Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Righteous Indignation: part 1

I will add more to this post later today, or at least that is the plan.

"Righteous Indignation" featured an interview of Alex Tsakiris of the "Skeptiko" podcast by Trystan and Marsh. Tsakiris considers himself a skeptic, but his brand of skepticism and my brand are as different as football (the good Steeler variety) is from football (that thing Soccer mom's tote their kids to in Hummers.) As always the hosts were respectful and generous in their interview. Although, I think they could have been a tad more rigorous in this interview without crossing the line of being rude.

Tsakiris as far as I could tell was pitching old wine in a newish bottles: Science is not open minded enough about the non-material world. There are lots of good experts with good evidence for psychic abilities, but the skeptics refuse to see it. He is willing to examine the whole psychic dog/owner connection, but won't submit to an actual agreed test with the JREF. Although he will agree to farm out a study to a third party, whichs seems odd to me. The global consciousness project reveals small but statistical significant changes in random number generators. How the random number generators are picking this up is due to quantum tunneling. How this device works, Tsakiris does not go into, which is the first question I would think to ask. Also, when Trystan asked why is it human thought is necessarily influencing the random numbers and not something else Tsakiris did a slight laugh and moved ahead. I thought it was a darn good question revealing that correlation even if the finding are statistically significant does not mean causation.

Tsakiris lamented that we need to get off the first step in paranormal research, and move ahead. The problem with this line of reasoning is studies have been occurring for the last century, but nothing has been reproducible enough to move off this first square. Tsakiris discussed studies the hosts were not aware of that were allegedly blinded that showed psychic abilities. However, that is only step one and a different lab has to repeat the tests and get the same results. Tsakiris does not seem to acknowledge that science is more than gathering evidence for a proposition until it is agreed upon by the general populace, but also consists of testing a hypothesis to see if it can be falsified, and then repeated. It is cliched but true that lots a anecdotal evidence does not equate to data, but merely lots of anecdotes. If proponents of psychic phenomenon cannot agree to this basic precept of learning then bridge building between the two "camps" will be more than a challenge.

I truly discern that Tsakiris is exceedingly sincere. He apparently does not think science as practiced can determine the existence of the paranormal. I agree, as I imagine do most scientifically grounded skeptics, that psychic phenomenon can be shown to exist there by reproducible tests performed by any researcher using the same stringent protocols . It simply has yet to occur. Tsakiris is a personable enough fellow and comes across as reasonable.

While I enjoyed the interview an enormous amount, I wished the interviewers might have pushed a smidge harder. For people not versed in scientific skepticism, he came off as reasonable when he is off the mark on how science works and the breadth of what it can reveal. Unfortunately, it is not science at the tipping point, but psychic phenomenon hitting a wall. I am not sure this would come through for some listeners. I find people such as Tsakiris fascinating for their dogged determination to taste new wine in the bottle, when the wine remains the same. (Perhaps bordering on vinegar)

(I'll edit a few comments about the rest of the episode later)
Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

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