Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab
The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) was a research program at Princeton University that studied parapsychology. Established in 1979 by then Dean of Engineering Robert G. Jahn, PEAR closed in February 2007. The program was controversial.
PEAR's primary purpose was to engage in parapsychological exercises on topics such as psychokenesis (PK) and remote viewing. The program had a strained relationship with Princeton and was considered an embarrassment to the university. PEAR's activities have been criticized for lack of scientific rigor, poor methodology, and misuse of statistics, and have been characterized as pseudoscience.
Parapsychological experiments with random event generators
PEAR employed electronic random event generators (REGs) to explore the ability of test subjects to use psychokinesis to influence the random output distribution of these devices to conform to their pre-recorded intentions to produce higher numbers, lower numbers, or nominal baselines. Most of these experiments utilized a microelectronic REG, but experiments were also conducted with "a giant, wall-mounted pachinko-like machine with a cascade of bouncing balls".
In 1986 associates of PEAR published data collected over the course of seven years from a group of subjects attempting to influence random number generators across millions of trials. In all cases, the observed effects were very small (about one tenth of one percent), but over extensive databases they compounded to statistically significant deviations from chance behavior. The baseline for chance behavior used did not vary as statistically appropriate (baseline bind). Two PEAR researchers attributed this baseline bind to the motivation of the operators to achieve a good baseline and indicates that the random number generator used was not actually random. It has been noted that a single test subject (presumed to be a member of PEAR's staff) participated in 15% of PEAR's trials, and was responsible for half of the total observed effect.
James Alcock in a review mentioned various problems with the PEAR experiments such as poor controls and documentation with the possibility of fraud, data selection and optional stopping not being ruled out. Alcock concluded there was no reason to believe the results were from paranormal origin.
The psychologist C. E. M. Hansel, who evaluated Jahn's early psychokinesis experiments at the PEAR laboratory, wrote that a satisfactory control series had not been employed, that they had not been independently replicated, and that the reports lacked detail. Hansel noted that "very little information is provided about the design of the experiment, the subjects, or the procedure adopted. Details are not given about the subjects, the times they were tested, or the precise conditions under which they were tested." Physicist professor Milton Rothman has noted that Jahn's experiments at PEAR started from an idealistic assumption, ignored the laws of physics and had no basis in reality.
PEAR's results have been criticized for deficient reproducibility. In one instance two German organizations failed to reproduce PEAR's results, while PEAR similarly failed to reproduce their own results. An attempt by York University's Stan Jeffers also failed to replicate PEAR's results.
- Pigliucci, Massimo (2010-05-15). Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. University of Chicago Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780226667874.
- Carey, Benedict (2007-02-10). "A Princeton lab on ESP plans to close its doors". The New York Times.
- *Burnett, D. Graham (Summer 2009). "Games of chance". Cabinet (34 Testing).
- Hopkins, Peter L. (2002-04-11). "Princeton studies mind reading - or did you already know that?". The Harvard Crimson. Retrieved 2014-12-03.
- "Experiments". princeton.edu. Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research.
- Shallit, Jeffrey (2006-11-19). "The PEAR has finally rotted". Recursivity. Blogger. Retrieved 2014-12-05.
- "Princeton to close ESP lab". USA Today. Associated Press. 2007-02-11. Retrieved 2014-12-05.
- Reed, J.D. (2003-03-09). "Mind over matter". The New York Times.
- Carroll, Robert Todd (2013-04-16). "The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR)". The Skeptic's Dictionary (online ed.).
- Merolla, Lisa (2007-02-23). "‘Pseudoscience’ lab closes at Princeton". The Daily Free Press (Boston).
- Pigliucci 2010, p. 79.
- Alcock, James. (1988). A Comprehensive Review of Major Empirical Studies in Parapsychology Involving Random Event Generators and Remote Viewing. In Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, Enhancing Human Performance: Issues, Theories and Techniques, Background Papers. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. pp. 638-646.
- Jeffers, Stanley (May–June 2006). "The PEAR proposition: Fact or fallacy?". Skeptical Inquirer (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) 30 (3). Retrieved 2014-01-24.
- Hansel, C.E.M. (1989). The Search for Psychic Power. Prometheus Books. pp. 187–95. ISBN 0879755164.
- Rothman, Milton A. (1992). The Science Gap: Dispelling the Myths and Understanding the Reality of Science. Prometheus Books. pp. 81-82. ISBN 1-59102-164-2
- Alcock, James. (2003). Give the Null Hypothesis a Chance: Reasons to Remain Doubtful about the Existence of Psi. Journal of Consciousness Studies 10: 29-50.