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Roger D. Nelson, PhD (Experimental Psychology), claims to have proven using scientific methods that humans can influence the outcome of random number/event generators (RNG or REG) with their mind. The influence is claimed to be rather small but statistically significant.

He has founded the Global Consciousness Project (wikipedia page) based on this results. The project installed random number/even generators on 65 locations around the world. It is claimed that this system detects changes in the level of randomness when important events happen, like during the September 11, 2001 attacks.

If such a claim would come from a non-scientists, it would be quite easy for me to ignore it. However, this one comes from a scientist which works/has worked for a research group Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory at Princeton University, which has published journal papers about it.

Is there a scientific consensus on this claimed effect? Like were there any neutral scientific tests which were able to repeat or refute it?

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    I would think that the biggest problem in really answering this question lies in that there is absolutely no predictive power in this. You can only assign some meaning in a post hoc manner. Furthermore, any mathematician worth his salt knows that "random" number generators truly aren't random. And what about instances where there is some apparent change, and nothing noteworthy happens? Are those events reported in this project? I have heard of this project, but I haven't researched it, so I am interested in what people report. – Larian LeQuella Mar 27 '12 at 23:46
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    @Larian: Well, they use hardware random number generators which produce the random numbers based on some random physical process. I don't know how random the outcome is, but I surely wouldn't say the generators "truly aren't random" although I'm a mathematician :-) – Hendrik Vogt Mar 28 '12 at 10:59
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    @LarianLeQuella: pseudo-random generators used in commodity hardware, such as PCs or cell phones indeed aren't true random. However, there are true random generators based on physical phenomena such as atomic decay, which are truly random (according to our current knowledge of physics). – vartec Mar 28 '12 at 23:01
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    Others have pointed out that being a scientist doesn't make you always right. I feel obliged to point out that being a non-scientist doesn't make you always wrong, and it is fallacious to "easily discard" a claim for that reason. – Oddthinking Mar 29 '12 at 0:11
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    This seems tautological. If someone could influence a random event generator with their mind, then the state of the generator is not determined by random events and it is not a random event generator. – Paul Apr 1 '12 at 3:12
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Examining psychokinesis: The interaction of human intention with random number generators — A meta-analysis. Bösch, Holger; Steinkamp, Fiona; Boller, Emil; Psychological Bulletin, Vol 132(4), Jul 2006, 497-523.

Séance-room and other large-scale psychokinetic phenomena have fascinated humankind for decades. Experimental research has reduced these phenomena to attempts to influence (a) the fall of dice and, later, (b) the output of random number generators (RNGs). The meta-analysis combined 380 studies that assessed whether RNG output correlated with human intention and found a significant but very small overall effect size. The study effect sizes were strongly and inversely related to sample size and were extremely heterogeneous. A Monte Carlo simulation revealed that the small effect size, the relation between sample size and effect size, and the extreme effect size heterogeneity found could in principle be a result of publication bias.


As for Global Consciousness Project, they are using their own "random events generators". However, unlike other commercially available random number generators, this one has no independent certificates at all. One would expect such a device to be tested independently, and conform to at least basic level of NIST FIPS-140-2.

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    +1 - for mentioning FIPS 140-2, I can't believe how many people are familiar with that standard. – Mark Rogers Mar 29 '12 at 0:51
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    When the effect size is inversely related to the sample size, it's not a good sign (in terms of the phenomenon being real). – Larry Gritz Mar 29 '12 at 18:03
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    Workshop publications as critic against the above paper: anomalistik.de/sdm_pdfs/ertel-boesch-kritik.pdf (German), and the response to it: anomalistik.de/sdm_pdfs/erwiderung_boller_auf_timm_ertel.pdf (German) – Martin Scharrer Apr 2 '12 at 12:09
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    @MartinScharrer: It's not just one paper, it's meta-analysis combining 380 studies. – vartec Apr 2 '12 at 12:09
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    "Inverse relationship to sample size" seems to ring alarm bells for me - the answer to this question is (to the best of our knowledge) no. That means it shrinks with more data - exactly what you expect from a statistically anomalous result "regressing toward the mean". – The_Sympathizer Sep 22 at 5:30
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TL;DR: The hypothesis is unfalsifiable, relies on confirmation bias and cherry picking of data, has no predictive or explanatory power (in fact, it makes post-hoc predictions), lacks any kind of controls... in every sense, it is pseudo-science.

This question has been addressed quite thoroughly at the following locations:

I'd also like to point out that accepting somebody's words purely on the basis of them having letters in front of their name (e.g. Dr) is known as an 'appeal to authority'. The veracity and accuracy of a claim have everything to do with the evidence to support it and nothing to do with a person's credentials.

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    Welcome to the site! Try now (also read our intro if you have time -> meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1505/…) – Sklivvz Mar 28 '12 at 20:36
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    Thanks, this seems to be a nice answer. You should now be able to post more links after getting some up-votes. It would be great if you add the mentioned links. BTW, I don't believe people just because they have a PhD ;-) I'm doing my PhD at the moment myself and are definitely not always right ;-) – Martin Scharrer Mar 28 '12 at 21:25
  • Thank you very much, I was able to add the extra links. To clarify, I wasn't accusing you of believing people on their credentials, I just wanted to explain the appeal to authority fallacy in case you hadn't heard of it. – Ian Dominey Mar 28 '12 at 21:26
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    It would be advisable to link to peer reviewed research in the future, as it tends to be much more reliable (and verifiable). See, for example, Vartec's answer – Sklivvz Mar 28 '12 at 23:38
  • Thanks for the advice. Believe me, I'd love to link to peer reviewed research but I don't have a subscription to any science journals in order to do that - for that matter, that means I can't read journals other people link to either :-(. Ah... I just realised, I CAN read the abstract. – Ian Dominey Mar 29 '12 at 11:55

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