Monday 31 December 2012

Roller Ships

In 1896 the attention and imagination of the press was captured by the claims of a French Engineer, Ernest Bazin, who claimed to have invented a new kind of boat, capable of speeds of sixty miles an hour.

This boat, called the Ernest-Bazin, looked like a platform held up and out of the water by six large wheels. These wheels would roll through the water and, according to small scale tests, offered a real increase in speed over what was currently available. The following year, he was able to launch a prototype, but the promised speeds did not occur. The newspapers of the day report in some detail its failure.

"M. Bazin had made the mistake of imagining that a low rate of power would suffice to move the rollers, and that to conquer their vis inertia he had calculated on an average of fifty horse power to every axle. He had lost sight of the fact that every one of the three axles carries one-third of the weight of the upper part of the entire structure, or say a little over one hundred tons.

Further, the trial trips have proved that the rotation of the rollers entailed the additional weight, through adherence, of a large volume of water, and a considerable loss of power in consequence. M. Bazin had hoped to remedy this defect by rubber paddles, whose office was to beat back the waters, but it needs no great mechanical knowledge to recognize that these paddles worked somewhat like brakes upon the wheel of a carriage." New York Herald, 11 April 1897

Bazin did not live long enough to perfect his design, however. He died on the 21st January 1898 and the Cortland Standard drily noted, "M. Bazin, the Frenchman who devised the roller ship which was to cross the Atlantic in four days, himself rolled into the unknown world before his ship was a success." In 1899 the ship was sold at auction for scrap.

However, not to be discouraged, in 1897 a Canadian lawyer of Scottish descent, Frederick Knapp, publicised his design for a ship that would work along similar lines. Instead of six wheels, the entire ship took the shape of a tube, and the plan was to roll across the water. The claims he made for its performance were almost too fantastic not to report, and the papers of the day duly relayed to their readers Knapp's prediction of speeds of 120 m.p.h.

They also reported on the failure of the first test of the ship, in October of the same year when it mostly just turned on the spot, but did manage to get up to six miles an hour before it was towed back to harbour after travelling for two miles. The New York Times reports that Knapp (clearly an optimist) said "that the boat was under perfect control and that the matter of speed was simply a question of more powerful engines."

Two years later, in 1899, the ship had another unsuccessful test run when it ran out of coal halfway along its journey up the St Lawrence River. Two men went ashore to get more coal, during which time the wind blew the ship seventeen miles, and before long the coal ran out again. They dropped anchor, but in the high winds, the anchor just dragged and eventually the ship drifted onto rocks.

Then again in 1901 the ship set out in November along the St Lawrence River. Halfway to their destination, a snowstorm reduced visibility to almost zero, the ship missed the harbour where it was going and again it ended up beached, this time on a mud bank.

This is the last occasion I can find when the unnamed roller ship moved under its own power. In 1902 the Canada Gazette notes an application to incorporate the Knapp Tubular Steamship Company. During this time, Knapp was building a second boat in Montreal but the docks kicked him out to make room for more profitable jobs.

Its final journey was in 1903, when the half-built ship was towed to Toronto. The curious shape of the unfinished tube was not stable, and kept rolling and cutting the towing cables. Once in harbour in Toronto, it broke free once more and damaged another ship, the Niagara.

The last reference I can find to Knapp's ship date from 1906, when Knapp gave a talk on the subject, reported in the March issue of Popular Mechanics. It relates that Knapp planned to build a new larger boat boat, 800 feet long and capable of greater speeds, and was expecting to have a ship ready for trials in that year. But the plan is not mentioned again.

And as for the unfinished ship? It lay, untouched, for years until the Toronto Harbour Commission wanted to use the land where it was. They simply blew it up and filled over the land.

Wikipedia entry on Roller Ships
Set of photographs of Bizet's ship (scroll down to "related photos")
Richmond, R., Villemaire, T., (2002) "Colossal Canadian Failures," Dundurn Group Ltd
Bazin, E., (1893) "Roller Vessel or Boat," U.S. Patent number 507,099

"Bazin's Failure", New York Herald, 11 April 1897
"New Ship to Roll Across the Atlantic in Twenty-Four Hours," The World (New York), 19 Sept 1897
"Knapp Roller Boat Tried", New York Times, 22 Oct 1897
Cortland Standard, 6th February 1898
"Bazin's Roller Ship", Oswego Daily Times, 3 Feb 1899
"Knapp Roller Ship Ashore," New York Times, 16 Jun 1899
Canada Gazette, vol 35, number 38, 22 March 1902, p 34
"The Knapp Experimental Roller-ship Boat," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 20 Feb 1904
"Plans to Cross Ocean in Ten Hours," Popular Mechanics, March 1906, vol 8, no. 3, p 307-308

Friday 28 December 2012

Martian for Beginners

In France, March 1894, a woman named Mme Mirbel went to see a medium to try and contact her deceased son. A circle of several people sat, contact was made, and the usual assurances of peace in the afterlife were given by the son, as well as a spirit of a doctor called Raspail who gave Mme Mirbel medical advice on the eye condition she had.

