The Daily Telegraph is down to its usual low standard of up to the minute scientific reportage, viz by getting round to covering a story that everyone else did last week. A study in the New Scientist says that humans do indeed have psychic powers. Apparently there was a test of 1000 volunteers who were asked to recall words from a list – it turned out the words they most remembered by sheer *coincidence* *wink* turned out to be words on a separate list that they were later asked to type out (I presume it ought to go without saying that the two lists were kept separate under controlled double-blinded conditions etc etc).

This at least is the hype – the hard fact is that it only “magically” worked in 53% of cases, which the author of the study reckons is 3% more than would be expected by chance alone. It was at this point that the Sumner brain spotted the flaw in the methodology – it’s a basic mathematical error: **PROBABILITY IS NOT THE SAME AS STATISTICS!!!**

Some people might have difficulty with this concept, but let me illustrate with a coin-toss example. The probability of getting “heads” when flipping a coin is 50%. The probability of flipping a coin ten times and getting “heads” each time is 50% raised to the power of ten, which is 0.09765625%. Now imagine the following situation:

I flip a coin ten times. I get seven heads and three tails. Does this mean that the probability of me getting heads is 70%?

Or again: I flip a coin ten times and do indeed get ten heads. Does this mean that the probability of me getting heads is 100%?

Or again: I conduct a parapsychological research with 1000 volunteers. 530 volunteers achieve “hits”, 470 do not. Does this mean that there is a 53% chance that people have psychic powers? Or that any particular significance should be read into there being 530 hits, as opposed to e.g. 500 hits or any other number?

Quite clearly, the answer in all three cases must surely be “No” – because **PROBABILITY IS NOT THE SAME AS STATISTICS!**

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that at no point during the study did the investigators attempt to answer the question “Why are the people achieving hits managing to be successful?” Come up with a decent answer to that and only *then* you have plausible scientific evidence for saying humans have psychic powers. I personally would be thrilled to bits if there was scientific validation for the existence of psychic powers, but unfortunately this study is not it. The great irony is that this experiment is not an exercise in psychic powers, but it *is* an exercise in “numerology.”

Dear lord, finally somebody gets it. You’d be amazed how many times PhD’s have to have this repeated to them by people in their labs who actually know what they’re doing… and how often they’re ignored. It’s infuriating, really.