Professor at University of Colorado’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering guides students through experiments demonstrating unexplainable psychic phenomena.

jsse-journalWith a stellar academic and professional background Dr. Garret Moddel had little to gain by venturing into controversial research on psychic phenomena.  But for a professor who long ago tackled quantum engineering cutting edge research comes naturally.

Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with University of Colorado engineering professor Dr, Garret Moddel. During the 40-minute interview Dr. Moddel describes the challenges of bringing controversial research into the classroom, “I spent most of my career doing essentially quantum engineering, which is engineering little devices based upon quantum mechanical principles. Then about ten years ago on Sabbatical, I got in contact by accident with a physicist who had a library full of books on the science of psychic phenomena. I was absolutely blown away. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I ended up spending the whole Sabbatical going through his library. After that, I was convinced that this is really where the new science and revolutionary ideas are going to come from, so I still continue my mainstream research and most of my colleagues don’t know about my psi phenomena research, although it is on my website. I think they choose not to know.”

Dr. Moddel’s students learn about the science behind these strange phenomena and prove to themselves that they exist, “the course goes through the history of psi research and we use different textbooks depending on the time. Right now the two textbooks that I’m using are Dean Radin’s Entangled Minds, which is just a wonderful, wonderful book describing psi research and then also Chris Carter’s book on Parapsychology and the Skeptics, which takes a wonderful philosophical view of all of this and puts it in perspective. Then each student or each group of students must carry out an independent psi research project. This has to be high quality research. It’s got to be publishable quality research. Half the grade depends upon it. And they take it quite seriously. They come up with very creative experiments.”

The Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE) is a professional organization of scientists and scholars who study unusual and unexplained phenomena. Subjects often cross mainstream boundaries, such as consciousness, ufos, and alternative medicine, yet often have profound implications for human knowledge and technology.

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Alex Tsakiris: Let me give you some of the highlights from the Curriculum Vitae of today’s guest. Let’s start with electrical engineering degree from Stanford, master’s and PhD in applied physics from Harvard, professor at University of Colorado, former CEO of a venture-backed high technology start-up. And on top of all that, President of the Society for Scientific Exploration.

Wow, that’s pretty impressive. So it’s with great pleasure that I welcome Garret Moddel to Skeptiko.

Dr. Garret Moddel: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Alex Tsakiris: It’s certainly a pleasure to talk to you. I was really amazed when I dug into your work. I guess the first thing that popped out at me – and we chatted a little bit about this in the email exchange we had – is that hey, you look like such a mainstream guy there at the University of Colorado. What are you doing fooling around with psi stuff?

Dr. Garret Moddel: Fortunately, I have tenure. [laughs] It’s essential for what I’m doing. So I spent most of my career doing essentially quantum engineering, which is engineering little devices based upon quantum mechanical principles. And you’re right, it is mainstream.

Then about ten years ago on Sabbatical, I got in contact by accident with a physicist who had a library full of books on the science of psychic phenomena. I was absolutely blown away. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I ended up spending the whole Sabbatical going through his library.

After that, I was convinced that this is really where the new science and revolutionary ideas are going to come from, so I still continue my mainstream research and most of my colleagues don’t know about my psi phenomena research, although it is on my website. I think they choose not to know.

Alex Tsakiris: You know, before we jump into the psi stuff, can you tell me a little bit about what has been the intellectual journey for you through the quantum engineering and quantum mechanics fields to psi? There’s obviously some overlap there that we don’t fully understand and I wondering from someone who really understands both topics pretty well, how do you see that?

Dr. Garret Moddel: It’s an interesting question because quantum mechanics has a number of aspects which psi also has. So quantum mechanics has the concept of quantum entanglement, which involves action at a distance. Einstein called it “spooky action” at a distance. Quantum mechanics has the interesting phenomenon that when you observe something, you change it. And that appears to be what we see in psi phenomena, as well.

And there’s something called the Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics in which you can never precisely measure two particular types of qualities of anything. Once you’ve looked more closely at one thing, the other thing becomes fuzzy, which also shares some characteristics with psi.

