On the website Michael Shermer ran a video describing skepticism. In this video he claimed ESP, dowsing and creationism have been tested so many times that they are provisionally false.

If we want to be critical thinkers we should not take this notion at face value. I am very doubtful that testing has been so exhaustive to account for all potential biases that could influence test results. I have yet to hear one paranormal critic talk about how the stigmatization of believers or sample size can influence the test results. Here is a quick list of factors that could influence tests for paranormal claims:

Stigmatization: It’s no secret the majority of the scientific community is not kind to believers. Some paranormal critics are even worse. Joe Nickell frequently describes paranormal believers as “prone to fantasy,” yet provides no relevant support for this idea.  And this is one example, there are many more out there that I do not care to track down and highlight. The problem is this stigmatization can cause witnesses or claimants to stay in the shadows and not report their experiences. Because of this we have to recognize that the data we do have to work with may include a large amount of incredible individuals; much larger than would exist if claimants and witnesses were treated with respect and dignity.

Sample Size: These categories include a very large group of claimants. In every paranormal phenomenon there will be hoaxers and manipulators only seeking attention. In order to ensure testing has been conducted on legitimate claims, it would need to be conducted on a large sample group. A few tests with individuals is entirely insufficient to judge the veracity of the claim.

Hoaxers: Yes I mentioned it in the other paragraphs but it is worth mentioning again. Some hoax for fun but others do it for publicity and money. The latter are more than happy to come forward to demonstrate their claims. Many could care less whether they are proved to be frauds or not because they still can generate some publicity.

Test Design: This is true with every scientific test but it deserves mentioning: Test design and implementation can influence results. The testing guidelines as well as the proctors of the test can have significant influence of the results. If these tests were carried out by paranormal critics who have repeatedly demonstrated significant bias the test results are unacceptable.

Related Reading

What is and Isn’t Definitive Proof
What Happens When We Have a Logical Stalemate… Science Wins??
Definitions Most People Don’t Understand: Evidence, Hypothesis, Theory
Where’s the Proof? The Scientific Method Applies Both Ways

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