How I got duped by crop circle science. Nancy Talbott vs. Matt Williams

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Feb 3, 2016.

  1. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    Let me rephrase: I don't see any difference between Matt's legends of paranormal experiences and Nancy's legends of paranormal effects, which include the sub-clause that she (or Levengood) has produced repeatable, statistically significant results. (What difference does that make? They are both equally fanciful.)

    I don't understand your suggestion that equating fabulation with Indian storytelling tradition is 'taking some kinda hardcore materialist line?' What I'm doing is explaining that we are talking about narratives that reside more in the domain of the social sciences than 'hard' science, and that therefore what we are dealing with is – as with the social sciences in general – inherently messy. Perhaps you should read what I wrote again without seeing it as an insult to any particular strand of research but rather, as recognition of a tradition that some of the claims made in their name are patently absurd.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2016
  2. Alex

    Alex New

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    the difference is that Nancy's approach could yield results that fit into our understanding/definition of "hard science." i.e. she could develop a test that consistently shows anomalous effects in plants collected in crop circles as opposed to non crop circle plants.

    since I don't know you Rob I was just trying shorten the loop. I mean, arguing the existence of paranormal with a rationalist/materialist is like arguing the baby Jesus hypothesis with a fundamentalist Christian...

    moreover, what's wrong with asking someone: mind=brain? consciousness an illusion? (my answers: no and no)
     
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  3. Vortex

    Vortex Member

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    I just read William Lane Craig's attempts to defend the the bodily ressurection of Jesus... Well, they are ridiculously weak, since they are entirely built on a pretty shaky - in fact, simply illusive - foundadation of belief in literal historicity of the Gospels (which is questionable, to put it mildly).

    At the same time, WLC quickly dismisses the paranormal - alien abduction and UFOs, to be particular - claiming without any argumentation that we must dismiss such stories as inherently implausible.

    Here I started laughing, and wasn't able to stop for quite a time: I imagined WLC trying to send his Jesus story to some serious anomalistic journal or convention, such as ones of the SPR, the SSE or the PA. The result would be inevitable: his proposal would be immidiately rejected by as devoid of any evidential merit.

    Just to compare: read William Crooks' extremely tight and well-controlled experiments with Daniel Dunglas Home... and then read again WLC's speculations about Jesus.

    Why, then, the former account is known only to relatively few interested people, while the latter one is believed by hundreds of millions?!!

    Such is the appeal of mainstreamism: it is easy to accept claims just on the basis of their "respectability", without any second thoughts about the actual data. As Henry Bauer noted, almost no one looks at the evidence... Yet they are always looking for the position of a current "authority", and following it no matter what.
     
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  4. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Well Batman and Father Christmas are narratives in the domain of the social sciences (if you want to put it that way). Why not start by stating your view of the evidence for paranormal crop circles more explicitly.

    I mean, I don't think the evidence is strong, and given that there are plenty of other paranormal phenomena with much more robust evidence, it is probably best to leave crop circles alone. I think Alex only came back to this subject to set the record straight.

    David
     
  5. ersby

    ersby Member

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    For those unfamiliar with Rob Irving, he did an excellent interview with Skepticality which you can hear here:

    http://podbay.fm/show/73797923/e/1118618760?autostart=1

    Mind you, the interview is over ten years old, so I don't know if his views have changed much since then. It's still well worth a listen.
     
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  6. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    But Matt Williams' approach also yields scientific results: Making crop circles and observing how people respond to them is just as scientific, albeit in a different way. Not all science has to be done in a lab. That is proper fieldwork.

    As for his tales of derring-do with The Paranormal, however...

    Btw, your suggestion of testing "plants collected in crop circles as opposed to non crop circle plants" is exactly what Levengood did but it would not necessarily yield significant results as the 'control' (i.e., standing crop) is not a proper control. That's how BLT came up with the loony assertion that bent/swollen/elongated/burst nodes were an indication of 'genuineness'. You'd obviously want to compare the sample with known naturally or mechanically flattened plants, as I think someone else here has explained already.

    Oh, you were arguing the existence of The Paranormal? Sorry, I didn't realise. That's not what I was doing.

