Right, so there’s that article that’s going around, with various headlines about how precognition and psychic potential may actually be a Real Thing. I’m not gonna lie, the headline got me a little excited – I’m always up for a good scientific paradigm shift.
You could probably go to the trouble of googling the original study and figuring out for yourself whether it’s legit – but the important everyday skill1 is being able to tell from skimming the mainstream media’s version. Here’s how that went for me:
Points in Favor of it being Legit:
– The researcher in question is from Cornell.2
– “9 experiments were done with 1000 Cornell students”
– The headline of the Psychology Today ends in “?!?!”
– In the experiment with a 53% accuracy rate (in a 2-choice situation), only 100 students were used.
That’s right, the researcher claimed victory with 53 out of 100 students essentially correctly guessing a coin flip. In order for a 53% rate to be seen as being above 50% in a statistically significant way, you would have to use more than 10,000 subjects.3
Finally, a quote from another team of researchers in response to this paper: “”We reanalyze Bem’s data using a default Bayesian t-test and show that the evidence for psi is weak to nonexistent. We argue that in order to convince a skeptical audience of a controversial claim, one needs to conduct strictly confirmatory studies and analyze the results with statistical tests that are conservative rather than liberal. We conclude that Bem’s p-values do not indicate evidence in favor of precognition; instead, they indicate that experimental psychologists need to change the way they conduct their experiments and analyze their data.” “