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Investigating Psi...Sigh
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Via Deric Bownds, there's a new study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience which claims to have findings which provide "the strongest evidence yet obtained against the existence of paranormal mental phenomena."

Oh, yipee. They used fMRI to scan people's brains while they tried to do psi stuff. The link above only gives you the abstract, but Deric has posted much of the text from the paper at his blog, so you can check out a lot more details there, if you're interested.

I find the authors' little foray into the philosophy of science interesting:

But what of the truism that one cannot affirm the null hypothesis? We note that some null results should be taken more seriously than others. ....Consider the possibility of water on Mars. If a set of close-up images of its surface failed to capture frozen lakes, few would accept the nonexistence of Martian water. Yet if a planetwide analysis of its subsurface soil content failed to show telltale signs of water, most would accept the null hypothesis of a Martian desert. Past null results from parapsychology are comparable to scattered snapshots of the surface in that they measure a small sample of outwardly observable variables. The current neuroimaging approach, however, seeks anomalous knowledge at its source, inside the brain, using methods validated by cognitive neuroscience. It is also exhaustive...the study incorporated methodological variables (e.g., biological and emotional relatedness of participants, evocative stimuli) widely considered to facilitate psi by parapsychologists. As such, the current null results do not simply fail to support the psi hypothesis: They offer strong evidence against it. If these results are replicated over a range of participants and situational contexts, the case will become increasingly strong, with as much certainty as is allowed in science, that psi does not exist.

So we have scientists here, Harvard scientists, getting published by:

1) Hypothesizing that psi powers exist
2) Setting up experiments based on the woo-woo input of parapsychologists
3) Failing to find effects, thereby supporting the null hypothesis (that psi powers don't exist)

This is science? How about we work on the phenomena we have a pretty high confidence exist, that are extremely poorly understood, and go from there? I think it's a very poor idea to investigate alleged phenomena that have a very low probability of existing in the first place in lieu of studying clearly-existing but poorly-understood phenomena.

Could I get a paper published by:

1) Hypothesizing bigfoot exists
2) Setting up recording devices in places likely to find bigfoot according to cryptozoologists
3) Not recording anything

This is pretty damned close to what these guys did. Shouldn't there be some sort of lower bound on the threshold for whether or not you're even going to take a phenomenon seriously enough to devise such experiments? And what credible positive evidence in favor of psi powers has been recorded, ever? Zero.

This was a waste of time, and I can't believe these guys got a major journal to publish it.

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