Some months later, in November, she went back for a second seance. This time there was no Dr Raspail (perhaps sulking since Mme Mirbel had not followed his advice) and to everyone's great surprise it was revealed that the son had been reincarnated, and now lived on Mars and spoke no French. Instead, he spoke through the medium in a stream of intelligible noises which, apparently, was the Martian language.

Writing about this in "From India to the Planet Mars", Theodore Flournoy describes the events because he knew the medium well and had been present at both seances, as well as seances that followed. The language uttered by the medium, Hélène Smith (a pseudonym given by Flournoy. Her real name was Catherine-Élise Müller) appeared to be consistent, with the same words, prefixes and suffixes being used.

Over time, it became more sophisticated until some Martian handwriting was produced by the medium in August 1897. Despite his friendship with the medium and his belief in telepathy, he had doubts about this case.

A sample of Martian handwriting

It soon became clear that, despite the different vocabulary, Martian followed the rules of French grammar almost exactly. Flournoy writes of his examination of written Martian:

"It is not always easy to represent a language and its pronunciation by means of the typographical characters of another. Happily the Martian, in spite of its strange appearance and the fifty millions of leagues which separate us from the red planet, is in reality so near neighbor to French that there is scarcely any difficulty in this case." (p 210)

A translation of the same handwriting shown above

Also, the spirits from Mars seemed quite ignorant of those subjects that people asked of them, such as the canals on Mars, and about the snow seen at the poles. Instead, they preferred to talk about the social structure of Martian life.

Müller was born in Switzerland, and although she professed a dislike of learning languages she had studied German. Flournoy notes that she had a multi-lingual father and posits that her talent for languages may have been hereditary, subliminally rising to the surface when in a trance.

In October 1898, having convinced himself that Martian was just French in fancy clothes, he told Müller about his findings (oddly, he had first told one of Müller's spirit guides about his doubts during a seance when the medium was in a trance. The spirit guide insisted that Martian was genuine). She refused to accept his reasoning, saying that science was not infallible and since no one had been to Mars, she couldn't be disproved.

But shortly after this, a new identity from Mars appeared in her seances, this time with the promise of a new language. Additionally, Fournoy noticed a slight change in Martian that focused on those aspects that he had discussed with her earlier. But by now Fournoy had grown quite tired of Martian, and he closes the chapter before any example of this new language had been given.

Flournoy, T., (1900) "From India to The Planet Mars, a Study of a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolalia", translated by D.B. Vermilye, Harper and Brothers Publishers
Engles, H., (2008) "Understanding The Glossolalia Of Hélène Smith, The Famous Spiritist Medium", Psychiatries dans l’histoire, J. Arveiller (dir.), Caen, PUC, p. 141-148

Monday 24 December 2012

A ghost story for Christmas

The early publications of the Society for Psychical Research would frequently contain accounts of peculiar and paranormal events (usually with at least one statement from another witness corroborating the story) and this is a particular favourite of mine since it has a sort of M.R.James style about it, and I'm a big fan of his ghost stories.

The first time it was published, in 1890, all the names of people and places were replaced by initials, but a later report in the JSPR identifies these initials, so I've taken the original account and dropped in the names etc. as and when necessary.

In 1880 I succeeded a Mr. Sternberg as librarian of the Leeds Library. I had never seen Mr. Sternberg, nor any photograph or likeness of him, when the following incidents occurred. I may, of course, have heard the library assistants describe his appearance, though I have no recollection of this. I was sitting alone in the library one evening late in March, 1884, finishing some work after hours, when it suddenly occurred to me that I should miss the last train to Harrogate, where I was then living, if I did not make haste. It was then 10.55, and the last train left Leeds at 11.5.

I gathered up some books in one hand, took the lamp in the other, and prepared to leave the librarian's room, which communicated by a passage with the main room of the library. As my lamp illumined this passage, I saw apparently at the further end of it a man's face. I instantly thought a thief had got into the library. This was by no means impossible, and the probability of it had occurred to me before. I turned back into my room, put down the books, and took a revolver from the safe, and, holding the lamp cautiously behind me, I made my way along the passage – which had a corner, behind which I thought my thief might be lying in wait – into the main room.

