Movie exaggerations of paranormal abilities make scientific studies a hard sell

Paranormal

Psychic phenomena, when studied in the lab, seem very weak when compared with the exaggerations you see in movies. But they are real, UNLV researcher Dean Radin says. He tells investigative reporter George Knapp that the “giggle factor” weighs on his work constantly. This interview, recorded Oct. 17, 1997, in Las Vegas, has never been aired.

Dr. Dean Radin, chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, earned a masters degree in Electrical Engineering (magna cum laude) and a PhD in psychology, spent a decade working on advanced projects for Bell Labs and GTE Labs, is the author or co-author of more than 250 scientific, technical, and popular articles, several best selling books and more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed academic journals. He is considered one of the world’s premier scientific  investigators of psychic abilities. For more information on Radin and his work, see his website.

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Dean Radin: Most of the folks that I worked with in the classified world doing this have come to agree after years have gone by, that not only were we not privy to everything going on, but it was unlikely that even though the government vigorously denied any interest in this, that it was too useful. It would not make any sense to make the thing go away. Oh, with one exception, and that’s embarrassment. And the giggle factor operates in government just as well as it does in academia. Nobody wants to be embarrassed.

Knapp: Do you think you’re hurt by that?

Radin: Oh, I’m sure. Yeah. I mean, that … it’s not just me. I work in a controversial field. But scientists working in homeopathy have exactly the same problem. And cold fusion, the same problem. And people who are seriously interested in UFOs have the same problem. There’s a perception that from a mainstream view, we know what that’s about. And of course, sometimes the stereotype is right, and oftentimes it’s not right. And since I’ve been part of that system, I’ve become extremely sensitive to any form of intellectual discrimination, because it becomes extremely obvious when it’s happening. I’ve seen it in homeopathy in which there’s actually a huge amount of very good data. In fact, just recently, a study published in The Lancet, which is one of the top medical journals, which shows a meta analysis of lots of the homoeopathy studies suggesting that this stuff is real. We don’t know why it’s real, but it works. Well of course, that’s extremely controversial to the point of damaging your career, just to say something like that in the medical system.

Knapp: You think what’s happening to you now is related to the subject matter?

Radin: Well, all I’ll say is I still have nothing in writing explaining why my contract hasn’t been renewed. So I must speculate based on the only statement that I’ve been given, which is that the university is no longer interested in doing this kind of research. It doesn’t say me, it’s saying this research. That suggests to me that somebody is embarrassed about the nature of the topic, and has ideas about what the topic is like, without actually looking into it.

Knapp: And yet the attention you’ve brought to the university has almost been universally positive, hasn’t it? The New York Times?

Radin: Yeah, The New York Times. Good Morning America show. Life magazine just called. I mean, these are serious media. And actually, that’s just the United States. From around the world, the BBC, the Discovery Channel coming out of Australia, lots of places are interested in this topic because … it’s a reflection of the general interest in the population, basically. You have people at every strata in every country interested in the topic, but they don’t know where to go for credible information. Why? Because the media actually creates a problem. We have “X Files,” we have psychic phone lines, we have so much entertainment and nonsense wrapped up into this topic, that it’s very easy to get the impression that all of it is just silly. And a lot of it is silly. And of course, it makes my job much more difficult. So I had to make a strategic decision about three or four years ago. Do I want to maintain the silliness by not saying anything in public? Or would I become more public and try to to provide a counterbalancing voice to simply say that look, a lot of that stuff out there is entertainment. It even says so. Under the psychic phone lines, ads, for entertainment purposes only. And “The X Files” is a show. You’d be amazed at how many times I get calls from reporters and asking if “The X Files” is a documentary. And initially, the first couple of times I got these calls, I thought it was a joke. But it’s not a joke. The show is so good and so compelling that people kind of have the sense that we’re looking at real things here. And so I felt kind of a responsibility and a duty as a professional in this field to help people understand that there is a basis to some of it — a small percentage — but it’s nothing like what you see on TV. Now from one point of view, it’s not so exciting. I mean, we’re talking about relatively weak effects that we see in the laboratory. And so people aren’t very interested in that, except when you realize that it’s real. I mean, most people looking at “The X Files” know that it’s not real. But the idea that some of it may be real, that is really exciting. And that’s that’s why I’m excited about it.


NEXT STORY: The future: Can science find new explanations of paranormal phenomena

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