Michael Guillen's response (and mine to him)

 

The following is Michael Guillen's e-mail to me (with cc to the editor of Skeptical Inquirer) in response to my published commentary in Skeptical Inquirer about Guillen's prayer story, followed by my response to him (to which he did not reply further).

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Subj: Prayer
Date: 10/25/01 9:53:07 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: michaelguillen@msn.com (Michael Guillen, PhD)
To: Garypos@aol.com
CC: kenfrazier@compusenre.com (Kendrick Frazier)

Dear Gary:

I read your letter to the SI, expressing your disappointent at how much time you were given in my segment on prayer.

First of all, I'm sorry if you felt you were misled by my producer Caron Shapiro. Fom my experience, she is a highly talented producer; but if you have a beef with her, you'll have to take it up with her directly.

Secondly, just how much time did you feel you derverved? I don't recall exactly, but I think the entire piece ran about 9 minutes. If, as you claim, your section lasted about 40 seconds, that's about - what? - 7.5 percent of the whole?

In truth, that's quite generous compared to the standard followed by your very own organization, CSICOP.  [Note: "CSICOP" has since been renamed "CSI".]

To wit: Refer to the current issue of SI.

* The article about John Edward (about whom I am also skeptial, by the way) is roughly 540 lines long. Yet Edward and his defenders (since as it is pointed out, he himself doesn't respond to critics) are given only about 24 lines total! That's 4.5 percent.

* The article about Schwartz's experiment runs, by my count, about 350 lines. Yet Schwartz himself is given ZERO lines to dissent. That's 0 percent.

Here's the botom line. Over the years, I've done thousands of science stories. Fewer than a dozen or so have dealt with subjects such as ESP, PK, Mars effect, auras, prayer, etc. Nevertheless, in each of those cases, I have almost always included a dissenting voice - typicaly from CSICOP. And what have I gotten for my troubles? Nothing but belly-aching and sniping. Nothing is ever enough for CSICOP people.

I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that CSICOP is not interested in promoting the truth, but merely its own peculiar philosophy.

In fact, the typical article in SI reads like the fanatical rantings of the infamous Senator McCarthy; but instead of trying to root out Communism invoking circumstantial evidence, CSICOP is bent on rooting out what it perceives as wrong-headedness invoking accusations such as: "it coud be fraud" or "it might be chance" or "the experiment isn't perfect, leaving open the possiblity for a different result" and on and on. Different cause; same narrow-minded and dangerous mentality, in my book.

In this respect, CSICOP is no different than the myriad other special-interest groups who solicit my attention and lobby to be put on the air.

I wish you luck in all your future efforts, Gary. And please keep in touch.

Despite my weariness with CSICOP, I continue to try to be as fair to everyone - most especially my loyal viewers - as humanly possible.

All my best,

Michael

 
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Subj: Re: Prayer
Date: 10/25/01 9:08:19 PM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Garypos@aol.com
To: michaelguillen@msn.com
CC: kenfrazier@compuserve.com

Dear Michael:

Regrettably, it would seem that Ken's efforts to solicit your feedback prior to publication of the current issue of S.I. were unsuccessful. But thank you very much for your letter.

If Caron misled me, I am very disappointed in her. When last we communicated shortly before her departure from ABC, she assured me that the piece would be as I described.

I don't claim to have "deserved" anything. But from Caron's description of her vision for the piece, I expected to play the "focal point" role that, instead, was played by Deepak Chopra. I plead guilty to show-biz naivete.

I do agree that "7.5 percent of the whole" would be a "quite generous" proportion -- if ABC News was chartered for the purpose of promoting the paranormal. But I would hope that the network's news division has a far different agenda, and that the science subdivision would subscribe to this generally accepted axiom of science: the more extraordinary the claim, the more extraordinary the evidence required to support it. I am not the only critic to have published articles documenting the numerous serious flaws in the prayer studies.

CSICOP was chartered to poke holes in such unlikely claims -- unless they happen to be strong enough to withstand the assault intact. That's how scientific scrutiny is _supposed_ to proceed -- the "null" hypothesis is assumed true (i.e., the novel claim is assumed false) until the accumulation of non-hole-pokeable evidence compels otherwise. Science isn't about equal deference to all claims -- and it is certainly not about 7.5% skepticism toward supernatural ones (I'd add a "9" in front of the "7").

I agree that articles like Joe Nickell's piece about John Edward's transparent party-game act should be fairly balanced by a presentation of the compelling scientific evidence that demonstrates the reality of the paranormal claim under discussion. In reality, they are, since not one iota of such compelling evidence exists. Or are you aware of some? As for S.I. providing balance for balance's sake, Ken can explain better than I why CSICOP decided 25 years ago that promoters of the paranormal had quite enough venues from which to disseminate their views. At the time, science had none to counter them -- hence CSICOP's creation.

CSICOP's "peculiar philosophy" IS the promotion of the truth -- about claims of the paranormal. Please cite one specific example, if you would, to support the proposition that the truth is contrary to what appeared in a specific S.I. article.

I take you at your word that you "continue to try to be as fair to everyone . . . as humanly possible." That is an exemplary human trait, and I'm sure that it is one reason why you have the position you have in the TV business. My point is: Scientific scrutiny, properly applied, operates quite differently.

But, as Dennis Miller always says at the conclusion of one of his fanatical rants, "Of course, that's just _my_ opinion -- I could be wrong."

–Gary Posner


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