Thursday, March 22, 2012

Richard Dawkins Defends the Reason Rally


Richard Dawkins writes in yesterday's Washington Post [Who would rally against reason?].
March 24th is a landmark date for Washington, D.C. Thousands will converge on the world’s leading capital city to celebrate the crowning human virtue of reason.

How have we come to the point where reason needs a rally to defend it? To base your life on reason means to base it on evidence and logic. Evidence is the only way we know to discover what’s true about the real world. Logic is how we deduce the consequences that follow from evidence. Who could be against either? Alas, plenty of people, which is why we need the Reason Rally.
I agree with Dawkins. "Reason" and rationality is what we should be promoting. If we are successful, then religion will disappear and atheism will be the default position. As Dawkins puts it in The God Delusion, the real battle is between rationalism and superstition or between reason and superstition.

Dawkins has a series of videos called The Enemies of Reason. They are promoted as: "Professor Richard Dawkins confronts the epidemic of irrational, superstitious thinking with logic, observation and evidence - in other words, through reason." Here's the episode on superstitious beliefs in health and medicine.

It's obvious that anyone who opposes vaccination and/or promotes alternative medicine is an enemy of reason. It's difficult to imagine how such a person could be invited to speak at the Reason Rally in Washington, right?

So why are Senator Tom Harkin and Bill Maher speaking if they are clearly enemies of reason [The Reason Rally ought to have some standards]?

It's because some of the organizers of the Reason Rally do not agree with Richard Dawkins. They see this event as an atheist rally and the speakers are being invited because they are prominent atheists, not necessarily rationalists. Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist is one of those people [Plan Your Own Reason Rally and Then Tell Me How It Goes].
Look, the organizers spent a long time listening to the suggestions of dozens of people (representing tens of thousands of atheists) regarding who should speak at the Rally. They did everything in their power to contact all the “big names” that people said they wanted to hear at the Rally. They rustled up and managed the hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding needed to put on an event of this magnitude. They got every major organization in our movement to work together to make this work — and that’s not an easy thing to do. They had to deal with the speakers complaining about their prominence on our website (yep, it happened).

Just about everyone believes in something irrational. Including atheists. So, yes, you’re going to hear people at the Rally who hold ideas we think are completely unreasonable. Maybe even harmful.

If we got rid of every speaker who held an irrational belief, there would be no one left on that stage.

So deal with it.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t call them out where they’re wrong. Have at it. I did it, too. In many cases, they deserve it. But to suggest the organizers are at fault for inviting really famous atheists who hold some view you don’t agree with is absurd. Almost as ridiculous as faulting them for accepting a greeting from a sitting U.S. senator who stands to lose a lot more than he’ll gain for addressing our crowd.
This is going to be confusing. Who's right? Is this a Reason Rally as Dawkins and PZ Myers think or is it an Atheist Rally as Hemant believes?


  1. James Randi? Really? James Randi.

    Eddie Izzard?

    It's an atheist rally. A pop-atheist rally at that. They can have one if they want to and they can even call it a "Reason Rally" but they're asking to get criticized for false advertising and arrogance. I can think of a much better representation of rational atheists than that one. Maybe they should call it a Bunch of Brights.

    1. What's the matter with James Randi? Are you insinuating that he is not a rational thinker?

    2. Oh, from his role in sTARBABY, his being caught lying about Rupert Sheldrakes published work, twice, his infamous phone sex episode complete with shifting alibis from "they're fake" to "I was working with the police", his very likely knowing that his live in companion and sometimes employee stole the identity of a teacher's aid in the Bronx leading to years of trouble for the victim and a number of other Randian capers, he wouldn't be my first choice to represent reason. He's kind of seamy.

    3. For those who don't know who The Thought Criminal is, he is Anthony McCarthy whose long winded rants with little substance pollute Jason Rosenhouse's blog. I think that the opinion of folks such as Murray GellMann, Phil Plait, Bob Park, etc. on Mr. Randi are worth far more then the smears of nonentities like Mr. McCarthy.

  2. Senator Harkin is most definitely not an atheist. His support of alternative medicine would certainly seem to cast doubt on his credentials as a rationalist.

  3. The reason rally has an about page:

    Would probably have been a good idea to read. But playing word games is admittedly more fun. I can do that too:

  4. What did I say about James Randi that isn't part of the public record, which could be googled by anyone who cares to check. I'm surprised that one of Randi's fans wouldn't know about these particular features of his career.

    Do you think that James Randi, the famous debunker, should be considered immune from people looking into his less PR worthy activities?
    Byrd v Randi (Civil Action No. MJG-89-636 in the United States District for the Court for the District of Maryland

    I haven't read the article Tim Cridland wrote last year, not yet, though I understand it's very entertaining.

    I've read a lot of the posts on this blog over the years but haven't commented on it until recently, Larry Moran and I have overlapping POVs on some biological topics. I decided to post some comments and since I was already logged into my google account, I just used that ID. It wasn't my plan to become a regular commentator here so I didn't bother changing it. It's no secret that my blog is called The Thought Criminal, I've frequently linked to things I posted there.

    As to long winded, the ideas I deal with don't fit into the typical blog comment length. Some things in life are, as the eternal undergrad whine goes, "haaarrrrrd". I'm not going to apologize for trying to be complete.

    1. I really don't want to hijack this thread with a discussion of James Randi. However, Mr. McCarthy mentioned one Rupert Sheldrake which rang a bell with me so I did a little investigation. Dr. Sheldrake is a textbook example of a once productive scientist who has turned into a crank. A biologist by training, the good doctor is now into the pseudoscience of parapsychology. Sheldrake is a member of a, thankfully, small group of such scientists, which list includes the likes of Linus Pauling, Peter Duesberg, William Shockley, J. Allen Hynek, Michael Behe, Brian Josephson, and last but not least, Lynn Margulis.

      The real reason that Mr. McCarthy doesn't like Randi and Martin Gardner is because they have debunked the claims of parapsychology and he is a believer in that pseudoscience.

      Attached is a link to a review of some reviews of one of Sheldrake's books by Jerry Coyne, who, I suspect is on the McCarthy s*itlist.

  5. "Do you think that James Randi, the famous debunker, should be considered immune from people looking into his less PR worthy activities?"

    Do you think that those "less PR worth activities" have anything to do with the validity or invalidity of the phenomena he debunks?

  6. I forgot to mention that anyone wanting to see the brand of 'reason' that James Randi fosters can read it on full display at his "Educational Foundation" website. Wear your waders.

    1. The only time I need waders is when I wade through the inanities of Mr. McCarthy's comments.

  7. SLC, if you haven't even read Sheldrake's work, how can you express an opinion about it? You apparently haven't even reviewed his publication record or his professional appointments. Apparently the University of Cambridge didn't realize that he was a pseudo-scientist, as he held an appointment there until a couple of years ago. You can compare that to the "man of science" that so many of his fans and, apparently, not a few members of the press mistake James Randi for.

