Tag Archives: Scientific method

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi

Secrets of the Psychics – James Randi
Original broadcast: October 19, 1993
Description via PBS.org:

james-randi-69Can psychics predict the future? Many people seem to think so. Others argue that, in most cases, so-called psychic experiences are really misinterpretations of events. In this episode of NOVA, magician and confirmed skeptic James Randi challenges viewers to weigh the evidence for and against the existence of psychic phenomena.

Randi argues that successful psychics depend on the willingness of their audiences to believe that what they see is the result of psychic powers. The program highlights some of the methods and processes he uses to examine psychics’ claims. Using his own expertise in creating deception and illusion, Randi challenges specific psychics’ claims by duplicating their performances and “feats,” or by applying scientific methods. His goal is to eliminate all possible alternative explanations for the psychic phenomena. He also looks for evidence that they are not merely coincidental. His arguments can motivate your class to discuss the differences between psychic performances and legitimate cases of unexplained phenomena.

Principles of Curiosity

Personally, I would give this video 3.5 out of 5 stars. It felt too lengthy (40 minutes) for the amount of information presented, but still very enjoyable.

Chopra Shoots at Skepticism and Misses

By via NeuroLogica Blog

CHOPRADeepak Chopra apparently has no love for organized skepticism. This is not surprising and his particular brand of spiritual pseudoscience has been a favorite target of skeptical analysis. He is also not the only one who has decided to fight back against the skeptics – if you cannot defend yourself against legitimate criticism, then shoot the messenger.

In a recent article Chopra renews his attack against what he calls “militant skepticism.” This is a blatant attempt, of course, to portray skeptics as extremist and on the fringe, a strategy that has been used against “militant atheists.” Chopra also uses his article to conflate skepticism with atheism, almost as if he is completely unaware of the internal discourse that has been taking place for decades within the skeptical movement.

Chopra writes:

The rise of militant skepticism clouded the picture, however, beginning with its popular attack on religion. The aim of Richard Dawkins, as stated in his best seller, The God Delusion, was to subject “the God hypothesis” to scientific scrutiny, the way one would subject anti-matter or black holes to scrutiny. In fact he did no such thing with God, for the scientific method requires experiments that can be replicated and facts that can be verified. Dawkins offered no experiments to prove or disprove the existence of God. What he actually did was to subject religion to a barrage of scorn and ridicule, attacking it on the rational improbability – as he sees it – that a deity could possibly exist.

This is an interesting bit of historical revisionism, although I think it probably just reflects Chopra’s complete unfamiliarity with his subject matter. The modern skeptical movement predates Dawkins by decades. We have had a clear philosophy and scope long before Dawkins appeared on the scene.

Dawkins is a highly respected figure among skeptics because of his powerful writing, his popularizing of science, and his unflinching criticism of pseudoscience. Most skeptics are atheists, and we also respect his defending science from the intrusion of religion and spirituality.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins

Where many skeptics, myself included, disagree with Dawkins is precisely in treating “the God hypothesis” as if it were only a scientific question. I say “only” because certainly it is possible to treat any supernatural hypothesis as if it were in the realm of methodological naturalism, and there is general agreement among skeptics when approached in this way the only reasonable conclusion is that there is no credible evidence to support the conclusion that any god exists, or that the laws of the material universe need to be extended to account for any alleged supernatural phenomena. If you frame God as a scientific hypothesis, it can be scientifically refuted. Looked at another way, the psychocultural hypothesis is a far better and more parsimonious explanation for belief in God than the actual existence of such a being.

The big “but” is that not everyone believes in God as a scientific fact. Some people choose to have faith in an unfalsifiable god, one that resides outside the realm of science. Once someone’s faith has retreated outside the realm of science, then science is no longer the tool by which one should address such faith. Logic and philosophy are now more appropriate, but you cannot say, by definition, that an unfalsifiable God can be scientifically proven to not exist.

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UFO research is up in the air: Can it be scientific?

Sharon_hill_80pxBy Sharon Hill via The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry – CSI

A few months back, a British anomaly investigation organization announced the possible death of UFOlogy. They admitted that failure to provide proof that UFOs were extraterrestrial craft and a decline in the number of UFO reports suggests that aliens do not exist after all. Was this the end of “UFOlogy”—the study of UFOs? “No way! It’s alive and well here,” said the U.S. UFOlogists. So it is. But what is the real status of the study of UFOs?

Seth Shostak: The UFO BestiaryThe UFO research field is having a bit of a crisis these days. Reports come in by the hundreds. There are not enough people to investigate them. Yet, decades of UFO research by private and military organizations have resulted in disappointment for those who surely thought there was something out there to reveal. Many of the historic figures of UFOlogy are aging or have passed away. Who is doing the work now? And what exactly are they doing?

The major organization remaining in the U.S. for investigating UFO sightings is MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network. MUFON is not in good shape. Their stated mission is to conduct scientific investigation of UFO reports for the benefit of mankind. But there is dispute about their ability to actually do that. The current version of MUFON, according to those observing the situation, is focused on everything except proper UFO investigation and is nowhere near scientific. Membership in the organization has fallen off and some local MUFON groups are disgruntled. Leadership upheavals over the past few years may have been distracting and overall, they are experiencing a serious case of mission creep.

MUFON consists of chapters covering each state across the country who operate somewhat independently with members paying dues to the main headquarters. They promote a scientific method. But do they actually accomplish that goal? Recent commentators say no, they do not. The focus in local MUFON chapters meetings these days is decidedly unscientific with talks on alien abduction, conspiracy theories, human-ET hybrids, hypnotic regression, and repressed memories. That’s a wide range of pseudoscience in one place. It’s dragging down the credibility of the entire subject as well as missing the point of improving actual UFO investigations.

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