Tuesday 26 February 2013

Accidental poetry

Recently, I was using an online Japanese-English dictionary, looking up meanings for the character "zan" 残. I was going through all the different uses that this character had when I noticed that the first few dozen examples seemed to have a poetic quality to them. Now, I'm no expert, but I thought it was worth sharing. So, with minimum editing from me (the original page is here), I present to you a piece of accidental poetry that I call

Definitions of the character "残"

Bad luck.
Don't let it get to you.
Game over.
I'm sorry to hear that.
That sucks.
That's too bad.
What a bummer.
You got to be kidding me!

Remaining snow
An incidental image
Residual quantity
Lingering summer heat
Not at all

The ruin of a ship
A residuary bequest
Leave place for...
Overtime pay
A ledger balance
Insensate brutality
Leave an impression
Eat every bit
Remain behind
A barbaric punishment
A credit balance
To a man
Nobody left on base

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Anti-slavery or pro-feminist?

The Victorian-era Anti-Slavery movement consisted of some of the most progressive and forward-thinking people of the age. But even they were, in a sense, trapped by the time they lived in, as was demonstrated when they found themselves baffled by the growing women's rights movement.

The scene was was the first General Anti-Slavery Convention, organised in 1840 by the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. Invitations to the event were sent out around the world in June 1839. However, this invitation did not specify the gender of the attendees, since the Society in question assumed that everyone would understand it was for men.

However, for the past two years in the United States, women had been pushing for equality in the campaign. These "Garrisonites" (named after a pro-feminist male campaigner) made it clear that they would attend and even ignored a second invitation sent in February 1840 which specified that only "gentlemen" were invited.

When the female delegates arrived, the organisers found themselves in a delicate situation. Their American colleagues were divided on the issue, and to make matters worse, the women were quick to make the most of any affront to their dignity.

In a debate on whether they should be allowed to attend, several British delegates pointed out that equality for women was against English custom, and that the Americans should respect that. The irony of this argument in an Anti-Slavery Convention was not lost on the visitors. Mr Bradburn remarked during the discussion:

"The invitation was extended to all abolitionists throughout the world; and no doubt it was earnestly desired, as well as designed, that they should all be represented here. [...] But we are now told, that it would be outraging the tastes, habits, customs, and prejudices of the English people, to allow women to sit in this Convention. [...] I depreciate the principle of this objection. In America it would exclude from our Conventions all persons of colour; for there, customs, habits, tastes, prejudices, would be outraged by their admission."

However, those delegates against admitting women made the case that it was not out of disrespect, but was also a practical measure made necessary by public opinion. Admitting women would open the Convention to ridicule.

The debate was wound up when delegates began to complain that such a discussion was preventing more pertinent talks. Samuel Prescod of Barbados insisted that the ladies told him they came here fully aware they would not be received, and that the debate had been improperly forced upon the convention. In turn, he was criticised for using the contents of a private conversation in a public debate.

In the end, the "Garrisonites" lost the vote heavily. The women took their places in the gallery as spectators, and so did Garrison himself, much to the amusement of the British delegates.

And that's how the first international anti-slavery convention started with a discussion about women's rights.

TEMPERLEY, H., (1972) “British Anti-Slavery 1833-1870”, Longman, p 85-92

“General Anti Slavery Convention” The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jun 13, 1840; pg. 7
“Proceedings of the General Anti-Slavery Convention”, British And Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, London, 1840, p 24-46

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Life drawing 18/02/13

Actually, two of these are from last week. About a month or so ago, in a typical session, I was happy with a lot of my drawings. I thought that maybe I'd cracked it and was now good at art. In the past few weeks, though, I've slipped right back and now I only produce a couple of good things a week.

On this next one, I was a bit desperate after failing to come up with anything worthwhile all session. So I did the drawing without looking at the paper and then shaded it in as if I'd meant it to be that way. It's a nice way to loosen up, and I think it lead to the last drawing.