    Just in passing, I'm always so interested in how the "skeptics" can determine the quality of studies published in reviewed journals without having read them. And yet, despite that extraordinary ability, they are dismissive of highly controlled research into the possibility of plain old fashioned telepathy, sight unseen.

    However, I didn't comment on Sheldrake's published work, the only thing I mentioned about Sheldrake was that James Randi lied about having replicated his work and having reviewed an entire tape of one of his experiments, only to say, essentially "the dog ate my homework in the first case and "I didn't see the tape" in the second when forced to come clean.

    I did read "Seven Experiments that Could Change the World", which shows that, whatever else you might think of him, Sheldrake knows how to design inexpensive, interesting experiments, something he learned while a researcher in botany in India. It's too bad more books like that aren't published. It could give amateurs a better view of what science is than watching the Discover Channel or going to Randi's "educational foundation".

    Not being much of a fan of stage magic or hucksterism, in general, I wasn't very familiar with Randi until someone suggested I read sTARBABY and several of the papers both confirming what the uber-skeptic and a founding member of CSICOP, Dennis Rawlins, said about CSICOP's scandalous botch job and cover up of its one and only "scientific investigation". That was the opening of my eyes about pseudo-skepticism, the older brother of the new atheism. Richard Kammann's piece, the second citation above, at the rather superior skeptic, Jim Lippard's blog is the best of the ones I read.

    barefoot hiker, I can imagine what Randi and his fan base would make of any one of his targets being caught in any of the scandals above. Go look at the comment threads at his blog. It's pretty common to read all kinds of clear lies told about people like Sheldrake that are spread throughout the "skeptical" and new atheist blogosphere. And get a load of the rational erudition on display.

    Read sTARBABY, as I said, it's written by a skeptic who makes Randi look mild mannered by comparison. However, Dennis Rawlins, unlike Randi and a number of other big names in "skepticism" understood the mathematics necessary to know what he was talking about. Then you can read the piece by Richard Kammann, another member of CSICOP who, obviously, couldn't believe it until he reviewed the evidence, himself.

    James Randi can catch a fellow conjurer's deception, his profession, after all. But he doesn't have the most basic knowledge to review scientific research. Not that his fan base cares about science.

    1. Gee, Mr. Randi's fanbase which includes the likes of Murray GellMann, Phil Plait, Steven Novella, Bob Park, Michael Shermer, etc. is uninterested in science. That's quite a bit of chutzpah coming from a nonentity like Mr. McCarthy.

    2. Michael Shermer:

      " Dr Sheldrake went on to publish the findings of his experiments in a book appropriately entitled
      The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind. Asked about the book in a
      USA Today article, Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, condemned the research
      saying “[Sheldrake] has never met a goofy idea he didn’t like”. Shermer went on to say that the
      seemingly anomalous phenomena described in the book “are perfectly explicable by normal
      means”. However, when Dr Sheldrake asked Shermer to give an example of the ‘normal means’
      he described, Shermer could not, stating that he had ‘NOT GOTTEN TO' READING THE BOOK OR RELATED PAPERS. In March 2003, Dr Sheldrake challenged Shermer to a debate, which he accepted, and
      several times and venues were suggested, but all were rejected by Shermer. As of 2009, the
      debate has still not taken place."

      Upper case added by me for emphasis. You might want to also notice that the "knowledge at a distance" of Rupert Sheldrake's writing seems to be epidemic among his critics, Peter Atkins, among those documented in this dissertation. What is it about these guys that makes it so hard for them to say, "I don't know". Haven't they ever heard of Red Green?

      I especially wonder what Larry Moran would make of the bet mentioned in this paper that Lewis Wolpert made against Sheldrake that “by 1 May 2029, given the genome of a fertilised egg of an animal or plant, we will be able to predict in at least one case all the details of the organism that develops from it including any abnormalities.”

      I'm no geneticist but it sounds like a startlingly naive prediction to me. Considering non-genetic factors that effect development.

    3. Oh, and, it took me a while to remember why the mention of Gell-Man resonated in this context but you might want to check out this post from PZ Myers which ends

      "P.S. Murray Gell-Mann: you should be ashamed of yourself."

      The topic of PZ's post is relevant to our discussion, oddly enough. Perhaps someone might say it's a matter of "synchronicity", someone other than me, that is. PZ also called Stuart Pivar - who Gell-Mann praised, much to Myer's chagrin a "classic crackpot" leading to a lawsuit against Seed.

    4. "I can imagine what Randi and his fan base would make of any one of his targets being caught in any of the scandals above"

      So I'll ask you again: what does that have to do with the validity or invalidity of the phenomena he investigates? If GM jumped up shouting that Ralph Nader had eaten the last passenger pigeon egg stuffed inside the still beating heart of the world's cutest kitten, would that have convinced you to run right out and buy a Corvair?

    5. You're being really silly. Don't bother, I'm not intimidated by that kind of effort.

      Randi is a professional conjurer, his stock and trade is deceit. A professional deceiver's word is only as good as his record of honesty and any honest evaluation of Randi's record is that it's not one of dependable reliability. There's no way to know when he's using his skills at deception to deceive and when he's not. If any target of "skepticism" had even one of those incidents on their record they'd be considered to be eternally discredited. But the "skeptics" always insist on a double standard in their own favor, it's one of their most unattractive traits.

      I'm interested in the way that North American "skeptics" allow Randi's record to be judged according to Randi's own PR accounts instead of more objective evaluation. You could compare an Australian skeptic's account of his Carlos hoax (p. 26) and Randi's damage control effort (p. 42).

      That is in his area of known competence. As he proved in using his ignorance of statistics as an alibi in sTARBABY, he has no competence to evaluate claims of real science. I don't see any evidence that in the thirty plus years since that incident that he used any of his MacArthur money to remedy that ignorance. With the number of competent scientists associated with him, you'd think that they'd have talked him into doing that. Though, maybe, "skeptical" scientists think Randi's efforts are good enough for "skepticism". You wonder how they'd like to subject their own work to Randian methods of evaluation. Especially the psychologists. I'd bet that most of it wouldn't stand up to that kind of debunkery presuming dishonesty as a default position.

    6. "You're being really silly."

      And you're being obtuse. Answer the question.

      "A professional deceiver's word is only as good as his record of honesty"

      So in other words, if you don't happen to like his answers on questions of morality in his personal life, you're prepared to advocate we should all step out a 10th story window on the basis his demonstration it's not a good idea is thus dismissible. That's essentially your position, and it really is that facile, and no should be gulled by such an argument.

      If you don't agree with his findings, PROVE THEM WRONG.

    7. "You're being really silly."

      And you're being obtuse. Answer the question.

      "A professional deceiver's word is only as good as his record of honesty"

      So in other words, if you don't happen to like his answers on questions of morality in his personal life, you're prepared to advocate we should all step out a 10th story window on the basis his demonstration it's not a good idea is thus dismissible. That's essentially your position, and it really is that facile, and no should be gulled by such an argument.

      If you don't agree with his findings, PROVE THEM WRONG. barefoot hiker

      Barefoot hiker, I'm only interested in this as it regards controlled research published in reviewed journals, though some of it might also apply to other things.

