Tuesday 1 March 2011

Two from Today: 1) Fostering with equality; 2) Paranormality

From the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme this morning come these two snippets. First is an interview with Eunice and Owen Johns who are no longer allowed to be foster parents because they are unable, due to their Christian faith, to (as far as I can gather) refrain from condemning homosexuality. Listening to this interview is frustrating because try as he might Justin Webb cannot get out of either of them what it is they've done, or are prepared to do, that has caused them to be barred from fostering.

Eunice claims that all they are asking for is "a level playing-field in society" — when what they clearly want is a field that slopes towards the condemnation of anything that is contrary to their faith. If they are providing a public service such as fostering, it is right that they should not be allowed to discriminate by condemning (presumably within earshot of their foster-children) certain sections of that public. (It's a bit of a weird case and I've not read a transcript of the judgement.)

From the Today website:
Eunice and Owen Johns have been foster parents and have provided a secure loving home to vulnerable children. But because they are Pentecostalists who believe that homosexuality is wrong, in a landmark ruling yesterday the High Court sided with the local authority view that these beliefs disqualify the Johns' from any future fostering.
The five-minute streaming audio is here:

And just before the 9 am news we had Professor Richard Wiseman promoting his new book Paranormality. (I have a copy, and I can vouch for the fact that it does indeed contain Normal Paragraphs.)

From the Today website:
According to a new book by Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire, the paranormal is a form of illusion. He examines the psychology of the paranormal and why people believe what they do. Robert McLuhan, author of Randi's Prize, disputes Professor Wiseman's claim and explains why.
The five-minute streaming audio is here:

If Robert McLuhan thinks near-death experiences are "extraordinary" I hope he's got better evidence than Gary Habermas. This seems unlikely, however, judging by his response today at the Guardian Comment is Free website:

Response Precognitive dreaming should not be dismissed as coincidence | Comment is free | The Guardian

Robert McLuhan's "response" contains some choice nuggets:
Where dreams are reported that match future events on a number of specific details – as is often the case – statistical probability is not particularly useful.
Not particularly useful? I would have thought statistical probability was absolutely crucial in distinguishing actual phenomena from random noise. He goes on:
One such case, recorded in JW Dunne's 1930s bestseller An Experiment With Time, involves someone dreaming of meeting a woman wearing a striped blouse in a garden and suspecting her of being a German spy. Two days later the dreamer visits a country hotel where she is told of a woman staying there who other residents believe to be a spy. She later encounters the woman outside, and finds the garden and the pattern on the blouse exactly match her dream. Such reports – where the dream is recorded immediately afterwards and prior to the event it appears to foretell – cannot be dismissed as anecdotal.
Does Robert McLuhan know what anecdotal means? I read Dunne's book decades ago, and my recollection is that though it was fascinating, Dunne's experiment could hardly be described as rigorously scientific, relying as it did on a good deal of interpretation by the experimenter. McLuhan's example above is indeed, therefore, anecdotal.

Richard Wiseman's original article in the Guardian is here:
Can dreams predict the future? | Science | The Guardian