GCP on Wikipedia

Roger Nelson, Oct 27 2009

The Wikipedia article on the Global Consciousness Project is marred, apparently having become the focus of biased editors with an agenda. It has always been controversial, but in my view it improved over several years to become an informative encyclopedia article with reasonable balance as of some time in 2008. I don't pay attention often, but in late 2009, I discovered it had been redone in what is termed on Wikipedia a POV, in this case one of obdurate and uninformed skepticism. For example, the first paragraph, which should be an introduction of the encyclopedia item, immediately informs us that skeptics question the methodology of the Project. In itself that's not seriously out of line, but the documentation for that statement is not what one expects from an authoritative source. The following is a response to someone asking what errors I see in the article.

I: Reference 1, which is provided to support a claim about questionable methodology, attempts to draw a parallel between the sad Terry Schiavo case and the GCP, which is a stretch in any case. But the reference contains factual errors, beginning with the statement that the GCP is being conducted by Princeton University. It is not, and never was, as is stated clearly on the website under media & info, the first item in the main menu. My guess is that the author, who appears to be Wally Hartshorn, got his information from a UK newspaper article because he refers to claims I have seen only there and in derivatives such as a Slashdot posting. He says we created a "black box" and look for "spikes" in the number of ones, and that we are looking for a "disturbance in the force". These are journalistic fancies, not facts, as can be verified by anyone who goes the GCP website or reads our papers. But there are more important errors. Here are some facts -- in contradiction to the claims in this reference:

  1. We make formal a priori predictions and report all results, including when the effect is null or negative.

  2. We do not presume, as Hartshorn implies we should, that great tragedies will inevitably produce big effects; instead, we do formal research asking whether there is a correlation.

  3. We specify all parameters of the hypothesis test before data analysis, and we do not look for effects prior to events, despite the excitement of many over exploratory (not formal) analyses that suggest precursor effects.

  4. We do not change the prediction post facto to accept "big drops in the numbers" as evidence for the prediction; we take our lumps, and include all results in the series of formal replications leading to our bottom line. About 1/3 of the event analyses show results contrary to our prediction and count against our hypothesis.

  5. We look at many kinds of events (including ones Hartshorn deems inappropriate) since there is no prior experience to guide predictions; we include some that are unusual or even unlikely in order to study the range of what kinds and sizes of events do show correlations.

  6. We do not confuse evidence with proof, and we know that in a low S/N experiment, no single outcome is interpretable, much less that "hits" or "misses" show existence or nonexistence of a putative global consciousness.

It is ironic that Hartshorn speaks of confirmation bias and suggests that GCP researchers "are very good at seeing connections -- even when there is no connection to be seen." That would explain nicely how he came to the title of his article, "Terry Schiavo and the Global Consciousness Project."

II: In the Background section of the article itself, the attempt to show GCP methodology is flawed continues. The random number generators are said to be non-random, but the claim is irrelevant and incorrect (and such claims should in any case be in a Criticism section): "Jeffers, a professor of physics at York University has questioned the randomness of the numbers produced by the generators due to base blinds that have shown results which would be considered significant by PEAR research parameters (p>.05)." This sentence is so obscure it is, as Pauli once said, "not even wrong." I don't know what "due to base blinds" means, and no serious scientist will attempt to show randomness is or is not present using a p>.05 test. That's statistical nonsense. In any case Jeffers has not addressed GCP random number generators to my knowledge, and whatever he has to say about PEAR is irrelevant to GCP, which is and always has been independent from PEAR.

III: The Analysis section begins with "The GCP claims ..." and lists several items that GCP does not claim -- certainly not based on the Formal Analysis, which should be the subject of this section. The rest of the section also is not analysis, but criticism -- so the main section heading is incorrect. Addressing it for what it is, we note further errors. The May and Spottiswoode "conclusion" is misrepresented, while their false statement about "no set time frame" and their own post hoc data selection mistakes are accepted. The Wolcotte Smith remark about "statistical adjustments" turns out to be content-free when you read the reference. The Scargle comment about Bayesian and Frequentist statistics having to agree is about the only useful one in the section, but arguably, given reasonable priors, such agreement is entirely possible. Finally, the Matthews quote is selective editing; in fact Matthews gives a generally positive, non-skeptical account of the GCP.

IV: The See Also list includes "Data Dredging" which implies that is what GCP does, but the implication is false; we run a statistically sound formal experiment. The list also includes "Web Bot" for no good reason I can see other than that GCP also uses the web.

More could be said, but this note gives a flavor of what's wrong with the GCP article. Simply put, these are not the kinds of things one looks for in an encyclopedia, and the low quality of the article and the POV bias demeans Wikipedia while also misinforming a public that looks for authoritative answers from the web's most popular information source.

For the most up-to-date descriptions of the Project in a peer-reviewed publication, you can access page proofs of an article in J Sci Explor. 2008;22:309-333.

Material from Peter Bancel

From the Wikipedia GCP discussion page, 21 October 2009.