      You present a person whose only qualification to address these claims are his professional level ability to deceive people - at times using his ability to deceive as his method - as reliable. And, in order to do that, you then claim that his own record is off limits to evaluating his trustworthiness. Someone who has built his fame and fortune on his being a celebrity of "skepticism" and who would certainly have something to lose if his opponents work was looked at in an unbiased manner.

      And by the standards of his "skepticism", the records of people with no known history of deception, who have operated entirely openly, who rigorously document the soundness of their testing procedures, with proven technical and scientific competence and with standard accepted levels of independent review are presumed, before hand, to be dishonest or incompetent. Moreover, as in the case of Ray Hyman, probably the most competent of the "skeptics", when he's unable to come up with anything to dispel positive results, then declares that some unknown, unspecified whatever is enough to negate their opponents' work.

      Nothing like insisting on having a double standard in favor of your ideological position, is there. Especially when you can intimidate people who should know better into pretending that they don't see the obvious problem with that. Well, I've got nothing to lose in refusing to be intimidated to accept your double standard or to pretend it's OK.

      I think this is the third time in this discussion that you've tried to bring absurd scenarios into it to avoid dealing with my points regarding James Randi's record of dishonesty and sleaze. I'm not going to get sidetracked by that jr. high level tactic.

    8. "You present a person whose only qualification to address these claims are his professional level ability to deceive people"

      No. It's not based on his ability to deceive; it's based on his ability to understand how these phenomena are accomplished and to reliably deconstruct, reverse engineer, and then demonstrate how they accomplished by conventional means.

      For that matter, his previous career did not involve deception. He was billed as an illusionist: that was up-front. There was no attempt to deceive, unlike the people he investigates; quite the opposite. Your charge is unjust and, I think, actually disingenuous. I believe you understand the distinction, but for whatever reason, you purport there is none. Rather than take issue with his methods, you instead engage in ad hominem attacks on him. All in aid of what, ultimately? Rehabilitating the frauds he has revealed? Aiding them to bilk the public?

      "with proven technical and scientific competence and with standard accepted levels of independent review"

      Like what? People who bend spoons and turn phone book pages with their "minds"? What, seriously?

      "Nothing like insisting on having a double standard in favor of your ideological position, is there."

      Oh, yeah. Tell us all about it.

      "I'm not going to get sidetracked by that jr. high level tactic."

      No no, my good sir; a junior high school level tactic is to attack a person on collateral matters when you can't disestablish an argument he's making. And that's all you've done. If you want to convince me and people like me, haul these people up and make them deliver the goods. Let's see some pages turn under glass or without other little bits of paper blowing away as if propelled by puffs of air. Let's see some silverware bend without being touched by any part of the telekineticist's body, or see them move some other object. Repeatedly. Consistently. Don't tell us what you think's wrong with the man. Tell us what's wrong with the experiments he sets up that his subjects never, EVER, seem to pass. And when they do, then I'll be convinced that Randi was wrong.

    9. Re Anthony McCarthy

      The topic of PZ's post is relevant to our discussion, oddly enough. Perhaps someone might say it's a matter of "synchronicity", someone other than me, that is. PZ also called Stuart Pivar - who Gell-Mann praised, much to Myer's chagrin a "classic crackpot" leading to a lawsuit against Seed.

      As it turns out, Pivar's claimn that Murray Gell-Mann endorsed his book is entirely fraudulent, just as Pivar's previous claim that Neil Tyson endorsed his work was fraudulent.

    10. It wouldn't upset me to find out that Gell-Mann didn't endorse Pivar's ideas but the question he was asked was, " have you authorized either Mr. Pivar or Mr. Goodspeed, in writing, to use the quote attributed to you in promoting Mr. Pivar's book?" To which the response is:

      Dear Professor Irons,

      The answer is No. I never authorized using any endorsement by me of Stuart Pivar's book. I did hear that something of the sort might happen and called to prevent it, but I was too late.

      Murray Gell-Mann

      Which makes me wonder why he didn't just deny having said what he's quoted as saying. If he had wanted to deny having said it there are a number of fairly litigation resistant ways to say that. As it is, what he might actually have or have not said is ambiguous.

      But, as I said, I wouldn't be upset if he was misquoted.

      I don't read and don't make it a habit of reading PZ's blog, I just happened to remember that post mentioning Gell-Mann for reasons I don't remember.

      Rereading the comments preceding yours makes me wish I'd gone into a bit more discussion about the statistical size of effects and their significance, which seems to be misunderstood. Dean Radin wrote a good discussion of that in his book "The Conscious Universe", for anyone who needs a refresher on that point. But I think Larry Moran is probably getting tired of reviewing comments on this thread.

      You might want to look at Radin's "Field Guide to Skepticism"

      It's so rare that the "skeptics" are looked at critically by someone who is qualified to understand their scientific claims. As I said, "skepticism" is ripe for debunking as well as constructive criticism from outside its ranks.

  8. SLC, I just read your link where Jerry Coyne says, "I don’t know of Sheldrake or his books, which include Dogs That Know When Their Owners are Coming Home, but I suspect that my readers do". Apparently Coyne shares your extraordinary ability to be familiar with the contents of a book without having read it and to review it by proxy.

    Having read his blog, some of his columns and his book WEIT, it's clear that he manages to keep it together only when he's dealing with his specialty. His extracurricular writing seems to me increasingly irresponsible.

    1. 1. Prof. Coyne wasn't commenting on Sheldrake's book, he was commenting on two reviews of Sheldrake's book.

      2. Prof. Coyne is an expert on statistical inference. As evidence, I will cite an incident that occurred during the OJ Simpson trial in which prosecution expert witness, North Carolina State Statistics Professor Bruce Weir was caught during cross examination having made a mistake in one of the calculations that he was testifying on. The fellow who caught his mistake, none other then Un. of Chicago Biology Professor Jerry Coyne.

  9. As to Randi being aware of his companion's identity theft, it's clear he was aware that his real name was David Pena before he hired him as "Jose Alvarez" as part of his attempted "Carlos" hoax:

    A reporter profiling Randi for the Toronto Star caught up with the magician at LaGuardia Airport in New York in August 1986:

    "A few feet behind him, David Pena, a young man of about 20, struggles with three large suitcases," the reporter wrote.

    One of Pena's landlords in Broward County was Jim Sitton, a motel owner who let him stay in a room in exchange for some artwork. Sitton identified a photograph of the young Alvarez in his "Carlos" role as the man he knew as Pena.

    "He was a young artist. He was going to the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. I think he went by different names, though," Sitton said. "At some point, I became aware that he used two names. The name he used is David Pena."

    Sitton said Pena later told him he was working with Randi.

