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AN ASSESSMENT OF THE EVIDENCE FOR PSYCHIC FUNCTIONING

Professor Jessica Utts
Division of Statistics
University of California, Davis


ABSTRACT

Research on psychic functioning, conducted over a two decade period, is examined to determine whether or not the phenomenon has been scientifically established. A secondary question is whether or not it is useful for government purposes. The primary work examined in this report was government sponsored research conducted at Stanford Research Institute, later known as SRI International, and at Science Applications International Corporation, known as SAIC.

Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud.

The magnitude of psychic functioning exhibited appears to be in the range between what social scientists call a small and medium effect. That means that it is reliable enough to be replicated in properly conducted experiments, with sufficient trials to achieve the long-run statistical results needed for replicability.

A number of other patterns have been found, suggestive of how to conduct more productive experiments and applied psychic functioning. For instance, it doesn't appear that a sender is needed. Precognition, in which the answer is known to no one until a future time, appears to work quite well. Recent experiments suggest that if there is a psychic sense then it works much like our other five senses, by detecting change. Given that physicists are currently grappling with an understanding of time, it may be that a psychic sense exists that scans the future for major change, much as our eyes scan the environment
for visual change or our ears allow us to respond to sudden changes in sound.

It is recommended that future experiments focus on understanding how this phenomenon works, and on how to make it as useful as possible. There is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof, since there is little more to be offered to anyone who does not accept the current collection of data.


ARTICLE

1. INTRODUCTION

The purpose of this report is to examine a body of evidence collected over the past few decades in an attempt to determine whether or not psychic functioning is possible. Secondary questions include whether or not such functioning can be used productively for government purposes, and whether or not the research to date provides any explanation for how it works.

There is no reason to treat this area differently from any other area of science that relies on statistical methods. Any discussion based on belief should be limited to questions that are not data-driven, such as whether or not there are any methodological problems that could substantially alter the results. It is too often the case that people on both sides of the question debate the existence of psychic functioning on the basis of their personal belief systems rather than on an examination of the scientific data.

One objective of this report is to provide a brief overview of recent data as well as the scientific tools necessary for a careful reader to reach his or her own conclusions based on that data. The tools consist of a rudimentary overview of how statistical evidence is typically evaluated, and a listing of methodological concerns particular to experiments of this type.

Government-sponsored research in psychic functioning dates back to the early 1970s when a program was initiated at what was then the Stanford Research Institute, now called SRI International. That program was in existence until 1989. The following year, government sponsorship moved to a program at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) under the direction of Dr. Edwin May, who had been employed in the SRI program since the mid 1970s and had been Project Director from 1986 until the close of the program.

This report will focus most closely on the most recent work, done by SAIC. Section 2 describes the basic statistical and methodological issues required to understand this work; Section 3 discusses the program at SRI; Section 4 covers the SAIC work (with some of the details in an Appendix); Section 5 is concerned with external validation by exploring related results from other laboratories; Section 6 includes a discussion of the usefulness of this capability for government purposes and Section 7 provides conclusions and recommendations.

2. SCIENCE NOTES

2.1 Definitions and Research Procedures

There are two basic types of functioning that are generally considered under the broad heading of psychic or paranormal abilities. These are classically known as extrasensory perception (ESP), in which one acquires information through unexplainable means and psychokinesis, in which one physically manipulates the environment through unknown means. The SAIC laboratory uses more neutral terminology for these abilities; they refer to ESP as anomalous cognition (AC) and to psychokinesis as anomalous perturbation (AP) . The vast majority of work at both SRI and SAIC investigated anomalous cognition rather than anomalous perturbation, although there was some work done on the latter.

Anomalous cognition is further divided into categories based on the apparent source of the information. If it appears to come from another person, the ability is called telepathy, if it appears to come in real time but not from another person it is called clairvoyance and if the information could have only been obtained by knowledge of the future, it is called precognition.

