Friday, February 23, 2007

Here comes the science bit… concentrate!

When you see a headline like ‘MoD defends psychic powers study’, you know that coming into work today wasn’t a complete waste of time.

I’m going to try to make this more risible than it already is, but quoting verbatim is going to be a hard strategy to improve on:

“The Ministry of Defence has defended a decision to carry out tests to find out whether psychic powers could be used to detect hidden objects. The previously secret tests - conducted in 2002 - involved blind-folding volunteers and asking them about the contents of sealed brown envelopes.”

It’s a good rule of thumb that any political story involving brown envelopes will reflect badly on those involved. Also, the use of psychic powers to detect hidden objects goes a long way to explaining the quality of intelligence on those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

But I digress. You’ll be wanting to know the results of the study into psychological warfare. Prepare to be amazed!

“Most subjects consistently failed to establish what was in the envelopes.”

But it wasn’t a total washout:

“Some 28% of those tested managed a close guess at the contents of the envelopes, which included pictures of a knife, Mother Teresa and an ‘Asian individual’.”

So if ever the defence of the realm depends on getting a vague idea of the difference between a dead nun and an unnamed member of the most populous continent in the world, Britain’s superpower status is assured. Huzzah!

And this breathtaking display by the Mystic MoD yielded further evidence of psychological phenomena:

“However, most subjects produced guesses that were not close to the correct answer and one subject even fell asleep while he tried to focus on the envelope's content.”

Surely this technique could be developed to tackle Islamic extremism. If angry young men who feel hatred towards the West can be coaxed into participating in repeat studies, then the soporific powers of brown-envelope divination can be used to calm them down.

But perhaps the trials were doomed from the start:

“During the tests, defence experts attempted to recruit 12 ‘known’ psychics who had advertised their abilities on the internet. However, when they all refused to take part in the research, ‘novice’ volunteers were drafted in.”

This is what happens when you rely on amateurs. Presumably the real psychics didn’t want to damage their credibility by being associated with Geoff Hoon, rather than, say, by being exposed as frauds with less efficacy than a homeopath with a chocolate teapot. Clearly a failure to win hearts and minds.

The study cost £18,000.


Incitatus4Congress said...

Reading 'The Men Who Stare At Goats' was an eye opener for me.
I maintain a vague hope that this sort of nonsense is simply part of a general and ongoing disinformation strategy. That there's some CIA or MI6 agent working out of a single office with the job of making the enemy think that our intelligence community is populated by a) crazy people, or b) Jedis. Either of which would arguably represent a tangible threat to our opponents.

But if this is true, it's a brilliant ruse. I mean it appears to involve employing people who actually believe this nonsense (see First Earth Battalion).

Deacon Barry said...

Money well spent I'd say. It's actual scientific proof that psychic powers don't exist. It can be referenced in any debate with so-called psychics, and they won't have any comeback. The results of this study should be made as widely known as possible to increase the level of scepticism in our society.