I'll start off by saying that I found certain aspects of this Documentary by Richard Dawkins praise worthy.
I myself am highly skeptical of Psychics, as only a few (yet a significant few) of those that I have researched (out of many) do I consider as having highly intriguing, anomalous, currently unexplainable aspects to what they do when the overall data is examined, in a number of specific cases, where Cold Reading and Hot Reading simply do not apply when all the known facts and circumstances are examined and considered, and these individuals have some very impressive cases worthy of serious further study.
Most typical Psychics you'll come across however, are generally easily and readily explainable via Cold Reading and Hot Reading, although as I mentioned, there are notable exceptions which beg further research and examination.
Regardless, for the most part, Cold Reading and Hot Reading are the tricks of the trade for phony psychics, which, in my humble opinion, are the majority of them.
In that sense, Richard Dawkins and Derren Brown do a great job of explaining the tricks of the trade of phony psychics via exposing the Cold Reading techniques in the Documentary. For this, I have praise.
However, I also have issues with the very same segment. For example, a New Age Psychic Fair and a Spiritualist Church where pretty much everyone claims Psychic Ability and are fitted into that Belief System I do not consider to be a very good place to seek out one with authentic psychic abilities. You're bound to get a hell of a lot of Self Deluded people there who claim to be Psychic and are a huge disappointment, and maybe one or two people there who are actually impressive. (From what I've personally been told by persons who have visited both types of places many times.)
I suggest that there is a far more credible way of finding reputable mediums to interview and test for a Documentary, and it begins with asking the question ...
Are there serious research studies out there that attempt to test Mediumship under controlled conditions that attempt to rule out Cold Reading and Hot Reading? The answer is yes.
Dr. Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona has been doing Double-Blind (and now stepped up to Triple-Blind) Experiments with Mediums (with the purpose of ruling out Cold Reading and Hot Reading techniques) over the past ten years.
His early testing protocols starting out Single-Blind, and with various design flaws, but each year he has taken the Skeptics' advice and their critiques of his early experiments to heart and has tightened the controls, year after year, and now he has advanced Triple-Blind protocols in place with some very impressive results with certain Mediums, even under controlled conditions where Cold Reading and Hot Reading are not possible. (Thus ruling out the tricks of the trade of phony Psychics.)
In these controlled experiments, a random sitter (out of a very large undisclosed pool) is randomly selected, and a random proxy sitter (of no relation to the sitter, and has never met them before) is randomly selected from the same pool to take the physical place of the person actually being read. The medium is placed in one room, and is not allowed to talk to or see the proxy sitter, who sits in another room. So, the actual sitter being read is not present, but a proxy sitter of no relation is sitting in for them, and even they cannot speak to the Medium. All of this is done blind to the medium, the sitters, the proxy sitters, and the researchers. Then a second reading is done, this time for the proxy sitter themselves. After both readings are over, both readings are then given to the true sitter who was not physically present during the reading, who examines, judges, and determines which of the two readings was meant for them, and the overall accuracy of the psychic information and of the alleged deceased relatives who came through during the reading. Matching their own reading from the two readings is highly significant.
The most impressive Mediums who have partaken of the study have scored in a consistent 70% - 98% accuracy range, even under these controlled conditions where Cold Reading and Hot Reading cannot apply.
Any ordinary Cold Reader would be crippled under these controlled conditions, and as the experiments are Triple-Blind, this rules out Hot Reading as well.
A little background information on Dr. Gary Schwartz:
GARY E. SCHWARTZ, Ph.D., Director of the VERITAS Research Program, is a professor of Psychology, Medicine, Neurology, Psychiatry, and Surgery at the University of Arizona and director of its Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health and its Center for Frontier Medicine in Biofield Science. After receiving his doctorate from Harvard University, he served as a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Yale University, director of the Yale Psychophysiology Center, and co-director of the Yale Behavioral Medicine Clinic. Dr. Schwartz has published more than four hundred scientific papers, and edited eleven academic books.