Here I saw no one, but the room was large and encumbered with bookcases. I called out loudly to the intruder to show himself several times, more with the hope of attracting a passing policeman than of drawing the intruder. Then I saw a face looking round one of the bookcases. I say looking round, but it had an odd appearance as if the body were in the bookcase, as the face came so closely to the edge and I could see no body. The face was pallid and hairless, and the orbits of the eyes were very deep. I advanced towards it, and as I did so I saw an old man with high shoulders seem to rotate out of the end of the bookcase, and with his back towards me and with a shuffling gait walk rather quickly from the bookcase to the door of a small lavatory, which opened from the library and had no other access.

I heard no noise. I followed the man at once into the lavatory; and to my extreme surprise found no one there. I examined the window (about 14in. x 12in.), and found it closed and fastened. I opened it and looked out. It opened into a well, the bottom of which, 10 feet below, was a sky-light, and the top open to the sky some 20 feet above. It was in the middle of the building and no one could have dropped into it without smashing the glass nor climbed out of it without a ladder – but no one was there. Nor had there been anything like time for a man to get out of the window, as I followed the intruder instantly.

Completely mystified, I even looked into the little cupboard under the fixed basin. There was nowhere hiding for a child, and I confess I began to experience for the first time what novelists describe as an 'eerie' feeling.

I left the library, and found I had missed my train.

Next morning I mentioned what I had seen to a local clergyman, who, on hearing my description, said, "Why that's old Sternberg!" Soon after I saw a photograph (from a drawing) of Sternberg, and the resemblance was certainly striking. Sternberg had lost all his hair, eyebrows and all, from (I believe) a gunpowder accident. His walk was a peculiar, rapid, high-shouldered shuffle.

This story is actually quite famous, and searching for Ghost of Leeds Library will bring up more information. However, what really struck me on reading this was that librarians were armed in those days! It really was a different world back then.

Lambert, G.W. (1969), "Stranger Things: Some Reflections", Journal of the Society for Psychical Research Vol. 45, No. 740, p50

Myers, F.W.H., (1889-90), "On Recognised Apparitions Occurring More Than A Year After Death," Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research Vol 6, P57-95

Saturday 22 December 2012

The Half-Life of Miracles

Augustus DeMorgan's 1872 book A Budget of Paradoxes is a book about books. It describes his collection of curiositites in which various authors have, throughout history, written erroniously about mathematics. Not just getting their sums wrong but often misapplying mathematics to entirely inappropriate subjects.

On page 129 of volume 1, for example, is "Theologiæ Christianæ Principia Mathematica" by Johanne Craig (1699). This book used mathematics to calculate how long acceptance for the evidence for Christianity would last. DeMorgan ponders that Craig had probably been inspired by Newton's "Principia Mathematica" and he notes that:

"The success of the Principia of Newton put it into many heads to speculate about applying notions of quantity to other things not then brought under measurement. Craig imitated Newton's title, and evidently thought he was making a step in advance: but it is not every one who can plough with Samson's heifer."

And how long is belief in Christianity expected to last? If the evidence had only been oral, Craig calculated that it would've ended in 800AD but since it was written down, he estimated it will continue until 3150AD (and, in fairness to him, so far so good). And this is the year in which Craig predicted the second coming. DeMorgan ruefully wished that this part of Craig's theory had been widely accepted in order to save us from the endless predictions of the end of the world. One of which just passed yesterday, of course.

"A Budget of Paradoxes" by Augustus DeMorgan
Volume 1

Volume 2

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Soal's other fraud

Samuel Soal (1889-1975) was a parapsychologist who is best known these days for his work with Shackleton in the 1940s. This work had been controversial for many years, due to a witness who accused Soal of writing on the result sheets, which was finally decided in 1974 when Betty Marwick analysed the sheets and found statistical evidence of tampering.

But there was another episode in which Soal most likely offered fraudulent data. In January 1922, during a series of sittings with the medium Mrs Blanche Cooper, a spirit named Gordon Davis came through. This was an old childhood friend of Soal's who he had not met in years.

Gordon Davis goes on to talk about school and also the house where he lived, including details about the layout and decorations and a room upstairs with a piano in it, on top of which sits a bird. The spirit of Gordon Davis only communicated three times and the whole episode may have gone unremarked except that, in 1925, Soal learnt that Gordon Davis was still alive and living in Southend-on-Sea.

Soal went to Southend-on-Sea from his home in Prittlewell, to the address he was given and found to his surprise a house that matched the description from the "spirit" of Gordon. He then spoke to Mr Davis, showed him the transcripts, recorded his reactions and wrote the episode up in a lengthy article in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research along with other examples supporting the idea that mediumistic communications were not from the dead, but perhaps sourced from telepathy with living people.

Another researcher into mediums wrote a response to this article. Dennis Bradley seemed to take issue with Soal's research suggesting that psychic mediums were not imparting messages from deceased loved ones, but were instead getting the information telepathically from the sitter.