    Being a supporter of amnesty for illegal aliens who have long term residency in the U.S., it's the identity theft that is the problem. The real Jose Alvarez had all kinds of trouble from Pena stealing his identity for a number of years, including tax problems and his being unable to go to his sister's wedding in Jamaica. Given the timeline in this article, it's unlikely that Randi could have been unaware of it. It is certainly relevant to his credibility as a debunker if he wasn't aware of that happening under his own roof and his employment. It couldn't be more relevant to assessing his trustworthiness if he knew about it for all those years and he used Pena in his debunkery spectacles. Though, from what I recall reading, the Australian media, the intended target of the "Carlos" hoax, weren't deceived by it.

    1. Well, here's the announcement for the Amazing Meeting this summer. I'm sure that Mr. McCarthy wouldn't be in the least bit interested in attending. Looking over the speakers at this meeting and the preceding 9 meetings, Mr. Randi sure has a lot of friends out there.

    2. Kow towing to the amazing one isn't my idea of a good time. You should understand why, in the context of our discussion here, the most amazing thing is that anyone involved in James Randi's annual event could believe they're participating in a "celebration of science, skepticism and critical thinking".

      I'm quite familiar with Sean Faircloth from his time in Maine State government, we're both Democrats and I am quite active in the party. Though I'm not that familiar with him since he left it.

      I'd love to ask Elizabeth Cornwell a lot of questions about her faith in the retrospective observation of "behaviors" and the ability to draw the most amazing observation of conclusions from that "observation" at an enormous distance in time not to mention unspecified space. All leading to claims far more extraordinary and far more untestable than anything I read in the two books of Sheldrake I've read. Evolutionary psychology, with its enormous body of unobservable "evidence", its untestable assertions and unwarranted conclusions is... well, I'll come out and say it, pseudo-science. I'd call it "psychometry" only that form of "divination" requires a physical object for handling, evo-psy isn't even that physically based.

      Ophilia Benson, best I don't go into details of my opinion of her just now. I don't think Gorski and Sean Carroll would enjoy meeting me in person, either.

    3. I don't think accomplished scientists like David Gorski and Sean Carroll need any defense from me against a nonentity like Mr. McCarthy. As for Ms. Benson, I'm sure that Mr. McCarthy is proud to bask in the approval of Chris Mooney.

    4. I'm not aware of having the approval of Chris Mooney. Do I? That would be interesting as he's working at CFI the last I heard. I'm not especially well liked there, for obvious reasons. I do admire his journalism and frequently agree with him. Though, back when I was commenting regularly at his blog, I never held back if I disagreed with him. It's something adults do.

      I wasn't aware that I'd attacked Gorski and Carroll, not even in the arguments we have had, though I was quite aggressive in them. I even resorted to promising to not post another comment on Carroll's blog if he would finally answer the question he'd been dodging for more than a week, a question that was basic to the subject of the argument, the answer to which forced him to write one or two involved explanatory posts, as I recall. Gorski is a very smart man but his weakness is that he's an extremely conventional thinker outside of his specialty. I won't apologize for defending the Canadian German, Israeli and Rwandan laws against hate speech.

      I did once say that Ophelia Benson reminded me of Hilton Kramer according to Harold Rosenberg.

      It's always so very, very enlightening to have the real, right way to think dictated to you by someone who, remarkably, is certain that that real, right way is exactly the way they happen to already think. Such a coincidence.

      You keep calling me a "nonentity". If I'm a nonentity and you keep talking to me, does that mean you're delusional? You can keep that up as long as you want, it won't upset me.

    5. 1. Apparently, Mr. McCarthy is unaware of the fact that Mr. Mooney banned Ms. Benson from commenting on his blog; thus in that regard, Mooney would be in agreement with Mr. McCarthy's low opinion of her (they also banned John Kwok). By the way, Mooney and Kirshenbaum also banned me, even though she denied it.

      Well, since Mr. McCarthy is in favor of banning hate speech, I guess he doesn't like Ed Brayton either as the latter believes that the answer to hate speech is more speech, not censorship.

    6. "More speech" is an empty slogan, especially for the large majority of those who have no media megaphone. It's as empty as the idea that satire is sufficient to counter genocide, as the failure of the brilliant satirists in 1920s Germany and Italy proved. As the Rwanda genocide attempt shows, a lot of people can get killed, even by relatively primitive means, before that "more speech" gets started.

      It is an especially stupid feature of post-war thought that we are supposed to pretend that by their chosen ideology Nazis, Klansmen, etc. aren't a known danger. The idea that we are supposed to ignore the mountains of people murdered by them out of some absurd idea that the best ideas always win out is an insistence that we sweep those victims under the rug. Of course, it's people who make a living in the media, who often have much more speech than their empty heads warrant, among whom that stupid idea has been most popular. They've got a financial incentive to be able to lie their heads off with impunity.

      I'm in favor of looking at the world in terms of what happens instead of through the rose colored glasses of empty slogans.

      Free speech is a right, it's not the only right. Nothing could be clearer than that it can and has been used to deprive hundreds of millions, even billions of people of all of their rights. To ignore that electronic media has enhanced the potential power of hate speech, encouraging the murder of people is willful stupidity on the part of what passes as the American intelligentsia and those who aspire to join it. Of course, the majority of those people are less likely to be victimized by hate speech than people with less money and power. Hate speech wouldn't be any more difficult to regulate in the media than copyright or trademark laws that are so notably not objected to by the majority of the free speech absolutists.

      I'm for removing protection from commercial lies, like the ones from oil and gas companies that are on American TV 24 hours a day, told over and over again with the advice of psychologists and others on how to make those lies more politically effective. The lie that malignant speech is innocuous is exposed by the very media that pushes that lie, they make their money by selling time to speech that is destroying effective self-government by an accurately informed public.

      You see, just as I'm not buying the party line on James Randi when confronted with his record of sleaze and dishonesty, I'm not going to ignore reality to blindly accept any other party line.

      While Canadian law is imperfect, it's a lot more realistic than the US laws in this area. As I asked Orac, does he think that Germany, which learned the lesson of its history, should ignore the potential for a repetition of that history? Does he think Israel should allow Nazis to rally outside of Yad Vashem? Do you, SLC?

    7. "The idea that we are supposed to ignore the mountains of people murdered by them out of some absurd idea that the best ideas always win out is an insistence that we sweep those victims under the rug"

      Well, let's put it this way. If you're living in a society where the avocations of the Nazis and the Klan are prone to become the norm, then it really doesn't matter how many laws you stuff into the books. It's going to happen in spite of them. It'll just take longer and likely be all the more violent when it does. On the other hand, letting such people spout off in society that isn't prone to it tends to remind the majority just how ugly those ideas are, and in my opinion has the same inoculating effect as exposing someone to a small, weakened incidence of a virus does. We're better armed to argue with and guard against something we've encountered before.

      But that's an extreme case. What we're guarding against here is the idea of the wedge strategy. If it becomes possible, even fashionable, to legislate against ideas and their expression, then, ultimately, what ideas? Whose expression? Given that the GOP is fronting a slate of pretty dyed-in-the-wool theists and creationists, I think giving such people the power to decide what should and shouldn't be expressed in public is a bad idea. They're exactly the kind who'd use it.

