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Study: Psychic ability doesn't hold up (+video)

A new study supports skeptics of psychic abilities. Researchers failed to find evidence to support claims that extrasensory perception is real.

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In other words, seeing words after taking a test on them didn't improve the participants' test scores. Ritchie said he and the other researchers couldn't be sure why their version of Bem's experiment worked differently.

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"It might just be because the statistics were a fluke," he said. "You're going to get some false positives sometimes."

In a response to be published alongside Ritchie and his colleagues' research in the open-access journal PLoS ONE, Bem wrote that it was still "premature to conclude anything about the replicability" of his experiment. It takes multiple replication failures to definitively refute a study, he said.

Bem also suggested that because Ritchie, Wiseman and French are skeptical of psychic abilities, they might have unwittingly influenced their participants not to display any clairvoyance. (The computer-based design of the study, however, is supposed to help prevent researchers from biasing their participants.)

"This does not mean that psi[psychic phenomena] results are unverifiable by independent investigators, but that we must begin regarding the experimenter as a variable in the experiments that should be included in the research designs," Bem wrote.

Replication publication

Wiseman has a registry of attempts to replicate Bem's work and has plans to analyze all of the data together, Ritchie said. One big problem facing the work is reluctance on the part of journals to publish studies with negative findings, especially those that are replications.

When Ritchie and his colleagues submitted their paper to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the journal that had originally published Bem's work, they were told that the journal does not publish replications.

"There's a real problem with finding shocking findings and then not being interested in publishing replications," Ritchie said.

In that way, Bem's surprising psychic study has been a boon to psychology, Ritchie said.

"It's kicked up a huge debate about how scientists do work and how journals publish that work, and I think that's very valuable in itself — even if I'm not that confident that these findings are real," Ritchie said.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

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