Letter by Dean Radin sent to Nature magazine, January 17th, 1998
I have heard that numerous people have gained an unfavorable impression of my book, "The Conscious Universe" (1997, HarperEdge), as a result of a review published in your journal on Oct. 23rd, p.806. Prof. I. J. Good's review involved factual errors, not merely differences in opinion, and I would like the journal to publish a correction in view of this.
In his review (Oct. 23rd, p.806) of my book "The Conscious Universe" (1997, HarperEdge), I.J. Good suggests, based on certain misunderstandings on his part, that something "must be" wrong with my statistical arguments in favor of the reality of psychic phenomena. His inability to reproduce my estimate that 3,300 unpublished, unsuccessful experiments would be required for each published ESP card experiment (to nullify the cumulative outcome) follows from his incorrect assumption that my words "more than", used in connection with the cumulative odds against chance for the 186 experiments listed in Pratt et al (1966, "ESP after 60 years", as noted in my book), could safely be replaced by "approximately equal to." The actual p-value is approximately
10-2000, to which application of standard methods (Rosenthal, 1991, "Meta-analytic procedures for social research") gives my reported figure. Secondly, Good attributed to me an inaccurate statement actually made by the skeptical psychologist Mark Hansel. I am well aware that combining the statistical outcomes of experiments is not the same as combining the probabilities of independent events, but did not think it necessary to correct Hansel's mistake in a book aimed towards a general readership.
I am encouraged by the fact that a statistician of Good's repute did not discover any genuine flaws in my comprehensive analysis of the empirical evidence for psi phenomena, and I hope this note motivates readers to study the evidence for themselves.
Dean Radin, Ph.D
Letter by Michael Rossman
That Nature might err occasionally, in publishing a biased and misleading review, is understandable. That it should in effect collude with a biased reviewer in perpetrating a fraudulent assessment is quite unusual, and shameful. Even this might pass, if the assessment concerned only the work of one author or one line of theory. But when it concerns an entire field of inquiry, Nature's tolerance of fraudulent assessment is quite unconscionable - and seems more important to discuss even than the particular substance of the dismissed work.
No thoughtful reader of I.J. Good's review of Dean Radin's "The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena" (Oct. 23, 1997) could mistake Good's dismissive intent, or the simplicity of his approach. In effect, Good opened with a round of traditional grumbling about how rife with fraud and mistake the field of parapsychology may be; purported to show, by one convincing example, that Radin had greatly exaggerated the statistical significance of the figures his report depended on; and concluded with a vague compliment for having marshaled some interesting material - leaving the clear impression that Radin was just another sloppy, credulous enthusiast, and his book of similar character, insubstantial and beneath regard, a typical emblem of this field of inquiry.
That no letters appeared in response to this review was curious, for Good's misrepresentation of Radin's book was systematic. He began by deliberately ignoring one key theme - the increasing methodological sophistication of parapsychological research, designed explicitly to remedy the deficiencies of earlier methods - in order to frame his review with obsolescent critique. Good did identify another key theme correctly, for Radin's extensive survey of the accumulations of research in various domains of this field does depend importantly on modern tools of statistical meta-analysis. Unfortunately, Good's "demolition" of Radin's treatment of the ESP-card literature - ostensibly showing that the collective outcome of the 186 studies could be reasonably attributed to chance, rather than being wildly improbable as Radin asserted - was absolutely mistaken, though presented confidently as fact and accepted as such by Nature's editors.
This mistake was almost the entire foundation for Good's dismissal of Radin's book, and enabled him to avoid dealing not only with the remarkable statistical substance of Radin's survey, but with his other key themes. In particular, Radin asserts what his survey and book demonstrate - that the science of parapsychology is undergoing a deep phase-shift, from prolonged effort to satisfactorily demonstrate the mere existence of anomalous phenomena, into active inquiry into their nature. He exemplifies this in discussing his own research, presenting several novel species of remarkable experiment - including "anticipatory dermal response," soundly demonstrating precognitive reactions to the content of randomly-presented pictures - on the forefront of current inquiry.
All this is news of a sort completely obscured by Good's review, which in context amounts not simply to one man's clumsy mis-representation of another's work, but to dis-information about an entire field of inquiry. To speak sternly of Nature's role in this is necessary, for its understandable mistakes in assigning and uncritically accepting this review have been deeply compounded by its treatment of the matter since. Besides Radin himself, at least two scientists of serious stature - the physicists Nick Herbert and (Nobel Laureate) Brian Josephson - have written to protest Good's unfair treatment and the fraudulence of its key argument. That no such letter has been published might be seen simply as another editorial misjudgment, rather than as deliberate suppression of debate about a "fringe" field. But how are we to understand Nature's treatment of Good's central, factual error? By belatedly publishing a bare correction of a different, minor misinterpretation, with no reference to the outstanding error that demolishes his critique of the book, Nature gives the impression that any problems with the review have been addressed, and leaves the public force of Good's contemptuous assessment to stand unchallenged.
This treatment of error is an editorial decision, which works not simply to avoid discussion of important substance (rather than of technicalities), but to place Nature as solidly as possible on one side of a stifled debate. For a journal of its stature, such a position is undignified and shameful. Given the state of the field that Radin surveys, this position has also become quite ludicrous and retrograde. May fairer treatment prevail.
Letter by Brian Josephson, sent to Nature magazine, November 13th, 1997
I.J. Good's review of Radin's survey of the evidence for paranormal phenomena, The Conscious Universe , misleads by its selective approach to parapsychological research, combined with claims of error on the author's part that are invalid. As the book indicates, possibilities for fraud and unintentional error are much reduced by present day techniques so that what may or may not have happened in the case of Soal is essentially irrelevant (unless one believes in extensive collusive cheating among apparently reputable individuals, a hypothesis I find implausible). For example, readings are nowadays normally not written down by the experimenter, but recorded and analysed automatically. Such improvements have not made the effects go away, giving one some reason to consider that they are real.
Regarding the claims of error, Good may have been misled by certain simplifications in the book that Radin has explained as having been necessitated by the requirement that it be attractive to the general reader as well as informative to the interested scientist, on which grounds he omitted comment on the error of Hansel that Good highlights in his review. Again, for the general reader's benefit, he described a P-value which was actually of order 1 in 102000 simply as 'odds of more than a billion trillion to one against chance', so that the latter number does not approximate to the actual P-value as Good assumed. clarification
Thus investigation shows Good's claims of mistakes on the author's part to be unfounded. Radin has, as Good admits, provided a well-written account of the arguments supporting the existence of ESP, while the very frequently misconceived nature of the arguments of sceptics may have justified giving less space to them than Good would have liked.
Brian D. Josephson
(1) Good, I.J., Nature 389, 806-7, 1997.
Clarification: the P-value discussed enters into the calculation of the so-called 'file-drawer factor', which indicates how many unpublished studies there would need to be for each one that was published for the significance of the results to fall to chance. With Good's incorrect P-value, the file-drawer factor is around 16 (low enough for it to be not totally unreasonable to argue that this accounts for the P-value calculated on the basis of the published results); with the correct value, derived from the reference that Radin quotes, it is around 3300, which is much harder to argue away, especially in view of the vast total amount of experimentation that would have to be postulated for such an explanation to work. Note that Good chose 1% as the point where a result is significant while Radin uses 5%, which difference accounts for only a small part of the difference between the two quoted file drawer factors.