Sunday, November 19, 2006

The PEAR Has Finally Rotted

From the November 8 Princeton Alumni Weekly comes the welcome news that PEAR, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory, is closing.

Don't be fooled by the fancy name. "Engineering Anomalies" is just a fancy name for good-old-fashioned parapsychology. PEAR's director, Robert Jahn, has been trying to show psychic phenomena are real ever since I was an undergraduate. But with funding reportedly drying up on his unsuccessful efforts, PEAR could no longer be sustained.

PEAR has been an embarrassment to Princeton alumni since day one. Jahn and colleagues never succeeded in demonstrating any significant effect; one of the strongest results they claimed was an 0.02% advantage in coin flipping. Other claimed results, such as the ones dealing with "remote viewing", have been criticized for sloppy experiment design. And to my knowledge no one has succeeded in replicating their results. Jahn claims "it has been the most personally stimulating and rewarding intellectual activity I've ever been involved in". Pitiful.


Anonymous said...

'So much for the PEAR, too many inpurities for it to actually exist in our plane.

Anonymous said...

This is a terribly sloppy posting.

Anyone objectively interested in this subject, who considers themselves of scientific mind, should review Dean Radin's book "Entangled Minds".

Mr. Radin is one of the foremost researchers in this field, and himself has held appointments at Princeton and a variety of respected institutions. He holds a Ph.D.

The book provides an exhaustive meta-analysis of thousands of experiments, scientifically conducted, and uses modern analytical methods to evaluate the findings.

The findings almost conclusively prove that psi does exist, and is measurable. In some cases odds against chance are more then 10,000,000 to 1.

Furthermore, Mr. Radin was part of the CIA Stargate project, and can provide elaborate walk throughs of the careful and detailed experiments that were conducted, and the means by which they avoided the "sloppiness" so often used by those too lazy to do the proper level of analysis as a way to discount the studies in this field.

The folks who like to jump on these bandwagons of arrogance and "assumptive belief justification" rarely do their homework, so I don't expect anyone will go much further then to mumble profanities at my comment. And I am not interested in changing this bloggers mind.

But if the reader does possess an open mind, and is generally interested in the subject, and has some basic training or apprecoation for scientific methodology and statistical analysis, perhaps this book will offer a clue as to a road toward furthering your exploration of the subject.

The findings are quite fascinating.

All the Best

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Hoju:

Having a Ph. D. doesn't prevent one from saying silly things. Radin thinks he has established psi, but he has yet to convince the rest of the scientific community.

If psi is real, why is the effect so terribly weak? Why have others failed to replicate PEAR's claims?

You call my post "sloppy", but you don't say what about it merits that charge.

Anonymous said...

In an essay for DISCOVER magazine, Nobel Laureate and wacky guy Kary B. Mullis has good things to say about Dean Radin. He also has good things to say about Peter Duesberg. I hope I never receive a recommendation from Mullis.

Aaron Kinney said...

Hey Hoju,

Can psi-energy be contained in a physical device or container, like a battery? Or can it be contained like kinetic energy in a bound spring?

Perhaps you can provide a method of quantifying the amount of psi-energy that I release when I curse President Bush's name?

How is psi-energy measured anyway? Is it like joules, or watts, or ohms? Or maybe pounds of force? Huh?

Did some psi-equivalent of a reichter scale have a spike when all those poor people died in the recent tsunami? Got a chart to confirm it?


Anonymous said...

I agree totally, a Ph.D. is in itself nothing more then a few letters. My father holds one, I have friends who hold them... I find it really guarantees little.

But that works both ways.

I think if you take the time to review the material in Radins book (or in Rupert Sheldrake's numerous explorations on the material, such as "The Sense of Being Stared At") you will find that, in fact, there is much evidence to support and justify continued exploration of the phenomena.

Rupert Sheldrake also holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry, but as we have agreed, this means nothing, but is it fair to "assume" he is a nut simply because he has explored something you discount without proper review of the material?

Sadly, you speak in such generalities. "The Scientific Community" does not feel this, or that. How can one debate on the basis of such blanket statements. Are we debating specific studies? Or are we talking merely of "conventional wisdom"? And when has that ever been at a point of stasis?

There was a time when the "scientific community" thought the heart was a heater, and the brain a cooler. The fellow that proposed the heart was a pump was laughed out of the medical profession, and ridiculed so completely he ended up in an insane assylum.

Were Einstein's radical proposals well recieved initially? How many years did it take for them to become accepted? How much ridicule?

Anyone who has studied this history of mankinds quest for knowledge knows all to well not to put his faith merely in "the accepted theories of the day".

When scientists who have invested their lives in a materialist perspective of consciouness are confronted with the possibility that they have completely missed the target, they get defensive. Livelyhoods are on the line. If you have spent any time in academia, then you know just how hard it is to shatter old paradigms with new ones.

I promise you if you at least review the material, rather then prejudging it, you will find enough to warrant a thoughtful re-exploration of your assessment on the field of study. I can't possibly type into this little box excerpts of any real merit... but I can only assure that an open minded review of the material is a more scientific approach then to jump to assumptions based on belief and prejudice.

Have you reviewed the ganzfeld studies? Did you review Ray Hymans skeptical critiques, his attempts to refine the studies to rule out error, his repeated refinements as he could not accept the fact that chance should show a 25% hit rate and repeated experiments showed a 37% hit rate (on average from recently compiled data from 2001).