      I'm not pleased with Canada's laws on hate speech. I understand them and ultimately I agree with the the intention behind them, but I don't agree with them as a suitable method. I don't like the precedent such rules set; they have the potential to be corrosive to any constitution.

    8. So, barefoot hiker, you think Germany should risk a repeat of the Nazi period and Israel should allow them to rally outside of Yad Vashem because you think it's not possible to distinguish between hate speech and other speech? Because the laws that they've made banning hate speech would be corrosive to a constitution. You think a constitution is more important than peoples' lives? I say to hell with a constitution if that's the situation.

      Your theory of prophylactic hate speech is bizarre. What evidence do you have to support it?

      Republicans are interested in two things, grabbing wealth and grabbing power so they can grab wealth. The creationism and theocratic stuff is just a cover story. When the corporate media using their "free speech" put them in power permanently, though Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United style "free speech" rulings, lots of us will lose all our rights, though I'm sure you'll feel that's worth it. There was more "more speech" in the American media when the Fairness Doctrine, equal time provision and public service requirements were in force. The left has been almost entirely excluded in the unregulated media today.

  10. Prof. Coyne is an expert on statistical inference. SLC

    I doubt he's as accomplished a statistician as Jessica Utts.

    It's a pretty odd thing to first announce you aren't familiar with someone and their work then spew abuse at him and two people who have done what you also announced you haven't done, read the book they're reviewing. I think Jerry Coyne needs the firm hand of an editor to keep him from harming his reputation. One that will point out things like that to him.

    I wonder how he'd welcome a column such as his written about Why Evolution is True and two of the positive reviewers of it. Frankly, I'm kind of shocked that an author and columnist of his stature would need to have those things pointed out. But, as can be see from my citations above, shocking behavior seems to come with the territory.

    I did read his book, by the way, after reading Richard Lewontin's favorable review of it in The NYT Review of Books. It's a good book. Imagine my shock when first reading his blog with the same name.

    1. Prof. Utts certainly has impressive credentials but so do/did Linus Pauling, Peter Duesberg, J. Allen Hynek, William Shockley, Lynn Margolis, Brian Josephson (in addition to his belief in ESP and PK, Josephson is also a believer in cold fusion), etc. However, there is a way to prove that ESP and PK are real phenomena without the resort to arcane statistical studies. If Prof. Utts has found someone who she asserts has ESP ability, take that person to Las Vegas or Atlantic City and let him/her play blackjack. If that person has ESP ability, he/she should be able to make a killing there by reading the mind of the dealer. Somehow, that never happens. If Prof. Utts has found someone who she asserts has PK ability, that individual should be able to make a killing at the craps table or the roulette wheel by influencing the the dice or the wheel. Again, somehow that never happens.

  11. SLC, you should read her papers, before you start in with the negative association game. Especially her exchange with Ray Hyman, one of the few prominent "skeptics" who can hold their own in statistical analyis, and her exposure of his conduct. Though, just as Dennis Rawlins says in the beginning of sTARBABY, there is no level of evidence that would be enough to get him to admit that there are positive results that could indicate confirmation of the hypothesis.

    Your inclusion of William Shockley in your detention list is rather gratuitous in so far as his eugenics and scientific racism were the product of promissory materialism in the efficacious of natural selection to create evidence where there was none. Something that evo-psy also does.

    I'll discuss the rest of that list with you when I think they're relevant to the discussion. Including Shockley on a list with Linus Pauling is especially ironic and another occasion to repeat that when Shockley and unnamed Nobel Laureates started the Nobel frozen stud farm, Pauling, as one of the few double Nobels, was asked if he'd participate. He said he liked doing it the old fashioned way better. Something which a couple of chemists I knew verified from having attended meetings with him.

    You might want to add Richard Feynman to your list of fallen scientists, by the way. You can see on page 202 at the link he showed signs of ideological unreliability in the great quest against even studying the unallowably unusual.

    Really, the most amazing thing about the "skepticism" industry is how a cheap showman like Randi with his vast history of seamy and dishonest behavior can be a "hero of science" when qualified people who do and publish fully reviewed research that is far, far more controlled than just about anything in psychology and evo-psy are ridiculed. As seen in the links above, any movement that has created the results that "skepticism" has since 1975 deserves the highest level of real skepticism, the one that is applied to normal science, including PSI research. As someone once pointed out, if Hyman applied the same standards to his field, psychology, that he applied to PSI research, psychology would evaporate. So would evo-psy.

    1. 1. The "Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research," is hardly a reputable scientific publication so I am totally unimpressed with anything published there.

      2. Just for the information of Mr. McCarthy, no reputable in-vitro fertilization laboratory would accept a sperm donation from someone of Shockley's age because the quality deteriorates over time, increasing the chances of genetic abnormalities commensurately. The same would have applied to Linus Pauling or Richard Feynman for that matter.

      3. The challenge is still out there for Prof. Utts. If she has discovered someone with ESP, take him/her to Las Vegas or Atlantic City and clean up at the blackjack tables. No need to argue about arcane statistical inferences.

      4. Just for the information of Mr. McCarthy, most evolutionary biologists, including Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, and our host here, are dubious about evolutionary psychology.

    2. SLC, are you saying that your Las Vagas blackjack test would comprise science? And that if such a test was successfully made that it would be enough to erase Ray Hyman's asserted standards of refutation that the highly controlled, reviewed, published studies haven't? And I'm supposed to take your assessment of a reviewed journal seriously.

      You might want to compare the level of review and refereeing of JASPR with that of Skeptical Inquirer or the other "skeptics" magazines. Though I've seen nothing in what you've said that would indicate that you really would. Can you point to documented instances of lapses of journalistic or scientific standards at The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research? Lapses that are actual ones studied and proven by normal standards of scholarship instead of merely asserted by prejudiced parties? That's how a reviewed journal is usually judged. I hadn't planned on reviewing things I've read about things at the "skeptical" journals but I have certainly read criticisms of them. Just what Rawlins said about Skeptical Inquirer would absolutely bury any journal published by the opponents of the pseudo-skeptics.

      I'm quite aware of large numbers of evolutionary biologists, geneticists, etc. who are skeptical of evo-psy, though I'm not exactly sure these days that includes Jerry Coyne. I do know from years of arguing about evo-psy online, that absolute faith in evo-psy, especially that of Dawkins and Dennett, is ubiquitous among blog atheists. Though in October-November 2010 I had a brawl at Orac's blog with some of Dawkins' greatest fans who didn't seem to realize that evo-psy was the basis of his scientific claim to fame. That, I've got to tell you, was a shock to me.

      You don't seem to be aware of Shockley's Nobel Prize stud farm, one of the most hilarious episodes in recent scientific nonsense. There was one well publicized birth resulting from it, though the Nobel studs didn't reveal which one of them was the father. You really should look it up. The point about the likelihood of geezers, even among Nobels, having sperm that was damaged was one I heard Lewontin make to Shockley's face on a Boston TV program. I think he said something like "your sperm should be obliterated". I used to run on the outskirts of the Science for the People crowd back then.

