Winston Wu, Pseudoskeptic Extraordinaire!

Winston Wu is a writer who has “written extensive and thorough critiques” of Christian Fundamentalism and what he calls “PseudoSkepticism”. Winston isn’t a new face to some, but to me he is; having found out about him after he posted about “Debunking the Law of Attraction and “Thoughts Create Reality” Religion” within the Australian Skeptics Facebook Group.

Winston Wu

After reading much of his article, I commented that his assessment was “OK overall”, except for what I saw as a few flawed conclusions; Winston makes non-specific references to research done by “Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR)”, and reference to a “psi wheel” as evidence of psi-attributed anomalies. Because of this, I believe that Winston does not have a good grasp of statistics; he mentions that the reported “effects produced are MICROSCOPIC”; That is to say,of no statistical significance; In any area of investigation you are likely to get false-positives, or indeed anomalous results – thus the demand by those who follow the evidence, for such studies that show an anomalous result to be replicated; or indeed improved upon with better controls that prevent researcher bias, and indeed unintended interference.

But, it seems Winston refuses to acknowledge that independent research replication is part of doing good science.

It may very well be the case that Winston is simply credulous, and accepts of the research at face-value because it supports his views; Winston is an avid advocate of various phenomena reported to have of paranormal cause; and has been looking to have his beliefs verified by scientific investigation after he believed he had an experience where he “knew” his girlfriend was in an car accident around the time she was indeed in an accident.

When I questioned Winston about his article, he responded with (the inserted image):

I may be an amateur skeptic, but I found a number of problems with this, his first response:

1. Winston declares that science and his personal investigation has confirmed it (psi) as a real phenomena, yet does not provide any details of the research, or indeed the methodology used in his “personal investigation”;

2. Winston then refers me to a published book to demonstrates Psi is “a proven FACT”; apparently I am being asked to accept this book as being 100% true and correct, and free of any possible methodological errors. Winston expects me not to question it.

3. Winston then refers me to the work of a Biologist, who runs a few online experiments; his page he includes a disclaimer about the research results:

“Because these experiments took place under uncontrolled and unsupervised conditions, we cannot eliminate the possibility that some people were cheating, or that some starers were inadvertently giving clues to the subjects by the way they gave the signal for the beginning of the trial or by unintentional sounds that were different in the staring and the not staring trials.”

4. And Winston finishes with a personal attack, implying that anyone who does not accept that Psi is “a proven FACT” must be “establishment defenders”, are “not critical thinkers, or “objective truth seeking investigators”, and must be “biased to uphold a certain world view”.

To me, it seemes that Winston accepts a lower level of scientific integrity in studies that he assesses when they supported his beliefs. For instance, in his assessment of the LOA (Law of Attraction), if not for the acceptance of poorly controlled studies as good evidence for paranormal phenomena, the article overall would have been decent. I remarked this; and after a little while, Winston posted again; continuing on with his personal attack against people who he sees as being “pseudo-sketpical (image below)”:

What struck me as ironic, is that his article on the LOA (Law of Attraction) was on a website called “debunking skeptics”. While the DebunkingSkeptics website does indeed assert many good traits a skeptical person should indeed have (albiet in a flippant and informal prose), it also includes a number of assertions that is NOT part of good skepticism.

The website itself uses language that indicates a strong paranormal bias, and the imagery is suggestive of this too; the website is more about rejecting what is seen as the “status quo” or “establishment”, and less about following the evidence – regardless.

The authors of the website assert that when someone points out when a poor line of reasoning has been employed, that person is a “pseudo-skeptic”; rather than being what is is – someone pointing out that their line of reasoning is flawed.

Winston trumpets in his response that “Skeptics fail to understand that skepticism involves being skeptical of your own position,” yet he attacks anyone who questions his position and refuses to be skeptical of his own position.

As part of his foray in to the Australian Skeptics Facebook Group Winston posted a link entitled “Characteristics and Behaviors of PseudoSkeptics vs. True Skeptics” and I just had to comment; I noted to Winston:

In “True skeptics” it says “When all mundane explanations for a phenomenon are ruled out, are able to accept paranormal ones”.