However, there have been a number of researchers, books, and articles and so on, linking quantum mechanics to psi directly and saying that psi is a quantum mechanical phenomenon and that things like telepathy and clairvoyance and so on, involve quantum entanglement.  I argue against that. Right now, we just don’t know.

There’s a similarity, but there’s no direct connection. For example, quantum entanglement is a phenomenon in which two particles at a distance are inter-related. So if you measure one particle, you affect the other particle, instantly, and as far away as you like.

However, you cannot transfer information by this mechanism. It’s purely a correlation. People who use quantum entanglement to try to explain information transference in psi are simply wrong. Maybe someday someone will explain a method to use quantum entanglement to convey information, but right now that’s not what physics is telling us.

Alex Tsakiris:  That’s interesting. I want to push a little bit further because I think that misunderstanding runs both ways. Certainly among some psi proponents or folks who are a little bit over-enthusiastic  want to stumble across quantum mechanics and want to lop a bit scoop of it on top of psi and say, “There. There’s the science behind it.”

Dr. Garret Moddel: Exactly.

Alex Tsakiris: Equally I think there’s the same mistake maybe in the other direction that’s made by some skeptics. They over-compensate by saying that there’s merely a correlation and not leaving open the opportunity for more to be discovered, as you’re alluding to. And in particular, I guess where the question is underneath all that is, do you think that the trend line, if you will, in the research into quantum mechanics is maybe heading in the direction of the psi proponents?

Dr. Garret Moddel: Yes and no. In quantum mechanics, as you say, quantum entanglement is being found more and more often in more and more macroscopic – that is large objects – and even in biology. However, that still does not allow us to use quantum entanglement to convey information. So as to whether we’ll get to the point where we can or not, I don’t know.

Alex Tsakiris: Fair enough. Let’s talk a little bit about how you’ve brought psi research to the University of Colorado. I think most folks will be very surprised to hear that there is such a laboratory and course work at the University of Colorado and that students are actively engaging in psi projects.

I guess the second part of that we’re going to get into is actually talking about some of those psi projects. So take us through a little of the process that you went through in setting up the lab, the reasons behind it, and what you now have there at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Garret Moddel: It was a more interesting process than I had anticipated. About five years ago, I decided we really needed to have a course in psi research. It’s legitimate research; students would be interested in this; and we ought to provide it. So I proposed this as a course, not in my own department which is electrical engineering, but as a university course specifically giving credit to Arts and Sciences students in science.

I sent the proposal off to the committee that accepts these things and was told, “No, you can’t do this. It really ought to be a course on critical thinking.” So I said, “Fine. Let’s make it a course on critical thinking.” The way I had designed the course, it was discussing psi research and a point-counterpoint discussion throughout the course between skeptical and proponents’ perspectives.

The committee then looked at it and sent it back to me and said, “Well, you really need to tell us what research topics you’re talking about and where are these published?” and so on.

Alex Tsakiris: Is that normal, Dr. Moddel, in this process? To what extent would they normally be delving that far into…?

Dr. Garret Moddel: They would not. This is certainly not normal. So I answered all of their questions and provided all the information. Then I got the most curious email of all. The chairman of the committee said, “Please excuse me for asking this, but could you send us a resume?” So what they wanted to do was see am I really a scientist?

Alex Tsakiris: And since you’re under their employ, you’d think they’d already have that information on hand. [laughs]

Dr. Garret Moddel: You’d think. So I sent them a resume. I have the degrees from legitimate institutions and I do real science. Finally, I think they ran out of ammunition to block this and they accepted it. I really give the Arts and Sciences committee full credit for actually accepting this course. It’s now a course on the books. It’s an Honors course, so I get really good students. It provides Arts and Sciences credit for critical thinking.

Alex Tsakiris:  Critical thinking which is usually a buzzword for debunking, but I guess you’ve kind of slipped under the radar there. As you just described, you really didn’t slip under the radar. You had to kind of bust down the front door, didn’t you?

Dr. Garret Moddel: Right. I’m being totally open as to what we actually do in the course.

Alex Tsakiris:  So tell us a little bit about that course and about the lab, and in particular, about some of the work that your students have done.