Friday 15 February 2013

Museums that threw away their meteorite collections

Since I'm writing about meteorites, I thought I'd post this up. It's from something I wrote on the JREF forums some years ago.

Several times over the years, I've read the claim that in the late 18th century the scientific establishment so comprehensively rubbished the eye-witness reports of meteorites, that museums across Europe threw out their collections of meteorite specimens. Two examples of this are:

"So great was the prestige of the committee and so convincing its arguments that museums all over Western Europe threw away their meteorite specimens."
Chris Carter, “Parapsychology and the Skeptics”, 2007

“Museums all over Europe had thrown out their cherished meteorite specimens with the rubbish as humiliating reminders of a superstitious past. Today scarcely a single specimen is known that predates 1790, except for the 280-pound stone that fell in Alsace in 1492, that is kept in the town hall of Ensisheim, and that proved too heavy for even the Academie Francaise to dislodge.”
Richard Milton, “Alternative Science: Challenging the Myths of the Scientific Establishment”, 1996

And this claim pops up on the occasional web site as an example of why mainstream science can't be trusted. It was such an interesting claim, that I wanted to find out more.

A reference, when one is given, points us to Paneth, “Science and Miracle”, Durham University Journal, 1949. Keen to find out more about this travesty of science, I paid for a copy of the paper, where I read:

“it is a sad reflection that in those days many public museums threw away whatever they possessed of these precious meteorites; it happened in Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.”

So, not quite “all over Europe”, but across five countries. But still quite an event.

Still wanting to know more, I kept searching periodically until recently I found this quote from the book “Cosmic Debris: Meteorites in History”, by John G. Burke (available on Google Books)

From Chapter 6:
“Chladni, in his Uber Feuer-Meteore (1819), decried the fact that some meteorites in collections were discarded in the eighteenth century, terming their removal “Enlightenment vandalism.” These acts, he wrote, occurred at five places: Dresden, Vienna, Copenhagen, Bern and Verone; and they involved meteorites from two sixteenth-century and four seventeenth century falls”

So the claim has changed from a mass deletion of data entailing museums from across Europe, to it happening in just five museums, concerning the collections from six falls. Not so dramatic. Burke goes on to explain that museums didn't really exist in the way we understand them in the late 1700s, and he points out some questionable aspects of these collections, before adding:

“Yet of the twenty seven falls in the eighteenth century that are now considered to have actually occurred, specimens of eighteen (two thirds) still exist in collections.”

So if you do find yourself faced with someone who uses this as an example of how dishonest science is in the face of new data, you can explain to them how it's an example of how lazy new age writers are in chasing up their references.

On meteorites

It is not often that something I'm already researching becomes front page news, but yesterday's dramatic meteor storm over Russia has prompted me to post up this article.

As any textbook will tell you, initial reports of stones falling from the sky were treated as superstitious nonsense. Stones in the sky were considered an impossibility, and most of the witness reports were from ancient history or from the uneducated classes. I was interested to know more about how the theory (that these stones came from outer space) went from instant dismissal to final acceptance.

Throughout the 1700s, meteor sightings were reported in newspapers and scientific journals. However, it was not taken seriously as a field of research until 1792 when a German scientist Ernst Chladni put together a review of all the reports he could find and concluded that they had an extra-terrestrial origin.

This theory, although widely publicised, was not taken seriously. An encyclopaedia entry from 1803 writes about this new theory as if it is an amusing curiosity.

"[A] new and very singular hypothesis has been framed by Professor Chladni of Wittenberg, who maintains it by argument, which, however fanciful, are yet worthy of the reader's notice."

After a lengthy and even-handed explanation of Chladni's ideas, the author ends with a reference to the atheism that had recently spread throughout France after the Revolution.

"Whether Chladni be a philosopher of the French school we know not; but some parts of his theory tend strongly towards materialism; and the arguments by which he attempts to prop those parts are peculiarly weak. [...] but how absurd would it be to say, that the system of general laws, by which the Author and Governor of the universe connects together its various parts, and regulates all their operations, possesses, independently of him, the power to produce worlds and whole systems, to destroy them, and from their materials to form new ones!"