This is fallacious. It ignores what the evidence says; to conclude that a phenomena MUST be paranormal because all “mundane” explanations known to the experimenter have been exhausted, is an appeal to personal ignorance.

That is not skepticism. It’s not even science.

I have no problem accepting a paranormal explanation, provided there is evidence for it.

I will not, due to my own personal ignorance, simply conclude something is paranormal because something is a mystery to ME; I am not so arrogant to do so.

Winston was also eager to provide reference to an article entitled “Dr. Michael Persinger Announces Telepathy as Proven Fact! : Psychic Phenomena / ESP / Telepathy“. Because it formed part of the Debunking Skeptics website, we can see Winston’s responses, and in it Winston declares:

“Some people do have a connection to each other that distance doesn’t block. That is true. Twins or lovers often have this type of connection. No mundane explanation can explain it. End of story.”

This go against some of the very things listed on the Debunking Skeptics website.

Winston has done exactly what I, as a responsible skeptic, did not do – Impose on myself a belief in a paranormal phenomena despite having no good reason to do so; he has decided that because he personally was unable to conclude the cause, that it must be paranormal; Winston doesn’t want to find out the answer, he wants to ASSIGN an answer.

The Debunking Skeptics website exposes his pseudo-skeptical behavior and lists this as “Does not ask big questions to try to understand things, but judges them by whether they fit into their fixed beliefs”

Winston has arrogantly assigned an answer based with no good reason, instead of simply reserving judgement. It is of no consequence to accept that we personally do not know everything, it is perfectly OK to say: “At this time, I do not have enough information to come to a rational conclusion, as such I will reserve judgement till I have enough information to come to a conclusion, and if new evidence should come to light, I reserve the right to change my answer based on that new evidence.”

The Debunking Skeptics website exposes his pseudo-skeptical behavior and lists this as “Unable to accept mysteries and uncertainty, cannot think in terms of possibilities

The above evidence demonstrates that Winston Wu is only skeptical when that being investigated it does not infringe on the imagined world of the paranormal.

The Debunking Skeptics website exposes his pseudo-skeptical behavior and lists this as “Applies “critical thinking” only to that which opposes their beliefs and the status quo, but never to the status quo itself”

Finally, because of the above behavior, he infringes on another listed behavior on the Debunking Skeptics website; “Not interested in truth, evidence or facts, only in defending their views

Determined by the very website he writes for, Winston Wu, is indeed a pseudo-skeptic.

My response to Paul H Smith regarding prima facie evidence

This is post two of a series, see the previous post here.

2. On the subject of prima facie evidence: By prima facie evidence I mean something along these lines: a remote viewing result that so clearly resembles the correct target, that any unbiased rational agent would acknowledge a match, assuming no other disconfirming facts.

By disconfirming facts, I mean that the result was produced by a scientifically-sound experimental protocol, and was not the result of fraud, sensory leakage, or other similar non-ESP source.

I would suggest there are a number of problems here:

  1. Prima facie is a Latin expression meaning “at first sight”. It is generally used in common law to denote a case that is strong enough to justify further discovery and possibly a full trial – it is not a term often found in science, as scientific investigation generally labels this as an observation, of which the causal agent is to be narrowed down and identified. Wikipedia explains this problem:
    “It is logically and intuitively clear that just because a matter appears to be self-evident from the facts that both the notion of the evidence presenting a case in a self-evident manner and the facts actually being facts (which, presumably, would require evidence of at least a minimum degree of quality) can often be reduced to entirely subjective interpretations that are independent of any truthful merit by sufficiently skilled individuals. That is to say, appearances can be deceptive even to the objectively minded, and they can be subjectively interpreted (meaning that what amounts to a prima facie case for one judging individual would not do so for another). Just because a matter appears to be evident from a certain presentation of the facts it does not follow that that matter has any truthful validity – which would limit the common sensical utility of prima facie evidence.”
    For example, being found standing near a dead gunshot victim with a smoking gun in your hand would establish a prima facie case for murder.  It may turn out it was not the man holding a gun, but someone else who shot the man dead, and the man charged with murder was firing at that other person.We can not use prima facie evidence as “strong” evidence for anything; merely as a basis on which to undertake further investigation – this is in keeping with our best investigation methods.Additionally, the reasoning used to support Remote Viewing on the basis of prima facie evidence is erroneous; even if one tries to support such a claim by verbosity: 1,000,000 erroneously controlled results are still wrong, no matter the number.
  2. “Assuming no other disconfirming facts, “scientific investigation does not “assume” no other disconfirming facts, it systematically seeks to remove factors other than those that are implicated in the hypothesis. Indeed, this is what the result should be when you refer to a “scientifically-sound experimental protocol”, however, the problem is that you explicitly state that it is assumed that prima facie evidence is the result of such a process; this of course is one of the matters of contention.