September 11

There are two problems with the article's content concerning 9/11.

1. The cited references do not support the claims that the article attributes to the GCP. The real GCP claims are *far* more careful and measured.

2. The 9/11 event is peripheral to the GCP. It can be included in the article but should have a separate heading. The "Analysis" section should deal with the main GCP experiment which is a long-term replication.

Regarding point 1

The References cited in the article version prior to Oct 20, 2009 (refs were 13-15; "Sept 11";"Extended Analysis";"Nelson (2002)") do not support or contain the claim that

the data changed at the time of the plane impacts and building collapses.

nor the claim that

changes in the level of randomness seen in the EGG data hours and even days before the attacks were themselves caused by the attacks

nor the claim that

data _ before the attacks _ implying either subconscious mass precognition or backwards causality

Here is an example of what the GCP does claim. I take the trouble to quote from the conclusions section of the Nelson et al paper (currently ref 15) in Foundation of Physics Letters

Regarding the 9/11 analyses, they write

The statistical significance of these excursions is limited to roughly three normal deviations. Thus, as isolated, post hoc analyses, none of these individually would be sufficient to conclude a causal or other direct link between the September 11 events and the measured deviations. In light of the formal result, however, these analyses do suggest that independent metrics spanning the database and consistent with the experimental hypothesis may reveal other correlations with our statistical measures.

Regarding the formal experimental result as a whole, they write

Barring demonstration of a conventional interaction that can affect the random generators on a global scale, we are obliged to confront the possibility that the measured correlations may be directly associated with some aspect of consciousness attendant to global events. In particular, this evidence, if confirmed, would support the idea that some processes in nature that have been assumed to be fundamentally random are in fact somewhat mutable. If the present understanding of quantum randomness is called into question, there are profound theoretical and practical implications. However, there needs to be significant replication and extension of our results before these novel theoretical positions can be seriously considered.

Regarding point 2

Because the GCP is a small project and out of the scientific mainstream there are few secondary sources for a wiki article. Most of what there is, unfortunately, relates to 9/11. So it is difficult to have referenced material that doesn't give perhaps undue weight to 9/11. The wiki article can address this problem by a) making a separate subsection for 9/11 and b) including a statement to the effect that 9/11 is only one of 300 formal events treated by the GCP replication experiment

Lastly, the article makes too heavy a use of newspaper articles, and does not rely enough on articles published in peer-reviewed journals (mention of the articles by Scargle and May/Spottiswode being exceptions)

From the Wikipedia guidelines

For information about academic topics, such as physics or ancient history, scholarly sources are preferred over news stories. Newspapers tend to misrepresent results, leaving out crucial details and reporting discoveries out of context. For example, news reports often fail to adequately report methodology, errors, risks, and costs associated with a new scientific result -- Preceding unsigned comment added by Pabancel (talk * contribs) 15:05, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

In a separate entry, also 21st October, Peter adds:

As for POV, one could also say there's a detrimental POV in believing strongly that the Project is completely misguided. While one can have this view and contribute to the article, it does make objectivity difficult. The same would apply to someone who believed strongly in the existence of some kind of global consciousness, whatever that might mean. Any strong POV is not fatal to useful editing, but it does require the editor to be mindful not to express it in edits. In my case, I am undecided as to whether something that might be construed in the end as global consciousness is really responsible for the experimental outcome. That said, I agree with Robert Matthews that the the GCP replication presents a genuine puzzle, but I do not have a strong POV about it. I'm not interested in arguing, however. My arguments are made in the research papers I've had a hand in. If one reads carefully in those papers, one can see that the claims therein have no relation to the claims attributed in the current wiki article to the Project.

As for COI, that concern can really only be addressed by assessing the tone of my research - a tedious thought to be sure - and a willingness to believe in good faith. That's asking for too much, I think, so I will simply wish you success on the continuation of the article. -- Preceding unsigned comment added by Pabancel (talk * contribs) 21:23, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

Bancel: Robert Matthews citation

Matthews wrote a newspaper article on the GCP in Jan 2009. He is one of the few secondary sources that are qualified physicists. His article is thus a useful citation to have in the article. However, the current sentence in the article:

Citing the unreliability of significant events to cause statistically significant spikes, Robert Matthews concludes that "The only conclusion to emerge from the Global Consciousness Project so far is that data without a theory is as meaningless as words without a narrative."[21]

does not accurately convey his treatment of the GCP. Here is a better representation of his article which reflects his balanced assessment of the GCP

Physicist Robert Matthews, writing in early 2009 about the replication experiment, finds that "the GCP is the most sophisticated attempt yet to prove the existence of PK (psychokinetic effects)". He concludes that although "the combined result is spectacular", the statistically weak effect precludes testing individual events, thus impeding any attempt to identify or understand a physical mechanism for the hypothesis. Matthews summarizes his view writing that "The only conclusion to emerge from the Global Consciousness Project so far is that data without a theory is as meaningless as words without a narrative." -- Preceding unsigned comment added by Pabancel (talk * contribs) 17:20, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

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