This section taken from an encyclopaedia published in 1810

In the years following Chladni's work, an English scientist called Edward Charles Howard managed to obtain samples from various meteorites and concluded that (a) they were all similar in composition and (b) they were all unlike any known terrestrial rock.

In 1818, A System of Chemistry summarises the current arguments:

"Chladni endeavoured to prove that the meteors from which they fell were bodies floating in space, unconnected with any planetary system, attracted by the earth in their progress, and kindled by their rapid motion through the atmosphere. But this opinion is not susceptible of any direct evidence, and can scarcely be believed, one would think, even by Dr. Chladni himself."

Meanwhile, the most supported theory for the origin of meteorites is described as:

"The greater number of philosophers consider them, [...] as concretions actually formed in the atmosphere. This opinion is undoubtedly the most probable of all; but in the present state of our knowledge, it would be absurd to attempt any explanation of the manner in which they are formed."

Interest in meteorites had meant increased observations such that by 1841 Chladni's hypothesis is described as "that which appears to have met with most favour" although the article by Rosina Zornlin lists a number of objections to Chladni's theory.

Finally, in 1864 it appears that Chladni's theory has all but won the day, as Alexander Herschel writes that "Observations of luminous meteors have now divided themselves into three classes, for each of which a separate investigation leads to the uniform result that the hypothesis of Chladni is the only one which bears upon its face the stamp of truth."

A fair amount has been written about the controversy surrounding meteorites, and I may return to this in the future. However, the claim that researching it could end a scientist's career in ridicule doesn't seem to have been the case, since Chladni went on to become even more famous for his work in acoustics.

CHLADNI, E. (1792) "Über den Ursprung der von Pallas gefundenen und anderer ihr ähnlicher Eisenmassen und über einige damit in Verbindung stehende Naturerscheinungen"
HERSCHEL, A. (1864) “The Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science”, Vol.1 (American reprint), Crookes, W. (ed.) p.286
THOMAS, T. (1818) "A System of Chemistry in Four Volumes", vol 3 p160-161
WILKES, J. (ed.) (1810) "Encyclopaedia Londinensis", vol 7, p.386
ZORNLIN, R., (1841) "The London, Edinburgh and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science," Brewster, D., Taylor, R., Phillips, R., Kane, R., Brayley, E.W. (eds.), vol 19, July- December 1841, p547-548

"Supplement to the Encylopaedia, or Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature in three volumes", vol 2, 1803, p40-42

Thursday 14 February 2013

Kidnapping of General Dozier 1981

From 1972 to 1995, the CIA, DIA and other US government departments funded a project to try and use remote viewing for the purposes of intelligence gathering. When the operational successes of this project are listed, the episode involving the kidnapping of Brigadier General Dozier is usually among them.

Descriptions of the results vary a little from one version to the next, but broadly speaking it is claimed that the remote viewers were able to pinpoint the city in which Dozier was held (Padua), that he was held in a trunk on the second floor of a building near a university.

However, it is said that this information did not get to the Italian authorities before they were able to locate him by the more usual methods of questioning informants and they rescued him, arresting the terrorists.

Many documents from this project were released around ten years ago, and it is informative to go back and read the original session notes. Certainly, most of the things claimed by remote viewers were correct, but were buried beneath large amounts of erroneous data.

Brigadier General Dozier was kidnapped in Verona by the Red Brigade on 17 December 1981.

The remote viewing sessions began on 18 December. The notes from this day do include a reference to someone being held inside something on the second floor, but the building was described as a disused mill by a river.

By 20 December, a document was put together, combining results from two viewers. Dozier was either held in a city centre (but no name had been given) or was held in the country. This document also contains maps and a drawing of the building in the city, a low squat building down a cobble-stone alleyway.