For the sake of credibility and objectivity, I would have suggested that Richard Dawkins interview and test those most impressive Mediums who have been rigorously tested and gotten accuracy in the 70%-98% percentage range in Dr. Gary Schwartz's *most recent* Triple-Blind experiments (where the controls have been the tightest) to do a controlled reading on him and on a controlled group selected by Dawkins himself, rather than scouting random Psychic Fairs and Spiritualist Churches for people simply claiming to be Psychic. That would have been a hell of a lot more credible and objective examination of the phenomenon.
Here's some further information on Dr. Gary Schwartz's Medium Experiments ...
http://www.explorejournal.com/article/PIIS155083070600454X/fulltext (Anomalous Information Reception by Research Mediums Demonstrated Using a Novel Triple-Blind Protocol)
http://amnap.blogspot.com/2007/05/triple-blind-mediumship-experiment.html (Triple-blind mediumship experiment published)
http://veritas.arizona.edu/ (The VERITAS Research Program Website)
Here is an article where Dr. Gary Schwartz has responded indepth to criticism of his experiments ...
http://www.enformy.com/Gary-reHymanReview.htm (How Not To Review Mediumship Research)
Geraldo of Fox News once did a segment on his show where he attacked Dr. Gary Schwartz and his Research with many false accusations and biased reporting, Gary's response is here ...
http://www.drgaryschwartz.com/response.htm (Examining an erroneous and malicious character assassination)
I would have further suggested a skilled Cold Reader like Derren Brown to undergo Dr. Gary Schwartz's Triple-Blind Medium Experiments to see if he can still get a high pecentage of hits, even under those crippled conditions. That would have made for a far more impressive documentary.
As an aside, I have issues with Derren Brown's own TV Programs on these topics. For example, I was highly unimpressed with his two Remote Viewing critique segments, which I'm planning on tackling in a further separate article. He did succeed however, in an impressive Cold Reading bit on his own TV Program, excerpts of which were shown in Richard Dawkins' Documentary. However, there have been allegations that Derren uses plants in his audience to make his tricks appear more impressive, which makes his Cold Reading segment, as well as other audience driven segments, a bit suspect, IMHO.
Here's some indepth critiques of Derren Brown ...
http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/11/i_feel_a_cold_r.html (I Feel A Cold Reading Coming On)
http://michaelprescott.typepad.com/michael_prescotts_blog/2006/11/derren_brown_pa.html (Derren Brown Part Deux)
http://www.simonsingh.net/Derren_Brown_Article.html (Spectacular Psychology or Silly Psychobabble?)
The Psychics interviewed in the Richard Dawkins documentary did not at all come across as impressive. The program shown miss after miss with each Psychic, which lead me to wonder how much the program had been edited, or if every Psychic he met truly was that bad and unimpressive.
Doing a little Googling, I did find evidence that the segment had been edited. In the Craig Hamilton-Parker segment, where Craig was giving psychic readings to people in his Spiritualist Church, Dawkins only shows examples of misses, and examples of persons being read whom had already had readings by Craig previously. The easily explainable types.
One woman who attended Craig's Spiritualist Church that very same day that Richard Dawkins attended had received an impressive reading by Craig, and she had never been there before, had never met Craig before, he did not know her, she did not know him. She wrote to Craig after Dawkins' program first aired, to express outrage over how Craig's impressive reading with her was totally edited out of the documentary's final cut ...
"You came to me first, and this was the first time I had seen you. When we have has readings we only ever answer yes and no during the reading and this time was no different.
"You started off with saying that you had a female, and that she was having trouble speaking, she had a lispy voice, and you could barely hear her, and you felt it was my mother, my mother had her throat cut twice in operations and did have a lispy voice, and she did have trouble projecting her voice.
"You then became confused because you said she was doing a stirring movement and you said you did not understand as she was saying over and over 'the treacle's mine', 'the treacle's mine,' this was an outstanding amazing statement as the area which I lived all through childhood was fondly known as the treacle mines.
