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Jan 10 2011

Since You Already Believe *This*…

The evidence for ESP
Is awfully thin, it seems to me.
Some disagree (like Daryl Bem)
But I cannot concur with them.
I’ve heard it said “perhaps the odds
It’s true are similar to God’s—
That is, we may not have a clue,
But still we know, it must be true.”

And I agree—there is no clue
Suggesting it, or God, is true;
A popular belief in gods
Does not improve the tiny odds.
Anomalies from Daryl Bem
Don’t have too much supporting them;
So, sure! The odds for God, to me,
Are just the same as ESP.

My title, of course, is stolen from the New York TImes’s article “You Might Already Know This…“, about Daryl Bem’s upcoming report in the flagship journal, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The paper has already made its rounds in the various science blogs; I have read it, as have, I suspect, many of my regular readers. Although it would be great fun to talk about the paper itself here, that’s not what grabbed my eye this evening. Today, it is more interesting to look at the reaction to the paper.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the reactions to this paper are… varied. Some suggest that Bem is playing an elaborate practical joke; I disagree. Certainly, it is possible, but the current paper follows 1994′s Bem and Honorton paper in Psych Bull (that’s Psychological Bulletin) claiming “replicable evidence” for forms of ESP, and it would be a damned impressive practical joke that takes over 15 years to pay out. Others suggest that Bem is being given preferential treatment. Possible; he has, arguably, earned it, given his career. My favorite reaction, though, came from the comments to the New York Times piece. In part:

To the doubters – and I have no objection to the doubters – one question: Is there a God?

Put differently, did any of that stuff in the bible happen?

For if the Good Book is good, true, and honest, why not ESP?

If God can send his Son to save us, who says there’s no means to communicate without gadgets?

And while I strongly suspect that my overall view is as far from hers/his as can be, I agree completely. If pigs can fly, why not invisible pink unicorns?

(that was going to be the end, but a nagging thought provokes me. I cannot recall who or when, but I seem to remember someone writing about the dangers of religious belief, with the inclusion of something like “belief in the incredible (literally) claims of religion weakens one’s ability to critically analyze other claims.” If anyone needed an example…”

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