On 5 January, the location of Dozier was, according to one viewer, a large brick building. A sort of cross between a castle and a mansion.

On 14 January, a document called “Psychic Report: BG Dozier kidnapping” contains the guess that Dozier was being held near a University, but it specifies that the psychic strongly believes he is in Verona. The rest of the document lists potential areas of Verona, as well as stating that he was near a railroad, or near an airfield, and one viewer associated a strong smell of goats to his location.

On 20 January, Padua is first mentioned. In this session, one remote viewer is describing a cabin by a lake where Dozier is being held. He mentions mountains in the distance and a town. The session notes describe this section as:

#72 (interviewer): I want you to go to an overhead position, look down at the lake, and the building. Describe any other structures in the area.


#06 (viewer): See numerous cabins, southeast... Small town. Main entry road comes from the south, southwest. Some kind of resort.

#72: What is the name of the town?


#06: I don't know. I don't get anything.

#72: All right. What is the name of the area that the town and the lake... What is it called?

#06: I get a... get an old name. Padua. Very old. 300 years. I don't know why I got that.

#72: All right. Concentrate.

#06: Belonged to a... to a Cardinal, I think, or something.

So, Padua was not identified as the location of Dozier, and it's not specifically linked to the town of small cabins that the remote viewer saw.

On 26 January, just two days before Dozier was rescued, the viewer is still focusing on the lake-side cabin, this time linking it and a nearby mountain to the name Saint Martin or Saint Michael.

Finally, on 27 January a hand-written list of “Basic Possibilities” was put together. It boiled the results down to three locations: near a large lake, in a rural area, or in “old city”. Padua is mentioned, but only as a possibility alongside Verona and Other.

On January 28, Dozier was rescued by Italian Special Forces who raided the flat and overpowered the terrorists so quickly that they didn't need to fire a single shot.

Dozier had been held captive in a building in Padua on a street called Via Ippolito Pindemonte in the south-west of the city. In other words: not in the country, not in the old part of the city, not near a lake, not near an airfield or a railway or the smell of goats, and the nearest university is almost two kilometres away.

The whole episode is a peculiar one. Although it is often said that information from the psychics was not used, documents state that data from remote viewers were twice sent to Italian authorities, without the source being specified. The information was acted on both times, resulting in two failures: one in Verona and one near the mountain town of Este, which involved over a hundred officers and back-up helicopters raiding an innocent family.

Additionally, a two million dollar reward for information leading to Dozier's release seemed to have attracted a lot of unsolicited letters from psychics. One was even flown over to Italy to see if he could recognise any locations from his remote viewing. The fact that this happened without the knowledge of the official government psychics seems to indicate a certain desperation on the part of US Intelligence.

Finally, during the evaluation phase, Dozier was shown the results from the remote viewing sessions to see if he noticed any similarities. Unfortunately, his response is blacked out so we'll never know his own opinion on the matter first-hand.

There is a script from a slide show in which someone explains the results of the project, but this anonymous speaker simply mentions the hits and, referring to the session of 20 January, even suggests that the remote viewer indicated we should concentrate on the city of Padua. This statement is accompanied by a reproduction of a map from one of the sessions which has clearly been tampered with. Below you can see the original on the left, which clearly shows that the target is to the north-east of Padua. On the right, the circle has been largely removed, to make it appear that Padua was the main focus of that particular session.

I'll leave the final word to a very terse evaluation of the Dozier remote viewing project by William A. Reed, “My input to program measurement is this: Not one of the “data packages” was useful in finding and freeing BG Dozier. The reports drained our resources, embarrassed us with the Italians, and confused crisis management. [...] The psychics were never even close.”

various declassified CIA documents
"The Psychics", Jim Hicks, Time-Life Books, 1995

Tuesday 12 February 2013

A previously unforeseen peril of meteorites

While searching for early articles on meteorites, I was looking though the contents page of a copy of Philosophical Transactions when I found these three articles listed together.

"Excellent," I thought as I scrolled down, hoping to find others. The first two lines of the next title seemed to offer more of the same, but...