Science accepts this kind of prima facie evidence all the time. Some examples are a variety of psychological experiments and in the various taxonomic sciences, which could not exist without prima facie judgments concerning isomorphisms among exemplars of plants, animals, geological structures and so on. Prima facie evidence of the sort I have in mind would be problematic only in cases where it is the _only_ evidence available, or if the protocols under which it was produced were either undisclosed or demonstrably flawed.

As mentioned in point 1, prima facie evidence is accepted all the time as the basis for further investigation, not as evidence for or against a hypothesis. Assuming RV is an actual Psi pheneomena, one could use prima facie evidence if testing a novice of Remote Viewing for the basis of further investigation. It can not be used to validate Remote Viewing if such evidence is not established.

In the case of remote viewing, high-quality prima facie results are not the only evidence available, and any prima facie results offered as scientific evidence are accompanied by documentation of the protocol under which it was produced.

In this case, the evidence presented would not be considered prima facie results; they would be results produced by what is reported to be a rigorous scientific investigation of the hypothesis. If you have such results, including the protocol documentation, fantastic; then please present those protocols to justify the results, that is – all results, not just those considered to be a significant match to the target.

On the other hand, I do _not_ mean by “prima facie evidence” merely anecdotal reports or results that bear only a vague and perhaps accidental resemblance to the intended target.

I didn’t think you meant that, so that’s fine.

Here are some examples of prima facie remote viewing results. Since they were meant merely to show examples of solid remote viewing results, I have not provided a detailed description of the protocol. However, I can guarantee that they were all produced under appropriate blinding conditions with controls to preclude pre-knowledge of the intended target, sensory leakage, or cheating. http://www.rviewer.com/Student_Sessions.html

I would consider these examples of prima facie results (in the strictest sense), and I do  acknowledge that you are using them as an example of a strong remote viewing result. However, without seeing the hypothesis, testing methodology (or indeed details about how they are judged, and by whom) or indeed any statistical information (i.e. how many tests were performed, by whom and conditions of each test, if they differed), no tentative conclusion can be made.

However, I do acknowledge that the Student Sessions were not supposed to lead to a conclusion, but merely a presentation of what you (and perhaps your peers) consider a strong remote viewing result.

Paranormality

Richard Wiseman, a Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, is releasing his latest book, Paranormality in America later this week. His book covers fortune-telling, out of body experiences (OBE), the concept of “Mind over Matter”, Talking with the Dead, Ghost Hunting, Mind Control, and Prophesy. You can read an introduction to his book here.

In conjunction with the launch book, a free app – also called Paranormality (developed by Sarah Angliss) has been released that exploits inattentional blindness, one of the many flaws we can fall victim to.

Whip out your phone and demonstrate to them they have psychic abilities! Your “victim” will be presented with three spoons, of which they must pick one to focus on – Ask them what it is, after all – you’re only going to press the “On” button – but, after pressing the ON button, their chosen spoon will begin to bend!

Learn about the trick by watching the video below!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMfyffsl_kg

You can of course, check out an earlier app that exploits such cognitive flaws – Telepathy