I would like to sollicit the help of other readers in a little experiment.
The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) does regular, scientific tests of psychics and regularly demonstrates that they have no particular powers beyond the normal human power to put a few clues together and to come up with reasonable predictions about the future. Now, while I am NOT a member of CSICOP or a spokesperson for them, I support their activities and I like to run my own research. For this reason, I am asking the readers for some input from their own experience.
Now, we all make predictions, every day. I predict that my air conitioner will come in handy sometime in the next few months. I predict that everyone reading this message will have a bowel movement sometime in the next 72 hours. I predict you will receive something pleasant (like a postcard from a friend) and something unpleasant (if only a bill) in the mail in the next few months.
One of the tricks psychics use in their fraud is to make ordinary predictions of things that are very likely to happen but that sound strange and unusual. A friend of mine (whom I regard as normall intelligent and well-educated) said that a psychic once predicted things she sould not possibly have known. As an example, he said she had predicted he would live in a city with green roofs. In fact, he lives in Ottawa, Canada, where the Parliament Buildings, the Supreme Court and many other public buildings have green copper roofs.
But then I got to thinking: Don’t most major cities in Canada and the USA have major landmark buildings with green copper roofs? The Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City, for example? Then again, green is a very popular colour for asphalt shingles. As I look out my window right now I can see green asphalt shingles out of two sides of my condo.
So here is my question to readers. Where do you live, and how comon are green roofs, either on the famous landmark buildings in your home town, or else on roofs of orinary dwelings near where you live?
Valteron, welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards.
I’d like to suggest (as Moderator, so this is an Official Suggestion) that you start your experiment in the forum called “In My Humble Opinion” which is the best place for taking a poll. It’s really too far afield from the Staff Reports.
Just because this is the Straight Dope, and dedicated to fighting ignorance an all, it’s worth offering a gentle correction here. CSICOP does not test any psychics, and cannot therefore be said to demonstrate anything at all about their powers. When CSICOP was founded, it intended to conduct tests and carry out active investigations. It no longer does so. The last time it tried to conduct a formal investigation into anything concerned the Gaughelin data on astrological lore and the so-called ‘Mars Effect’. This investigation took place some time during 1979-1980. CSICOP has not conducted any such investigation since that time. If you don’t believe me, ask them for examples of people or claims that they have investigated in any formal sense (ie the scientific testing under controlled conditions of psychic or paranormal claims) since that time. There aren’t any. They publish a magazine that often carries skeptical investigations into claims, but journalism is not science, and a reporter or a journalist casting a skeptical eye over a psychic claim is not the same as CSICOP conducting a formal investigation or carrying out any research of its own.
Perhaps I should be a little more open-minded in that regard. I just find the faith put into psychic hoaxers repulsive - and I’m not sure I blame the hoaxer. I want to make the statement absolute. Anyone trying to convince me with anything less than pure scientific, testable hypotheses should not have any wiggle room.
I will note that I’m not even asking for absolute proof. Just give me a starting point that shows it is even possible. Thus far, no reknowned psychic has been shown to be any more than a charlatan. People who buy into the guano they shovel should be ashamed of themselves.
I can’t speak for D Odds, but in my case, it’s my belief that the burden of proof is on the person making extreme or outlandish claims. Until someone can demonstrate psychic abilities in a controlled environment, I feel justified saying “psychics are bunk.”
Your recommended position, one of healthy agnosticism, just doesn’t carry quite the same intellectual self-importance. And if I don’t have ISI, what do I have?
For myself, the position is best stated something like this: “Until extraordinary evidence is produced in support of these extraordinary claims, I believe the only responsible position, one which which I personally am entirely comfortable, is that the claimed phenomena do not exist.”
It’s significant that I’m using “claims” and “phenomena” in the plural. One extraordinary claim without supporting evidence, on which judgment can be fairly reserved, is very different in my mind from tens of thousands of basically identical claims with precisely the same lack of evidence. The first is an isolated instance; the second is an overwhelming pattern. Each subsequent claim that fits the pattern can, I think, safely be dismissed unless and until it no longer does.
I believe it was either Carl Sagan or Richard Feynman who first coined the phrase about ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’, and I know that skeptics regularly recycle this mantra. I’m a skeptic too, and I regard psychic claims as moonshine (largely because, in the vast majority of cases, I can do what the ‘psychics’ do at least as well as, if not better than, they can, and I ain’t psychic at all). However, I don’t like the ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence’ mantra, and I don’t think it’s as smart a phrase as skeptics make out. I know what it means. It means that the more controversial the claim, and the more contradictory of other knowledge we have, the more cautious we should be before accepting it and the more stringent our analysis of the data. But at the end of the day, evidence doesn’t come in two flavours, ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’. Evidence is evidence. Some of it’s good and supports a hypothesis, some of it isn’t, and is found wanting. But ‘extraordinary evidence’… I don’t know that such stuff exists.
Thanks Bonzer for the info and the link. I somehow missed that particular GQ thread. I have issue #1 of The Zetetic somewhere, so I could check the reference. I’d be mildly surprised if it were Truzzi who coined this phrase. It’s definitely a phrase with a hard-line skeptical tang to it, and the dear departed Truzzi was not in the hard-line camp.