It doesn't specifically say that the stones didn't fall from the sky, but for the sake of that poor man, I hope they didn't.

Philosophical Transactions, Vol 51, Part 1, 1759

Wednesday 6 February 2013

More photos of kanji

When I was in Japan, I found an old Orihon, a Japanese book which is one long sheet of paper folded over to make pages. It's not worth anything: it cost 100 yen (about 70p) in a second hand bookshop and is very battered and worn, but I think it's quite pretty. The damage caused by paper-eating insects just adds to the charm.

Sunday 3 February 2013

The Honorton meta-analysis of Ganzfeld experiments 1985

Following from my post about the 1999 ganzfeld meta-analysis of Milton and Wiseman, I thought I'd write about another meta-analysis of the same type of experiments. In 1985 Charles Honorton wrote a meta-analysis of ganzfeld experiments from 1974-1982.

"The composite (Stouffer) Z score for the 28 studies is 6.6 (p < 10^ -9), and 43% of the studies were independently significant at the 5% level."

This Stouffer (unweighted) z of 6.6 is the one most commonly quoted in articles commenting on Honorton's findings. But as we saw with Milton and Wiseman's paper, choices regarding statistical measure and inclusion criteria can alter this figure quite radically.

The ganzfeld experiments have enough different aspects that, like the sliders on a graphic equalizer, you can adjust to get the desired result. It illustrates a sort of Heisenberg's Principle for statistics, where the more someone knows about a particular subject, the less able they are to quantify it with any accuracy. And I should emphasise that this is the point I am trying to make: the subjective element of meta-analyses can be considerable.

The Inclusion Criteria

Honorton based his figures on a sub-set of 28 experiments taken from the 42 experiments discussed in Hyman's 1985 paper. Among these 42 experiments, a number of different scoring systems were used. This, claimed Hyman, could lead to a problem where an experiment that initially used one method of scoring later found that a different method gave a better result, and reported that instead. As Stanford (1984) summarized:

“For whatever reason, many ganzfeld researchers have, historically speaking, seemed very unsure of what method to use to evaluate overall ESP performance. Many have used at least two, and sometimes more, methods of analysis. This common failure to settle, on logical, a priori grounds, upon a single method of analysis makes it difficult to decide whether ESP has occurred in any study where multiple analyses have been used with divergent outcomes.”

Honorton agreed with Hyman that the issue of multiple analysis was a problem, and so he decided to conduct his meta-analysis using only one scoring method. Namely, the Direct Hit method, which was the most common.

However, did this really address the issue? The experiment that Hyman used to illustrate the problem (York, 1980 which used Order Ranking as its main measure of success and Direct Hit as a secondary one, but only reported the statistically significant Direct Hit results) is still included in the database. So I think the problem still remains, especially when you consider that the Direct Hit score can be derived from the data for other measures such as Binary Hits, Sum Of Ranks or Z-score Ratings, so it may be too much of a temptation for an experimenter to report a significant or more positive result on this scale alongside the other measures. Honorton included any experiment that reported Direct Hits, whether they were the primary measure or not.

Honorton's choice of Direct Hits may make sense at first glance since it includes the results from the majority of experiments (ie, 28 out of 42). However, it does not include the majority of the data (835 trials out of 2,567) and it is worth looking at the data that Honorton removed.

As a whole, the missing 14 experiments contain 1,612 trails with a Stouffer z of -0.01 (ie, fractionally below chance). Eleven of the fourteen reported results in a numerical form, the other three simply said the experiment was unsuccessful so in my calculations, a z-score of zero was awarded.

If we combine these fourteen with Honorton's database, the unweighted z-score falls from 6.6 to 5.2.

Statistical issues

The Milton and Wiseman meta-analysis was criticised for using a method of combining scores that did not take into account the size of each experiment. Since Honorton uses the same method, it seems valid to apply the same adjustment here. Once we use a weighted z-score, the result drops to 2.72 (odds of around 1 in 303).