"You gave many other factually correct details, but the most amazing of all was that you said my mother came out of her door and saw two Morris Minors, she said they were black, I said no - (They had black roofs and the man restored them but they were gray), you then mentioned the neighbours name, which was correct, later my husband reminded me that although the Morris's were originally gray he had the doors and wings replaced with and they were indeed black.
"The whole reading was accurate and could not be interpreted to be made to fit or desperately misunderstood as Richard dawkins implies to those who seek spiritualists, and we were interviewed by him after where we told him your reading was 100% accurate and even about the Morris minors changing colour.
"How can Mr Dawkins whome should be, as a man of science open to things that may not be able to be understood because we cannot physically prove these things blatantly deny that he found any proof or evidence that evening?There have been many examples in the past and present of things that may not have a concrete basis to provide evidence of proof such as 'string theories, and black holes' - did eminent theologians and scientists just ignore these things because of the inability to give concrete proof? Or were they just better men than he?
"To summarise what i found the saddest of all was that on the programme he said that he found no evidence of proof of mediumship or séance as he referred to it, and yet in my interview with him he clearly was given acknowledgement of evidence that was true, yet he chose not to show any of this on the programme, and was selective, perhaps because it did not fit with the whole ethos of his programme. Surely such a professional should have had the integrity and honesty when making such a programme to show all sides and not just make the evidence fir for the glory of a television programme!
"I want to thank you once again for your outstanding reading and the evidence that you provided."
Suzie D. - CamberleyIt would appear that the most impressive readings of Craig that day were totally edited out of the program, and only those with clear misses, and those where he read the same person he had read before previously, were shown. The easier to explain examples.
However, unfortunately, this wasn't the only thing edited from Richard Dawkins' Documentary, the most problematic being his entire interview with Rupert Sheldrake. First off, a little background on who Rupert Sheldrake is ...
Rupert Sheldrake is a Biologist with an unblemished academic record and a research fellowship at the Royal Society who has been doing serious Double-Blind Experiments with Telepathy for years, especially with Dogs who Know when their owners are coming home (even when they arrived at random times, in different cars, different clothing, and even skipping a day) where the Dogs would go and wait by the door or window expectantly, in their normal waiting place and waiting position, starting 10 to 15 minutes before they arrived home, until they finally arrived.
Other researchers have successfully replicated Sheldrake's experiments, independently of him, even noted Skeptic Richard Wiseman, who reluctantly admitted in an interview with my friend Alex Tsakiris that his experiment results matched Sheldrake's. The results are significantly above the chance ratio in these experiments, something intriguing is definately going on with these animals.
Several years ago, Skeptic James Randi, when asked about Rupert Sheldrake's experiments, falsely claimed that when you examine the tapes, the dogs react to any and everybody who walks by, and to every car that drive by, which is totally false. Randi later admitted he hadn't even seen the tapes. Skeptic Michael Shermer has repeated these false allegations in an interview with my friend Alex Tsakiris. There has been much false information and unfairness directed towards Rupert Sheldrake.
Other experiments Rupert Sheldrake has done has been with Telephone Telepathy, where individuals who claimed to know who is calling them on the telephone before they answer it or look at the caller ID, even old friends, relatives, and associates that they haven't spoken to in years, are put to the test.
They are tested from a very large pool of relatives, friends, associates, etc, from their present and past, each phone call selected at random, blindly, and the individual has to relate who he or she thinks is calling them before they answer the phone, all in a controlled experiment. He's done this type of experiment for years. Again, with those individuals, much like with the animals, very significant above chance results.
The Imperial College London Dissertation asserted that the Scientific Community has been unfair to Rupert Sheldrake ...
"Although skeptical of Sheldrake’s theories, Phillips focused on how Sheldrake was being judged, “I wanted to be impartial as to whether he was right or wrong and instead go on and look at whether he’d been treated fairly.”
What he discovered surprised him. Stevens found that despite an unblemished academic record and a research fellowship at the Royal Society, Sheldrake faced public scorn from colleagues for publishing his theory of morphic fields which suggests a living, developing universe with its own inherent memory. “There was a review in the journal, Nature in which the editor, John Maddox said that the book, A New Science of Life, should be burned”, Stevens said. “You’d think that that sort of attitude towards what was just a theory would be out of date and would be seen as you know, unscientific. But in fact, it damaged Sheldrake’s career, not John Maddox’s career.”
