Monday, August 31, 2009

Remote viewing on the NHS?

A few months ago, a researcher called Richard Wiseman ran a test on remote viewing. He went to a location and sent a Twitter message to seven thousand people. Those people then had to choose from one of five locations and tell him which one he was at.

I didn't take part. I haven't joined Twitter, and I have no sign of any remote viewing ability so I'd have been a probable 'zero' result. Although, I might have chosen the right place by chance, with a 20% probability. That would not prove that I had remote viewing ability, because I don't. It would prove only that I made a lucky guess.

Fifteen percent of those who took part picked the right spot. Professor Wiseman therefore concluded that remote viewing was not real because of that 20% probablity of picking the right spot. His conclusion is incorrect.

The probability measurement only works two ways. For an individual who does not have remote viewing ability, such as myself, there is a 20% chance that I'll pick the right option when presented with five. There is no outside influence because there is no remote-viewing information coming in.

When applied to seven thousand people, the 20% level only applies on the assumption that all of those people have an equal level of ability.

Well, I don't have any such ability. If I was involved, the chances of success are actually diminished. I would be a negative influence on the experiment and skew the results.

Where Professor Wiseman's conclusion fails is that we have no idea what proportion of the population actually have this ability. From the little I know of the subject, it's not very many. Certainly less than 15%. How many of those with the ability took part in the test? All of them? Unlikely. Therefore, such an experiment won't find remote viewers because if they are in the group, they are present at less than the limit of detection of the test.

So it is entirely possible that all those (within the test group) with actual ability came up with the right answer, and a proportion of 'guesses' did too.

For me, this experiment is not finished. It's the first stage only. It has taken 85% of the original group out of the experiment and left 15% who were right. Those 15% should now be tested again, which will further reduce their number since the ones who were guessing have only a 1 in 5 chance of guessing correctly again. Keep repeating this until you have a small enough number to perform some detailed experiments with.

It seems I'm not the only one thinking this way. In the UK, the National Health Service is investigating the possibility of using remote viewing in the diagnosis of illness.

They are not using random people, they are using people who have shown some ability already and testing them.

It will be interesting to see what comes of this.

CORRECTION: The project is a private initiative and nothing to do with the NHS. Good old British Journalism has little regard for facts these days. I should know this by now, I suppose...