Bradley's article is littered with put-downs and insults, such as referring to Soal's dialogue with the medium as "flimsy and even ridiculous snatches of conversation" or "disjointed and chaotic utterances." His main argument against Soal is that the medium said nothing evidential but vague guesses, and then Soal would supply the answer he was looking for.

Soal replies in the same issue. After Bradley's bad tempered article (which was initially written for another magazine, Light) Soal can play it cool and he comes across as the level-headed, rational one. He can't resist the occasional dig, saying that one of Bradley's arguments will "become one of the classics of absurdity."

The absurd argument in question hinges on the vagueness of some of the information that Gordon Davis brought through regarding his house. Soal uses statistics to support his claim that Davis' description of the house and of a room with a piano with a bird on it could not have been guesswork or coincidence. Furthermore, Soal notes that " The house and its contents for all practical purposes did not come into being as the residence of the Davis family until December 13th, 1922, almost a year after the time of the sittings."

This sitting has been a curiosity in the annals of parapsychology, apparently flying in the face of plenty of other research into life-after-death communication. It was much discussed until 1986 when a book "Investigating the Unexplained" was published.

Written by Melvin Harris, it describes how he obtained a copy of Soal's handwritten notes from a vicar who was helping Soal verify information about one of the spirits who had come through during the same sittings. In that copy of the transcript, there is no description of the inside of the house, certainly not the piano and bird, leading Harris to deduce that it was a later addition. Since Soal and Cooper were alone during their sittings, there was no one to corroborate Soal's version of events or challenge any difference between his notes and the original statements.

This discrepency was confirmed in the JSPR in 2000, although the writer in this article posits the theory that those details were removed because they did not refer to the case the vicar was interested in. This begs the question of why other material wasn't similarly edited out, but that is a hypothetical discussion for another day.

Melvin Harris points out further problems with Soal's story. For example, that he and Davis lived within a few miles of each other and that the description of Gordon Davis' house (since demolished) could be put together from walking past it, and the room could be seen from the top deck of a double decker bus.

Quite what motivated Soal to put forward fraudulent data in this way is a little strange. During the controversy of the Soal Shackleton data, his colleagues were quick to stress his honesty in his dealings. Nevertheless two of his most famous results have reasons for us to be suspicious.

Mind you, I think there are quite a few researchers into the afterlife who would be quite relieved that this troublesome bit of data appears to be false.

BRADLEY, H.D., (1926) "An Analysis Of The Experiments Of Mr. S. G. Soal, M.A., B.Sc." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol 23, 29-38
HARRIS, M., (1986) "Investigating the unexplained", Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY
MARKWICK, B. (1978), The Soal-Goldney experiments with Basil Shackleton: New evidence of data manipulation, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 56, 250-281.
SOAL, S.G., (1925) " A Report On Some Communications Received Through Mrs. Blanche Cooper. Section 4" Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol 353, 561-571
SOAL, S. G., (1926) "A Reply to Mr H Dennis Bradley" Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, vol 23, 38-50
WEST, D.J., (2000) "Correspondence: The Gordon Davis Precognitive 'Communications'." Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 64.4, 252-254

Old map of Southend on Sea taken from

Monday 17 December 2012

Life drawing 17/12/2012

So today I was drawing and I looked over at the man sitting next to me to see how he was doing. I noticed that his lines were very smooth, and his shading quite uniform and it occured to me that it looked like he was drawing it as if he was going to make it into something else later on. I thought "he's probably a sculptor."

Then, when I got talking to him during the break, I found out that's what he was. I was quietly impressed by my own powers of deduction.

But then I wished I'd asked him if he was a sculptor before he told me. Would've been pretty impressive.

Friday 14 December 2012

The Milton and Wiseman meta-analysis of Ganzfeld experiments 1999

Disclaimer: While I am extremely well-read on the ganzfeld controversy, I have no training in statistics, although I have some understanding of the issues involved and how to interpret certain statistical measures. For the figures quoted in this blog post, I used an excel spreadsheet kindly sent to me by Patrizio Tressoldi to calculate z-scores and p-numbers for the individual studies, and then I used the meta-analysis software Meta Analysis 5.3 by Ralf Schwarzer.

Perhaps one of the most controversial parapsychological papers in the last twenty years was this statistical paper which reviewed and collated the results from a particular type of ESP experiment for the period 1991 to 1997. The experiment in question being the ″Ganzfeld″ protocol.

It was inspired by the 1994 paper ″Does Psi Exist?″ by Daryl Bem and Charles Honorton which described the results from one laboratory between 1982 and 1989 (z=2.89, p=0.002, or odds of 1 in 500). These results were considered a successful replication of a previous meta-analysis by Honorton in 1985. Milton & Wiseman's paper was meant to see if Honorton's results had been replicated by other researchers working in the field since 1985.

