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Internet Bunk features WWW sites that provide false, misleading or deceptive information regarding scientific matters or alleged paranormal or supernatural events. Because there are millions of such sites, we try to present only the most egregious and offensive.

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Skeptical Investigations

(and now the new, improved version at www.skepticalinvestigations.org/New/index.html...note: this review is of the Old version of the website; the new version is prettier and it no longer lists dead people as active members. )

Skeptical Investigations is registered to Rupert Sheldrake and is said to be

organized by the Association for Skeptical Investigation, the purpose of which is to promote genuine skepticism, the spirit of enquiry and doubt, within science. This includes an open-minded investigation of unexplained phenomena, a questioning of dogmatic assumptions, and a skeptical examination of the claims of self-proclaimed skeptics.

In fact, the so-called Association for Skeptical Investigation is a group of pseudo-skeptical paranormal investigators and supporters who do not appreciate criticism of paranormal studies by truly genuine skeptics and critical thinkers. The only skepticism this group promotes is skepticism of critics and criticisms of paranormal studies. Members of the group include: Larry Dossey, M.D., Brian Josephson, Ph.D., Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., Ed May, Ph.D., Adrian Parker, Ph.D., Dean Radin, Ph.D., Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., and Rupert Sheldrake, Ph.D. Of these, in my opinion, only Krippner is fair-minded when it comes to accepting criticism. (The Skeptical Investigations pages are obviously not maintained, as at least two of those who are listed as associates are deceased, Montague Keen and Marcello Truzzi. However, Gary Schwartz, in a published paper, refers to several of the deceased—including William James!—as “departed hypothesized co-investigators,” so perhaps the group considers the spirits of Keen and Truzzi as active investigators.)

The main point of these pages seems to be to mislead readers into thinking that paranormal investigation is skeptical and skeptical criticism of paranormal investigation is done in bad faith and is not "genuine" skepticism.

On their main page, they note that one meaning of the Greek word from which 'skeptic' is derived is inquirer. Since parapsychologists are inquirers they are skeptics. Of course, that would make half the lunatics on earth skeptics as they are certainly inquiring about something or other. Another meaning of the Greek term is doubt. Since they doubt the validity of mainstream science, they are double skeptics. While those who work in the mainstream and find much lacking in paranormal science aren't true skeptics. Since the critics of paranormal research often end up denying the validity of the work of the parascientists, Sheldrake and his group refer to them as deniers and dogmatists.

They list themselves and their supporters as "positive skeptics." Their critics are dogmatists. These include Susan Blackmore, Richard Dawkins, Chris French, Martin Gardner, Ray Hyman, Paul Kurtz, David Marks, James Randi, and Michael Shermer. In other words, real scientists and skeptics are dogmatists. Parapsychologists who deny that it is legitimate to doubt the validity and quality of their work are the "genuine skeptics." Right. Those organizations that support their work are defenders of "open-minded research"

One of the pages on this site is devoted to the errors, alleged incompetence, fraud, and other misdeeds of "mainstream" scientists. I suppose this is in response to the many times that skeptics have alluded to the errors, incompetence, fraud, and other misdeeds of parapsychologists. My response is to note that scientists are human and they fail and cheat like the rest of us on occasion. This is true whether the scientist is "mainstream" or "alternative." But scientists who have investigated psi—including many men eminent in their fields—have repeatedly demonstrated an inability to detect deception even when perpetrated by children and teenagers. [Note: There have probably been some eminent women physicists, chemists, biologists, philosophers, or mathematicians who have been duped when they ventured into psi research, but I'm not aware of any, unless one considers Louisa Rhine an eminent botanist.]

Another page is devoted to Dean Radin's ad hominem attack on skeptics: He attacks their motives rather than their specific methods or criticisms. But it just won't do to simply assert that the evidence is in and that it is overwhelmingly in favor of the psi hypothesis. It is just lazy thinking to dismiss the criticisms of the sloppy work of Gary Schwartz or to accept the exaggerated confidence in the work of Dean Radin. No scientist in any other field but parapsychology could get away with publishing what Schwartz has published about his testing of mediums. The flaws in Radin's work are pretty major as well, but nothing compares to the incompetence of Schwartz except his arrogance and bravado. He uses no proper control groups, allows his mediums to quiz the sitters, doesn't separate his mediums from sitters in different rooms, doesn't control adequately for sensory leakage, involves himself and other experimenters in the experiments as subjects, doesn't ask his sitters to name which dead people they want to contact until after the experiment is over, relies on the memory and testimony of his sitters instead of doing serious fact checking, etc., etc. For an example of how to design and conduct a proper test of mediums see "Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results" by Ciarán O'Keeffe, and Richard Wiseman, British Journal of Psychology, Volume 96, Number 2, May 2005, pp. 165-179(15). The only problem I can see with the O'Keeffe and Wiseman study is the problem of distinguishing telepathy from the afterlife hypothesis. Otherwise, it establishes simple and obvious protocols to prevent cheating, sensory leakage, etc.—protocols that seem to have eluded Gary Schwartz.

All in all, the Skeptical Investigations page is about as much about skeptical investigations as Steven J. Milloy's junk science page is about junk science. In short, it isn't. It's a page put up by Rupert Sheldrake and friends to deceive the reader into thinking that real skepticism involves being critical of mainstream science while promoting paranormal studies. It is deceptive in claiming that those who are skeptical of the work done by paranormal scientists and have rejected the results touted by the likes of Dean Radin have done so because they're motivated by a dislike for the paranormal or the supernatural. Nonsense. We reject their work because it is unconvincing. And we reject the Skeptical Investigations page as a dishonest ruse to promote parapsychology and discredit genuine skeptical investigation.

further reading

Part twelve of my review of Radin's The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena (reviews chapters 13 & 14, his discussion of skeptics, their biases, and psychological disorders).

Last updated 12/09/10

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