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Backlash against Public Health in the US

Originally published by KHN on December 15, 2020.

Reproduced by permission.

DISCLAIMER: The republication of this article by the curator of ‘Curious About Behaviour’ is not an endorsement of the opinions expressed by the contributors.

The above picture shows Tisha Coleman, the public health administrator for Linn County, standing in front of her office Dec. 7, 2020 in Pleasanton, Kansas. Across the United States, state and local public health officials such as Coleman have found themselves at the center of a political storm as they combat the worst pandemic in a century. (AP PHOTO/CHARLIE RIEDEL)

[Update: This article was revised at 1:15 p.m. ET on Dec. 15, 2020, to reflect the resignation of Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, the health officer in Shawnee County, Kansas.]

Tisha Coleman has lived in close-knit Linn County, Kansas, for 42 years and never felt so alone.

As the public health administrator, she’s struggled every day of the coronavirus pandemic to keep her rural county along the Missouri border safe. In this community with no hospital, she’s failed to persuade her neighbors to wear masks and take precautions against COVID-19, even as cases rise. In return, she’s been harassed, sued, vilified — and called a Democrat, an insult in her circles.

Even her husband hasn’t listened to her, refusing to require customers to wear masks at the family’s hardware store in Mound City.

“People have shown their true colors,” Coleman said. “I’m sure that I’ve lost some friends over this situation.”

By November, the months of fighting over masks and quarantines were already wearing her down. Then she got COVID-19, likely from her husband, who she thinks picked it up at the hardware store. Her mother got it, too, and died on Sunday, 11 days after she was put on a ventilator.

Across the U.S., state and local public health officials such as Coleman have found themselves at the center of a political storm as they combat the worst pandemic in a century. Amid a fractured federal response, the usually invisible army of workers charged with preventing the spread of infectious diseases has become a public punching bag. Their expertise on how to fight the coronavirus is often disregarded.

Some have become the target of far-right activists, conservative groups and anti-vaccination extremists, who have coalesced around common goals — fighting mask orders, quarantines and contact tracing with protests, threats and personal attacks.

The backlash has moved beyond the angry fringe. In the courts, public health powers are being undermined. Lawmakers in at least 24 states have crafted legislation to weaken public health powers, which could make it more difficult for communities to respond to other health emergencies in the future.

“What we’ve taken for granted for 100 years in public health is now very much in doubt,” said Lawrence Gostin, an expert in public health law at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

It is a further erosion of the nation’s already fragile public health infrastructure. At least 181 state and local public health leaders in 38 states have resigned, retired or been fired since April 1, according to an ongoing investigation by The Associated Press and KHN. According to experts, this is the largest exodus of public health leaders in American history. An untold number of lower-level staffers has also left.

“I’ve never seen or studied a pandemic that has been as politicized, as vitriolic and as challenged as this one, and I’ve studied a lot of epidemics,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. “All of that has been very demoralizing for the men and women who don’t make a great deal of money, don’t get a lot of fame, but work 24/7.”

One in 8 Americans — 40 million people — lives in a community that has lost its local public health department leader during the pandemic. Top public health officials in 20 states have left state-level departments, including in North Dakota, which has lost three state health officers since May, one after another.

Many of the state and local officials left due to political blowback or pandemic pressure. Some departed to take higher-profile positions or due to health concerns. Others were fired for poor performance. Dozens retired.

KHN and AP reached out to public health workers and experts in every state and the National Association of County and City Health Officials; examined public records and news reports; and interviewed hundreds to gather the list.

Collectively, the loss of expertise and experience has created a leadership vacuum in the profession, public health experts say. Many health departments are in flux as the nation rolls out the largest vaccination campaign in its history and faces what are expected to be the worst months of the pandemic.

“We don’t have a long line of people outside of the door who want those jobs,” said Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, health officer in Shawnee County, Kansas, who had decided to retire from his job at the end of the year, he said, because he’s burned out. “It’s a huge loss that will be felt probably for generations to come.”

But Pezzino could not even make it to Dec. 31. On Monday, after county commissioners loosened restrictions, he immediately stepped down.

“You value the pressure from people with special economic interests more than science and good public health practice,” he wrote in a letter to the commissioners. “In full conscience I cannot continue to serve as the health officer for a board that puts being able to patronize bars and sports venues in front of the health, lives and well-being of a majority of its constituents.”

Existing Problems

The departures accelerate problems that had already weakened the nation’s public health system. AP and KHN reported that per capita spending for state public health departments had dropped by 16%, and for local health departments by 18%, since 2010. At least 38,000 state and local public health jobs have disappeared since the 2008 recession.

Those diminishing resources were already prompting high turnover. Before the pandemic, nearly half of public health workers said in a survey they planned to retire or leave in the next five years. The top reason given was low pay.

Such reduced staffing in departments that have the power and responsibility to manage everything from water inspections to childhood immunizations left public health workforces ill-equipped when COVID-19 arrived. Then, when pandemic shutdowns cut tax revenues, some state and local governments cut their public health workforces further.

“Now we’re at this moment where we need this knowledge and leadership the most, everything has come together to cause that brain drain,” said Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, which represents leaders of more than two dozen public health departments.

Politics as Public Health Poison

Public health experts broadly agree that masks are a simple and cost-effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives and livelihoods. Scientists say that physical distancing and curtailing indoor activities can also help.

But with the pandemic coinciding with a divisive presidential election, simple acts such as wearing a mask morphed into political statements, with right-wing conservatives saying such requirements stomped on individual freedom.

On the campaign trail, President Donald Trump ridiculed President-elect Joe Biden for wearing a mask and egged on armed people who stormed Michigan’s Capitol to protest coronavirus restrictions by tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

Coleman, a Christian and a Republican, said that’s just what happened in Linn County. “A lot of people are shamed into not wearing a mask … because you’re considered a Democrat,” she said. “I’ve been called a ‘sheep.’”

The politicization has put some local governments at odds with their own health officials. In California, near Lake Tahoe, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to end a local health emergency and declared support for a widely discredited “herd immunity” strategy, which would let the virus spread. The idea is endorsed by many conservatives, including former Trump adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, as a way to keep the economy running, but it has been denounced by public health experts who say millions more people will unnecessarily suffer and die. The supervisors also endorsed a false conspiracy theory claiming many COVID-19 deaths are not actually from COVID-19.

The meeting occurred just days after county Public Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson explained to the board the rigorous standards used for counting COVID-19 deaths. Sisson quit the next day.

In Idaho, protests against public health measures are intensifying. Hundreds of protesters, some armed, swarmed health district offices and health board members’ homes in Boise on Dec. 8, screaming and blaring air horns. They included members of the anti-vaccination group Health Freedom Idaho.

Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, has tracked the anti-vaccine movement and said it has linked up with political extremists on the right, and taken on a larger anti-science role, pushing back against other public health measures such as contact tracing and physical distancing.

Members of a group called the Freedom Angels in California, which sprung up in 2019 around a state law to tighten vaccine requirements, have been organizing protests at health departments, posing with guns and calling themselves a militia on the group’s Facebook page.

The latest Idaho protests came after a July skirmish in which Ammon Bundy shoved a public health employee who tried to stop him and his maskless supporters from entering a health meeting.

Bundy, whose family led armed standoffs against federal agents in 2014 and 2016, has become an icon for paramilitary groups and right-wing extremists, most recently forming a multistate network called People’s Rights that has organized protests against public health measures.

“We don’t believe they have a right to tell us that we have to put a manmade filter over our face to go outside,” Bundy said. “It’s not about, you know, the mandates or the mask. It’s about them not having that right to do it.”

Kelly Aberasturi, vice chair for the Southwest District Health, which covers six counties, said the worker Bundy shoved was “just trying to do his job.”

Aberasturi, a self-described “extremist” right-wing Republican, said he, too, has been subjected to the backlash. Aberasturi doesn’t support mask mandates, but he did back the board’s recommendation that people in the community wear masks. He said people who believe even a recommendation goes too far have threatened to protest at his house.

The Mask Fight in Kansas

The public health workforce in Kansas has been hit hard — 17 of the state’s 100 health departments have lost their leaders since the end of March.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly issued a mask mandate in July, but the state legislature allowed counties to opt out. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report showed the 24 Kansas counties that had upheld the mandate saw a 6% decrease in COVID-19, while the 81 counties that opted out entirely saw a 100% increase.

Coleman, who pushed unsuccessfully for Linn County to uphold the rule, was sued for putting a community member into quarantine, a lawsuit she won. In late November, she spoke at a county commissioner’s meeting to discuss a new mask mandate — it was her first day back in the office after her own bout with COVID-19.

She pleaded for a plan to help stem the surge in cases. One resident referenced Thomas Jefferson, saying, “I prefer a dangerous freedom over a peaceful slavery.” Another falsely argued that masks caused elevated carbon dioxide. Few, besides Coleman, wore a mask at the meeting.

Commissioner Mike Page supported the mask order, noting that a close friend was fighting COVID-19 in the hospital and saying he was “ashamed” that members of the community had sued their public health workers while other communities supported theirs.

In the end, the commissioners encouraged community members to wear masks but opted out of a county-wide rule, writing they had determined that they are “not necessary to protect the public health and safety of the county.”

Coleman was disappointed but not surprised. “At least I know I’ve done everything I can to attempt to protect the people,” she said.

The next day, Coleman discussed Christmas decorations with her mother as she drove her to the hospital.

Stripping of Powers

The state bill that let Linn County opt out of the governor’s mask mandate is one of dozens of efforts to erode public health powers in state legislatures across the country.

For decades, government authorities have had the legal power to stop foodborne illnesses and infectious diseases by closing businesses and quarantining individuals, among other measures.

When people contract tuberculosis, for example, the local health department might isolate them, require them to wear a mask when they leave their homes, require family members to get tested, relocate them so they can isolate and make sure they take their medicine. Such measures are meant to protect everyone and avoid the shutdown of businesses and schools.

Now, opponents of those measures are turning to state legislatures and even the Supreme Court to strip public officials of those powers, defund local health departments or even dissolve them. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed group of conservative lawmakers, has published model legislation for states to follow.

Lawmakers in Missouri, Louisiana, Ohio, Virginia and at least 20 other states have crafted bills to limit public health powers. In some states, the efforts have failed; in others, legislative leaders have embraced them enthusiastically.

Tennessee’s Republican House leadership is backing a bill to constrain the state’s six local health departments, granting their powers to mayors instead. The bill stems from clashes between the mayor of Knox County and the local health board over mask mandates and business closures.

In Idaho, lawmakers resolved to review the authority of local health districts in the next session. The move doesn’t sit right with Aberasturi, who said it’s hypocritical coming from state lawmakers who profess to believe in local control.

Meanwhile, governors in Wisconsin, Kansas and Michigan, among others, have been sued by their own legislators, state think tanks or others for using their executive powers to restrict business operations and require masks. In Ohio, a group of lawmakers is seeking to impeach Republican Gov. Mike DeWine over his pandemic rules.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 1905 found it was constitutional for officials to issue orders to protect the public health, in a case upholding a Cambridge, Massachusetts, requirement to get a smallpox vaccine. But a 5-4 ruling last month indicated the majority of justices are willing to put new constraints on those powers.

“It is time — past time — to make plain that, while the pandemic poses many grave challenges, there is no world in which the Constitution tolerates color-coded executive edicts that reopen liquor stores and bike shops but shutter churches, synagogues, and mosques,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote.

Gostin, the health law professor, said the decision could embolden state legislators and governors to weaken public health authority, creating “a snowballing effect on the erosion of public health powers and, ultimately, public’s trust in public health and science.”

Who’s Left?

Many health officials who have stayed in their jobs have faced not only political backlash but also threats of personal violence. Armed paramilitary groups have put public health in their sights.

In California, a man with ties to the right-wing, anti-government Boogaloo movement was accused of stalking and threatening Santa Clara’s health officer. The suspect was arrested and has pleaded not guilty. The Boogaloo movement is associated with multiple murders, including of a Bay Area sheriff deputy and federal security officer.

Linda Vail, health officer for Michigan’s Ingham County, has received emails and letters at her home saying she’d be “taken down like the governor,” which Vail took to be a reference to the thwarted attempt to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Even as other health officials are leaving, Vail is choosing to stay despite the threats.

“I can completely understand why some people, they’re just done,” she said. “There are other places to go work.”

In mid-November, Danielle Swanson, public health administrator in Republic County, Kansas, said she was planning to resign as soon as she and enough of her COVID-19-positive staff emerged from isolation. Someone threatened to go to her department with a gun because of a quarantine, and she’s received hand-delivered hate mail and calls from screaming residents.

“It’s very stressful. It’s hard on me; it’s hard on my family that I do not see,” she said. “For the longest time, I held through it thinking there’s got to be an end in sight.”

Swanson said some of her employees have told her once she goes, they probably will not stay.

As public health officials depart across the country, the question of who takes their places has plagued Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who left her job as commissioner of New York City’s health department in August amid a clash with Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio. During the height of the pandemic, the mayor empowered the city’s hospital system to lead the fight against COVID-19, passing over her highly regarded department.

“I’m concerned about the degree to which they will have the fortitude to tell elected officials what they need to hear instead of what they want to hear,” Barbot said.

In Kentucky, 189 employees, about 1 in 10, left local health departments from March through Nov. 21, according to Sara Jo Best, public health director of the Lincoln Trail District Health Department. That comes after a decade of decline: Staff numbers fell 49% from 2009 to 2019. She said workers are exhausted and can’t catch up on the overwhelming number of contact tracing investigations, much less run COVID-19 testing, combat flu season and prepare for COVID-19 vaccinations.

And the remaining workforce is aging. According to the de Beaumont Foundation, which advocates for local public health, 42% of governmental public health workers are over age 50.

Back in Linn County, cases are rising. As of Dec. 14, 1 out of every 24 residents has tested positive.

The day after her mother was put on a ventilator, Coleman fought to hold back tears as she described the 71-year-old former health care worker with a strong work ethic.

“Of course, I could give up and throw in the towel, but I’m not there yet,” she said, adding that she will “continue to fight to prevent this happening to someone else.”

Coleman, whose mother died Sunday, has noticed more people are wearing masks these days.

But at the family hardware store, they are still not required.

This story is a collaboration between The Associated Press and KHN.

Methodology

KHN and AP counted how many state and local public health leaders have left their jobs since April 1, or who plan to leave by Dec. 31.

The analysis includes the exits of top department officials regardless of the reason. Some departments have more than one top position and some had multiple top officials leave from the same position over the course of the pandemic.

To compile the list, reporters reached out to public health associations and experts in every state and interviewed hundreds of public health employees. They also received information from the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and combed news reports and public records, such as meeting minutes and news releases.

The population served by each local health department is calculated using the Census Bureau 2019 Population Estimates based on each department’s jurisdiction.

The count of legislation came from reviewing bills in every state, prefiled bills for 2021 sessions, where available, and news reports. The bills include limits on quarantines, contact tracing, vaccine requirements and emergency executive powers.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling, KHN is one of the three major operating programs at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed nonprofit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

Subscribe to KHN’s free Morning Briefing.

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Revealed: 5,000 empty ‘ghost flights’ in UK since 2019, data shows

www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/sep/28/revealed-5000-completely-empty-ghost-flights-in-uk-since-2019-data-shows

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The Psi Hypothesis Has Been Blown Sky High – It’s Nothing Less Than Catastrophic – One-hundred Years of Laboratory Research Have Yielded Zero Confirmable Findings

Hyperbole is not normally ‘my thing’. In this case, I feel it is justified. Polite academic language simply doesn’t cut it.

Remember you read it here first: the psi hypothesis has been blown sky high – it’s nothing less than catastrophic – 100 years of laboratory research has yielded zero confirmable findings. The current review demonstrates an almost complete lack of confirmability in Parapsychology. This is not only a replicability crisis – it is a existential crisis for the entire Parapsychology field.

This author has been expressing doubts for a good many years. Now the die is cast. It is looking 100% certain that the laboratory is the last place on Earth to observe the influence of ‘psi’. In previous posts here and here I discuss the crucial, recent findings from Parapsychology. After almost 100 years of laboratory research, there are sufficient numbers of confirmatory studies to reveal the truth about the (non) existence of psi.

If a ‘Dr Smith’ says ‘they’ve’ done an exciting new study that found evidence of psi, we call that an ‘exploratory study’. We don’t get over-excited until Smith study’s been replicated. There have been tens of thousands of ‘Dr. Smith’ studies, which in reality mean nothing. None of such exploratory studies can be reliably replicated. Reviewers have attempted to integrate dozens or hundreds of such findings in narrative reviews or meta-analyses, but it is a thankless and futile task because without the ability to reliably replicate, it’s simply a case of ‘rubbish’ in, ‘rubbish’ out and we remain none the wiser.

Since the launch of the Open Science Framework, scientists have attempted to do better by running confirmatory studies that specify their hypothesis in advance, register it along with the procedures and statistical analyses, and then carrying out an attempted replication of one or more of the exploratory studies. For Parapsychology, Professor Caroline Watt of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh has led the way by establishing a Registry of Parapsychological Experiments (RPE). The registry is an essential data-base for evaluating not only single hypotheses but for evaluating the entire Parapsychology field.

I report here my analysis of the RPE and the discoveries that can be made there. I have been a little surprised at what the collection of registered studies is revealing. In a previous post, I indicated how the RPE suggests that almost all of the positive confirmatory studies on psi are emanating from the same investigator, Dr Patrizio Tressoldi, of the University of Padua in Italy. Padua is Europe’s oldest university and once the base of one of the world’s most revolutionary scientists, the astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642). An analysis of Tressoldi’s confirmatory studies of laboratory psi suggests that ‘Error Some Place’ is the explanation. I summarize below brief comments on Tressoldi’s nine published studies and eleven Confirmatory Hypotheses.

Brief Notes on Why Tressoldi’s ‘Confirmatory Studies’ Are 100% Non-confirmatory

The numbers in the following notes are the ID numbers of the studies in the RPE. Full details of each study are provided in the Appendix.

1049 DISCONFIRMATION. This study should probably be voided due to irregularities in the description of the Confirmatory Hypotheses: the registry document specifies a single hypothesis while the published report specifies two Confirmatory Hypotheses. In spite of this apparent ‘fishing expedition’, both confirmatory hypothesis in the published study are reported as disconfirmed.

1013 VOIDED Because the investigators changed the hypothesis after the data had been collected, which invalidates the conditions of a preregistered study.

1012 DISCONFIRMATION. Two Confirmatory Hypotheses were both disconfirmed.  In an earlier post, I inadvertently misclassified the findings as confirmatory.

1011 VOIDED because the investigators tested 20 participants prior to registration. The publication reporting the results is in a journal with questionable peer-reviewing procedures. The paper’s five citations are all self-citations by Tressoldi.

1010 DISCONFIRMATION of two Confirmatory Hypotheses, according to the publication, although the Registry document specified only one.

1009   VOIDED

According to the registration document (15th May 2014):

The planned number of participants and the number of trials per participant. We plan to recruit 34 participants who will contribute for three sessions each, for a total of 102 experimental sessions. The number of bits for second will be set to 200. 6. A statement that the registration is submitted prior to testing the first participant, or indicating the number of participants tested when the registration (or revision to the registration) was submitted. At the 10th of May 2014, we have recorded 30 experimental sessions contributed by 10 participants and 30 control sessions.    

It is a serious irregularity that allows data collection on 10/34 participants to have been completed prior to registration or a pre-registered study. The study does not meet the standards of peer review accepted by the majority of scholarly journals. A further issue with this study is that its publication seems to have been hurriedly reviewed and is poorly described in all respects.

The publication carries the citation: Tressoldi P et al., (2014). Mind-Matter Interaction at a Distance of 190 km: Effects on a Random Event Generator Using a Cutoff Method. NeuroQuantology | September 2014 | Volume 12 | Issue 3 | Page 337-343.

The paper is listed by Google Scholar but not by PubMed. The article states that the manuscript was “Received: 3 July 2014; Revised: 14 July 2014; Accepted: 28 July 2014′ leaving only 11 days for review, revision, second review and final acceptance. That may be a world record for a study reporting a phenomenon that, if real, would revolutionize Science. The results section consists of 8 short lines of text and one small table and are described so barely that it is impossible to evaluate exactly what was done to the raw data. The Results section states:

Descriptive and the inferential statistics for the number and percentages of experimental and control sessions when the cutoff was met, are reported in Table 2. The average duration of the sessions was 62 seconds, range 60-71, whereas the average time period during which the cutoff was achieved, was approximately 34 seconds, range 10-66.

Table 2. Descriptive and the inferential statistics for the number and percentages of experimental and control sessions when the cutoff was met.

ConditionN (% out 102)Effect size d [95% CIs]Bayes Factor H1/H0*
Mental interaction  84 (82.3)0.97 [0.73, 1.21]7.3×1011
Control  14 (13.7)  

*=using the same priors of the pilot study

1008 DISCONFIRMATION of two Confirmatory Hypotheses.

The citation for the publication reads: Tressoldi PE, Pederzoli L, Bilucaglia M et al. Brain-to-Brain (mind-to-mind) interaction at distance: a confirmatory study [version 3; peer review: 1 approved, 1 not approved]. F1000Research 2014, 3:182. Latest published: 23 Oct 2014, 3:182.
Following peer review by two independent reviewers, F1000Research has three versions of the paper. The final outcome was that only one reviewer approved publication while a second reviewer adamantly did not approve. This reviewer stated: “Unfortunately, while they carried out some of the analyses we discussed, the evidence still does not support their claims, even though the claims have now been toned down.” Although the paper remains listed in Google Scholar it is not listed by Pub Med. 

On this basis, it can be concluded that the findings did NOT support the hypothesis of mind to mind interaction at a distance.

Both hypotheses were disconfirmed. In an earlier post, I inadvertently misclassified the findings as confirmatory.

1001: TWO STUDIES FAIL TO REACH THE CRITERIA FOR CONFIRMATION

Publication 1 of 2: F1000

Tressoldi PE, Martinelli M and Semenzato L. Pupil dilation prediction of random events [version 2; peer review: 2 approved with reservations]. F1000Research 2014, 2:262 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-262.v2)First published: 02 Dec 2013, 2:262 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-262.v1)Latest published: 09 May 2014, 2:262 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-262.v2)

Version 1: peer review 1 approved 1 approved with reservations. Version 2 peer review: 2 approved with reservations. Thus, a lower level of approval occurred for Version 2 than for Version 1 because the reviewers remained concerned about the statistical analysis, which one claimed was circular. The peer reviewers’ critical comments do not allow the conclusion that the hypothesis was confirmed.

Publication 2 of 2: SSRN

Tressoldi, Patrizio E. and Martinelli, Massimiliano and Semenzato, Luca, Pupil Dilation Predictive Anticipatory Activity: A Conceptual Replication (February 9, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2393019 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2393019

Results were at chance level. Thus, the experimental hypothesis was disconfirmed.

Summary Table of Tressoldi’s Findings

ID
CONFIRMED  
DISCONFIRMEDVOIDEDDETAILS
1049noyes
1013nonoyesInvestigators changed hypothesis after data collection
1012 inoyes
1012 iinoyes
1011nonoyesPrior testing of 20 Ss
1010noyes
1009nonoyesPrior testing of approximately one third of Ss
1008noyes
1002nonoyesNot a confirmatory study
1001 inoyes
1001 iinoyes

A Loose End

A previous post included a single confirmatory study by somebody other than Tressoldi that offers partial support to the psi hypothesis. This is study ID 1026 by Dr. David Vernon.


A test of reward contingent precall (C)
David Vernon19th Oct 20161026KPU Registry 1026
Study Results Summary
KPU 1026 data
KPU 1026 data definition PARTIAL
David Vernon’s Confirmatory Study

There were two Confirmatory Hypotheses:
HA1 = Precall effect: Post recall practise of images will lead to greater recall of those images
compared to those not practised.
HA2 = Contingent reward: Those offered a contingent reward of £10 will exhibit greater levels of
precall (precall score – baseline score) compared to those not offered a reward.

It should be noted that both hypotheses predict the direction of the difference and so a one-tailed t test is permissable (α <.10). According to Vernon’s report on the RPE website:

A repeated measures t test comparing Precall to Baseline scores showed that the level of accuracy for the Precall condition was significantly higher than the Baseline condition (respective means: 5.78 vs. 5.22), t(98)=2.352, p=0.021, 95% CI (0.0836, 0.987), d=0.32.

The study was later published in the Journal of Parapsychology:

Vernon, D. (2018) Test of reward contingent precall. Journal of Parapsychology, 82
(1). pp. 8-23. ISSN 0022-3387..

There is a need to correct for multiple testing because Vernon carried out two t-tests. The correction can be made using a Bonferroni Correction by adjusting the alpha (α) level to control for the probability of committing a type I error. The formula for a Bonferroni Correction is: αnew = αoriginal / n. For Vernon’s two Confirmatory Hypotheses α should be .025. Unfortunately the link to the data for study 1026 is broken and so I have been unable to check the statistics that Vernon ran. I note that the difference between the two means is approximately one-third of a standard deviation so the difference between the two conditions appears to be marginal and could have been a type I error (see below).

A Second Loose End

Another study by David Vernon contained two Confirmatory Hypotheses, study ID 1046: An implicit and explicit assessment of morphic resonance theory using Chinese characters, registered by David Vernon, 23rd May 2018, 1046, KPU Registry 1046, Study Results Summary, KPU 1046 data
KPU 1046 data definition

A reviewer who, for now, I will call ‘Dr X’, has suggested that one of Vernon’s hypotheses was confirmed:

For registration 1046, two confirmatory hypotheses were preregistered. One was reported as significant in a negative direction and the other test was not significant. The tests were preregistered as two-tailed and therefore one was a significant outcome. Your summary had the study as unsuccessful.

Confirmatory hypothesis for the implicit preference task: Participants will prefer (i.e., select) real Chinese characters at a level significantly greater than chance (i.e., 50%). Vernon observed that participants implicitly preferred real Chinese characters less than would be expected by chance. Observing the exact opposite to what the hypothesis predicted means that the hypothesis was DISCONFIRMED. Dr X’s claim that finding the exact opposite to a Confirmatory Hypothesis is a “significant outcome” appears a bit bizarre.

Confirmatory hypotheses for the explicit identification task: Participants will identify real Chinese characters at a level significantly higher than chance (i.e., 50%). This hypothesis was DISCONFIRMED.

Parapsychology’s laboratory studies of psi are hanging by a single thread, a study by Vernon on the precall of images (study ID 1026). This is an interesting study but it isn’t a life saver – it’s more likely a Type I error.

Avoidance of Type I Error

In my previous post about the non-existence of laboratory psi, I reviewed 27 confirmatory studies listed at the RPE. Allowing for the fact that a few of these studies tested two Confirmatory Hypotheses, we can say that, in round figures, there have been roughly thirty Confirmatory Hypotheses investigated in these 27 studies. Given that all of them have been testing a single hypothesis about the existence of laboratory psi, there is a significant risk of Type I error, i.e. falsely rejecting the null hypothesis. As noted above, to minimize the risk of such an error, it is necessary to make a Bonferroni Correction to the alpha value used as the criterion for rejecting the null hypothesis. With 30 different statistical tests, an appropriate alpha level is defined by the formula: αnew = αoriginal / n, i.e. .05/30 = .00167.

Taking this correction into account, it is necessary to conclude that David Vernon’s p value for study 1026 of p=0.021 fails to reach statistical significance. It is concluded that Vernon’s one and only confirmed hypothesis is most likely attributable to a Type I Error.

Conclusions

My review of Patrizio Tressoldi’s 11 confirmatory hypotheses on laboratory psi reveals a bleak picture of Parapsychology. The overall quality of the studies can be viewed as nothing other than extremely poor. For 4 of 11 hypotheses listed on the Koestler Parapsychology Unit’s data-base it has been necessary to void the studies for one of three reasons: pre-registration collection of a portion of the data; changing the hypothesis after collection of the data; or, lacking any statistically significant exploratory finding as a basis for confirmation. Not one ‘confirmatory study’ provides statistically significant evidence that psi is real. For 7 of 11 hypotheses a clear and resounding disconfirmation is demonstrated. Considering the entire data-base of confirmatory studies, none of the findings was statistically significant at the corrected significance level of p < .00167. The 100% confirmatory failure across the entire gamut of laboratory studies is nothing less than catastrophic. Parapsychology has lost its way and a more fruitful approach is necessary. Ideas about this will follow.

  NO.  STUDY TITLE

LEAD AUTHORDATE SUBMITTEDSTUDY IDLINK TO REGISTERED INFORMATION  REVIEW OF FINDINGS  
PT11PsyPhotos (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Luciano Pederzoli3rd Oct 20191054KPU Registry 1054  NO PUBLISHED FINDINGS.  
PT10Mind-matter interaction at distance on a standalone device (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Luciano Pederzoli21st Feb 20191049KPU Registry 1049   Published Results   DISCONFIRMEDTressoldi, P. E., Pederozoli, L., Prati, E., & Semenzato, L. (2020). Mind Control at Distance of an Electronic Device: A Proof-of-Concept Preregistered Study. Journal of Scientific Exploration34(2), 233-245. https://doi.org/10.31275/20201573   On Google Scholar but not PubMed.   The published report differs from the registration document in the number of hypotheses and the measures to be used. The registration document specifies one confirmatory hypothesis: “the percentage of triggered electronic signals emitted by the MindSwitch during the periods of mental interaction at distance, will exceed that observed prior and following this interaction.”   The published report specifies two confirmatory hypotheses as follows:     “a) the samples obtained during distant mental interaction contain a higher number of data that exceed the probability cutoff of the Frequency or Runs tests of non-randomness and/or b) that the means of the absolute differences between the zeros and ones is greater during the mental interaction than in the preinteraction and the control phases.”   Note that the change in the specification of the dependent variable from “the percentages of triggered signals” in the registration document to a) and b) above.   There was no empirical support for either of the two hypotheses.  
PT9Telephone telepathy, an Italian independent exact replication (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Rupert Sheldrake3rd Nov 20181048KPU Registry 1048  NO PUBLISHED FINDINGS.  
PT8Can our mind emit light? A confirmatory experiment of mental interaction at distance on a photomultiplier (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth6th Jul 20151013  KPU Registry 1013
Errata
Published Results   VOIDED OWING TO THE INVESTIGATOR(S) CHANGING THE HYPOTHESIS AFTER REGISTRATION OF STUDY  
Tressoldi, Patrizio E. and Pederzoli, Luciano and Ferrini, Alessandro and Matteoli, Marzio and Melloni, Simone and Kruth, John, Can our Mind Emit Light? Mental Entanglement at Distance with a Photomultiplier (July 1, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2625527 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2625527   On Google Scholar but not PubMed.   On August 15, 2015, the investigators changed the hypothesis after the data had been collected, which invalidates the conditions of a preregistered study.   In addition, a re-analysis by a post-publication peer reviewer indicates that an incorrect statistical analysis was carried out by Grote (2017; https://www.neuroquantology.com/article.php?id=1699) who indicated incorrect statistical assumptions by the authors.  
PT7Biophotons as physical correlates of mental interaction at distance: a new confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth29th Apr 20151012KPU Registry 1012
Published Results   AMENDED TO DISCONFIRMEDGraphical user interface, text
Description automatically generated
SAME PUBLICATION AS FOR 1013.   Two confirmatory hypotheses: The number of photons detected by the PMT in the 30 minutes after the MI will outperform those detected in the 30 minutes before the MI.   These differences will hold subtracting the number of photons in the corresponding 60 minutes of the control sessions.  
PT6CardioAlert: A portable assistant for the choice between negative or positive random events (C)Patrizio Tressoldi17th Mar 20151011KPU_Registry_1011
Published Results   VOIDED OWING TO TESTING OF 20 PARTICIPANTS PRIOR TO REGISTRATION
SSRN:  Tressoldi, P. E., Martinelli, M., Torre, J., Zanette, S., & Duma, G. M. (2015). CardioAlert: A heart rate based decision support system for improving choices related to negative or positive future events. Available at SSRN 2604206.   On Google Scholar but not PubMed.   Paper has 5 citations, all self-citations by Tressoldi.  
PT5Biophotons as physical correlates of mental interaction at distance: a confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth8th Oct 20141010KPU_Registry_1010
Published Results   DISCONFIRMEDGraphical user interface, text
Description automatically generated
SSRN: Tressoldi, P. E., Pederzoli, L., Ferrini, A., Matteoli, M., Melloni, S., & Kruth, J. (2015). Can our Mind emit light? Mental entanglement at distance with a photomultiplier. Mental Entanglement at Distance with a Photomultiplier (July 1, 2015).   Appears on Google Scholar but not PubMed.   According to the Registry document, there was one confirmatory hypothesis: The number of photons detected by the PMT in the experimental sessions will outperform those detected in the control sessions with an expected standardized effect size of 1.5 and a raw difference of 0.3 photons x second.   According to the publication of the study, there were two pre-registered confirmatory studies.   NEITHER  HYPOTHESIS WAS CONFIRMED.  
PT4Mind-matter interaction at distance on a random events generator (REG): a confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi15th May 20141009KPU_Registry_1009
Published Results   VOIDED OWING TO SOME DATA COLLECTION PRIOR TO REGISTRATION AND THE SUBSTANDARD REPORT OF FINDINGS. Graphical user interface, text, application
Description automatically generated
  Tressoldi P et al., (2014). Mind-Matter Interaction at a Distance of 190 km: Effects on a Random Event Generator Using a Cutoff Method. NeuroQuantology | September 2014 | Volume 12 | Issue 3 | Page 337-343.   Appears on Google Scholar but not PubMed.   This paper was rapidly reviewed and resubmitted (in 11 days) and accepted 14 days later: Received: 3 July 2014;  Revised: 14 July 2014; Accepted: 28 July 2014.   One-third of the data collection had already been completed prior to registration.   The quality of the publication is sub-standard.  
PT3Brain-to-brain (mind-to-mind) interaction at distance: a proof of concept of mental telecommunication (C)Patrizio Tressoldi23rd Apr 20141008KPU_Registry_1008
Published Results   REVISED TO DISCONFIRMEDGraphical user interface, text
Description automatically generated
Tressoldi PE, Pederzoli L, Bilucaglia M et al. Brain-to-Brain (mind-to-mind) interaction at distance: a confirmatory study [version 3; peer review: 1 approved, 1 not approved]. F1000Research 2014, 3:182   Latest published: 23 Oct 2014, 3:182 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.4336.3)   The paper is listed on Google Scholar but not by Pub Med.     F1000 Research has three versions of the paper following peer review by two independent reviewers. The final outcome was that one reviewer approved publication and a second reviewer did not approve. This reviewer stated: “Unfortunately, while they carried out some of the analyses we discussed, the evidence still does not support their claims, even though the claims have now been toned down.”   On this basis, it is concluded that the findings did NOT support the hypothesis of mind-to-mind interaction at a distance.  
PT2Pupil dilation prediction of random negative events. Can they be avoided? (C)  Patrizio Tressoldi1st Feb 20131002KPU_Registry_1002
Published Results   VOIDED BECAUSE IT WAS AN EXPLORATORY STUDY NOT A CONFIRMATORY ONE.
VOIDED According to the registration document, this study tests a single confirmatory hypothesis, namely that pupil dilation can predict and avoid potential negative stimulation. SSRN: Does Psychophysiological Predictive Anticipatory Activity Predict Real or Future Probable Events? This paper is published in EXPLORE. It states: “Experiments 1 and 2:The first two experiments are conceptual replications of studies by Tressoldi et al.,2, 3 using heart rate (HR) as PAA, instead of PD.  “Experiments 3 and 4:The following two experiments are a variant of the experiments of Tressoldi et al.3 The only difference being that the negative event predicted in the anticipatory phase was skipped instead of presented. Comparing the results with the previous experiments and the following ones, it is possible to test further the “bilking paradox,” that is, whether it is possible to avoid predicted future negative events, giving more support to the results observed in the experiment 2.” “Experiment 4 This is an exact replication of the experiments by Tressoldi et al.,3 aimed at testing if the observed prediction accuracy holds even when the alerting stimuli get skipped when predicted from the measurement of the PD before their presentation.”   Note that reference 3 is from F1000: Tressoldi PE, Martinelli M, Semenzato L. Pupil dilation prediction of random events [v2; ref status: approved with…] the disconfirmed study 1001. A study cannot be confirmatory when the study being replicated did not itself find any significant outcomes and was not fully approved for publication by the reviewers at F1000 (see below).  
PT1Pupil dilation accuracy in the prediction of random events (C)Patrizio Tressoldi26th Nov 20121001KPU_Registry_1001
Published Results
(1 of 2)
1)DISCONFIRMED   Published Results
(2 of 2)   2) DISCONFIRMED.
TWO STUDIES Publication 1 of 2: F1000 Tressoldi PE, Martinelli M and Semenzato L. Pupil dilation prediction of random events [version 2; peer review: 2 approved with reservations]. F1000Research 2014, 2:262 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-262.v2)First published: 02 Dec 2013, 2:262 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-262.v1)Latest published: 09 May 2014, 2:262 (https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.2-262.v2)   On Google Scholar but not PubMed.   Version 1 (2 Dec 2013) peer review 1 approved 1 approved with reservations Version 2 (9 May 2014) peer review: 2 approved with reservations. Thus, a lower level of approval occurred for Version 2 than for Version 1 because the reviewers remained concerned about the statistical analysis, which one claimed was circular.   In this author’s opinion, the peer reviews of this study do not support the conclusion that the hypothesis was confirmed.   Publication 2 of 2: SSRN Tressoldi, Patrizio E. and Martinelli, Massimiliano and Semenzato, Luca, Pupil Dilation Predictive Anticipatory Activity: A Conceptual Replication (February 9, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2393019 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2393019   On Google Scholar but not PubMed.   Results were at chance level. The experimental hypothesis was disconfirmed.    