When the reported result was negative (unweighted z=0.7, p=0.24, odds of around 1 in 4), parapsychologists quickly began to discuss this paper and why it had failed to find an effect for what had, until then, been parapsychology's most reliable protocol.

Rushed into publication

The paper was initially presented in 1997 at the 40th Annual Parapsychological Association Convention, but it had been already submitted to the Psychological Bulletin in July 1997. Questions have been raised concerning the wisdom of submitting the paper before it could be peer-reviewed at the conference (Zingrone, 2002) and whether the timing had been influenced by a forthcoming successful ganzfeld experiment due to be presented by Dalton at the same Parapsychological Association Convention.

″One issue that might need further comment regards the timing of meta-analyses. Analysts' timing may be driven by many factors, and it is hard to remain blind as to how things are likely to be going, if one is at all active in the field. If we consciously or unconsciously do analyses when we think things are "going our way," then we are more likely to be selecting occasions when the results are strong in one direction or the other.″ [anonymous contributor to Schmeidler & Edge, note #95, 1999]

Some of the more conspiratorially minded have made a great deal about the absence of Dalton's work (Carter, 2012). Whether the deadline for Milton and Wiseman's meta-analysis was placed with Dalton's work in mind is difficult to say, although would it have made a huge difference? Using Milton and Wiseman's methods, the database including Dalton is still statistically non-significant, albeit marginally so (unweighted z=1.65, p=0.051, odds of about 1 in 20). Of course, there are several other statistical methods they could have used to conduct their meta-analysis, but more about that later.

Non-standard experiments included

The next, most common, criticism was that the Milton and Wiseman database included experiments that deviated from the most standard features of a ganzfeld experiment. It was surmised that this deviation could effect the success rate of psi, more notably in two experiments which used musical targets instead of visual targets, as had been the norm up until then (only one other experiment had used audio targets, Roney-Dougal's " A Comparison Of Psi And Subliminal Perception" (1979) which used the spoken word as targets with significantly high results, p=0.016).

To this end, a new meta-analysis was done by Bem, Palmer and Broughton taking both the previous criticisms into account. It was published in 2001 in the Journal of Parapsychology. In this, they introduced data which had been released since the February 1997 deadline of Milton and Wiseman, such as Dalton's work. They also used some judges who were previously unaware of the ganzfeld field of research to score the methods of each experiment according to how closely they adhered to a method given to them as an example of a typical ganzfeld procedure.

The danger with this is that it falls into the afore-mentioned trap of whether we consciously or unconsciously do analyses when we think things are "going our way," inasmuch as the inclusion of Dalton's experiment was going to make any new meta-analysis a successful one.

Also, despite the judges being blind to the results when grading the methods for standardness, the people who wrote the instructions and chose the example were not. It worth noting that in the instructions given to the judges, it is specified that creative subjects should not be marked as non-standard (Palmer & Broughton, 2000), insuring against the unlikely event of Dalton's work not being marked as standard.

Bem, Palmer and Broughton acknowledge that the earlier ganzfeld work had not been given the same amount of scrutiny and if it was, then this could alter the findings of Honorton's 1985 meta-analysis. "This possibility can only be assessed by a separate standardness analysis of the pre-autoganzfeld database" they wrote but, even to this day, no such analysis has been undertaken.

Statistical issues

Another criticism of the Milton and Wiseman database was that the data was heterogeneous. In other words, the results did not ″cluster″ around an average effect size as they would if all the experiments were measuring the same effect.

″The source of the heterogeneity is clear. Three studies are significantly negative (those labeled Kanthamani & Broughton, 1994, Series 5b; Kanthamani & Palmer, 1993; Williams et al., 1994). When these three studies are removed, the remaining 27 studies are now homogeneous ([[chi].sup.2] = 32.4, p = 0.35), and the resulting Stouffer z of these 27 studies is z = 1.99, p = .02 (one-tail). Thus, upon removing three outlier studies from this meta-analysis, the overall result is a statistically significant replication.″ [anonymous contributor to Schmeidler & Edge, note #42, 1999]

While it is true that the meta-analysis is heterogeneous (chi^2=46.15, df=29, p=0.02), only one negative experiment needs to be removed for the database to become homogeneous (chi^2=40.06, df=28, p=0.06), and this does not render the overall result statistically significant (unweighted z=1.13, p=0.127, odds of around 1 in 8). I am unsure as to why this commentator felt the need to remove three. Either way, once the debate focused on the inclusion of the Dalton data (ie, an extreme result in a positive direction) the outlier argument was dropped.