So with these two really quite uncontroversial decisions (include all data, and choose a more appropriate statistical measure) the result has fallen quite dramatically.

And once you have a certain amount of knowledge about the database, it's very easy to find more ways to push the result down even further. Now, I should reiterate that this isn't about the evidence for psi per se, but it does indicate that there is no single correct answer.

Methodological issues

A set of results from Cambridge were famously criticised by Blackmore (as well as Parker & Wiklund and C.E.M. Hansel) and as a result were removed by Jessica Utss in her analyses of the ganzfeld data (Utts, 1999, 2010). So if you take the example of Utts and remove the data from Cambridge then the weighted z-score falls even further, down to 2.18 (odds of around 1 in 69).

Small scale experiments

In calculating each z-score, a binomial distribution is used. Since this is not applicable to experiments with small numbers of trials (Wikipedia suggests trials multiplied by chance probability (mostly 0.25 in this case) is less than 5, so I'll use that) we can remove all experiments with less that 20 trials. This reduces the weighted z-score to 2.09 (1 in 54)

[note: changed the wording of the above paragraph after some comments indicated it wasn't clear. Hope it is now. I can't get blogspot to deal with even the simplest algebraic symbols]

In fact, it would be quite simple to write up a meta-analysis using these criteria as if they were perfectly sensible choices made by an impartial observer before any calculations were attempted. The truth is that sometimes I would try excluding a class of experiments, only to find that it pushed the result up again. I simply ignored that, and tried something else. In fact, this exercise has made me far more skeptical of meta-analyses than I am of the existence of ESP.

Towards non-significance

So, what hoops would a skeptic need to jump through in order to reduce the results to chance (or near chance)? Despite such a considerable drop so far, it is actually quite difficult to get the result down much more.

It is necessary to include all the experiments up until 1984 (ie, up to the year before the publication of Honorton's meta-analysis) and then take out two experiments by Honorton and Terry which had been criticised on methodological grounds by Kennedy.

This puts the weighted z-score at 1.78 (1 in 27) although the unweighted z-score is now, for once, lower than the weighted at 0.61 (approximately 1 in 4) so a really cheeky skeptic could reinstate the statistical measure they'd abandoned at the start because it inflated the score!

BLACKMORE, S., (1987) "A Report of a Visit to Carl Sargent's Laboratory", Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 54, pp 186-198
HANSEL, C.E.M, (1985) "The Search for a Demonstration of ESP", "A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology", ed. Paul Kurtz, pp97-128
HONORTON, C., (1985) "Meta-Analysis of Psi Ganzfeld Resarch: A Response to Hyman", Journal of Parapsychology 49, pp 51-91
HYMAN, R., (1985) “The Ganzfeld Psi Experiment: A Critical Appraisal”, Journal of Parapsychology 49, pp 3-50
KENNEDY, J.E., (1979) “Methodological Problems in Free-Response ESP Experiments”, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, vol 73, pp 1-15
MURRAY, A. L., (2011) “The Validity Of The Meta-Analytic Method In Addressing The Issue Of Psi Replicability", Journal of Parapsychology, vol 75:2
PARKER, A., WIKLUND, N. (1987) “The ganzfeld experiments: towards an assessment”, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 54, pp 261-265
STANFORD, R.G., (1984) “Recent Ganzfeld-ESP Research: A Survey and Critical Analysis”, Advances in Parapsychology 4, pp 83-111
UTTS, J. (1999) " The Significance of Statistics in Mind-Matter Research", Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.615-638
UTTS, J. (2010) "The Strength of Evidence Versus the Power of Belief: Are We All Bayesians?"
YORK, M. (1977). “The defense mechanism test (DMT) as an indicator of psychic performance as measured by a free-response clairvoyance test using a ganzfeld technique”, Research in parapsychology, 1976, pp. 48-49

Software used for statistics was Meta-Analysis 5.3 by Ralf Schwarzer