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skeptical- Trying to help paranormal claimants establish proof for their claims

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  • eric
    People, My guess is that 2002 will continue the trend of higher percentages of people believing in paranormal claims. My skeptical web site from phact.org is
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2002
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      People,
      My guess is that 2002 will continue the trend of higher percentages of people believing in
      paranormal claims. My skeptical web site from phact.org is not working well lately - the one
      at
      my work better.  The following reposted article of mine sums up much of my experience trying to
      help paranormal claimants establish proof for their claims:
       
      PARANORMAL BELIEF SYNDROMES and confronting testing evasion by Eric Krieg
       
      During my last decade as a proselytizing skeptic, I've noticed repeating patterns in the other side. I've tried to classify major syndromes of thinking and my own attempts of response:

      “Bitter retired old man” syndrome.I describe this as the syndrome where an aging professional of no particular account realizes that his career has not made much of an impact on his profession and certainly not on the world at large.Such malaise can often surge into a “one last shot to make it big”.A standard of verity is sacrificed for the new big cause, and ensuing frustration often gives way to belief in the big conspiracy.I've seen a few cases of alt physics believers who gave up mediocre mainstream careers to bet it all on a chance to save the world.One can at least take comfort in the line “its refreshing to know his intentions are good” from the wonderful Billy Joel song,“Angry young Man”.I've heard some people say “you have to wait for a generation of mind locked scientists to die off in order for a new idea to really take root”.That may often be, but I feel conversely that cold fusion is finally fading back off the radar net because the retired old researchers who pinned their hopes on it are finally dying off.

      “its already been proven”syndrome  You almost have to admire this out.The believer looks on you as a mere ignorant reactionary who is simply not aware that this question has long since been resolved..It harkens to me the voice of Dennis Lee adding that his free energy machine was “proven in a court of law” – while neglecting to mention the court record only records one of his cult members thinking it possible and that the same court accepted his plea bargain for a lesser number of fraud charges.My attempt to shed some light is to politely remind the claimant/believer that somehow the mainstream world must have missed that and perhaps there may be some compelling “here and now” evidence worthy of invoking a paradigm shift.

      “it works well enough for me”This is a simple minded dodge which I use as an excuse to mention the value of a test sample size of say . . .. . greater than one, or perhaps the value of controls in an experiment. I then encourage the person that real human advancement springs not from people who are "selfish with their truth", but rather collect and develop evidence to allow the rest of humanity to accept the truth as well.

      “3 foot pile of evidence” syndrome.In this syndrome, a well meaning person long ago stepped on an intellectual land mine: some scholarly but off-beat and one-sided publication giving evidence for an astounding claim.The studious victim amasses a large collection of information supporting the claim – some actually well researched.The skeptical point of view was not encountered till the budding dilettante/victim invested so much time that its emotionally too hard to admit the claim is. . .ahem, . . less significant than hoped.The 3 foot stack of literature does just represent a waste of time, it is wielded as a weapon:Consider the argument, “if you have not read the 3 foot stack, you are unqualified to comment on the claim”.Tom Napier clarified this sentiment as “only believers are qualified to comment”.My defense against those brandishing the 3 foot stack is the same as Philip Klass’ response to the hundreds of UFO sighting reports, “Great, but could you please just find me the best one of all of them, and we'll have a gander”.It is important to remember that with truth, quantity of evidence is never a substitute for quality of evidence [I forget who first came up with that useful dictum]. At times,I don my hip waders and wandered through the material in the 3 foot stack, I do notice some interest evidence but usually lurking behind material including:

      ·The author's entire life history

      ·Glowing visions of a world benefiting from the amazing claim

      ·Blistering condemnation of the evil plotting cabal of mainstream scientists disparately clinging to the status quo.

      ·Tear jerking hagiography of the brave investigators who plod on in spite of the treachery of the above mentioned evil mainstream scientists.

      ·

      Of course the “evidence” part is often very old, overseas, peer reviewed only be other believers, or frequently lacking proper protocols.