It is possible to identify apparent precognition by asking someone to describe something for which the correct answer isn't known until later in time. It is more difficult to rule out precognition in experiments attempting to test telepathy or clairvoyance, since it is almost impossible to be sure that subjects in such experiments never see the correct answer at some point in the future. These distinctions are important in the quest to identify an explanation for anomalous cognition, but do not bear on the existence issue.

The vast majority of anomalous cognition experiments at both SRI and SAIC used a technique known as remote viewing. In these experiments, a viewer attempts to draw or describe (or both) a target location, photograph, object or short video segment. All known channels for receiving the information are blocked. Sometimes the viewer is assisted by a monitor who asks the viewer questions; of course in such cases the monitor is blind to the answer as well. Sometimes a sender is looking at the target during the session, but sometimes there is no sender. In most cases the viewer eventually receives feedback in which he or she learns the correct answer, thus making it difficult to rule out precognition as the explanation for positive results, whether or not there was a sender.

Most anomalous cognition experiments at SRI and SAIC were of the free-response type, in which viewers were simply asked to describe the target. In contrast, a forced-choice experiment is one in which there are a small number of known choices from which the viewer must choose. The latter may be easier to evaluate statistically but they have been traditionally less successful than free-response experiments. Some of the work done at SAIC addresses potential explanations for why that might be the case.

2.2 Statistical Issues and Definitions

Few human capabilities are perfectly replicable on demand. For example, even the best hitters in the major baseball leagues cannot hit on demand. Nor can we predict when someone will hit or when they will score a home run. In fact, we cannot even predict whether or not a home run will occur in a particular game. That does not mean that home runs don't exist.

Scientific evidence in the statistical realm is based on replication of the same average performance or relationship over the long run. We would not expect a fair coin to result in five heads and five tails over each set of ten tosses, but we can expect the proportion of heads and tails to settle down to about one half over a very long series of tosses. Similarly, a good baseball hitter will not hit the ball exactly the same proportion of times in each game but should be relatively consistent over the long run.

The same should be true of psychic functioning. Even if there truly is an effect, it may never be replicable on demand in the short run even if we understand how it works. However, over the long run in well-controlled laboratory experiments we should see a consistent level of functioning, above that expected by chance. The anticipated level of functioning may vary based on the individual players and the conditions, just as it does in baseball, but given players of similar ability tested under similar conditions the results should be replicable over the long run. In this report we will show that replicability in that sense has been achieved.

2.2.1 P-values and Comparison with Chance . In any area of science, evidence based on statistics comes from comparing what actually happened to what should have happened by chance. For instance, without any special interventions about 51 percent of births in the United States result in boys. Suppose someone claimed to have a method that enabled one to increase the chances of having a baby of the desired sex. We could study their method by comparing how often births resulted in a boy when that was the intended outcome. If that percentage was higher than the chance percentage of 51 percent over the long run, then the claim would have been supported by statistical evidence.

Statisticians have developed numerical methods for comparing results to what is expected by chance. Upon observing the results of an experiment, the p-value is the answer to the following question: If chance alone is responsible for the results, how likely would we be to observe results this strong or stronger? If the answer to that question, i.e. the p-value is very small, then most researchers are willing to rule out chance as an explanation. In fact it is commonly accepted practice to say that if the p-value is 5 percent (0.05) or less, then we can rule out chance as an explanation. In such cases, the results are said to be statistically significant. Obviously the smaller the p-value, the more convincingly chance can be ruled out.

Notice that when chance alone is at work, we erroneously find a statistically significant result about 5 percent of the time. For this reason and others, most reasonable scientists require replication of non-chance results before they are convinced that chance can be ruled out.

2.2.2 Replication and Effect Sizes. In the past few decades scientists have realized that true replication of experimental results should focus on the magnitude of the effect, or the effect size rather than on replication of the p-value . This is because the latter is heavily dependent on the size of the study. In a very large study, it will take only a small magnitude effect to convincingly rule out chance. In a very small study, it would take a huge effect to convincingly rule out chance.

