Friday, January 15, 2010

Project 365 (15/365): Project Alpha

.:15/365: Project Alpha:.

One of the most pivotal moment in the “war” between skeptics and parapsychologists was Project Alpha. From 1979 to 1981, the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research, with $500,000 worth of funding, attempted to test two individuals, one Steve Shaw and one Michael Edwards. Supposedly, these two men exhibited psychic abilities that caught the attention of the lab. With that much funding behind them, the tests they conducted initially seemed to conclude that Shaw and Edwards are the real deal, and have psychic abilities.

They ran through the gauntlet of psychokinesis, fuse-burning, remote viewing, and at all points, it seemed as if these two individuals did genuinely have powers. The researchers were definitely amazed, and it looked like they had a success in their hands.

Except we know who Steve Shaw really is, and we know that he was actually planted along with Edwards in this whole mess by none other than James Randi himself, who obviously has a bone to pick with parapsychologists. After having leaked rumors that he was behind the whole ruse, it was rather mind-numbing to see the researchers brush off all those rumors and insist that they found two potential psychics worth looking into.

When news broke out that the whole thing was a hoax, things went haywire for the parapsychology researchers. James Randi’s warnings proved to be true, and Shaw and Edwards all too gleefully exposed the shoddy research practices that were conducted during the initial testing, essentially giving the two of them the easiest time in the world to manipulate the conditions to their liking and produce apparently convincing results because of it. While a second stage of testing proved to be too difficult for these two to overcome, it was clear that the research was a sham if such concessions were allowed despite recommendations to the contrary.

As part of the rules of Project Alpha, note that if at any time, the researchers bothered to ask Shaw or Edwards if they were just using trickery, they would have quickly admitted that they would. The researchers never bothered to pose such a question.

It’s at this point where we see how deep the grudge runs, and how Project Alpha really caused an upheaval when two self-professed hoaxes ended up fooling scientists to the point that they were making up excuses for the two already.

Some people have believed that it’s high time to conduct another one of these, perhaps in the Philippine setting. The question is, who would dare do such a thing, and what would the repercussions be? In the end, few people who were convinced of their legitimacy in the past were dissuaded by them coming out and exposing themselves as tricksters, and those who didn’t believe them in the first place already knew better than to. So where does that leave us in the Philippines, what with psychic surgeons running around in Baguio?

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