Redwood: That sounds profoundly unscientific.
Schlitz: Well, science with a big "S" is about open-minded exploration and discovery, but the practical aspects of it have to do with not wanting to go too far outside of what convention dictates today.
Redwood: Does this therefore, by upping the ante, result in an increased quality of research in the field?
Schlitz: There was a study done recently by Rupert Sheldrake, where he surveyed all of the mainstream scientific journals in physics, chemistry, and biology, and then looked at parapsychology as well. He looked at the incidence of randomized, double-blind protocols. What he found is that less than two percent of the mainstream scientific studies were making use of this gold standard, while in the parapsychology literature the figure was very high, something between 60 and 80 percent. So it's as if the parapsychologists are playing the game better. They are trying to conform to the rules, but the rules keep shifting. And the standards of evidence shift based on what the expectations are going into the research.
I don't totally complain that people are irrational; it's complicated to try to keep up on any field, because the amount of information is absolutely phenomenal. There is something pragmatic about dismissing certain areas because you just don't have time to take them on. But that's a problem when it comes to issues of peer review, journal publication, and freedom of information.
Redwood: It would seem that as the data accumulates, it should eventually reach a critical mass, where this kind of prejudice would be overcome. Do you anticipate reaching that point in the near future?
Schlitz: Jessica Utts is a statistician at UC Davis. She did a calculation on the number of person-hours that have been devoted to this topic [parapsychology], and compared it to mainstream psychology. [At the current pace of research in parapsychology] it would take 120 years of research to equal the output in about a month of mainstream psychology, in terms of the amount of money expended and the number of personnel committed to it.
So the idea that somehow we're going to make a great breakthrough, when we've only got a handful of people and less than a handful of funds, is not necessarily a reasonable expectation. But, on the other hand, there is more and more interest in this topic, and hopefully more people will realize that the folks trying to do research are serious about it and not into deceiving themselves. It really is about trying to embrace science with a big "S," science with its most noble calling, which is about truth acquisition, understanding the nature of reality, and what it means to be alive at this moment in time. I think that eventually, especially with advances that are happening in quantum mechanics, a theoretical model for accommodating this stuff isn't too far off.
Daniel Redwood: Can a researcher can ever be truly objective? If not, how can people best deal with the question of experimenter or experimental bias?
Schlitz: I think there's a certain assumption made that you can have objectivity, and a certain amount of objectivity is desirable. But this notion that we are somehow able to maintain objectivity stands in opposition to a whole host of psychological data, and now even some experimental data, that suggests that not only are there ways in which there is experimenter effect in terms of sensory contact (people who want to comply with the experimenter), but that the intention of the experimenter even at a non-sensory level may come into play.