In our hypothetical sex-determination experiment, suppose 70 out of 100 births designed to be boys actually resulted in boys, for a rate of 70 percent instead of the 51 percent expected by chance. The experiment would have a p-value of 0.0001, quite convincingly ruling out chance. Now suppose someone attempted to replicate the experiment with only ten births and found 7 boys, i.e also 70 percent. The smaller experiment would have a p-value of 0.19, and would not be statistically significant. If we were simply to focus on that issue, the result would appear to be a failure to replicate the original result, even though it achieved exactly the same 70 percent boys! In only ten births it would require 90 percent of them to be boys before chance could be ruled out. Yet the 70 percent rate is a more exact replication of the result than the 90 percent.

Therefore, while p-values should be used to assess the overall evidence for a phenomenon, they should not be used to define whether or not a replication of an experimental result was "successful." Instead, a successful replication should be one that achieves an effect that is within expected statistical variability of the original result, or that achieves an even stronger effect for explainable reasons.

A number of different effect size measures are in use in the social sciences, but in this report we will focus on the one used most often in remote viewing at SRI and SAIC. Because the definition is somewhat technical it is given in Appendix 1. An intuitive explanation will be given in the next subsection. Here, we note that an effect size of 0 is consistent with chance, and social scientists have, by convention, declared an effect size of 0.2 as small, 0.5 as medium and 0.8 as large. A medium effect size is supposed to be visible to the naked eye of a careful observer, while a large effect size is supposed to be evident to any observer.

2.2.3 Randomness and Rank-Order Judging . At the heart of any statistical method is a definition of what should happen "randomly" or "by chance." Without a random mechanism, there can be no statistical evaluation.

There is nothing random about the responses generated in anomalous cognition experiments; in other words, there is no way to define what they would look like "by chance." Therefore, the random mechanism in these experiments must be in the choice of the target. In that way, we can compare the response to the target and answer the question: "If chance alone is at work, what is the probability that a target would be chosen that matches this response as well as or better than does the actual target?"

In order to accomplish this purpose, a properly conducted experiment uses a set of targets defined in advance. The target for each remote viewing is then selected randomly, in such a way that the probability of getting each possible target is known.

The SAIC remote viewing experiments and all but the early ones at SRI used a statistical evaluation method known as rank-order judging. After the completion of a remote viewing, a judge who is blind to the true target (called a blind judge) is shown the response and five potential targets, one of which is the correct answer and the other four of which are "decoys." Before the experiment is conducted each of those five choices must have had an equal chance of being selected as the actual target. The judge is asked to assign a rank to each of the possible targets, where a rank of one means it matches the response most closely, and a rank of five means it matches the least.

The rank of the correct target is the numerical score for that remote viewing. By chance alone the actual target would receive each of the five ranks with equal likelihood, since despite what the response said the target matching it best would have the same chance of selection as the one matching it second best and so on. The average rank by chance would be three. Evidence for anomalous cognition occurs when the average rank over a series of trials is significantly lower than three. (Notice that a rank of one is the best possible score for each viewing.)

This scoring method is conservative in the sense that it gives no extra credit for an excellent match. A response that describes the target almost perfectly will achieve the same rank of one as a response that contains only enough information to pick the target as the best choice out of the five possible choices. One advantage of this method is that it is still valid even if the viewer knows the set of possible targets. The probability of a first place match by chance would still be only one in five. This is important because the later SRI and many of the SAIC experiments used the same large set of National Geographic photographs as targets. Therefore, the experienced viewers would eventually become familiar with the range of possibilities since they were usually shown the answer at the end of each remote viewing session.

For technical reasons explained in Appendix 1, the effect size for a series of remote viewings using rank-order judging with five choices is (3.0 - average rank)/Ö2. Therefore, small, medium and large effect sizes (0.2, 0.5 and 0.8) correspond to average ranks of 2.72, 2.29 and 1.87, respectively. Notice that the largest effect size possible using this method is 1.4, which would result if every remote viewing achieved a first place ranking.

2.3 Methodological Issues

One of the challenges in designing a good experiment in any area of science is to close the loopholes that would allow explanations other than the intended one to account for the results.

