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Response to Bem’s Comments

James Alcock

January 6, 2011

James Alcock responds to Daryl Bem's comments on his critique.

Note: This post is a response to Daryl Bem's comments, which can be found here. Alcock's original article may be viewed here.

Outrage and ad hominem condescension. Bem’s response brings to mind an old adage from the legal world: “If the facts are against you, argue the law; if the law is against you, argue the facts; if the facts and the law are against you, yell like hell.” And yell like hell he does. Rather than deal with much of the substance of my critique, he directs his attack at my abilities. However, the issue is not about my intelligence or his or my character or his. It is about the data and the way in which they were gathered and analyzed.

Not only does he shoot the messenger; much of his defense rests on an appeal to authority – in this case, the authority of the reviewers at the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology who recommended that his article be published. While I do not understand why they decided as they did, their decision cannot make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; it does not make the serious flaws in this research go away. Bem also employs the tired defence that it is not enough for a critic to find flaws in a study; the critic must also show that the obvious flaws could themselves account for the observed results. This is of course simply nonsense. The burden of proof is on the individual who presents the data, and significant flaws in the research militate against confidence that the researcher did not make other undetected and unreported errors as well. This is all the more of concern when one is claiming evidence for phenomena that contradict well-established knowledge in physics, neurology and psychology.

In response to his various points:

James Alcock

James E. Alcock is professor of psychology, Glendon College, York University, Toronto.