APPENDIX

Featured

Disquieting Features of Two ‘Confirmatory’ Psi Studies by Patrizio Tressoldi

In a previous post I reviewed the current status of psychical research in reference to so-called ‘confirmatory studies’ of laboratory psi. I concluded that the body of recent evidence suggests that the non-existence of laboratory psi is looking ever more certain.

The case for the existence of laboratory psi appears to rely almost entirely on studies led by a single, notable researcher, Dr. Patrizio Tressoldi at the University of Padua in Italy. Tressoldi’s collaborators include John Kruth, Executive Director of the Rhine Research Center, Durham, North Carolina, USA, Rupert Sheldrake and other notable figures in Parapsychology.

In total Tressoldi has registered 11 studies that are claimed to be confirmatory at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit. Nine of these preregistered studies have already published findings and findings for two of the studies are yet to be announced.

An ongoing investigation is examining the documentation of Tressoldi’s extraordinary claims. I say ‘extraordinary’ not only because of the nature of the claims, which fly in the face of accepted Science, but because they are the outliers of the majority of confirmatory studies, which are pointing to the non-existence of psi. Thus Tressoldi’s findings are exceptional.

As noted in my previous post, all of the studies claimed as fully confirmatory come from Patrizio Tressoldi’s laboratory. This preliminary report considers the status of two of Tressoldi’s confirmatory studies that are claimed to have found evidence of psi. An analysis is ongoing but is already revealing some disquieting features.

There is a case for voiding two studies with IDs 1002 and 1013 registered at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit for the reasons outlined below.

Reasons for Voiding Study 1002

According to the registration document, this study tests a single confirmatory hypothesis, namely that pupil dilation can predict and avoid potential negative stimulation. The report of the study is published in the journal EXPLORE with the title: “Does Psychophysiological Predictive Anticipatory Activity Predict Real or Future Probable Events?”

The paper states:

Experiments 1 and 2:The first two experiments are conceptual replications of studies by Tressoldi et al.,2, 3 using heart rate (HR) as PAA, instead of PD. 

Experiments 3 and 4:The following two experiments are a variant of the experiments of Tressoldi et al.3 The only difference being that the negative event predicted in the anticipatory phase was skipped instead of presented. Comparing the results with the previous experiments and the following ones, it is possible to test further the “bilking paradox,” that is, whether it is possible to avoid predicted future negative events, giving more support to the results observed in the experiment 2.

Experiment 4 This is an exact replication of the experiments by Tressoldi et al.,3 aimed at testing if the observed prediction accuracy holds even when the alerting stimuli get skipped when predicted from the measurement of the PD before their presentation.  

Note that reference 3 is to a paper in F1000: Tressoldi PE, Martinelli M, Semenzato L. “Pupil dilation prediction of random events [v2; ref status: approved with…]” which is disconfirmed study ID 1001.

A study (1002) cannot be called “confirmatory” if the study it is supposed to be replicating (1001): 1) did not itself find any significant outcomes and 2) was not fully approved for publication by its two peer reviewers.  

Reasons for Voiding Study 1013

In study 1013, the investigators changed the hypothesis for the study after the data had been collected. This invalidates the study as a pre-registered confirmatory study.

In addition, a post-publication re-analysis by an independent reviewer indicates that an incorrect statistical analysis was carried out for the original report of the findings.

Revision of Table of Confirmatory Findings

The voiding of two studies by Tressoldi for the reasons given above leads to a revised distribution of outcomes as shown in the table below.

INVESTIGATORCONFIRMATIONDISCONFIRMATIONTOTALS  
TRESSOLDI  437
OTHERS  1(partial)1718
TOTALS  52025
The outcomes of pre-reregistered confirmatory studies with published findings at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit’s Register
after voiding of studies 1002 and 1013

The above figures give an Exact Fisher Test statistic value of 0.0123 (p<.01). The percentage of claimed confirmatory psi studies is 20.0%, four of which are Tressoldi’s.

Conclusions

Owing to voiding of two studies, the number of genuine preregistered, confirmatory studies by Tressoldi has been reduced from 9 to 7. Of these seven, only four have reported positively confirmatory findings. These four studies remain as outliers beside the 20 disconfirming studies in the total of 25.

TABLE OF STUDIES IN THE ONGOING INVESTIGATION

No.  Study Title

Lead AuthorDate SubmittedStudy IDLink to Registered Information  Post-publication review of findings
PT11PsyPhotos (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Luciano Pederzoli3rd Oct 20191054KPU Registry 1054NO PAPER YET PUBLISHED.  
PT10Mind-matter interaction at distance on a standalone device (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Luciano Pederzoli21st Feb 20191049KPU Registry 1049   Published Results DISCONFIRMEDNO CHANGE TO DISCONFIRMATION DECISION.
PT9Telephone telepathy, an Italian independent exact replication (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Rupert Sheldrake3rd Nov 20181048KPU Registry 1048  NO PAPER YET PUBLISHED.    
PT8Can our mind emit light? A confirmatory experiment of mental interaction at distance on a photomultiplier (C) STUDY SHOULD BE VOIDED.Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth6th Jul 20151013KPU Registry 1013
Errata
Published Results CONFIRMATION CLAIM VOIDED
NOTE: ON AUGUST 15, 2015,THE INVESTIGATORS CHANGED THE PREDICTION FOR THE CONFIRMATION STUDY 1013 AFTER THE DATA HAD BEEN COLLECTED. THIS INVALIDATES THE STUDY.   IN ADDITION, A RE-ANALYSIS BY A POST-PUBLICATION PEER REVIEWER INDICATES THAT AN INCORRECT STATISTICAL ANALYSIS WAS CARRIED OUT.   SSRN
Re-analysis by Grote (2017; https://www.neuroquantology.com/article.php?id=1699) questions the finding claiming an incorrect statistical assumption by the authors.
PT7Biophotons as physical correlates of mental interaction at distance: a new confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth29th Apr 20151012KPU Registry 1012
Published Results CONFIRMATION CLAIMED
Confirmatory hypotheses: The number of photons detected by the PMT in the 30 minutes after the MI will outperform those detected in the 30 minutes before the MI. These differences will hold subtracting the number of photons in the corresponding 60 minutes of the control sessions. SSRN: Same as 1013 above. Can Our Minds Emit Light at 7300 km Distance? A Pre-Registered Confirmatory Experiment of Mental Entanglement with a Photomultiplier. ANALYSIS ONGOING  
PT6CardioAlert: A portable assistant for the choice between negative or positive random events (C)Patrizio Tressoldi17th Mar 20151011KPU_Registry_1011
Published Results CONFIRMATION CLAIMED
SSRN: CardioAlert: A Heart Rate Based Decision Support System for Improving Choices Related to Negative or Positive Future Events. ANALYSIS ONGOING    
PT5Biophotons as physical correlates of mental interaction at distance: a confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth8th Oct 20141010KPU_Registry_1010
Published Results DISCONFIRMATION
SSRN: Can our Mind Emit Light? Mental Entanglement at Distance with a Photomultiplier.   ANALYSIS ONGOING    
PT4Mind-matter interaction at distance on a random events generator (REG): a confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi15th May 20141009KPU_Registry_1009
Published Results CONFIRMATION CLAIMED
NeuroQuantology: Mind-Matter Interaction at a Distance of 190 km: Effects on a Random Event Generator Using a Cutoff Method.   ANALYSIS ONGOING    
PT3Brain-to-brain (mind-to-mind) interaction at distance: a proof of concept of mental telecommunication (C)Patrizio Tressoldi23rd Apr 20141008KPU_Registry_1008
Published Results CONFIRMATION CLAIMED
SSRN: Brain-to-Brain (Mind-to-Mind) Interaction at Distance: A Confirmatory Study   ANALYSIS ONGOING  
PT2Pupil dilation prediction of random negative events. Can they be avoided? (C)   THIS STUDY WAS EXPLORATORY NOT CONFIRMATORY.   STUDY SHOULD BE VOIDED.Patrizio Tressoldi1st Feb 20131002KPU_Registry_1002
Published Results CONFIRMATION CLAIM
VOIDED
According to the registration document, this study tests a single confirmatory hypothesis, namely that pupil dilation can predict and avoid potential negative stimulation. SSRN: Does Psychophysiological Predictive Anticipatory Activity Predict Real or Future Probable Events? This paper is published in EXPLORE. It states: “Experiments 1 and 2:The first two experiments are conceptual replications of studies by Tressoldi et al.,2, 3 using heart rate (HR) as PAA, instead of PD.  “Experiments 3 and 4:The following two experiments are a variant of the experiments of Tressoldi et al.3 The only difference being that the negative event predicted in the anticipatory phase was skipped instead of presented. Comparing the results with the previous experiments and the following ones, it is possible to test further the “bilking paradox,” that is, whether it is possible to avoid predicted future negative events, giving more support to the results observed in the experiment 2.” “Experiment 4 This is an exact replication of the experiments by Tressoldi et al.,3 aimed at testing if the observed prediction accuracy holds even when the alerting stimuli get skipped when predicted from the measurement of the PD before their presentation.”   Note that reference 3 is from F1000: Tressoldi PE, Martinelli M, Semenzato L. Pupil dilation prediction of random events [v2; ref status: approved with…] the disconfirmed study 1001. A study cannot be confirmatory when the study being replicated did not itself find any significant outcomes and was not fully approved for publication by the reviewers at F1000 (see below).  
PT1Pupil dilation accuracy in the prediction of random events (C)Patrizio Tressoldi26th Nov 20121001KPU_Registry_1001
Published Results
(1 of 2)
Published Results
(2 of 2) DISCONFIRMATION
Publication 1 of 2: F1000 Version 1: peer review 1 approved 1 approved with reservations Version 2 peer review: 2 approved with reservations. Thus, the peer reviewers gave a lower level of approval to Version 2 than Version 1 because they remained highly concerned about the statistical analysis, which one claimed was circular.   Publication 2 of 2: SSRN Results at chance level. Thus, the experimental hypothesis was disconfirmed.    

Featured

The Non-existence of Laboratory Psi Looks Ever More Certain from Recent Confirmatory Research in Parapsychology

Previously the evidence for psi was drawn from exploratory studies that do not adhere to the standards that are replicable across different laboratories. It is possible now to summarise the findings of empirical evidence drawn from confirmatory studies that enable one to draw firm conclusions. The existence of this solid data-base of empirical evidence in Parapsychology was only made possible by the formation of a register of studies at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit Registry. The Registry is managed by Professor Caroline Watt, Koestler Chair of Parapsychology, University of Edinburgh, with support from James E Kennedy.

In three books published in 1980, 2000 and 2020 I presented the case that psi has never been reliably demonstrated inside the scientific laboratory. The non-existence of laboratory psi looks ever more certain from the following analysis of recent confirmatory research in Parapsychology.

The Table reproduces the descriptions of 43 confirmatory studies registered to date (14 September 2022). For these 43 confirmatory studies, there are 27 reports of findings to the present date. For these 27 studies, 6 are listed as positively confirming the original exploratory findings (including one with only partial confirmation). All five of the fully confirmatory studies reporting positive findings are from a single leading investigator, Patrizio Tressoldi, of Università di Padova, Italy.

Of the remaining 21 studies, 17 are associated with a reported disconfirmation,  one was halted before completion, one failed to recruit a sufficient N and one presented an inconclusive report. Removing these last 3 studies provides 5 confirmations, one partial confirmation and 19 disconfirmations from a total of 27 conclusive/completed studies for an overall confirmation rate of 22.2% and a disconfirmation rate of 77.8%.

With all five of the fully confirmatory studies from a single investigator, the Fisher Exact test value is 0.0079 (p<.01).

I discuss possible explanations for the remarkable association between confirmation of psi and one investigator in another post.

INVESTIGATORCONFIRMATIONDISCONFIRMATIONTOTALS  
TRESSOLDI  549
OTHERS  1(partial)1718
TOTALS  62127
The outcomes of all pre-reregistered confirmatory studies at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit’s Register
with published results to 14/09/22

With the exception of the group of five studies conducted by a single investigator, the findings confirm the hypothesis presented in all three of my books, most recently, Psychology and the Paranormal. Exploring Anomalous Experience, that psi is not amenable to controlled studies inside the laboratory.

CONCLUSIONS

The results of the best scientific research of preregistered confirmatory studies from the world’s leading investigators suggest that there is no reliable evidence for the existence of laboratory psi.

These null findings confirm the author’s conclusions in three books on psychical phenomena published in 1980, 2000 and 2020 (see References).

If psi exists at all, it exists as a spontaneous experience that cannot be controlled by the human will.

REFERENCES

Marks, D F and Kammann, R (1980) The Psychology of the Psychic. New York: Prometheus Books.

Marks D F (2000) The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd ed.). New York: Prometheus Books.

Marks D F (2020) Psychology and the Paranormal. Exploring Anomalous Experience. London: Sage Publishing.

TABLE OF CONFIRMATORY AND DISCONFIRMATORY STUDIES

In column 6, the outcome of each study with reported findings is summarized as ‘CON’ (confirmation), ‘DISCON’ (disconfirmation), or otherwise where the study was not completed or ambiguous or unavailable.

Number for this analysisStudy Title
(C) = Confirmatory
(E) = Exploratory
Lead AuthorDate Submitted to RegistryStudy IDLink to Registered Information
 
43The Effects of Imagery-Cultivation on Phenomenological and Paranormal Experience (C)Lance Storm18th May 20221069KPU Registry 1069
42Pre-registered field test of an ‘Enchantment—Psi’ loop (C)Rense Lange & James Houran12th April 20221068KPU Registry 1068
41Retrocausal cueing: Investigating retrocausal influences in cued action (C)Jordan Wehrman17th Sept 20211063KPU Registry 1063
40A telephone telepathy study: Does genetic relatedness influence psychic abilities? (C)Helané Wahbeh20th July 2022 (Date revised, 4) 14th March 2022 (Date revised, 3) 23rd Feb 2022 (Date revised, 2) 28th July 20211062KPU Registry 1062_4 KPU Registry 1062_3 KPU Registry 1062_2 KPU Registry 1062
39Attitudes and Beliefs as Predictors of Psi Effects in a Pseudo-Gambling Task (C)Lance Storm3rd June 20221061KPU Registry 1061
38Retroactive priming of a compound remote associates task using pre-selected participants (C)David Vernon & Malcolm Schofield17th Feb 20211060KPU Registry 1060
37Darkness, Light and Numinosity in Remote Viewing Success (C)Stanley Krippner & David Saunders27th Jan 20211059KPU Registry 1059
36The Institute of Noetic Science Discovery Lab: A Systematic Investigation of the relationship between Interconnectedness, Extended Human Capacities, and Well-being. (C)Helané Wahbeh31st Aug 20201057KPU Registry 1057
35Three confirmatory analyses of precognition and micro-PK data gathered using online methods (C)Julia Mossbridge29th April 20201056KPU Registry 1056
34Associations among Experience, Confidence, Transliminality and Ability to Locate and Describe Targets in Experienced Remote Viewers (C)Jennifer Lyke27th Sept 20191055KPU Registry 1055
33PsyPhotos (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Luciano Pederzoli3rd Oct 20191054KPU Registry 1054
32Reproductive Hormonal Status as a Predictor of Precognition: Pregnancy Experiment; A confirmatory experiment (C)Julia Mossbridge16th Jan 2020 (date revised)   27th Sept 20191053KPU_Registry_1053_2   KPU Registry 1053
31Experimenter Effect and Replication in Psi Research: Round III of a Global Initiative (C)Marilyn Schlitz, Arnaud Delorme & Daryl Bem13th Feb 20191051KPU Registry 1051
Published Results (version 2, March 2021) DISCON
30Mind-matter interaction at distance on a standalone device (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Luciano Pederzoli21st Feb 20191049KPU Registry 1049   Published Results DISCON
29Telephone telepathy, an Italian independent exact replication (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & Rupert Sheldrake3rd Nov 20181048KPU Registry 1048
28An implicit and explicit assessment of morphic resonance theory using Chinese characters (C)David Vernon23rd May 20181046KPU Registry 1046
Study Results Summary
KPU 1046 data
KPU 1046 data definition DISCON
27Facial Recognition Replication Experiment (C)Sharon Su
& Stephen Baumgart
26th Feb 2019 (date revised)
26th Jun 2018 (date revised)
19th May 2018
1045KPU Registry 1045_3
KPU Registry 1045_2
KPU Registry 1045
26Reproductive Hormonal Status as a Predictor of Precognition: A Confirmatory Experiment (C)Julia Mossbridge16th Feb 20181043KPU Registry 1043 Study Results Summary DISCON
25Individual difference correlates of lottery success (C)Marco Zdrenka22nd Sept 20171038KPU Registry 1038
Study Results INSUFFICIENT N
24Precognitive priming of compound remote associates: Using an implicit creative insight task to elicit precognition (C)David Vernon18th Sept 20171037KPU Registry 1037
Study Results Summary
KPU 1037 data
KPU 1037 data definition DISCON
23Measuring precognitive effects using a fast implicit and fast explicit task (C)David Vernon28th Jun 20171036KPU Registry 1036
Study Results Summary
KPU 1036 data
KPU 1036 data definition DISCON
22The ACES Study (Anomalous Cognition with Electromagnetic Shielding) (C)Randy Fauver & Glenn Hartelius6th Mar 20171029KPU Registry 1029
21Retroactive facilitation of recall and music (C)Julia Mossbridge11th Nov 20161027KPU Registry 1027 Study Results Summary DISCON
20A test of reward contingent precall (C)David Vernon19th Oct 20161026KPU Registry 1026
Study Results Summary
KPU 1026 data
KPU 1026 data definition PARTIAL CON
19Testing precall using emotive images and participants with high levels of belief in psi (C)David Vernon22nd Sept 20161025KPU Registry 1025
Study Results Summary
KPU 1025 data
KPU 1025 data definition DISCON
18A prospective meta-analysis of pre-registered ganzfeld ESP studies (C)Caroline Watt22nd Nov 2017 (date revised)1024KPU Registry 1024
List of included studies
17Examining possible effects of precall using arousing images in a lab based task (C)David Vernon7th Jan 20161021KPU Registry 1021
Study Results Summary STUDY HALTED
16Exploring precall using arousing images and utilising a memory practice task on-line (C)David Vernon21st Dec 20151019KPU Registry 1019
Study Results Summary
KPU 1019 data
KPU 1019 data definition DISCON
15Single-trial confirmatory presentiment experiment (C)Julia Mossbridge16th Dec 20151018KPU Registry 1018
Study Results Summary DISCON
14Experimenter effect and replication in psi research: Round II of a global initiative (C)Marilyn Schlitz, Arnaud Delorme & Daryl Bem24th Aug 20151016KPU_Registry_1016
Published Results DISCON
13Remote meditation support – a multimodal distant intention experiment (C)Stefan Schmidt, Han-Gue Jo, Marc Wittman
& Thilo Hinterberger
14th Jul 2016 (date revised)1015KPU_Registry_1015
Publication Abstract DISCON
12Can our mind emit light? A confirmatory experiment of mental interaction at distance on a photomultiplier (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth6th Jul 20151013KPU Registry 1013
Errata
Published Results DISCON
11*Biophotons as physical correlates of mental interaction at distance: a new confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth29th Apr 20151012KPU Registry 1012
Published Results CON
10*CardioAlert: A portable assistant for the choice between negative or positive random events (C)Patrizio Tressoldi17th Mar 20151011KPU_Registry_1011
Published Results CON
9*Biophotons as physical correlates of mental interaction at distance: a confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi & John Kruth8th Oct 20141010KPU_Registry_1010
Published Results DISCON
8*Mind-matter interaction at distance on a random events generator (REG): a confirmatory study (C)Patrizio Tressoldi15th May 20141009KPU_Registry_1009
Published Results CON
7*Brain-to-brain (mind-to-mind) interaction at distance: a proof of concept of mental telecommunication (C)Patrizio Tressoldi23rd Apr 20141008KPU_Registry_1008
Published Results CON
6Experimenter effect and replication in psi research (C)Marilyn Schlitz, Arnaud Delorme & Daryl Bem19th Nov 20131007KPU_Registry_1007
Published Results DISCON
5Evaluation of alterations of consciousness and the Model of Pragmatic Information in a ganzfeld protocol (C)Etzel Cardeña23rd Aug 20131006KPU_Registry_1006
Published Results SEE:https://www.parapsychologypress.org/jparticle/jp-84-1-66-84.
4Does characteristic alpha EEG activity predict upcoming sensory events? (C)Julia Mossbridge7th May 20131004KPU_Registry_1004
Study Results Summary UNCLEAR OUTCOME
3Precognitive Dreaming: Sleep Lab Study (C)Caroline Watt25th Apr 20131003KPU_Registry_1003
Published Results DISCON
2*Pupil dilation prediction of random negative events. Can they be avoided? (C)Patrizio Tressoldi1st Feb 20131002KPU_Registry_1002
Published Results CON
1Pupil dilation accuracy in the prediction of random events (C)Patrizio Tressoldi26th Nov 20121001KPU_Registry_1001
Published Results
(1 of 2)
Published Results
(2 of 2) DISCON
Featured

Red Herrings and Slurs: A Review by James E Kennedy of “Psychology and the Paranormal. Exploring Anomalous Experience”

James E Kennedy’s review of my book contains a mixture of faint praise, criticism, slurs and huge red herrings thrown in for good measure. In any book author’s life, a review by a respected figure, extending to six pages, is potentially a fillip, and I acknowledge James Kennedy for putting in the effort. In this case, however, Kennedy applies a stricture, which I have not noticed being applied to any other book or author, and not by Kennedy in his own writings in Parapsychology. I refer to Kennedy’s declaration of the ‘new era’ of methodology in which any Parapsychology reviewer should focus only on confirmatory studies. Reviewing exploratory studies, according to Kennedy, is an outmoded, 40-year old approach from a previous era. Here I briefly summarize Kennedy’s review and offer my response.

Abstract

David Marks’ previous book about the paranormal (Marks, 2000) and other earlier writings established his reputation as a firm skeptic. He wrote the current book in order to learn about new developments in paranormal research during the past 20 years. 

The overall conclusion in this book is that Marks now believes that spontaneous paranormal phenomena may occur, but psi is a spontaneous process that cannot be controlled and demonstrated in laboratory experiments. His belief that instances of spontaneous psi may occur is based largely on a personal experience of synchronicity that had layers of meaning for him. The experience is described and evaluated in chapter four. He rates the probability as 75% that the experience had a paranormal component.

This is a fair summary of my book. Actually it’s the best bit there is. From here, its all down hill.

Strengths and Weaknesses


One purpose of this book was to provide a summary and stimulus for students—in effect, “passing the baton to a new generation of explorers” (p. 313). The book summarizes past controversies about experimental research reasonably well and offers ideas for future research.

Even faint praise is better than none. (Or is it? it is actually hard to judge). I have learned that it is as much as one can expect from this reviewer. Plus a few slurs and fishy red herrings.

Precedents


In his own life, Kennedy reported that he knew from his teenage years that he was ‘destined’ to do work in Parapsychology. Kennedy (2000) writes:

Sometime in adolescence or before, I developed the conviction that it was my destiny to do research on paranormal phenomena. I do not know how or when this conviction developed, but it was well established by early high school. My technical undergraduate education was selected with this perspective…
During my undergraduate college years, I had many apparent psi experiences that strongly reinforced this interest and sense of destiny.

My own ‘destiny’ was to work in the field of Psychology and to develop later an interest in Parapsychology secondarily. I do not regret that decision. I was aware of the Society for Psychical Research and the illustrious names in the history of the field, Frederic Myers, William Crookes, William James and others but I never pursued the question of how and when their interests in psi first developed in their lives. As a Johnny-come-lately I never investigated whether and when these famous researchers had formative psychic experiences. On this score Kennedy scolds me for neglecting to discuss Rhea White (1931-2007), the Founder/Director, Exceptional Human Experience Network and for mentioning only:

one reference about the elusive, unsustainable nature of psi, and does not discuss the development and extent of those ideas, or investigators who have preceded him with similar conclusions. Notably, the book does not mention Rhea White, who was a pioneer in abandoning experimental research as making inadequate progress, after nearly 40 years of personal involvement. ..Rhea White appears to have already gone down the path that Marks has just discovered.

Rhea White reported: “My junior year in college I had a near-death experience associated with an automobile accident that changed my life”. Perhaps I could have discussed Rhea White’s car crash and road-to-Damascus experience and those of other leading figures, but the purpose of my book was to review the scientific findings from 2000-2019, not to provide a historical review of significant figures in the field. I appreciate that I am not alone in believing that psi is a spontaneous phenomenon. Kennedy himself states: “I am 100% certain that paranormal phenomena beyond current scientific understanding sometimes occur”. My case differs from Rhea White’s and James Kennedy’s in a crucial way: my belief in psi was not a teenage revelation but a consequence of a series of experiences that occurred throughout adult life.

Past Methodology

Kennedy scolds me again, on this occasion more brutally, in suggesting that my methodological approach is from a previous era from 40 (that number again) years in the past. Kennedy states:

Marks notes certain key methodological practices that have been recognized in recent years as needed for good research, but those practices were not fully implemented in writing this book. Rather, most sections in the book appear to have been written with the methodological standards that were widely used 40 years in the past. At that time it was mistakenly thought that studies with exploratory methodology could provide convincing evidence for a controversial phenomenon like psi…

As was common 40 years ago, Marks gives little attention to the distinction between exploratory and confirmatory research.

With this new era of methodology, the first question when reviewing a line of research is: Have any preregistered, well-powered, confirmatory studies been conducted? Searching study registries is a fundamental, initial step for a review. In the previous methodological era the first question was: Have any meta-analyses been conducted (with the meta-analyses being retrospective and typically based on small studies)? Study registries did not exist in psychology and were not considered. Marks appears to have focused on the question from the previous era when writing most sections of this book.

As was common 40 years ago! If true, that comment would sting any author badly. Clearly the remark was designed to sting but it isn’t the least bit valid. It is nothing more than a slur, an act of plain rudeness.

Let’s Look at the Facts

My manuscript was written during 2018 and 2019. Kennedy’s ‘new era’ of research preregistration dawned in 2012 with the formation of the KPU registry. This means that the ‘Old Era’ was still operating to 2012, only 10 years ago. My book summarises research from the 20-year period, 2000-2019, which includes the last 13 years of Kennedy’s ‘Old Era’ and first 7 years of Kennedy’s ‘New Era’. Kennedy’s choice of “40 years ago” is a deliberate slur. Using sleight of pen, and slice of malice, Kennedy unkindly attempts to re-label a book that is up-to-date as something that is out-of-date.

Had I chosen to go down the route proposed by Kennedy, my book would have been very short (less than 50 pages) and incomplete. Imagine the response from Parapsychology researchers all over the world had I decided to exclude all of the ‘old era’ exploratory studies and focus only on ‘new era’ preregistered confirmatory studies as recommended by Kennedy. My analysis of the KPU registry (less than one page of text and a single table) indicates only 43 preregistered confirmatory studies over the period 2012-2019 of which only 26 had reported findings by mid-2019 when my manuscript was submitted to the publisher. Of the 26 preregistered confirmatory studies, only 6 confirmed the original exploratory findings, all 6 by a single investigator, Patrizio Tressoldi, of Università di Padova, Italy. This latter point is an interesting story in its own right, and I will post more details later about this, but overall, what a short, dull and entirely negative book a ‘new era’ book using confirmatory studies only would have been. Kennedy has the chance to write the ‘new era’ book based on his recommended strictures about confirmatory vs exploratory research and I would be happy to return the favour and review it. However, I doubt this volume will be appearing any time soon.

The information detailed above indicates that Kennedy’s comments about the ‘New Era’ are a complete red herring. The comments are disingenuous. As one of the operators of the KPU registry, Kennedy is fully aware of the situation described above. His attempt to relabel my approach as “40 years” out-of-date is misleading and unprofessional.

Standards for Research Methodology

Kennedy describes his own standards for research methodology as follows:

My standards for research methodology are based on working in regulated medical research for about 15 years. These standards are very different than past and present psychological and parapsychological research (Kennedy, 2016b). To my knowledge, the Transparent Psi Project (2017) is the only study design in the history of parapsychology that applies methodological practices that are comparable to the routine practices in my experience in regulated medical research. These include measures to prevent experimenter fraud, formal software validation, and appropriate development of operating characteristics (power analysis) for confirmatory Bayesian hypothesis
tests.

I find Kennedy’s position interesting. The position is further elaborated in a letter he and Caroline Watt published in the Journal of Parapsychology in 2019.

These principles are implemented on the KPU Study Registry with the requirement that all planned analyses be identified as exploratory or confirmatory. For confirmatory analyses, the planned statistical analysis must be fully pre-specified, including the numerical criteria that the experimenters will consider as acceptable evidence supporting the hypothesis of interest. For exploratory analyses, the planned statistical analysis need not be fully pre-specified or pre-specified at all. In fact, preregistration of exploratory research is considered optional, with the stipulation that any research that is not preregistered is presumed to be entirely exploratory.

Apparently Kennedy views his own standards as superior to those generally practised in Psychology and Parapsychology. As Editor of the Journal of Health Psychology for 26 years from 1996 to 2021, I believe his standards and mine are not actually all that different. Kennedy could take a look at my book with Lucy Yardley on Research Methods for Clinical and Health Psychology to see the range of methodology these fields cover. I am not as enamoured as Kennedy about regulated medical research by believing it reaches the high threshold of excellence that Kennedy implies. Witness the multiple examples of clinical misgovernance, fraud, and methodological error that have occurred over the last several decades of such research. I mention here several poignant examples: the COVID-19 Vaccine Controversy with Pfizer and others, the Diabetes Medication scandals (US and France), the MMR Vaccine Controversy – United Kingdom (1990s), Heparin Adulteration – China (2008),  New England Compounding Center Meningitis Outbreak – United States (2012), PIP Silicone Implant Scandal – France (2009), Toxic Cough Syrup – Panama (2007), HIV-Tainted Blood Scandal – (1980s), Thalidomide Birth Defects Scandal – Germany and Worldwide (1950s–1960s), the list goes on and on. Kennedy’s advocacy of registered medical research as a paradigm for the whole of science is, quite frankly, ridiculous and medical research should never be placed at the pinnacle of probity. The majority of frauds and scandals exist within the medical research domain, and Kennedy must surely realise that.

Three Confirmatory Studies

Here arrives Kennedy’s attempted knock-out punch:

The book does not discuss the three large preregistered confirmatory studies conducted by Schlitz, Delorme, and Bem for Bem’s 2011 retroactive (precognitive) priming studies (Schlitz et al., 2021; Schlitz & Delorme, 2021).

But wait, there is a small problem with this, as Kennedy himself is aware:

Marks may have left these out because the studies were published in a peer-reviewed journal after his book was published.

May have left these out because…? Is Kennedy joking or what? Reviewing studies published after my manuscript went to the publisher on August 8, 2019 was not an option. Another huge red herring then. Kennedy knows it and then tries to allow himself a way out:

However, the results had been presented at conventions of the Parapsychological Association, and the preregistrations (2013, 2015, and 2019) were publicly available on a study registry, similar to the ganzfeld prospective meta-analysis that was discussed in the book.

Conference papers are not peer reviewed so would not have been included. Also the preregistered studies at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit Register (https://koestlerunit.wordpress.com/study-registry/) did not publish the findings of these three studies until well after my book was published.

Here Kennedy crosses a line from constructive criticism to the disingenuous. As Kennedy is one of the operators of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit registry, he should have realised that the study findings were not in the public domain until well after my book was published.

In writing any review one needs a set of criteria for what is to count as evidence. Anybody can publish a book full of anecdotes and stories about anomalous experiences, prophetic dreams, coincidences, or other squishy things but this type of publication does not pass a minimally acceptable criterion of independent peer-review. In my book, I counted as evidence only those studies that had passed independent peer-review in scholarly journals before the end of July 2019. Occasionally I also included letters or emails written by authors themselves about their methods and findings.

How Do the Three ‘Missing’ Confirmation Studies Effect My Conclusions about Psi?

Kennedy writes:

Have any preregistered, well-powered, confirmatory studies been conducted? Searching study registries is a fundamental, initial step for a review. In the previous methodological era the first question was: Have any meta-analyses been conducted (with the meta-analyses being retrospective and typically based on small studies)? Study registries did not exist in psychology and were not considered. Marks appears to have focused on the question from the previous era when writing most sections of this book.

I am preparing another post about the preregistered confirmatory studies. The findings of the existing confirmation studies are 100% consistent with my conclusions about psi. With the notable exception of a single investigator, the subject of another post, the confirmatory studies all disconfirm the originally positive exploratory findings. Thus the conclusion that psi has not been confirmed appears to be a valid one.

Experimenter Fraud

Marks, like most other psychological researchers, offers no guidelines or suggestions for preventing experimenter fraud. This leaves fraud as an endlessly unresolved confounding factor that is not addressed with preregistration or prospective meta-analysis.

My book was never intended to be a book about methodology or the avoidance of fraud. I have discussed several cases of fraud in Psychology and Parapsychology here, here, here and here. Kennedy is of course correct in asserting that fraud is commonly ignored as an issue in Psychological and Parapsychological research. I certainly agree that fraud is a huge problem. As long ago as 1978 I exposed examples of appalling methodology and even potential fraud associated with the remote viewing studies in my book and elsewhere here, here and here but the investigators Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff and everybody at the Parapsychological Association and within the Parapsychology community more generally carries on as normal, completely ignoring the evidence of potential fraud by continueing to state that remote viewing is proven, period. It is a complete joke.

Accusations of fraud must be robust and well supported by evidence. There are already several sources of evidence focusing on fraud in parapsychology, most notably the book by Hansel. Normally, to avoid the risk of libel, fraud is asserted about investigators who are deceased.

To avoid fraud, plagiarism, error, misinformation and other instances of improbity, authors, investigators, the Parapsychological Association and its members need to be 100% intellectually honest. But we all know that 100% is never going to happen. In fact, the PA is one of the worst and most influential perpetrators of misinformation in claiming proof of laboratory psi where none exists. As Kennedy is one of the PA’s most respected, senior members, Dr Kennedy needs to stop throwing red herrings and slurring authors and do something positive to reform the dysfunctional organisation, the PA.

CONCLUSIONS

In his disclosures, Kennedy claims he agrees with my position in the book:

I have previously come to conclusions similar to Marks’s beliefs that psi may occur spontaneously, but is not subject to reliable human control in laboratory experiments (Kennedy, 2013; 2016a). Therefore, I am sympathetic with the main conclusions in this book. One difference is that based on my personal experiences, I am 100% certain that paranormal phenomena beyond current scientific understanding sometimes occur.

There is something distinctly fishy about Kennedy’s review. His review is a stinker. Maintaining that he agrees with my position, Kennedy slurs my book about Parapsychology using a diversion from his own imagination. He uses his sniffy review to espouse his personal views about a so-called ‘new era’ of research that is recognized by nobody but him. Kennedy exposes an absurd misjudgment about the quality of regulated medical research. He employs faint praise, deliberate slurs and red herrings to diss a book that offers a new way for the field of Parapsychology where he claims his destiny lies.

Featured

Part 3 – Professor Michael Eysenck (and the Rest): Give Me Back My Attentional-Probe-Paradigm

by Christos Halkiopoulos

I continue the story of how my intellectual property was stolen by a group of leading psychology researchers at London University. The first two parts of the story are here and here.

Journal of Abnormal Psychology Investigation

Professor Angus MacDonald III admits that “intellectual theft” occurred in a Journal of Abnormal Psychology 1986 publication. Yet Editor MacDonald hands over the full responsibility to obtain a correction to the person whose ideas have been plagiarised. Plain silly!

Recall that I sent Professor Angus MacDonald III, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the manuscript of a paper I was writing about the ancestry of the dot probe paradigm, seeking his comments. Professor MacDonald’s inquiry led to the conclusion that: “intellectual theft or insufficient description of the origins of the idea had taken place”. The suggestion was to contact the authors to change their publication in a way that fully acknowledged my contribution. This process stalled when MacLeod, bluntly contradicted Eysenck and Mathews by claiming that they had not taken the idea for the dot probe paradigm from me. So, the Journal of Abnormal Psychology is still waiting for a University investigation into this before they finalise their course of action. One recently took place at St. George’s. Another one, carried out in Australia by the University of Western Australia, Professor MacLeod’s current employers, has already concluded. It is to this latter investigation that I now turn.