There are a number of places in remote viewing experiment where information could be conveyed by normal means if proper precautions are not taken. The early SRI experiments suffered from some of those problems, but the later SRI experiments and the SAIC work were done with reasonable methodological rigor, with some exceptions noted in the detailed descriptions of the SAIC experiments in Appendix 2.

The following list of methodological issues shows the variety of concerns that must be addressed. It should be obvious that a well-designed experiment requires careful thought and planning:

No one who has knowledge of the specific target should have any contact with the viewer until after the response has been safely secured.

No one who has knowledge of the specific target or even of whether or not the session was successful should have any contact with the judge until after that task has been completed.

No one who has knowledge of the specific target should have access to the response until after the judging has been completed.

Targets and decoys used in judging should be selected using a well-tested randomization device.

Duplicate sets of targets photographs should be used, one during the experiment and one during the judging, so that no cues (like fingerprints) can be inserted onto the target that would help the judge recognize it.

The criterion for stopping an experiment should be defined in advance so that it is not called to a halt when the results just happen to be favorable. Generally, that means specifying the number of trials in advance, but some statistical procedures require or allow other stopping rules. The important point is that the rule be defined in advance in such a way that there is no ambiguity about when to stop.

Reasons, if any, for excluding data must be defined in advance and followed consistently, and should not be dependent on the data. For example, a rule specifying that a trial could be aborted if the viewer felt ill would be legitimate, but only if the trial was aborted before anyone involved in that decision knew the correct target.
Statistical analyses to be used must be planned in advance of collecting the data so that a method most favorable to the data isn't selected post hoc. If multiple methods of analysis are used the corresponding conclusions must recognize that fact.

2.4 Prima Facie Evidence

According to Webster's Dictionary, in law prima facie evidence is "evidence having such a degree of probability that it must prevail unless the contrary be proved." There are a few examples of applied, non-laboratory remote viewings provided to the review team that would seem to meet that criterion for evidence. These are examples in which the sponsor or another government client asked for a single remote viewing of a site, known to the requestor in real time or in the future, and the viewer provided details far beyond what could be taken as a reasonable guess. Two such examples are given by May (1995) in which it appears that the results were so striking that they far exceed the phenomenon as observed in the laboratory. Using a post hoc analysis, Dr. May concluded that in one of the cases the remote viewer was able to describe a microwave generator with 80 percent accuracy, and that of what he said almost 70 percent of it was reliable. Laboratory remote viewings rarely show that level of correspondence.

Notice that standard statistical methods cannot be used in these cases because there is no standard for probabilistic comparison. But evidence gained from applied remote viewing cannot be dismissed as inconsequential just because we cannot assign specific probabilities to the results. It is most important to ascertain whether or not the information was achievable in other standard ways. In Section 3 an example is given in which a remote viewer allegedly gave codewords from a secret facility that he should not have even known existed. Suppose the sponsors could be absolutely certain that the viewer could not have known about those codewords through normal means. Then even if we can't assign an exact probability to the fact that he guessed them correctly, we can agree that it would be very small. That would seem to constitute prima facie evidence unless an alternative explanation could be found. Similarly, the viewer who described the microwave generator allegedly knew only that the target was a technical site in the United States. Yet, he drew and described the microwave generator, including its function, its approximate size, how it was housed and that it had "a beam divergence angle of 30 degrees" (May, 1995, p. 15).

Anecdotal reports of psychic functioning suffer from a similar problem in terms of their usefulness as proof. They have the additional difficulty that the "response" isn't even well-defined in advance, unlike in applied remote viewing where the viewer provides a fixed set of information on request. For instance, if a few people each night happen to dream of plane crashes, then some will obviously do so on the night before a major plane crash. Those individuals may interpret the coincidental timing as meaningful. This is undoubtedly the reason many people think the reality of psychic functioning is a matter of belief rather than science, since they are more familiar with the provocative anecdotes than with the laboratory evidence.

