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4421Steve on "scientific evidence" : But what about the UNPACKING method?

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  • danielhcaldwell
    Dec 22 4:22 PM
      Steve, you wrote:

      > Note that the researchers said "no conclusions can be
      > reached on the phenomena observed and described in
      > this account because they occurred under informal
      > conditions."
      > They were not discounting the possibility of unusual
      > phenomena, but merely said that they and not Sai Baba
      > had to control the conditions before the stories would
      > have scientific validity. That standard can also be
      > applied to other reputed miracle stories, such as
      > those of Blavatsky. If the stories indicate that the
      > conditions were poorly controlled, the miracles may be
      > real, but the stories do not constitute scientific
      > evidence. The Hartmann story is clearly in this
      > category. So is the Ootan Liatto story. This is not
      > aggressive skepticism, as has been charged, nor is it
      > an effort to "bother" fundamentalists with
      > uncomfortable truths or to "explain away" something
      > someone else might wish to believe in. It is simply a
      > canon of scientific and historical criticism which
      > does not imply any judgement on the events being
      > recorded.

      Steve, much of what you say above merits thoughtful consideration and
      I agree with the thrust of what you say.

      I certainly agree that we should have a positive skepticism toward
      various claims, etc. But I believe we should realize that there is a
      brand of skepticism, whether one calls it "agressive" or not, that
      can "explain away" any paranormal experience or for that matter any
      claim in science.. For good examples of this, I refer you to the
      extensive literature produced by many members of CSICOP and published
      by Prometheus Press. Read for example C.E.M Hansel's
      book "debunking" the paranormal.

      This type of "debunking" and "skepticism" can explain away even the 2
      paranormal cases (HPB) that you mention in one of your previous posts.

      I repeat again below what I wrote earlier regarding the type of
      argument and method employed in this type of skepticism.

      Steve, you wrote:

      ". . . . if chicanery is a plausible explanation, then the story
      is not evidence of anything."

      Steve, here is a statement that clearly shows me that you do NOT
      fully understand the vital difference between possible/plausible and
      probable. You can take ANY experience of the paranormal and ANY
      experiment in parapsychology and think up plausible and/or possible
      natural explanations for the experiences or experiments.

      C.E.M Hansel in his skeptical books on parapsychology is a master of
      looking for plausible or possible counterexplanations for the most
      famous experiments in parapsychology.

      Here is an example from another writer.

      In the current web version of his book THE UNKNOWING SAGE, David
      Christopher Lane wrote:

      ". . .I have yet to unearth an airtight, empirical case for genuine
      psychic powers. There are always some uninspected loopholes which
      reveal that natural (versus supernatural) processes were
      involved. . . . "

      David's words sound quite similar to remarks made by the Amazing
      James Randi, who is a member of CSICOP.

      Notice that David Lane says that he has not discovered one AIRTIGHT
      case for genuine psychic powers; and that in all such
      cases "uninspected" [I assume this is a typo for "unsuspected"?]
      loopholes ....reveal that natural processes were involved."

      Exactly how does Lane define "airtight"?

      One dictionary defines "airtight" as follows:

      "having no noticeable weakness, flaw or loophole."

      But the crucial question to ask is: Are those "unsuspected"
      loopholes "real" or only possibilities or plausibilities.

      Also, as far as I know, nothing is 100% airtight, or flawless.

      James MClenon has written about the skeptical strategy of "unpacking"
      any successful parpsychological experiment.

      "The goal of the critic using this strategy is to 'unpack' and
      examine in detail any experiment, and to demonstrate how
      methodological flaws *could* have entered into the experimental
      process, thereby producing an invalid results.. . .The
      critic ...thinks of some...methodological flaw that *could* have
      occurred. . . .His or her 'unpacking' of methodological assumptions
      tends to render the experiment into an anecdotal form. . . .This
      unpacking strategy makes the 'perfect' ESP experiment an
      impossbility. Sooner or later, the critic will ask for information
      that is no longer available, or for a degree of experimental control
      and exactitude that is desirable in principle but impossible in
      practice. . . .[Another] rhetorical ploy is to demand total
      perfection. It is always possible for critics to think of more rigid
      methodological procedures after an experiment has been conducted...
      The a priori arguments of the critics mean it is highly logical to
      assume that, within *all* experiments which successfully 'prove' the
      existence of psi, there must be an 'error some place'."

      This unpacking method can ALSO be used on paranormal experiences.

      Ray Hyman, a psychologist and also a skeptic of the paranormal, has
      agreed that in using such A METHOD OF ARGUMENT, "it is ALWAYS
      possible to 'imagine' SOME scenario in which [for example] cheating
      [or lying], no matter how implausible, COULD HAVE occurred."

      Using such a METHOD is "illegitimate" [as Marcello Truzzi, a
      sociologist and another skeptic of the parnormal points out] because
      by its use, "one can 'hypothetically' explain away ANY result [even]
      in science."

      Turning from paranormal experiments, consider "suspected" flaws in
      regular scientific experiments. Pray tell, is there even one
      experiment in science that has no "possible" or "plausible" flaws?

      In effect, this TYPE OF ARGUMENT and the process of UNPACKING an
      experiment or a testimonial account becomes a game in which the
      skeptic cannot lose!

      Turning to the realm of NORMAL historical inquiry, the historians
      Barzun and Graff point out:

      "If you receive a letter from a relative that [1] bears what looks
      like her signature, that [2] refers to family matters you and she
      commonly discuss, and that [3] was postmarked in the city where she
      lives, the probability is very great that she wrote it."