Other criticisms have been levelled at the statistical methods that Milton and Wiseman used. In the Psychological Bulletin in 2001, Storm and Ertel wrote a response to Milton and Wiseman's meta-analysis. It's an interesting, if peculiar, paper. One of the problems that Storm and Ertel identify with the meta-analysis is an ″unwarranted questioning of the existence of psi.″ They also criticise Milton and Wiseman for ignoring pre-1986 work, even though the paper clearly states that focus of the analysis was those experiments begun after 1987. It seems odd to complain that a meta-analysis should not stick to its own criteria.

It continues by saying that Milton and Wiseman should have used two-tailed statistics. In other words, any deviation from chance, positive or negative, should have been measured. However, ever since the earliest ganzfeld experiment, one-tailed statistics have been used because only positive results are of interest. That Storm and Ertel were unaware of this is a little strange.

Perhaps their greatest mistake was when they discuss Hyman and Honorton's Joint Communique (1986). This paper, where Hyman and Honorton discuss past failings and state the desired protocols that future ganzfeld experiments should follow is described by Storm and Ertel as ″a mere documentation of traditional and uncontroversial research rules.″ In fact, the Storm and Ertel paper reads as if it's written by someone with only a passing knowledge of the ganzfeld debate to that date.

Milton and Wiseman wrote a reply in that same issue, pointing out their mistakes, mis-quotes and misinterpretations, which lead to a further paper from Storm and Ertel. This time published in the Journal of Parapsychology in 2002, Storm and Ertel took issue with Milton and Wiseman, accusing them of selectively quoting to support their position, and insisting that two-tailed statistics were appropriate. Milton and Wiseman contribute one last, rather weary, reply noting that:

″[Storm and Ertel's] reply in this journal does not indicate that there is any point in repeating our arguments, and it includes a number of inaccurate descriptions of our statements and views.″

As you may have noticed, I've usually reported statistics using unweighted z scores [NB, link goes to a pdf], since that is the method reported by Milton and Wiseman. But this has come in for criticism. The unweighted z-score is an effect size which is the sum of each experiment's z-score divided by the square root of the number of experiments. But this treats each z-score equally, whether it came from an experiment with four trials or one hundred. There is a method by which each z-score is weighted according to size, but Milton and Wiseman did not use this. Instead they used the unweighted method because that was the same method that Honorton used in 1985.

There is another possible method, which would perhaps give an even more accurate picture, the exact binomial test: count of the number of success, and work out the probability of that happening given what you would expect by chance. In meta-analyses, it is common to use something like the weighted z-score since different results from different researchers often use different statistical measures. It is rare to have a collection of experiments that all present the data in the same way. The meta-analysis usually needs to convert all these into the same measure (e.g. a z-score) and then work from that. Plus, it should be mentioned that pooling subjects in this manner (i.e., treating the meta-analysis as if it were one big experiment) is directly against the advice of the Cochrane Collaboration and, as such, it could be argued that this "flaw" in Milton and Wiseman's work is, itself, flawed.

However, the experiments in Milton and Wiseman's paper did report the same statistical measure (the hit rate) for each experiment. Milton and Wiseman's method was to use each author's primary measure which, in three experiments, was not the hit rate. Two of these three experiments were very small (four trials and ten trials) and so they used a more sensitive method of scoring than the hit rate. In fact, the original papers did not report a hit rate at all (Kanthamani, Khilji, & Rustomji-Kerns,1988), and it wasn't until a later paper that summarised the results from that particular lab was published that the data for the hit rate was made public (Kanthamani & Broughton, 1994).

So there is a logic behind Milton and Wiseman's choice: use each papers' primary scoring method, and use the same statistical measure that had previously been so successful. On the other hand, if each paper happens to include the results using the same method, and it's possible to take a more precise measurement using a secondary measure then why not use it?

However, it should be noted that Milton and Wiseman's is the only meta-analysis where calculating the binomial is possible. All of the other ganzfeld meta-analyses contain experiments that don't report a hit rate with a 25% success rate expected by chance so, since they need to use an effect size like the unweighted or weighted z score, it may be useful to have the same figures from Milton and Wiseman's database for the sake of comparison. By the way, the weighted z for their 1999 meta-analysis is 1.07, p=0.14 or odds of about 1 in 7.

I admit, this has been a long and somewhat boring discussion of a topic that is of supreme disinterest to almost everybody. But I was becoming increasingly concerned that recent books and discussions on this subject had become too superficial. In an attempt at keeping a talk lively or the book interesting, this episode of parapsychology has become shorter and more glib and is now almost mythologised as an example of shoddy skeptical work holding back the scientifically superior parapsychologists. The truth is somewhat less clear cut.