3. THE SRI ERA

3.1 Early Operational Successes and Evaluation

According to Puthoff and Targ (1975) the scientific research endeavor at SRI may never have been supported had it not been for three apparent operational successes in the early days of the program. These are detailed by Puthoff and Targ (1975), although the level of the matches is not clearly delineated.

One of the apparent successes concerned the "West Virginia Site" in which two remote viewers purportedly identified an underground secret facility. One of them apparently named codewords and personnel in this facility accurately enough that it set off a security investigation to determine how that information could have been leaked. Based only on the coordinates of the site, the viewer first described the above ground terrain, then proceeded to describe details of the hidden underground site.

The same viewer then claimed that he could describe a similar Communist Bloc site and proceeded to do so for a site in the Urals. According to Puthoff and Targ "the two reports for the West Virginia Site, and the report for the Urals Site were verified by personnel in the sponsor organization as being substantially correct (p. 8)."

The third reported operational success concerned an accurate description of a large crane and other information at a site in Semipalatinsk, USSR. Again the viewer was provided with only the geographic coordinates of the site and was asked to describe what was there.

Although some of the information in these examples was verified to be highly accurate, the evaluation of operational work remains difficult, in part because there is no chance baseline for comparison (as there is in controlled experiments) and in part because of differing expectations of different evaluators. For example, a government official who reviewed the Semipalatinsk work concluded that there was no way the remote viewer could have drawn the large gantry crane unless "he actually saw it through remote viewing, or he was informed of what to draw by someone knowledgeable of [the site]." Yet that same analyst concluded that "the remote viewing of [the site] by subject S1 proved to be unsuccessful" because "the only positive evidence of the rail-mounted gantry crane was far outweighed by the large amount of negative evidence noted in the body of this analysis." In other words, the analyst had the expectation that in order to be "successful" a remote viewing should contain accurate information only.

Another problem with evaluating this operational work is that there is no way to know with certainty that the subject did not speak with someone who had knowledge of the site, however unlikely that possibility may appear. Finally, we do not know to what degree the results in the reports were selectively chosen because they were correct. These problems can all be avoided with well designed controlled experiments.

3.2 The Early Scientific Effort at SRI

During 1974 and early 1975 a number of controlled experiments were conducted to see if various types of target material could be successfully described with remote viewing. The results reported by Puthoff and Targ (1975) indicated success with a wide range of material, from "technical" targets like a xerox machine to natural settings, like a swimming pool. But these and some of the subsequent experiments were criticized on statistical and methodological grounds; we briefly describe one of the experiments and criticisms of it to show the kinds of problems that existed in the early scientific effort.

The largest series during in the 1973 to 1975 time period involved remote viewing of natural sites. Sites were randomly selected for each trial from a set of 100 possibilities. They were selected "without replacement," meaning that sites were not reused once they had been selected. The series included eight viewers, including two supplied by the sponsor. Many of the descriptions showed a high degree of subjective correspondence, and the overall statistical results were quite striking for most of the viewers.

Critics attacked these experiments on a number of issues, including the selection of sites without replacement and the statistical scoring method used. The results were scored by having a blind judge attempt to match the target material with the transcripts of the responses. A large fraction of the matches were successful. But critics noted that some successful matching could be attained just from cues contained in the transcripts of the material, like when a subject mentioned in one session what the target had been in the previous session. Because sites were selected without replacement, knowing what the answer was on one day would exclude that target site from being the answer on any other day. There was no way to determine the extent to which these problems influenced the results. The criticisms of these and subsequent experiments, while perhaps unwelcome at the time, have resulted in substantially improved methodology in these experiments.

3.3 An Overall Analysis of the SRI Experiments: 1973-1988

In 1988 an analysis was made of all of the experiments conducted at SRI from 1973 until that time (May et al, 1988). The analysis was based on all 154 experiments conducted during that era, consisting of over 26,000 individual trials. Of those, almost 20,000 were of the forced choice type and just over a thousand were laboratory remote viewings. There were a total of 227 subjects in all experiments.

