Thursday, December 13, 2007

An aura test

I hope this works. They don't always come through.

This is a test conducted of an aura reader by James Randi. it's not a full scientific test, but then it's on TV. No audience would sit through a full test. It would take days.

The test is flawed, too. Randi states (correctly) that the aura reader would be expected to get one in five right by guessing. In the event, he gets two. Better than chance?

If he had correctly identified all five, would that be enough proof to hand over the million dollars?

Not if it was my money.

See, there's a common misconception about 'chance' in the statistical sense. I'm not knocking Randi for this (for once!). It's something that's not apparent if you don't work with statistics all the time.

The missing words are 'on average'. On average, if someone was guessing, they'd get one in five right. Sometimes they'd get none. Sometimes three. If you did this test by guesswork a hundred times, your average 'correct rate' would be one in five.

Once in a while, you might guess all five correctly. It's like the lottery - someone wins, but on average the lottery owner always comes out in profit. On average, your chances of getting all the numbers are very low indeed, but once in a while, someone will get them. Chance is not a fixed value. It's an average over a large number of tests.

So if he had correctly identified all five subjects, I'd certainly perk up, but he would have to do it again. If he can do all five, three times in a row, no mistakes, then I'd take that as proof. Proof that this one person can see auras, not proof that all aura readers can do it.

Better, do it twice more with five different people each time.

Now, let's be fair to the guy. Auras are reportedly best viewed in low light. Studio lighting is seriously bright. A dim light would be harder to distinguish, if not impossible. He didn't say that, but if he had said it on TV it would just have sounded like an excuse. So it's just as well he didn't.

So, for a scientific version, you want muted room lighting (but still enough so you'd see if there was any cheating. Better yet, let him have it as dark as he likes, but don't tell him you have an infrared camera covering the scene. Then you can be sure it's on the level.)

Then, he needs to correctly identify all five. He can't be right for four out of five - if four are right, the fifth is right by default. Three isn't good enough.

Can he do it three times in a row? Best three out of five sets? I suspect only three perfect sets in a row would satisfy the skeptics.

Of course, then you have to do it again with more aura readers.

Then you take the whole thing to another laboratory and let another scientist try to replicate it.

It's a long process, proof.

6 comments:

Plonka said...

Good post and I have to agree. Proof is a long and involved process.

Southern Writer said...

Damn, what a long argument y'all have going on here. I think I read it all, but I totally missed that part where you listed your education and credentials. Can you point me to it?

I can't believe you're thinking of quitting smoking. Is it because you don't want to end up like me? If so, then I guess some good has come of it, because I don't want to see you end up like me, either. I had my first and only craving for a cigarette two days ago. I was having a row with my internet provider because they apparently lost my payment for two weeks, added a fifty dollar late charge, disconnected my service, and yet found the payment five minutes after I called them to ask WTF? Now there's a mysterious coincidence that should be investigated. I was literally on the phone with them for eight hours trying to get the gits to turn my service back on, and I let go with a string of expletives that would make the demon in The Exorcist blush. So for about thirty seconds after I hung up the phone, I wished for a smoke. Then it passed.

Romulus Crowe said...

Plonka - hello and welcome. We need a few more smokers around here.

SW - I didn't give details. Best not to give out too much specific info on the Web. It doesn't take much for an identity thief to get a handle, then they can dig for more.

My occasional attempts to give up smoking are due to our lunatic Government, who like to tell us smokers we're all filthy crawling contaminants on the cream bun of society, while at the same time taking huge amounts of extra tax off us, which they then use to pay for more campaigns to tell us how disgusting we are. If you drive a car here, you'll get much the same treatment.

Then one friend or another goes to Europe and brings me back three months' supply for pennies. Perfectly legal too. So I blow smoke in the taxman's face until that batch runs out.

Southern Writer said...

Uh ... did the UK stop being part of Europe? I suck at science, but I've usually been pretty good at geography.

I understand about not posting certain things on the web, and I would suggest you keep it that way. There were many reasons I quit blogging, but one of them was that I discovered a sister I've been estranged from for decades, and an old high school friend I parted ways with because of irreconcilable differences in values, had found it. I felt like they were stalking me. One would read it, and five minutes later, the other would pull it up. For being a person who likes her privacy, I made the mistake of revealing waaaaaay too much. Don't copy my mistake.

As for smoking, I don't think it's possible to quit unless you want to, and you don't want to, so stop torturing yourself.

Romulus Crowe said...

Right on both counts - still, the smoking does make a cold ten times worse than it needs to be. Now I've recovered, the urge to quit has faded again.

As I like to tell religious fundamentalists, I can't go to Heaven because I won't know anyone, and since all the fire is in Hell, that's the only place I'll be able to get a light.

I bet Heaven has 'no smoking' signs too.

tom sheepandgoats said...

Best not to give out too much specific info on the Web. It doesn't take much for an identity thief to get a handle, then they can dig for more.

Uh oh. I didn't think of that. Maybe I'd better give up the surname. Perhaps I can go back to great grampa's from the old country: Shepundgoots.

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