Science Testing Psychics

let me start this out saying I absolutely strongly don’t belive in anything psychic (divining water seems diffrent to me… and a few others… its learning a skill like knowing you won’t find water at the top of a mountain then useing a tool to sorta admit your just estimateing)

but see, I understand that the fact I don’t belive in it doesn’t mean its not true… no matter how silly and doubtful I think it is.

imagin that for arguement the ablity to tell the future existed… that something crazy and scientific was realized… that say… computation done on a quantum level when done wrong gets inductive radio interfearence and can under some conditions produce an image of the future due to the timeless nature of small scales (I am not suggesting that as possible… I just pulled that out of my ear… trying to show I don’t mean that magic is involved… just some accidental who knows what)

if predicting the future was below chance… is there any experiment that can detect it? say that on the flash cards with the four symbol… you get it right psychicly one out of 1000 times… but chance says you should get it 1 out of 4…

is there a theoretical way to test for phenomonon that happen really rarely and really are not powerful?

how many subjects would the test need to be run on if it was 1 in 10 was pychicly right?

this is a question about experimental desine… not the existance of magic stuff…

Controlled testing is a tricky bit if business when the thing you’re testing is poorly defined and you don’t know the presumed mechanism by how it works. It gets even more muddy if you expect results that aren’t consistent. If a subject is right one time in ten more often than just by random chance it doesn’t prove much of anything let alone the reason. Statistical analysis needs results that rise above standard deviation and background noise. If the results are consistent over a long period of controlled testing it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think there was a reason beyond random chance but I honestly don’t know how you’d establish that any answer was “psychically right.”

The answer (as you pointed out) has nothing to do with psycics or science, put is purely a question of experimental design and physics.

Since this is true, all you need to do know is the appropriate statistical equations. Statistical power is the probability of the experiment correctly identifying a true result. I think this is what you want to know about. To derive power, you need several factors, one of which is the size of the difference you are trying to detect (between your baseline “ain’t no such thing” and the claim “it’s a miracle!”). To detect a huge difference (for example, a psychic claims to always be able to correctly prognosticate) the sample size is relatively small. To detect a small difference (a psychic who can do it 1-in-1000 above chance) requires a much greater sample size. Other than that, there is no particular barrier. (Assuming the actual experiment itself is unbiased and such.)

To give a real world anology: Let’s say there is a form of cancer that we have a 90% cure rate for. Dr. Muttrox comes along with a new treatment he thinks will get us to 92%. Testing for this difference is difficult, because the 2% difference is so small. If it is a rare form of cancer, so the supply of patients is small, then it is very hard. On the other hand, if you have a form of cancer that basically has a 0% success rate, and Dr. Muttrox comes along with a new treatment he thinks can get us to 25% it is relatively easy to test, not nearly as many samples are needed.

Have a look at this month’s Skeptical Inquirer on how NOT to test a Medium. It recalls Martion Gardner’s book How Not to Test a Psychic, and James Randi’s many books and articles on the topic. There have been lots of tests of psychics and other paranormal claimants. Go to the CSICOP site or James Randi’s site, or look up their books.

The Parapsychologists talk about a phenomenon known as “psi-missing” referring to one who’s paranormal “guesses” (in a clinical study of the paranormal) are so wrong - far below what the odds would predict. …is this what your post is asking about?

The Parapsychologists claim this (psi-missing) has significance, but I’m not really sure why. -Jinx

Jinx, I’ve never heard that term, but statistical tests can easily test for this phenomona. (It’s analogous to the “other tail” of a 2-tailed test.)