The statistical results were so overwhelming that results that extreme or more so would occur only about once in every 10 to the 20th such instances if chance alone is the explanation (i.e., the p-value was less than 10-20 (10 to the power -20)). Obviously some explanation other than chance must be found. Psychic functioning may not be the only possibility, especially since some of the earlier work contained methodological problems. However, the fact that the same level of functioning continued to hold in the later experiments, which did not contain those flaws, lends support to the idea that the methodological problems cannot account for the results. In fact, there was a talented group of subjects (labeled G1 in that report) for whom the effects were stronger than for the group at large. According to Dr. May, the majority of experiments with that group were conducted later in the program, when the methodology had been substantially improved.

In addition to the statistical results, a number of other questions and patterns were examined. A summary of the results revealed the following:

1. "Free response" remote viewing, in which subjects describe a target, was much more successful than "forced choice" experiments, in which subjects were asked to choose from a small set of possibilities.

2. There was a group of six selected individuals whose performance far exceeded that of unselected subjects. The fact that these same selected individuals consistently performed better than others under a variety of protocols provides a type of replicability that helps substantiate the validity of the results. If methodological problems were responsible for the results, they should not have affected this group differently from others.

3. Mass-screening efforts found that about one percent of those who volunteered to be tested were consistently successful at remote viewing. This indicates that remote viewing is an ability that differs across individuals, much like athletic ability or musical talent. (Results of mass screenings were not included in the formal analysis because the conditions were not well-controlled, but the subsequent data from subjects found during mass-screening were included.)

4. Neither practice nor a variety of training techniques consistently worked to improve remote viewing ability. It appears that it is easier to find than to train good remote viewers.

5. It is not clear whether or not feedback (showing the subject the right answer) is necessary, but it does appear to provide a psychological boost that may increase performance.

6. Distance between the target and the subject does not seem to impact the quality of the remote viewing.

7. Electromagnetic shielding does not appear to inhibit performance.

8. There is compelling evidence that precognition, in which the target is selected after the subject has given the description, is also successful.

9. There is no evidence to support anomalous perturbation (psychokinesis), i.e. physical interaction with the environment by psychic means.

3.4 Consistency with Other Laboratories in the Same Era

One of the hallmarks of a real phenomenon is that its magnitude is replicable by various researchers working under similar conditions. The results of the overall SRI analysis are consistent with results of similar experiments in other laboratories. For instance, an overview of forced choice precognition experiments (Honorton and Ferrari, 1989) found an average "effect size" per experimenter of 0.033, whereas all forced choice experiments at SRI resulted in a similar effect size of .052. The comparison is not ideal since the SRI forced choice experiments were not necessarily precognitive and they used different types of target material than the standard card-guessing experiments.

Methodologically sound remote viewing has not been undertaken at other laboratories, but a similar regime called the ganzfeld (described in more detail in Section 5) has shown to be similarly successful. The largest collection of ganzfeld experiments was conducted from 1983 to 1989 at the Psychophysical Research Laboratories in Princeton, NJ. Those experiments were also reported by separating novices from experienced subjects. The overall effect size for novice remote viewing at SRI was 0.164, while the effect size for novices in the ganzfeld at PRL was a very similar 0.17. For experienced remote viewers at SRI the overall effect size was 0.385; for experienced viewers in the ganzfeld experiments it was 0.35. These consistent results across laboratories help refute the idea that the successful experiments at any one lab are the result of fraud, sloppy protocols or some methodological problem and also provide an indication of what can be expected in future experiments.

4. THE SAIC ERA

4.1 An Overview

The review team decided to focus more intensively on the experiments conducted at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), because they provide a manageable yet varied set to examine in detail. They were guided by a Scientific Oversight Committee consisting of experts in a variety of disciplines, including a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics, internationally known professors of statistics, psychology, neuroscience and astronomy and a medical doctor who is a retired U.S. Army Major General. Further, we have access to the details for the full set of SAIC experiments, unlike for the set conducted at SRI. Whatever details may be missing from the written reports are obtainable from the principal investigator, Dr. Edwin May, to whom we have been given unlimited access.