Dr. Garret Moddel: The course goes through the history of psi research and we use different textbooks depending on the time. Right now the two textbooks that I’m using are Dean Radin’s Entangled Minds, which is just a wonderful, wonderful book describing psi research and then also Chris Carter’s book on Parapsychology and the Skeptic, which takes a wonderful philosophical view of all of this and puts it in perspective.

Then each student or each group of students must carry out an independent psi research project. This has to be high quality research. It’s got to be publishable quality research. Half the grade depends upon it. And they take it quite seriously. They come up with very creative experiments. A number of them have been presented at the Society for Scientific Exploration meetings. One even published in the journal. And in fact, we’re going to have one or two presented at this upcoming Society for Scientific Exploration meeting in June.

So let me go through a few of the experiments with you, and please feel free to comment along the way.

One of them involves guessing hidden Zener cards. Zener cards are cards that are of five different types having a circle, square, wriggly line, a plus, and a star. What the student did is he got 100 Zener cards, 20 of each, shuffled them, turned them upside-down, and had the subject sit across the table from him so that the cards were blocked and they couldn’t see them because they were upside-down and also because he had a laptop display between the cards and the subject. He then raised one card at a time and had the subject guess which of the five they thought it was.

He went through the entire stack this way. Then he did this with a number of different subjects. He did it with 12 subjects and tabulated the results.

Now what made this particularly interesting was before they were carrying out the guessing task with the Zener cards, he asked them whether they believed that psychic phenomena existed or not. Then, independent of whether they said that they believed it or not, he presented them randomly with one of two arguments, both in written and oral form.

One of the arguments was a pro-psi argument saying that at this point there have been hundreds of peer-reviewed articles showing that psi works and so on, and it was true. Another one was a series of anti-psi arguments with quotes from the Skeptical Inquirer and arguments that for instance, psychologists consider belief in psi to be an illness and so on.

Now we have four different categories for these subjects. 1) Those who believe and were presented with pro-psi arguments; 2) those who don’t believe and were presented with pro; 3) those who do believe and were presented with anti-psi arguments; and 4) those who don’t believe and were presented with anti-psi arguments.

Then he tabulated the results to see how well people did on these trials. Going over it very briefly, for the three groups that had a negative input regarding psi, either they didn’t believe or they were told that it was rubbish; they were pretty close to random in their guesses as to what these cards were. However, the believers who were presented with pro-psi arguments got 27% of the cards correct, whereas by random chance, they would have been expected to get 20% correct.

If we calculate the statistical odds how likely would it be for them to have gotten 27% correct just by random chance, it turns out that odds against chance are about 25 to 1. In other words, the P value for their experiment was 0.03 and that is considered statistically significant. In other words, a statistically significant number of students guessed it correctly.

Alex Tsakiris: It speaks to this much-maligned “the experimenter effect,” doesn’t it?

Dr. Garret Moddel: Exactly. It’s the experimenter effect and also the effect of belief that if you believe in this stuff, you can get it to work. If you don’t believe in it, you can’t get it to work. So the idea of a skeptic doing an experiment with a skeptical subject, it ain’t going to work. It’s the nature of the phenomenon.

Alex Tsakiris: A couple things to unpack there. One is the nature of the phenomena is as we know from just observing it in the natural world, is that it’s very elusive, right? It’s constantly slipping through our hands and that’s how we experience it as human beings.

The other aspect of it is that it’s hard to replicate. It’s easy to screw it up. It’s easy to control it out of an experiment, isn’t it?

Dr. Garret Moddel: It is. You know, this whole argument about psi needing replicability, I think is to some extent, a red herring and there are two clear reasons. One is, as this and other experiments show, psi is intention-based and it’s based upon not only the intention of the subject, but the intention of the experimenter.

It’s very hard to control for that because if you have one person involved in the experiment who really thinks the whole thing is bunk, then they essentially ruin the experiment. A skeptic would say, “Oh, that’s just a salacious argument used by proponents.” In fact, if you think about it, it’s totally logical. These are intention-based phenomena, so of course the intention of the people involved are critical.

