Congratulations, you may be psychic!

Weekly World News, that bastion of scientific credibility, has reported that 53% of people are psychic, based on a study done at the University of Virginia on the townspeople and students of Charlottesville.

Say what now?

This study was published by the “parapsychology division of the University of Virginia School of Medicine” in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research. Although the article does not name specific researchers from the study, the division of which they speak is most likely the Division of Perceptual Studies, founded by Ian Stevenson in 1967. Dr. Stevenson was a psychiatrist and researcher who devoted decades of work to collecting past-life experiences and evidence of reincarnation. Unfortunately, though he carried out this work all over the globe until his retirement in 2002, he did not produce scientifically compelling evidence to back claims of such experiences. I encourage you to read his entry in Bob Carroll’s Skeptic’s Dictionary, which is fascinating and quite thoroughly researched. He also co-founded the Society for Scientific Exploration, which is deserving of a separate post, already in the works and long overdue. (I’ve been busy… yadda yadda…)

Naturally, the UVa library has a subscription to the journal, so I look forward to finding it in the Alderman stacks later this week when I get a chance. Unfortunately, I can’t find a version online, or even an abstract at the moment. According to the article, however, the study was a self-reported survey of 622 participants. Until I get a look at how the participants were selected, it’s hard to say whether this is an accurate cross-section of the American population, as is claimed. (Maybe we are just special?) One researcher is quoted in the article as saying,

50% of America is psychic – the results of this survey confirm this fact.

I’m skeptical that any researcher into the paranormal would make such a sweeping and incorrect statement, especially if they expect to be taken seriously. The lack of a name attached to the quote only encourages my notion that this was made up whole cloth by a “reporter”. At any rate, a self-reporting survey is no way to prove that a phenomenon exists. Serious scientific studies need to be double-blinded and carefully controlled before a claim can be shown to have validity. Participants in this survey report such paranormal experiences as déjà vu, out of body experiences, apparitions, hauntings, and more. Although these may be terrifying to a person in the moment, a more rational explanation is often to be found. A few years ago, a team of neuroscientists reported that they may have found a biological cause for that eerie feeling of déjà vu. Paranormal investigators such as Joe Nickell have found rational explanations for many hauntings and paranormal claims over the decades. Many psychics have stepped up to take James Randi’s Million Dollar Challenge, and none have passed preliminary testing. If half of us were psychic, someone would have noticed by now.

So, this article was published in a cheesy tabloid with a screaming, Vulcan-ish child on the logo. So what? Most people running across this article will snicker and move on. A small percentage, no doubt, will add it to the pile of “evidence” for their already-cherished beliefs in the paranormal. I’m more interested, personally, in what the survey-study itself has to say, and how much more widely it is reported, especially locally.

Muchas gracias to for the link! Also, kudos to them on the clever title.

Cross-posted at Charlottesville Skeptics.

4 comments for “Congratulations, you may be psychic!

  1. July 24, 2009 at 09:47

    I’m a caucasian male of modest means living in a highly developed nation. I have a college diploma and a university degree. All but one of my leaders have also been caucasian males (the other was a caucasian female). 90% of the wealthy in this culture are caucasian. Statistically speaking, I should have as almost as few barriers to success as anyone (the atheist thing might hold me back, but barely).

    53% eh? Now I know exactly what its like to be a minority.


    Man, talk about a depressing state* within a culture of entitlement. It’s not enough for a bunch of privileged white people living in privileged white-world to effectively run the entire world… they have to imbue themselves with magical powers!

    Christopher Lasche wrote a scathing book in 1979 called “The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” where he basically calls hogwash like this out, decades before it went as mainstream as it has now, and every time I read something like 53% of Americans are psychic or X% has had a paranormal experience or X out of Y people have had a conversation with a deceased loved one……it really makes me cringe how far down we’ve fallen into the depths of privilege and self-righteousness.

    *And by ‘state’, I of course don’t mean Virginia 😉

  2. July 25, 2009 at 16:29

    I don’t know what was more frightening…that a university would waste precious resources on such drivel or that YOU admit to looking at The Weekly World News?!

    My 78 year old mother hit it right on the head when she said, “They (the University) were obviously misquoted, it probably says that 53% of Americans are psycho!” 🙂

  3. Chris
    August 4, 2009 at 16:03

    Are you sure they didn’t mean psychotic?

  4. August 15, 2009 at 08:22

    I knew this story would be controversial.
    Don’t ask me how, I just knew. 😉

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