I have contacted Professor Angus MacDonald III, Editor of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, repeatedly during the last few months, including an occasion where I sent an earlier version of these blog articles. I wanted to make the journal aware of the poor quality of the investigations carried out in the UK and Australia. I also kept telling them that they had the expertise and all of the evidence they needed to reach their own conclusions. The Journal’s Editor never responded to these additional emails.

Something is wrong here. When a researcher makes a substantiated claim that plagiarism has been committed in a journal article,  it seems grossly unreasonable for the journal to place the responsibility on the victim to persuade the plagiarising authors to publish a correction to the paper’s authorship.  Those authors have a massive conflict of interest; they are obviously motivated to not make such a correction, to not admit to the whole world that they stole somebody else’s ideas.

The final responsibility rests with the journal and publisher to retract the article for plagiarism or make the necessary correction to the authorship and apologise. Professor Angus MacDonald III, Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, do your job as Editor, stop sitting on your hands and do the right thing. You know exactly what happened so either:

publish a correction to the authorship of Mathews, MacLeod and Tata (1986) to include Christos Halkiopoulos

or:

retract the article for plagiarism.

The University of Western Australia Investigation

Given its importance I will discuss this investigation in some detail.  On the 8th of April 2021, Dr Campbell Thomson, Director of the Office of Research at the University of Western Australia, informed me that an “independent external reviewer” would investigate my complaint against Professor Colin MacLeod. Recall that MacLeod had claimed that the attentional probe paradigm predated our respective lines of research. According to MacLeod, we both had independently adapted an existing paradigm to our interests.  This statement is in complete contrast to Eysenck and Mathews’ acknowledgement that the priority for the paradigm was mine.

The report from the reviewer arrived on the 18th of April 2021.  I was pleased about how quickly the investigation was concluded, but less impressed that the “independent external reviewer” turned out to be an “Adjunct Professor in the School of Psychological Science at the University of Western Australia”, i.e. somebody working in the same department as Professor MacLeod. This “independent” reviewer’s name has never been revealed.

Professor Colin MacLeod, University of Western Australia. His account of the alleged plagiarism is inconsistent with that of his two co-authors. They cannot get their story straight but nobody in authority has challenged them to explain themselves. Plain silly!

From the beginning the reviewer states that they are not going to address one of my two questions, namely why MacLeod’s views differ so dramatically from those of Mathews and Eysenck. Subsequent attempts to have this crucial issue addressed have been completely ignored and this important issue remains unaddressed to this day. It is easy to guess why.

It is time we looked in a little more detail at the two uses of the attentional probe paradigm (tone probe and dot probe) closely. Although this will make the discussion somewhat technical, non-specialists will still be able to follow the main arguments. Both applications of my attentional probe paradigm (the tone probe and the dot probe techniques) have been described in several publications. Publications of the 1980s mostly still associated, albeit rarely if ever correctly or fully, my experimental work with my name. As already discussed, the plagiarism of the 1981 experimental work would become ever more evident in published work later. 

A paper published in Psychology Research in the late 80s by the very group of interest to us here, conveniently describes in consecutive paragraphs, and in comparable detail, both my 1981 experiment and the one carried out by the St. George’s group. These two paragraphs are reproduced in the table below.

Halkiopoulos (1981) (From Eysenck, MacLeod and Mathews, 1987; p.191)MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986) (From Eysenck, MacLeod and Mathews, 1987; p.191)
“A student of the senior author (Christos Halkiopoulos) used a modified version of the dichotic listening task. Forty synchronized pairs of words were presented at a rate of one pair per second, and all of the words presented to one ear had to be shadowed, that is repeated back aloud. Half of the words presented on the shadowed or attended channel were emotional or threatening words (e.g., grave; fail), and the remainder were neutral (e.g., chairs; sale). All of the words presented on the unattended channel were neutral. A measure of the allocation of processing resources or attention was obtained by asking subjects to respond as rapidly as possible to occasional tones that could be presented to either ear immediately after a pair of words had been presented. A total of eight tones were presented, four on each channel; half of the tones in each channel followed a threatening word in the attended channel, and the remainder followed a neutral word in the attended channel. The Facilitation-Inhibition Scale (Ullman, 1962), which correlates very highly with measures of trait anxiety, was administered to 17 subjects, 10 of whom were classified as inhibitors and 7 as facilitators.   The probe reaction-time data were submitted to a three-factor split-plot analysis of variance, with facilitation-inhibition as the between-subjects factor, and probe channel (attended vs unattended) and attended word type (threat vs nonthreat) were the within-subjects factors. The key finding was the highly significant three-way interaction involving all of the experimental factors [F (1,15)=9.00, P<0.01]. More detailed examination of this interaction revealed that the interaction between probe channel and attended word type was significant for facilitators [F(1,6)=8.81, P,0.0025] and the same interaction with an opposite pattern was also significant for inhibitors [F(1,9)=3.36, P,0.05].”  “A rather similar paradigm was used by MacLeod, Mathews, and Tata (1986). Pairs of words were presented concurrently for 500ms, one word appearing towards the top of a screen monitor and the other towards the bottom. One some trials one of the words was a threat word (physical health or social threat) and the other word was neutral. The main task was to read aloud the top word of each pair, but sometimes a faint dot or probe replaced one of the displayed words, requiring a rapid response. Detection latency for the probe was regarded as a sensitive measure of visual attention, an assumption that has received empirical support (Navon & Margalit, 1983). The anxious group consisted of patients with a primary diagnosis of generalized anxiety and there was a group of normal controls. …The crucial finding in the analysis of the probe reaction-time data was a highly significant three-way interaction among anxiety groups, threat location, and probe location. The pattern of this interaction corresponded closely to that obtained by Halkiopoulos. …The similarity of the findings reported by C. Halkiopoulos (personal communication) and by MacLeod et al. (1986) is striking [.]”  

A number of points are in order here, before we return to the University of Western Australia investigation. My name is clearly associated with the 1981 experiment. However, although I was at that stage Eysenck’s student, and as already noted, the research described had been carried out under a different supervisor, Professor Norman Dixon, at UCL and well before I met Michael Eysenck.

More importantly, the two experiments are presented in such a way that they appear to be parallel developments and there is no indication that the St. George’s research owed anything to me. Although, in view of subsequent developments, such ‘slight’ shortcomings might not have been as innocent as may appear at first sight, I gladly accept that no noteworthy plagiarism is in evidence in the description of my study. It must be noted, however, that this use of my work (which formed an essential part of my PhD), took place while I was still a PhD student and without my consent. In fact, without even my knowledge. I would later be told it was to pacify my anger for not being properly acknowledged in the 1986 paper. Crucially, as already discussed, what was given to me in the 1987 paper would soon cynically be withdrawn in a series of publications by Eysenck that blatantly plagiarised my research.

Be that all as it may, this is how the reviewer lists the similarities and the differences between my experimental technique and the one used by MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986). In what follows, text in italics is directly quoted from the reviewer’s report sent to me by the University of Western Australia (Email dated 18/04/2021).

Both methodologies are concerned with the distribution of attention towards or away from certain critical words – words with meanings that are relevant to the clinical state of the participant.

Indeed, both do, although my research was not addressing the clinical state of the participants, but theoretically relevant personality characteristics.

Both present pairs of words at different spatial locations.

Yes, they do.

Both instructed participants to read or to name the word presented in one of the locations, called the attended location. Both assume that this instruction nominally directs the participant’s attention to that word.

Yes, they did.

Both use a secondary task methodology. That is, as well as a reading one of the words, participants were instructed to respond as quickly as possible to a brief event (called the probe) that may appear at either location. The idea is that if any attention had been allocated to the nominally unattended location, response times to the probe at that location should be shorter than would otherwise be the case.

Yes, they did. In fact, this is the seminal idea behind the attention probe paradigm.

And now for the differences: 

Hakliopoulus [I wish all these guys stopped misspelling my surname!] presented stimuli in the auditory modality with attended and unattended locations differentiated by the ear to which words were presented. MacLeod et al. presented stimuli in the visual modality with attended and unattended locations differentiated by their vertical position on a screen.

This is accurate but recall that my paradigm was devised, and discussed, as the attentional probe paradigm, and as such it is readily applicable to any sensory modality and, indeed, combination of such modalities. It so happens that my first attempt to use my paradigm was in the auditory modality. I had repeatedly discussed it with Eysenck as an attentional probe paradigm. The studies I include in my BSc dissertation as background to my work are all from the visual modality. The theoretical work preceding the description of my experiment in my BSc dissertation is about attention in general, not just auditory attention. At the time the St. George’s group was carrying out their research I was also devising studies using a dot probe, rather than tone probe, paradigm.

Hakliopoulus was interested in comparing groups of participants who differed in their primary mode of adaptation to stress – “inhibitors” who attempt to minimize their perception of stress, and “facilitators” who channel the stress into other activities (Ullmann, 1962)….In contrast, MacLeod et al. were interested in comparing groups who differed in their levels of anxiety. They hypothesized that when a critical word is presented in the unattended location, anxious participants are more likely to direct their attention to that location.

Why ‘in contrast’? My own use of the paradigm also has everything to do with anxiety. If anything, it does one better by theorising further in order to provide a tentative explanation as to why anxiety levels appear to be what they are, and address some of the processes which may influence their manifestation. In fact, subsequent work both by Eysenck and the St. George’s group (I assume under my influence), kept referring substantially to repressors and the like, thus paralleling the psychodynamic flavour of my own approach (e.g., Derakshan et al., 2007).

May I also add that what the reviewer claims is factually wrong. One reads in the 1986 paper the following:

One could reasonably speculate that the perceptual bias in normal subjects may be protective in limiting increases in anxiety by excluding minor threatening stimuli from the cognitive system at a very early stage of processing (MacLeod et al., 1986; p.18).

Mathews and Eysenck (1987) make the same point:

By implication, avoidance of mildly emotional threat cues at a very early stage of its processing is characteristic of nonanxious subjects, perhaps because it protects against repeated and unnecessary arousal (p.224).

A psychodynamic flavour, albeit not as articulated as in my own work, is definitely detectable here.

Because of their different hypotheses, Hakliopoulus presented critical words only at the attended location. MacLeod et al. presented critical words at both the attended and unattended locations.

This is plain silly!

Plain silly!

In further work, when I started my PhD, I did use critical words in the unattended channel. My theoretical framework, much more than theirs, was perfectly attuned to address preconscious determinants of attentional deployment. In a letter exchange (which I still have) with the great late Professor Donald Broadbent, we precisely discuss this aspect of my research.

The reviewer also refers to a paper by Navon and Margalit (1983) who had demonstrated that

Probes were more likely to be detected if they appeared near a highly informative location, defined in terms of the task participants were asked to perform. For example, in one experiment, participants were asked to identify if the word RIB or RID had been briefly presented. On some trials, the probe (a small bar) would appear over the location of either the first or third letter. As only the latter discriminates between the two words (B vs D), it has higher informativeness and probe detection rates were correspondingly higher.

MacLeod, as well as the anonymous reviewer, suggest that my findings, as well as those reported in the 1986 paper, depend on Navon and Margalit’s, work.  As a BSc student I just made the reasonable assumption that where your attention is at any particular point favors the processing of whatever inputs happen to be in that location. I did not think I needed to first experimentally demonstrate this. I also found reassuring the thought that if my hypotheses were confirmed then my study itself would also count as confirming my initial assumption.

Additionally, I did not theorise in terms of informativeness, in the way Navon and Margalit did (look at their task and the specific hypotheses addressed). If one followed, MacLeod’s and the reviewer’s logic, which strangely make such a big fuss about Navon and Margalit, then one would need additional research to demonstrate that it is the informativeness of the emotional versus neutral words that determines attention allocation. Even that would not have been enough, as one would still need to demonstrate that the type of information provided by the emotional attributes of those words, is what the attention allocation process responds to in that context. I could go on and on here, but I’d better stop. I am sure, the dedicated attention research specialist of today will have much more to say one way or another about all this. The seminal idea underlying my attentional probe paradigm is not limited to the use of reaction times to probes as indicators of attention deployment.  It is also how they are placed in the vicinity of one or the other of two clearly identifiable attentional channels in which simultaneous word pairs (or other types of relevant stimuli) are being presented (one stimulus per channel).

And now for the ‘independent’ and ‘external’ reviewer’s conclusion:

My conclusion is that there is no reason to believe that Prof MacLeod failed to appropriately acknowledge the contribution made by Mr Hakliopoulus to the experimental paradigm described in the 1986 paper of which he, Prof MacLeod, was first author (MacLeod, Mathews & Tata, 1986).

The reviewer also reports that MacLeod (one assumes in private conversation) has argued that

he was directed towards the relevant literature on visual attention by his PhD supervisor, Donald Broadbent….Having been so directed, it was simply a matter of joining the relevant dots.

Did he? Did he connect the dots in the way I described the seminal idea underlying the attentional probe paradigm requires? Or, as Andrew Mathews would confirm to me in a tellingly brief meeting, we once had at St. George’s, he did not. Rather, Mathews said, they were close to arriving at my paradigm. This, he said, should alleviate my distress at the way they had treated my work, a comment which made me exit his office prematurely, telling him that I could not believe I was talking to a psychology professor.

The only thing that really matters is how the dot probe paradigm was actually arrived at. Mathews and Eysenck are both perfectly clear about it in written and published statements, as well as in several personal exchanges with me. Precisely what reasons would they have to lie about it? Moreover, they were so close to the relevant research process as to make it impossible they have misunderstood what really took place.

Having perhaps bored the reader with all these technicalities, I should be reluctant to declare most of it as irrelevant. At best, and even this is not the case, all that such efforts, as undertaken by MacLeod and the anonymous reviewer, manage to do is to retrospectively chart an alternative route to the dot probe paradigm. I will grant them there may be a dozen of, more or less, different routes to inventing that, or any other, paradigm. But that is irrelevant.

Why doesn’t the reviewer address my second question? They work in the same department and obviously they had discussed aspects of all this.

Why, doesn’t Professor MacLeod tell us why his account differs so dramatically from those of very informed and significant others?

Why can’t the three authors of the plagiarizing paper (MacLeod, Mathews and Tata, 1986) at least get their story straight?

There is more. OK, let us assume, for a moment and for the sake of the argument, that the St. George’s group came up with the idea for the dot probe paradigm themselves. Let us assume that the accounts given by Professors Eysenck and Mathews are completely wrong.  Let us further assume that it is coincidental that the dot probe technique is the exact mirror image of the tone probe technique in the visual modality (see their own description of both earlier). And, crucially, let us finally assume I am completely wrong, over all these years, to believe what Eysenck and Mathews have been telling me, or to trust even my own judgement. 

They do not deny that they were aware of my paradigm and my findings, do they? So, why don’t they include such directly relevant research in their introduction? They omit any reference to it and, in the initial version submitted to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, they do not even mention that mysterious ‘motivational’ effect my work seems to have had on theirs. An explanation of this, makes its appearance in the report of the St. George’s investigation (see later). I respond to it there.

I am still not finished yet (apologies dear reader). The reviewer’s first comment in his report is that we should be clear what is meant by an experimental paradigm:

In Psychology this usually refers to the entirety of the procedure used to address a research question. It may include aspects of the research design, the material presented to participants, the procedure used, instructions to participants, and the nature and interpretation of data that are collected.

Well, it is understandable that the reviewer has sought as wide and inclusive a definition of what counts as an experimental paradigm as possible. Like that, the maximum number of differences can be obtained when comparing my work to that of the St. George’s group.

I do not agree with all that they burden their definition with. Few would. Since when is interpretation of findings part of the definition of an experimental paradigm? You may have interpretative paradigms to look at experimental findings (my psychodynamically influenced way of thinking about these biases in an example of one), or indeed be inspired by them in the use you make of a paradigm.  But none of this should figure as a defining characteristic of the experimental paradigm itself. By allowing for that the reviewer enables the inclusion of those (imaginary, exaggerated, or of no consequence, anyway) theoretical differences between my research and that of the St. George’s group.

Finally, as MacLeod et al.’s research is claimed to be so unrelated to mine, why did MacLeod claim that my unpublished doctoral research at Birkbeck motivated the development of their paradigm? Precisely what did I do to ‘motivate’ him? Precisely what did he find motivating in it? I return to this later. And, forgetting about all else, is it not the case, and of this they were fully aware, that in 1986 they were not the first, as they claimed, to offer conclusive evidence about those attentional biases? This was in my BSc dissertation in 1981.

So, what did I manage to do that Colin Macleod did not? I will use an expression in the reviewer’s report to give an answer. I connected those dots!  And this led to my paradigm. Let us call it the ‘Halkiopoulos Attentional Probe Paradigm’ and be done with it.

Just joking, no need for a narcissistic baptism of my modest contribution to psychology. However, in the unlikely event anybody has missed what this paradigm is all about, here is my description of it:

THE ATTENTIONAL PROBE PARADIGM

by measuring reaction times to appropriately presented modality-specific probes, involves the simultaneous presentation of information over identifiable attentional channels to explore, attention allocation among channels (as a function of input emotionality and identifiable dispositional or other characteristics of the participants).

In my ‘generosity’, I do not insist that users always feel constrained by the parenthetical stuff!

(Please note that throughout I have not addressed all the complexities and issues expertly discussed in the voluminous technical literature on the dot probe (and related) paradigms. This would have been irrelevant to the aims of these blogs).

The St. George’s University of London Investigation

As mentioned earlier the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, refused to do anything to rectify the inaccuracies of the 1986 paper unless a proper investigation, carried out by a relevant academic institution, concluded that the St. George’s group had indeed taken the idea for the dot probe paradigm from me. So, the final step in my tortuous trajectory involved my asking that such an investigation be carried out by St. George’s.

I contacted St George’s with such a request in March 2021. Their first responses were far from encouraging. They claimed that not only were the authors of the 1986 paper no longer working at St. George’s, they also had no idea where they were.  In subsequent emails they told me that even if they managed to contact them, they could still refuse to co-operate. Finally, in an email of 18 May 2021, they informed me they had emailed all people that I kept mentioning in my emails to them.  I assume that meant Mathews, MacLeod, Eysenck and Tata. In the same email I was told that the College’s ‘Head of Research Governance and Delivery’ had been asked to consider whether my complaint could be addressed under the institution’s Research Misconduct Procedure.

Following these positive developments there were very extensive delays and I often had to ask what was going on. I repeatedly wrote to Professor Higham, the St. George’s Principal, to make sure the investigation moved on. A preliminary investigation was carried out which concluded that enough grounds existed for a full investigation to be carried out by a full investigating panel.  After a long delay, a three-person investigating panel concluded and I was emailed their report on the 22nd of July 2022. That is 18 months after I had first launched my complaint. Given the centrality of this investigation, I will quote extensively from this report and offer my response to it. All quotes (in italics) are from the official St. George’s report. The initials in the quotes refer to the following: M (Andrew Mathews), CM (Colin MacLeod), CH (Christos Halkiopoulos) and E (Michael Eysenck).

The overall finding of the St. George’s investigation was this:

Consequently we do not find evidence of plagiarism.

Given the way they searched, and the types of ‘logical’ inference they relied upon, this is not in the least surprising.

Under their section ‘Panel Findings’ they write the following:

– M has published a book chapter in which he discusses the origins of several ideas and methods of the time…This includes the statement: “…Then Michael Eysenck made contact, and we picked up the idea for the dot probe method from his student, Chris Haliopoulos (sic). I certainly remember that being a really fun time”.

The final statement is one I have repeatedly referred to, but it is important that they acknowledge it in this context. Important because soon after reporting it, they go on to contradict it.

– The panel felt that it was more likely than not that CM & M arrived at their chosen experimental design largely independently from CH’s ideas, which were complementary to but not the same as the ideas that led to the 1986 Article.

Imaginary scenario

The well-worn proverb about eating one’s cake and still having it occurs here.

If the idea for the dot probe design was mine, as Mathews very clearly states, how could it also be true that Macleod and Mathews arrived at this design independently of my ideas? How does one, logically, get from an acknowledgement that the seminal idea for the very paradigm was mine to denying any significant contribution on my part? To be fair, they claim that they ‘largely’ arrived at their design independently. So, what was my contribution? They go on:

– If there was some degree of influence of CH’s ideas and results on the development of the ideas in the 1986 Article, the Acknowledgment provided was appropriate to signpost this contribution to readers.

The Acknowledgement they have in mind here is the one I discussed earlier:

“Thanks are due to C. Halkiopoulos, whose unpublished doctoral research at Birkbeck College, London, motivated the development of the current paradigm.” (MacLeod, Mathews and Tata, 1986, p.15).

I have already commented on the ambiguity of the word ‘motivated’ in this acknowledgement, but that is not the most important issue here. The report continues as follows:

– The acknowledgement of CH on the 1986 Article was arranged by the authors after acceptance. CM states that this was to help alleviate supervisory difficulties between CH and E [Eysenck], rather than CH having contributed key ideas to the paper.

May I mention, once more, I never accepted that acknowledgment. Instead, I immediately complained to my Head of Department  (I still have a copy of my letter) that they were plagiarizing my work. More crucially, by now MacLeod claims I played no role in devising the dot probe paradigm.

So, did I contribute any ideas to the development of the dot probe technique or not? In the space of a few lines in their report the estimates range from

  • ‘none whatsoever’, to
  • ‘perhaps some’, to
  • ‘the idea for this technique is all my own’. 

The report goes on:

– While E’s description of CH’s ideas and results to M was inappropriate, especially without CH’s knowledge or consent, it is not possible to determine that this was the key factor, or even an important factor, in the development of the ideas leading to the 1986 Article.

And then again there is the claim that the extent of my contribution was clarified in a subsequent publication.

– In a personal letter from M to CH, M states that M, CM and E provided a clear description of the ideas relevant to the 1986 Article, including CH’s work with appropriate credit, in a review paper published in Psychological Research.

I have dealt with this already.  My work is described, indeed described in some detail by Eysenck, Mathews and MacLeod (1987).   But the experiment by MacLeod et al. is introduced there as a parallel development. The reader is not made aware that there was any knowledge by the St George’s team about my prior work.

And what about this:

– The 1986 Article could not have cited CH’s ideas or his undergraduate dissertation in the Introduction as they were unpublished at the time.

The reason MacLeod gives as to why they did not discuss my research in their 1985 paper is laughable. My research ideas were still unpublished in 1987 (one year after the 1986 paper) when, without my knowledge and consent, they did publish in detail my experimental paradigm and my findings.

The report also refers to a letter send to me by Mathews on September the 6th 1989 and which I had made available to them.   This is what Mathews writes:

“It has never been our intention to avoid giving credit to others who have influenced us or helped in providing research ideas. Since no such acknowledgement was included in the original article (which I regret), a fairly full description of your experiment as preceding our own, was included in a subsequent review by Mike Eysenck, Colin MacLeod and myself published in Psychological Research” (emphases added).

Referring to this same letter this is what the panel writes:

 M …does not appear to apologise for not including CH’s name as an author, or state that a reference CH’s undergraduate dissertation should have been included in the 1986 Article[.]

He certainly regrets not acknowledging my contribution.  More importantly, the reader can refer back to where I quote extensively from that Psychological Research paper to see that my work is not presented as either having influenced theirs, or as even having preceded theirs.

Could it be that Mathews, but not MacLeod, had been informed by Eysenck about my research and findings? Are we to believe that Mathews knew all along of my work but he kept it as a secret from his postdoc, MacLeod, and at some unspecified time MacLeod came across my ideas and results and exclaimed something like “what a coincidence, I am doing the same in your lab all this time that we have been discussing my research and as you surely remember it was all there in the application for that grant you liked and you gave me the job”!

Let’s get serious 

No such incredible scenario has ever been invoked. Not even by the otherwise imaginative MacLeod. Eysenck was very clear when he told me he was talking to the entire team about my research.  In fact, the understanding was that we would all publish together at some stage.  In fact, a paper with my name in it is announced in one of Eysenck’s publications.  The paper which is reported as being under preparation was being authored, according to Eysenck and Mathews (1987; p.208), by Eysenck, Halkiopoulos, MacLeod and Mathews. It never materialized as the idea for the joint publication must have predated the decision to drop me along the way.

There are other claims like, for example, that our theoretical approaches are different.  First, they are not that different (see earlier my discussion of the University of Western Australia’s investigation) and, secondly, this is not relevant to the issue at hand.

I had repeatedly asked the investigating panels to challenge Colin Macleod to answer one crucial question which I had posed to him by email but he had never replied. How come his account is so dramatically different from his then boss and co-author Andrew Mathews and my supervisor Michael Eysenck (recall that the latter has claimed he identifies me as the originator of the paradigm in 15 publications). There is nothing in the report to indicate that such a question was ever posed, or if they did ask, there is no hint whatsoever in the report about how he answered it. This is reminiscent of the fact that MacLeod never responded to precisely this question when I posed it to him be email.  The investigation by his own University explicitly states that such questions were not been addressed. Additionally, and throughout my dealings with St. George’s, I repeatedly and most explicitly insisted that such a question is posed to MacLeod and an answer is sought.

One wonders what Mathews has to say about all this. Does he now revise he clear statement that the idea for the dot probe technique was mine? And what about Phillip Tata, the third author of the 1985? The answers to these two questions, provided by a two sort sentences in the report is nothing less than shocking:

M [Mathews] has declined to provide further correspondence. Tata has not been approached.

And neither has Eysenck it would appear. The picture here is as disturbing as it is laughable. Out of the four directly relevant academics (MacLeod, Mathews, Tata and Eysenck) only one engages with the investigation. Two, Tata and Eysenck, are not even approached. But Mathews had expressed himself very clearly a long time ago.  And he does not seem to have changed his mind. The report registers this only to ignore its crucial relevance to the conclusion.  By ignoring evidence of such gravity, not involving crucial witnesses, and violating simple logic, the report concludes in the way that would fully please Colin MacLeod.

 No wonder: All there is in St. George’s report it what MacLeod had written to me before the St. George’s investigation had started, or even envisioned at that stage, and what is dutifully rehearsed in the ‘independent’ report of the investigation by his own University in Australia (see earlier).

Why does he not make available to us what he wrote to get that postdoctoral grant where apparently he had developed the ideas for the dot probe paradigm? I would very much like to see that proposal. Of course, he had used probes before.  Such procedures were known by then, although not to me when I carried out my research in 1980-1981. He had used probes in the context of dichotic listening studies, no less.  Does anybody remember the ‘paradigm’ used there?  He never had the idea of the attentional probe paradigm as I developed it. As I have already noted, his boss at the time, Andrew Mathews, had told me very clearly that it would have been a matter of time before they arrived at my paradigm themselves. Well, they would have been late if that ever happened. 

There is an exceedingly simple way the St. George’s investigating panel could have used to arrive at a reasonable estimate of my contribution to the dot probe paradigm. Rather than referring in a most self-contradictory manner to the two extremes (the seminal idea for the paradigm was mine vs I had nothing to do with it), they should have set this as an exercise to the three authors of the 1986 paper! They did not. Why?

As far as I am concerned Mathews is 100% right and so is Eysenck: The seminal idea for the dot probe paradigm was mine and nobody else’s. And they got it via Mike Eysenck, the academic who was supervising my PhD and who managed to betray me, and seriously harm me, more than once and in several different ways.

Postscript

A series of Correction Notices have appeared on bookseller websites, e.g.

1st Edition, Stress and Emotion, Edited by  Charles D. Spielberger et al.,1991: “Correction notice: In chapter 6, on pages 78-83, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed”.

Anxiety: The Cognitive Perspective, Michael W Eysenck, Psychology Press, 1992: “Correction notice: In chapter 4, on pages 70-71, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed in Eysenck, M. W. (1991 a). Trait anxiety and cognition. In C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, and J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion, Vol. 14. London: Hemisphere.

Correction notice: In chapter 4, on pages 70-71, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role as the inventor of the Dot Probe Paradigm and for the design and execution of the experiment discussed in Eysenck, M. W. (1991 a). Trait anxiety and cognition. In C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, and J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion, Vol. 14. London: Hemisphere.

These correction notices are a step towards confirming the truth of the allegations of plagiarism. However they are only publisher’s blurb on bookseller sites and do not correct the permanent scientific record.

The discussed peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters using Christos Halkiopoulos’ Dot Probe Paradigm remain uncorrected (full details to follow). The theft of CH’s intellectual property remains unacknowledged in the scientific record.

The authors, journals, publishers and institutions – the University of London and the University of Western Australia – remain fully complicit in the plagiarism described here.

To date, 36 years have gone by, nobody has acted, everybody has ‘passed the buck’. When will somebody with the necessary authority and power correct the scientific record and do the right thing: credit this author with his intellectual property?

© Christos Halkiopoulos, 2022

c.halkiopoulos@gmail.com

References

Borkovec, T. D. (2004). Andrew Mathews: a brief history of a clinical scientist. In Yiend, J. (Ed.), Cognition, Emotion and Psychopathology: Theoretical, Empirical and Clinical Directions. Cambridge University Press.

Derakshan, N., Eysenck, M.W., & Myers, L.B. (2007). Emotional information processing in repressors: The vigilance-avoidance theory. Cognition and Emotion, 21(8), 1585-1614.

Derakshan, N. & Koster, E. (2012). Information processing, affect, and psychopathology. A Festschrift for Michael W. Eysenck. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 24(1).

Dixon N. F. (1971). Subliminal Perception: The Nature of a Controversy. London: McGraw-Hill.

Erdelyi, M. H. (1974). A new look at the New Look: Perceptual defense and vigilance. Psychological Review 81(1), 1-25.

Erdelyi M. H. and Goldberg B. (1979). Let’s no sweep repression under the rag: Toward a cognitive psychology of repression. In Kihlstrom and Evan (Eds). Functional disorders of memory. Hilldale, New Jersey.

Eysenck, M.W. (1991). Trait anxiety and cognition. In C.D. Spielberger, I.G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, & J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and emotion (Vol. 14). Hemisphere.

Eysenck, M.W. (1992). Anxiety: The Cognitive Perspective. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Ltd.

Eysenck, M.W. (1997). Anxiety and Cognition: A Unified Theory. Psychology Press.

Eysenck, M.W., MacLeod C., & Mathews, A. (1987). Cognitive functioning and anxiety. Psychological Research, 49, 189-195.

Eysenck, M.W. and Mathews, A. (1987). Trait Anxiety and Cognition. In Eysenck, H.J. and Martin, I. (Eds), Theoretical Foundations of Behaviour Therapy. Springer.

Halkiopoulos, C. (1981). Towards a psychodynamic cognitive psychology. BSc Dissertation submitted to UCL Psychology Department. OSF Preprint (10.31219/0sf.io/6y3d8).

MacLeod, C., & Mathews, A. (1988). Anxiety and the allocation of attention to threat. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A: Human Experimental Psychology, 40(4-A), 653–670. 

MacLeod, C., Mathews A., & Tata, P. (1986). Attentional bias in emotional disorders. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95, 15-20.

Mathews, A. (1990). Why Worry: The Cognitive Function of Anxiety. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 28(6), 455-468).

Navon, D. and Margalit B. (1983(. Allocation of attention according to informativeness in visual recognition.

Norman, D. A. (1980). Twelve issues for cognitive psychology. Cognitive Science, 4, 1-21.

Yiend, J. (Ed.), Cognition, Emotion and Psychopathology: Theoretical, Empirical and Clinical Directions. Cambridge University Press.

Yiend J., Barnicot K., Koster E.  (2013). Attention and emotion. Handbook of Cognition and Emotion. 97–116.

Featured

How Many Atoms Are There in the Known Universe?

How Many Atoms Are There in the Known Universe?

Answer: It has been estimated that there are between 10 to the power 78 and 10 to the power 82 atoms in the known, observable universe.

This figure has the agreement of the Astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, who has stated:

In layman’s terms, that works out to between ten quadrillion vigintillion and one-hundred thousand quadrillion vigintillion atoms.

— Read on www.universetoday.com/36302/atoms-in-the-universe/

Featured

Part 2 of the saga: Professor Michael Eysenck (and the Rest): Give Me Back My Attentional-Probe-Paradigm

by Christos Halkiopoulos

I continue the story of how my intellectual property was stolen at London University by a leading group of psychology professors. This part includes the investigations by three different colleges of London University and others. The first and third parts of my story are available here and here.

From Birkbeck to the Royal Holloway, University of London

Michael Eysenck’s role in talking to the St. George’s group about my paradigm without my permission, and the way it led to the publication of the MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986) paper, had a devastating effect on our relationship. I never trusted him again with, predictably, disastrous effects on my prospects of finishing my PhD. But talking to a few colleagues about my research paradigm is not all that he did.

What I would learn later is that, while I was fighting to rectify his grave mistake of giving away my paradigm, in 1985 Michael Eysenck was presenting at an international conference, in front of an influential audience, my experimental work as his own. This was research that, as a UCL undergraduate, I had designed and implemented by collecting, analysing and discussing the data, all single-handedly; experimental work, supervised by Professor Norman Dixon, that I had submitted in my BSc dissertation in 1981, years before I even met Michael Eysenck.

The conference proceedings were published as a book edited by Charles D Spielberger et al. (1991, Hemisphere – now Taylor & Francis). This book included a chapter by Eysenck (1991) which I will refer to as the ‘Hemisphere chapter’.

Eysenck was no longer just a facilitator of others, he had himself become a plagiarist, while continuing to act as my PhD supervisor.

Eysenck had earlier discussed my experimental work, linking it to my name (e.g., Eysenck et al. 1987). The way Eysenck dealt with my research before starting to explicitly plagiarise it will be the focus of a future publication. Suffice to note here that Eysenck had presented the study and the attentional paradigm as mine in several publications, albeit not always accurately but often implying he had some role in it.

At some stage, perhaps when I left for Greece, uncertain as to whether I would be able to secure funds to complete my PhD studies, Michael Eysenck changed course and started associating his name more and more with my research, research with which he had had no involvement whatsoever. This process ended in his presenting my 1981 experiment, as well as the attentional probe paradigm, in publications that did not include my name at all (e.g. Eysenck, 1997).  

As mentioned above, all this is documented in other relevant articles, which will soon be published. Let it be noted here that three investigations, from two University institutions and one publisher, have already found Michael Eysenck guilty of inappropriate conduct in the way he has repeatedly reported my research as his own in his publications. Some of these investigations, and additional ones, have also been asked to address the use of my attentional probe paradigm by the St. George’s group and Eysenck’s involvement in all this (see later).  Note that while none of the investigations could deny the glaringly obvious, namely that Eysenck plagiarised my research, they tried to take back with one hand what they delivered by the other.

How could the investigators deny it?  By 2004, as noted, Eysenck himself had admitted as much in writing to me.  It would be useful to be reminded of his exact wording:

…I admit that I gave you insufficient credit when I wrote about your experiment.  It is true that your name was always associated with the study, but it is fair comment that my [sic] implication I exaggerated my non-existent role in the research itself.  Accordingly, I am sorry and must accept the basic rightness of what you say…

Email from M Eysenck, 24/06/2004.

All but one of the claims made here by Eysenck are true. He is, in effect, admitting that he plagiarised my research. What is not true, and this will become abundantly obvious below, is that my name was always associated with the study. It was not.

With my relationship with my supervisor in serious trouble, following the St. George’s incident, I went on pursuing my PhD research on my own. Without much help, and with reduced laboratory facilities, I turned to relevant theoretical and additional paradigm developing work. This included an exploration into ways to address interpretative biases in the processing of emotional information, advancing cognitive psychodynamics by explicitly viewing defences as cognitive skills and, related to all this, trying to chart the developmental trajectories of attentional and interpretive biases. An earlier interest of mine in the philosophy of mind, and the then emerging field of cognitive science, found its expression in my attempts to explore whether such work could help us understand at least some aspects of motivated irrationality.

Accordingly, I got interested in understanding such elusive phenomena as wishful thinking, akrasia and self-deception. In fact, at some stage I was teaching a whole course on the psychology of self-deception at Birkbeck. Lest it be thought that my aspirations in these domains were unrealistic, my research was modest in its grasp and, in the view of those who came to know about it, original and successful.  Although Eysenck did not share my wider interests, he did show a strong interest in my work on interpretative biases and cognitive bias learning. I would later realise that all these topics were being systematically explored by several researchers in the field, including Eysenck and the St. George’s group.

Despite my research’s remaining unsupervised, it had progressed enough by the beginning of the 1986 academic year for me to receive an official letter from the Registry which, among other things, was informing me that I could write up and submit my PhD.  Relevant correspondence with the College during that period included the following:

You are now free to write up – either independently without further enrolment or as a Continuing Research Student from October 1986 in which case a further fee will be due.

Letter from the Registry to me, 21/11/1986.

The relationship with my supervisor was by this stage completely destroyed. Meanwhile, Professor Eysenck had left for Royal Holloway University London (RHUL). I found out about Eysenck’s transfer much later as neither he, nor anybody else from the College, informed me about this move.

Following my exchanges with the departmental head, it was not clear to me what kind of supervision I would be receiving, or which type of PhD I would be submitting. Also, it soon became evident that, despite being the departmental head, he did not intend to do anything about the fact that I had been so badly let down by my supervisor and, therefore, by the College. I return to this later. Perhaps not his intention, but I recall being made to feel badly that I even mentioned that my work had been plagiarised and that Professor Eysenck was responsible.