BEM, D.J., & HONORTON, C. (1994). Does psi exist? Replicable evidence for an anomalous process of information transfer. Psychological Bulletin, 175, 4-18
BEM, D.J, PALMER, J, & BROUGHTON, R.S. (2001) ″Updating the Ganzfeld Database: A Victim of its own Success?″, The Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 65, No. 3, 207-218
CARTER, C. (2012). "Science and Psychic Phenomena: The Fall of the House of Skeptics," Inner Traditions Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.
Cochrane Collaboration’s Open Learning Material for Cochrane reviewers.
DALTON, K. (1997). Exploring the links: Creativity and psi in the ganzfeld. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 40th Annual Convention, 119–134.
HONORTON, C., (1985) "Meta-Analysis of Psi Ganzfeld Resarch: A Response to Hyman", Journal of Parapsychology 49, pp 51-91
KANTHAMANI, H., & BROUGHTON, R. S. (1994). ″Institute for Parapsychology
ganzfeld–ESP experiments: The manual series″ The Parapsychological Association 37th Annual Convention: Proceedings of presented papers, 182–189.
KANTHAMANI, H., KHILJI, A., & RUSTOMJI-KERNS, R. (1988) "An experiment in ganzfeld and dreams with a clairvoyance technique". The Parapsychological Association 31st Annual Convention: Proceedings of Presented Papers, 412-423.
MILTON, J., & WISEMAN, R. (1997). "Ganzfeld at the crossroads: A meta-analysis of the new generation of studies." Proceedings of Presented Papers: Parapsychological Association 40th Annual Convention, 267-282.
MILTON, J., & WISEMAN, R. (1999). "Does Psi Exist? Lack of Replication of an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer." Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 125, No. 4, 387-391
MILTON, J., & WISEMAN, R. (2001). ″Does Psi Exist? Reply to Storm and Ertel (2001),″ Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 127, No. 3, 434-438
MILTON, J., & WISEMAN, R. (2002). ″A response to Storm and Ertel (2002),″ The Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 66, No. 2, 183-187
PALMER, J., & BROUGHTON, R. S. (2000). An updated meta-analysis of post-PRL ESP ganzfeld experiments: The effect of standardness. Proceedings of Presented Papers: The Parapsychological Association 43rd Annual Convention, 224-240.
RONEY-DOUGAL, S.M., (1979). "A Comparison Of Psi And Subliminal Perception: A Confirmatory Study," W.G. Roll (ed.), Research in Parapsychology 1978, 98 - 100.
SCHMEIDLER, G. R., & EDGE, H. (1999). ″Should Ganzfeld research continue to be crucial in the search for a replicable psi effect? Part II Edited Ganzfeld debate.″ Journal of Parapsychology, 63, 335-388
STORM, L. & ERTEL, S. (2001). ″Does Psi Exist? Comments on Milton and Wiseman's (1999) Meta-Analysis of Ganzfeld Research,″ Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 127, No. 3, 424-433
STORM, L. & ERTEL, S. (2001). ″The Ganzfeld Debate Continued: A Response to Milton and Wiseman (2001),″ The Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 66, No. 1, 73-82
ZINGRONE, N.L. (2002). ″Controversy and the problems of parapsychology.″ Journal of Parapsychology, 66, 3-30.

Monday 10 December 2012

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Bothering Rotherham

Recently, I've been thinking about The Beatles and the fact that, for the next seven years or so, every few months will be a fiftieth anniversary of something they did. This has revived my interest in the band, and also in the 1960s in general. Since I now have newspaper archives at my fingertips I thought I'd read a few news stories to get a feel for the period. And as I did, I found something very peculiar.

The story begins in November 1962. A death of the member of parliament for Rotherham had caused a by-election. And on November 30, the Times reports that 21 servicemen had applied for nomination papers to stand as Independent candidates.

Before long, the number of applicants began to snowball. On December 1, the Times reports that a total of 30 applications had been received. By December 4, the number had risen to 57. And by March 8, a whopping 493 applications to stand as a candidate had been received, of which 193 of them were from identifiable members of the armed forces.

In the end, only three people actually stood: from Labour, Conservative and an Independent. Not even the Liberals bothered to field a candidate in such a safe Labour seat. None of them were from the armed forces.

So what happened? There was another by-election on the same day which did not seem to attract the same kind of attention. On December 1, The Times ran a story suggesting that these applications were an attempt to get out of service without actually having any intention of standing for election. This was because people in the armed forces cannot stand for election into government, so these men would have had to be approved by an advisory committee.

Indeed, this did happen: a sergeant who was allowed to leave the army to stand in this by-election later decided not to stand, saying he felt he didn't have enough experience.

Even though National Service had ended in 1960, the last servicemen to be conscripted didn't leave until May 1963 and I wonder if this wasn't some kind of protest against it, but that seems a little far-fetched.

Of course, it may just be that the initial reports of high numbers of applicants prompted more soldiers and hoaxers to send in their own applications as a light-hearted swipe at authority.

