

    Unlike most magical shows, Randi does not own up to the fact that this is a magic trick. When we go to see a magic show, there's always a presumption of entertainment, and in order to be entertained, we temporarily set aside disbelief. If Randi were to fess up that his $1M challenge is a magic trick, we could all sit back and enjoy the show.

    But unfortunately, Randi treats his gullible audience with enough disdain to pretend that the $1M challenge is real and that there is a realistic opportunity to receive the funds.

    If the $1M challenge were really a scientifically sound measure of anything, it would be handled in a way that eliminated conflicts of interest. In publishing a piece of research in any peer-reviewed scientific journal, all potential conflicts of interest are clearly identified, and while this is not a perfect system, the intent is to take conflicts of interest out of the scientific dialog.

    Randi has no intention of ever paying out his very own money to people he considers quacks. So he sets up the rules of his magic trick to manipulate the audience until at least some of them become true believers in his prowess.

    Randi himself does not satisfy any of the criteria that he would have psychic researchers satisfy in demonstrating his own objectivity. This double standard makes him into a hypocrite--and a particularly dangerous one, at that. The biggest fraud in psychic research is the Amazing Randi.

  • Anonymous Icon

    Ascendance Aug 03, 2014

    Cougar, created an account just to let you know you are wrong.
    http://www.randi.org/site/index.php/1m-challenge/challenge-faq.html

    If you need proof; here you go.

    "3.1 I heard the prize money doesn’t really exist and that it’s all just a scam.

    The short answer: The money is real.
    The long answer: The JREF is a 'tax exempt' organization, so they are required by law to have a level of financial transparency. That means that the public can request things like copies of JREF's 990 (the tax return non-profits file). Go to https://www.guidestar.org/organizations/65-0649443/james-randi-educational-foundation.aspx to look up JREF's 990. Contained within these types of documents is enough information to verify that the organization does indeed have special assets in a reserved account to cover the prize, should it ever be won. The contract between the claimant and JREF is binding enough that the JREF must pay the prize if someone wins it. This is a published, legal obligation, not just a casual offer. We have no choice in the matter. As a savvy applicant, all you need to do is verify that the organization has the funds to cover the prize. Also, if JREF were not able to hold up its end of the bargain, the IRS would investigate and pull the JREF's tax exempt status. It would mean severe penalties for the JREF. Rest assured: The money is there.

    Long answer, continued: The JREF prize fund is maintained in a way that is similar to an endowment fund. Non-profits often create reserves of assets called endowments to build up enough money to take care of the organization in the case of bad financial times, or to save up money for a project down the road, like building a new facility or starting a large new program that would require a lot of capital. It is never a good idea to just let large sums of money sit in a savings account for years and years, so most non-profits invest their endowment funds. The way they invest it is really not important. If a claimant wins the prize, it must be awarded within ten days, as per the Challenge rules and the legally binding contract entered into when the application was signed.
    I know you are going to ask, "What if the fund cannot be easily liquidated?" If the JREF did not pay a winning claimant in a reasonable amount of time, we would be open to a lawsuit for breach of contract. The claimant will be paid. The JREF states that the funds are held in fully liquid financial instruments so that a claimant can feel at ease about the ability of the JREF to pay. The fact that the JREF will do so is going above and beyond the requirements of the law and the generally accepted practices of good, responsible non-profits. It is an enormous act of good faith on JREF's part. The million dollars exists. Arguments to the contrary are utterly pointless, and they will not be entertained by the JREF."

  • Anonymous Icon

    Ascendance Aug 03, 2014

    "(9) Scientific papers have been written supporting paranormal events and talents. Therefore, how can you deny them?

    Scientists can be wrong — sometimes, very wrong. The history of science is replete with serious errors of judgment, bad research, faked results, and simple mistakes, made by scientists in every field. The beauty of science is that it corrects itself by its own nature and design. By this means, science provides us with increasingly clearer views of how the world works. Unfortunately, though science itself is self-correcting, sometimes the scientists involved do not correct themselves. And there is not a single example of a scientific discovery in the field of parapsychology that has been independently replicated. That makes parapsychology absolutely unique in the world of science." ~ James Randi

    My question to Dean Radin: Why do you not publish your papers in mainstream peer reviewed para psychological journals? I feel as if you have only entered articles into fringe peer-reviewed journals in order to secure publishing deals for your books.

  • Anonymous Icon

    cougarB2010 Aug 22, 2014

    @Ascendance: That FAQ you quote is part of The Amazing Randi's magic trick. It's meant to fool the audience. I guess it's doing it's job.

    In Dr. Radin's article above, he directly challenges the integrity of that FAQ by using facts and information that contradict that FAQ. In responding to me, you seem to have forgotten that you are also responding to Dr. Radin's article, which is really what we're both responding to.

    Dr. Radin has published an evidence page that responds to your last paragraph and your challenge to Dr. Radin. The page is called "Selected Peer-Reviewed Journal Publications on Psi Research," and it is found here: http://www.noetic.org/research/psi-research/. If you bother to take the time to review those downloadable research studies, you will discover top level scientific journals among them.

    Your challenge to Dr. Radin is based on a false assertion. Why would you state a false assertion like this and post it on a site where many of the readers know about the truth? I'm not the only one here that knows of Radin's evidence page. The only thing I can imagine is that you didn't know about Radin's evidence page.

    You may have believed that the chilling effect of the bias against psi research on the publication of psi research in mainstream journals is sufficient to make your statement be true. That's not a bad guess, because the chilling effect of that bias is very powerful, and for many journals, the chilling effect produces the results you predict.

    That chilling effect is real and dangerous, and it is successful in also enabling massive censorship at both TED Talks and Wikipedia, which is the subject of this post. Skilled, thoughtful, and successful psi researchers and scientists find themselves barred from both mainstream science and mainstream audiences because of this bias.

    But that bias is an ideology, no different in kind than the ideologies of creationism, neo-capitalism, or Metaxism. There are skeptics with integrity, and I believe that they have an important voice in this conversation. However, many skeptics do not have integrity and will not allow themselves to see any scientific truth that challenges their world view. It is this latter group that are the ideologues.

    The day will come when the world outgrows them, and the censorship and repression will be lifted. I can hardly wait.

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