At some stage it emerged that, if I stayed at Birkbeck, the new departmental head would become my new supervisor. This academic informed me that it was not his choice to supervise me, but he had to. From what I recall, he presented me with a ‘double bind’, or at least that is how I perceived it: I could not use any of the empirical research that had given rise to all those ‘issues’ with Professor Eysenck. When I suggested that a lot of my work was theoretical, he expressed serious doubts that a significantly theoretical PhD thesis would be successful. He recounted his ‘sleepless nights’ worrying about a PhD candidate of his who had submitted a mostly theoretical thesis in the past. Moreover, given the circumstances, including my troubles with Professor Eysenck, he could not think of anybody else who would be prepared to supervise me.

A reluctant new supervisor was appointed

I did eventually join Professor Eysenck at RHUL.  That I ever did, given what had happened, needs more explaining than I can provide in the present context. Suffice it to note that, following a chance encounter with Professor Eysenck at Heathrow airport, and after I attended Michael Eysenck’s inaugural lecture at RHUL during which I witnessed him mentioning my name, I wrote to him expressing the desire to go on with my research, provided some funding was made available. The following is a quote from his response to my letter:

“…So far as becoming involved in the research programme is concerned, I am afraid there are no possibilities here at present. If funds were to become available at some point in the future, then it would be a different story. However, in view of the difficult times for research funding, the chances are probably not too good…”

Letter from Professor Eysenck, 12/12/89.

It is important to note that my having completed the years needed for paid/supervised research at Birkbeck, indeed that I was given the green light to write up and submit my thesis, was not taken into account at RHUL. I still had to register and pay normal fees.  It was my distinct impression that Professor Eysenck did not want me to continue with my PhD and that he was making the whole process very difficult for me.

With very mixed feelings, I transferred to RHUL sometime in 1992. But only to be faced with one more difficult situation. It was obvious Professor Eysenck would not accept a mostly theoretical thesis. So, it was no longer a situation where I simply had to just complete my thesis and submit it. During a detailed discussion on our first real meeting after years, he gave me the impression that I should not be revisiting any of my (troublesome) work with my paradigm. It all made sense later, of course, when I found out that he had by that time presented this work as his own. 

I tried to move towards my earlier suggestions of research on interpretative biases. But, along with the St. George’s group, Professor Eysenck had by now published on this.  He had never mentioned anything about interpretative biases before I told him about this line of research, which I was intensely pursuing myself. As written records show, I was at the time doing very systematic work on interpretative biases in the processing of threatening information. 

I was left with few options. It beggars belief that I was prepared to start anew on a series of experiments, based this time on my more recent theoretical work on attentional bias learning and unlearning and further attempts to formulate a theory of defences by viewing them as cognitive skills. But I wanted that PhD so much. As I said, I was left with no choice.  I also felt strongly that Professor Eysenck should be helping me given what had happened, because of him, in the past.

I was experiencing all this as some sort of unavoidable tragedy. Here I was, the inventor of a most successful and, by then, widely accepted as innovative, ingenious, and the like, experimental paradigm. The first to have offered conclusive evidence of attentional biases in the processing of threatening information and with a full theoretical account of how all these biases come about and much else besides.

Long gone were the days when I would provide Professor Eysenck with written proposals about half a dozen experiments at a time, all based on my paradigm!

And yet, in effect, here I was as somebody starting from scratch. Was I once again to be the crucible and ‘motivator’ of my supervisor’s research projects? And that is because the person who was, and had been my supervisor, had through his actions and inactions blocked the widest possible avenue to my getting a brilliant PhD. A married man by now, with children to take care of, on a lecturer’s salary, still hoping that some help and funding for my new ventures may be coming my way. None ever did. But finances were not a substantial obstacle anymore for me to continue.

I would have continued. I was preparing all the materials I needed. Written exchanges with Professor Eysenck bear witness to my determination to continue.  In fact, during this phase I arrived at some findings about how the four Weinberger personality types were appraising emotional materials that Professor Eysenck found very important and would keep asking me to publish a paper together as he had some similar findings himself.  Not that I would have made my data available to him.

As I said, despite all, I was prepared to do most of what Eysenck expected to get my PhD. And then something happened that even this steely determination of mine was tested to its limits. I came across that volume in the series STRESS AND ANXIETY published in 1991 by Spielberger and some other academics. It was based, as written in the Preface of this book, on the Conference on Stress and Emotion held in June 2-5 (1986) in Visegrad, Hungary. Looking at the contents I came across a chapter by Eysenck; what I called earlier the ‘Hemisphere chapter’. Reading this chapter (Trait Anxiety and Cognition) shocked me. Perhaps even more so than, when on my way back home that September afternoon in 1985, I had discovered the manuscript of the St. George’s group paper that was presenting my attentional probe paradigm as somebody else’s invention.

This time round, Professor Eysenck was basing a whole chapter on my own experimental work. As already mentioned, this work had been completed and submitted as part of my BSc dissertation in 1981.  He was presenting my 1981 experiment as his own, with me getting a parenthetical reference (as the originator of the paradigm), and the reader getting the impression of his massive contribution to the research detailed in that chapter.

Professor Eysenck was preparing and delivering this paper, which was done in June 1986, while I was around as his PhD student at Birkbeck. In fact, during a period, I was fighting to resolve the issues raised by his earlier failing, the way he had facilitated the plagiarism by the St. George’s group. I could no longer go on working with this person. The level of disregard he was showing for my work and my well-being, and his total lack of academic integrity could not but place a full stop to anything I would ever have wished to have to do with him.

When exactly did I leave this PhD? I have no specific date. All I know is that I paid RHUL for a couple of years. Although I left RHUL, it would be several years, indeed decades, before it dawned on me that I would not be returning to this type of research. Whatever doors seemed to be opening (some enthusiastically) after I left RHUL would shut abruptly, as soon as potential supervisors, or research collaborators, became aware of the problems I had had with Eysenck and the St. George’s group. It was around then that I recalled what an academic who had been my tutor during my UCL undergraduate years had advised me when I told him what was happening with Eysenck. He had said: “If you still want a PhD Christos go to the USA”!

One wonders why nobody tried to help me with the problems I had at Birkbeck. Were they all under the ‘spell’ of a persuasive narrative, articulated by a very well-known academic operating at the highest levels of professional and personal integrity? And, on the other hand, who was I, a mere underling in the hierarchy?  I am not in a position to answer such questions. What I do know is that two academics, both UK psychology professors and both close to Professor Eysenck (one of them, still a psychology professor at Birkbeck, in an email I have) have told me that I was not the only one who had ideas and work plagiarised by Professor Eysenck.

Investigations

To date, three investigations have been completed by University of London institutions, the Royal Holloway, Birkbeck and St. George’s. In 2005, some years after I had abandoned my PhD, I finally lodged a complaint against Eysenck at both Birkbeck College and the Royal Holloway.

Investigations at three London University institutions

On the 5th of June 2005 I wrote identical letters to Professor David Latchman (Master of Birkbeck) (see here) and Professor Stephen Hill (Principal of the Royal Holloway).

I numbered two complaints that I wanted them to investigate:

  1.  Professor Eysenck is responsible for the stealing of my work by Professor Mathews and his colleagues.

Professor Eysenck helped a group of researchers led by Professor Andrew Mathews (then at St George’s Psychology Department) to steal what was at that stage by far the most important part of my research (I am well aware of several euphemistic expressions for the verb ‘to steal’ and I have used them all without much success in the past).

2. Professor Eysenck in numerous publications and conferences misappropriated my work and grossly misled his readers and audiences about his (non-existent) contribution to it.

As if being responsible for Prof Mathews’s stealing my work were not enough, Professor Eysenck in numerous publications and conference presentations explicitly and without any justification whatsoever associated himself with my work.  That is, work completed years before I ever met him or before he ever knew anything about [it] was presented in such a way as to intentionally create the impression that he had played a very significant part in it.”

(Quoted from the letter addressed to Professors David Latchman and Stephen Hill,5/6/2005).

The first response by both colleges was to refuse to investigate. Birkbeck refused on the grounds that Eysenck had moved to the Royal Holloway, and the Royal Holloway refused on the grounds that a long time had passed since the events had taken place. Eventually, RHUL agreed to carry out a limited investigation. Birkbeck would carry out theirs many years after that. I resubmitted my complaint to Birkbeck (in its original 2005 form) in 2021, this time under the auspices of the United Kingdom Research Integrity Office (UKRIO) having belatedly realised that such historical complaints could indeed be launched.

Royal Holloway University of London Investigation

Findings of this investigation included the following:

There is insufficient attribution of credit within the 1991 Hemisphere article: STRESS & EMOTION: Anxiety, Anger & Curiosity…The College apologises to you for any distress or offence resulting from the failure fully to attribute credit to you within the Hemisphere article…While I am not able to disclose details, I can confirm that, following this conclusion, the College has taken appropriate action in accordance with the College Statutes and Regulations.

Letter from RHUL, 20/3/2007.

Ignoring that this investigation took so long to report (nearly two years), and that it refused to investigate both complaints, there is plenty to welcome in its findings. Apologising for ‘insufficient attribution of credit’ may sound relatively anodyne, but it is an admission that plagiarism had taken place. Eysenck presents in the Hemisphere chapter in great detail my 1981 experiment as his. As already discussed above, he describes fully my procedure, reports my findings and my statistical analysis and uses throughout much from my theoretical framework. This it is an example of blatant and massive plagiarism

I want to make two additional points here:

First, responding to my request that Eysenck comments on the way he presented my research in the Hemisphere article, Eysenck refused to do so on the grounds that he did not have the relevant book in his bookcase! I had sent them a copy, but that should not have been necessary as Eysenck was the author. I was at loss as I did not know how to view his response; cynical or pathetic?

My second point: In the Hemisphere article I do get a mention, a brief parenthetical one but it is there to identify me as the originator of the paradigm (the attentional probe paradigm) used in ‘his’ study. Perhaps, because of this mentioning of my name, this is the place to report that whereas this article carries a most serious case of plagiarism it is not even the worst. A worse one appears in a publication I have already mentioned, his 1997 book Anxiety and Cognition: A Unified Theory. In this publication there is no mentioning of my name at all. If one wanted to touch ground with a publication that does somehow mention my name, albeit a publication that still does not tell the whole truth, one would have to first be alerted that plagiarism was taking place and then follow through some of the publications cited.

In fact, I was not aware of the 1997 publication when I lodged my complaint. Eysenck, and therefore Royal Holloway, obviously knew about it but they said nothing. This 1997 book was republished in paperback form in 2014. Having been found by his own employer guilty of misappropriating my experimental work in his 1991 Hemisphere chapter, the paperback edition offered Michael Eysenck an excellent opportunity to put the record straight. He did not change a single word.

The Royal Holloway investigation suffers from additional shortcomings. They did apologise, but what about? About any “distress or offense” resulting from Eysenck’s failure fully to attribute credit to me. That the discovery of that chapter, where Eysenck was plagiarising my work while being my PhD supervisor, resulted in my decision to finally give up pursuing a pioneering PhD, seems to have been judged as unimportant. And, as mentioned above, the investigation right from the beginning refused to even touch Complaint 1, as what had happened with the St. George’s group, they argued, predated Eysenck’s arrival at their institution.

Moreover, they claimed that “The insufficient attribution of credit does not amount to grossly misleading others” (from the same RHUL letter; 20 March 2007).  I could not possibly accept this. I challenge Professor Eysenck to indicate what is his and what is mine in the conference paper he presented and the Hemisphere chapter that followed.

I have since asked several colleagues and friends to read the relevant chapter and one after the other they all were misled. Grossly so, as they thought that Professor Eysenck was discussing his ideas, which he had tested by carrying out his experiment, had himself analysed the findings from this experiment of his, and had drawn his own conclusions.

And to think I was a fee-paying student. I requested that they donate the money they got from me to a charity. They did not.

Setting my misgivings with the RHUL investigation aside, we can conclude that this investigation confirmed that Professor Michael Eysenck had plagiarised my research while acting as my PhD supervisor.

Birkbeck, University of London Investigation

In 2021, the investigation by Birkbeck, University of London reached a similar conclusion. Its investigating panel, found that

 …misconduct did occur because Eysenck initially associated himself more with your work than he should have done and he did not act in a way to reduce the impact of this on you at that time.

Letter from Birkbeck College, 19/11/2021.

Moreover, Birkbeck reported that this finding of theirs was:

 Fully in line with the previous investigation into this case undertaken by RHUL in 2005.

Additionally, the investigation found that:

the College failed in its duty of care to you as a student by not picking up this failing either through the complaints processes you initiated at the College in 1986 or at the point of the RHUL investigation”.

Letter from Birkbeck College, 19/11/2021.

Again, a lot that is welcome in this investigation. But it also suffers from serious shortcomings.  Importantly, the entire report does not contain a single word relevant to complaint 1. This is really mystifying and disturbing in equal measures. While at Birkbeck I did not even know that Eysenck himself was plagiarising my research. That is something that emerged later when I had joined him at the Royal Holloway.  So, they did not address at all the major complaint relevant to them and, as they knew very well, what was crucial for me if I ever were to claim my paradigm back.

Birkbeck neglected one of two complaints and gaslighted CH

I read their report in disbelief. How could the College not even respond to the first part of my complaint? Namely that Professor Eysenck was responsible for the stealing of my work by Professor Mathews and his colleagues. It must simply appear too inflammatory for Birkbeck to admit that one of their own misappropriated, in multiple ways, a student’s work.

I challenged the College on this. They simply responded, and kept repeating, that their investigating panel had addressed all my complaints and had looked at all the relevant evidence. Interestingly, they had asked for several documents relevant to investigating precisely that first complaint.

I also wrote to Birkbeck’s Vice-Principal (Master), Professor Latchman, to complain about this omission. Even though I accompanied my message to him with all the relevant evidence, he responded to claim he had full confidence that all my complaints had been fully investigated and that there was nothing wrong with, or missing from, the investigation.

It was painfully frustrating to see all these intelligent people trying to gaslight me into accepting the blatantly untrue. I was making a simple logical point. I was not disagreeing with any specific findings regarding complaint 1; only that there was no single word about it in their report. Actually, they prevented me from complaining any further by officially writing in their report that, in the absence of new evidence, such complaining will be viewed as ‘vexatious’.  One of the excuses was that the report was not more detailed as it had to be brief. I don’t see why it should and not addressing at all the main complaint was not the most acceptable way to shorten it.

I have additional problems with this report.

They called Eysenck’s misconduct ‘minor’. That is, repeatedly publicising as your own your PhD student’s research; in general behaving towards him in ways that make it virtually impossible for him to ever finish his PhD; and merely observing him suffer intensely as a result, can be described as a minor misconduct’.  I asked them to send me their ‘seriousness of misconduct scale’.

Moreover, he quote above, relating to their failure in their duty of care, is preceded by the following expression:

“Whilst acknowledging that times have changed the panel also found that, by today’s standards…” (Birkbeck’s report, as above).

So, when it was all happening it was apparently normal practice at Birkbeck, an institution that traditionally has most prided itself on its service to students, for supervisors to blatantly plagiarise their students pioneering work (not to mention the totally ignored complaint 1). Incredible and shocking!

Are all these logically flawed statements the outcome of feeling cornered because the simplest route, carrying out a genuine investigation and reporting it objectively, had blatantly been bypassed?

One would imagine that I would, by now, have run out of objections to the way Birkbeck investigated my complaints. Not so.  They unilaterally proclaimed their report to be “confidential”. I am pursuing a campaign for years to claim back misappropriated research; misappropriated in the most public of ways, by Eysenck and the St. George’s group. And what do they do? They declare the report of their investigation “confidential”.

When I challenged them about this, they responded by claiming that was to protect both parties. The confidentiality solely protects Eysenck’s and Birkbeck’s reputation and attempts to fully nullify any attempts on my part to claim my work back. Hasn’t this been the raison d’être of my endeavours throughout? When I explained to them that it is logically required for it to be public, otherwise it is useless to me, they claimed that this was not something in the public interest. I informed them that I do not intend to keep it confidential.

Finally, the report is inaccurate in another respect as well.  They write that misconduct had occurred because Eysenck “initially” associated himself more with my work than he should have done.  Plagiarism, such as it took place initially, was minimal. It flourished later, starting (to my knowledge) with the Hemisphere article. Are they aware of publications I do not know about, or is this just one more example of the lack of logical coherence and erroneous statements, so characteristic of their entire report?

Again, my objections to the Birkbeck investigation’s report notwithstanding, they at the very least confirmed the Royal Holloway’s finding that Eysenck had indeed plagiarised my work.

Francis and Taylor Investigation

Francis and Taylor, Michael Eysenck’s publishers, have also carried out a similar investigation. Here are their findings and their proposed action plan:

“In line with the decision made by Royal Holloway in 2007, we would like to add the following correction notices to Anxiety the Cognitive Perspective and Stress and Emotion Volume 14

For Anxiety the Cognitive Perspective

Correction notice: In chapter 4, on pages 70-71, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed in Eysenck, M. W. (1991 a). Trait anxiety and cognition. In C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, and J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion, Vol. 14. London: Hemisphere. 

For Stress and Emotion Volume 14

Correction notice: In chapter 6, on pages 78-83, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed. 

The correction notices will be included in the preliminary pages of each book (for future printings and electronic copies) and also on each book’s individual product page on our website”.

(Email to me from Taylor and Francis, dated 15/4/2021)

So, Francis and Taylor have accepted RHUL’s findings and decided to add those correction notes in their publications. The correction note would indicate my role “in the design and execution of the experiment discussed” by Eysenck in a couple of publications.

But precisely what was my role?  Or, for that matter, Eysenck’s role? Let’s be absolutely clear here. My role in the design and execution of that experiment was to contribute 100% to all aspects of it. Eysenck’s contribution was 0%. As I wrote to Francis and Taylor, he did not just exaggerate his contribution. Recall here, Eysenck’s own use of this word – exaggeration – in the email above, where he admitted to me his own guilt.  But is it not the case that whatever you multiply 0 by you still, and forever, end up with 0? You cannot exaggerate non-existence. You can only imaginatively create the false impression of something that does not exist. That is called fraud.

Moreover, who is the audience of this note? Generations of students and researchers have read all those papers and books by Eysenck and have formed their views. Who is going to alert them to search on Amazon and the like, for such a note? And while there, exactly what are they told? Remember Eysenck’s most extreme example of plagiarism of my experiment is not even in the two publications addressed by Taylor and Francis but, as noted earlier, in his 1997 book Anxiety and Cognition: A Unified Theory, also published by them.

I challenge everybody to read the relevant pages (Eysenck, 1997; pp. 15-16), indeed the whole book, and tell me whether they can guess that the experiment described there was designed and caried out by me. Or, that I had any involvement with it whatsoever. Please also look at the diagram and compare it to the one I have in my BSc dissertation. If you have access to Eysenck (1991), which is addressed by the Francis and Taylor investigation, also have a look at the results table on page 79 and compare them with the results in my BSc dissertation. Now remind yourself, that this was submitted to UCL in 1981 and that Eysenck first heard of my research in 1983. Finally, re-read the proposed action plan by Francis and Taylor.

So, Francis and Taylor provide Michael Eysenck with a publication platform on which to repeatedly resort to plagiarism.  In fact, it is their publications that have provided most of the evidence for the RHUL and the Birkbeck investigations.

I am not finished with them.  In an email which summarises for my benefit their final position they write:

Although in our view these references clearly outline your role in this work, as detailed in my previous emails, we have offered to add correction notices explicitly crediting you on our website product pages of all three books, as well as adding this notice to future print and electronic copies. After you declined this resolution, Professor Eysenck agreed to rework the text in all three publications to exclude all reference to, or discussion of, the experiment and paradigm that you claim is your copyright. You also declined this resolution. These are the mechanisms available to us to ensure the scholarly record is accurate, and they still stand should you wish to pursue either option.

Email from Francis and Taylor to me, 27/6/2021.

So, Eysenck’s publishers think that those correction notes (see above) are not only enough but also generous as, according to them, the original publications themselves “clearly outline [my] role”. So, for them, and in a self-contradictory manner, there has never been an issue.  For them, the matter is closed. I also asked them to tell me what good would it do to me for Eysenck to just rewrite his publications and omit any reference to my work. Anyway, why massacre your creation if all is fine about it?

How about just attaching my name to my work instead?

To be continued.

© Christos Halkiopoulos, 2022

c.halkiopoulos@gmail.com

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Blood money for the sport of cricket

www.theguardian.com/sport/2022/aug/17/doctors-for-extinction-rebellions-protest-puts-mcc-deals-in-spotlight

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Professor Michael Eysenck (and the Rest): Give Me Back My Attentional-Probe-Paradigm. Part I

A three-part series of posts by Christos Halkiopoulos

A previous post here concerned a series of scandals involving research malpractice by leading academics at the University of London. After much hesitation and with sadness, I must report further cases of research misconduct involving institutions of this same University.

I claim that research, mostly carried out while I was a BSc student at University College London (UCL), was later plagiarised by Professor Michael W Eysenck and a group of collaborators in a major research programme. This programme was associated with a significant set of highly cited, career-building publications, conference talks and book chapters.

UCL itself was not involved in any of the skulduggery. The misconduct took place while I was doing a PhD under the supervision of Michael Eysenck at Birkbeck College and, later, at the Royal Holloway College. Eysenck’s collaborators, Andrew Mathews (King’s College London) and Colin MacLeod (University of Western Australia), were then both at St. George’s, University of London.

Despite numerous investigations, all discussed here, I am not satisfied that the issues involved have ever been properly addressed, or that the serious consequences these academics’ gross misconduct had on me have been acknowledged. If the misconduct of a group of academics seriously harmed me, the way some of these investigations were conducted leave me mystified, concerned, and deeply disappointed.

My decision to make all of this public should not surprise any of the parties involved. All have been warned that this may be the only remaining way for me to achieve some closure. Of little practical value at this stage, I hope that my revelations can help reduce the chances that some future young researchers endure a similar fate.

Every substantial claim in this series of posts is fully documented in official reports, scholarly publications and private correspondence held by me. The evidence can be provided on request to legitimate parties.

The three posts are rather long. I was urged to shorten them, but I needed to include the details because they all seem so relevant to my case. This level of detail reflects the complexity of what is involved. Over 35 – 40 years, publications and private communications kept metamorphosing, from partial acknowledgements of my contributions to signs of serious plagiarism; from reasonable statements to outright lies; and from gestures of apparent generosity to cynical exploitation.

Although some of the material presented may be a bit technical for some readers, no knowledge of psychology is required to understand the nature of my complaints, or the way they have been dealt with by the institutions to which I addressed them. After six formal investigations of my plagiarism complaints, the reader can judge which way the scales of justice are falling.

I will address all the comments readers of these blogs may wish to make. I welcome, in particular, interventions by the individuals and institutions mentioned in the blogs. Should corrections be viewed as necessary, I will be only too happy to make them.

It is informative to quote the ‘Correction Notices’ that have appeared on publisher Routledge/Taylor & Francis’ bookseller sites:

Correction notice: Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role as the inventor of the Dot Probe Paradigm and for the design and execution of the experiment discussed in C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, and J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion, Vol. 14. London: Hemisphere. [See under ‘Support Material. Ancillaries’].

1st Edition, Stress and Emotion, Edited by Charles D. Spielberger et al.,1991: “Correction notice: In chapter 6, on pages 78-83, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed”.

Anxiety: The Cognitive Perspective, Michael W Eysenck, Psychology Press, 1992: “Correction notice: In chapter 4, on pages 70-71, Christos Halkiopoulos should have been credited for his role in the design and execution of the experiment discussed in Eysenck, M. W. (1991 a). Trait anxiety and cognition. In C. D. Spielberger, I. G. Sarason, Z. Kulczar, and J. Van Heck (Eds.), Stress and Emotion, Vol. 14. London: Hemisphere.

Let us begin…

Contents

POST 1

1.1 Introduction and Epilogue: Mathews Finally Reveals the Dot-Probe-Paradigm Inventor and Eysenck Admits Plagiarism (or…Do They?)

1.2 1980-1981: My Final Year at UCL and BSc Dissertation.

September 1985:  In Michael Eysenck’s Office at Birkbeck College.

The 1986 Paper ‘Motivated’ Footnote, APA Involvement and MacLeod’s Imagination.

POST 2

2.1. From Birkbeck to the Royal Holloway

2.2.     Birkbeck and Royal Holloway Investigations.

POST 3:

3.1 Francis and Taylor Investigation.

3.2 Journal of Abnormal Psychology Investigation.

3.3 The University of Western Australia Investigation.

3.4 The St. George’s (University of London) Investigation.

Introduction and Epilogue

2004: Mathews Finally Reveals the Dot-Probe-Paradigm Inventor and Eysenck Admits Plagiarism (or, Do They?)

Starting a story in the middle may be unusual but can serve a purpose:

Then Michael Eysenck made contact, and we picked up the idea for the dot probe method from his student, Chris Haliopoulos. I certainly remember that being a really fun time.

Andrew Mathews being interviewed in 2004; in Yiend, 2004, p.13.

This is from a chapter written by T. D. Borkovec for the book Cognition, Emotion and Psychopathology (Theoretical, Empirical and Clinical Directions). This book was edited by Jenny Yiend as ‘a tribute to Andrew Mathews, distinguished researcher in cognition and emotion’ (Yiend, 2004; back cover). The quote above is the last sentence of a paragraph, written “In Andrew’s own words”, which summarises how his and his colleagues’ interest in cognitive approaches to the study of psychological disorders culminated in the dot probe paradigm.

Here are a few crucial characters:

Michael W Eysenck
Chris Haliopoulos
Andrew Mathews on ResearchGate

and, of course, the ‘Dot Probe Method‘ aka ‘Dot Probe Technique‘ or ‘Dot Probe Paradigm‘.

Reproduced from: Goodwin, H., Eagleson, C., Mathews, A., Yiend, J., & Hirsch, C. (2017). Automaticity of attentional bias to threat in high and low worriers. Cognitive therapy and research, 41(3), 479-488. Available here. No attribution and no reference is given to Christos Halkiopoulos, the originator of the Attentional-Probe-Paradigm. Halkiopoulos’ priority as the inventor of the paradigm has never appeared in any peer-reviewed paper or book chapter and so, until now, this fact had been consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’.

Michael Eysenck and Andrew Mathews are well-known in general and clinical psychology circles; indeed, they are celebrated psychologists. Both have books, or special journal issues, published in their honour. The book honouring Mathews was mentioned above. Michael Eysenck is honoured in a special issue of the Journal of Cognitive Psychology. In this issue one reads the following: “This special issue is a tribute to Michael W. Eysenck, a distinguished pioneer in the field of cognition and emotion, and the founding editor of the Journal of Cognitive Psychology” (Derakshan and Kostoe, 2012).

Christos Halkiopoulos

“Chris Haliopoulos”, on the other hand, does not exist.

However, as Andrew Mathews confirmed, the person with the name that he meant to write – Christos Halkiopoulos – does exist. And that is me!

The ‘Attentional Probe Paragigm’ has been described as ‘innovative’ and ‘ingenious and it has been highly influential in the study of attentional biases (e.g. see Yiend et al., 2013). It can be used to explore how attention is allocated between two concurrent channels of information (more about this later). By the end of July 2022 the paper by MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986) that introduced the paradigm had been cited 4,245 times. Two of the authors, MacLeod and Mathews, were at that time working at St George’s University of London. I will refer to them as the ‘St. George’s group’.

The quote cited above is clear enough, isn’t it? It sets the record straight, doesn’t it?: The idea for the dot probe technique comes from a (misspelled) Halkiopoulos. Well, not exactly, as this has not always, or even often, been the case either before, or after Mathews’ declaration. This, perhaps, explains why the name of the person who had the idea for such an influential paradigm is rather obscure.

What follows sets a complicated record straight. It addresses both those who agree and those who dispute Mathews’ statement.

As for Michael Eysenck, the same Eysenck as in Mathews’ quote above, he was once my PhD supervisor. He also had, in the same year, something to communicate:

…I admit that I gave you insufficient credit when I wrote about your experiment. It is true that your name was always associated with the study, but it is fair comment that my [sic] implication I exaggerated my non-existent role in the research itself. Accordingly, I am sorry and must accept the basic rightness of what you say…

Email from M W Eysenck to C Halkiopoulos, 24/6/2004.

Eysenck was responding to my accusation that he had plagiarised a pioneering experiment of mine. In fact, one that made the first use, albeit in a different modality, of the paradigm referred to by Andrew Mathews. Stripped of inessential details, this is Eysenck’s admission that, while he was my PhD supervisor, he plagiarised important experimental research of mine, research that had been completed years before we ever met.

1980-1981: My Final Year at UCL and BSc Dissertation

It is the 1980-1981 academic year, my final year as a BSc Psychology undergraduate student at UCL.  When the time came to decide what to do for my final year’s dissertation, I had a look at a notebook where I was recording research ideas. I read an idea, dating from my second-year cognitive psychology exam revision period, which was linking research on selective attention (auditory and visual) with the Freudian notion of repression. Having written it down I started thinking of experimental techniques which could be used to explore it further.

Christos Halkiopoulos’ BSc dissertation, 1981

Among the rest of the options there was reference to Colin Cherry’s dichotic listening task and the idea that repressors, performing on such a task, would perhaps divert their attention towards a competing attentional channel to defend against threatening input to the attended channel. Non-repressors, on the other hand, would be showing an attentional capture response, with the threatening information making increased demands on their attentional resources. I remember very distinctly my strong conviction that, if research were to address such biases, it should involve at least two concurrent attentional channels. It was also clear in my mind that, as in everyday life, the channels could be in any modality, or indeed any combination of modalities. 

I contacted Professor Norman Dixon to see if I could work under his supervision on attentional biases and defensive processing. I had read and admired his book on subliminal perception, and especially his work on perceptual defence (Dixon, 1971), and my thinking had been influenced by his work. He liked my initial ideas very much, but he wanted something more specific. In particular, it was not clear how I would be measuring attention allocation between the two channels, be they visual, auditory, or whatever.

My solution was to use reaction times to sensory probes (e.g., auditory or visual), following neutral and threatening inputs to the two channels, as a measure of attentional resource allocation. The attentional probe paradigm was born. I thought of using my paradigm in the visual modality (dot probe technique) but that proved difficult for an undergraduate project.  I decided to pursue my ideas in the auditory domain (tone probe technique). 

Professor Dixon was enthusiastic about my attentional probe paradigm which he called ‘ingenious’. He liked that I was using a two-attentional channels paradigm. He must also have sensed his influence on my thinking, not least in my choosing to measure attention allocation by the way participants would respond to neutral stimuli (tone probes) with a neutral response (key-pressing), thus avoiding all the criticisms, based on the notion of response bias, levelled against so many of the ‘New Look’ experiments at that time.

The experiment, when I finally carried it out, was very successful, despite the small sample size. Moreover, I had by then studied in great detail the work of Mathew Erdelyi (e.g., Erderlyi, 1974; Erdelyi and Goldberg, 1979), as well as several other similarly minded theorists, and I was determined to do a PhD in cognitive-affective interaction and, more precisely, some sort of cognitive psychodynamics.

Unlike what happens nowadays, working on cognitive-affective interaction was not mainstream during that period. A (then) recently published paper by Don Norman, with the catchy title “Twelve issues for cognitive science”, provided for me a timely motivational push to pursue how emotion may affect information-processing (Norman, 1980). It formed the basis of the first part of my BSc dissertation. The middle part was based on Erdelyi and Goldberg’s attempt to claim the importance of the repression notion for modern cognitive psychology (Erdelyi and Goldberg, 1979). The final part introduced my attentional probe paradigm and described the first experiment making use of it to successfully demonstrate the relevant attentional biases. It followed directly from the theoretical work undertaken in the previous two sections. My BSc dissertation hurriedly hand-written by an undergraduate revising for his finals, is now available here.

Although Professor Dixon was positive towards my doing a PhD with him, I ended up applying for a PhD at Birkbeck where generous funding for my research seemed to be available. Two possible supervisors emerged, Glynn Humphreys and Michael Eysenck. It was decided I would be working with Eysenck.

So, that is how I came up with the idea of the attentional probe paradigm and how I made a first use of it in the auditory modality. And that is how I ended up being supervised, starting in January 1983, by Michael Eysenck at Birkbeck College.

September 1985:  In Michael Eysenck’s Office at Birkbeck College

A visit to my PhD supervisor’s office, during a September afternoon in 1985, was supposed to be uneventful. Michael Eysenck had mentioned he had some ‘stuff’ for me, so I dropped in to collect it. Sitting behind his desk, he was holding in one hand a few papers and, while seemingly ready to give them to me, he strangely lowered his body and with his other hand he retrieved, as if from nowhere, an additional paper. He placed the newcomer under the rest of the pile. Although his movements and facial expression seemed weird, little did I know then that the long and convoluted story that additional paper was initiating would have dire consequences for my academic progress, future professional prospects, and well-being. 

I left Eysenck’s office and travelled home as usual on the London Underground. But, on this occasion, I did not complete my journey. I remember distinctly that, as soon as I sat down in the train, I went straight for that last paper. I started reading. It did not take long before I reversed my journey’s direction and returned to the college. Pleasantries decidedly out of reach, I stormed into Eysenck’s office. I was extremely angry. The paper was using the attentional probe paradigm that I had devised but nowhere was there any mention of my name.

Shocking yes, but not entirely unexpected. The clouds which were now delivering thunder had appeared quite some time before that day.  Several months earlier, Eysenck had casually mentioned that he “had taken the liberty to talk about [my] attentional probe paradigm to a couple of researchers at St. George’s”. When I heard this I became very upset. Soon my anger was joined by intense worry.

Was my precious idea going to be stolen?

The 1986 Paper’s ‘Motivated’ Footnote, the APA Involvement and MacLeod’s Imagination

Michael Eysenck tried to calm me down. He said he would talk to the St. George’s group. He also muttered that he “was not afraid of them”. Soon after that I complained to my departmental head and contacted Andrew Mathews.

To cut a long story short, I was informed that the paper had been accepted for publication by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology and was by now in the printers, so nothing could be added to the text.  Apparently, only a brief acknowledgement was possible, so the printed paper carries the following footnote on its first page:

Thanks are due to C. Halkiopoulos, whose unpublished doctoral research at Birkbeck College, London, motivated the development of the current paradigm.

MacLeod, Mathews and Tata, 1986, p.15.

When this acknowledgement was suggested to me, I made it clear to everybody, including in writing to the Head of my Department (letter to Professor Summerfield; 25 May 1986) that I would never accept it. I repeatedly insisted that if the paper was published in that form, I would accuse them of plagiarism. This acknowledgment was not only inadequate. It also was mystifying. What does it mean: ‘motivated’?

Extracts from the title page of MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986) showing the acknowledgement of thanks to C Halkiopoulos who is said to have “motivated the development of the current paradigm”.

I would go on insisting to Mathews and Eysenck that the 1986 paper plagiarised my ideas. Mathews would eventually write to me that “he regretted” that they did not acknowledge my contribution enough (letter from A Mathews; 8 February 1988). Moreover, in a 1990 paper Mathews moved even further in the right direction.

In an initial unpublished experiment by a student of Michael Eysenck (C. Haliopoulos), high trait anxious Ss were found to detect tones in a dichotic listening tape more rapidly if these followed a threatening word. Converting this to the visual modality, we found a similar effect in clinically anxious (GAD) Ss.

A Mathews, 1990, p.459.

The rendering of my research may not be ideal here, and my name is misspelled once more, but what is important to note is that you can only ‘convert’ something that already exists. And what pre-exists here, according to Mathews, is my attentional probe paradigm and the first use of it in the auditory modality by myself. As for Eysenck, who had leaked my paradigm and scientific findings to the St. George’s group without my consent or knowledge, he eventually credited me as the originator of the paradigm in several of his publications, as well as written correspondence to me, e.g.:

“…I agree with you that you have not received your due recognition, but I have done my best, I have specifically identified you as the originator of the paradigm in about 15 manuscripts…”

Letter from M Eysenck to me, dated 9/11/1988.

The breakdown in trust between me and my supervisor was not easy at all. Be that as it may, both Mathews and Eysenck have acknowledged publicly that the attentional probe paradigm is mine, that the idea for the probe dot technique used by MacLeod, Mathews and Tata (1986) was taken from me via Michael Eysenck, and that the highly significant findings the technique reveals about human anxiety, threat and attention were all originally of my making. It took quite a few years for such unambiguous attributions to be admitted. Still, having it claimed by two leading specialists, intimately involved in the relevant research project that the idea for the dot probe paradigm was mine, is of great importance.  

But important issues remained unresolved. To this day the much-cited 1986 Journal of Abnormal Psychology article remains untouched, still carrying that improperly worded acknowledgement.  A few months ago, I wrote, with relevant documentation, to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology’s Editor-in-Chief, Professor Angus MacDonald, asking him to respond to all this. This triggered an immediate inquiry which involved the editorial team and their Chief Editorial Advisor, Professor Jennifer Crocker. I discuss this investigation later. Suffice to note here that soon after I wrote to Professor MacDonald, he sent me their conclusions. I quote from the relevant email below:

…Halkiopoulos’ work was not properly acknowledged in the introduction of the MacLeod et al. (1986) manuscript. Halkiopoulos’ dissertation…provided the theoretical foundation and a template for the paradigm that was adapted to the visual modality by MacLeod et al. The footnote only notes that this work ‘motivated the development of the current paradigm’. Harris Cooper’s book on ethical choices in research describes this as intellectual theft or insufficient description of the origins of the idea

Email from Professor MacDonald to me, dated/4/2021; emphasis added.