″21 "Service Men" As Candidates″, The Times, Friday, Nov 30, 1962; pg. 8
″Services Check on Candidates″, The Times, Saturday, Dec 01, 1962; pg. 6
″Hoaxers rally to Rotherham″, The Times, Tuesday, Dec 04, 1962; pg. 8
″March 28 Poll in Two Towns″, The Times, Friday, Mar 08, 1963; pg. 8
″National Service Nears End″, The Times, Monday, May 13, 1963; pg. 7

Saturday 1 December 2012

Psychic Archaeology in the Bahamas

After my post concerning the expedition lead by Stephan Schwartz to use remote viewing to facilitate underwater archaeology, I decided to look at another of the paper he published on the same subject.

I chose the paper "The Discovery of an American Brig: Fieldwork Involving Applied Remote Viewing Including a Comparison with Electronic Remote Sensing" in which a group of remote viewers look for and find the wreck of the brig Leander which sank in 1836.

I approached it in the same way that I approached his paper on the Eastern Harbour at Alexandria. At first, things seemed to be going smoothly and I found a contemporary reference to the sinking.

This description of the fortunate end for the ship's crew (all saved) made me wonder about Schwartz's statement that the ship had probably been the victim of pirates, but this was a minor doubt, and I ploughed on.

But before long I found it much harder to find references to the sinking. The sinking of the Leander didn't appear to be an important or noteworthy event. It was made more difficult by the low-res maps in the pdf which became unreadable with all the circles, ovals and squares marking potential areas of interest.

Map of the area (left) and after the remote viewing targets had been added (right)

So with no clues from maps or newspapers, I decided to see how other parapsychologists had interpreted Schwartz's results and soon found a reference to a paper by Dr Keith Harary in the Journal of the American Society of Psychical Research criticising the paper. Unfortunately, there's no online archive for the JASPR, but it was on Google books in a snippet view and with a little creative searching, I was able to piece together parts of the paper, as well as the reply from Schwartz in the same issue.

Perhaps the strongest point against Schwartz's paper is that the Leander was not defined as the target from the very beginning of the expedition

″In their [Research in Parapsychology]abstract, Schwartz and De Mattei do not describe the designated target of their expedition. The possible target was described, however, in an article entitled "The Banks Project" (1987) that appeared in Mobius Reports, which is edited by Stephan Schwartz:

A new Mobius project will put intuitive techniques to a crucial test in the waters near the Great Bahama Bank. The marine archaeological project – to find ancient Spanish shipwrecks – may possibly have an added benefit: a billion dollars worth of sunken treasure. One of the targets of this project is SANTIAGO EL GRANDE. ("The Banks Project," 1987, p. 6)″

Schwartz and De Mattei replied:

″As noted in the PA paper, the project was initiated with no specific ship target in mind by independently asking nine psychics, who were each presented with a blank map, to "locate something you feel is substantial" and "locate a pile of rocks associated with a ship." A second probe did focus on Santiago El Grande, although it also asked questions about other locations from the first effort″

But Harary wrote more on this topic in 1992, quoting more sources indicating that the Santiago El Grande was the intended target from the beginning. There is no response from Schwartz or De Mattei in the 1992 issue of The Journal of the Amercian Society for Psychical Research.

So the idea that the Leander was not the initial target seriously weakens the case for successful remote viewing. After I read this, I went back and read the original paper by Schwartz and De Mattei and I realised that it never claims that the Leander was the target from the outset, rather it allows the reader it infer that for themselves. Also, this does explain why Schwartz would chose such an apparently unremarkable wreck to investigate.

Harary has further criticisms of the Schwartz and De Mattei paper, for example that the magnetometer did find the wreck of the Leander, and that the paper does not mention that 70 buoys to mark positions were thrown overboard, not just the one that later turned out to be in the vicinity of the Leander.

But what of the ship that they were searching for: The Santiago El Grande? Well, it was a Spanish Galleon laden with treasures that sank in the Bahamas during a hurricane in 1765. And it probably never really happened: it's a ″ghost wreck,″ often used by con men to get money from investors on the promise of a haul of treasure. Bearing in mind that Schwartz was using remote viewing (which I don't think really exists) to look for a ship (that probably doesn't really exist), I'm not surprised that it ended badly.

Dr Keith Harary speaks about his paper and the pressure that parapsychologists and proponents put him under to keep his concerns to himself in this interview here (Word document).

The Gleaner, issue 1, May 5, 1834, p3
Harary, K. (1990). On "The Discovery of an American Brig." Journal of the American Society for
Psychical Research, 84, 275-281.
Schwartz, S. A., & De Mattei, R. J. (1990). Response to Harary. Journal of the American Society for
Psychical Research, 84, 283-295.
Harary, K. (1992). Response to reply of Schwartz and De Mattei to "On the Discovery of an American Brig." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 86, 257-290.
Fate Magazine, March 1995