      As to Larry Moran's skepticism of ultra-adaptationism, why do you think I read his posts without commenting for so long?

    3. Excuse me Mr. McCarthy, I am well aware of Shockley's stud farm and his contribution of sperm to same. The deterioration of sperm quality as men get older is well known and has been for years. By the way, the same thing holds for the eggs produced by women. A woman in her 40's is far more likely to produce children with genetic abnormalities then a women in her 20's. One of these abnormalities is Downs Syndrome (as an example Sarah Palin was 43 when her last child was conceived, her husband was a little older).

      I do not consider Skeptical Inquirer to be a scientific publication, which the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research purports to be. Thus the latter should be compared with journals like Nature, Science, The Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, The Proceedings of the Royal Society, Nuovo Cimento, Nuclear Physics, etc.

      In answer to Mr. McCarthy's question as to whether cleaning up at the blackjack tables in Las Vagas or Atlantic City is science, the answer is no. However, if one of Prof. Utts' alleged ESP enabled individuals was able to do so, I suspect that Ray Hyman or Bob Park would sit up and take notice. Even expert card counters are able to shift the odds in their favor only slightly. An individual able to read the mind of the dealer would shift the odds heavily in his/her favor and would be able to demonstrate the facility consistently.

    4. It doesn't much matter what you or I consider any journal to be. The question is if they follow accepted practices for reviewing and publishing scientific studies. I had a similar argument over a sociological study which I was skeptical of, as I am skeptical of most of sociology. However, as skeptical as I was, I had to defend the researcher, Elaine Howard Ecklund, and the journal, Sociology of Religion, in which it was published because I couldn't see any lapse in scholarly standards in it or its publication. As far as I could see both she and the journal followed the rules, despite my own opinion.

      If you're admitting that Skeptical Inquirer and its related "skeptical" magazines aren't a reliable source for objective information about the subject. Good.

      The controlled research into PSI is generally conducted knowing that it will be attacked, even by people who have actual competence to do that on a legitimate basis, both inside and outside critics. What I've read is very careful, though, as George Hansen says in that review of Hyman's book, everyone makes mistakes, including the legitimate skeptics and, as he showed, they don't always correct flaws that have been pointed out to them when they reprint.

      I don't claim to be able to say what Feynman did at that link, that the insider critics of PSI research are superior to the outsiders, though I do wonder what it was he learned in the period between that speech and his famous Cargo Cult Science speech in the early 70s. There was some mighty interesting physics being done in those years.

      You haven't read Utts' papers have you. You wouldn't say such a silly thing if you had.

      Given Hyman's stance that, when even as an experienced and exigent critic of experimental design and analysis such as he, can fail to find flaws in studies that would erase positive findings, some unfound, unspecified, unknown "flaw" negates the positive findings, no amount of or level of verification will be enough to overcome his predetermined belief.

      And if he can't get past that, I think people who don't share that prejudice are not required to take him at his word on the subject. As the climate change and evolution denialists show, there are other ways to be superstitious than by believing in things without evidence. You can also be superstitious by denying things for which there is evidence staring you in the face. I think the superstition of willful denial is probably more deep seated and difficult to get over because you're looking at the evidence as you deny it.

  12. Interesting discussion. I agree that this is an atheist rally - a 'New Atheist' rally, by the sounds of it. As much as Richard Dawkins has done for science, his new agenda is questionable. He seems to suggest, for example, that if we could rid the world of religion, we would be left in a comparatively utopian paradise of rational scientific minds. I have read his 'God Delusion' - in my opinion he has no insight whatsoever into WHY people are prone to religious belief - only that they are either unintelligent, they were raised that way, or that it was passed around through 'memes.' Dawkins own meme theory is based on irrational thinking. He also seems to supports evolutionary psychology, which is probably the worst form of psychology since phrenology (I wrote a long essay critiquing it on my website if anyone is curious). In short, I suspect that Dawkins values science more than reason (scientism); his agenda is seeks to displace religious illusion, but it will only be replaced with scientific illusion. When this kind of 'science' gets into our social policies, it will be every bit as dangerous as traditional religion.

    The internet seems to be overpopulated with anti-religious science-based ideologies. While I was initially attracted to Jerry Coyne's blog, and agree with much of what he has to say, I quickly found his followers to be very critical of dissenters within the group; differing thoughts or challenges to reasoning are not tolerated; the outliers are instead ridiculed until they go away. That does not sound like science to me.

    1. It's not a blog, it's a website.

      And apparently a completely different WEIT website from the one I read.

    2. Steve, you are making my point. I am here expressing my personal experience (e.g. "I found his blog...") in following the posts on his website and my briefly participating there. You apparently do not agree with me and do not like what I have to say, but instead of 'entertaining' my points or comments and responding to them with your own, you react somewhat flippantly and passive-aggressively, by pointing out an apparent 'error' in my calling it a blog versus a website. Then you sarcastically note how I must have 'apparently' visited a different site. These kinds of comments are characteristic of my personal experience on Jerry's website, and in my opinion, ultimately serve to prohibit challenges to reasoning and diversity of thought.

    3. While I was initially attracted to Jerry Coyne's blog, and agree with much of what he has to say, I quickly found his followers to be very critical of dissenters within the group; differing thoughts or challenges to reasoning are not tolerated; the outliers are instead ridiculed until they go away

      The Internet is a tough place where no quarter is asked or given. Harry Truman's advice that if one can't stand the heat, one should get out of the kitchen is quite apropos in this regard. By the way, if Mr. Peters thinks it's rough at Prof. Coyne's website, he should try PZ Myers' blog; no holds barred is the rule over there. And they can get pretty rough over at Ed Brayton's blog too, as I can well attest to having been on the receiving end numerous times. Water off a duck's back I say.

    4. Brad, thanks for the analysis, but all I was trying to say was that you are full of shit.

      And I say that as one who has taken some beatings at WEIT, Pharyngula and Dispatches.

  13. Like what? People who bend spoons and turn phone book pages with their "minds"? What, seriously? Barefoot hiker

    I told you I'm only interested in talking about controlled, reviewed, refereed, published studies. You're clearly not able to deal with that because you've never looked into those. Just like the people I listed who had some kind of extrasensory ability to judge Rupert Sheldrake's writing and studies without having read them, you assume you can judge scientific research - which meets the normal requirements of science, as Jessica Utts pointed out at the link I gave above - without reading it. It could be that you lack sufficient mathematical knowledge to do that just as Randi, Kurtz, Klass, and, it seems a number of CSICOP "fellows" and "councilors" did. And not being willing to find out what it takes to understand that, you take what the Randis and Shermers tell you on the basis of their "expertise". Though as they've advocated, that kind of "expertise" comes with no math necessary


    How to be a media authority

    Becoming an expert is a pretty simple procedure; tell people you’re an expert. After you do that, all you have to do is maintain appearances and not give them a reason to believe you’re not. I could be one of the leading experts on 19th century Bavarian Monkey Chess up until the moment I say something that totally contradicts what you know about this noble and lost game of strategy.


