Monday, February 12, 2007

"But The Kids Love Us"

Aww. Looks like, after almost thirty years of failing to prove a damned thing, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory is closing down. PEAR was dedicated to researching things like ESP and telekinesis.

That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Of course we can, and should, do research on things that seem unlikely to determine whether there's any truth to it. Heck, that's what they do on Mythbusters, and I love that show.

But, somehow, as often seems to happen when one gets sucked into the world of supernaturalism and pseudoscience, researchers at PEAR began to see what they wanted to see and stopped doing science. As quoted in the article:

“For 28 years, we’ve done what we wanted to do, and there’s no reason to stay
and generate more of the same data,” said the laboratory’s founder, Robert G.
Jahn, 76, former dean of Princeton’s engineering school and an emeritus
professor. “If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced,
then they never will.”

That sounds quite reasonable, no? After 28 years of showing that there is no such thing as ESP and telekinesis, more data won't change those clinging to irrational belief in such things. Right? Wrong. That's not what he's saying: he's saying that PEAR generated sufficient data to prove that ESP and telekinesis do exist, and that we're all just too dumb to realize it.

Buzz! Sorry, but thanks for playing!

If PEAR truly had generated convincing evidence of ESP and telekinesis, scientists would be all over it. There would be tons of money pouring in, not least of all from the military, to continue and expand PEAR's research. The fact is that PEAR generated nothing more than poorly designed experiments without sufficient controls that produced data where the results were nothing more than blips in the data that could not be demonstrated as significant (that is to say, weren't just due to random chance or noise).

By and large, even the military has given up on these things. Just because people want these things to be true doesn't make them true. We don't keep doing research on aether anymore, nor on phlogiston, nor on the celestial spheres that keep the sun and stars in their orbits. When can we throw crap like ESP and telekinesis on the crap bin of science history and stop wasting our time on it once and for all?

I, for one, predict it won't be any time soon, despite the (appropriate) demise of PEAR.


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