[ExI] Alcock on Bem in Skeptical Inquirer.

Stefano Vaj stefano.vaj at gmail.com
Mon Dec 6 23:30:14 UTC 2010

2010/12/6 John Clark <jonkc at bellsouth.net>

> Bullshit. The goal should be to find if proton decay exists, not to prove
> that it does. If you start out with the absolute certainty that proton decay
> exists then your only task is to find a formal proof of it so you can
> convince others. If you don't find proton decay in your experiments and its
> a metaphysical certitude that its there then the only logical conclusion is
> that there must be something wrong with the experiment, so you keep changing
> it until you find something that corresponds with your prejudice and makes
> you happy. That is not the way to do science but as I've said before if you
> want to find something that doesn't exist then a crappy experimenter will be
> much more successful than a good one.

This sounds very naive. The usual way of doing science is to pick a
hypothesis, because you have dreamt of it, or satisfy your aesthetical
sense, or simply is yours and nobody ever thought about it, and try to
confirm it.. If you have a metaphysical certitude you do not need to embark
in experiments at all. On the other hand, recent history of science is full
of more or less friendly rivalries, school partisans, and even
not-so-jocular bets. What's the big deal?

The trial system, e.g., works at its best when both parties' advocates are
competent and skilled and motivated, and do everything within a given set of
rules and on a level playing field to win their cases. Not when they are
supposed to try and reach an unlikely olympic indifference as to the outcome
of their debate.

But with psi and cold fusion there is such a enormously powerful visceral
> wish for it to be true that the true believers simply refuse to take "no" as
> an answer, so they demand that it be tested again, and again, and again, and
> again. In the case of psi this has been going on for CENTURIES, it's time to
> stop this ridiculous situation and say enough is enough.

This is an interesting sociological remark, but of little epistemological
relevance. One could reasonably object that limited public or private
fundings should not be wasted in pursuing human flight when past experience
did not make the idea especially plausible in spite of the obsession of a
few with the subject, but the psychological grounds of the latter did not
really tell us anything as to the merits or not of the research concerned.

But if something does not exist, no matter how much money and energy and
emotion and iterations are invested in searching it, the conclusion would
not change a iota, and a critical approach to experimental results showing
otherwise might even teach as something. On methodologies or statistics, if

Stefano Vaj
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