[ExI] Beating on the closed door of SCIENCE

Damien Broderick 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.

"Sincerely yours,"

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.

Damien Broderick 

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