    I've given you no real reason to assume that I'm a hardcore anything have I? Just because I laugh at MW's stories about man-made crop circles generating what you call 'the paranormal' doesn't make me a dyed-in-the-wool rationalist/materialist does it? Or maybe it does, to you. Not to me. I'm not so quick to rush to judgement. I would describe myself as a realist who doesn't believe in reason. Indeed, I am often critical of Rationalists. For example, here's some passages from my doctoral thesis, which I think you'll agree support this argument.

    'As Freud found in his attempt to taxonomize ‘the Uncanny,’ where his subject matter always evaded the boundaries he set to contain them, the occult is an inherently messy business and [..] this problem is compounded when we treat it as if it ought to be coherent and subject to rationalist values.'

    'Where, in the realm of everyday society, the sacred, performance, and the plastic arts are set apart from ordinary life, in the mystical realm norms are reversed: art becomes real life. Rationalists may view this as a regression to less perceptive reasoning, but it is also a way forward.'

    'To these views I would add the suggestion that consensus is not what is being strived for; that is the monist assumption, which is inappropriate here. Rather, people are engaging in a struggle for plurality over polarity. Whereas the politics of polarity naturally tends to stifle intellectual development, a politics of plurality I would suggest (following Feyerabend) positively encourages it. I have seen many dyed-in-the-wool Rationalists who are simultaneously attracted and repelled by this innately Tricksterish dance, and become trapped. As such, the legend landscape becomes a graveyard of ambition to solve its mysteries “once and for all.”'

    'I learned that the most salient feature of our engagement with mysterious phenomena is that the truth does not always lie in the most rational explanations, and people who think in straight lines are often the most easily deceived. I was experiencing what the biophysicist Rupert Sheldrake (2012) has called the science delusion[footnote] – a minor skirmish in a war of episteme.' [footnote] “The science delusion is the belief that science already understands the nature of reality.” Flyleaf [Sheldrake, The Science Delusion (2012)].


    …And so on. All pretty consistent with the line I've taken in my brief time here.

    This was (and as far as I'm concerned still is) a conversation about claims by people around crop circles, a subject I've been directly involved with for thirty years. I was giving you (in part) the benefit of my experience of the kinds of stories it generates, which have nothing much to do with science. So what are they to do with? That was my point! (The point could be extrapolated out into other related areas, if you dare, though I suspect it was my suggestion that there are parallels to be found in Spiritualism that elicited your reaction to how you think I think, so perhaps we shouldn't go there.)

    Nothing: I don't remember saying there was anything wrong with it. But it was off-topic, and has absolutely nothing to do with Matt Williams' stories, nor Nancy Talbot's claims.

    "No and no" - okay, so what?

    Mmm… 'people who think in straight lines are often the most easily deceived.' We could talk about that if you like……. We could start the discussion around the word "duped".
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
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  7. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    Re. Batman & Santa, I think most reasonable people would put it that way.

    As for my view of the evidence for paranormal crop circles, I'd love to see it. Why don't you start by showing me some. Be specific.
     
  8. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I am not a believer in crop circles - I really see them more or less as clutter that gets in the way of more interesting evidence for paranormal phenomena - particularly after this podcast.

    David
     
  9. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    Without listening to it, I've probably only refined my views. (It's a very interesting subject; more so that just whether they're 'real' or not.) I do have a better microphone now though.

    Is everything you don't believe in just clutter?
     
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  10. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Well you need to focus on something to achieve much, and if you want to focus on the nature of consciousness, and what it can achieve in exceptional situations, you don't want to spend much time thinking about people who enjoy making crop circles as an art-form/hoax/social science phenomenon!

    To me, that podcast swept away any remaining interest I might have had in this phenomenon. But then, I am not interested in flower arranging, steam trains, knitting, football etc, so that is not to denigrate anyone who is interested in these subjects!

    David
     
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  11. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    Yeah, you don't want to spread yourself too thin. Elsewhere you wrote about crop circles: "My feeling is that this is one of a number of potentially relevant phenomena, that are just too hard to evaluate - so they aren't so interesting to me because there really is a chance that they are pure nonsense."