      "The contrary hypothesis would need at least as many opposing signs
      [of evidence] in order to take root in your mind---though the
      possibility of forgery. . .is always there."

      Please note that the hypothesis that the letter is really written by
      your relative is supported by three positive signs of evidence. But
      as Barzun and Graff point out, even in spite of all that, the
      POSSIBILITY or PLAUSIBILITY of forgery is ALWAYS there! An
      critic using the UNPACKING method could take the ball at this step
      and try to "explain away" the three pieces of evidence.

      For example, the skeptic could "reason":

      "Isn't it possible or plausible that [1] the relative's signature was
      forged, and, isn't it possible or plausible that [2] some "forger"
      was somehow privy to family matters, and, furthermore, isn't it
      possible or plausible that [3] the forger could have mailed the
      letter in the city where your relative lives to throw you off the

      And if you (the level-headed researcher) objected to such speculation
      by your resident skeptic, he might quip:

      "Prove to me that the three statements, I just listed, aren't
      possible or plausible! Didn't Barzun and Graff admit that THE

      But the perceptive researcher should point out to his skeptical friend
      that POSSIBILITIES and PLAUSIBILITIES are not to be confused with
      PROBABLITIES. Barzun and Graffe clearly enunciate an important
      dictum for the researcher:

      "The rule of 'Give Evidence' is not be be violated. . . .No matter how
      possible or plausible the author's conjecture it cannot be accepted
      as truth if he has only his hunch [which is not evidence] to support
      it. Truth rests not on possibility or plausibility but on
      probability. Probability means the balance of chances that, GIVEN
      SUCH AND SUCH EVIDENCE, the event it records happened in a certain
      way; or, in other cases, that a supposed event did not in fact take

      Unfortunately, far too many skeptics of the parnormal become fixated
      on "possibilities" AND "plausibilities" and never progress beyond to
      considering "probabilities." Such skeptics---after pointing out that
      if two or more explanations are possible or plausible, none are
      proved---SEEM TO BE UNINTERESTED in the question of where the
      WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE lies. Many of these skeptics fixate and
      speculate (almost ad infinitum and ad nauseam) on various
      possibilities and plausibilities ---hoping that careless readers will
      ASSUME that 'something' has been proven or disproven by such

      So when David Lane writes: "I have yet to unearth an airtight,
      empirical case for genuine psychic powers. There are always some
      uninspected loopholes which reveal that natural (versus supernatural)
      processes were involved," is he referring to "possible"
      or "plausible" loopholes that he has conjured up in his imagination
      or is he talking about loopholes that can be documented with

      Furthermore, if by "airtight" David Lane wants to convey the meaning
      of perfect, flawless, 100% confirmed, then I would say he is living
      in a "fairytale" world. What is completely flawless? For example, is
      there a medical test in the world that will give accurate results
      anytime, anywhere, under any and every condition?

      One of my major criticisms of K. Paul Johnson's books was his
      excessive speculations about what might be plausible or possible
      without ever going to THE NEXT STEP and trying to determine what is
      most PROBABLE in light of all the known evidence, both pro, con and

      Steve, your statement: ". . . . if chicanery is a plausible
      explanation, then the story is not evidence of anything." shows me
      that you also do not fully understand the vital difference between
      possible/plausible and probable.

      IN SUMMARY, there is no historical account and no scientific
      experiment where there are not plausible or possible
      counterexplanations. Therefore as Truzzi says: "one
      can 'hypothetically' explain away ANY result [even] in science" by
      using plausible/possible arguments.

      Steve, in closing, I give again the Hartmann account below which I
      think you multilated in your UNPACKING method.

      Daniel H. Caldwell


      This morning at half-past eleven I went upstairs to Madame
      Blavatsky's room and had a conversation with her in regard to
      matters. After this conversation the thought came in my mind to ask
      her opinion in regard to a certain subject of which I had been
      thinking. Madame Blavatsky advised me to apply to the Master
      himself, to ask him mentally, and that the Master himself would
      surely answer my question. A few minutes later she said she felt his
      presence, and that she saw him writing. I must say that I too felt
      his influence and seemed to see his face, but of course this
      circumstance will carry conviction to no one but myself.

      Just then another lady came in, to my great annoyance, and expressed
      her wish to have a pair of pincers, which she needed for some
      purpose, and remembering that I had such a pair of pincers in the
      drawer of my writing desk, I went downstairs into my room to get
      them. I opened the drawer, saw the pincers and a few other things in
      there, but no vestige of any letter, as I had removed my papers the
      day before to another place. I took the pincers and was about to
      close the drawer, when --- there lay in the drawer a great envelope,
      addressed to me in the well-known handwriting of the Master and
      sealed with the seal bearing his initials in Tibetan characters. On
      opening it, I found a long, very kind and somewhat complimentary
      letter, treating of the identical questions, about which I had just
      been talking with Madame Blavatsky, besides giving a detailed and
      satisfactory answer to the very question which had so perplexed my
      mind, and a satisfactory explanation of certain matters, which for
      some time had been foremost in my mind, but of which I had said
      nothing at all.

      Moreover, there was in the same envelope a photograph, cabinet-size,
      of the Master's face, with a dedication to me at the back. This
      picture will henceforth be considered as the greatest treasure in my

      Now, if I know anything at all, I know that my drawer contained no
      such letter, when I opened it, and that there was nobody visible in
      my room at that time. The letter, giving a detailed answer to my
      question, must have been written, sealed and put into the drawer in
      less than four minutes, while it took exactly forty minutes to copy
      it the next day; and finally, it treated a very difficult problem in
      such an elaborate and yet concise manner, that only an intelligence
      of the highest order could have done the same.
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