The second aspect and the second reason that these cannot be replicable has to do with psychology. When you do these experiments, if you’re enthusiastic and interested, you put your intention and interest into it and they work. In fact, that’s probably why, as you’ll see, most of the experiments that my students carry out, work because they’re young and enthusiastic and probably most important, they only do one set of trials. They do enough so that it’s statistically significant, but they don’t do it to the point of boredom.

Now there are arguments, for example, that people should use some sort of a test experiment such as the Ganzfeld experiment, and do it over and over and over and over to see whether, in fact, there is replicability. Well, the Ganzfeld experiment is a very fine experiment. It’s well worked-out and so on. But it’s boring as hell. If my lab were to do 20 or 30 or 100 repetitions of the Ganzfeld experiment, I’m almost certain we’d get a null result because we’d be so bored by it.

Alex Tsakiris: That’s just a hypothesis, too. There’s the novelty aspect of it, but we can’t really probe that too far because we don’t know where it’s at — intention, as you just mentioned. We’re just kind of grasping, aren’t we, when we even throw out intention? We don’t really know what that means because we don’t really understand completely what consciousness means.

Dr. Garret Moddel: Yes. I have to argue with you a little bit, though, about the novelty concept that we don’t know about this. We do. It’s been studied. If you look, for example, at the PEAR Lab results, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab, they’ve got thousands and thousands of trials, with many different students trying different sorts of psi phenomena. They get a pretty typical curve, which is the experiments work quite well to begin with, then there’s a dip where the effect goes null or even negative, and then after that it rises again and you get a positive effect but not as strong as the initial effect.

Alex Tsakiris: I hear you and I think that’s a point well taken. After a point, when we observe these different phenomena enough, then we can start predicting what’s going to happen, but we can’t necessarily – and I think that’s what still leaves a lot of people grasping for more – is we don’t have a theoretical basis that would explain the novelty factor or the intention factor.

Really, consciousness is the hot topic because — as you know and maybe you want to dip into that a little bit – the further we dive into consciousness and understand it, the more un-understandable it becomes, right?

Dr. Garret Moddel: I think so. It is truly mysterious and it’s appearing that the answer to understanding consciousness is going to involve psi phenomena. That psi is not just a little pimple on the large experience that we have in life, but instead, psi is one of the major phenomena that controls almost every activity and every thought that we’re involved with. At this point, I’m speculating in making that statement, but it’s a speculation based upon having looked at these phenomena for quite a while.

Alex Tsakiris: Maybe you want to share with us a couple other experiments that have been done. One that caught my eye was from this article that I found from Wired Magazine which is really a fascinating article. They take it with this “mad scientist” spin, but they do provide a very entertaining cartoon including you and several other prominent researchers on it. The experiment they mentioned there was done a few years ago, but it involved beaming a beam of light at a glass. Was that one that you thought was particularly significant?

Dr. Garret Moddel: To whether one will be significant or not, let’s let time tell. I can’t judge. But the idea here was I was trying to develop an experiment that was simple enough that any experimental lab could carry it out, even a high school lab. People tend to disregard what others have done because you can never trust what other people have done, either because it’s flawed or poor experimental technique or selective reporting. So what I wanted was a simple experiment that everyone could do.

We know that glass reflects 8% of the light that’s infinite on it; 4% at the front surface and 4% at the back surface. If we look at this as a wave synomenon it’s simply 4% and 4%. On the other hand, if we look at light as being made up of individual particles, photons, then for each photon that approaches the glass, we don’t know in advance whether it’s going to be one of those that’s reflected or one of those that’s transmitted. So it genuinely is a random synomenon at a very fundamental level.

We need random phenomena if we want to use our mind to control them, if we want psychokinesis. This is a much longer discussion, but psychokinesis does not operate on non-random phenomena, at least not micro-psycokinesis.

So what we did is simply set up a little lamp transmitting light through a glass slide. We had a detector detecting how much light was transmitted and we also had another detector that detected how much was reflected back at an angle. We put the output of these two detectors into electronic meters and then had a computer tabulate the result.

We then took 26 subjects – that sounds very formal, but actually these were just students who randomly walked down the hall in the Engineering Center and we asked them if they’d be willing to take part in this study. If they were, we pulled them in. This was all computer-controlled and the experimenter was not even in the lab at the time.