    Purely out of interest, what was it about this phenomenon that you thought was relevant? And why was it too hard to evaluate?
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2016
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  12. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Well some possible paranormal phenomena are easier to evaluate than others, and therefore give you more reliable evidence. For example:

    ESP and precognition experiments can be well controlled (though they only produce weak effects in normal situations that are not emotionally charged). The statistics from these experiments build up nicely.

    NDE's can't be so well controlled, but they have the advantage that they happen to people at random.

    There also seems to be remarkably good evidence for reincarnation!

    I suggest you read a book called "Irreducible Mind" for a lot more details of these phenomena.

    On the other hand, a phenomenon like crop circles is quite different because it is obviously not possible to specify criteria to distinguish hoax phenomena from 'genuine' ones. That was one of the core weaknesses of Nancy's research. How do you devise ways to recognise fake from genuine when you don't have any unambiguously genuine samples?

    My point was that if genuine paranormal phenomena exist, they may also manifest themselves in other ways that are much harder to verify, and therefore not as interesting from a scientific point of view.

    David
     
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  13. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    That's your assessment after Nancy Talbot made a mess of an interview. (Other 'experts' were more persuasive.) But my question concerned what attracted you to crop circles in the first place. What made you think they might be paranormal?

    So just to be clear, are you saying that if a 'paranormal' phenomenon gets too messy (as opposed to cut & dried in your eyes) you lose interest?
     
  14. Alex

    Alex New

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    not really... and I guess that was the point of this episode. the paranormal (hate the term, but...) may be strange and impossible to wrestle to the ground, but then again the same can be said about the "normal." so, if we're going to play the consensus reality game then I like some of what science is bringing to the table. as such I'm gonna insist we try to play the science game within a certain set of rules. Matt doesn't claim to be doing science, Nancy does.

    Science, even "fringe science," doesn't have to be done is a lab, it just has to be done well:
    http://www.skeptiko.com/264-jack-hunter-paranthropology-parapsychology/
    http://www.skeptiko.com/suzanne-gordon-looks-deeply-into-near-death-experiences/
    http://www.skeptiko.com/239-dr-jim-tucker-database-of-past-life-memories/
     
  15. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    I wrote: But Matt Williams' approach also yields scientific results: Making crop circles and observing how people respond to them is just as scientific, albeit in a different way. Not all science has to be done in a lab. That is proper fieldwork.

    Oh it is, regardless of whether Matt (or you for that matter) knows enough about science to realise it. Treated as a scientific problem, the ‘crop circle mystery’ as we know it today is easily solved by secretly creating a crop circle, measuring its effects (e.g., biophysical and social responses), and comparing these with the content of the legends, like Talbot's, that have helped establish the belief that a genuine paranormal phenomenon inheres in the circles. In practice, this test is performed, in broad terms, whenever someone makes a crop circle and someone else perceives it as paranormal.

    Firstly, what I've said here has nothing to do with consensus reality, or the implication the term suggests. Or are you really talking about 'common sense'?

    Secondly, if you "like some of what science is bringing to the table" why write a book about Why Science Is Wrong... About Almost Everything? Which bits do you like? (I have a pretty good idea of what you don't like.)

    For someone who claims that Science Is Wrong About Almost Everything you have a curiously formal approach to it, and to 'what it is'. Call me a stickler for detail, but to me the fact that you assume this stance and yet fail to discern the difference between phenomenon (singular) and phenomena (plural) is a bit of a giveaway. Your straw man rejection of Science and simultaneous embrace of it – e.g., your insistence that "we try to play the science game within a certain set of rules" – is classic Trickster behaviour. To quote Lévi-Strauss, the Trickster resides in the anomalies that bind and simultaneously repel counterpoised states! Or as the Sufi saying goes: If you want to face the Great One, you have to learn to dance in both directions. :)

    It's an inherently tricky problem: On one hand, the hegemonic attitude that underwrites demands for ‘proof’ of extraordinary claims surrounding alleged paranormal phenomena and, in contrast, the expeditious dismissal of conventional standards by which to judge this kind of claim. I think that to excavate this relationship properly it's important to dig beyond limited and limiting talk of pseudoscience vs "rationalism/materialism" in order to understand why someone wishes to emulate science, while at the same time bypassing it. Have you ever heard of the Experimenter's Regress? I think you'd be interested. If and when I'd be interested in how you think your own scientific claims stack up.