    If you go to Randi's "educational foundation" website and read what was said about it, the typical dodges of the pseudo-skeptcal new atheist discourse are on display, including a charge of selective quotation when what was not only quoted but posted photographically was provided as requested. Though, if they'd bothered to look at the link, they'd have seen it was a SKEPTIC who posted the images.

    That kind of self-declared "expertise" is what "skepticism" is based in whereas science requires a lot more. Skeptics are pretty much lazy boys with attitudes, conceit, not much of an interest in putting in an effort and not much else. Randi, Jillette, etc. give them permission to think they're brilliant and cool.

    1. I don't generally frequent the Educational Foundation website but, on going over there, I notice a number of posts by Dr. Steven Novella. Does Mr. McCarthy include Dr. Novella in his pantheon of scientists who are not interested in science?

    2. "I told you I'm only interested in talking about controlled, reviewed, refereed, published studies"

      Hey, me too...

      "I'm looking and can't find any controlled experiments done by James Randi. Where are they published?"

      Do you know of any that establish the things he's taking issue with are real to begin with? See, the burden of proof lies with a POSITIVE claim; in this case, that paranormal powers are real. But a claim backed by no evidence requires none in rebuttal: the default position of disbelief is justified. That said, even with the bar being as low as it is, I'd say Randi's done pretty well consistently demonstrating that these claims have never stood up to even the most circumscribed, cursory critical examination.

    3. Here are some indexes of those, many available online, and some individual studies and analyses.

      You know, I had almost no awareness of this subject until I was writing blog posts critical of the lousy research standards in a lot of published psychology and evo-psy and I was looking for something to contrast that with. I had used Utt's excellent short intro to statistics to review what I had studied in college many decades ago and thought of buying her standard textbook (very expensive). Looking at her Davis website, I read her Assessment for the Evidence of Psychic Functioning and it provided me with an ideal example to contrast research done with the utmost care with the sloppy, shoddy, often illogical psychological, evo-psy and neo-eugenics quoted in the media. I think those have a potentially malignant effect in American politics. From there I kept reading studies mentioned by her and others. I certainly think they have served the backlash against feminism beginning in the mid-70s.

      Then I read sTARBABY and the putrid smear job 'Crybaby' - by the pseudo-scientific CSICOP celeb Phil Klass published by CSICOP - and Kammann's excellent summary of the too little known scandal.

      Sheldrake, Radin, Utts, all have had real careers in science and mathematics. Utts expertise in statistics is impeccable as is her ability to explain her topic. Their professional and avocational records couldn't be more of a contrast to those of the big names in "skepticism".

      As seen in Hyman's self-serving and recursive prerequisites that would prevent taking any published studies seriously, there is no likelihood that pseudo-skepticism will ever look at any evidence presented. I think it's well past time that the feature of self-interest among the big names of "skepticism" are looked into for possible explanatory value. Fame and fortune are powerful motives for the denial of evidence, especially when a fan base of people too ignorant and lazy to evaluate the evidence presented can be amassed through ridicule and derision. Ridicule and derision are tools of the Rush Limbaughs and Glenn Becks of the world, they've got no legitimate place in science or scholarship.

    4. SLC, I'm not familiar with Steven Novella so I not only won't express an opinion on him, I don't hold one. Unlike so many noted above, I don't just assume I know about someone's professional work on the basis of extrasensory scholarship "just because".

      I wonder how much Novella and others know about those things in the Randi record I've pointed out above.

    5. Dr. Steven Novella is a practicing and research neurologist who runs a podcast called the Skeptics Guide to the Universe. Among other things, he was involved in the Terri Schiavo case where he was asked to evaluate the treatment recommended by Dr. William Hammesfahr. In his opinion, Dr. Hammesfahrs' proposed treatment was quackery (Note that the good doctor is on the quackwatch quack list).

    6. Well, you can't be familiar with everyone, especially if they aren't someone you choose to associate yourself with. I wonder what he makes of Randi's less PR ready side.

  14. Barefoot hiker, I'm looking and can't find any controlled experiments done by James Randi. Where are they published?

    1. 1. Mr. Randi makes no claim to be a scientist so Mr. McCarthy's statement is irrelevant.

      2. Here's an article on the PEAR experiments at Princeton, Un. which quotes a suggestion from one of the reviewers, Physics Prof. Bob Park which was ignored by the experimenters. I guess then that Prof. Park is also on Mr. McCarthy's excrement list.

      Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about PEAR is the fact that suggestions by critics that should have been considered were routinely ignored. Physicist Bob Park reports, for example, that he suggested to Jahn two types of experiments that would have bypassed the main criticisms aimed at PEAR. Why not do a double-blind experiment? asked Park. Have a second RNG determine the task of the operator and do not let this determination be known to the one recording the results. This could have eliminated the charge of experimenter bias. Another experiment, however, could have eliminated most criticism. Park suggested that PEAR have operators try to use their minds to move a "state-of-the-art microbalance" (Park 2008, 138-139). A microbalance can make precise measurements on the order of a millionth of a gram. One doesn't need to be clairvoyant to figure out why this suggestion was never heeded.

      3. Here's another conference that I'm sure that Mr. McCarthy will have no interest in. Mathematics Prof. Jason Rosenhouse of James Madison Un. will be attending that one. I guess that Prof. Rosenhouse will join the rather lengthy list of folks that Mr. McCarthy doesn't like.

      I must say that I find Mr. McCarthy's animus against James Randi and Martin Gardner to be highly amusing. The number of scientists and mathematicians who attend both the Amazing Meeting and the Gathering for Gardner Conference is testimony to the esteem in which they are held. Mr. McCarthy's rants against them is much sound and fury signifying nothing.

    2. 1. I said it was the media and his adoring fans who mistake James Randi as a figure of science. Having denied that he was a man of science and gotten a violent reaction from them in the past, it's one of their most cherished false beliefs. If Randi has tried to disillusion his fans of their faith in that, I've missed it.

      2. I would have to read the research Park is talking about and what he said about it to have a valid opinion about it. Park is another person I'm not familiar with. I have read some things about Jahn's experiments and, without reading Park's critique, wonder how "double blind" techniques would be relevant to some of them. I think that Jahn's technical expertise and expect ethat of those who reviewed his research is probably very high and would like to know if there is any reason to believe his critics' is higher. I don't, by the way, have any views on that research because I haven't read it.

      3. Jason Rosenhouse, like Platt etc. are old enough to associate with who ever they want to. As I said back when J. K. Galbraith was pals with William F. Buckley, "He's old enough to choose his own bad friends". Some day I might get around to pointing out more of Martin Gardner's not blemish free record in relation to "skepticism". You can read some of that in the sTARBABY literature and also in Pratt's response to his review of Hansel's book. Quite frankly, I don't get the aroma of sanctity that is supposed to surround Gardner who I find kind of an unattractive character. I think he's just another intellectual bully who figured all of his opinions were to be accepted because he said so. I found the fight he had with Reuben Hersh interesting, not least of which was Hersh pointing out that Gardner's position was one of "religious" faith instead of evidence or logic. I'm aware of and can document evidence a "skeptical" blog mobbing attempt of a post I wrote about him. Which is kind of funny.

