Skepchick Quickies 11.12

  • Is this evidence that we can see the future? – A paper due out at the end of the year, “…describes a series of experiments involving more than 1000 student volunteers. In most of the tests, Bem took well-studied psychological phenomena and simply reversed the sequence, so that the event generally interpreted as the cause happened after the tested behaviour rather than before it.” From Nate.
  • Textbooks under siege in Louisiana – “Some proposed high school biology textbooks are under fire because critics say they put too much credibility in the theory of evolution.”
  • Keep your legs apart under your laptop – Or don’t, if you want to lower your fertility. From cerberus40.
  • An atheist Christmas coloring book – Break out the crayons!
  • Cute Animal Friday! Did you know that baby sloths have to be potty trained? Elyse, with her keen sense of WTFery, found this blog for donkey therapy.


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. I will now demonstrate my ability to correctly predict the future:
    Carefully designed studies will be unable to replicate Daryl Bem’s results with statistical significance.
    Awaiting my million dollars.

  2. @im_robertb: But if the experiment is valid, we can pass judgment now, and get replication later!

    But my precognition tells me no one will be able to replicate this.

    I expect the most likely cause of these results is some subtle flaw in the experimental design rather than a problem with the statistical analysis, unless… If you do 1000 experiments and the results are purely random, wouldn’t you expect 50 of them to show statistically significant results just by chance? (p<.05, if remember my statistics correctly, means there is a 1 in 20 chance of the results being by chance alone.)

  3. So, now it’s Louisiana denying science to their children, too. We, as a country, are the laughing stocks of the world.

    I cannot decide upon a way to stop this madness, unless we institute federal school standard.

    But that too may present a problem: one of our idiot GOP Senators recently said we don’t have to worry about flooding from global warming, because god said that would never happen again after the Noachian flood.

    I do like the CA universities approach: if you didn’t take proper biology in High School, you can’t take courses here (or is it just biology courses?)

  4. @DataJack:

    So, now it’s Louisiana denying science to their children, too. We, as a country, are the laughing stocks of the world.

    Well, don’t feel too bad about it, after all, you’re not alone. As far as the science bit goes ya’ll can join ranks with Iran, Saudi Arabia, parts of South Africa….


  5. Does anyone else see a parallel with Ganzfeld?
    It’s been a while since I looked over the finding in that study but, if I am not mistaken, the unexplainable statistical significance in that experiment was around 3% at first too. “Too big an anomaly to ignore” but it disappeared with further studies that tightened controls. I suspect something similar may be happening here but will reserve judgment until the same or similar effect is replicated. I won’t hold my breath though.

    Too bad that won’t keep the believers from trotting this out as “proof.” I still run into the occasional Yahoo that thinks that Ganzfeld proves ESP and not just how vulnerable people are to believing, and supporting, what they really want to believe.

    So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.
    — Benjamin Franklin

  6. How long will it be before the continuing degradation of US education costs us our leadership in the sciences? We’re already too far down that road.

  7. I’m not entirely clear on what was meant by “reversed the test”. It seems like they’re saying “We showed them a list of words. We then asked them to recall which words were on it, and had them type them. Amazingly, they were better at typing the words they remembered.”

    I am failing to see anything astounding in this. Can someone explain how this works, and why he thinks its important?

  8. “…volunteers guessed correctly 53.1 per cent of the time.”

    Sorry, but unless they repeated that exact test more than a few thousand tests, that’s not all that impressive.

    Even if it was significant, “I’m psychic 3% of the time” is not impressive either.

  9. @scribe999: Actually, I agree with Shimkus. We could not destroy the earth. Not with our current level of technology, at least. We could, however, render it no longer habitable by humans, without too much difficulty. At that point, our relative ability to destroy it becomes moot.

    The most interesting tidbit about the Louisiana textbook story is that the two state legislators making the decision are the ones who sponsored their version of an “educational freedom” bill a couple years ago. It sounds like Jindal has been slowly moving the pieces into place to destroy science education in his state. Well played, Bobby.

  10. Update on Louisiana text books: I noticed in the story that the state board was due to make their recommendation today, so I did a quick Google news search, and found this story:


    Looks like the teachers and students of Louisiana stepped up and convinced the board to make the right decision. Not surprisingly, the two legislators were among the 4 who voted against the new books.

  11. @Mark Hall: The regular priming test is: Have people type some words. Show them lists of words, some of which they’ve typed. See how well they recall them. Marvel that they remembered the ones they typed better than the others.

    Bem’s reverse version is Show people lists of words. See how well they recall them. Have them type some of those words. Check the statistics and marvel that they were better at recalling the words they were, unknown to them, later to type.

  12. @Bjornar: Yeah… I’m still not sure how this shows psychic powers. It shows memory. Now, if you have them type a bunch of words, and someone else can pick out a statistically significant amount of the words they typed, from a random selection, that would be something.

  13. @Mark Hall, It’s a little confusing the way that they described it, but I lifted this explanation from the comments that sounded a little clearer to me:
    “The first task was to look at the list of words. The second task was recall words from the list. Finally, they were given randomly selected words from the initial list and had to type them. The students had no idea what words they would be asked to type, yet the words they recalled in the second task tended to be the words later randomly selected for the last task (i.e. the test revealed apparent precognition at least to a statistically significant “.

  14. I’d just like to add, I would totally do that ass therapy… French mountains, wilderness, animals, being fed and cleaned up after.. actually sounds fairly therapeutic in my book.

  15. I predict that… the “predicting the future” tests won’t be consistently repeatable.

    Sounds like there’s a lot of noise in their data.

    And I think it throws doubt on all the original tests and conclusions.

  16. I can’t remember the exact quote, but essentially it said something like “if your random number generator isn’t generating random numbers, then it means it’s broken”.

    In other words, if the random word selector isn’t selecting random words, but, to a statistically significant degree selects words that the students recalled, then perhaps it’s not all quite so random.

    Or the “statistical significance” in this case is not nearly as significant or impressive as claimed. i.e. out of a thousand tests, a mere 30 more were showing positive results. That’s statistically significant, but not amazing. particularly since it’s not clear from the article how many words people got in their list, how many they had to type, and how many, on average, they remembered. Odds are the significance went up when they had to type more words, and down when they got a longer initial list.

    For what it’s worth, I think the suggested benefit of aspirin in reducing heart attacks is under suspicion too.

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