Saturday, 28 April 2018

Best writing in parapsychology

Recently, two papers in the field of parapsychology have impressed me with their clarity of writing and depth of research, applied to an interesting subject. One was Charman, R., Hume, S. (2018) “The Case of Colonel Henderson and The Apparition of Captain Hinchcliffe Revisited – A Crisis Apparition?” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Vol 82, No. 1, pp 28-42. The other was Schooler, J.W., Baumgart, S (2018) Entertaining Without Endorsing: The Case for the Scientific Investigation of Anomalous Cognition,” Psychology of Consciousness: Theory Research and Practice, American Psychological Association

Reading these made me want to write about other articles on parapsychology that I thought had reached similar levels of high quality. So here’s my list, with links where possible.

Akers, C. (1984) "Methodological criticisms of parapsychology."Advances in Parapsychological Research, vol. 4, ed. Krippner, S. McFarland

This is an extensive review of the state of parapsychology to date by focusing on fifty-four of the most oft-cited experiments, as taken from Wolman Handbook of Parapsychology. It’s an invaluable resource for anyone interested in post-WW2 parapsychology since it talks about papers that are still referenced today, detailing critiques and defences that were well-known then but have since been forgotten.

Bierman DJ, Spottiswoode JP, Bijl A (2016) Testing for Questionable Research Practices in a Meta-Analysis: An Example from Experimental Parapsychology. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0153049. 1

Similarly to Akers, this paper examines some of the more famous parapsychological results to see if it withstands current criticisms. In this case, the focus was on the Ganzfeld database, and concluded that Questionable Research Practices may have inflated the reported findings, they could not account for all of the effect being measured.

Coelho, C., Tierney, I., Lamont, P. (2008) “Contacts by Distressed Individuals to UK Parapsychology and Anomalous Experience Academic Research Units – A Retrospective Survey Looking to the Future,” European Journal of Parapsychology, Volume 23.1, pp 31-59

This fascinating paper looks at a largely ignored aspect of academic research into parapsychology: coming into contact with people who are genuinely distressed by the paranormal phenomena they seem to be subject to. By contacting a parapsychology unit, some people sought to explain their diagnoses, while others were trying to postpone approaching the mental health care services. The paper discusses preferred strategies in these circumstances.

Collins, H.M, Pinch, J.T. (1982) “Frames of Meaning: The Social Construction of Extraordinary Science,” London: Routledge & Kegan Paul

This book is remarkable for its story about a largely forgotten episode in parapsychology: the sudden rise of spoon-bending in the early 1970s, especially regarding children. The book contains a detailed description of the authors’ attempts at investigating this phenomena at Bath University, as well as the influence of Uri Geller on science and popular culture in a wider sense.

Drake, J. (2015) “Ghosts, Elves, & the Man from Mars: 2 Decades (Skeptically) Investigating the Paranormal”

This talk by Jerry Drake is a real eye-opener. First, for the insight he brings to the subjects he looks into, and secondly as an introduction to Jerry Drake who, I must admit, I’d never heard of before I saw this video. My favourite part must be the explanation of the haunting at Faust Hotel in Texas, that begins at 54:50.

Fortean Studies, volumes 1-7, John Brown Publishing, 1994-2001

These books are collections of papers written in a more thorough, academic manner than the ones published in the magazine Fortean Times, and they are full of fascinating cases explained in often minute detail. The author, Mike Dash contributes two lengthy articles (The Devil’s Hoofmarks, in volume one and The Vanishing Lighthousemen of Eilan Mor in volume four) which were major influences on me as an example of how to do proper research using first-hand documents. But every other article is worthy of anyone’s attention, ranging from Princess Diana conspiracy theories to UFO sightings in the 1910s.

Koehler, J.J, (1993) “The Influence of Prior Beliefs on Scientific Judgments of Evidence Quality,” Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes,” 56, pp28-55

The opening sentence reads “This paper is concerned with the influence of scientists' prior beliefs on their judgements of evidence quality” and that pretty much sums it up. It makes sobering reading for skeptics of the paranormal, demonstrating that they are far more extreme than proponents in how they judge the quality of experiments with results that agree/disagree with their pre-existing views.

Lamont , P, Wiseman , R. (2001), “The rise and fall of the Indian rope trick,” Journal of the Society for Psychical Research , vol 65 , no. 3, pp. 175-193

Peter Lamont is the only person to have two entries on this list with this study into the myth of the Indian Rope Trick. As I grew up in the 1970s, the idea of the rope trick being a genuine thing (be it conjuring trick or paranormal feat) was so ingrained that it never occurred to that the truth would be more nuanced. Dr Lamont continued to work on this topic, publishing it as a book with the same name in 2005

Ogbourne, D., (2012) “Encyclopedia of Optography: The Shutter of Death”

The idea behind Optography (that the last thing seen before someone dies remains as an image on the retina) is one that had long intrigued me, but I thought had never been taken that seriously by anyone so I didn’t bother researching it. Luckily, Derek Ogbourne did the work that I was too lazy to do and put together a considerable body of work on the subject.

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