But the biggest surprise came when Stevens looked at Sheldrake’s collaboration with skeptics like Dr. Richard Wiseman. According to Stevens Wiseman failed to follow normal procedures scientists use when collaborating and reporting their results.
“Wiseman actually did repeats of Sheldrake’s results. He never denied this, but he only admitted it, I think, ten years later. I mean, in normal experiments, if you repeat someone’s results, you say it. And there didn’t seem to be any reason for him not to say, ‘I’ve repeated his results. These experiments work. Sheldrake wasn’t wrong.’ And you know what? Sheldrake was a Research Fellow at the Royal Society. I would hope that when he has some experiments and tests things he’d get it right because he’s from one of the best institutions of science in Britain and in the world. So I really don’t know why Wiseman took so long just to say, ‘Yes, the patterns in Sheldrake’s works were repeated in my own.’”, said Stevens."Here is Rupert Sheldrake's indepth account of what went down with Richard Dawkins when he was interviewed for his Documentary ...
"Soon before Enemies of Reason was filmed, the production company, IWC Media, told me that Richard Dawkins wanted to visit me to discuss my research on unexplained abilities of people and animals. I was reluctant to take part, but the company’s representative assured me that “this documentary, at Channel 4’s insistence, will be an entirely more balanced affair than The Root of All Evil was.” She added, “We are very keen for it to be a discussion between two scientists, about scientific modes of enquiry”. So I agreed and we fixed a date. I was still not sure what to expect. Was Richard Dawkins going to be dogmatic, with a mental firewall that blocked out any evidence that went against his beliefs? Or would he be open-minded, and fun to talk to?
The Director asked us to stand facing each other; we were filmed with a hand-held camera. Richard began by saying that he thought we probably agreed about many things, “But what worries me about you is that you are prepared to believe almost anything. Science should be based on the minimum number of beliefs.”
I agreed that we had a lot in common, “But what worries me about you is that you come across as dogmatic, giving people a bad impression of science.”
He then said that in a romantic spirit he himself would like to believe in telepathy, but there just wasn’t any evidence for it. He dismissed all research on the subject out of hand. He compared the lack of acceptance of telepathy by scientists such as himself with the way in which the echo-location system had been discovered in bats, followed by its rapid acceptance within the scientific community in the 1940s. In fact, as I later discovered, Lazzaro Spallanzani had shown in 1793 that bats rely on hearing to find their way around, but sceptical opponents dismissed his experiments as flawed, and helped set back research for well over a century. However, Richard recognized that telepathy posed a more radical challenge than echo-location. He said that if it really occurred, it would “turn the laws of physics upside down,” and added, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
“This depends on what you regard as extraordinary”, I replied. “Most people say they have experienced telepathy, especially in connection with telephone calls. In that sense, telepathy is ordinary. The claim that most people are deluded about their own experience is extraordinary. Where is the extraordinary evidence for that?”
He produced no evidence at all, apart from generic arguments about the fallibility of human judgment. He assumed that people want to believe in “the paranormal” because of wishful thinking.
We then agreed that controlled experiments were necessary. I said that this was why I had actually been doing such experiments, including tests to find out if people really could tell who was calling them on the telephone when the caller was selected at random. The results were far above the chance level.
The previous week I had sent Richard copies of some of my papers, published in peer-reviewed journals, so that he could look at the data.
Richard seemed uneasy and said, “I’m don’t want to discuss evidence”. “Why not?” I asked. “There isn’t time. It’s too complicated. And that’s not what this programme is about.” The camera stopped.
The Director, Russell Barnes, confirmed that he too was not interested in evidence. The film he was making was another Dawkins polemic.
I said to Russell, “If you’re treating telepathy as an irrational belief, surely evidence about whether it exists or not is essential for the discussion. If telepathy occurs, it’s not irrational to believe in it. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about. I made it clear from the outset that I wasn’t interested in taking part in another low grade debunking exercise.”