Professor MacDonald’s statement is the first time in this whole sorry saga that the term “intellectual theft” has been used. Although this was too late to undo the damage that the misappropriation of my research had caused me, I was satisfied with the outcome of their investigation and their proposal to contact the authors to change their publication in a way that acknowledges my contribution. In fact, if that proved unsatisfactory to me, Professor MacDonald went on, “then there is a further path for [my] concerns” which could involve going all the way up to the APA Publications Board (from the same email).

Resolving the issue by directly contacting the St. George’s group has not proved easy. A red herring has also been cast across the trail. Andrew Mathews’ collaborator (and co-author of the 1986 paper), Colin MacLeod, wrote to me recently to claim that, as a matter of fact, they had not used my paradigm at all. Rather, he went on, both my work and theirs had used a ‘pre-existing paradigm’. He was replying with an email (dated 11 February 2021) to my request to comment on an article I was writing on the early history of the dot probe paradigm. Colin MacLeod has not responded to my request to name this ‘pre-existing paradigm’, or to explain why his views on this matter differ so dramatically from those of Eysenck and Mathews. Actually, MacLeod bluntly cut off our correspondence writing that he does not want us to exchange any more emails. Yet I had only contacted MacLeod once in over 30 years.

So, in his attempt to deny any influence by me in developing the dot probe paradigm, Colin MacLeod denies the originality of their own work as well. Not only does this go against all those clear statements by Mathews and Eysenck but it also contradicts his language in his published works.  He often describes the dot probe paradigm as ‘novel’ and as a clear departure from previous unsuccessful attempts to investigate attentional biases in processing threatening information. For example, in a 1988 paper MacLeod and Mathews write:

We have recently introduced a novel visual probe paradigm that avoids such interpretative problems by requiring subjects to make a neutral response (button pressing) to a neutral stimulus (dot probe), following the presentation of differentially valenced stimuli [.]

MacLeod and Mathews, 1988, p.656, emphasis added.

There is no mention of my name anywhere in this paper. Yet it was me, in my attempt to investigate attentional biases in the processing of threatening information, who first utilised a neutral response to a neutral stimulus in investigating attention allocation between concurrently presented word pairs. The St. George’s group were fully aware of all this before they embarked on their own use of this paradigm. And anyway their story is internally inconsistent.  If they were not plagiarising my paradigm, whose paradigm were they plagiarising? MacLeod and Mathews called it “novel”, and MacLeod also claimed to me that it is based on a pre-existing paradigm. None of this adds up.

Of course, as I discuss later, they could have arrived at the paradigm via alternative routes. But, as Mathews clearly states, and Eysenck plentifully confirms, they did not. Retrospectively charting a different route to the paradigm, as MacLeod tried to do, would be laughable if it were not for the consequences that such flights of imagination currently have.

I am informed by the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology that, according to their journal’s regulations, they cannot effect any changes to the 1986 paper without the agreement of all three authors. This is simply bizarre. The circumstances in this case are far from usual because my role as the originator of the paradigm has often been i) made deliberately invisible and ii) denied.  For the three co-authors to agree to clearly and unambiguously acknowledge my role as the originator of the paradigm puts many of their multiple publications into a quagmire of confusing fact and fiction over several careers and decades.

They will also need to admit that they publishing another – invisible- author’s intellectual property as their own. 

It is high time that somebody takes responsibility for this obvious example of “intellectual theft”, to use one of the terms quoted by Professor MacDonald.  But the only way to bypass the authors, Professor MacDonald claims, would be if a University investigation supported my claim that the St. George’s group got the idea for the dot probe paradigm from me. Such an investigation, in fact two, have been carried out and I report on them later. In fact, I report on several relevant investigations.

To be continued.

© Christos Halkiopoulos, 2022

c.halkiopoulos@gmail.com

Biographical note

Christos Halkiopoulos as a student

I was born in June 1958 in the idyllic Greek island of Lefkada. After my high school studies, I moved to Britain with the intention to study psychology. I did my A-Levels in Oxford. They included psychology, something which deepened even further my interest in this amazing subject. I completed my BSc in Psychology at UCL in 1981. My plan by this stage was to become a successful research psychologist. And that is what several among the academics who knew me at the time were suggesting and expecting. I always had a strong interest in psychodynamic approaches. Being at UCL, I could not escape developing a strong interest in strict experimental approaches. The two approaches interacted magnificently and I started, even during my BSc years, doing some serious work on motivated information-processing.

My BSc dissertation sought to establish attentional biases in the processing of emotional information by individuals with different ways to deal with threat. That is how in 1981 I developed my attentional paradigm and I made the first use of it in the auditory modality. I decided to do a PhD on precisely this area. I wish I had insisted on staying at UCL to work with Norman Dixon, somebody who had influenced my thinking and had supervised by dissertation.


My supervisor was Michael Eysenck, first at Birkbeck College and then at Royal Holloway College. This did not work at all well. This is what the blogs that follow are all about.


I have three children with my first wife, two daughters and a son. My current partner is also a psychologist. Despite our multiple ethnic backgrounds we are all also happy British citizens.

I used to describe myself as a philosopher by interest, a psychologist by training and a teacher by (happy) accident. The ‘accident’ has a lot to do with what happened with the issues described here. I am no longer teaching. I taught psychology with enthusiasm for decades and I have co-authored a couple of psychology textbooks. Moreover, I have trained International Baccalaureate® psychology teachers all around the world on behalf of the IB Organisation. Immensely pleased with all of this.

What I did not yet manage to do though is to reach for the sky of my dreams: Be the successful psychology researcher in cognitive psychodynamics! But my story is not yet finished…

At some stage I specialised in Organisational Psychology at Birkbeck and after relevant training and experience I ended up as both an ABP-Certified Business Psychologist and one of the first BPS-Chartered Coaching Psychologists. Although not a substitute for my original plans, I adore using psychology to help those experiencing life challenges and especially those with motivational issues (I refer to myself as a double specialist in procrastination, for example).

Yes, I had problems, serious ones with the characters that figure extensively here. But, hey…life is good and there are very few problems that cannot sense the healing magic of the Ionian blue, the colour of the sea in my native Greek island.

Christos Halkiopoulos, 29 July, 2022
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Alarmingly high temperatures and climate denial

Europe’s most recent heat wave has brought multiple fires with homes going up in smoke and loss of life. The latest heat wave is not a freak occurrence but part of a trend.

Alarmingly, mainstream media fails to relate the rising world temperatures to human activity such as the use of oil and meat eating.

One hears naive, disingenuous or plain stupid questions on major channels such as: What is the cause of the fires? Climate denial and the use of oil-derived energy are two of the major causes of global warming. Another factor is the use of cattle for milk and meat.

Human meat eating and cow milk drinking need to be significantly reduced. That veganism is becoming more common is a good sign.

Our children and grandchildren will be more aware of the urgency than current and previous adult populations.

They will have the legacy of previous generations – a beautiful planet that is burning in front of their eyes.

The thermometer reading in my garden at Arles, Provence at 15:15 on Friday July 15, 2022
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Resignation from the British Psychological Society

Two years later and nothing has changed.  Posted on 16 July 2022 at: https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-33/september-2020/standing-against-racism (BPS membership login is necessary to access this article.)

Enough is enough. Two years have passed since writing the above comments and nothing has changed. If anything, the situation has worsened.

Systemic misgovernance, racism, and lack of probity within the Society indicate that the BPS is a morally bankrupt and fraudulent enterprise. I can no longer accept such a high level of cognitive dissonance and feel unable to continue as a Fellow of the Society. I hereby tender my resignation from the BPS. Further details of my concerns are published here.

Please remove my name from the membership register, the list of Fellows and the list of recipients of The Psychologist

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British Psychological Society Investigating Historical Malpractice

The British Psychological Society is conducting an investigation of historical malpractice by Society members. The investigation is being held in secret, behind closed doors, and without any independent checks and balances. The Society does not want the public to know about this investigation. Even the Society’s own members do not know the details of the investigation.

How can this self-investigation possibly be viewed as anything other than a cosmetic exercise? If the issues involved were not so serious, the investigation would be nothing but a joke.

Previous posts here, here and here outlined my concerns that the Society is operating in an unethical, incompetent and systemically racist manner. Another post details specific concerns about one of the Society’s most highly lauded Presidents, Charles Spearman.

Here I summarise a list of historical examples of racist malpractice that fly in the face of the Society’s published ethical codes and which have yet to receive any correction or apology.

————————————————————

The BPS website states:

the British Psychological Society …is responsible for the promotion of excellence and ethical practice in the science, education, and application of the discipline…

We strive to:

  • be the learned society and professional body for the discipline 
  • embrace equity, diversity and inclusion in everything we do 
  • promote and advance the discipline 
  • be the authoritative and public voice of psychology 
  • determine and ensure the highest standards in all we do.  

1. Introduction

Consider the following :

The first BPS President, also an Editor of the British Journal of Psychology, is a white supremacist advocate of eugenics who writes about the ‘mental differences between the higher and lower races’. The Society names a special annual lecture after him.

An ex-officer in the British Army and BPS President – Charles Spearman, another white supremacist – writes about the inferiority of working class people and questions their right to have children but, until very recently, has a prestigious medal awarded to up-and-coming psychology researchers.

A leading psychology professor writes in the British Journal of Psychology that large families are breeding grounds of the feeble-minded. After his death, this person is found guilty of faking the existence co-workers, authors, data and correlations to bolster his claim that intelligence is genetically determined.

A 1990 paper in The Psychologist claims that racial group differences in intelligence occur worldwide and these IQ differences are “paralleled by more than 50 other variables including brain size, maturation rate, personality and temperament, sexuality, and social organisation”.[7] This disgusting, unscholarly piece of work is supported by Britain’s most famous psychologist and by the BPS President.

A 2006 paper in the British Journal of Health Psychology proposes that black, sub-Saharan African people have problems living in the modern world because they are less intelligent than people living in richer, more egalitarian countries.[8]   In a well-known Psychology magazine, the same writer later claims that black women are objectively less attractive than women of other races.

At a BPS webinar on ‘How to implement anti-racist practice’ on 12 October 2021, the President of the Society, Katherine Carpenter, also Chair of the Division of Neuropsychology, stated that she was “absolutely aghast to discover that other psychologists think that neuropsychologists think that – uhm – black people may be less intelligent…”  

At a BPS clinical psychology conference in 2019, a live portrayal of the slave trade is presented as ‘entertainment’. The organisers fail to warn participants, obtain their informed consent or to stop the performance to prevent audience members becoming upset.

In 2020, a BPS Division of Clinical Psychology annual conference delegate displays a poster describing her research on forensic services. Another participant writes a sordid racial slur onto the poster, which is left on display for all participants to see.

On multiple occasions, a clinical psychology professor sexually abuses a vulnerable 20-year old patient. Claiming drink problems, the professor is permitted by the Society to continue as a member.

Britain’s most famous Psychology professor secretly obtains tobacco industry funding and uses fraudulent data to claim that tobacco is less harmful than the smokers’ own personalities and that behaviour therapy can be used to lower smokers’ risk of fatal diseases. An investigation at the professor’s university concludes that the professor’s publications are ‘unsafe’ and many papers are retracted by journals. However the professor’s fraud is never investigated by the Society, which continued to have a special lecture after him.

According to the Chair of the Society’s Ethics Committee, alleged ethical breaches and misconduct by the Society’s employees are not dealt with by the Society’s Ethics Committee but by a Complaints Procedure.

You are not dreaming – this is not dystopian fiction. All of the above actually happened inside the BPS.

How can a Society profess “excellence, ethical practices and highest standards” and yet be responsible for the above list of unmitigated disasters?   

How can the BPS believe that public trust in the organisation can be restored following the Society’s investigation of its own historical malpractice?

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Sordid genealogies

Abstract

“Sordid Genealogies: A Conjectural History of Cambridge Analytica’s Eugenic Roots” explores the history of the methods employed by Cambridge Analytica to influence the 2016 US presidential election. It focuses on the history of psychometric analysis, trait psychology, the lexical hypothesis and multivariate factor analysis, and how they developed in close conjunction with the history of eugenics. More particularly, it will analyze how the work of Francis Galton, Ludwig Klages, Charles Spearman, and Raymond Cattell (among others) contributed to the manifold translations between statistics, the pseudoscience of eugenics, the politics of Trumpism, and the data driven psychology of the personality championed by Cambridge Analytica.

This post continues with an extract from the article focusing on the British Psychologist Charles Spearman.

The Sordid G of Charles Spearman

While Charles Spearman did not take up the study of the Lexical Hypothesis, he helped develop the statistical tools through which Allport and Odburt’s work could be carried forward. Spearman conducted his graduate work under the supervision of Wilhelm Wundt, founder of the Institut für Experimentelle Psychologie in Lepizig and regarded by many to be the “father” of experimental psychology. Spearman joined his laboratory in 1897, receiving his doctorate in psychology in 1906. While in Leipzig, he worked less with Wundt than with his student, Oswald Külpe, who had rebelled against his Doctorvater’s notions of mental causality to root psychology in corporeal experience instead, that is, in physiology and biology (Kusch, 1995, pp. 143–145). This had the effect of opening-up higher mental processes, such as intelligence, to experimental analysis, something that Wundt had resisted, but which was to orient Spearman’s research for the rest of his life. From his years in Leipzig, Spearman worked tirelessly to localize intelligence as a differentiable heritable trait that could be experimentally investigated, statistically analyzed, and eugenically harvested.

One of the most significant relationships that Spearman cultivated in Leipzig was with Felix Krueger, who was to succeed Wundt as chair at the Institute in 1917. Today, Krueger is well-known for his role in founding a “holistic” psychology (Ganzheitspsychologie), which aimed to transform Wundt’s wide-ranging research on Völkerpsychologie into a nationalist Völkisch ideology of “blood and soil” (Klautke, 2013, p. 88). Krueger’s holism followed in the same current of anti-rationalist vitalism as Klages’ philosophy (Geuter, 2003, p. 202; Harrington, 1995). Many of his theories, especially on the psychology of the community and the concept of the supra-personal whole (Ganzheit) of the Völk, were to become key components of National Socialist ideology (Varshizky, 2017, p. 248; Mandler, 2006, p. 129). It is thus not surprising that Krueger shared Klages’ deep-seated animosity toward the corrupting presence of Jews in Germany, or that he was among the first to join the nationalistic anti-Semitic society associated with the Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, the Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur (the Militant League for German Culture).

The early collaboration of Krueger and Spearman resulted in their 1907 paper on the positive correlation of different mental abilities, which Spearman called generalized intelligence, or g: the measurable mental energy governing all cognitive activity (Krueger and Spearman, 1907; Spearman, 1904, Gould, 1996, p. 281ff). There were clear affinities between his notions of g as mental energy and the work of Klages and Krueger, who similarly stressed that psychology should turn from “sensations and epistemology” to an appreciation of the “mind or soul” (Gould, 1996, p. 77).Footnote 5 Kreuger’s holistic approach, which focused on the ability to gather the diverse elements of perception into a structured whole, seems closely entangled with Spearman’s notion of g as the expression of a general intelligence correlated across the evidence of multiple trials of the intellect. The synthetic power of unification postulated by Ganzheitspsychologie under National Socialism, like Spearman’s eugenically inspired g, found expression not only in the different cognitive abilities of individuals, but in the intellectual hierarchies found among different races. This view was to take its most extreme form with another of Wundt’s students, and follower of Krueger, Friedrich Sander, who argued for the elimination of the impurities that infected the racial whole, and such eugenic solutions as forced sterilization of “inferior hereditary stock”, and the “eradication of the Jewish parasitic growth” (Quoted in Ash, 1998, p. 343).

Just as important as the fatuous—and eugenic-fueled—understanding of the heritability of mental energy of g in Spearman’s work, were the mathematical methods of multivariate factor analysis he pioneered (Norton, 1979, pp. 142–143; Spearman, 1904). Factor analysis aims to describe underlying correlations between unobserved conjectural variables as causes contributing to correlations among those that can be observed. Like the gravitational effect of an invisible star on the orbit of distant sun, factor analysis makes the invisible visible as a statistical object of analysis.Footnote 6 Thus, Spearman argued that underlying the positive correlation of ranked variables found in the results of students on different cognitive tests was evidence to support an inferred common latent variable or source trait, which he called general intelligence (Spearman, 1904). G, as Spearman conceived it, was a causal entity, responsible for variations of intelligence. Not only was it heritable, it was found in its most energetic and vital form among men like himself—intellectual elites comprising Britain’s professional middle classes. The human consequences of this notion of g were enormous, providing the tools and justifications to rank people, and peoples, numerically on a unilinear scale of intellectual and moral worth (Gould, 1996, p. 269).Footnote 7 This was at the heart of Spearman’s ambition to restructure society on a rational—eugenic—basis.

Thus, for example, in the Introduction to his Magnum Opus, The Abilities of Man (1927), Spearman quotes a “writer of well deserved authority” who wrote the forward to Carl Brigham’s influential book, A Study of American Intelligence (1923):

“Two extraordinarily important tasks confront our nation”, this writer argues, “the protection and improvement of the moral, mental, and physical quality of its people and the reshaping of its industrial system so that it shall promote justice and encourage creative and productive workmanship” (Spearman, 1927, p. 7).

For Spearman, these tasks could be successfully accomplished by intelligence testing. As he put it, “an accurate measurement of everyone’s intelligence would seem to herald the feasibility of selecting the better endowed persons for admission into citizenship—and even for the right of having offspring” (Spearman, 1927, p. 8; see also Spearman and Hart, 1912, p. 78).

It is worth noting that the unnamed (though authoritative) author Spearman quotes was Robert Yerkes, the psychologist responsible for developing and conducting the Alpha and Beta Intelligence Tests given to soldiers in the US army during WWI. Brigham was one of Yerkes’s assistants during the Army tests. In his book, Brigham revisited the data of their study with the explicit aim of determining whether intelligence could be correlated with race. He concluded in the affirmative, arguing that the “Nordic” races were of superior intelligence, while the “Alpine” (Eastern European), “Mediterranean” and “Negro” races were manifestly inferior. His book concluded that “American intelligence is declining, and will proceed with an accelerating rate as the racial admixture becomes more and more extensive. The decline of American intelligence will be more rapid than the decline of the intelligence of European national groups, owing to the presence here of the negro. These are the plain, if somewhat ugly, facts that our study shows. The deterioration of American intelligence is not inevitable, however, if public action can be aroused to prevent it” (Brigham, 1923, p. 210). This “public action” followed almost immediately. Brigham’s arguments were quickly taken up by Harry Laughlin of the Eugenics Records Office in lobbying Congress for the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, the passage of which was lauded by Adolph Hitler as indicative of America’s obeisance “at least in tentative first steps, to the characteristic Völkisch conception of the state” (Whitman, 2017, p. 63).

Although he only quoted from the beginning of Yerkes’s Forward to A Study of American Intelligence, Spearman surely would have also agreed with its conclusion:

The volume which is the outcome of Mr. Brigham’s inquiry, and which I now have the responsibility and satisfaction of recommending, is substantial as to fact and important in its practical implications. […] The author presents not theories or opinions but facts. It behooves us to consider their reliability and their meaning, for no one of us as a citizen can afford to ignore the menace of race deterioration or the evident relations of immigration to national progress and welfare (Brigham, 1923, p. vii, my emphasis).Footnote 8

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The Alleged Mental Problems of Vincent van Gogh

New vision on the mental problems of Vincent van Gogh; results from a bottom-up approach using (semi-)structured diagnostic interviews.

Here I republish the Abstract of an article by Willem A Nolen et al. The views expressed here are theirs and do not necessarily reflect the views of the curator of this website.

Interviews were conducted with three art historians “who are very familiar with Van Gogh from his correspondence and other sources as well as a neuropsychiatric examination to evaluate whether the symptoms might be explained by a medical condition.”

Authors

Willem A Nolen 1Erwin van Meekeren 2Piet Voskuil 3Willem van Tilburg 4

The article was originally published here:

International Journal of Bipolar Disorders, 2020 Nov 2;8(1):30. 

Abstract

Background: On July 29, 1890 at the age of 37 years, the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh died from the consequences of a suicide attempt with a gun 2 days earlier. Since then many medical and psychological theories were suggested about what had happened to Van Gogh.

Aim: To present an overview of the history of the mental problems of Van Gogh and the most likely diagnoses.

Method: (Semi-)structured diagnostic interviews were applied to three art historians who are very familiar with Van Gogh from his correspondence and other sources as well as a neuropsychiatric examination to evaluate whether the symptoms might be explained by a medical condition.

Results: Several previously suggested diagnoses could be excluded as being highly unlikely, while other diagnoses could be classified as more of less likely.

Conclusion: Most likely Van Gogh suffered from comorbid illnesses. Since young adulthood, he likely developed a (probably bipolar) mood disorder in combination with (traits of) a borderline personality disorder as underlying vulnerability. This likely worsened through an alcohol use disorder combined with malnutrition, which then led, in combination with rising psychosocial tensions, to a crisis in which he cut off his ear. Thereafter, he likely developed two deliriums probably related to alcohol withdrawal, followed by a worsening with severe depressive episodes (of which at least one with psychotic features) from which he did not fully recover, finally leading to his suicide. As additional comorbidity, focal (temporal lobe) epilepsy cannot be excluded.

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Vincent van Gogh’s Physician

 This post continues the story of Vincent van Gogh in Arles.
As everybody is aware, Vincent’s paintings received a low level of appreciation during his lifetime. The ‘Portrait of Doctor Felix Rey’ (above, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts) was a thank-you present to Dr Rey after Vincent’s first visit to hospital. Although only a resident aged 21, Dr Rey’s caring approach was appreciated by VVG.
However the painting was not much appreciated by Dr Rey!
The painting ended up fixing a hole in Dr Rey’s chicken coup. At least one other doctor, hospital nurses and staff are known to have been offered paintings by Vincent, but all were declined, much to the regret of their living descendants who would all have become multimillionnaires.
Below I republish the article by Drs Khoshbin and Katz under Creative Commons license.

——————–

Authors: Shahram Khoshbin and  Joel T. Katz, originally published in the Open Forum Infectious Diseases, Volume 2, Issue 3, Summer 2015, ofv088, https://doi.org/10.1093/ofid/ofv088

On December 24, 1888, a patient was admitted to the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Arles, France, brought in by the police because of reports that he had cut off his ear and given it to a woman. The patient was the Dutch painter, Vincent Van Gogh. The doctor on call was Dr. Felix Rey, a young “interne en medicine,” age 21 (Figure 1). Van Gogh had mutilated the lower part of his ear. Dr. Rey had earlier seen a patient with epilepsy who had also injured his ear. After cleaning and bandaging Van Gogh’s wound, Van Gogh was kept in the hospital for a week, during which he had multiple attacks and “crise.” The young intern was quite familiar with these types of spells, because his roommate in medical school, a Dr. Aussoleil, had written his thesis on partial epilepsy. Doctor Rey told Van Gogh that he had made a diagnosis of epilepsy in him, which was the first time that anyone had explained Van Gogh’s multiple, atypical symptoms [1]. Doctor Rey also showed Van Gogh a great deal of compassion, and in multiple letters to Van Gogh’s brother, Theo, Van Gogh described Dr. Rey’s caring: “He is brave, hardworking, and always helping people.” Van Gogh asked Theo to send him a copy of Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson” to give to Dr. Rey as a gift. Van Gogh was so taken with Dr. Rey that after discharge from the hospital, one of his first paintings was a portrait of Dr. Rey. Van Gogh continued to receive treatment from Dr. Rey for his ear. He continued to work despite the harsh treatment he received from the people of Arles and his recurrent spells that resulted in another hospitalization. Finally, at the suggestion of a local pastor and the recommendation of Dr. Rey, he applied for treatment in the nearby asylum of Saint-Remy-de-Provence. There, Van Gogh came under the care of Dr. Theophile Peyron. Doctor Peyron entered the diagnosis of epilepsy in the medical records of the asylum and commented that Van Gogh’s aberrant behavior was also due to his seizures. Doctor Peyron was a naval doctor, and he was militaristically strict. However, he eventually gave Van Gogh permission to paint outdoors. During this period, Van Gogh created some of his most celebrated paintings, although he had at least 4 major spells. The details of the therapy given to Van Gogh is not well known; he probably was receiving hydrotherapy during this period. However, it was in Arles that Van Gogh reached the pinnacle of his creativity and technique, particularly in his use of complementary colors, represented in multiple self-portraits, portraits of his friends, and the colorful citizens of Arles. He presented to Dr. Rey a portrait (Cover) along with 2 other now-famous paintings—“A Courtyard of the Hospital” (Figure 2) and “The Dormitory of the Hospital” (Figure 3). Although Dr. Rey showed great interest in Van Gogh’s work, he did not quite appreciate the style of the portrait, and he gave it to his mother. His mother declared, “It is hideous!” She used it to close a hole in the family chicken coop. In 1901, the painting was discovered by an art dealer, to whom Dr. Rey sold it along with the other 2 paintings. The portrait ended up in the collection of a famous artist, Amboise Vollard, and eventually ended up at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Although Dr. Rey had not considered Van Gogh’s portrait of him a realistic depiction, years later a colleague, Dr. Picard of Arles, saw the painting in Russia and declared that it was the most realistic image of Dr. Rey that he had seen. 

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Vincent van Gogh (Groot-Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise). The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles 1889, Oil on canvas 73 × 92 cm Collection Oskar Reinhart «Am Römerholz», Winterthur.

Figure 3.

Vincent van Gogh (Groot-Zundert 1853–1890 Auvers-sur-Oise). The Ward in the Hospital at Arles 1889, Oil on canvas 72 × 91 cm. Collection Oskar Reinhart «Am Römerholz», Winterthur.

Doctor Rey (1867–1932) later went on to become a specialist in tuberculosis. He won a medal for his work in a cholera epidemic. Yet, Dr. Rey’s name will forever be associated with Van Gogh, for whom he cared in the early days of his medical career, and for the very interesting diagnosis that he made in giving a medical etiology for Van Gogh’s mental symptoms and personality disorder. Doctor Rey also was particularly compassionate to Van Gogh during his very troubled stay in Arles. In that period of 15 months in Arles, Van Gogh produced 200 paintings, 200 drawings and water colors, and 200 illustrated letters—extreme productivity that is consistent with the hypergraphia associated with partial (temporal lobe) seizure disorders [2]. His drawings and paintings of the hospital grounds and the wards both in Arles and Saint-Remy are exquisite renderings of the states of hospitals and asylums of the period.

© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/), which permits non-commercial reproduction and distribution of the work, in any medium, provided the original work is not altered or transformed in any way, and that the work is properly cited.

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Vincent van Gogh in Arles: He came, he saw and he ended up in hospital

   “..they call a painter mad if he sees with eyes other than theirs.” 

Vincent van Gogh, August 1888.

The fame and fortune of the City of Arles – in no small measure – is the legacy of two notable foreigners: Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) and Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890).

The former “came, saw, and conquered”. The latter “came, saw and ended up in hospital”.

Vincent van Gogh arrived in Arles, Provence by train on the 20th February 1888 and, rare in these parts, was greeted by snow. As a dishevelled ex-preacher and art salesman, Vincent van Gogh remained in Arles for 444 days until 8th May 1889.  Acknowledged today as one of the greatest artists of all time, van Gogh created in Arles 189 paintings and 100 drawings. Many of these works are masterpieces of unrivalled colour and beauty. Today, van Gogh’s Arlesien works are hanging in all of the world’s most prestigious spaces and sell for record prices.  In Vincent’s footsteps have trailed millions of tourists and artists such as Pablo Picasso and David Hockney.

Who Was Vincent van Gogh?

Vincent Willem van Gogh (30 March 1853 – 29 July 1890) was a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential figures in Western art history. In a decade, he created about 2,100 artworks, including around 860 oil paintings, most in the last two years of his life spent mainly in Arles. I discuss some of these works in other posts, here, here and here.

The story of Vincent van Gogh is not a happy one. Vincent was described as “rough, rude and ugly”. Vincent was socially awkward and a loner, plagued by mood swings and self-doubt.  One moment he could be wildly ecstatic with grand plans for the future, then deeply depressed with a total loss of confidence the next. He was a pauper living on the charity of his brother Theo, a Parisian art dealer.  But for all his faults,  Vincent Van Gogh is today widely regarded as a genius.  Such is the fickleness of the art world.

Vincent was not warmly welcomed here. The locals were wary and disrespectful of the Dutchman.  Unable to pronounce his family name, the Arlesians called him ‘Vincent’. The populace smirked and sneered at his guttural accent and awkward ways, and Vincent fell out with almost everyone.  People disliked his paintings and wrote him off as a crazy loser. A gang of vandals beat him up and squirted his paints onto the pavement. 

Vincent had no real friends in Arles. He spent his time wandering the streets and the fields, drawing, painting, writing letters and drinking in the Café de la Gare at Place Lamartine (The Night Café).  He would make so-called ‘hygienic’ visits to nearby maisons de tolérance in Rue du Bout d’Arles and Rue des Récollets.   To Vincent, these sex workers were not prostitutes, but “kind girls”.

For the most part, Vincent led a miserable life, working tirelessly for zero material reward.  A key word in understanding Vincent van Gogh is hope. He lived upon it. It was his bread and water.

Le Café du Nuit, 1888. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.

Why Arles?

Exactly why Vincent came here nobody really knows. There are several possible reasons. He may have come south to live more cheaply, some say it was the lower cost of absinthe, but in his letters Vincent wrote that it was to improve his health, and to receive inspiration from the natural beauty of Provence and the clear blue skies.  Vincent thought the Arlesiennes to be a noble and beautiful people. He would seek attractive models for portraits but without success. He hoped to purchase paintings for his brother Theo by the artist Monticello (1824-1886) who had lived in Marseille until his death two years previously. However, Vincent never reached Marseille or could afford to buy any Monticello paintings. Vincent’s pipe dream was to form an artistic community by inviting other artists to join him, notably Paul Gauguin. 

In Arles, lonely and dejected, Vincent produced some of the most wonderful art in human history. His early paintings in Arles showed blossoming fruit trees and rural landscapes in Spring.  Japanese art was in vogue among Parisian art lovers and Vincent wrote that he felt that he had found “absolute Japan” in the South of France, that here “one sees things with a more Japanese eye”. He compared paintings he did at Saintes-Maries on the Mediterranean coast to works by Monet in Antibes and his country scenes to those of Paul Cézanne in nearby Aix. For Vincent, Provence was a “painter’s paradise”, a utopian Shangri-La. “[In] that flat landscape, there is nothing but eternity.”

Vincent became a mystic, seeing Nature as Paradise. He wrote to fellow artist Émile Bernard: “this part of the world seems to me as beautiful as Japan for the clearness of the atmosphere and the gay colour effects. The stretches of water make patches of a beautiful emerald and a rich blue in the landscapes, as we see it in the Japanese prints. Pale orange sunsets making the fields look blue — glorious yellow suns.” The fact that he had never been to Japan was no obstacle.

The Yellow House

After falling out with his landlord, Vincent leased a derelict 4-roomed, the so-called Yellow House, at the right-hand side of No 2 Place Lamartine from the first of May. Vincent enthusiastically redecorated it with yellow walls and green shutters and lived in two of the rooms, using one as a studio/gallery. 

The Yellow House, 1888, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

While in Arles, Vincent sold precisely nothing. Theo continued to send 150 francs a month in return for 12 paintings a year. Only one painting ever sold in Vincent’s lifetime, The Red Vineyard, a few months before his death for a meagre 400 francs. One hundred years later,  in 1990, Christie’s sold Portrait of Dr. Gachet for 148.9 million dollars (in today’s values).

Visit of Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin. Self-Portrait Dedicated to Vincent van Gogh, 1888

Vincent invited another artist to stay in the Yellow House, Paul Gauguin, aged 40, and already selling works to Theo.  By association with the more successful Gauguin, he hoped that he would increase sales of his work. In his invitation to Gauguin he spoke of a monastic existence with “cold water, fresh air, simple good food, decent clothes, a decent bed.” He was inspired by the idea of  an ‘artistic brotherhood’, a Studio of the South, where artists would gather to create a new movement, saying, as any classic postcard would do: “It is so beautiful, and I so wish you were here.”

Vincent’s dream became reality when Paul Gauguin visited for nine weeks as Vincent’s guest in the Yellow House. Unfortunately the dream turned into a nightmare. Vincent filled the place with furnishings, paintings and special touches to make it comfortable for Gauguin. He bought 12 chairs for a ‘School of Art’ where he hoped artists would gather to progress the work of Gauguin and Vincent.  These were manic times of great activity and inspiration for Vincent and there was no limit to his imagination. To Theo he wrote:”Do you realize we are at the beginning of a very great thing, which will open a new era for us.” Vincent was desperate to persuade himself and brother Theo that Theo’s lifetime investment of 15,000 francs would, one day, be repaid.

Paul Gauguin arrived in Arles at 5AM on October 23rd, 1888. A few days later, Gauguin received 500 francs from Theo from the sale of one of his paintings. This must have been a body blow to Vincent.  To Vincent, Gauguin was the proven Master, he the willing Student. Theo was exhibiting Gauguin’s works in his Paris gallery, bringing not only money but glowing reports of Gauguin’s mastery.  Sales of five more Gauguin paintings and some of his pottery yielded another fifteen hundred francs of hard cash. How Vincent’s already cracked ego must have been crushed by the rapid success of his much admired visitor.

These early blows were followed in quick succession by Gauguin’s love conquests in Alyscamps, which had become a hunting ground for eligible and pretty young Arlésiennes.  Meanwhile, Vincent had to make do with the prostitutes in the Rue des Récollets. Within a week of his arrival Gauguin had enticed Marie Ginoux from the Café de la Gare to sit for a portrait in the Yellow House, something Vincent had failed to achieve in the previous eight months.  Vincent envied the success of his house guest who had achieved more in a week than Vincent had in two-thirds of a year.

Yet, in spite of Vincent’s ambitions and brotherly love to Gauguin, Gauguin was competitive and saw their relationship as a contest to be won. “I have a need for a struggle”, he said, using the words, la lutte (the fight). The two men were very different creatures and there was tension between them from day 1.  Yes, they shared a love of painting and smoking their pipes, but they had quite different personalities.  The two men had little else in common and both were quick-tempered and easily offended. Having been a merchant seaman and stockbroker, Gauguin was dark, handsome and potent, a married man who had fathered five children. Although only five feet four, he could be intimidating, a bully even. Gauguin boxed, fenced, drank alcohol sparingly, and was charismatic. Compared to Vincent, Gauguin was cool-headed and well organised,  some would say cunning or scheming even.  Gauguin wrote years later that, while in Arles, he had been: “strong as a bull and lazy as a snake.” His fencing and his art both benefitted from his cool mind and working from his imagination (‘de tete’) .

Prone to illness, Vincent suffered from frequent stomach pains, and bouts of melancholy, loneliness and heavy drinking. He felt he was ugly and suffered from impotence, waning confidence and dejection. “I am getting older and uglier than my interest demands”, he wrote. Their painting techniques mirrored their two personalities and could not have been more different. Gauguin worked indoors from his imagination, making areas of careful, measured, plain, flat colour without any visible brush strokes, methodically, taking his time.  Vincent needed to work with the subject in front of him, preferably outdoors, directly from nature.  He would attack the canvas with great bursts of energy using thick, slashing strokes, an impasto technique, and worked extremely fast. Vincent completed a large portrait of L’Arlésienne (Madame Ginoux), a painting that is hanging in the Louvre, in just one hour. Paul Gauguin’s version of the same subject took many days to complete and combined sketches of the model with elements from his imagination.

Vincent’s Ear 

One thing everybody knows about Vincent van Gogh – sometimes the only thing – is that he “cut off his ear”. Actually it was only a part of his right ear, the ear lobe. But did Vincent really do it or was it Gauguin?  The two men did indeed have a row but could it have ended with Gauguin cutting his friend’s ear off ? It has been suggested that the two men kept a “conspiracy of silence” – Gauguin to avoid prosecution and Vincent to keep a friend whom he idolised. Vincent wrapped the ear-piece in cloth and handed it to a prostitute called Rachel. When it was recovered it was too late to sew it back on so it had to be thrown away. We will never know the truth about Vincent’s “accident” but it will forever remain one of the the most talked about stories in the history of art.

Vincent in Hospital 

One day later, on December 24 1888, Vincent was found lying in a pool of blood and taken to the Old Hospital in Arles (The Espace de Van Gogh). Theo visited Vincent on December 25 and left Arles with Gauguin later that day. Vincent remained in hospital for about two weeks, leaving on 8th January 1889. After another “attack”, he returned to hospital on 7th February . When Vincent left the hospital again on 17th February, 30 citizens around Place de La Martine, including a few people he would have assumed to be ‘friends’ signed a petition saying that Vincent was unfit to be free and Vincent was confined to hospital on police orders.

