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Proof of psychic powers? Actually, no.

Just proof that academics are not easily able to think beyond their preconceived notions.

Professor Daryl Bem says his work shows most people have psychic powers.

He conducted nine different experiments on over 1000 students. Eight of the experiments showed some psychic ability.

I am willing to bet that the experiment that didn’t was the only one that was properly designed.

Example:

One experiment asked students to memorise a list of words, and then asked them to recall as many as they could.

The students were then asked to type a list of the words randomly selected – which tended to be the words they had earlier recalled.

It suggests they knew which words were going to be selected to be typed.

No it doesn’t.

The question is, how were the words to be typed selected ‘randomly’?

If they were just picked by another person, all this means is that some words have more impact than others, and that those words are more likely to be remembered, and chosen.

It is amazing to me – a non academic, but someone trained in problem solving – how quickly academics jump to the wrong conclusion, and how firmly they then insist on those conclusions being accepted.

I have a friend who is a PhD candidate. She is studying changes in Black Brim populations. Black Brim are a common fish in South Australian waters.

Her thesis is that Black Brim numbers have declined over the last fifty years because of changes in water quality.

She is extraordinarily diligent in examining ear bones from Black Brim. This enables her to track changes in water quality over the life of the fish.

I have no doubt she can get an accurate picture of water quality over the life of any individual fish.

But there are three problems with her thesis.

She has no idea how many Black Brim there really were fifty years ago. There were no accurate counts.

She has no idea whether water quality now has deteriorated in ways that affect Black Brim compared with fifty years ago. There were no accurate measures.

She has no idea whether other factors (eg, fish just move) might account for changes in Black Brim populations in the small area she is studying.

I asked her, since her theory was that fish numbers had declined because of changes in water quality, whether she thought it important to have accurate measurements of fish numbers and water quality from fifty years ago.

She insisted it was OK, because she had accurate measures of fish numbers and water quality now.

But surely, I insisted, if she was claiming changes in fish numbers over fifty years were a result of changes in water quality, she had to know what the numbers and water quality were fifty years ago.

She told me she could measure changes in water quality through studying ear bones.

OK. That tells you about changes over the life of an individual fish, but nothing about what the starting point was fifty years ago.

Nope. She just didn’t seem to understand the question.

Well, it doesn’t matter, really. She’ll get her PhD and work for Natural Resources and ruin a few fishermen’s businesses, or spend her life telling farmers to use less fertiliser.

Not much harm done.

But lots of harm is done in other ways.

As an example, there are reduced rates of HIV infection in males who have been circumcised.

So of course there claims that male circumcision acts as a ‘vaccine’ against HIV infection.

A couple of days ago the Deputy Speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, called on male MPs to be circumcised to give a moral example to others, and to help reduce the rate of HIV infection.

It seems blindlingly obvious to me that many men who are circumcised are either Jews or Muslims, and that differences in sexual behaviour in those groups would better account for the very small measured differences in rates of HIV infection.

Certainly behavioural differences might be worth investigating before spending vast amounts of money ramping up ‘circumcision services.’

But no, the World Health Organisation is right behind the circumcision prevents AIDS theory.

This won’t work. It is cruel and irresponsible. In fact, like dishing out condoms, it is likely to increase rates of HIV infection, because it encourages people to think they are safe.

The only thing that has been shown to make a long term difference to rates of HIV infection is changes in behaviour.

But that is an unacceptable conclusion, so Africans continue to be given advice which is known to be, or should be known to be, wrong. And more Africans die.

Africa has suffered enough from AIDS.

We have all suffered enough from the consequences of shoddy thinking.

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