Richard said, “It’s not a low grade debunking exercise; it’s a high grade debunking exercise.”
In that case, I replied, there had been a serious misunderstanding, because I had been led to believe that this was to be a balanced scientific discussion about evidence. Russell Barnes asked to see the emails I had received from his assistant. He read them with obvious dismay, and said the assurances she had given me were wrong. The team packed up and left.
Richard Dawkins has long proclaimed his conviction that “The paranormal is bunk. Those who try to sell it to us are fakes and charlatans”. Enemies of Reason was intended to popularize this belief. But does his crusade really promote “the public understanding of science,” of which he is the professor at Oxford? Should science be a vehicle of prejudice, a kind of fundamentalist belief-system? Or should it be a method of enquiry into the unknown?"
This is highly problematic for Richard Dawkins, IMHO. My biggest beef with the program is this, which didn't even make the final cut.
Now, on to the next section of review, his segment on Astrology ...
I personally have very little interest in Astrology, I'm highly skeptical of it. However, I'd like to point out that the type of Astrology that Richard Dawkins dealt with in "The Enemies of Reason" is tabloid Star Sign / Horoscope Astrology, and he only interviewed a Star Sign / Horoscope newspaper Astrologer. Why is this significant?
Because the Star Sign / Horoscope Astrology you find in the newspapers and tabloids is *not* an authentic version of Ancient Astrology. Vedic Astrology for example, is a hell of a lot more complicated than merely assigning a Star Sign to someone, that's just one small part. There are many, many, MANY factors to designing a chart for someone in Vedic Astrology. It's a very through process, and the outcome is a VERY individualized reading that doesn't easily match another person. Why is this significant?
Because the skeptical test presented in the program (which was also repeated by James Randi, Carl Sagan, and Derren Brown on other TV programs) of making a single personality trait filled Astrology chart that would fit just about everybody, where people of totally different star signs are all given the exact same chart, and all claim that it matches them, utterly falls apart when used with personalized Vedic Astrology Charts.
The perfect example would be the TV program that Skeptic Michael Shermer did with a Vedic Astrologer. Skeptic Michael Shermer had heard the claim that Ancient Vedic Astrology is far more complex, indepth, and specific to the individual than modern tabloid Horoscope Astrology, and that normal skeptical explanations and experiments leveled against it would fail. So, he decided to put it to the test.
He did a controlled experiment with the Vedic Astrologer, Jeffrey Armstrong, where he gave him only the absolute minimum of required information to make a Vedic Astrology Chart for his group of participants. He was not allowed to see or speak with any of them.
Some of the participants were given their own charts, while other participants were given mixed up charts (readings that were not their own), to see how specific and accurate he was.
All of those who were given their own charts, the readings were very specific, highly accurate (over 80%), and would not apply to the other members in the room. All those who were given mixed up charts, charts that were not their own, the readings did not match at all, they were very inaccurate (5%-10%), and bombed. Then, Michael Shermer revealed what he had done, and gave the authentic charts back to those who had been given the wrong ones, the accuracy rating skyrocketed to over 90% accurate.
Watch Skeptic Michael Shermer get utterly PWNED by a Vedic Astrologer on his own show ...
Again, I personally have very little interest in Astrology, I'm highly skeptical of it, etc, but if Richard Dawkins had taken Jeffrey Armstrong to task with his Vedic Charts, mixing up everyone's readings, he obviously would have failed, as Shermer had.
Regardless, again, I have praise for the Astrology portion of the documentary, because it shows what bullshit the Star Sign / Horoscope Astrology from the tabloids really is. As for Vedic Astrology however, I'm still just as skeptical, but it was weird seeing Shermer get his ass handed to him by a Vedic Astrology, when he tried to pull off the same type of "every astrology reading matches every individual" experiment.
Skeptical Organization CSICOP, which Richard Dawkins is a member of, got into a big coverup controvery years ago about one of their early astrology debunking experiments. Here's an indepth explanation of this event below ...