In May 1889 Vincent admitted himself to the asylum at Saint-Remy and remained there for about one year.  In May 1890, Vincent was discharged from the asylum, traveled to Paris, before moving to Auvers-sur-Oise.  Two months later he was injured by gunshot and died two days later on July 29th. Vincent’s brother Theo died almost exactly six months later.  In 1914, Theo’s body was exhumed and reburied with Vincent at Auvers-sur-Oise.

Whether Vincent van Gogh shot himself, or was shot by somebody else, remains a mystery, like so much else about this extraordinary person.

Self-portrait with a bandaged ear, 1889. The Courtauld Institute, London
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The Aerial Perspective: Leonardo, Botticelli and Vincent van Gogh

Anybody today can take a photo with a cell phone and immediately look at the resulting image. One can edit and transform the image using a variety of fixes and, if one’s luck is in, the end-product may be a ‘true-to-life’ resemblance of one’s original perception of the scene. Marvellous!

Quite often, however, the image we see on the little screen is disappointing. For some reason it seems ‘flat’, lacks ‘depth’ or ‘solidity’. It doesn’t quite capture the scene ‘true to life’.

Before mobile phones existed, one could only know how things looked by actually looking with one’s eyes. Not such a bad idea, perhaps! Otherwise one could imagine it with one’s brain, go to the movies, or look at pictorial art in books, newspapers or books.

In the latter cases, we quite automatically tend to accept the artist’s perspective as authentic. Actually we are being fooled. The artist needs to fool the viewer to convince them that what they are representing is ‘true to life’, i.e. a veridical representation of the world.

Let’s take a look at a few famous paintings. Do they appear true-to-life or in the terminology of perception scholars, ‘veridical’? If so, how was this effect achieved?

Let’s begin by taking a quick peek at Leonardo’s ‘The Last Supper’.

Am I right in thinking that the table top seems to be leaning ever so slightly towards the viewer to provide sight of the items in this famous meal? I see bread, fish, salami, water and wine. If the table top would be tilted any more, objects on its surface would be pulled by gravity and fall onto the imaginary floor.
The Last Supper

No such trickery in Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We are shown the scene from a full frontal perspective (so to speak).

The Birth of Venus

But wait a minute? The flying figures on the left are seemingly floating at a higher elevation. Even the figure on the right – below the central figure of Venus – has an illusory appearance of floating in space. The artist has ‘magically’ created the illusion of people on ground level and angels above the earth all within a single image. Geometry has been twisted to show geometrically level objects as flying or grounded at one and the same moment. Marvellous!

Vincent Van Gogh’s Aerial Perspectivism

Vincent van Gogh (1857 -1890) is known as a post-impressionist. Vincent’s paintings are striking for their colour, feeling and immediacy – drawing the viewer into the picture. Vincent achieves this impact by a subtle use of perspective that makes the whole of the scene come alive. Without an aerial perspective, the image would be less immediate and impactful. Consider his painting of the Yellow House.

Vincent painted this scene from ground level. Yet the scene is represented as it would be viewed from an elevated position, not as the artist’s eyes could actually see it. By projecting the viewpoint upwards towards a bird’s eye view, the artist allows the viewer to be shown much more of the scene than would be possible from a ground-level position.

The Yellow House

The same bird’s eye perspective is available in Vincent’s painting of ‘The Night Café’, where the viewer is looking down at the entire room. It is as if one is looking from a position close to the ceiling.

The Night Café

Again, ‘The Café on the Terrace’ presents a slightly elevated viewpoint.

The Café Terrace on the Place du Forum

When one looks at a painting with an aerial perspective, we do not even consciously notice. By picturing the scene from a higher angle, a sense of three-dimensional space is offered. The artist is providing a clever illusory version of the scene using an imaginary aerial perspective.

Marvellous!

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Columbo Goes to the Guillotine

A replay on Channel 10 (TMC in France) of Columbo’s 1989 return to the television screen showed Columbo Goes to the Guillotine . This 90-minute episode features a crooked psychic, a crooked magician, and a crooked director of a scientific institute hell-bent on gaining government sponsorship for a phoney research programme on the paranormal. Columbo not only figures out the chicanery involved but literally risks his head in a magician’s guillotine. What a come-back!

The plot of this episode is based on an actual research programme that took place at the Stanford Research Institute during the 1970s and 80s. The research concerned the process of ‘remote viewing’. In Columbo Goes to the Guillotine we are shown three remote viewing experiments. Closely following the original SRI study with Pat Price – a retired policeman, as it happens – the Hoover Tower is chosen as the first target site. Let’s overlook the inconvenient detail that Columbo worked in LA and the Hoover Tower is in Stanford, some 320 miles away. As we discovered, the SRI experiments were full of loopholes. I quote here from Christo Roberts’ account:

Equally entertaining and notable for its debunking of the paranormal is the first episode of season eight titled Columbo Goes to the Guillotine. It concerns a so-called “psychic”, Elliot Blake, who claimed to be able to demonstrate the reality of what is known as “remote viewing” to members of the American military establishment. They wanted him, they said, to read the thoughts and actions of their enemies. To ensure that Blake did not cheat during the trials, the army hired a renowned magician and sceptic known as Max the Magnificent to monitor the process.  Three persons called transmitters were each issued with a book containing a portion of the map of the city on each page, a rubber band around the book, a pen, an eye shield and a camera. Before they drove off, the transmitters put on the shields over their eyes, opened the book at random and, using the pen, marked the page with a dot. They then put the rubber band around the book at the page and removed the eye shield before driving to the spot that they had selected. When they arrived, they were required to identify the most prominent landmark, take a photograph of it and transmit a mental picture to Blake.

To everybody’s astonishment, Blake obtained a 100% success rate in all three cases when he produced his drawings of what had been transmitted to him. However, it subsequently transpired that Blake and Max knew each other well since both of them had served prison sentences in the same jail. When they were incarcerated, they taught each other how to swindle others. But at some stage, Max double-crossed Blake and left him behind when he escaped. Blake, however, learned of this treachery and although Max had assisted him to commit fraud during the remote viewing experiment, killed him by decapitating him with a magician’s guillotine.

If Blake thought that his secret was safe, he was mistaken. Columbo not only solved the murder, but he also discovered how the remote viewing trick was done. Unknown to the transmitters, they had all been issued with a magician’s map book. Each book contained a large number of pages, but they were all copies and designed to lead the transmitter to a specific landmark. The three books accordingly each had a small portion of the map repeated on each page with the landmark already marked with a dot. To prevent the transmitters from discovering the trickery, they were required to wear their eye shields and keep their books sealed with the rubber bands. The pens with which they had been issued were fake – they were unable to make a mark on a page.

The particular episode, which dates from the 1980s was topical at the time. During the 1970s a paper was published in the prestigious science journal Nature by two parapsychologists, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, who claimed that they had been able to perform remote viewing experiments under more or less the same circumstances as the one described in the Columbo episode. Their claims were investigated by two professors of psychology from the University of Otago in New Zealand, David Marks and Richard Kammann. At first, they tried to replicate the experiments. When they were unsuccessful, they requested Targ and Puthoff to hand over the records of what was said. Targ and Puthoff, however, refused. Fortunately, Marks and Kammann eventually managed to obtain transcripts from the independent judges. An examination of these records later revealed that extensive cueing had taken place, rendering the whole experiment useless as proof of extrasensory perception (ESP). (Marks and Kammann The Psychology of the Psychic (1980) P.12-41). 

Columbo, the Paranormal and Science

As a Columbo fan, it’s good to know that the detective work Richard Kammann and I did in the 1970s about a flawed ESP project filtered into the story behind this Columbo episode.

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Columbo, the Paranormal and Science — Reason, Religion and Science

To identify and apprehend criminals, all detectives are compelled to rely to a greater or lesser extent on science – particularly forensic science, that is to say, science used in courts of law. Nowadays, scientists at state-owned forensic laboratories perform essential investigations to assist the police and give expert evidence in court in support of […]

Columbo, the Paranormal and Science — Reason, Religion and Science
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‘That Dude’ Strikes Again

That Dude has struck again. A second review of another of my books appeared on Amazon on 14 April 2021.

On this second strike, this author is making a little progress: ‘That Dude’ actually awarded my book 2.0 out of 5 stars instead of just one!

I graciously accept this 100% increase in my book’s star award. I detect a possible trend here.

Here I print the review [with annotations] to correct ‘That Dude’s’ many, many errors.

People should know something before buying this book.

The Author is universally acknowledged as being the foremost critic of Remote Viewing.

‘That Dude’ starts with an accolade. But it’s all downhill from here on however. ‘That Dude’ continues:

The pilot Remote Viewing experiment was published in 1974. The way it worked is that a demarcation team would go to a randomly chosen location and the psychic would have to get information on this location without any foreknowledge. After this was done several times a group of independent judges attempted to match the psychic’s descriptions to the locations. They achieved a statistically significant score.
Marks found out that the judges were handed the target locations in order of visitation and that there were cues that could allow a judge to get perfect matchings without ever using the legitimate data.
Upon this criticism, Charles Tart took the transcripts, covered all the extraneous cues, found another independent judge and had him match the transcripts to the locations with appropriate randomisation of the order of locations. They were still able to achieve a statistically significant score.
Marks looked at this work again and “discovered” more cues that talk about a shielded room, a park and an office locations. The problem with this is that these aren’t the locations of the demarcation team which the psychic was trying to describe, these are the locations where the psychic was viewing from (This can be confirmed by comparing the 1974 Vol. 251 and 1986 Vol. 319 articles of Nature together).

[ The above statement is False. The ‘psychic’ was always located at the same place, the SRI laboratory. Please see here for details].

What this means is that there is literally no logical way for the judge to be cued in on the target locations unless he actively cheats.

[Again, false. The judge can always tell which place a transcript does not belong with when it mentions a place already visited.]

This makes the whole argument a baseless ad hominem attack which, when left unsubstantiated, has no place in the realm of science as the same strategy could be used to invalidate literally anything.

[Again, false. The judge did actively cheat. I proved that by re-judging them all again, with and without the cues. ].

When I first spotted this issue I bought Marks’ book ‘psychology of the psychic’ to see if there were any more details or if this was indeed an empty argument on his part. Not only does he never explain how the cues from Vol. 319 of Nature can be used to invalidate the Pat Price series of remote viewing experiments, he literally never even outlines what those cues actually were. [False.]

This heavily signifies to me that his alleged cues were nothing more than a red herring. [False.]

And, if you don’t believe me, you can indeed confirm this yourself by using the ‘sci-hub’ website to access the relevant nature publications and check for yourself:

1974 – Nature Vol. 251 – Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding – Harold Puthoff, Russell Targ
1978 – Nature Vol. 274 – Information transmission in remote viewing experiments – David Marks, Richard Kammann
1980 – Nature Vol. 284 – Information transmission in remote viewing experiments – Charles T. Tart
1983 – BBC Documentary – The Case of ESP
1986 – Nature Vol. 319 – Remote Viewing Exposed – David Marks

I bought this book thinking that David Marks would finally, after more than 30 years, reveal this as a “mistake” since he is actively trying to take a more open-minded approach here. He does not. [Because it isn’t a mistake.]

He explains the entire Pat Price series and then claims there are more ‘cues’ while again, never mentioning what they were or how they can be used to invalidate the experiment. [False. I describe all of the cues.].

This was probably his last chance this mistake. He blew it. After reading this book, it’s clear he has nothing on the Pat Price series and he probably knows it. [All false.]

That said, I actually don’t hate the book. It’s still proven immensely useful [Thank you, ‘That Dude’] despite some of the misinformation.

In each chapter Marks, for the most part, will berate parapsychology with whatever tools he can. [i.e. scientific tools]

Wether [sic] it’s speculation or ad hominem attacks, skeptics will be pleased to know their champion pulls no punches here. However, he includes towards the end of each chapter an opportunity for parapsychologists to defend their work. Skeptics will overall be confronted with quite compelling arguments both for and against psi phenomena and will be able to make a much more educated decision on how to direct their beliefs as a result.[Thank you again, ‘That Dude’, you are beginning to get the message.]

I also highly rate Marks’ on the fact he has learned the basic tenets for proper skepticism by engaging in and encouraging probabilistic thinking. However, despite being confronted with compelling arguments from parapsychologists that clearly warrant at least SOME ambiguity on position, Marks’ rates his belief in phenomena quite often too low at 0.001%, meaning he clearly doesn’t understand how probabilistic thinking or even proper skepticism is supposed to work as he has already taken a firm position prior. [Funny that I clearly don’t “understand how probabilistic thinking works”, because my PhD dissertation in 1969 was concerned with subjective probability judgements and the Bayesian approach .]

The phenomena that he rates particularly harshly just so happen to be the ones he thinks he’s debunked in Psychology of the Psychic. Be honest Marks, can you really say you have anything on Daryl Bem? [I have an awful lot to say on Daryl Bem and so does Bem himself. It’s all in the Psychology and the Paranormal. Please read the book before you review it next time around.]

Although I don’t fully agree with most of his conclusions (I doubt many readers will for different reasons) it’s a hell of a lot better and more open minded than his work in Psychology of the Psychic. [Thank you again ‘That Dude’.]

Whether you are a skeptic or a parapsychology enthusiast, this book has something for you. Read on as a war of the sciences between psychology and parapsychology clash against each other in it’s most up to date form. [Thank you again ‘That Dude’.]

‘That Dude’ is finally getting somewhere in their appreciation level. A 100% improvement no less. Let’s keep this trend going.

Happy to receive the endorsement of my most extreme critic on Amazon!

Featured

An Anomaly of Ceaseless Wonder

Psi is an anomaly of ceaseless wonder and mystery. The psi hypothesis remains neither confirmed nor disconfirmed but it connects us to our fellow beings, to nature and the cosmos at large.

David F Marks, Psychology and the Paranormal, 2020, p. 313.

A recent post featuring Adrian Parker shows the openness of a thought leader to a new scientific idea. The new scientific idea is that psi is an unpredictable anomaly of human experience that occurs spontaneously and cannot be controlled inside the laboratory. The view runs counter to the tradition of experimental research in parapsychology, founded by Joseph Banks Rhine, and does not rest easily with those who have invested in this tradition – i.e. the mainstream Parapsychology community. The epitome of that mainstream is the Society of Psychical Research founded in 1882.

Resistance to New Ideas

Resistance to new ideas seems to be an enduring human characteristic, and scientists –despite extolling the virtues of objectivity– have often proved themselves very human in this respect. Many of the great breakthroughs of modern science were initially rejected or ignored, sometimes for decades, and mainly because of bias. It is instructive to consider a few examples of scientific advances that were originally rejected.

Science for the Public 2022

Either the resistance to the ideas in my latest book is too strong or, I fear, I have failed to get my point across. In either case, there is a lot more work to be done.

In the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 85, Number 3, Issue 944, July 2021, p. 159 this review by Mr Chris Little is long (4600 words) and tedious. Sadly, it reveals major misreadings of my book and the zetetic position it offers. I do not mince words. I refer to the review as a “distorted carbuncle that does a disservice”. I believe these words are a valid description of Mr Little’s expatiations about my book.

The book review editor, Mr Nemo Mörck, sent along a draft version of Mr Little’s piece in March 2021 and I submitted a response the following month. Because of “a few behind the scenes problems”, the JSPR publication was held up for 18 months.

To continue our fruitful dialogue, I have accepted the invitation of the SPR President, Professor Adrian Parker, to give an address at the SPR’s next conference.

Below I reproduce my letter to the JSPR.

Review of a Review

by Little, C. (2020). Review of PSYCHOLOGY AND THE PARANORMAL by David F. Marks. London: Sage. 2020. 402 pp. £29.99. ISBN 9781526491053.

Dear Editor,

Thank you for this opportunity to respond to the JSPR review (Little, 2020) of ‘Psychology and the Paranormal: Exploring Anomalous Experience’ (Marks, 2020). I explain here why I consider Chris Little’s review to be distorted carbuncle that does a disservice to your readership and to this author. Your reviewer appears to have read a different book to the one that I wrote.

Your  reviewer begins by misdescribing the title and author. The title is: ‘Psychology and the Paranormal. Exploring Anomalous Experience’ (PPEAE ) not as stated in the copy sent to me by your Book Review Editor, Mr Nemo Mörck: ‘Psychology and the Paranormal’. The missing words, ‘Exploring Anomalous Experience’ are essential to the book’s purpose and, by this omission, your reviewer reveals precisely how he could so misunderstand the book’s message. I asked Mr Mörck to restore the full title to the review before publication and hope he managed to do so.

In the first sentence, your reviewer characterises me as “a retired academic psychologist who has been a prominent sceptic regarding parapsychology”.  If I am indeed retired, nobody has informed me.  From 2015-2020 I have published six books, two editions of an 800-page textbook on Health Psychology (Marks, Murray & Estacio, 2018, 2020), multiple peer-reviewed journal articles and served as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Health Psychology, which receives more than 1000 submissions per year. I can see that in the world inhabited by Mr Little, every living person must be categorised either ‘believer’ or ‘sceptic’.  I respectfully disagree. As a personal descriptor, the term ‘sceptic’ is at odds with my long-held conviction in the significance of subjective experience, including imagery, the hypnotic trance state, and altered states of consciousness more generally, as evidenced by the bibliography printed in PPEAE.  

Your somewhat myopic reviewer gets it grossly wrong when he describes the book as “a further shift in emphasis towards experimental parapsychology”.   On the contrary, the main point of my book is to show that the ‘emphasis towards experimental parapsychology’ may well be entirely misplaced.  My book proposes to investigate psi as an anomalistic experience that occurs most readily and prevalently outside of the experimental laboratory. As the Preface states: “The goal here is …to dig below the surface of anomalistic experience, to take a close look at the psychology of the paranormal, to put psi ‘under the microscope’. One should not be surprised if all is not as it seems and we can expect surprises aplenty here…I last visited this field 20 years ago. Now, with ‘new eyes’ and new evidence, one’s understanding could be significantly different compared to 20 years ago. Unlike previous visits, I am giving the psi hypothesis an initial probability of being a real, authentic and valid experience of 50%” (PPEAE, p. x).  In his review, among its many faults, Mr Little: i) did not attempt to engage with any of the new theoretical ideas presented in PPEAE, ii) ignores my discussion of five different theories of anomalous experience, iii) ignores my review of neuroscientific studies, iv) fails to accept the zetetic approach and so refers to my conclusions as ‘paradoxical’, v) confesses to not seeing why a new general psychological theory is included in the book at all.  There is not space in this letter to address all of these points, which would require an entire journal article.

In advocating the zetetic approach à la Marcello Truzzi (1987) – to whom PPEAE is dedicated –  PPEAE does not present the fixed point of view desired by readers such as  your reviewer. One’s point of view is not paradoxical either; it is conditional upon differing levels of supportive evidence: “With each new claim, one must read, reflect, question, reflect some more, and ultimately decide at one particular moment the degree of plausibility that any specific claim possesses.” A Bayesian ‘Belief Barometer’ indicates one’s degree of belief for any particular claim in light of one’s understanding of the evidence. The expected variation in one’s degree of belief for different claims is showing one’s sensitivity to evidence. When a person’s belief is habitually set at ‘0%’ or ‘100%’ for absolutely everything, that surely indicates intransigence and intolerance of ambiguity. In  PPEAE  I assert that: “In any science, all ideas are provisional, pending further investigation. Those who assert a fixed point of view before looking at the evidence break the ‘Golden Rule of Science’, which is to let conclusions follow the evidence” (p. xii).

The zetetic approach is an authentic and legitimate response in any scientific domain.  For example, consider the current scientific interest in Mars. One might give a .5 probability to the proposition that a human will visit Mars by 2030, a .01 probability to the proposition that the visitor will find water there, and a 10-100 probability that they will meet another being already inhabiting the planet. Naturally, different propositions about Mars have different probabilities. The same must surely be true for different propositions about psi as one kind of anomalous experience. I started my book with a ‘Personal Belief Barometer reading’ (PBBR) of 50% for ‘Lab ESP’. After reviewing the evidence, my PBBR for ‘Lab ESP’ had declined to 10-9.  However, my PBBRs for five other propositions ranged from 75-100%: ‘Coincidences as Paranormal’ (75%), ‘Trance Logic’ (100%), ‘OBE’ (,100%) ‘NDE’ (100%) and ‘Spontaneous ESP’ (75%). Entering into the spirit of the approach, on page 136 of PPEAE, Professor Adrian Parker states a PBBR of 60-90%.

The take-home messages from PPEAE can be stated as follows:

  1. PPEAE offers a new paradigm for the study of the paranormal reformulated as one major part of a new Science of Anomalous Experience.
  2.  Psi is a spontaneous process that cannot be summoned at will in a laboratory experiment.
  3. There is a spectrum of consciousness showing a multiplicity of states. The psi experience is one of those states.

I look forward to continuing discussions of psi theory with the Society for Psychical Research.

References

Little, C. (2020). Review of PSYCHOLOGY AND THE PARANORMAL by David F. Marks. London: Sage. 2020. 402 pp. £29.99. ISBN 9781526491053. JSPR vol xx, pp yy-zz.

Marks, D. F. (2020). Psychology and the Paranormal: Exploring Anomalous Experience. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Marks, D.F., Murray, M.  & Estacio, E.V. (2018, 5th ed.). Health Psychology. Theory, Research & Practice. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Marks, D.F., Murray, M.  & Estacio, E.V. (2020, 6th ed.). Health Psychology. Theory, Research & Practice. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Truzzi, M. (1987). On pseudo-skepticism. Zetetic Scholar, 12/13, 3-4.

Featured

Psi as a Spontaneous Phenomenon

Originally published by leading parapsychologist ADRIAN PARKER as ‘Informal Psi Tests’ in the Paranormal Review 96, 16. Adrian is President of the Society of Psychical Research, London, and Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The veteran psi-critic David Marks has recently published a book Psychology and the Paranormal in which he has taken a softer position concerning the paranormal. He argues that the phenomena may occur, but that they are inherently spontaneous and elusive, and because of this they cannot be captured in the lab. According to Marks, parapsychologists and their critics should resolve their differences and accept this. Such a challenge obviously goes against all the ethos and efforts of academic parapsychology at UK Universities, such as Northampton. which follow the basic belief of Rhine that by piecing together numerous factors and personality- traits, a degree of control over psi can eventually be achieved. This is the successful working model used throughout applied psychology where psvchological testing predicts job performance and is used even to some extent for diagnostics in clinical psychology. Marks’s challenge also goes against my own efforts to show that altered states of consciousness are the royal road to reliably reproducing lifting psi-in-the-wild to psi-in- the-lab. In particular, we developed a version of the ganzfeld using real-time recordings that could actually catch the sender’s experiences of target film clips in the form of the receiver’s imagery, since these ganzfeld images are often shown to follow in real time the changing scenes being watched in the target clip.

Nevertheless, there may be some truth in Marks’s assertion. Some of the best cases of ESP seem to occur before controls can be brought in, only to disappear when they are brought in. The critic would of course say that this is because ESP is ‘error some place’, but those directly involved are left with some scepticism as to the plausibility of normal explanations. The late Donald West experienced exactly this when he tested what seemed to be his own ESP ability in 1941 (as reported in the JSPE of that year). The same thing occurred when he tested groups of others two years later. Such was also the case of what I witnessed during an informal demonstration by a six-year-old Chinese girl at our conference hotel in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. This was the second conference organized by Bingo Wu whom those attending our recent SPR conferences will recall is a teacher of blind children and who claims to have taught them to use their ESP ability to reach such a high level where they can use this to negotiate their environment. We were never able to access these claims directly because the Chinese government had prohibited access to the school. This year the conference
could not be held in Hong Konq because of the political situation.

[Section here has been cut]

…In our hotel room, our translator showed how she could reproduce the number he had written and hidden in folded paper. She succeeded with this, but the symbols in this case were a triangle and a square, which are those most commonly thought of in such tasks, so this was not so impressive. When I took over, I drew the number 9 (7 or 5 had been commonly guessed at), while apparently obscured from her normal field of vision even given the blindfold, which she then correctly reproducFor the next attempt, I drew an S and then as an afterthought added a line like a dollar sign to make the design more specific. She succeeded even with this as is shown in the photograph. It was late in the evening, our translator had her ‘on loan’ from her mother for this demonstration and I thought that there would be plenty of opportunity to work with her later. It was not to be. Wu involved the children in a long series of competitive tests that were intended to show their psi-ability. These took place in a group situation and although all the children received certificates celebrating their successes, it appeared to be highly demanding and stressful for those taking part. I was told that the six- year-old girl was disappointed with her performance and would not agree to be tested further. In the photograph, the target symbols are on the folded paper on the right and the child’s attempts are on the left.

Naturally, normal explanations abound: the child might have had hypersensitive hearing and followed the sound of the drawing, or maybe she was able to peek through the mask. However, in my opinion these are, not only unconstructive speculations, but are wrong questions.

As with spontaneous phenomena, one turns first to the lab and if one is satisfied that the basic phenomena have been established there, then the most useful question is: does this case
tell us anything that can be learned about the phenomena? In this case, it may be a confirmation of David Marks’s contribution in emphasizing the roles of spontaneity and elusiveness.

Featured

‘That Dude’: An Alien to the Truth

Psi is an anomaly of ceaseless wonder and mystery. The psi hypothesis remains neither confirmed nor disconfirmed but it connects us to our fellow beings, to nature and the cosmos at large.

David F Marks, Psychology and the Paranormal, 2020, p. 313.

Normally, one does not reply to book reviews, especially one-starred reviews. Yet, on this occasion, needs must.

Sometimes a reviewer goes so far beyond the bounds of reasonable criticism and fair comment, passing a red line and one cannot let it pass. That red line is slander.

Hiding behind the safety of a nom-de-plume, ‘That Dude’ slates my book for entirely spurious reasons and he lies in the process. I consider here the Review of my book ‘The Psychology of the Psychic’ posted by

That Dude

under the title: ‘A Fairy Tale for Skeptics’ on March 18, 2021.

‘That Dude’ has also posted another review of my 2020 book, Psychology and the Paranormal. I deal with that here – it makes similar false arguments and so falls at the same hurdle: The Truth.

‘That Dude’s’ Review

‘That Dude’ states:

I’ve analysed the Nature publications between Puthoff, Targ, Tart and Marks. When you compare the original Pat Price remote viewing experiment published in 1974 against Marks’ cues in 1986, they actually pertain to the Psychics location, not that of the demarcation team. Put simply, they logically cannot be used to match the location to the transcripts despite Marks implying it can. [1]

This means the original SRI Remote Viewing experiments can still be considered scientifically valid despite what Marks would have you believe.[2]

I bought this book to get Marks’ complete side of the story and to see if he really had any more damning evidence. He actually omits the cues from Tarts re-judging… he had nothing. He’s effectively pretended to have debunked Remote Viewing for 20 years (40 years if you include ‘Psychology and the Paranormal’).[3]

It’s a shame. He genuinely was open minded towards psi and actually made a decent replication experiment. The likely problem was the locations didn’t contrast highly enough. The result is this completely biased one-sided hit piece against parapsychology as revenge for his failure. He is far more concerned with finding pedantic reasons to discount experiments than actually learn the truth.[4]

He mentions accurate transcripts where there should be none, he mentions Joe McMoneagle getting commended for intelligence gathering. He mentions spoons bending across the Nation from Geller’s audience. Does he explore these anomalies further? No… that’s not his goal. He only cares about invalidating evidence for Psi as quickly as possible by any means necessary, no matter how weak or speculative the arguments are.[5]

For all his talk on subjective validation, he fails to realise it works both ways. The irony is extreme here.[6]

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1573927988

Other reviewers do not agree with ‘That Dude’s’ one-star review, and typically give the book five stars. The average score being 4.2, pulled down thanks to ‘That Dude’s bomb attack.

My response to the reviewer’s paragraphs follows.

1)The cues pertain to the Psychic’s location

This statement is false. The cues do not refer to the psychic’s location, which was the same on every occasion. The ‘Psychic’ remained at SRI. I reproduce here the original description published in Nature in 1974.

‘That Dude’ falls at the very first hurdle: the Simple Truth. Either ‘That Dude’ did not read the investigators’ description of the SRI study or did not understand it or deliberately falsified it, making her/him/them/? an alien to the truth.

2) “This means the original SRI Remote Viewing experiments can still be considered scientifically valid”

My criticisms of the SRI remote viewing experiments are published in chapters within three books here, here, and here. Many other topics are also covered.

Three books on claims of the paranormal published in 1980, 2000 and 2020

The evidence in these three books proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the SRI RV experiments were methodologically unsound and that the findings are unsafe. In the most recent book, Dr. Hal Puthoff, principal investigator of the SRI studies, was given the opportunity to defend the SRI studies. Dr. Puthoff declined to do so.

3) “He’s effectively pretended to have debunked Remote Viewing for 20 years (40 years if you include ‘Psychology and the Paranormal’)”

This statement is slanderous. I have pretended no such thing. My publications have demonstrated that the remote viewing research in the scientific literature is quite generally poorly done and the findings are unsafe.

4) “this completely biased one-sided hit piece against parapsychology as revenge for his failure”.

This ad hominem attack does little to advance the discussion. There is nothing to avenge. I have published three well-received books on the Parapsychology field. The only “completely biased one-sided hit piece” is the Dude’s vitriolic book reviews.

5) “He only cares about invalidating evidence for Psi as quickly as possible by any means necessary, no matter how weak or speculative the arguments are.”

Pure ad hominem. Pure slander. Pure gobshite.

How consistent is ‘That Dude’s’ statement with my 40-year period of researching claims of the paranormal?

How well does his statement align with the following conclusion on the very last page of the last book in the series?

Psi is an anomaly of ceaseless wonder and mystery. The psi hypothesis remains neither confirmed nor disconfirmed but it connects us to our fellow beings, to nature and the cosmos at large.

David F Marks, Psychology and the Paranormal, 2020, p. 313.

6) “For all his talk on subjective validation, he fails to realise it works both ways. The irony is extreme here”

The irony would indeed be extreme if ‘That Dude’ was telling the truth. Sadly for his case, he is not. I fully acknowledge my personal susceptibility to subjective validation. For example, see the concluding sentence of Chapter 4 in Psychology and the Paranormal, analysing a personally experienced anomalous event:

In spite of everything, the entire episode could be nothing more than subjective validation.

Psychology and the Paranormal, p. 88.

Again, here’s what I say on page 299 of The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd Edition):

Subjective validation is not unique to psychic belief, but is a regular part of human life and thought.

The Psychology of the Psychic (2nd edition), p. 299

As a human being, I am of course willing to admit to the power of subjective validation in making up one’s mind, making choices and taking decisions about the truth.

My version of the truth is not That Dude’s version. My version of the truth follows what the SRI investigators actually stated in multiple original published reports. ‘That Dude’s’ version of the truth is based on a false description of the original SRI investigators statements.

‘That Dude’ is an alien to the truth, the author of a fairy tale all of his own making.

Conclusion

A book reviewer using the pen name ‘That Dude’ has written a scurrilous piece, which is planted at the top of my Amazon book website. ‘That Dude’ needs to remove the review ASAP because any loss of sales could be associated with the slander that is committed there.

Featured

Nature Restores

We all tend to feel good when we go outdoors among nature. Alone, with others, or walking the dog. And more so in rural areas than urban ones.

Why?

A recent study by Migle Baceviciene, Rasa Jankauskiene and Viren Swami helps to explain why this might be the case. Feeling good is partly to do with feeling better about our bodies. According to the authors:

research shows that nature exposure is directly and indirectly associated with more positive body image, an important facet of mental health more generally. Positive body image refers to a love and respect for the body, appreciation of the uniqueness of one’s body, acceptance of the body including those aspects that do not meet stereotypical beauty ideals, appreciation of the body’s functionality, and acceptance of body-protective behaviors.

Abstract

This study aimed to test the mediating effects of nature restorativeness, stress, and nature connectedness in the association between nature exposure and quality of life (QoL). Urban and rural Lithuanian inhabitants (n = 924; 73.6% were women), mean age of 40.0 ± 12.4 years (age range of 18–79) participated in the study. In total, 31% of the respondents lived in rural areas. Study participants completed an online survey form with measures on sociodemographic factors, nature proximity, nature exposure, nature connectedness, and nature restorativeness, stress, and QoL assessed by the abbreviated version of the World Health Organization’s Quality of Life Questionnaire’s (WHOQOL-BREF). Path analysis was conducted to test the mediating effects of nature restorativeness, stress, and nature connectedness in the model of nature exposure and QoL. Nature exposure was directly associated with a greater QoL (β = 0.14; B = 2.60; SE = 0.57; p < 0.001) and mediated the association between nature proximity and QoL. Nature restorativeness and lower stress levels were mediators between nature exposure and QoL. Nature connectedness was a mediator between nature exposure and QoL. A path model was invariant across genders and the urban and rural place of residence groups: patterns of loadings of the pathways were found to be similar. Nature restorativeness (β = 0.10–0.12; p < 0.01) had a positive effect on the psychological, physical, social, and environmental domains of QoL. Connectedness to nature positively predicted psychological (β = 0.079; p < 0.05) and environmental (β = 0.082; p < 0.05) domains of QoL. Enhancing nature exposure and nature connectedness might help strengthen QoL in urban and rural inhabitants.

Model of Findings

Conclusions

  1. Getting out and about in Nature is associated with connectedness to nature.
  2. Nature connectedness is associated with feelings of being restored, both physically and mentally.
  3. These results are consistent with the General Theory of Behaviour regarding conscious and unconscious actions of homeostasis.
  4. These findings were obtained in a cross-sectional study and no causal inferences can be drawn.
  5. Causal relationships could be obtained from future prospective studies.
Featured

More Screen Time, More Sugar and Caffeine

Young teens who spend more time with TV and electronic devices drink more sugared or caffeinated drinks than others according to a study of U.S. teens led by McMaster University researchers. It is a concern because many exceed recommended levels of both sugar and caffeine. The study was published in 2019 by Kelly M. Bradbury, Ofir Turel and Katherine M. Morrison (pictured) of the Department of Pediatrics, Centre for Metabolism, Obesity and Diabetes Research, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. My post follows an earlier theme of Food, diets and dieting.

Here is the Abstract

Background

Despite recent declines in consumption of sugary beverages, energy drinks (ED) and sodas continue to contribute a substantial amount of sugar and caffeine to the diet of youth. Consumption of these beverages has been linked with electronic device use, however in-depth associations between sugar and caffeine intake from energy drinks and sodas with various electronic devices are not clear.

Objective

Describe the relationship of soda and energy drink consumption and associated added sugar and caffeine intake with electronic device use among adolescents.

Methods

Secondary data from the 2013–2016 cycles of Monitoring the Future Survey, a national, repeated, cross-sectional study, were analyzed. Information on energy drink and soda consumption by students in grades 8 and 10 (n = 32,418) from 252–263 schools randomly sampled from all US states was used.

Results

Soda and energy drink consumption decreased each year from 2013–2016 while daily use of electronic devices remained stable. An additional hour/day of TV was linked to a 6.92g (6.31,7.48; p<0.001) increase in sugar intake and a 32% (OR = 1.32; 1.29,1.35; p < .001) higher risk of exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) recommended sugar intakes. Further, each hour/day of TV was linked to a 28% increased risk of exceeding caffeine recommendations (OR = 1.25–1.31; p<0.001). Each hour per day talking on a cellphone was associated with an increased risk of exceeding WHO sugar and caffeine intakes by 14% (OR = 1.11–1.16; p<0.001) and 18% (OR = 1.15–1.21; p<0.001) respectively. Video game use was only weakly linked to caffeine intake. Computer use for school was associated with lower likelihood of exceeding sugar intake cut-offs.

Conclusion

While a trend towards reduced energy drink and soda intake from 2013–2016 was evident, greater electronic device use, especially TV time, was linked to higher intake of beverage-derived added sugar and caffeine amongst adolescents. Addressing these behaviours through counselling or health promotion could potentially help to reduce excess sugar and caffeine intake from sodas and energy drinks among this population.

To this conclusion, one might add:

Upstream prevention is more effective than downstream. Legislation is necessary to remove the images from screens and to remove sugar and caffeine from the drinks.

Featured

A Mysterious Tower in Vincent van Gogh’s Painting of Langlois Bridge, 1888

In an earlier post, I discussed Vincent van Gogh’s works at Langlois Bridge, Arles. Of particular interest is the painting F400 that includes an as-yet unidentified tower ‘T’ on the right hand side of the painting. The illustration below shows a photograph taken in 1902, which does not show the tower ‘T’, together with the relevant section of the painting.

What and where was tower T?

In an interesting comment, Yves Klein suggests two hypotheses to explain the building marked ‘T’. Yves Klein comments:

“1) VvG painted St. Trophime but overestimated its appearance because painting F400 was not accomplished outdoor with a permanent view of the object, but in his studio, using memory and imagination. We know from letter 589 that it was the second attempt after a failure. This time, VvG turned the perspective about 30° anti-clockwise. He gave the black building a size and a shape that he *imagined* to appear if he were on-site. The grey second edge on the left of the building may stand for the north tower of the amphitheatre in the background. The oblique black brush stroke may stand for the main nave of the church. Maybe even the whole is exceptionally meant as a symbolic placeholder for the vaguely imagined buildings.”