What the computer told the students to do was to spend 30 seconds looking at the glass slide, standing far away on the other side of the table from it, and intending the reflection to increase. Then spending 30 seconds with no intention. Then spending 30 seconds intending for it to decrease, and then another 30 seconds with no intention. This was repeated several times.

The result was that, in fact, there was a statistically significant difference just at the statistical significance of a P value of 0.05 corresponding to odds against chance of 20 to 1, in which the students did, in fact, increase the reflection when they intended to and decreased it when they intended to. This was just a small study. It was only 26 students so we don’t have the sort of statistical significance that I can get very excited about. If I ever get funding for it, I may carry this experiment out on a larger scale.

Alex Tsakiris: But I think it speaks to a couple of things. One, clearly for anyone who has any doubts, you’re a guy who knows how to set up and run an experiment like that, or at least oversee someone else doing it. You have all the credentials and you’re a Fellow of the Optical Society of America. I don’t even know what that means.

Dr. Garret Moddel: [laughs]

Alex Tsakiris: I’m sure that you know how to do it if anyone has any doubt. The other thing that caught my attention about it is that – it’s an aspect we didn’t talk about earlier in the prior experiment, but we could – and that’s that you’re relying on folks who aren’t particularly expert at applying this psi phenomenon. And by that I mean we could also study people who have developed their meditation or their psi abilities or claim to have this psi ability.

Dr. Garret Moddel: That’s right.

Alex Tsakiris: You’re also selecting from a population that is just people walking down the hall. Do you want to speak to that a little bit? And if you’ve looked into that and addressed that at all?

Dr. Garret Moddel: The question really is what are we looking for? If we’re trying to make an existence proof — do these phenomena exist? – it’s nice to show it among the general population. So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve just pulled random people out and the effect size that we’re getting is much smaller than if we had used people who were trained in this. But it does show that these phenomena exist.

I did this more as an academic and as a teacher, but if I want to approach this as a psi researcher, I’m really not interested in existence proofs. Anybody who looks at the literature with an open mind cannot say these phenomena are non-existent. There are hundreds, thousands, of peer-reviewed, high quality studies showing these phenomena exist. So really what I’m interested in doing as a researcher is understanding the mechanism. I want to understand how these work.

In order to do that, I might as well use subjects who are very effective; who are trained in this and can do it quite well. So that’s where I’d like to go with my own research.

Alex Tsakiris: Maybe we have time, Dr. Moddel, for one more experiment, if you have one that we could talk about.

Dr. Garret Moddel: This is an experiment that was carried out the last time I offered the course, Edges for Science. During the semester, we invited out Paul Smith, who is one of the CIA trained researchers for remote viewers. He now is a professional remote viewer and gave a presentation in the class and then also gave a little workshop that evening for the students and other interested people on how to carry out remote viewing.

What we decided to do was actually have remote viewing for the rest of the semester. So at the beginning of each of the next seven classes, we carried out a little remote viewing task with all the students. The task that we carried out was called Associative Remote Viewing. In Associative Remote Viewing, you associate or the person who’s setting up the experiment associates a particular image with a particular outcome.

What we did is the person who was running this, who was one of the students, associated the stock market Dow Jones Industrial Average with a particular image so that if the stock market was going to go up the next day, he in his mind associated it with, for example, a picture of a rabbit. And if the stock market was going to go down the next day, he associated it in his mind and on a piece of paper with say, a picture of a bowling ball.

Alex Tsakiris: So let me just interject here. From what I understand from talking to Dr. Smith and this whole idea of Associative Remote Viewing – it was kind of new to me, so let me try and explain it. You did a great job, but let me add to the viewers because it took me a couple times.

The idea is to kind of abstract the goal a little bit from the remote viewer, so take out the stock market thing and reduce it to the point of tomorrow are you going to see a rabbit or a bowling ball? And the person who’s doing the remote viewing doesn’t even necessarily know what that connects to or correlates to. They’re just asked which sign are they going to see, and then the experimenter has decided the correlation behind it. Is that basically correct?

