[ExI] Beating on the closed door of SCIENCE
thespike at satx.rr.com
Sun Sep 7 03:26:03 UTC 2008
My friend Dr. Edwin May, former scientific director of the US
government anomalies project known as STAR GATE, has continued his
work since the project was shut down. Recently, at the annual
Parapsychology Association conference, he detailed an interesting
experience, and with his kind permission here it is (very slightly edited):
Another problem that relates to respectability is publishing our good
experimental results and speculative theories in mainstream journals.
While there are a few exceptions to this rule, mainly by brave
well-known authors, most mainstream journals have a significant psi
filter and generally will reject papers a priori by not sending them
out for review.
Probably this observation needs no examples, but I will provide one
that may be illuminating.
A few years ago, my colleague, James Spottiswoode, and I conducted a
complex but highly successful psychophysiology experiment we call
prestimulus response. We extended and improved the concept of
presentiment in that by using acoustic startle stimuli as opposed to
the cognitive affective stimuli, we removed a source of confound
because of an obvious idiosyncratic response to various photographs.
In addition, we substantially simplified the type of response we were
looking for. As a result, we found nearly twice as many 3.5 second
prestimulus regions that contained the defined skin conductance
response prior to the acoustic stimuli than during the same length
region prior to a silent control. Statistically this turned out to be
a z-score of 5.08 with 100 participants.
We wrote a paper of 2,500 words aimed as a report for Science. We
passed drafts of it to our colleagues and to a number of world-class
professionals in the psychophysical research world. As a result, the
final draft was as flawless as was possible--a natural candidate for
publication in a mainstream journal.
Knowing that if I sent in the manuscript cold, it would have zero
chance of even being sent out for formal review, I asked a number of
mainstream colleagues if they knew anyone on the editorial board at
Science so that they could put in a strong word to let our paper go
out for review. To an individual, they all complained that not only
did they not know anyone there but they, too, had troubles getting
their own work published in Science. So I had to go it alone.
...My goal in a two page letter was to first establish my own bona
fides, then in a sense embarrass [the then Editor in Chief] with a
Type II argument. That is, just because I do not have a recognized
academic position (i.e., a technically unknown person); just because
I do not work at a recognized institution; and, just because I work
in a controversial field does not mean, therefore, that my research
is wrong. In addition, I sided with him in that I understood his
problem of little space and far too many worthy things to publish.
However, I offered a solution. He should invite me to give a talk at
Stanford on this work and if the consensus was that my work was good
science, only then would he offer to send the manuscript off for
review and I would happily abide by the reviewers' remarks. I sent
the letter off via regular post with half an expectation that I would
never hear back. Much to my pleasant surprise I received the
following a week or so later:
"Thank you very much for your letter of June 5. Your background is
obviously deserving of respect, and I'd like to be helpful. But the
idea of marshalling a critical audience to hear you present your
experiments seems a difficult and time-consuming way of dealing with
what amounts to a pre-submission request. So I think that's asking
too much, but I'll certainly look at something if you want to send it
to me as an e-mail attachment or in some other way.
"Perhaps I should add that my personal history - dating back to the
Rhine experiments in the 50s.- I'm pretty skeptical in this area."
I sent him the manuscript, hard copies of the major references with a
paragraph describing each of them, and a short list of mainstream
scientists who were recognized authorities in psychophysiology all of
whom had agreed to be listed as references. For the next nine months
or so, I had a number of post mail exchanges with [him] with all his
responses on Stanford University letterhead.
Finally, I received the following on the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS) letterhead:
"Dear Dr. May, During your absence, I've had a chance to circulate
your proposal around. I'm afraid that the view here is that we will
not send it out for in-depth review. I was glad to be of some
assistance to you in getting it evaluated, and grateful for your
interest in Science.
It is difficult to understand his response. While it is very tempting
to invoke some kind of fear of psi argument, I think the true answer
is much more complex. Assuming [he] actually did pass the manuscript
around, then the only comments he received back may have been
ridiculing and/or ad hominem. It is particularly frustrating in that
our paper was rejected without any explanation whatsoever.
I am pessimistic that the best science we can offer, and this paper
was certainly among the best, was rejected in a non-scientific
way--too bad for science (with a lower case s) and for Science the
journal. It cheapens the processes. I have no... solution to this
challenge not of our making.
Note that May is not being treated by the editor in chief as a
crackpot with no credentials. Note also that he is given no
explanation at all for why his work is rejected, no opportunity to
repair any specified defects. Why not? Because his topic is...
Outside the Gates of Science. In both senses.
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