Mainstream science has — often reluctantly — admitted psychic studies have merit

By Tara MacIsaac, Epoch Times
September 18, 2017 12:46 pm Last Updated: October 17, 2017 5:24 pm

Prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journals and major scientific organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, stand as guards at the gates of Science. They decide what information becomes part of the main body of widely accepted modern science.

These guards often look with antipathy upon supplicants from parapsychology. Parapsychology studies take seriously evidence of anomalous phenomena, such as clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and survival of the mind after death. The guards are wary of these phenomena, taking as their creed the aphorism popularized by famed astronomer Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Some accuse the Science guards of prejudice against parapsychology studies. Yet they have admitted entrance to some outstanding studies. Others they have at least acknowledged, while kindly turning them away. Some they have admitted, but ignored, derided, or even expelled thereafter.

There are many examples of parapsychology studies penetrating the fortress of mainstream science. We will look at a few illustrative forays.

Prominent medical journal The Lancet published Dr. Ian Stevenson’s reincarnation study, ‘Past lives of twins.’

A file photo of twins from 1944. (Keystone/Getty Images)
A file photo of twins from 1944. (Keystone/Getty Images)

The late Dr. Ian Stevenson, the preeminent reincarnation researcher, received many rejections from mainstream science journals. But he did gain limited entrance into the mainstream.

Prominent medical journal The Lancet published his article “Past lives of twins,” without even putting a question mark at the end of the title, noted Dr. Jim Tucker in his book “Return to Life.” Tucker worked closely with Stevenson and picked up where Stevenson left off.

This study included more than 40 cases of twins in which at least one of the pair claimed to remember a past life.

A picture of Dr. Ian Stevenson in the Ian Stevenson Memorial Library at the University of Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies on Feb. 5, 2015. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
A picture of Dr. Ian Stevenson in the Ian Stevenson Memorial Library at the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies on Feb. 5, 2015. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)

The integrity of Stevenson’s work was also recognized by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1975: “In regard to reincarnation he has painstakingly and unemotionally collected a detailed series of cases from India, cases in which the evidence is difficult to explain on any other grounds. … He has placed on record a large amount of data that cannot be ignored.”

Nonetheless, the implications of Stevenson’s and Tucker’s work has largely been ignored by the mainstream.

Dr. Jim Tucker in his office at the University of Virginia's Division of Perceptual Studies on Feb. 5, 2015. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)
Dr. Jim Tucker in his office at the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies on Feb. 5, 2015. (Tara MacIsaac/Epoch Times)

Perhaps the most debated parapsychology study in modern history, Dr. Daryl Bem’s “Feeling the Future,” shook the science world when it was published in 2011.

When one of the most prestigious psychology journals published Dr. Daryl Bem’s precognition study, scientists reacted in an unexpected way.

 

The American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published it, after the peer-review process found the 10-year study on precognition followed all the methodologies demanded in the field.

Bem essentially showed that people’s future experiences influenced their present-time behavior. They had responses to pictures he had not yet shown them, suggesting precognitive abilities.

Rather than accepting the evidence provided by Bem — who is a highly respected scientist for his more conventional work — many skeptical scientists instead suggested the whole field of experimental psychology needed to change its methods.

Eric-Jan Wagenmakers, a psychologist at the University of Amsterdam, wrote in a critique of Bem’s study: “Bem played by the implicit rules that guide academic publishing. In fact, Bem presented many more studies than would usually be required.”

He continued: “Something is deeply wrong with the way experimental psychologists design their studies and report their statistical results. … We hope the Bem article will become a signpost for change, a writing on the wall: Psychologists must change the way they analyze their data.”

In 2015, Bem published a meta-analysis of studies that tried to replicate his results.

The analysis of 90 experiments from 33 laboratories in 14 countries yielded an overall effect considered “decisive evidence” for precognition.