Dr. Garret Moddel: That’s correct, but the people doing the remote viewing don’t even know what images at all are going to be shown.

Alex Tsakiris: Uh-huh (yes). Yes.

Dr. Garret Moddel: They’re simply told, “Draw what I’m going to show you at the end of the day tomorrow.” So they just sit down and we spent five minutes at the beginning of each class with each student drawing pictures. Then those pictures were sent off to the person who acted as a judge, and the judge decided did each picture look more like the rabbit or more like the bowling ball.

You know, what the images were changed each time we did this. And so from that we predicted whether the stock market was going to go up or go down. In fact, a couple of us invested in the market using stock options to amplify the effect. So we carried this out seven times until the end of the semester, with the entire class doing the remote viewing. We got it right seven times.

Alex Tsakiris: Wow, that’s amazing.

Dr. Garret Moddel: So the odds against chance for that are better than 100 to 1. And it works. You now ask the question can you use this in order to get rich? My initial answer is no, because I continued using this effect with a few of us afterwards, and we found that as we continued to do it, a little less formally than we had done it with the class, that the effect started going haywire.

It may be, as Paul Smith would say, because some of the remote viewers were also some of the investors, so they were too literally invested in the outcome of the remote viewing. Or it may be that these phenomena really work initially when you’re excited about it and a little bit naïve about it. For psychological and intention based reasons, they break down after a while.

Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk a little bit about a topic that you mentioned briefly when you were talking about your students and what they’ve done with their research, and that’s the Society for Scientific Exploration, which you are the president of. Can you tell us a little bit about the society and the publication and what’s going on there and your involvement with it?

Dr. Garret Moddel: The Society for Scientific Exploration has been around for close to 30 years. It was started by Peter Sturrock, an astrophysicist at Stanford, and a very substantial faculty member and researcher in his own right. He was looking at UFOs and found some anomalies there; that there did appear to be something that might be real. He tried to publish this in a number of mainstream journals and found that he couldn’t. They just refused to even consider the topic despite his credentials.

So he decided to start an organization of open-minded scientists with a peer-reviewed journal that would publish studies of anomalies. So this was the origin of the Society for Scientific Exploration. He got together with a number of other people such as Bob John, Dean of Engineering at Princeton, and various other people.

This organization has been going now for close to three decades. The way that I got involved was when I came back from my Sabbatical where I had been reading about psi phenomena. I decided I needed to go somewhere to learn about current research.

I looked around on the Web and just randomly came across this organization. I went to a meeting. It happened to be in San Diego. Normally when I go to a research meeting, and I go to conferences in optics and electronic devices and energy phenomenon and so on, usually one talk about of five is of interest and one talk out of ten really, really might get me excited enough to actually take notes. So I spend a lot of time in the corridors talking with people and hopping in and out of the talks.

With the Society for Scientific Exploration meeting, I was blown away. Every single talk was fascinating. I’d never been to a conference where that was the case. It continues to be the case. Every meeting I go to, I come away with more insights and more perspectives on parts of science that I just never looked into.

Alex Tsakiris: And it’s a pretty broad range of topics and disciplines inside of science, right?

Dr. Garret Moddel: It is.

Alex Tsakiris: It spans quite a spectrum.

Dr. Garret Moddel: So the topics that we consider are psi phenomena, of course. UFOs, advanced energy concepts, so zero point energy, what used to be called cold fusion is now called low energy nuclear reactions, just second law of thermodynamics issues. We also look at cosmology and astronomy, issues there.

We look at phenomena such as AIDS and HIV. There are alternative theories as to how AIDS is caught. In fact, I think pretty soon you’re going to see mainstream changing around and realizing that the connection between HIV and AIDS that was originally supposed is not quite right.

Then advanced propulsion techniques. Even cryptozoology. There are a number of different topics that are pursued.

We maintain very strict standards for the Journal of Scientific Exploration. The articles are peer reviewed and the rejection ratio is very large. In other words, it’s reasonably hard to get an article published there.

Alex Tsakiris: Let’s just speak for a minute and touch briefly on the peer review process. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about skeptics, because there are some skeptical arguments and skeptical critiques that are worth considering. There are others that are really just a waste of time.