      It's kind of funny that MG was actually a theist, which would make him ideologically unreliable to some of his most ardent fans. Some people have speculated that his opinions might have actually had their origin in the evangelical faith he was reared in.

    3. 1. Actually, Gardner was an agnostic for most of his life and only became a theist in his declining years after moving to North Carolina. In his seminal work, "Fads and Fallacies in Science," he was highly critical of Robert Hutchins, who had been president of the Un. of Chicago when Gardner was a student there, and Mortimer Adler for their approach to science, particularly in their Great Books project. Later on, he became more positive about them in his later writings after he drifted toward theism. I have had some interactions with individuals who were influenced by the Great Books project and who were highly critical of science and scientists (the only thing that scientists are good for is to build bigger and better bombs, a frequent trope of such people).

      2. Bob Park is a professor of physics at the Un. of Maryland and is the author of the book, "Voodoo Science," one chapter of which, as I recall was highly critical of ESP and PK, which he labeled pseudoscience; he was a lot harder on those topics as I recall then Gardner was in Fallacies. He was on an advisory committee for the PEAR project. Prof. Park is well known for being highly opinionated on numerous subjects, including the safety of cell phones and his long standing opposition to manned space exploration.

    4. Having strong opinions isn't an admitted qualification in science, though in practice it seems to suffice, especially in pop-science. And, as your example of Shockley shows, being an eminent physicist isn't a guarantee of competence outside of their narrow specialty. You might read what PZ Myers said about Murray Gell-Mann's endorsement of Pivar's book in that regard as well. You might want to look at what Lewontin says about scientists being at sea outside of their specialty in his Billions and Billions of Demons, which has been quoted here.

      I might get around to reading more about Jahn's work in the future and will look at Park's involvement as well as what other critics of it said, if I do. I still don't see how "double blind" procedures would have any bearing on what I've read about it. Though, even if they had included procedures like that, as they have in a number of other experiments such as the Ganzfield experiments, the entrenched critics would invent some other objection. Or, as I mentioned in regard to Hyman's continuing objections, object without specifying an actual objection when their previous objections are met.

      I'm extremely skeptical about the study of animal behavior and am inclined to be very skeptical of Sheldrake's experiments with dogs. But when you compare the level of control he exerted in experiments that are routinely, irrationally and, as in the case of Randi, dishonestly rejected with research such as Marc Hauser's which was routinely accepted and gets built upon, only, in some cases, when the review that should have preceded publication is done, it is found to be baseless, perhaps actually fraudulent. If animal behavior research is going to be done Sheldrake's practices are certainly superior to a lot of what gets published as science and asserted as evidence in the media and even politics.

      Even more revealing is comparing Sheldrake's work to Dawkins' "the first bird in a flock to call out" speculation from his Selfish Gene book, in which 1. it is based in story telling instead of observations in nature, 2. what he asserts is an enormously complex and practically impossible "phenomenon" which couldn't be ascertained to happen with any reliable regularity as a knowable reaction to a knowable stimulus, 3. which is asserted, nonetheless to be evidence of a physical origin for the imaginary "behavior", 4. which is widely believed on authority and even becomes an assertion of "evidence" in science. In just about every way Sheldrake's dog research is far more controlled to prevent misunderstanding and error. It's rational to put more stock in it than in enormous amounts of what are taken to be reliable.

    5. Oh, and, I pretty much share an opinion of Mortimer Adler with Katha Pollitt who called him an "intellectual shake oil salesman".

      You might want to read her description of the conservative keepers of the "cannon" and contrast it with this:

      "Ray Hyman has been quoted as speaking of a “frightening” “fundamentalism” and “witch-hunting” when discussing the rise of the popular debunking movement (Clark, 1987). Hyman has also been quoted as saying: “As a whole, parapsychologists are nice, honest people, while the critics are cynical, nasty people” (McBeath & Thalboume, 1985, p. 3). Hyman (1987) wrote an article advising the local groups how to be effective critics; this was published in Skeptical Briefs and reprinted in a number of newsletters. He suggested using “the principle of charity,” saying “I know that many of my fellow critics will find this principle to be unpalatable” (p. 5, italics added).
      The problems caused by cynicism and hostility have been recognized by the organization, and steps are being taken to diminish them. The severity of the problem cannot be attributed entirely to male dominance; after all, a number of other predominantly male organizations do not have such a reputation. It is likely that there are a number of other factors that contribute to the perceived demeanor."

      I'm a fan of non-canonical, unlisted, reading and am an even bigger fan of public libraries and used book stores as compared to uniformly bound commercial anthologies of "great books". If I shared that with Martin Gardner, I won't lose sleep over it.

  15. Barefoot hiker, by "establish the things he's taking issue with are real to begin with" I assume you mean experiments that have been run and have produced a positive result that is statistically significant. If that's true, of course there have been, there have been experiments that have done that since J. B. Rhine in the 1930s. Having done what so very few "skeptics" have done, read some of what was published, and also having looked at the debunkery, including debunker dishonesty, the denial that the literature exists is one of the most absurd features of "skepticism".

    C.E.M. Hansel, for example, falsified the lay out of one of building involved with experiments conducted by J. G. Pratt in order to make an extremely far fetched claim of cheating. That his claim of cheating was physically impossible and that there was no one who witnessed any cheating at the time of the test, is still read by the few skeptics who bother looking at the record whereas Pratt's refutation of it is not. And, lost in that pseudo-scandal, the results of the experiment are lost. You can contrast the care of the experiments he and Rhine conducted with the methodology of psychology then and, in many cases, now. The controls on possible error are higher, in many cases far, far higher in PSI research and the researchers also addressed the reasonable objections of their critics. The debunkers, though, are generally assumed to be honest, even today when they would have far more of a financial interest in committing fraud and they, unlike most of the subjects of experiment in these areas, are known to be highly skilled in methods of deceit. Some of the debunkery assumes those kinds of skills, which very few people possess outside of professional magic, among people who have never been known to possess them.

    You can look at the websites of Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin, and other qualified scientists who have done research in this area and read pdf reprints of published studies. You can also read the reviewed, refereed journals that publish them. You can go to Jessica Utt's UC Irvine faculty site to read her papers in this area. As with Sheldrake's site, you can also find papers on other research they did in other areas that have been published. It's a symptom of the laziness and ignorance of blog skeptics that very few of them are aware of the long, distinguished scientific careers of people like Sheldrake and Radin. Sheldrake's conventional biological research is interesting.

    The skepticism industry that has grown up in the last sixty years has its own record that is ripe for debunking, Their practices have become standard operating procedure in the denial of science by industry and conservative media as well as evolution denial. It's looking ever more likely that they've learned how vulnerable real science is to dishonest PR tactics and that real scientists will increasingly be subject to irrational and dishonest methods of debunkery. Which is tragic. The pseudo-skeptics pioneered many of those methods, the oil and gas industry seem to be taking lessons from them.