The data is there in the books I have cited.

Any scientist worth his salt reviews the data first, and then makes his judgements... anything else is just religion disguised as science.

Again, all the best.

Anonymous said...

Hey aaron,

Those are good questions.

From your comment you seem to think I am some sort of right wing christian? Do you think I support Bush? You could not be farther from the mark with your assumptions.

Not everyone who questions the dogma of the "spoon fed science" of our day is an evangelical you know. My interest is merely in EXPLORING all information available with an open mind. I am not afraid to review material, whether the "scientific community" presently accepts it, or not.

Actually, it's funny, but the answer to your questions is close to "yes".

If you actually review Radin's work, instead of making blanket assumptions, you will find that they have started something called the Global Consciousness Project (part of PEAR), where they attempted to measure such spikes. And they did notice anomalies beyond chance during both 9/11 and the Tsunami. I don't think anyone says this proves anything, merely that it is curious, and does warrant further exploration:

I do enjoy this mental jousting with you folks, but I wish you were not so quick to make assumptions. The exploration of a topic does not require a black and white, immediate pronouncement of "absolute truth" or "absolute falsehood" at every turn.

Is the backbone of science not the antithesis of jumping to conclusions?

Why not review the material before taking a such a definitive position?

I am dismayed to see so many closed minds in my generation using the name of science to engage in predjudice and assumption.

Einstein would must be so dismayed to see what the quest for knowledge has become.

I suspect PEAR was shut down due for political reasons, because there are those who are violently opposed to exploring these matters. There are some way-out-there fields of study in the scientific sphere, and they go on fully funded (like the multi-dimensional universes of string theorists) - rarely is a field of study cancelled because they can't prove something - but in the world of academic politics, there are many cases when people have been stifled because they can!

All the best aaron!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jeffery,

You mentioned on what merit did I call the post sloppy, and I did fail to address this.

First, I thought you made some assumption about "why" PEAR closed. Can you substantiate the this with any evidence?

All I could find was that they could no longer secure funding, but this does not correlate directly to the assertion that it was because they "failed to prove" anything.

This is the only new story I saw beyond pure blogging conjecture:

And secondly, the matter of the findings is actively debated, true it is not without critics, but few "active" fields of study can claim that. You suggest a figure of 0.02%, and I find that almost a random number. Can you cite your source for this?

From what I have read, their experiments stand up well to the critics if you review them in detail. Just having critics means nothing - have you reviewed the actual mechanisms and experimental protocols of the various studies conducted in the past 100 years?

If not, once again, I refer you to the books cited.

All the best.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff RBH!

That was indeed substantive, and I thank you.

I must put forward though that although your "stopping rule" example is valid point, I think if you take a broader look at the measurements and varied experiments, it would not "explain" as much as you suggest. Testing PSI via card decks and sequences is among the weakest of the experiments that have been conducted over the years, although it was among the many presented by Mr. Radin (and OTHERS!), he was the first to suggest this.

In particular, the tests conducted on remote viewing (CIA stargate), or the german ganzfeld experiments, or the randomized light "intentional" experiments were far more compelling. There are in fact thousands of people who have engaged in repeating and validating numerous experiments - there is no need to pick on the poor PEAR folks exclusively :)

You seem to be very negative on Mr. Radin, have you also reviewed Mr. Sheldrake's work? You mentioned you reviewed numerous papers, did you prepare a detailed analysis? Would you be prepared to share it by posting it somewhere?

I sincerely believe this would be most helpful and a good contribution.

You said "riddled" with errors, apart from the stopping error, which I would suggest is a rather minor flaw that at best could be grouped into the "file drawer" problem, can you provide some additional substantive examples? Surely this is not the most grevious error you found if they were "riddled" with error?

Mr. Radin has incorporated "file drawer" analysis into his statistical measures, and I am not sure I am quite as comfortable as you that this "stopping rule", resolves to fraud. That in itself is an assumption that is untested. But I would be very interested, and most grateful, if you could provide some additional examples of flaw, from your first hand analysis.

It is obviously a subject that interests me a great deal.

Thanks again, and all the best!

Jeffrey Shallit said...


The .02% figure is right there in the hyperlink I provided in the original post. I can't help it if you don't bother to read the links.

The ganzfield experiments of Honorton et al. are interesting and puzzling, but they are not above criticism -- such as poor randomization and lack of blinding. It could be that there is something there, but for the moment my judgment is that these experiments fall short, however, of a convincing demonstration of psi. This is also the conclusion of psi researchers such as Susan Blackmore. And they don't have much to do with PEAR, which was the topic of my posting.

If PEAR had been doing good work, I suspect there would have been no problem obtaining continuing funding. It is a reasonable deduction that the lack of funding is due to the lack of acceptance by the scientific community. By "lack of acceptance" I mean that PEAR researchers do not publish in mainstream journals such as Nature and Science; much of their output has appeared in fringe journals.

Anonymous said...

I don't recall Radin having anything to do with the Stargate Project. Nor PEAR's remote viewing program.

RBH, do you remember which paper you took issue with? I'm interested in learning more about that.

waffletower said...

Which Princeton alumni are embarrassed by PEAR exactly? I am not, I am instead embarrassed by this highly reductive and closed minded assessment of 30 years of research.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

I am embarrassed by PEAR. But if you want to defend them, be my guest. What do you think their most impressive achievements are?

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