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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The paper itself was not peer-reviewed, as the journal only conducts peer reviews of articles submitted within the ‘scientific’ category, a label which Emoto and Radin chose not to apply to their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
  • 9 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.

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