The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller


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A scientist whose been discredited publicly for making controversial accusations about the U. Bem, himself a reputable psychologist, took an innovative approach to studying psi. Instead of using discredited parapsychological methods such as card tasks or dice tests, he selected a series of gold-standard psychological techniques and modified them in clever ways. One such method was a reversed priming task.

In a typical priming task, people decide whether a picture shown on a computer screen is linked to a positive or negative emotion. So, for example, the participant might decide whether a picture of kittens is pleasant or unpleasant. If a word that "primes" the same emotion is presented immediately before the picture such as the word "joy" followed by the picture of kittens , then people find it easier to judge the emotion of the picture, and they respond faster.

But if the prime and target trigger opposite emotions then the task becomes more difficult because the emotions conflict e. To test for the existence of precognition, Bem reversed the order of this experiment and found that primes delivered after people had responded seemed to influence their reaction times. He also reported similar "retroactive" effects on memory. In one of his experiments, people were overall better at recalling specific words from a list that were also included in a practice task, with the catch that the so-called practice was undertaken after the recall task rather than before.

On this basis, Bem argued that the participants were able to benefit in the past from practice they had completed in the future. As you might expect, Bem's results generated a flood of confusion and controversy. How could an event in the future possibly influence someone's reaction time or memory in the past? If precognition truly did exist, in even a tiny minority of the population, how is it that casinos or stock markets turn profits?

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And how could such a bizarre conclusion find a home in a reputable scientific journal? Scrutiny at first turned to Bem's experimental procedures. Perhaps there was some flaw in the methods that could explain his results, such as failing to randomize the order of events, or some other subtle experimental error. But these aspects of the experiment seemed to pass muster, leaving the research community facing a dilemma.

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If true, precognition would be the most sensational discovery in modern science. We would have to accept the existence of time travel and reshape our entire understanding of cause and effect. But if false, Bem's results would instead point to deep flaws in standard research practices — after all, if accepted practices could generate such nonsensical findings, how can any published findings in psychology be trusted?

And so psychologists faced an unenviable choice between, on the one hand, accepting an impossible scientific conclusion and, on the other hand, swallowing an unpalatable professional reality.

The scientific community was instinctively skeptical of Bem's conclusions. Responding to a preprint of the article that appeared in late , the psychologist Joachim Krueger said: "My personal view is that this is ridiculous and can't be true. Bem himself realized that his results defied explanation and stressed the need for independent researchers to replicate his findings. Yet doing so proved more challenging than you might imagine. One replication attempt by Chris French and Stuart Ritchie showed no evidence whatsoever of precognition but was rejected by the same journal that published Bem's paper.

In this case the journal didn't even bother to peer review French and Ritchie's paper before rejecting it, explaining that it "does not publish replication studies, whether successful or unsuccessful.

The most prominent psychology journals selectively publish findings that they consider to be original, novel, neat, and above all positive. This publication bias, also known as the "file-drawer effect," means that studies that fail to show statistically significant effects, or that reproduce the work of others, have such low priority that they are effectively censored from the scientific record. They either end up in the file drawer or are never conducted in the first place. Publication bias is one form of what is arguably the most powerful fallacy in human reasoning: confirmation bias.

When we fall prey to confirmation bias, we seek out and favor evidence that agrees with our existing beliefs, while at the same time ignoring or devaluing evidence that doesn't. Confirmation bias corrupts psychological science in several ways. In its simplest form, it favors the publication of positive results — that is, hypothesis tests that reveal statistically significant differences or associations between conditions e.

A is the same as B; A is unrelated to B. More insidiously, it contrives a measure of scientific reproducibility in which it is possible to replicate but never falsify previous findings, and it encourages altering the hypotheses of experiments after the fact to "predict" unexpected outcomes. One of the most troubling aspects of psychology is that the academic community has refused to unanimously condemn such behavior. On the contrary, many psychologists acquiesce to these practices and even embrace them as survival skills in a culture where researchers must publish or perish.

Within months of appearing in a top academic journal, Bem's claims about precognition were having a powerful, albeit unintended, effect on the psychological community. Established methods and accepted publishing practices fell under renewed scrutiny for producing results that appear convincing but are almost certainly false.

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As psychologist Eric-Jan Wagenmakers and colleagues noted in a statistical demolition of Bem's paper: "Our assessment suggests that something is deeply wrong with the way experimental psychologists design their studies and report their statistical results. To understand the different ways that bias influences psychological science, we need to take a step back and consider the historical origins and basic research on confirmation bias. Philosophers and scholars have long recognized the "yes man" of human reasoning. As early as the fifth century BC, the historian Thucydides noted words to the effect that "[w]hen a man finds a conclusion agreeable, he accepts it without argument, but when he finds it disagreeable, he will bring against it all the forces of logic and reason.

By the mid-twentieth century, the question had evolved from one of philosophy to one of science, as psychologists devised ways to measure confirmation bias in controlled laboratory experiments. Since the mids, a convergence of studies has suggested that when people are faced with a set of observations data and a possible explanation hypothesis , they favor tests of the hypothesis that seek to confirm it rather than falsify it. In other words, people prefer to ask questions to which the answer is "yes," ignoring the maxim of philosopher Georg Henrik von Wright that "no confirming instance of a law is a verifying instance, but Psychologist Peter Wason was one of the first researchers to provide laboratory evidence of confirmation bias.

In one of several innovative experiments conducted in the s and s, he gave participants a sequence of numbers, such as , and asked them to figure out the rule that produced it in this case: three numbers in increasing order of magnitude. Having formed a hypothesis, participants were then allowed to write down their own sequence, after which they were told whether their sequence was consistent or inconsistent with the actual rule.

Wason found that participants showed a strong bias to test various hypotheses by confirming them, even when the outcome of doing so failed to eliminate plausible alternatives such as three even numbers. Wason's participants used this strategy despite being told in advance that "your aim is not simply to find numbers which conform to the rule, but to discover the rule itself. Since then, many studies have explored the basis of confirmation bias in a range of laboratory-controlled situations.

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Perhaps the most famous of these is the ingenious Selection Task, which was also developed by Wason in The Selection Task works like this. Suppose I were to show you four cards on a table, labeled D, B, 3, and 7 see figure 1. I tell you that if the card shows a letter on one side then it will have a number on the other side, and I provide you with a more specific rule hypothesis that may be true or false: " If there is a D on one side of any card, then there is a 3 on its other side.

The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller
The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller
The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller
The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller
The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller
The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller
The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller
The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller The Sins of Dom: A Psychological Thriller

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