Science depends on having our eyes wide open.
Organized skepticism does a service by educating the public to detect and reject unscrupulous practitioners who prey on seekers hoping for contact with departed loved ones, or knowledge of the future, how to find love, etc. Unfortunately some of the organizations and many of the skeptics paint with a broad brush, and include scientific research addressing psi and parapsychology in their spectrum of targets. This would not be a great problem if the skeptics would do their homework and apply the scientific methods they claim to protect. Too many do not do so, and the result is often hand-waving claims and arguments that fail when compared with facts that are readily available. It is tempting to conclude this is deliberate, but it may well be simple ignorance. This collection of links and examples is intended for people who prefer to learn what is known from good research, discuss issues seriously, and draw informed conclusions about the growing edges of science.
The concerns are not new. Here's a sample from half a century ago, provided by Guy Lyon Playfair quoting Sir Alister Hardy's The Living Stream (London: Collins, 1965), p.156:
"Some people...imagine that all scientific research must be conducted with cold impartiality. That is the ideal, but it is often, I would say usually, impossible; and we must recognise it. If what we are testing concerns only the physical world we may well achieve such an aloofness; even here, however, if we have invented a pet hypothesis, which by intuition we feel must be true, we are in danger of falsely imagining ourselves to be getting the results we expect. The scientist who has vision, who has fertile ideas, is not unlike the artist in having a certain, perhaps misplaced, affection for the children of his creative thoughts. He devises experiments to see if they will survive tests of validity; although he may pretend not to care one way or the other, yet, secretly, he hopes they will live. Just because of this his experiments may later be found to have been unconsciously biased in their design. How much more likely is such a bias to creep in when the very ideas to be tested are concerned with ourselves as living beings and related to our deeper feelings and our philosophy of life."
And on p.159:
"Now, if we look at the opposition party we shall, I think, find some of them just as biased and blind for another emotional reason. They also, with an almost religious passion, are fighting to stamp out the last vestiges of the 'superstition' that they feel to be lurking in the minds of some who call themselves scientists."
We will focus on consciousness-related research and how it fares at the hand of organized skepticism, but the principles apply very broadly. There are useful websites with articles and further links, and as time allows we add to a list of point/counterpoint examples of skepticism gone awry.
All science, but especially science at the edges of what we know, needs
rigorous and constructive criticism to do its job well. Our effort here is to encourage clear minded, educated critique as a replacement for what looks like ideologically driven pseudo skepticism. To the extent we succeed, good science can breath a sigh of relief.
Among the organizations we recommend for professional scientific views on psi research and other areas that are unconventional but amenable to sound research are the Society for Scientific Exploration and the Parapsychological Association. The members are serious about science, educated about the facts, and maintain both skeptical views and an open mind.