In my opinion, tower T is not St Trophime. If VvG had wanted to paint St Trophime he would have done so with precision and exactitude. Turning to the second hypothesis:

“2) VvG painted a building with the correct size and shape, as he usually strived to do, but it was not St. Trophime. “[Agree].
“a. It could be the municipal theatre (though its shape is rather unsimilar)” [Agreed – too unsimilar to receive serious attention.] “or a windmill (though no city map from 1848 to 1914 shows one).” [I return to this idea below].
“b. Or it could be a building that existed at VvG‘s time but has now disappeared: Ste. Croix.”

Yves Klein says: “Seen from VvG’s position in the south, it had a zagged silhouette like the black building in the painting. ..In this scenario, we would identify
B = St. Césaire, J = St. Laurent, T = Ste. Croix.

An engraving of St Croix from 1683:

In my opinion, tower T is unlikely to have been Saint Croix. If VvG had wanted to paint St Croix, I think that he would have painted it much more exactly. But he did not. What VvG seems to have painted is a rough sketch of a building that itself appears unfinished.

Was Tower T a Windmill?

Wooden and stone windmills were a common site around Arles in the late 19th century. Only stone mills survived more than several decades and wooden windmills were not always depicted on maps. We can find clues about the structures in and around Arles in other paintings produced by VvG. The painting ‘Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background’ (1888) shows almost every tall building in Arles in the early Spring of 1888, just a few weeks before he painted Langlois Bridge.

Snowy Landscape with Arles in the Background (1888)

Many of the structures shown here are possible candidates for tower T. Of particular interest are the three towers on the far right hand side of the painting. These are enlarged and labelled ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ in the detail below.

Notice that both B and C show an oblique chute-like structure going down from the right side of each building. These are reminiscent of tower T at Langlois Bridge. The prominence of structure A also cannot be ignored.

One problem with this hypothesis that we do not know from which direction VvG painted this scene.

A map of Arles from 1892 shows the location of the ‘Langlois Bridge’ and the surrounding area, which remained agricultural. No large buildings that could have been candidates for tower T existed near the bridge, only fields.

Le port d’Arles, 1892. Atlas des ports de France. Imprimerie Sarasin, Paris.

Conclusion

Unless a high definition map can be found showing every mill and tower in Arles of 1888, the identity of tower T must forever remain a mystery.

Featured

Vividness of Movement Imagery Questionnaire (VMIQ)

The VMIQ is a widely used self-report measure of movement imagery. Originally published in 1986, it uses the same conceptual framework as the VVIQ. The VMIQ was constructed together with my PhD student, Anne Isaac, at the University of Otago, New Zealand, in collaboration with David G Russell.

I post here the first page of the publication in the Journal of Mental Imagery, 1986, followed by the two pages of the VMIQ. The VMIQ has been validated and used in approximately 500 peer-reviewed studies.

The VMIQ is free for research use without any need to seek permission from the authors. The author will be pleased to answer questions in the Comments space below.

Original publication

VMIQ

VMIQ, page 1
Featured

Filtering Data in Evidence-Based Practice

A recent post described the evidence pyramid. Like anything else in science, there have been criticisms. Here I liken evidence-based practice to filtering coffee. Evidence needs filtering to remove the coffee grain and any impurities. The trouble is, if one filters a lot of times, there may be nothing left that’s worth drinking.

Box 6.1 is from a textbook available here.

Featured

Yellow Journalism

Once the preserve of the red tops, the use of fake science and fake news stories is spreading to the broadsheets such as The Times. A recent example is the positing of positive thinking by Professor Paul Garner as a cure for Long-Covid, something of a medical scandal.

See the illustration above. It uses a scary headline designed to evoke anxiety and a sense of hopelessness with a set of brain images combined with a cartoon of a coronavirus to give some pretension of scientific authenticity. The dirty yellow tinge on the bottom is all that you need to know.

What a disgrace.

It is what our American friends used to call yellow journalism.

It plays on people’s fears of the unknown.

It creates false hope.

It is an anecdote that carries no weight as scientific evidence.

The article can be fairly labelled as pseudoscientific trash.

Any thinking reader will dismiss the story as nothing more than dangerous and misleadng.

Shame on The Times for publishing this story.

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The Origins of Subjective Anomalous Experience

Text and Figures 2.1 -2.4 © David F Marks, 2022

Reproduced from Chapter 2 of Psychology and the Paranormal by David F Marks (2020), Sage, London.

In any developed science, there is, of necessity, a wide gap between the diverse facts of observation and those few types of observed fact which form the basis of important generalizations and from which a body of theory is then derived. For the very act of reducing observation to order involves the neglect of many pertinent facts; a theory which attempted to take account of everything would be smothered by its own complexity. Thus all generalizations and theories necessarily refer to artificially simplified situations.

Alfred North Whitehead (1938, p. 171)

OUTLINE:

The process of theory construction in science means solving a scientific jigsaw puzzle: from the multiple pieces emerges one coherent picture. The puzzle here is why one large group of individuals have subjective paranormal experiences (SPEs) and an almost equal number do not. The jigsaw becomes a theory of SPE which highlights factors in childhood, notably trauma. The ‘Trauma + Dissociation’ Theory links childhood trauma with dissociation, fantasy, coping and SPE into one causal chain. The theory holds that childhood trauma causes depersonalization, compartmentalization and defensive fantasy to regain feelings of safety and control. The ‘Trauma + Dissociation’ theory  fits a large body of findings from multiple studies that are reviewed in this chapter.[1]

EXISTING THEORIES OF SPE

Why do so many people experience anomalous paranormal experiences while others do not?  Like all natural phenomena, variation in SPE follow a normal distribution.  Genetic and epigenetic variations are almost certainly part of the answer, as all human traits are heritable to a certain extent. Yet, an environmental theory is necessary to explain the non-genetic part of the variation.  What differentiates people with paranormal experience from the others?  To date, there have been three main theories:

1)Socialization to a Cultural Source, absorbing paranormal beliefs and experiences through exposure to family members and close friends with a shared culture of paranormal belief, e.g. joining religious, cultist groups, reading astrology columns or New Age literature, watching paranormal-themed entertainment on television (Sparks and Miller, 2001), YouTube, games and social media that promote paranormal content. The Cultural Source theory points to the relevance of the cultural context of paranormal experience, but this theory does not adequately explain the huge variations that exist between people in the number and intensity of their paranormal beliefs and experiences.

2)The Social Marginality Theory suggests that paranormal experiences are more likely in socially marginal people with limited education, low income, low social status, ethnic minorities, unstable sexual relationships and few friendships (Bainbridge, 1978). The world of the paranormal is said to provide compensation for the pressures arising from ‘structured social marginality’. However, this theory is inconsistent with the observation that a widely diverse population reports paranormal experiences, not only people who can be categorized as socially marginal (Emmons and Sobal, 1981; Carsto et al., 2014).

3)The Experiential Source Theory of McCLenon (1994) suggests that anomalous experiences have a universal physiological basis, which acts as a source of recurring beliefs in spirits, souls, life after death, and magical abilities. McClenon’s (2000)content analysis of a collection of 1215 accounts of anomalous experiences indicated to him that experiences of apparitions, paranormal dreams, and waking extrasensory perceptions have uniform structures and that these experiences coincide with recurring ideas within folk traditions.  However, McClenon’s Source Theory is speculative and, to date, it has not received the attention it deserves; the theoretical predictions require testing by independent researchers.  At this point, it is impossible to say whether the theory is correct or incorrect, or correct for some people and incorrect for others.

In outlining the case I am presenting here, it is necessary to review the complex literature about a topic of great social relevance and sensitivity: the incidence of childhood trauma and abuse, and the associated processes of dissociation, fantasy proneness and SPE. Thousands of relevant studies have been conducted and it is necessary to pinpoint the ones that provide key pieces in the puzzle.  One by one, the jiggled up pieces of a large theoretical jigsaw are unscrambled and fitted into a single picture of the origin of SPEs. Please bear with me, because it is a puzzle that takes time and patience to solve.

CHILD ABUSE, DISSOCIATION[2] AND SPE

Over the past decade, ‘celebrity’ child abuse cases have brought the issue into a spotlight of public attention: in 2012, the Jimmy Savile scandal hit the headlines in the UK; in 2019, the Michael Jackson scandal created a storm of controversy in the US. Also in 2019,  the conviction of the Pope’s closest advisor, Cardinal George Pell in Australia for sexual abuse, led Pope Benedict XVI to apologize for many cases of proven child sexual abuse involving priests. This issue is far larger than the metaphorical ‘elephant in the room’, it is a Blue Whale.

David Finkelhor (1994, 2008; Finkelhor et al., 2014) at the University of New Hampshire

suggests that 20% of  girls and 5% of boys in the US fall victim of child sexual abuse. Furthermore, during a one-year period, 16% of youth ages 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized, and, over the course of their lifetime, 28% of youth aged 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw an increase in the reporting of childhood sexual abuse in the US. The US Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau (2010) reported that the vast majority of victimized children,78.3%, suffer neglect, 17.6% suffer physical abuse and 9.2% are sexually assaulted, yet the impact can be equally profound across all categories. The National Institute of Justice (2003) suggested that 3 out of 4 sexually assaulted adolescents were victimized by someone they knew well. More than 25% of children and adolescents in the US  are exposed to a traumatic event by the age of 16, and many are exposed to repeated events (Costello, Erkanli, Fairbank, & Angold, 2002).

Since the late 1980s, the detrimental effects of child sexual abuse (CSA) on the well-being of victims has been systematically researched. A child victim of prolonged sexual abuse usually develops low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness, an abnormal or distorted view of sex, becomes withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, or even suicidal (Cohen, Deblinger, Mannarino & Steer, 2004; Davis & Petretic-Jackson, 2000;  Finkelhor, 1987; Marshall, Marshall, Serran & O’Brien, 2009; Paolucci, Genuis, & Violato, 2001; Münzer, Fegert & Goldbeck, 2016; Putnam & Trickett, 1993; Romano & De Luca, 2001). The psychological understanding of childhood trauma draws on the clinical theorizing of the French psychologist, Pierre Janet (1859 – 1947; Ellenberger, 1970; Van der Hart and Horst, 1989).  Pierre Janet is credited as being of three ‘founding fathers’ of Psychology along with Wilhelm Wundt and William James, both of whom also makes appearances in this book. Janet was interested in the integration of experiences associated with trauma which he found associated with “vehement emotion and a destruction of the psychological system”, a process that he called “dissociation” (Van der Kolk and van der Hart, 1989, p. 1532).  Dissociation is a process that may be crucial to our understanding of anomalous experience and is a core construct of this field.  Dissociation occurs when mental functions are alleged to split into different systems or ‘compartments’. The splitting is uncontrolled and unpredictable and can create multiple difficulties and complexities for the individual’s stream of consciousness.  ‘Compartmentalized’ or automatic parts can exist outside of conscious awareness or memory recall (Ludwig, 1983, p. 93; Ellenberger, 1970; Van der Kolk and van der Hart, 1989). Janet’s dissociation theory focused on the role of dissociation, and especially compartmentalization, in conditions induced by trauma and is relevant for research into traumatic stress and posttraumatic ‘hysteria’ (Van der Hart and Horst, 1989).

Dissociation has been defined as: “an experienced loss of information or control over mental processes that, under normal circumstances, are available to conscious awareness, self-attribution, or control, in relation to the individual’s age and cognitive development” (Cardeña & Carlson, 2011, p.246). The most extreme form of dissociation occurs in dissociative identity disorder (DID), a psychiatric condition with two or more distinct personality states, including memory gaps and discontinuity in sense of agency and selfhood.  The evidence suggests that DID is most prevalent in emergency psychiatric settings in approximately 1% of the general population (Dorahy, et al., 2014).  Hence the vast majority of people experiencing dissociation do not suffer from the extreme symptoms of DID. Typically, sufferers of DID display alterations known as “alters” whereby their mental functions are changed unpredictably (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).  DID was popularized in books The Three Faces of Eve (Thigpen & Cleckley, 1957) and Sybil (Schreiber, 1973) and also adapted into films. Alters are often depicted with disturbed or violent behaviours such as occurs in Stevenson’s (1886/1924), The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Santoro, Costanzo and Schimmenti (2019) review the prominence and misrepresentation of DID in popular culture, films, games and videos.  Research indicates that DID frequently originates in repeated episodes of abuse and neglect in a child’s relationship with attachment figures (Dorahy et al., 2014; Schimmenti, 2017; 2018).

Meta-analysis of research on dissociation in psychiatric disorders using the Dissociative Experiences Scale (Lyssenko et al., 2017) finds that the largest dissociation scores occur in DID, followed by PTSD, borderline personality disorder, and conversion disorder. Patients with somatic symptom disorder, substance-related and addictive disorders, feeding and eating disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, OCD, and most affective disorders also show raised dissociation scores. Dissociation can also be benign, without ill effects or disturbances to everyday behaviour or conscious experience, beyond perhaps some limited impact on dreaming (Giesbrecht & Merckelbach, 2006).

In dissociation there is a dichotomy between two qualitatively different phenomena, ‘detachment’ and ‘compartmentalization’ (Holmes et al., 2005).  Detachment incorporates depersonalization, derealization and similar phenomena such as out-of-body experiences, all of which can occur in combination (Sierra & Berrios, 1998). Detachment involves feelings of being ‘spaced out’, ‘unreal’ or ‘in a dream’. Patients may have SPEs in which events seem as though they are not really happening, with the external world seeming pallid and two-dimensional. ‘Peri-traumatic dissociation’ involves a sense of detachment at the moment a traumatic event occurs and can be evaluated with ‘The Peritraumatic Dissociative Experiences Questionnaire’ (Marmar, Weiss, & Metzler, 1997).  It is thought that in peri-traumatic detachment, the encoding of information is disrupted so that memories of the traumatic event may be incomplete.  Such fragmented memories can trigger intrusive images and flashbacks (Brewin, Dalgleish, & Joseph, 1996). Peri-traumatically encoded feelings of detachment may be a part of the intrusive memory that is re-experienced, or perhaps the process of re-experiencing itself generates feelings of detachment. Becoming totally immersed in a traumatic memory to the point of believing that the event is actually happening again (‘flashbacks’) seems to be relatively rarely.

Compartmentalization is the inability to deliberately control processes or actions or information in memory that would normally be amenable to self-control (Brown 2002a, 2004; Cardena, 1994; Holmes et al., 2005).  Compartmentalization incorporates an inability to bring normally accessible information into conscious awareness (e.g. dissociative amnesia). The functions that are no longer amenable to deliberate control, and the information associated with them, are said to be ‘compartmentalized’. One of the defining features of this phenomenon is that the compartmentalized processes continue to operate  (Janet, 1907; Hilgard, 1977; Kihlstrom, 1992; Oakley, 1999; Brown (2004). Dissociation is viewed as an adaptive strategy to intense stress or trauma that leads to conditioned dissociative reactions, which can prevent adequate processing and integration of information (Koopman, Classen, & Spiegel, 1994; Lynn & Rue, 1994; Putnam, 1997; Eisen, Goodman & Davis, 2002). Repeated trauma can sensitize a child to hyper-arousal leading to dissociative responding under stress (Perry, Pollard, Blakley, Baker, & Vigilante, 1995). It must be acknowledged that many abused people do not evidence having dissociative experiences (Hall, 2003). However, the theory to be presented applies to the sizable proportion of cases where trauma triggers dissociation. Dissociation is an adaptive mechanism which aids survival in the following situations: 1) direct and close encounter with a dangerous perpetrator using force or having malevolent intent, e.g., when skin contact occurs; 2) in the presence of body fluids with danger of contamination, e.g. blood or sperm; 3) when bodily integrity is already injured, e.g. invasion, penetration, sharp objects (e.g., teeth and knife) at the skin (Schauer and Elbert, 2015). 

The Trauma + Dissociation Theory holds that SPEs are one of the more frequent consequence of childhood trauma.  There is a large literature of supportive evidence. Ellason and Ross (1997) found ESP experiences correlated .45 and .44 respectively with the level of childhood physical and sexual abuse.  Ross and Joshi (1992) obtained similar findings with a random sample of 502 Canadian adults. Reports of paranormal or extrasensory experiences were common and linked to a history of childhood trauma and dissociation. Ross and Joshi conceptualized SPE as one aspect of dissociation triggered by child abuse. SPEs discriminated between individuals with childhood trauma histories and those without trauma histories. Perkins and Allen (2006) compared paranormal belief systems in individuals with and without childhood physical abuse histories using the Tobacyk Revised Paranormal Belief Scale and a SPE questionnaire with 107 students. They found that psi and spiritualism beliefs were among the most strongly held among abused students and these were at a significantly higher level in abused vs. non-abused participants. Perkins and Allen (2006) concluded: “by providing a sense of control, certain paranormal beliefs may offer a powerful emotional refuge to individuals who endured the stress of physical abuse in childhood” (p. 349).

In the context of both detachment and compartmentalization, it has been proposed that ideas and fantasies of the paranormal serve a restorative function, aimed at resetting the psychological system. In an earlier book, we stated a general hypothesis that humans: “have a profound yearning for a magic formula that will free us from our ponderous and fragile human bodies, from realities that will not obey our wishes, from loneliness or unhappiness, and from death itself” (Marks and Kammann, 1980, p. 156).  It is suggested that individuals are able to use paranormal ideation as a coping strategy for past traumas in a search for stability, restorative justice, compensation or even revenge (Wuthnow, 1976). If emotional security and psychological adjustment depend upon the conviction that the physical and social worlds are orderly and meaningful, then a paranormal worldview provides an adaptive framework for structuring otherwise chaotic, unpredictable or unfair experiences that can make them more comprehensible and controlled (Irwin, 1993).

RATIONALE FOR AN INTEGRATIVE THEORY

Trauma in childhood evokes an instinctive need to regain a sense of control, which increases the appeal of paranormal abilities to provide mastery over threats to safety and other incomprehensible events. When children experience persistent terror without escape, as in neglect, attachment disruptions, incest or other sexual trauma, dissociation is protective against emotional distress (Bailey and Brand, 2017). Repetitive childhood physical or sexual abuse, or other forms of trauma such as neglect, are all found to be associated with the development of dissociative states and disorders (Putnam, 1985). Dissociation, detachment and compartmentalization can be considered adaptive to childhood trauma because they can reduce the degree to which the distress is overwhelming.  However, if detachment and compartmentalization continue in adulthood, they tend to be maladaptive. The dissociative adult may automatically disconnect from any situations that are perceived to be unsafe or threatening, without taking time to determine whether there is any real danger. This tends to leave the person “spaced out” or “dreamy” and unable to protect themselves in conditions of real danger making them vulnerable. In the following sections, different strands of research about childhood trauma, dissociation, fantasy and paranormal ideation are integrated into a single, coherent theory.

This Dissociation Theory of SPE hypothesizes a need for power and control in the face of adversity (Bandura, 1989; Taylor & Armor, 1996; Prilleltensky, Nelson & Peirson, 2001). It incorporates neurobiological evidence from the Polyvagal Theory (Porges, 2017) and the principles of homeostasis from the General Theory of Behaviour (Marks, 2018) to explain one origin of paranormal ideation. The central plank of the theory is the neurobiological evidence concerning the changes that accompany repeated childhood neglect and abuse which are thought to permanently alter developmental processes of adaptation in producing a “use-dependent” brain:

Childhood trauma has profound impact on the emotional, behavioural, cognitive, social, and physical functioning of children. Developmental experiences determine the organizational and functional status of the mature brain…There are various adaptive mental and physical responses to trauma, including physiological hyperarousal and dissociation. Because the developing brain organizes and internalizes new information in a use-dependent fashion, the more a child is in a state of hyperarousal or dissociation, the more likely they are to have neuropsychiatric symptoms following trauma. The acute adaptive states, when they persist, can become maladaptive traits.” (Perry et al., 1990, p. 271).

 In addition to the neurobiological changes, child abuse and neglect are associated with increased risk for psychiatric disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance and alcohol abuse, and also medical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, and others (Nemeroff, 2016). Persistent biological alterations associated with childhood maltreatment include changes in neuroendocrine and neurotransmitter systems and pro-inflammatory cytokines in addition to alterations in brain areas associated with mood regulation. A systematic review found that individuals with at least four abusive childhood experiences (ACEs) are at increased risk of multiple health outcomes compared with individuals with no ACEs (Hughes et al., 2017). Associations were found to be weak or modest for physical inactivity, overweight or obesity, and diabetes (ORs of less than two); moderate for smoking, heavy alcohol use, poor self-rated health, cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disease (Odds Ratios, ORs, of two to three), strong for sexual risk taking, mental ill health, and problematic alcohol use (ORs of more than three to six), and strongest for problematic drug use and interpersonal and self-directed violence (ORs of more than seven). 

Exposure to violence is thought to activate a set of threat-responses in a child’s developing brain. Excessive activation and arousal of the neural systems involved in threat responses alter the developing brain which, in turn, produces functional changes in emotional, behavioural and cognitive functioning. The existence of a  graded relationship of ACE scores to outcomes in multiple domains parallels the cumulative exposure of the developing brain to the stress response with resulting impairment in multiple brain structures and functions (Anda et al., 2006).

One implication of trauma-dependent neurobiological changes is that paranormal ideation is able to becomes an adaptive coping strategy for victims of child abuse.  I describe next a series of linkages, beginning with fantasy proneness, mental imagery and dissociation.

FANTASY-PRONENESS, MENTAL IMAGERY AND DISSOCIATION

Everybody daydreams. Fantasy, daydreams, and imagination are integral processes within healthy functioning, playing an adaptational role in daily life (Klinger, 1990; Singer, 1983; Marks, 2019).  Fantasy and daydreams reflect our current concerns, regulate mood, organize experience, provide self-relevant information, facilitate learning, and stimulate decision making (Rauschenberger and Lynn, 1995).  But, like everything else, there are widespread variations in fantasy proneness across the population.  Fantasy proneness (FP) refers to an enduring personality trait of individuals who are thought to spend a large part of their life daydreaming in fantasy.  Daydreaming is ubiquitous (Singer and McCraven, 1961), taking up 30–50% of our daily thinking time (Kane et al., 2007). 

I am reminded of an incident at school when I was about 13.  I had missed the first year of a course in Latin, and, because I wasn’t ‘taking’ Latin, I had to sit through Latin classes reading a book. One day, as I dreamily stared out of the classroom window, the master clipped me over the ear with his ruler, telling me to concentrate.[3] “But, sir”, I said, “I am not taking Latin.”  Raptus regaliter!

From the very beginning of research on FP, Wilson and Barber (1983, pp. 359-364) suggested that people with FP have psychic experiences, realistic out-of-the-body experiences and experiences of apparitional entities. Wilson and Barber also proposed that extreme fantasy is a coping strategy for dealing with loneliness and isolation by providing a means to escape from aversive environments. FP requires the generation of  mental imagery, those quasi-perceptual experiences that occur in the absence of an objective stimulus.  Large individual differences exist along a continuum of reported vividness and controllability of images (Marks, 2019). Individuals at the fantasy-prone end of the normal distribution (1-5%) experience vivid, uncontrollable images of hallucinatory quality which seem as real as actual events (Marks and McKellar, 1982; Wilson and Barber, 1983). Another small percentage (2-3%) of people at the opposite end of the distribution are unaware of any mental imagery at all (Zeman, Dewar and Della Sala, 2015).

The brain has a special  ‘default network’ that participates in internal modes of cognition such as autobiographical memory retrieval, envisioning the future, conceiving the perspectives of others and daydreaming. The default network appears to be a specific, anatomically defined brain system (Buckner, Andrews‐Hanna & Schacter, 2008) that would be activated on a frequent basis among people with FP. The default network also has a key role in the brain’s representation of the self (see Chapter 10).From the 1980s and 90s it had been hypothesised that FP is a process that is exacerbated by child abuse and that it may be a trait, like absorption, a variable that is related to FP (Kunzendorf, Hulihan, Simpson, Pritykina & Williams, 1997/98) and which is genetically mediated  (Tellegen, Lykken, Bouchard, Wilcox, Negal & Rich (1988). Lynn and Rhue (1988) elaborated the FP construct to include “a unique constellation of personality traits and experiences coalesced around a deep, profound and long-standing involvement in fantasy and imagination” (p.35). Fantasy prone individuals are believed to share a unique set of characteristics, including the experience of vivid memories, the ability to voluntarily hallucinate and superior hypnotic abilities (Wilson & Barber, 1983). Many phenomena associated with FP also includeabsorption (Lynn, & Rhue, 1988; Green & Lynn, 2011; Levin & Young, 2001/2002; Merckelbach, Horselenberg & Muris, 2001), aversive childhood experiences (Geraerts et al., 2006; Pekala, Kumar, Ainslie, Elliot, Mullen, Salinger, & Masten, 1999/2000; Rauschenberger & Lynn, 1995; Rhue & Lynn, 1987; Sanchez-Bernardos & Avia, 2004; Somer & Herscu, 2017), hypnotic abilities (Green & Lynn, 2008; Terhune, Cardena, & Lindgren, 2010), hallucinatory abilities (Giambra, 1999/2000; Laroi, DeFruyt, Van Os, Aleman, & Van der Linden, 2005), mentalimagery (Levin & Young, 2001/2002), and paranormal beliefs and experiences (Bartholomew, Basterfield, & Howard 1991; Berkowski & Macdonald, 2014; French, Santomauro, Hamilton, Fox, & Thalbourne, 2008; Gow, Lang, & Chant, 2004; Hough & Rogers, 2007/2008; Irwin, 1990; Lawrence, Edwards, Barraclough, Church & Hetherington, 1995; Merckelbach et al., 2001; Parra, 2006; Perkins, 2001; Rogers, Qualter, & Phelps, 2007; Spanos, Cross, Dickson, & DuBreuil, 1993).

There are two connections with FP that are particularly salient: (i) among individuals reporting a history of childhood abuse, the incidence of FP is especially high (Rhue, Lynn, Henry, Buhk & Boyd, 1990; Lynn and Rhue,  1988); (ii) dissociation is linked to both child abuse and FP (Rauschenberger & Lynn, 1995;  Pekala et al., 1999). These two findings have led to a renaissance of Janet’s trauma theory (TT).

As noted, dissociation is considered a psychological defence mechanism for victims of traumatizing events such as sexual molestation, natural disaster, or combat (Putnam, 1991). The TT  holds that victims are able to compartmentalize their perceptions and memories and detach themselves from the full impact of the trauma and that these dissociative processes possibly continue throughout their entire lives.  Vonderlin et al. (2018) investigated the relationship between childhood interpersonal maltreatment and dissociation in 65 studies with 7352 abused or neglected individuals using the Dissociative Experience Scale (DES). The results revealed higher dissociation in victims of childhood abuse and neglect compared with non-abused or neglected subsamples sharing relevant population features with highest scores for sexual and physical abuse. Earlier age of onset, longer duration of abuse, and parental abuse significantly predicted higher dissociation scores.

Skeptics – as expected – doubt the correctness of the TT and propose a fantasy theory (FT) instead.[4] Dissociation is alleged to produce fantasies of trauma among naturally fantasy-prone, suggestible patients who are vulnerable to the ‘planting’ of false memories by overly zealous psychotherapists. The FT is associated with the “False Memory Syndrome” movement, an organization of people accused of childhood sexual abuse,[5] with multiple court cases brought by alleged perpetrators, usually parents claiming total innocence of abuse (Belli and Loftus, 1994; French, 2009; Porter, Yuille & Lehman, 1999); Giesbrecht, Lynn, Lilienfeld, & Merckelbach, 2008; Lynn et al., 2014 ). The possibility that therapeutic techniques could create illusory memories of abuse became a major debating point that has divided psychotherapists and researchers into opposite camps. The vehemence of the opposing camps is reminiscent of the ‘Battle over Psi’.

In a systematic review of memory implantation, Brewin and Andrews (2017) found that recollection of suggested events can be induced in 47% of participants, but only in 15% of cases are these experiences likely to be rated as full memories. Brewin and Andrews concluded that susceptibility to false memories of childhood events seem to be quite restricted. The jury is still out, but there is little doubt that a significant proportion of recovered memories of child abuse is veridical, i.e. they are based on actual events.

Dalenberg et al. (2012, 2014) also reviewed numerous studies in a meta-analysis to determine whether the TT or FT received the majority of empirical support. They concluded that the TT was most consistent with the evidence, which included several supportive longitudinal studies.  Dalenberg and colleagues found the trauma–dissociation relationship to be modest for childhood sexual abuse (CSA; r = 0.31) and physical abuse (r = 0.27) but stronger among individuals with DID (0.54 for CSA and 0.52 for physical abuse). However, dissociation scores predicted only 1–3% of the variance in suggestibility. Other studies have found that individuals with DID are no more suggestible or prone to creating false memories than individuals with PTSD, actors simulating DID, or healthy controls (Vissia et al., 2016). A continuum of trauma-related symptom severity was found across the groups, which supports the hypothesis of association between the severity, intensity and age at onset of traumatization, and the severity of trauma-related psychopathology. The evidence from Vissia et al. (2016) supported the TT of DID and challenged the core hypothesis of the FT. However, the issue is not yet fully resolved (Merckelbach & Patihis, 2018; Brand et al., 2018). A further issue to complicate this already complex picture is that unusual sleep experiences can precipitate episodes of trait dissociation (van Heugten–van der Kloet, Merckelbach, Giesbrecht & Broers, 2014).

The closeness of victims to perpetrators has also been the focus of studies. The impact of abuse is more intense and longer lasting when linked to a sense of betrayal. The betrayal version of the TT proposes that one response to betrayal may be to keep knowledge of the trauma out of conscious awareness (Freyd, 1996, 1997). Although this ‘betrayal blindness’ may benefit survival for ongoing abuse by helping to maintain significant relationships, this compartmentalization of reality can lead later to psychological and behavioural problems. Gómez, Kaehler and Freyd (2014) ran three exploratory studies to examine the associations between exposure to betrayal trauma, dissociation and hallucinations which found betrayal trauma increases the likelihood of dissociation and hallucinations.

How might high proneness to fantasy, then, lead to SPEs? The Vividness Hypothesis claims that fantasy-prone people are more likely to experience visions, voices and apparitions of extreme vividness leading them to conclude that such events have a psychic origin (Blackmore, 1984; Marks, 1988). Hallucinogens and psychedelic substances tend to increase a state of FP in people who might otherwise be less fantasy prone. The discoverer of LSD, Albert Hofmann (1980), wrote: “in the LSD state the boundaries between the experiencing self and the outer world more or less disappear….Feedback between receiver and sender takes place. A portion of the self overflows into the outer world, into objects, which begin to live, to have another, a deeper meaning. In an auspicious case, the new extended ego feels blissfully united with the objects of the outer world and consequently also with its fellow beings. This experience of deep oneness with the exterior world can even intensify to a feeling of the self being one with the universe.” A sense of awe and oneness with nature does not require LSD but is likely to be magnified by LSD and may also trigger ‘paranormal’ experiences (Luke and Kittenis, 2005).

As noted, multiple studies have examined the relationship between FP, imagery vividness and SPE. Merckelbach, Horselenberg and Muris (2001) found that the Creative Experiences Questionnaire (CEQ), a brief self-report measure of FP, correlated with dissociativity in the range of .47 – .63 and also with paranormal experiences. Wiseman and Watt (2006) felt that the evidence should be treated with caution given that the measures employed are intercorrelated and may reflect the operation of a single underlying concept. They refer to Kirsch and Council (1992) and cite Thalbourne’s (2000) concept of ‘transliminality’, which is claimed to underpin a range of imagery factors including frequency of dream interpretation, FP, absorption, magical  ideation and mystical experiences. Other studies, however, suggest that the Vividness Hypothesis may indeed be correct, especially when combined with high absorption (Glicksohn and Barrett, 2003).  In Brazil, Alejandro Parra and Juan Carlos Argibay (2012) compared people who claimed psychic abilities with a non-psychic control group to find that the ‘psychic’ group (N = 40) had significantly higher scores on dissociation, absorption and FP than did the ‘non-psychic’ group (N = 40). In Australia, Gow, Hutchinson and Chant (2009)  tested 114 females and 59 males who were classified as ‘anomalous experiencers’ (n = 125), ‘anomalous believers’ (n = 39) and ‘non-believers’ (n = 9), according to their responses on a ‘Measure of Anomalous Experiences and Beliefs’. In the experiencer group, significant correlations occurred between FP and five subscales of paranormal belief and significant moderate to low correlations with both the “intuition” and “feeling” dimensions of the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. Dissociation was also found to be related to global paranormal belief and to the subscales of psi, superstition, and extraordinary life forms.

Parra (2015) assessed 348 educated believers for their paranormal or anomalous experiences, and capacity for visual imagery under eyes-open- and eyes-closed conditions using the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire Revised (VVIQ-R; Marks, 1995) and a 10-item self-report inventory designed to collect information on spontaneous paranormal/anomalous experiences. The results showed that VVIQ scores and paranormal/anomalous experiences correlated significantly, especially for Aura, Remote Healing, and Apparitions, but only in the Open-Eyes condition. Parra (2015) noted: “These results also highlight the fact that mental imagery ability may be psi-conducive, and it is interesting to note that the VVIQ may be helpful in identifying and selecting better psi-scorers in psi experiments, and may even be of use in psychomanteum (sic) and aura-seeing research. The other advantage of the VVIQ is its ease of administration and speed of data analysis.”  In another study, Parra (2018) found that psychic/high-psi-scorers scored significantly higher than nonpsychic/low-psi-scorers on both sub-scales of the VVIQ.

Lawrence and colleagues (1995) proposed a model of paranormal experience (SPE) and belief (PB) which included fantasy (but not dissociation) as a predictor. In Lawrence’s model, trauma was found to have two causal routes in influencing SPE, one direct, the other indirect (Figure 2.1). However, the omission of dissociation appears to have been a significant limitation of the Lawrence et al. model. My current proposal is to assume that dissociation is the most significant sequela[6] of extreme forms of ACE and that fantasy, paranormal experience and paranormal belief are among the consequences of the process of dissociation. Figure 2.1 show the supervenient role of dissociation in the fantasy that is generated following childhood trauma.

Figure 2.1: A theory of childhood trauma, dissociation, paranormal experience and belief as an extension of the model originally suggested by Lawrence et al. (1995) shown with continuous lines. The model is extended to include dissociation as the main sequela of childhood trauma with causal connections to childhood fantasy, paranormal experience and paranormal beliefs (broken lines).

This extended Dissociation + Trauma Theory suggests that the psychological system strives to restore safety, security and equilibrium by dissociating into compartments to inhibit action and generate compensatory fantasy. Homeostasis performs a restorative function with its ability to deploy the entire resources of the psychological system, including affect, fantasy, and the approach-avoidance-inhibition system to reset the imbalances created by dissociation. The reset restores feelings of safety and control (Marks, 2018, 2020). The hypothesised stabilising role of homeostasis is consistent with the theory of Silvan Tomkins who proposed that the primary motivational system is the affective system and biological drives have impact only when amplified by the affective system (Tomkins, 1962). Clinical studies have established that involuntary images and difficult-to-control memories are associated with dissociation, trauma, stress, anxiety and depression. Sufferers often report repeated visual intrusions concerning real or imaginary events that are ‘usually extremely vivid, detailed, and with highly distressing content’ (Brewin, et al., 2010).  These elements are precisely the sequelae of a dissociative response to ACE.

PSYCHOSIS, HALLUCINATIONS, CHILDHOOD ADVERSITIES AND DISSOCIATION

The association between childhood adversities (CAs) and the onset of psychotic episodes (PE)  is receiving the attention of clinical researchers who widely agree that childhood trauma is a risk factor for the development of psychosis.  Since Janet, the relationship between childhood trauma and symptoms of psychosis has been explained as one consequence of dissociation. For example, Varese, Barkus and Bentall (2012) explored the hypothesis that the effect of childhood trauma on hallucination-proneness is mediated by dissociative tendencies. Patients with schizophrenia spectrum disorders (n=45) and healthy controls (with no history of hallucinations; n=20) completed measures of hallucination-proneness, dissociative tendencies and childhood trauma. Compared to healthy and non-hallucinating clinical control participants, hallucinating patients reported both significantly higher dissociative tendencies and childhood sexual abuse. Dissociation was found to positively mediated the effect of childhood trauma on hallucination-proneness, a mediational role that was “particularly robust for sexual abuse over other types of trauma” (Varese et al., 2012, p. 1025). They concluded that the results are consistent with dissociative accounts of the trauma-hallucinations link.

Meta-analyses of the association between childhood trauma and severity of hallucinations, delusions, and negative psychotic symptoms in clinical populations have confirmed the association. In a meta-analysis of 29 studies (4680 participants) Bailey et al. (2018) found that, in individuals with psychosis, childhood trauma was significantly correlated with severity of hallucinations (r = .199, P < .001) and delusions (r = .172, P < .001) but not with severity of negative symptoms. These results lend support to theories that childhood traumas may lead to hallucinations and delusions. McGrath et al. (2017) assessed CAs, PE and DSM-IV mental disorders in 23,998 adults in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. People who had experienced any CAs were found to have an increased odds of later PE [odds ratio (OR) 2.3, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.9–2.6]. CAs reflecting maladaptive family functioning, including abuse, neglect, and parent maladjustment, were found to exhibit the strongest associations with PE onset at all life-course stages. Sexual abuse was observed to produce a strong association with PE onset during childhood (OR 8.5, 95% CI 3.6–20.2), while other CA types were associated with PE onset in adolescence. McGrath et al. (2017) concluded that exposure to CAs is associated with PE onset throughout the life-course, with sexual abuse being most strongly associated with childhood-onset PEs.