Let’s touch on the peer review process because sometimes I’ve heard folks say, “Oh, the Journal of Scientific Exploration, published in there, well, that doesn’t mean anything. That’s not real peer review.” And when I spoke with Dean Radin, he had a great way of explaining. He said, “If you imagine that the web or the network of the folks who are on the review committee for the Journal of Scientific Exploration and you expanded the web to the other journals that they’ve sat on to review committee for, you’d have this enormous list of publications that no one would question.”

I was wondering if you wanted to comment on that, and also comment about you personally and the articles that you reviewed in other fields during your career.

Dr. Garret Moddel: You’re right. We in the Society are mainstream scientists who also have other interests. When I review an article for an IEEE journal, the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers, I don’t have to question do these phenomena exist? Instead I simply say, “Okay, I assume these phenomena exist and I just want to see did the experimenter carry out the experiment right? Is the data well presented and thorough and so on?”

My criteria for review are much less stringent than they are when I review for a Journal of Scientific Exploration article. There I have to say, “Look, did they really do this experiment well enough that they weren’t fooling themselves that the phenomena exists?” In fact, we do a very thorough review and I agree with what Dean said. Dean is one of our associate editors. The process is a thorough vetting.

Alex Tsakiris: Dr. Moddel, tell us a little bit about what’s happening at the SSE and how folks can get their hands on the Journal of Scientific Exploration.

Dr. Garret Moddel: If you Google “The Society for Scientific Exploration,” you’ll come to the website. On the website there are a number of items that you can find without any cost. One of them is a new magazine that we’re publishing. We’ve now published two issues of it, called EdgeScience, and it’s made up of articles which are essentially popular descriptions of some of the research that’s carried out in the Society for Scientific Exploration. You can download PDFs of the entire magazine.

Another group of resources there involve talks. We videotape the talks at the Society for Scientific Exploration and you can watch YouTube versions of those talks. Also, the Journal of Scientific Exploration, which has been publishing for close to three decades, has articles which really contain some of the seminal research studies in these areas. You can download those articles without cost, except for the last two years. If you want the most recent articles, then you need to be a member.

Membership is actually much less expensive than for most professional organizations. It provides you with the journal and with reduced costs in coming to the meetings and also with our newsletter called, The Explorer, which discusses people doing research and general topics of interest. Anybody can take a look at this website and get a lot of information.

However, I highly recommend coming to the meetings. You don’t need to be a scientist. Probably the majority of the people who come to the meetings are not scientists; they’re just part of the general lay community who are interested. I guarantee you’ll be absolutely fascinated. The next meeting is going to be in Boulder, Colorado, June 10 – 12, and all the registration information and so on is available online. I can’t recommend it enough.

Alex Tsakiris: I used to be a subscriber to the journal and a member of the organization. I’ve let that lapse, and this is a reminder that I’m going to go immediately after this and renew my membership. The journals that I did get back several years ago, really helped shape and form some of my ideas and my interest in doing Skeptiko.

They did it in a way that is common to so many folks that I’ve heard, and that’s that there’s this cumulative effect. You’re exposed to some of this information and like all of us, because we have these filters that we’ve built up, just to be functioning members of our society, that says discount, discount, deny. There’s a little bit of that denial in all of us. But it’s the sum total, the cumulative effect of being exposed to the information through a number of different sources, through a number of different well-qualified people, that really does have an effect.

Dr. Garret Moddel: That’s an excellent point, the cumulative effect. And that’s where I say that somebody with an open mind, looking at the literature, has got to accept that these psi phenomena exist, from this cumulative effect. If you just read one or two studies or hear about it, of course you can say these people made mistakes or something was awry in the experiment. If you look at hundreds and hundreds of studies, very, very high quality, very carefully carried out, you might be able to throw away a few dozen of them but even then, the effect is immense.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, Dr. Moddel, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a real pleasure learning about the SSE and about the fantastic stuff that’s going on at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Garret Moddel: It’s been my pleasure and thank you for the service that you’re providing to the community with this broadcast.

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