Saturday, September 15, 2007

Analyzing Paranormal Predictions

Did you ever dream about an event before it happened to you? Or, perhaps you knew what another person was going to say before they said it? These events, examples of anomalous cognition, are part of our everyday experience but still remain to be understood scientifically. Jessica Utts, professor of statistics at UC Davis, has been one of the few statisticians to work in the field of parapsychology, analyzing data and helping with experimental design.Gathering statistics for parapsychology still uses the same methods, Utts said."As a statistician we can work on data in any field and it's still the same statistical methods," she said.Utts earned a bachelor's degree in math and psychology at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1973 and a doctorate in statistics from Penn State University in 1978. She has since worked as a professor and statistician at UC Davis, catching a few breaks to work as a visiting professor at Stanford University and as a senior research fellow at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.In 1995, Utts was hired by the American Institutes of Research, an independent research firm, along with psychologist Ray Hyman from the University of Oregon to analyze data from a 20-year research program sponsored by the U.S. government to investigate paranormal activity.After doing initial research, Hyman and Utts found statistical support, she said.

"The two of us did this review and we both concluded that there were really strong statistical results there, but [Hyman] still didn't believe that it could be explained by something psychic - he thought there would be some explanation [that he] can't provide," Utts said. The research program involved remote viewing, in which test subjects were asked to describe or draw an unknown target. The target could be anything and could be located anywhere. According to Utts' meta-analysis of the 966 studies performed at Stanford Research Institute, subjects could identify the target correctly 34 percent of the time. The probability of these results occurring by chance is .000000000043.

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