In a memorandum dated July 25, 1995, Dr. Edwin May listed the set of experiments conducted by SAIC. There were ten experiments, all designed to answer questions about psychic functioning, raised by the work at SRI and other laboratories, rather than just to provide additional proof of its existence. Some of the experiments were of a similar format to the remote viewing experiments conducted at SRI and we can examine those to see whether or not they replicated the SRI results. We will also examine what new knowledge can be gained from the results of the SAIC work.

4.2 The Ten Experiments

Of the ten experiments done at SAIC, six of them involved remote viewing and four did not. Rather than list the details in the body of this report, Appendix 2 gives a brief description of the experiments. What follows is a discussion of the methodology and results for the experiments as a whole. Because of the fundamental differences between remote viewing and the other types of experiments, we discuss them separately.

In the memorandum of 25 July 1995, Dr. May provided the review team with details of the ten experiments, including a short title, number of trials, effect size and overall p-value for each one. His list was in time sequence. It is reproduced in Table 1, using his numbering system, with the experiments categorized by type, then sequentially within type. The effect size estimates are based on a limited number of trials, so they are augmented with an interval to show the probable range of the true effect (e.g. .124+/-.071 indicates a range from .053 to .195). Remember that an effect size of 0 represents chance, while a positive effect size indicates positive results.


      


Assessing the Remote Viewing Experiments by Homogeneous Sets of Sessions


While Table 1 provides an overall assessment of the results of each experiment, it does so at the expense of information about variability among viewers and types of targets. In terms of understanding the phenomenon, it is important to break the results down into units that are as homogeneous as possible in terms of procedure, individual viewer and type of target. This is also important in order to assess the impact of any potential methodological problems. For example, in one pilot experiment (E6, AC in Lucid Dreams) viewers were permitted to take the targets home with them in sealed envelopes. Table 2 presents the effect size results at the most homogeneous level possible based on the information provided. For descriptions of the experiments, refer to Appendix 2. Overall effect sizes for each viewer and total effect sizes for each experiment are weighted according to the number of trials, so each trial receives equal weight.




4.4 Consistency and Replicability of the Remote Viewing Results

One of the most important hallmarks of science is replicability. A phenomenon with statistical variability, whether it is scoring home runs in baseball, curing a disease with chemotherapy or observing psychic functioning, should exhibit about the same level of success in the long run, over repeated experiments of a similar nature. The remote viewing experiments are no exception. Remember that such events should not replicate with any degree of precision in the short run because of statistical variability, just as we would not expect to always get five heads and five tails if we flip a coin ten times, or see the same batting averages in every game.

The analysis of SRI experiments conducted in 1988 singled out the laboratory remote viewing sessions performed by six "expert" remote viewers, numbers 002, 009, 131, 372, 414 and 504. These six individuals contributed 196 sessions. The resulting effect size was 0.385 (May et al, 1988, p. 13). The SRI analysis does not include information individually by viewer, nor does it include information about how many of the 196 sessions used static versus dynamic targets. One report provided to the review team (May, Lantz and Piantineda, 1994) included an additional experiment conducted after the 1988 review was performed, in which Viewer 009 participated with 40 sessions. The effect size for Viewer 009 for those sessions was .363. None of the other six SRI experts were participants.

The same subject identifying numbers were used at SAIC, so we can compare the performance for these individuals at SRI and SAIC. Of the six, three were specifically mentioned as participating in the SAIC remote viewing experiments. As can be seen in Table 2, viewers 009, 131 and 372 all participated in Experiment 1 and viewers 009 and 372 participated in Experiments 4, 9 and 10 as well.

The overall effect sizes for two of the three, viewers 009 and 372, were very close to the SRI effect size of 0.385 for these subjects, at .35 and .34, respectively, and the .35 effect size for Viewer 009 was very similar to his .363 effect size in the report by May, Lantz and Piantineda (1994). Therefore, we see a repeated and, more importantly, hopefully a repeatable level of functioning above chance for these individuals. An effect of this size should be reliable enough to be sustained in any properly conducted experiment with enough trials to obtain the long run statistical replicability required to rule out chance.

