Friday, July 8, 2011

The Bem Experiments

Been wanting to get to this one for a couple weeks.  I have only an hour flight from San Jose to LA so I settled down with James Alcock's article about Daryl Bem's "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect."   Several IIG people had been talking about this excellent review by Alcock and I knew I would need some uninterrupted time to sit and understand what I was reading.

The IIG were right, it is an excellent critique by Alcock, and I understood almost all of it once I started underlining and taking notes in the margin of the magazine.

So here is is several weeks later and I have a few minutes before I leave for work and want to pop it into the Daryl Bem Wikipedia article.  Guess what someone has beat me to it!  Awesome.  This person left it before it became published in SI but gave the SI citation (this will be published in the March/April 2011 issue)

So I cleaned that reference up (guess they forgot to go back and take it out) and then added what I wrote on the plane.

Who ever did the first blurb didn't quote Alcock, only just stated the facts. This is just a matter of editors style choice.  I think it makes for an interesting comparison between styles.  I'm a quoter.  I want to bring as much of the original article writer's "personality" into my blurb as possible.  Wikipedia is only about facts, but we don't want it so dry that someone reading the page will not want to follow up on reading the article that is on-line at SI (just click on the link cited).  What I added is in Red. 

"Feeling the Future" and the resulting controversy

In 2011, Bem published the article "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect" in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that offered statistical evidence for psi.[12] If "Feeling the Future" is correct, it would provide evidence for psi, significantly altering the assumption of the linear nature of time, challenging the very core of modern scientific thought on the matter. Both the presentation of this article by a highly respected researcher, and the decision of an upper tier journal to publish it has engendered much controversy. Not only has the paper's publication led to a criticism of the paper itself[13], but it also prompted a wider debate on the validity of peer review process for allowing such a paper to be published.[14] Bem has appeared on MSNBC [15] and the Colbert Report [16] discussing the experiment.

The methods that Bem uses in his experimentation itself has been viewed as controversial as well. According to understood statistical methodology, Bem incorrectly provides one-sided p values when he should have used a two-sided p values.[17] This could possibly account for the marginally significant results that he produced in his experiment.

Professor of Psychology, member of CSI and Skeptical Inquirer Magazine, James Alcock after evaluating Bem's 9 experiments finds metaphorically "dirty test tubes" Serious methodological flaws exist throughout including changing the procedures partway through the experiments. Combining results of all tests that had a 50% chance of significance with tests that had a 33% chance. The amount of actual tests done is unknown and no explanation of how it was determined that participants had "settled down" after seeing erotic images. Alcock concludes that almost everything that could go wrong with this 9 trial experiment did go wrong. "Parapsychology is not honored by having this paper accepted by a mainstream psychology journal."

One of the nine experiments in Bem's study ('Retroactive Facilitation of Recall') has since been replicated by scientists Stuart Ritchie, Chris French, and Richard Wiseman who found no evidence of precognition. Wiseman has also set up a register to keep track of other replicating efforts. The meta-analysis on registered replication efforts will begin on Dec, 1st 2011.

So none of what is written is incorrect.  Again how you write your blurb is entirely up to you.  Styles differ between editors, and you will find your style as you do more editing and grow confident.  You will also note that the original editor did not hyperlink to James Alcock, SI Magazine or CSI, its all about using each other as resources.  I also added the hyperlink to psychology to give Alcock more creds (it is a psychology journal afterall). 

It is pretty lengthy even before I added my blurb.  But no one seems to be complaining (at least not yet) and if other editors want to change things that's fine with me.  I have it on my watch list.


  1. ...Trying to avoid this comment sounding like comment spam while simultaneously avoiding criticizing the blog without making it clear that I think it's a very worthy blog...

    I stumbled across this blog via some other critical thinking/ skeptical blog, and I've added it to my list of semi regularly visited blogs, but it lacks a few typical blog features that would make it easier to read and navigate:

    No list of recent posts
    No chronological index/history of posts(monthly archive)
    No search function
    No subject index
    No list of recent comments (no big deal for now as there doesn't appear to be much/any commenting)

    As it is, this blog layout isn't very conducive to reading more than the 2 or 3 most recent posts.

  2. Thank you for your feedback Karl. I hope you (and the other readers) like the changes I have done to the page. I want to make the blog as comfortable as possible.

    I decided that I didn't want to add recent comments as it was just too much. The "conversations" we have I think are better left under the blog it was written for.