When Science Goes Psychic A

Posted: January 9, 2011 in Science



A respected psychology journal has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events. Though the paper was peer reviewed, there are many critics who say the research is nonsense. A group of psychologists published a rebuttal paper in the same journal.

How does the peer review process ensure good quality research? Are there factors that the standard process cannot take account of? Or is ESP simply a claim that should not be entertained as a subject of scientific inquiry?

study that embraces ESP raises questions about what scholarly journals should publish.

No Sacred Mantle

Updated January 7, 2011, 06:32 PM

Lawrence M. Krauss, the Foundations Professor in the physics department at Arizona State University, is the author of “Quantum Man,” which is being published in March. He is also director of the Origins Initiative at A.S.U.

Part of the problem here is the assumption that when research is published, via the peer review process, that it is therefore correct. This is a fallacy. Lots of garbage ends up in peer-reviewed journals. All that successfully getting published means is that you have survived some sort of peer review. This is, by necessity, random and highly variable and arbitrary.

How good research survives, and bad research gets happily buried in the dustbin of history.

The quality of the peer reviewers depends upon the knowledge of the editor, and who is available. Since statistics is clearly an essential part of this work, it is of some concern that none of the reviewers were statisticians, but once again that may reflect the quality and character of the journal, and the group of reviewers to whom the editor has access.

But “publication” is not some sacred mantle, and the public should know that. Scientists already do. When I scan the scientific literature I find lots of results that I am reasonably sure are garbage and ignore them. The public should be skeptical of all such results, as should scientists, and most of us are trained to be skeptical in this way.

Here is the way I often categorize the scientific process.. One has an idea. One then does research, which is supposed to test the idea, i.e., try and push it forward while also trying to prove it wrong. One then submits for peer review, and inevitably one finds oneself dealing with peer reviewers who misunderstand the paper or who haven’t thought about it carefully And then sometimes one can convince them to accept it for publication.

But big deal! The proof of the pudding is not publication, but rather if the idea catches the interest of others, who then do more research to test it and push it forward. In this way, the good research survives, and the bad research gets happily buried in the dustbin of history, which is what I expect will happen in this case.


Topics: Sciencepsychology


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s