[Paleopsych] Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: The Pentagon's psychic friends network

Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. ljohnson at solution-consulting.com
Sat Jul 2 20:14:45 UTC 2005

Frank, thanks for passing this on. Surely you will not go to hell, 
disbelief notwithstanding.

As I have come to expect from Shermer, the key argument is an outright 
lie, namely that there is no statistical support for remote viewing. See 
Jessica Utts' report, and contrast with Hyman's report which he decided 
upon before seeing the evidence. (Hyman is another skeptic who cannot be 
convinced by evidence). Even Hyman admits that the statistical evidence 
is very strong, but he still undermined the program.


Utts' own abstract says: "Using the standards applied to any other area 
of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well 
established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far 
beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be 
due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. 
Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored 
research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of 
laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily 
explained by claims of flaws or fraud."

I have the greatest of respect for the scientific method, and I am 
always disappointed by Shermer and his ilk that distort and lie in order 
to support their strict materialistic paradigm. It is inadequate to 
explain the data, so let's not collect any more data.

    "Sit down before fact like a small child, and be prepared to give up 
every preconceived notion and follow wherever and to whatever abyss 
nature lead, or you will learn nothing."
            -- T. S. Huxley

Other than that, I have no strong feelings.

Premise Checker wrote:

> The Pentagon's psychic friends network
> http://www.thebulletin.org/print.php?art_ofn=mj05shermer
> Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
>     The Men Who Stare at Goats
>     By Jon Ronson
>     Picador, 2004
>     278 pages; $24
>     By Michael Shermer
>     May/June 2005  pp. 60-61 (vol. 61, no. 03)
>     Allison was an attractive Oregonian brunette in a new ageish way,
>     before the new age bloomed in the 1980s. She wore all-natural fibers,
>     flowers in her hair, and nothing on her feet. But what most intrigued
>     me in our year of distance dating were Allison's spiritual gifts. I
>     knew she could see through me metaphorically, but Allison also saw
>     things that she said were not allegorical: body auras, energy 
> chakras,
>     spiritual entities, and light beings. One night she closed the door
>     and turned off the lights in my bathroom and told me to stare into 
> the
>     mirror until my aura appeared. During a drive one evening she pointed
>     out spiritual beings dotting the landscape. I tried to see the world
>     as Allison did, but I couldn't. I was a skeptic, and she was a
>     psychic.
>     This was the age of paranormal proliferation. While a graduate 
> student
>     in experimental psychology, I saw on television the Israeli psychic
>     Uri Geller bend cutlery and reproduce drawings using, so he said,
>     psychic powers alone. Since a number of experimental psychologists 
> had
>     tested Geller and declared him genuine, I began to think that there
>     might be something to it, even if I couldn't personally get with the
>     paranormal program. But then one night I saw the magician James "The
>     Amazing" Randi on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, replicating with 
> magic
>     everything Geller did. Randi bent spoons, duplicated drawings,
>     levitated tables, and even performed a psychic surgery. When asked
>     about Geller's ability to pass the tests of professional scientists,
>     Randi explained that scientists are not trained to detect trickery 
> and
>     intentional deception, the very art of magic. Randi's right. I 
> vividly
>     recall a seminar that Allison and I attended in which a psychic 
> healer
>     shoved a 10-inch sail needle through his arm with no apparent pain 
> and
>     only a drop of blood. Years later, and to my chagrin, Randi performed
>     the same feat with the simplest of magic.
>     Randi confirmed my skeptical intuitions about all this paranormal
>     piffle, but I always assumed that it was the province of the cultural
>     fringes. Then, in 1995, the story broke that for the previous 25 
> years
>     the U.S. Army had invested $20 million in a highly secret psychic spy
>     program called Star Gate (also Grill Flame and Scanate), a Cold War
>     project intended to close the "psi gap" (the psychic equivalent of 
> the
>     missile gap) between the United States and Soviet Union. The Soviets
>     were training psychic spies, so we would too. The Men Who Stare at
>     Goats, by British investigative journalist Jon Ronson, is the 
> story of
>     this program, how it started, the bizarre twists and turns it took,
>     and how its legacy carries on today. (Ronson's previous book, Them:
>     Adventures with Extremists, explored the paranoid world of
>     cult-mongers and conspiracy theorists.)
>     In a highly readable narrative style, Ronson takes readers on a
>     Looking Glass-like tour of what U.S. Psychological Operations 
> (PsyOps)
>     forces were researching: invisibility, levitation, telekinesis,
>     walking through walls, and even killing goats just by staring at them
>     (the ultimate goal was killing enemy soldiers telepathically). In one
>     project, psychic spies attempted to use "remote viewing" to identify
>     the location of missile silos, submarines, POWs, and MIAs from a 
