precognition studies and the curse of the failed replications professor

Professor Daryl Bem of Cornell University is a well-respected psychologist. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology is a well-respected journal, published by the American Psychological Association. It has a high impact factor and a high rejection rate for submissions. It is clearly one of the top journals in the field. It was not surprising, therefore, that when Bem last year published the results of a series of nine experiments appearing to suggest that precognition – or the ability to “feel the future” – is real, the story received a great deal of coverage from mainstream science media around the world.

Bem used a variety of techniques but the general approach was to “time reverse” established psychological effects. For example, the experiment that produced the largest effect size (experiment 9) took as its starting point the trivial observation that memory for words is better if one is allowed to rehearse the words as opposed to being exposed to them just once. Of course, this usually involves rehearsing the words before one’s memory for them is tested.

The astonishing claim made by Bem – apparently supported by his experimental data – was that memory for words is improved even if the rehearsal does not take place until after recall has been tested. The effect was dubbed the “retroactive facilitation of recall”.

To his credit, in his paper Bem encouraged other psychologists to attempt replications of his findings and even offered to provide appropriate software to run the studies. In collaboration with Stuart Ritchie at the University of Edinburgh, Professor Richard Wiseman at the University of Hertfordshire, and members of my own group at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, decided to do just that.

read the full article:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/mar/15/precognition-studies-curse-failed-replications

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