"Michel and Francoise Gauquelin found that European sports champions were born in Mars sectors 1 and 4 at a rate of 22% instead of the 17% expected by chance. A large control group of 16,756 non-athletes was located. When Zelen analyzed the data, the control group baseline came in almost perfectly, at 16.4%, and the 303 champions incidentally came in with a Mars effect of 21.8%, both as Michel Gauquelin had predicted."
Here's the controversy with Skeptic Organization CSICOP, they set out to debunk this, but their findings actually MATCHED the data, and so they filed it away and didn't report it, because it didn't match their intended debunking ...
"One of their first projects was to debunk Astrology. During their research, especially into the statistical findings of Michel Gauquelin, one of their founders Dennis Rawlins discovered that the team was committing the "file drawer effect". When the evidence and results they found didn't fit their hypothesis (which was that Astrology was all bunk) they simply "filed it away". They only wanted evidence that disproved Astrology. They had an agenda, in other words. This disgusted Rawlins, who wanted the team to be about open minded nonbiased inquiry. So, he quit and published a paper called Starbaby."
http://cura.free.fr/xv/14starbb.html (sTARBABY by Dennis Rawlins)
The next portion of Richard Dawkins' program, regarding dowsing, I will not critique, as I'm not very familiar at all with the topic of dowsing, and when I tried to do a search on responses to Skeptic Chris French's dowsing experiment in the Documentary by actual Dowsers, and even critiques of that specific segment of Enemies of Reason by actual Dowsers, I found nothing. So, I take it Dawkins and French did a satisfactory job on that experiment. Bravo.
The last thing I wish to comment on is Richard Dawkins bringing up B.F. Skinner's "Superstitious Pigeons" experiments. Skinner of course suggested that the pigeons behaved as if they were influencing the automatic mechanism with their "rituals" and that this experiment shed light on human behavior.
Doing a little research on the topic of these experiments, I found, surprisingly enough, that they have been largely discredited by modern behavioral psychologists:
"Modern behavioral psychologists have disputed Skinner's "superstition" explanation for the behaviors he recorded. Subsequent research (e.g. Staddon and Simmelhag, 1971), while finding similar behavior, failed to find support for Skinner's "adventitious reinforcement" explanation for it. Staddon & Simmelhag proposed that Skinner's pigeons weren't acting superstitiously. By looking at the timing of different behaviors within the interval, Staddon and Simmelhag were able to distinguish two classes of behavior: the terminal response, which occurred in anticipation of food, and interim responses, that occurred earlier in the interfood interval and were rarely contiguous with food. Terminal responses seem to reflect classical (rather than operant) conditioning, rather than adventitious reinforcement, guided by a process like that observed in 1968 by Brown and Jenkins in their "autoshaping" procedures. The causation of interim activities (such as the schedule-induced polydipsia seen in a similar situation with rats) also cannot be traced to adventitious reinforcement and its details are still obscure (Staddon, 1977). Despite challenges to Skinner's interpretation of the root of his pigeons' superstitious behaviour, his conception of the reinforcement schedule has been used to explain superstitious behaviour in humans."
I would have suggested that Richard Dawkins work harder on fairly presenting all sides of each issue, not falling into simple confirmation bias, so that the viewers can be well informed and make up their own mind.
But as we can see, "Enemies of Reason" is clearly not an objective unbiased documentary, but a one-sided "high grade debunking exercise". It was an enjoyable viewing, but mostly what I took from it was entertainment. A rich man's version of "Penn & Teller's Bullshit", with roughly the same level of "objectivity".
The debunking done in the documentary was half-assed at best, and didn't deal with the harder to explain / more credible research and data on these topics, with the exception of the Dowsing Experiment, which I thought was fairly well done.
I'm sad to say that it reminded me of Ben Stein's "Expelled", which caters specifically to a Creationist Audience, and "What The Bleep Do We Know?" which caters specifically to a New Age Audience. Feeding confirmation bias and presenting things one-sidedly does not equal a fair documentary.