null hypothesis nicely supported and other reasons to change your mind

Always good at asking questions the Edge has started the year by asking a whole bunch of sciencetists to think again. More specifically, to describe what they had changed their mind about (and why). Here’s Susan Blackmore:

I decided, with splendid, youthful over-confidence, to become a parapsychologist and prove all my closed-minded science lecturers wrong. I found a PhD place, funded myself by teaching, and began to test my memory theory of ESP. And this is where my change of mind — and heart, and everything else — came about.

I did the experiments. I tested telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance; I got only chance results. I trained fellow students in imagery techniques and tested them again; chance results. I tested twins in pairs; chance results. I worked in play groups and nursery schools with very young children (their naturally telepathic minds are not yet warped by education, you see); chance results. I trained as a Tarot reader and tested the readings; chance results.

Occasionally I got a significant result. Oh the excitement! I responded as I think any scientist should, by checking for errors, recalculating the statistics, and repeating the experiments. But every time I either found the error responsible, or failed to repeat the results. When my enthusiasm waned, or I began to doubt my original beliefs, there was always another corner to turn — always someone saying “But you must try xxx”. It was probably three or four years before I ran out of xxxs.

And here are the rest.

UPDATE:
I’ve just read a few more and the disturbingly brilliant Antony Garrett Lisi is one of the best. Let’s hope his Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything turns out to be more than just an exceptionally nice idea.

About caspar

Caspar is just one monkey among billions. Battering his keyboard without expectations even of peanuts, let alone of aping the Immortal Bard. By day he is an infantologist at Birkbeck Babylab, by night he runs BabyLaughter.net
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