(Yeshi Kangrang/Unsplash)
(Yeshi Kangrang/Unsplash)

His results remain controversial. On both sides — those who see Bem’s results and replications as evidence for precognition, and those who say his studies and meta-analysis are flawed — there are charges of bias and misinterpreting the data.

In short, scientists generally accept that Bem’s experiments adhered to the criteria and rigor demanded of all experiments in his field at the time. But they deny his results, and say the criteria are flawed.

A study that hinted at clairvoyance was published by Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, but retracted with little explanation.

(Daniil Kuželev/Unsplash)
(Daniil Kuželev/Unsplash)

In 2016, the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience published an article titled “Prediction of Mortality Based on Facial Characteristics.” The study authors showed test subjects photos of people and asked the subjects to guess whether the people were currently living or dead.

The subjects often guessed correctly. The researchers concluded, “the most straightforward interpretation of our results is that the participants were sensitive to facial features that indicated impending health problems.”

But they did acknowledge clairvoyance as a possible explanation, stating: “Regarding alleged claims of clairvoyance by the tested subjects, our data does not allow for a rigorous test of that hypothesis, but it is certainly compatible with it.”

Two months after its publication, the journal retracted the article.

The editors had “concluded that aspects of the paper’s findings and assertions were not sufficiently matched by the level of verifiable evidence presented.”

Dr. Dean Radin, one of the study authors, told The Epoch Times via email: “Of course, we immediately and repeatedly asked for further clarifications, but they refused to tell us.”

“Retracting an article without telling the authors why, and without giving them a chance to respond, is ​a flagrant violat​ion of​ the code of ethics ​followed by all reputable publishers,” he said.

When The Epoch Times asked the journal for further clarification on why the article was retracted, the journal’s ethics and integrity manager, Gearóid Ó Faoleán, replied via email: “Regarding article retractions, they in fact serve as our public and final statement on the matter.”

The authors confirmed that none of the legitimate reasons for retracting a paper were at cause.

Radin said: “We asked the editor if their concern was based on suspicion of fraud or about methodological problems. The answer was no. The only other reason for retracting a paper is detection of plagiarism, which was not the case here. So we confirmed that none of the legitimate reasons for retracting a paper were at cause.”

The authors’ published response to the retraction states: “Science thrives on healthy debate, not on censorship.”

The American Psychological Association took an unprecedented step in publishing a book defending the idea that the mind exists apart from the brain.

A file photo of an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, used to study brain activity. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
A file photo of an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap, used to study brain activity. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

In the fall of 2016, the American Psychological Association (APA) published a book called “The Transcendent Mind: Rethinking the Science of Consciousness,” by Dr. Imants Barušs and Dr. Julia Mossbridge.

Barušs said the APA has published books before that challenge conventional understandings. In 2000, APA published Dr. Stanley Krippner’s “Varieties of Anomalous Experiences”; and in 2003, it published Barušs’s “Alterations of Consciousness.”

“It would be fair to say though that ‘Transcendent Mind’ makes a bold statement that materialism is false, which the other two books do not,” Barušs said via email.

Barušs and Mossbridge’s book appears to be one of the rare works to be invited into science to stay.

By and large, scientists with such views and interest in parapsychology turn to peer-reviewed journals and organizations created by like-minded scientists, such as the Journal of Scientific Exploration or the Institute of Noetic Sciences.

In his book, “Margins of Reality,” former Princeton University engineering dean Dr. Robert G. Jahn said these platforms are a good place to foster these ideas, but on the negative side: “This forced insularity has produced a degree of intellectual inbreeding that has limited the range of conceptualization, implementation, and interpretation brought to bear on the research issues.”

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In Beyond Science, Epoch Times explores research and accounts related to phenomena and theories that challenge our current knowledge. We delve into ideas that stimulate the imagination and open up new possibilities. Share your thoughts with us on these sometimes controversial topics in the comments section below. 

This article has been updated to more accurately describe Dr. Daryl Bem’s studies.