The latest fringe researcher to complain about Wikipedia – Russell Targ

Russell Targ, physicist and parapsychologist (Wikipedia)

Russell Targ, physicist and parapsychologist (Wikipedia)

Russell Targ is a well-known parapsychologist who spent a couple of decades studying remote viewing and was a co-originator of the term. The US government (as well as other foreign orgs) spent several million dollars investigating it. Targ has just took a look at his Wikipedia entry and he doesn’t care for the way he or his work has been portrayed.

Russell Targ (born April 11, 1934) is an American physicist, parapsychologist and author, best known for his research in the pseudoscience of remote viewing.

He’s the latest in a string of researchers on questionable topics to air a gripe about their own Wikipedia page. As with the others, like Chopra and Sheldrake, this one is off the mark as well.

Here is an excerpt of the letter he wrote to Wikipedia which he posted on his Facebook page.

Russell Targ on Wikipedia.

Remote viewing is not “pseudoscience.” Please immediately drop that inaccurate and insulting term that you have scattered throughout my Wikipedia bio-page.
[…]

There are a number of reasons that editors at Wikipedia should not characterize remote viewing as pseudoscience, when it is not characterized that way by the informed scientific community.

Then he lists 6 items. It’s rambling and long, anecdotes, appeals to authority and mentions of government involvement. The research really happened but the results did not come out as rosy as anticipated and the project was scrapped.

He claims remote viewing is valid and can be replicated including this:

4—The kind of tasks that kept us in business for twenty-three years include: SRI psychics found a downed Russian bomber in Africa; reported on the health of American hostages in Iran; described Soviet weapons factories in Siberia; located a kidnapped US general in Italy; and accurately forecasted the failure of a Chinese atomic-bomb test three days before it occurred, etc. When San Francisco heiress Patricia Hearst was abducted from her home in Berkeley, a psychic with the SRI team was the first to identify the kidnapper by name and then accurately describe and locate the kidnap car. I was at the Berkeley police station and witnessed this event.

Then he uses a standard appeal from parapsychologists stating that an anomaly has been statistically demonstrated. But an anomaly does not equate to the existence of psi. They tend to hang their hat on that but it explains and predicts nothing. Psi has not been demonstrated to a compelling degree to the scientific community. It just has not or else we would not be having this conversation.

It’s true that Targ is best known for this fringe work instead of his conventional science. Targ contends that “Wikipedia” is trivializing his work by calling it “pseudoscience”. While it may be arguable to call it that, you could safely call it failed science. It just did not pan out but much of parapsychology was indeed done with scientific intent during this time. So, his complaint about the pseudoscience label is a fair one – it is a pejorative applied to discredit.

Regardless, Targ does not understand how Wikipedia works and his advocates in the comments just make things worse.

In the comments, they say not only is Wikipedia berated as full of junk, they allege with NO evidence that the mean old skeptics have done it. One person in particular makes it very much about Susan Gerbic’s Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project. So I contacted Susan. According to her, they did not touch Targ’s page. You can confirm this by viewing the change history which is publicly visible. GSoW editors also do not go around “vandalizing” others pages. They follow the Wikipedia rules and cite facts and quotes. They mostly focus on creating pages for existing skeptics and keeping the facts (referenced) straight.

Targ’s commenters also complain that moderation on Wikipedia is not sound. They don’t like having to cite sources for their claims. You can tell.

So, while Targ has a possibly legitimate beef, minions go off the rails. Once again, those that want to blame a scapegoat fail to make a coherent case at all and look careless and ignorant. The claims on many of these researchers pages are WELL referenced. Them’s the rules! Unfortunately, they don’t like the hand reality has dealt. The research didn’t turn out to groundbreaking and there is not much positive to cite.

[As I’ve said before, some people are jealous that they don’t have their own Susan and GSoW. No, you can’t edit your own Wikipedia pages (Targ was given this suggestion).]

Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia keeps keepin’ on

Some funny quantum entanglement business on Deepak Chopra’s Wikipedia page

More on remote viewing – The Skeptic’s Dictionary – Skepdic.com.

Tip: Guy Chapman

  20 comments for “The latest fringe researcher to complain about Wikipedia – Russell Targ

  1. Bob
    May 15, 2014 at 7:34 PM

    We need to name this phenomenon and then put a page up about it. We’ll call it the Pseudoscientific Waaaa-mbulance.