    Anyway, it's all delightfully confusing. (Or perhaps I just take a perverse pleasure in watching people attempt to bang square pegs into round holes?)

    "Science has to be done well" is a tautology. Anyhow, I agree.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
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  16. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    I enjoyed the Jack Hunter interview.

    "For me personally, I think it’s too early to really come up with any kind of solid, definitive model of what’s going on. But I do think that whatever it is that’s going on, it’s going to be way more complicated than we’re even aware of at the moment."

    Yep.
     
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  17. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Well crop circles were claimed to be paranormal. I mean if you only listen to the standard sceptical position, then everything paranormal is 'woo'. I think most people here have got beyond that level, so they don't jump to instant conclusions.

    As I wanted to explain to you, a phenomenon might in fact be paranormal, and yet not be provably so - perhaps you have read James Carpeneter's idea that ψ phenomena are part of normal cognition - these would be examples of possible paranormal phenomena that aren't provably paranormal. There are obviously yet other phenomena that are just hoaxes.

    David
     
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  18. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I know this wasn't addressed to me, but nevertheless - I was fanatical about science as a kid, and I went on to do a degree and PhD in Chemistry. I have been really amazed and upset to see how science has been progressively corrupted over the years (I am in my 60's). I am not saying things were perfect back then, but I think things have become far worse now, with all sorts of vested interests warping science out of all recognition. One part of that is the total rejection of non-standard ideas about consciousness, and the ever more fanatical adherence to the concept of evolution by natural selection - a concept that seems to be falling apart. However, there are many others:

    The idea that saturated fat, or even blood cholesterol is bad for you, is actually contrary to a variety of reported studies. The originator of the saturated fat scare was a man called Ancel Keys, who kicked the idea off with a paper that used a cherry picked graph using 7 data points out of a possible 22 to 'prove' his point. The fraud was exposed quite soon, but medical science had embarked on the process of vilifying saturated fat!

    Big pharma has distorted science beyond belief - for example by pushing the idea that statins are a good way to lower cholesterol. Yes they lower cholesterol, but they cause quite horrible side effects for many, and although they lower cholesterol a lot, seem to make only tiny changes to the risk of heart attack/stroke. I can testify to the nasty effects of statins from personal experience - which is why I explored that subject.

    Catastrophic Global Warming (renamed to Climate change when the warming seemed too trivial to discuss) seems to be equally bogus for lots of reasons that are explained on the internet. Even the most basic concepts of statistics (such as not reporting results that don't reach statistical significance) seem to be broken at will to try to argue that CO2 is fantastically harmful.

    Plus several others that are a bit more complex to explain (GOOGLE Alexander Unzicker, Halton Arp, and Henry Bauer for details of a few of these) - and those are only the ones I know about! Also, read "The Science Delusion" by Rupert Sheldrake for yet more hints as to where science is probably wrong.

    I think the last 50 years, will be seen as a time when science went horribly off the rails- drunk with its successes in the early 20th Century.

    David
     
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  19. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    Of course, the day it is proved/discovered/understood is the day it ceases to be paranormal – it becomes normal. 'Today's magic is tomorrow's science' and all that.

    The circles were very evocative, even when the phenomenon was limited to simple circles. Perhaps less so now because too much would have to happen for people to be surprised by them. Generally speaking, that is – of course there are hardcore croppies and the industry around them survives. But I guess most folks just like to visit them nowadays, and enjoy the countryside from a place they wouldn't normally get to go to.
     
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2016
  20. Rob Irving

    Rob Irving Member

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    I agree with this.

    And this. It's not that I disagree with the rest of what you say, just that I don't know enough about those things to form an opinion. Like you said yesterday, we can't be into everything.

    I've read Sheldrake's book. I quoted from it yesterday. I've met him a few times too. I'm a fan; even though he's not one of mine (coz I made circles) I'm still a fan. :)
     
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