 Muenzenmaier et al. (2015) tested the dose–response relationship between CA and delusions and hallucinations including the effects of dissociation on the relationship. The prevalence of CA in individuals with psychotic disorders was high, with each additional CA being associated with a 1.20 increase in the incidence rate ratio (95% confidence interval [CI; 1.09, 1.32]) for hallucinations and a 1.19 increase (CI [1.09, 1.29]) for delusions, supporting a dose–response association. After controlling for the mediating effects of dissociative symptoms at follow-up, CA remained independently associated with delusions. Muenzenmaier et al. (2015) proposed that cumulative CA can result in complex reactions including dissociative, posttraumatic stress disorder, and psychotic symptoms.

A review of 19 quantitative studies investigated the relationship between voice-hearing and dissociation between 1986 and 2014 (Pilton, Varese, Berry and Bucci, 2015). The authors concluded that dissociation may be implicated in voice-hearing as a mediating factor. In a clinical study with 71 patients diagnosed with psychosis, Perona‐Garcelán et al. (2012)  found that childhood trauma was positively associated with the dissociation scale scores (r = .40) and the hallucination (r = .36) and delusions scale scores (r = .32).  Depersonalization was found to be a potential mediator between childhood trauma and hallucinations, but not between childhood trauma and delusions. In another study of  depersonalisation mediation in the relationship between childhood maltreatment and both hallucination-proneness and delusional ideation, Cole, Newman-Taylor and Kennedy (2016) used a cross-sectional design in a non-clinical group. They found that dissociation mediated the relationship between early maltreatment and hallucination-proneness and delusional ideation.

It has been suggested that the content of hallucinations may be formed out of dissociative memories of traumatic events (Mauritz, Goossens, Draijer & van Achterberg, 2013) and that it could reflect the experiencer’s perceived lower social self-appraisal as a consequence of childhood abuse (Birchwood, Meaden, Trower, Gilbert & Plaistow, 2000).

In the next section, I examine another piece in the jigsaw, the Polyvagal Theory, which concerns the organism’s defences when safety is challenged by an imminent threat.

THE POLYVAGAL THEORY OF SAFETY

The Polyvagal Theory is a neurobiological theory of safety. The Polyvagal Theory describes an inbuilt system within the nervous system for evaluating threat, which enables a shift in the body’s physiological defences. Think of the drawbridge going up at the main gates of a castle when enemy soldiers are detected at the edges of the estate. The goal of the psychological system is to continuously monitor the environment for threats by searching for unique cues. When a threat or lack of safety is perceived, the system actively inhibits outward responses to promote safety and well-being with feelings of love, security and trust. Safety is associated with specific environmental features and unconscious bodily responses as well as making conscious cognitive evaluations. Adaptive survival resides in the evolutionary wisdom of the body and nervous system that function outside the realm of awareness. These neural processes that evaluate risk in the environment without awareness are called neuroception.[7]  Evaluations of risk and lack of safety in potentially dangerous relationships play a secondary role to our visceral reactions to people and places (Porges, 2017, p. 43; Figure 2.2).

Figure 2.2: THE POLYVAGAL THEORY OF SAFETY

The Polyvagal Theory concerns the vagus, the tenth cranial nerve and the primary nerve in the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The vagus connects brainstem areas with structures in the body including the neck, thorax, and abdomen. Polyvagal Theory involves the changes in the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and a unique change in the vagal motor pathways that first occurred with the emergence of mammals in evolution. When the ventral vagus and the associated social engagement system are optimally functioning, the ANS supports health, growth, and restoration. According to the Polyvagal Theory, defence reactions are manifested as either an increase in SNS activity that inhibits the function of the dorsal vagus to promote fight and flight behaviours or as a shutdown manifested as depressed SNS activity and a surge of dorsal vagal influences that results in fainting, defecation, and an inhibition of motor behaviour, as seen in mammals feigning death (Porges, 2017).

Neuroception is the neural process that evaluates environmental risk from cues which trigger shifts in autonomic state prior to conscious awareness. We constantly monitor the environment for safety both with and without awareness. One example is the sense of danger we may experience immediately prior to a mugging. If somebody suddenly runs up from behind and rips one’s bag off one’s shoulder, it would be a perfectly natural reaction to freeze. Other victims may switch into ‘fight’ mode, others into ‘flight’. These response occur prior to any conscious decision. Neuroception shifts the ANS response to cues of safety, danger or threat by activating the social engagement system and shutting down the fight/flight and the body’s defence systems. This includes the face, heart, and myelinated vagus (Porges, 2017).  Finally, I show how the pieces of the jigsaw fit together.

FIGURE 2.3: A graphic representation of the Trauma + Dissociation Theory of SPE (Marks, 2020).

THE TRAUMA + DISSOCIATION THEORY OF SPE

Here we take a look at the complete picture produced by the theory.

If we are to make sense of the connections between childhood trauma, dissociation, and SPE we need to consider the options for an infant or child who is confronted by a significant threat of harm from a person who may be a close family member, another known person or even a complete stranger. Being able to cope with such a threat has profound evolutionary significance, and how the organism responds is likely a life and death issue.  Every living organism is endowed with a powerful mechanism that has been especially designed to deal with threats to life called the ‘Approach-Avoidance-Inhibition (AAI)’ system. This system controls the individual’s fight, flight or freeze response. A well-established principle is the universal striving towards pleasure and away from pain that underlies all approach and avoidance behaviour. Organisms approach sources of potential pleasure and satisfaction and studiously avoid potentially aversive stimuli and confrontations with danger. Essential similarities in the neural systems underlying painful and pleasant sensations are based on the opioid and dopamine systems respectively  (Leknes and Tracey, 2008).  This ‘do or die’ neural circuitry evolved to ensure survival. This survival circuitry is activated either by stimuli that are life-sustaining or by stimuli that threaten survival. Activation of the pain and pleasure circuits alert the sensory systems to pay attention and prompt motor action (Lang and Bradley, 2010). The approach–avoidance concept is pivotal to the organisms’ systems of self-defense (Elliot, 1999). However, the AAI system also includes a mechanism for behavioural inhibition, which is activated in approach–avoidance conflict. It has been proposed that an ‘Action Schemata’ (AS) system coordinates and controls action with the AAI system (Marks, 2018).  Further details of these systems are given in Chapter 10.

The innate species-specific defense reactions of the AAI system – fleeing, freezing or fighting – are rapidly acquired when organisms are still young and relatively immature (Bolles, 1970; Wichers et al., 2015). In infants and young children, the first reaction to continuing threat is to cry and then to freeze. The ability to fight or fright is not usually available. Freezing allows better sound localization and visual observation of the environment for potential threat. Cessation of movement is also a form of camouflage which reduces the risk of attracting attention by predators. Traumatised children often develop a “sensitized” hyperarousal or “sensitized” dissociative pattern in association with freezing when they feel anxious. Freezing can escalate to complete dissociation (Perry et al., 1990).

An adaptive homeostatic mental and physical response to childhood trauma consists of a dissociative response of freezing and/or surrender involving fantasy and imagery. The diagram in Figure 2.4 shows a representation of a general behavioural control system with two co-active sub-systems for the control and timing of action, the ‘Action System’, and for the control and timing of imagery, the ‘Image System’ (Marks, 2018 a, b).

FIGURE 2.4: A diagram of the Trauma + Dissociation Theory of SPE. The control system consists of two co-active, parallel systems, an ‘Action System’ and an ‘Image System’. In any response to danger, one system can switch down its activity allowing the other system a greater share of control. In the left panel, the Image System is dominant with a setting for freeze or surrender while, in reciprocal fashion, the Action System is inhibited. The Image System is fully activated to produce fantasy, calmness, stillness and self-control. In the right panel, the Action System is dominant and set for mobilization of fight or flight with actions of aggression or revenge, while the Image System is switched off. The arrangement shown in the right hand panel is not available to infants and young children, who would normally respond with the system shown in the left-hand panel, but the right-hand panel system would be available to older adolescents and adults.

The Dissociative Setting is activated as the child’s response to trauma. The Image System is fully switched on and the Action System is switched off, giving a Freeze or Surrender response. The child-under-threat withdraws into an inner world of detachment and derealization in which stabilizing fantasy of calm and self-control are utilized to restore homeostasis. Post-traumatic fantasy is a normal homeostatic balancing process to produce equilibrium in a system experiencing unjustified life threat, loss or harm. There is every reason to expect trauma-based fantasy to be restorative of missing love objects in the form of voices, hallucinatory images or the felt presence of missing persons, or in fantasies of personal survival beyond death.  The genesis of fantasy- and affect-laden paranormal experience in dissociative self-defense causes paranormal ideation of coping and survival. Fantasy and daydreaming increase the likelihood that a person will experience altered states of consciousness, striking coincidences, and beliefs in the paranormal which help to restore a sense of balance and control.

The theory views dissociation as the system’s innate response to threat with defensive immobilization and involuntary freezing or the feigning response of playing dead. As in all behaviours, there are gradations in reactions to life threats ranging from total shutdown and collapse to immobilization when muscles lose tension and the mind dissociates from the traumatic event similar to the REM state during sleep. I turn to consider 13 hypotheses that follow from the theory with a brief statement of the support from the research literature.

HYPOTHESES

I list here 13 hypotheses that follow from the theory and cite illustrative studies relevant to these hypotheses:

H1:  SPEs should be more common  in people reporting childhood abuse (supported:Lawrence et al.,1995;Rabeyron and Watt, 2010; Sar, Alioğlu and Akyüz, 2014; Scimeca et al., 2014; Parra, 2019).

H2: SPEs should be more common among people with dissociative symptoms (supported: Wahbeh, McDermott & Sagher, 2018).

H3: SPEs should be more common in females than by males (supported: Castro, Burrows and Wooffitt, 2014).

H4: One common response of children to extreme negative affect (trauma, fear and anxiety) is dissociation, detachment, derealisation and restorative fantasies of control and calm (supported: Cook et al., 2017).

H5: Dissociation in adulthood is more common in people reporting childhood abuse (supported:Chu and Dill, 1990; Vonderlin et al., 2018).

H6: Dissociative experiences are more common among females than males (inconsistent findings: Ross, Joshi & Currie, 1990; Putnam et al., 1996; Spitzer et al., 2003; Brosky & Lally, 2004; Maaranen et al.,2005; Steuwe, Lanius & Frewen, 2012; Wolf et al., 2012a, 2012b; McLaughlin  et al., 2013; Stein et al., 2013).

H7: FP is more common in people reporting childhood abuse (supported:Rhue and Lynn, 1987; Somer and Herscu, 2018).

H8: FP is more common in women than in men (supported: Minakowska-Gruda, 2006).[8]  

H9: Paranormal beliefs are more prevalent in people reporting high levels of FP than in others (supported:Ellason and Ross, 1997; Irwin, 1990).

H10: Individuals who claim paranormal abilities score higher on dissociation and fantasy than individuals who do not claim paranormal experiences (supported:Parra and Argibay, 2012).

H11: FP and coping style fully mediate the relationship between trauma and paranormal beliefs (supported: Berkowski and MacDonald, 2014).

H12: Belief in ESP and PK is a vehicle for exercising a need for power and control at a fantasy level (supported: Roe and Morgan, 2002).

H13:  Among victims of childhood abuse, a dissociative response such as PTSD is more likely to be released when trauma occurs in adulthood (supported: Brewin, Andrews and Valentine, 2000).

LIMITATIONS

The overall fit between the theory and empirical findings provides one solution for the jigsaw of pieces that I have identified. However, there may be missing pieces to be filled into a bigger picture that is not yet clearly visible.  It is unlikely the theory can explain the origins of all SPEs.  That really would be too good to be true.  All theories are eventually replaced by better theories.  It has been well documented that dissociative states are much more common among individuals who have been traumatized in childhood and that the defensive use of fantasy provides a beneficial coping strategy.  However, there must be other causal pathways to SPE, one of which is the possibility that some of the experiences are veridical, let us not forget.

The inconsistent findings in relation to H6:Dissociation is more common among females than males”, does not perfectly align with the confirmations obtained with the other 12 hypotheses. At least the uncertainty about H6 eliminates any accusation that the theory is too good to be true.  One can think of post hoc reasons why H6 might not be correct. Perhaps the greater levels of abuse experienced by girls than boys as younger children are counterbalanced at older ages when boys generally receive greater levels of trauma from physical bullying than girls. In 35 countries surveyed in the WHO International report from the HBSC, 11-15 year-old boys report significantly more physical bullying and fighting than same-age girls (Craig & Harel, 2001).  In an older sample of 18-24 year-old US college students, however, the prevalence of PTSD and risk for trauma were greater for the female gender. The uncertainty about H6 awaits further analysis. A further limitation is the cross-sectional nature of the majority of studies. Future research needs to include longitudinal designs to explore directional, causal effects while controlling for potential confounding factors. It seems unlikely that everybody who experiences SPE has been a victim of abuse as a child, although this remains an open question. It’s horses for courses: SPEs in people who were never abused would require a different kind of theory.

SUMMARY

The Trauma + Dissociation Theory holds that childhood trauma and dissociation act together to produce SPE in a significant number of people. Childhood trauma is a prevalent social scourge requiring a robust system of self-defence against potential  perpetrators. One instinctive defensive strategy is dissociation that is known to produce fantasies and feelings of calm and control. The theory provides a comprehensive account for a large number of findings in the published literature. New prospectively controlled research is required to test theoretical hypotheses on a large sample of children to enable rigorous testing together with alternative hypotheses about the origins of SPE.

Notes


[1] Readers interested in anomalous phenomena themselves rather than their origin may wish to head straight to Chapter 4 and return here later.

[2] In this review, child abuse applies to individuals aged 0-17 years inclusive.  

[3] Corporal punishment with canes and rulers was routinely administered by school teachers in those days.  An ear clipping by a teacher today would be a sackable offence.

[4] Also called the ‘socio-cognitive’ or ‘iatrogenic’ model.  Any effect resulting from healthcare professionals, products or services that unintentionally lead to illness or adverse effects is termed ‘iatrogenic’.

[5] The False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) is a non-profit organization founded in 1992by Pamela and Peter Freyd after their adult daughter Professor Jennifer Freyd  accused Peter Freyd of sexually abusing her as a child (Dallam, 2001). 

[6] Sequela = consequence.

[7] We will return to consider neuroception in Chapter 6 when discussing the theory of human magnetosensitivity.

[8] Many publications on FP report correlational studies of FP with other variables but not gender differences. Wilson and Barber’s (1981) original study was with girls only.

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“Doctors can commit scientific fraud and financial fraud and not be punished”

Press Release by Dr Myhill concerning Dr Myhill’s Virtual Hearing 22 MARCH 2021 – vs ICO & GMC

Doctors can commit scientific fraud and financial fraud and not be punished. This is the conclusion of Dr Sarah Myhill following her recent hearing vs the ICO and GMC.

Dr Sarah Myhill tells us “That is official General Medical Council policy”.

The PACE study of 2011, which concluded that patients with CFS and ME could be effectively treated with graded exercise and cognitive behaviour therapy, has been proven to be scientifically fraudulent. This fraud is so profound that PACE recommendations have been dropped by NICE. We now know that graded exercise makes patients with CFS, ME and Long Covid much worse. CBT is of little benefit, only as a supportive measure.


In response to this fraudulent study, Dr Myhill reported the authors of PACE, and its directors, to the General Medical Council in January 2018. The GMC has a duty, and is empowered by Parliament, to regulate doctors and this includes research misconduct. Despite taking six months to consider Dr Myhill’s request, the GMC refused to investigate. Dr Myhill supplied extensive scientific proofs but in its refusal the GMC failed to supply its scientific defence.


So, Dr Myhill, through FoI legislation, asked that the GMC supply her with the scientific references on which it relied in coming to its decision not to investigate the PACE authors. The GMC refused. It gave no reasons whatsoever.


Consequently, Dr Myhill reported the GMC to the Information Commissioner who in a ruling of 30 September 2019 agreed with her. The ICO informed the GMC that it must supply her with the scientific references on which it relied in deciding not to investigate the PACE authors. This was because Dr Myhill was asking simply for scientific references already in the public area. This was only fair to the thousands of patients who have been damaged by graded exercise and who have a right to a proper explanation as to why.


At this point you would think the GMC had to comply. However, it is suspected that the GMC refusal arose for reasons of cronyism – it did not want ex-Presidents of Royal Societies up in
front of the GMC and the Police. It did not want to admit that actually it held NO scientific evidence, and it had no good reason to proceed as it did.


So, the GMC had to think up some sort of legal argument for refusal. Hitherto it had no argument – simply blunt refusal. The GMC consulted with its legal beavers within and outside the GMC and came up with the argument that to comply with the ICO demands would infringe the personal privacy of the PACE authors. What a nonsense! Dr Myhill has no interest in the personal data of the PACE authors. She simply requested scientific references which should all be in the public arena!


This was the subject of the ICO Hearing on 22 March 2021: Myhill vs GMC and ICO.


The outcome was a split decision. It boiled down to the Public Interest test. Tribunal member Mr Malcolm Clarke agreed with Dr Myhill. He stated:


“I conclude that Dr Myhill’s legitimate interest in seeking this information, if it exists, as a practising doctor with patients, who has a deep professional interest in ensuring that national recommended treatments in this area of medicine are evidence-based, is a very strong one …Dr Myhill’s legitimate interest in knowing whether the information she requests is held by the GMC is a very strong one. I therefore conclude that ……Dr Myhill’s legitimate interests are not overridden by the rights and freedoms of the data subjects.”

Ref paragraphs 42-47,EA-2020-0018 Myhill v IC & GMC


Luckily for the GMC, the Judge Hazel Oliver and Panel member Gareth Jones disagreed. They decided the other way round.


This Ruling sends a very clear message to doctors who commit scientific fraud – it is easy to get away with it, you can easily hide behind Data Protection issues and the General Medical Council will assist. Cronyism works.


………and so now to round 4. Dr Myhill will not give up.


See https://www.drmyhill.co.uk/wiki/My_Complaint_to_the_GMC_about_the_PACE_authors for more detail

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How is obesity associated with happiness? Evidence from China

Abstract

Yiwei LiuLing XuAaron Hagedorn

First Published October 11, 2020 

Research Articlehttps://doi.org/10.1177/1359105320962268

Liu Y, Xu L, Hagedorn A. How is obesity associated with happiness? Evidence from China. Journal of Health Psychology. October 2020. doi:10.1177/1359105320962268rticle information 
No Access

Abstract

Happiness is a universal goal that people pursue. Studies of the relationship between obesity and happiness have shown mixed findings. It is uncertain whether an optimum BMI level exists and at what level obesity interferes or interacts with happiness. Guided by the Circle of Discontent Theory, we examined the relationship between obesity and happiness among Chinese residents using the 2014 China Family Panel Studies data. The results reveal an inverted U-shaped relationship between BMI and happiness, with obesity associated with happiness through physical appearance, health, and income. The socioeconomic conditions for the appropriate weight to achieve happiness are discussed.

Keywords Chinacircle of discontent theoryhappinesshealthincomeobesityphysical appearance

Figure 2. Relationship between BMI and happiness.

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Body mass index trajectories during mid to late life and risks of mortality and cardiovascular outcomes: Results from four prospective cohorts

Yun-JiuChengab1 Zhen-GuangChenc1 Su-HuaWuab1 Wei-YiMeiab Feng-JuanYaod MingZhange Dong-LingLuof

ShareCite https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eclinm.2021.100790 Get rights and content

Citation: Cheng, Y. J., Chen, Z. G., Wu, S. H., Mei, W. Y., Yao, F. J., Zhang, M., & Luo, D. L. (2021). Body mass index trajectories during mid to late life and risks of mortality and cardiovascular outcomes: Results from four prospective cohorts. EClinicalMedicine33, 100790.

Note: This article is available under the Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND license and permits non-commercial use of the work as published, without adaptation or alteration provided the work is fully attributed.

open access

Abstract

Background

Our understanding of the weight-outcome association mainly comes from single-time body mass index (BMI) measurement. However, data on long-term trajectories of within-person changes in BMI on diverse study outcomes are sparse. Therefore, this study is to determine the associations of individual BMI trajectories and cardiovascular outcomes.

Methods

The present analysis was based on data from 4 large prospective cohorts and restricted to participants aged ≥45 years with at least two BMI measurements. Hazard ratios (HR) and 95% confidence intervals(95%CI) for each outcome according to different BMI trajectories were calculated in Cox regression models.

Findings

The final sample comprised 29,311 individuals (mean age 58.31 years, and 77.31% were white), with a median 4 BMI measurements used in this study. During a median follow-up of 21.16 years, there were a total of 10,192 major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) and 11,589 deaths. A U-shaped relation was seen with all study outcomes. Compared with maintaining stable weight, the multivariate adjusted HR for MACE were 1.53 (95%CI 1.40–1.66), 1.26 (95%CI 1.16–1.37) and 1.08 (95%CI 1.02–1.15) respectively for rapid, moderate and slow weight loss; 1.01 (95%CI 0.95–1.07), 1.13 (95%CI 1.05–1.21) and 1.29 (95%CI 1.20–1.40) respectively for slow, moderate and rapid weight gain. Identical patterns of association were observed for all other outcomes. The development of BMI differed markedly between the outcome-free individuals and those who went on to experience adverse events, generally beginning to diverge 10 years before the occurrence of the events.

Interpretation

Our findings may signal an underlying high-risk population and inspire future studies on weight management.

Funding

National Natural Science Foundation of China, Guangdong Natural Science Foundation.

Keywords

Trajectories Body mass index Cardiovascular events Mortality Mid-to-late life

Research in context

Evidence before this study

We searched Pubmed for articles published in English assessing risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in relation to BMI and BMI trajectories, using the search terms “BMI”, “change in BMI”, “BMI trajectories”, “cardiovascular diseases”, “major adverse cardiovascular events”, “death”, “mortality”, “coronary heart disease”, “stroke”, “heart failure”, “myocardial infarction” and “risk”, from the inception to December 15, 2020. We found numerous studies discussing the associations of single time BMI measurements and cardiovascular risks, but few of them explored the associations of individual change trajectories and adverse outcomes.

Added value of this study

In this large population-based study, a U-shaped relation was observed between BMI trajectories and subsequent risk of different health outcomes. Both weight gain and weight loss conferred increased risks for cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality. In addition, we found for the first time that falling off the BMI trajectory could be a warning sign for future occurrence of adverse events.

Implications of all the available evidence

Our findings may signal an underlying high-risk population and underscore the importance of maintaining body weight over the middle to late adulthood.

1. Introduction

In light of the obesity epidemic [1,2], it is imperative to understand the relationship of weight to the risks of mortality and cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Although this relation is well documented in previous researches, most of them were based on single-time assessment of body weight (or body mass index, BMI) [3][4][5][6][7][8]. As noted, the relation of single-time BMI measurement to adverse outcomes changed during the observation period [9]. Specifically, the magnitude of this association weakens among middle-aged and elderly populations [10,11].

Further, using single-time BMI may fail to recognize the effect of weight change on the associated risks. Weight changes are highly variable over the life course [12][13][14][15]. Both weight loss and gain in middle-aged adults rendered increased risk of all-cause and CVD mortality [4,[16][17][18][19]]. However, the patterns of BMI change may differ among individuals; thus, a life-course perspective is essential. Mapping the longitudinal trajectory of BMI may directly capture the within-person change in BMI, and better characterize the associated risks.

Although increasing number of studies have investigated the relationship of BMI trajectories and cardiovascular outcomes, most were assuming the population lies within a mixture of latent groups, using either growth curve model or group-based latent model [11,[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29]]. These models are largely based on subgroup means over a specific period of time and might be imprecise. Till now, there are at least 2 to 6 different BMI trajectory patterns being reported [11,[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30]], even using the same dataset [20,26].

Therefore, in order to obtain a more precise association between BMI trajectory and cardiovascular outcomes, we here used the original BMI slope from each individual to represent individual BMI change trajectory. As far as we know, less than ten papers have reported the value of BMI slope in cardiovascular system [13,14,[31][32][33][34][35][36][37]]. Most of them investigated the association of BMI slope and change in cardiovascular risk factors [14,31,[33][34][35][36]]. Only two researches illustrated its association with cardiovascular outcomes [13,32]. However, models were not fully adjusted and differences on weight change direction were not taken into consideration.

Therefore, in our current study, we separated weight gain and weight loss by different degrees of change to comprehensively illustrate the relation of individual BMI trajectory to diverse study outcomes. As a second aim, we explored and characterized the developmental paths of BMI prior to individual outcomes.

…..

Model 1, adjusted for age, gender and race; Model 2, adjusted for age, gender, race, smoking status, current alcoholic use, education level, marital status, income, physical activity, consumption of fruits and vegetables, history of hypertension, diabetes, HF, CHD, cancer, COPD and stroke, baseline BMI, serum level of glucose, total cholesterol, LDLCHDLC and triglyceride.

Abbreviation: MACE, major adverse cardiovascular events; MI, myocardial infarction; CHF, chronic heart failure; CVD, cardiovascular disease; Non-CVD, non-cardiovascular disease; CHD, coronary heart disease.

3.2.1. Primary outcomes

Compared with maintaining stable weight, the multivariate adjusted HRs for MACE were 1.53 (95%CI 1.40–1.66), 1.26 (95%CI 1.16–1.37) and 1.08 (95%CI 1.02–1.15) respectively for rapid, moderate and slow weight loss; 1.01 (95%CI 0.95–1.07), 1.13 (95%CI 1.05–1.21) and 1.29 (95%CI 1.20–1.40) respectively for slow, moderate and rapid weight gain. Models examining the associations with outcomes of MI and CHF yielded similar results as MACE. While for stroke, the hazard was significantly increased in participants with moderate-to-rapid weight loss and moderate weight gain, but for slow weight loss or slow weight gain, the association was insignificant (Table 2). Consistently, Fig. 1-A shows a U-shaped relation of the entire range of annual BMI change to individual cardiovascular outcomes in the cubic spline models.

Fig 1

3.2.2. Secondary outcomes

Similarly, the HRs for all-cause mortality were 1.98 (95%CI 1.83–2.13), 1.38 (95%CI 1.28–1.49) and 1.18 (95%CI 1.12–1.25) respectively for rapid, moderate and slow weight loss; 0.99 (95%CI 0.93–1.04), 1.08 (95%CI 1.01–1.15) and 1.29 (95%CI 1.20–1.38) respectively for slow, moderate and rapid weight gain, when compared to maintaining stable weight. Identical patterns of association were observed for CVD, non-CVD and CHD death (Table 2). Likewise, in the restricted cubic spline models, we detected a U-shaped relationship between annual BMI change and mortality risk, with a nadir around 0 kg/m2/year (Fig. 1-B).

3.3. BMI trajectories prior to different outcomes

Fig. 2 is an illustrative drawing to represent the general developmental patterns of BMI prior to different outcomes. We found that the development of BMI differed markedly between the outcome-free individuals and those who went on to experience adverse events. Trajectories appeared similar for the outcomes of MACE, all-cause, CVD and non-CVD death. The outcome-free participants followed a trajectory where the average BMI levels rise initially, remain stable or steadily decreased throughout follow-up. Those who went on to experience events generally showed lower baseline levels of BMI, steeper rise initially and faster fall before the occurrence of the events. With regards to MI and CHD death, the average BMI level was comparable in participants with or without the outcomes, but an accelerated decline was observed in those who died or experienced the events. Interestingly, although the developmental trend was identical among participants with and without CHF, those who experienced CHF had a generally higher BMI level during their life. With respect to the outcome of stroke, the BMI trajectories were less distinctive between groups.

Fig 2

3.4. Additional information and stratified analysis

We repeated the primary analyses in a series of sensitivity analyses. Excluding participants with missing values on baseline covariates (supplementary Table 3 in Appendix 3), with preexisting illnesses at baseline (supplementary Table 4 in Appendix 3), or with highest weight variability during follow-up (supplementary Table 5 in Appendix 3) did not appreciably change the results. In terms of percent change of BMI, the association patterns for cardiovascular outcomes were identical to our primary analysis (supplementary Table 6 in Appendix 3). But for the death outcomes, we only found significant increased risk in weight loss quintiles (quintile 1 and 2). When separating the primary analysis by individual cohort, consistent findings were observed (supplementary Table 7 in Appendix 3).

As depicted in Fig. 3, the associations of BMI trajectories and MACE were generally consistent in stratified analyses by sex, race and smoking status. It should be noted that the BMI-MACE association was significantly modified by age and borderline by baseline BMI. The hazards for MACE were significantly higher in those younger than 60 years, but lower in those who were initially with obesity. For all-cause mortality, the associations with BMI trajectories were generally consistent in white or non-white population and significantly modified by age, sex, and smoking status. It’s revealed that male and individuals younger than 60 years had higher hazards for death. But surprisingly, the hazards were lower in the smoker subgroups. Similar to the MACE outcome, the hazards for death were lower in subgroup with obesity, but the modification effect by baseline BMI was insignificant. The association of BMI trajectories and other outcomes across the predefined subgroups are provided in supplementary Table 8 and Table 9 (Appendix 3).

4. Discussion

In our analyses of the overall cohort of 29,311 participants, a U-shaped relation was observed between BMI trajectories and subsequent risk of cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality. Significant increase of risks for MACE and all-cause death were noted for people assigned in weight loss or weight gain categories. The hazard risks for adverse outcomes were consistently lowest among individuals maintaining their body weight. Although effect modification was observed in several subgroups, our findings were generally robust in a number of sensitivity analysis. Furthermore, our study for the first time delineates the characteristics of BMI trajectories prior to different health outcomes, showing an accelerated decline in BMI almost ten years before the occurrence of the events.

More than 38.9% of US adults have obesity [1]; however, much of our understanding of the BMI-mortality association comes from single-time BMI measurement, without considering within-person variation over the long term. Since weight change is highly variable across adulthood, more studies are now focusing on BMI trajectories and different health outcomes [11,13,[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30],32]. However, most of these studies were grouping people using growth curve model or group-based latent model [11,[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29]]. Using the above models, one can identify individuals with distinct BMI trajectories from the available data [25,48]. However, class membership is not determined with certainty for each individual since it relies on the selected models (linear, curvilinear, cubic and other forms) and probability of belonging [20,49]. Thus, misclassification is possible and the associated risk of adverse outcomes could be invalid. In articles published by Zeng H.et al. and Zajacova et al., the authors used the same data but identified different patterns of BMI trajectory [20,26]. As of now, at least two to six patterns of BMI trajectories have been reported in the general population and majority of them were depicting an ascending trend or paralleling with each other [21,26,28,[50][51][52]]. It is unrealistic that all participants were going the same way over the life course. There must be some groups of individuals experiencing gradual weight loss or even rapid loss in their weight. Furthermore, most of the existing studies differentiate the curves by studying changes in pre-defined BMI categories: defining a change within normal weight as “normal-stable” [28], or a change from overweight category to category with obesity as “overweight obesity” trajectory [26]. This crude categorization of BMI trajectories would probably yield over- or under-deterministic results. It should be noted that a variety of changes could occur within the same categories; even a small change in BMI would pose a significant deleterious effect on health [26]. Furthermore, the rate of change, the direction of change, or the slope of the trajectory was all likely to make a difference in the negative outcomes [13,53].

Thus, from the current study, we derived an overall BMI trajectory (annul change in BMI or BMI slope) for each individual, giving further support to the associations of long term trajectories and diverse health outcomes. In our study, the slope of BMI throughout middle and older age, either positive or negative, rendered increased risks of MACE and mortality: the larger the changes the greater the risk. More specifically, BMI falling faster than 0.1 kg/m2 per year resulted in at least 8% higher risks of MACE and 18% of death. On the other hand, increasing BMI by 0.3 kg/m2 per year was associated with at least 13% higher hazards for MACE and 8% for death. Although several prior studies were conducted with a similar method, findings were mixed and inconsistent. As demonstrated in Framingham Heart Study, BMI slopes were inversely associated with the outcome of total mortality and morbidity due to CHD [13]. On the contrary, in the study of Chicago Western Electric Company, weight loss slope was significantly associated with total and cardiovascular mortality, while the weight gain slope showed nonsignificant increased risk of each endpoint for 25-year follow-up [32]. These inconsistencies may result from inadequate adjustment for potential cofounders and not considering the weight change direction.

Identical pattern of association was noted in subgroups of the population, after stratification for age, sex, race, smoking status and baseline BMI. However, effect modification of these stratification variables varied with respect to different outcomes. Generally, the hazardous effects of weight change and adverse outcomes were more pronounced in male participants and at younger age (<60 years). Two additional results should be noted. First, although previous studies have suggested that smoking status is a crucial modifier on the association of BMI and cardiovascular risks, we reveal that the hazards of cardiovascular outcomes were generally consistent in the three categories of smoking status. While for all-cause and non-CVD death, the association with weight loss were inconclusively modified by smoking status. The inconsistent observed relation could be the result of diverse weight change patterns associated with smoking or accounted for the unmeasured confounders [12,33]. Second, decreased weight in individuals with higher BMI (overweight or with obesity) may result in a better outcome when compared to those with normal weight at baseline, which could partially explain the phenomenon of “obesity paradox” [54]. The risk differences for weight gain among normal, overweight or individuals with obesity were less obvious.

In this study, we not only captured the characteristics of individual BMI change trajectory, but also directly evaluated the average BMI trajectories for those with and without specific outcomes. We found for the first time that patterns of change in BMI prior to different outcomes were different. Overall, the BMI trajectories appeared similar for most of the study outcomes: the outcome-free participants followed a trajectory where the average BMI levels remained relatively stable, while for those who went on to experience adverse events, the trajectories began to fall 10 years before the event. Although it’s unclear whether the observed weight loss was the antecedent cause or the consequence of the outcome, these findings may signal an underlying high-risk population and underscore the importance of maintaining body weight over the middle to late adulthood.

The major strengths of this study include the availability of multiple BMI measurements within identical time interval and using the linear mixed model, which entails a more accurate assessment of individual BMI trajectory. Furthermore, although distinguishing intentional and unintentional weight loss is challenging, we try to separate them by using weight variability, in which the highest variability subgroup represents intentional weight loss subcategory. As a result, in weight loss participants with high weight variability, moderate and rapid weight loss was not significantly correlated with increased risk of cardiovascular events. But likewise, we did not observe a beneficial effect in this group of population. One possible explanation for this is that weight rebound following intentional weight loss may offset the positive effect brought by losing weight [55]. Therefore, for weight loss individuals, it is imperative to first examine the reasons for weight loss: intentional or unintentional. If someone is losing weight intentionally, avoiding weight regain or achieving sustained weight loss may be the cornerstone of the accrued benefits brought by losing weight from a high BMI.

Despite of the strengths provided above, several limitations should be noted. Firstly, our findings relate solely to changes in BMI while the changes of fat mass, muscle mass and the general change of the body composition were unknown. In addition, since majority of the study participants were white US people, the results could not be generalized to more heterogeneous populations. Secondly, although we are trying to distinguish whether weight loss was intentional or unintentional in our sensitivity analysis, data on the causes of weight loss were unavailable in the current study. And thus, we could not confirm the above speculation and further studies are warranted.

In this large population-based study, a U-shaped relation was observed between BMI trajectories and subsequent risk of different health outcomes. Both weight gain and weight loss conferred increased risks for cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality. In addition, we found for the first time that patterns of change in BMI prior to different outcomes were different. Falling off the BMI trajectory could be a warning sign for future occurrence of adverse events; thus, maintaining body weight during the middle to late adulthood may be essential. Despite the observational nature of the current study, the trajectories and risk patterns identified here may inspire future studies on the cause and potentially weight management guidelines.

The ARIC, CHS, MESA and FHS studies are carried out as a collaborative study supported by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute contracts. The study was also financially supported by the grants from National Natural Science Foundation of China (81600260), Guangdong Natural Science Foundation (2016A030313210), the Science and Technology Planning Project of Guangdong Province (2017A020215174), the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities in Sun Yat-Sen University (18ykpy08), and the project of Kelin new star of the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-Sen University (Y50186).

Declaration of Competing Interest

We declare no competing interests.

Contributors

All authors contributed to the study concept and design. YC, CZ and WS contributed equally to this work. DL and YC are senior and corresponding authors who also contributed equally to this study. DL, YC, CZ and WS have full access to all the data in this study and take full responsibility as guarantors for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. CY, LD, CZ and WS contributed to the study design. CZ and WS contributed to analysis and data interpretation. CY and LD drafted the manuscript and contributed to the final approval of the manuscript. MW, YF and ZM contributed to critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content.

Data sharing statement

The cohort data sets were obtained from the NIH Biologic Specimen and Data Repository Information Coordinating Center (BioLINCC) and could be applied to the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Appendix. Supplementary materials

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