It is also important to notice that viewers 009 and 372 did well on the same experiments and poorly on the same experiments. In fact the correlation between their effect sizes across experiments is .901, which is very close to a perfect correlation of 1.0. This kind of consistency warrants investigation to determine whether it is the nature of the experiments, a statistical fluke or some methodological problems that led these two individuals to perform so closely to one another. If methodological problems are responsible, then they must be subtle indeed because the methodology was similar for many of the experiments, yet the results were not. For instance, procedures for the sessions with static and dynamic targets in Experiment 1 were almost identical to each other, yet the dynamic targets did not produce evidence of psychic functioning (p-value = .50) and the static targets did (p-value = .0073). Therefore, a methodological problem would have had to differentially effect results for the two types of targets, even though the assignment of target type was random across sessions.

4.5 Methodological Issues in the Remote Viewing Experiments at SAIC

As noted in Section 2.3, there are a number of methodological considerations needed to perform a careful remote viewing experiment. Information necessary to determine how well each of these were addressed is generally available in the reports, but in some instances I consulted Dr. May for additional information. As an example of how the methodological issues in Section 2.3 were addressed, an explanation will be provided for Experiment 1.

In this experiment the viewers all worked from their homes (in New York, Kansas, California, and Virginia). Dr. Nevin Lantz, who resided in Pennsylvania, was the principal investigator. After each session, viewers faxed their response to Dr. Lantz and mailed the original to SAIC. Upon receipt of the fax, Dr. Lantz mailed the correct answer to the viewer. The viewers were supposed to mail their original responses to SAIC immediately, after faxing them to Dr. Lantz. According to Dr. May, the faxed versions were later compared with the originals to make sure the originals were sent without any changes. Here are how the other methodological issues in Section 2.3 were handled:
No one who has knowledge of the specific target should have any contact with the viewer until after the response has been safely secured.

No one involved with the experiment had any contact with the viewers, since they were not in the vicinity of either SAIC or Dr. Lantz's home in Pennsylvania.
No one who has knowledge of the specific target or even of whether or not the session was successful should have any contact with the judge until after that task has been completed.

Dr. Lantz and the individual viewers were the only ones who knew the correct answers, but according to Dr. May, they did not have any contact with the judge during the period of this experiment.
No one who has knowledge of the specific target should have access to the response until after the judging has been completed.

Again, since only the viewers and Dr. Lantz knew the correct target, and since the responses were mailed to SAIC by the viewers before they received the answers, this condition appears to have been met.
Targets and decoys used in judging should be selected using a well-tested randomization device.

This has been standard practice at both SRI and SAIC.
Duplicate sets of targets photographs should be used, one during the experiment and one during the judging, so that no cues (like fingerprints) can be inserted onto the target that would help the judge recognize it.

This was done; Dr. Lantz maintained the set used during the experiment while the set used for judging was kept at SAIC in California.
The criterion for stopping an experiment should be defined in advance so that it is not called to a halt when the results just happen to be favorable. Generally, that means specifying the number of trials in advance, but some statistical procedures require other stopping rules. The important point is that the rule be defined in advance in such a way that there is no ambiguity about when to stop.

In advance it was decided that each viewer would contribute 40 trials, ten under each of four conditions (all combinations of sender/no sender and static/dynamic). All sessions were completed.
Reasons, if any, for excluding data must be defined in advance and followed consistently, and should not be dependent on the data. For example, a rule specifying that a trial could be aborted if the viewer felt ill would be legitimate, but only if the trial was aborted before anyone involved in that decision knew the correct target.

No such reasons were given, nor was there any mention of any sessions being aborted or discarded.
Statistical analyses to be used must be planned in advance of collecting the data so that a method most favorable to the data isn't selected post hoc. If multiple methods of analysis are used the corresponding conclusions must recognize that fact.

The standard rank-order judging had been planned, with results reported separately for each of the four conditions in the experiment for each viewer. Thus, 20 effect sizes were reported, four for each of the five viewers.

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