I found this NYT article, “Journal’s Paper on E.S.P. Expected to Prompt Outrage,” pretty hilarious. I had just finished a fascinating New Yorker article about unreplicable experiments, “the decline effect,” unconscious experimenter bias, and other problems leading to seemingly false or misleading conclusions in scientific research, and this E.S.P. research seems a perfect example.
This was the funniest part:
In another experiment, Dr. Bem had subjects choose which of two curtains on a computer screen hid a photograph; the other curtain hid nothing but a blank screen.
A software program randomly posted a picture behind one curtain or the other — but only after the participant made a choice. Still, the participants beat chance, by 53 percent to 50 percent, at least when the photos being posted were erotic ones. They did not do better than chance on negative or neutral photos.
“What I showed was that unselected subjects could sense the erotic photos,” Dr. Bem said, “but my guess is that if you use more talented people, who are better at this, they could find any of the photos.”
So everyone has E.S.P. for pictures of naked ladies??? Only the “more talented” can tell the future when the future does not involve nude photos??
Since the phrase “naked ladies” appears twice in this post I fully expect it to be my most-popular ever. Also, that people from the past, especially teenage boys, will employ E.S.P. to sense it and will then be bitterly disappointed when they click through. Sorry boys!– enjoy the image of flying guitars…
2 thoughts on “E.S.P. for naked ladies”
“A software program randomly posted a picture behind one curtain or the other — but only after the participant made a choice.”
One kind of hilarious problem I’ve read about it the problem of testing for psychokinesis (controlling objects through your mind) versus precognition (predicting the future). Is the subject causing the image to be placed in a certain location, or predicting the fact that it will be? Once you allow for things that are predictably considered ‘magical’ into a test, the methodological waters get murky in a hurry.
Also, there’s a weird amount of evidence to support the idea that having a subject simply will a binary random generator to spit out 0s rather than 1s actually has a tiny-but-measurable effect on the outcome.
The NYT has another piece on this…I can’t quite keep the statistical issues/problems straight in my head but I find it all fascinating.