      People who subscribe to one of these syndromes often have elaborate dodges to avoid a real opportunity to clearly test a demonstration of the claim.I attempt to classify some of them below:

      “just buy our material and test it yourself”.Aside from ethical problems of paying money to purveyors of . . . “material” – I try to explain that a valid test is probably not the same person for both subject and evaluator.Aside from that, I've known believers who buy material promised to break or help them break laws of physics, and then when they fail to get the claim to work, they can be attacked as too incompetent to do it.

      “oh yes, we will have that kind of proof out. . .soon”.A first thought should be, “why don’t you defer the money making part of your operation till then”.But more than once, I've noticed after following someone up, they have just quietly faded out of that paranormal claim and into some other.Such migrations between fringe beliefs seem to be under the unwritten “believers Geneva Convention”, of never challenge another claim.There have been times where I've been able to convince a refugee from belief “X” of “you could do your fellow seekers a favor by letting them know that belief “X” is an intellectual boat anchor.But usually the wandering believer fails to benefit from a serious backward glance.

      “We Hate Randi”I've been on believers email forums where a skeptic (who somehow hasn't yet been kicked out yet) , kicks the wasp nest with a remark of “hey, why don’t you just fly down to Florida and win Randi’s million dollar prize”.After the onslaught of Randi-bashing from all corners of the world cool down.I try to offer something conciliatory along the lines of, “OK, of all people,  the skeptics should not make cult heroes beyond question.I know he's made informational errors, but if he truly would intentionally cover up real proof of the paranormal, I’d like to help take the guy down.So just prove it to me, then I’ll pay to fly us both down and be ready to blow it wide open if he tries to scam you”. Such a serious offer is much akin to turning on a light in a room full of cock roaches.

      “You are a skeptic, nothing would convince you anyway”.Once I get their words out of my mouth and wipe the simple label off me, I seize the opportunity to offer what it would take to convince me.Tom Napier’s last lecture (and yes, he is guilty of unfamiliarity with the 3 foot stack of pro ESP journals) laid out that real skeptics are willing to persuaded of new things.The real debate (with room for opinion) should be what is a proper standard for proof.I freely admit that I’d rather believe in most paranormal claims out there.I let the alt physics crowd know that as a physics enthusiast, I’m a tad bored with known physics.
       

      In a recent conversation with a friend who seemed taken in by a homeopathic practitioner, I was told the practitioner would not be interested in proving the claim to someone because he is already busy “helping” (read – sucking money out of ) his clients.I said, “OK, let's assume his thing works.Fine, he's helping a small group of rich suburbanites. Isn't that special!”.I then went on (shamelessly borrowing rhetoric from world-rescuing crackpots), and announced, “as a person with compassion for all humanity, I’d like to help prove it so it can cheaply be used to help all people”.Then with all the smugness of a leftist on crack, I proclaimed, “its fine to help cure the rich, but what of the poor in third world countries, should we just leave them to be victimized by the expensive high tech solutions of huge multinational pharmaceutical companies?”. Increasing volume with more righteous indignation, I bellowed, “I’m offering to start a crusade to help bring out truth and to take on the Lord's work of healing the sick. Are you telling me that this practitioner is so greedy with his truth, that he is unwilling to start an intellectual journey that could lead to a natural way of saving millions?Ask him if his reluctance is because it is only people of color who are mostly dying in droves in poor countries?”.   I'm not counting on a response to that rant.

      To summarize, in nearly a decade of trying to ferret out any possible proof of astounding paranormal claims, I've tried nice requests, I've tried appeals in the name of getting at the truth, I've tried appeals in the name of humanity like the above, I've even tried appeals based on revenge against skeptics - but I can't seem to get a real "here and now" demonstration.  The closest I get is being directed to the 3 foot stack.  That's one of the reasons I think Rosa's had it right - flush them out in the open with a cute grade school kid doing a science fair project.
       
       

       
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