> small
>     room in a run-down Maryland building. If these skills could be honed
>     and combined, perhaps military officials could zap remotely viewed
>     enemy missiles in their silos, or so the thinking went.
>     Initially, the Star Gate story received broad media attention
>     (including a spot on ABC's Nightline) and made a few of the psychic
>     spies, such as Ed Dames and Joe McMoneagle, minor celebrities. As
>     regular guests on Art Bell's pro-paranormal radio talk show, the
>     former spies spun tales that, had they not been documented elsewhere,
>     would have seemed like the ramblings of paranoid cultists. (There is
>     even a connection between Dames, Bell, and the Heaven's Gate cult 
> mass
>     suicide in 1997, in which 39 UFO devotees took a permanent "trip" to
>     the mother ship they believed was trailing the Hale-Bopp comet.)
>     But Ronson has brought new depth to the account by carefully tracking
>     down leads, revealing connections, and uncovering previously
>     undisclosed stories. For example, Ronson convincingly connects 
> some of
>     the bizarre torture techniques used on prisoners at Cuba's Guantanamo
>     Bay and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison with similar techniques employed
>     during the FBI siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. FBI
>     agents blasted the Branch Davidians all night with such obnoxious
>     sounds as screaming rabbits, crying seagulls, dentist drills, and
>     Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Are Made for Walking." The U.S. military
>     employed the same technique on Iraqi prisoners of war, instead using
>     the theme song from the PBS kids series Barney and Friends--a tune
>     many parents concur does become torturous with repetition.
>     One of Ronson's sources, none other than Geller (of bent-spoon fame),
>     led him to Maj. Gen. Albert Stubblebine III, who directed the psychic
>     spy network from his office in Arlington, Virginia. Stubblebine
>     thought that with enough practice he could learn to walk through
>     walls, a belief encouraged by Lt. Col. Jim Channon, a Vietnam vet
>     whose post-war experiences at such new age meccas as the Esalen
>     Institute in Big Sur, California, led him to found the "first earth
>     battalion" of "warrior monks" and "Jedi knights." These warriors,
>     according to Channon, would transform the nature of war by entering
>     hostile lands with "sparkly eyes," marching to the mantra of "Om," 
> and
>     presenting the enemy with "automatic hugs." Disillusioned by the ugly
>     carnage of modern war, Channon envisioned a battalion armory of
>     machines that would produce "discordant sounds" (Nancy and Barney?)
>     and "psycho-electric" guns that would shoot "positive energy" at 
> enemy
>     soldiers.
>     Although Ronson expresses skepticism throughout his narrative, he
>     avoids the ontological question of whether any of these claims have
>     any basis in reality. That is, can anyone levitate, turn invisible,
>     walk through walls, or remotely view a hidden object? Inquiring minds
>     (scientists) want to know. The answer is an unequivocal no. Under
>     controlled conditions, remote viewers have never succeeded in finding
>     a hidden target with greater accuracy than random guessing. The
>     occasional successes you hear about are due either to chance or to
>     suspect experiment conditions, like when the person who subjectively
>     assesses whether the remote viewer's narrative description seems to
>     match the target already knows the target location and its
>     characteristics. When both the experimenter and the remote viewer are
>     blinded to the target, all psychic powers vanish.
>     Herein lies an important lesson that I have learned in many years of
>     paranormal investigations and that Ronson gleaned in researching his
>     illuminating book: What people remember rarely corresponds to what
>     actually happened. Case in point: A man named Guy Savelli told Ronson
>     that he had seen soldiers kill goats by staring at them, and that he
>     himself had also done so. But as the story unfolds we discover that
>     Savelli is recalling, years later, what he remembers about a
>     particular "experiment" with 30 numbered goats. Savelli randomly 
> chose
>     goat number 16 and gave it his best death stare. But he couldn't
>     concentrate that day, so he quit the experiment, only to be told 
> later
>     that goat number 17 had died. End of story. No autopsy or explanation
>     of the cause of death. No information about how much time had 
> elapsed;
>     the conditions, like temperature, of the room into which the 30 goats
>     had been placed; how long they had been there, and so forth. Since
>     Ronson was skeptical, Savelli triumphantly produced a videotape of
>     another experiment where someone else supposedly stopped the heart of
>     a goat. But the tape showed only a goat whose heart rate dropped from
>     65 to 55 beats per minute.
>     That was the extent of the empirical evidence of goat killing, and as
>     someone who has spent decades in the same fruitless pursuit of 
> phantom
>     goats, I conclude that the evidence for the paranormal in general
>     doesn't get much better than this. They shoot horses, don't they?
>     Michael Shermer is the publisher of Skeptic magazine
>     (www.skeptic.com), a columnist for Scientific American, and the 
> author
>     of several books, including Why People Believe Weird Things (1997) 
> and
>     Science Friction: Where the Known Meets the Unknown (2005).
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