  2. May 15, 2014 at 9:37 PM

    If I could edit the post I would, but I can’t since it’s locked. Why? Because Targ has attempted to change it. From Wikipedia Talk:

    “Targ has been blocked for a week for disruptive editing but he has now posted on the Society for Psychical Research facebook page telling his psychic friends to come over and tell Wikipedia what they think also here which includes comments from other banned Wikipedia users. Because of this advertising the article should remain locked for a bit longer maybe but please keep it open to autoconfirmed users.”

    So, he screwed himself on this one.

  3. terry the censor
    May 15, 2014 at 9:58 PM

    > his complaint about the pseudoscience label is a fair one

    If he doesn’t get firm results, and others can’t test his claims, yet he insists it’s a real phenomenon, isn’t that pseudoscience?

  4. Susan Gerbic
    May 15, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    I think Terry that it isn’t that remote-viewing IS pseudoscience but that HE is labeled as pseudoscience. Having the hyperlink in the lede of the article that he does remote-viewing is fine, just redundant to mention it as pseudoscience. Anyone clicking on the link to remote-viewing would see that it is pseudoscience.

    What I think Sharon is trying to say is that by using the word “pseudoscience” in front of the word remote-viewing it can be seen as a pejorative. Kind of like saying “fake psychic”, your only using the word “fake” to be mean-spirited.

  5. Haldurson
    May 15, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    It would be Pseudoscience if they did not actually use the scientific method to test it, or they did (at least initially), and simply rejected any evidence that contradicted the results that they wanted. He claims several examples of where remote viewing worked, but that’s not how you test something. You can’t just include the data points that support your believe, and disregard all other data. Even if it’s true, you cannot simply say ‘well it worked here, here and here’. It has to have statistical weight. You have to be able to say that ‘in all of our attempts to test this theory, it worked X% of the time’. And then you compare that with chance, and see where you stand.

    If over the course of 23 years, that’s all they have (and that’s assuming that the examples he sites are real and not exaggerations, which would require more documentation), and they still haven’t rejected it, then they’ll have to do better than that. Until they can supply more evidence, then it really is pseudoscience.

    Failed science would be if they tested it, and found it wanting, and either abandoned it, or continued to search for sources of error or more talented remote viewers. Failed science would be if he actually admitted that they hit a dead end, at least for now.

  6. terry the censor
    May 15, 2014 at 10:33 PM

    @Susan

    I disagree. The modifier is needed. Someone not familiar with the debate about remote viewing — which is 99% of the population — might view the page and assume from the context that remote viewing is on par with the other fields Targ has worked.

  7. Travis
    May 15, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    Hmm, but we refer to things like homeopathy and acupuncture as pseudoscience even though many people have tested it using the scientific peer-reviewed means.

    I think pseudoscience fits, here

  8. Mark Edward
    May 16, 2014 at 12:09 AM

    The paranormalista need their own Gerbic, and trotting out this old bunch of stare at goats hogwash is a sure way of unconvincing more and more of the undecided to think more skeptically. [Ed.,removed]

    I met Targ in the late seventies and was struck by his complete acceptance of the whole Geller thing. He was starry-eyed and naive, even if he was a professor of physics or whatever. I was initially intrigued with the fact that one only had to re-invent some new sleight of hand routine and say it’s real to create a huge new audience. Move over Doug Henning, Hello Uri!

    Targ and Puthoff were both riding on the coat tails of what was to emerge as the New Age, but were ultimately unconvincing to my magician’s eye view. They needed to do much better, …and they never did.

    Hurray for Gerbicism and Susan needs to do what Uri has always been so good at: take credit for whatever happens and run with it! Oh wait… she has a conscience. Honesty will out.

    Targ? Ha! Sour grapes me thinks.

  9. peter Robinson
    May 16, 2014 at 4:05 AM

    Pseudoscience is an entirely fair description on the basis that he claims remote viewing to be a natural phenomenon without a shred of credible scientific evidence.

  10. May 16, 2014 at 8:31 AM

    I still say that it’s just bad science, not necessarily pseudoscience. Use of that term is subjective and not altogether helpful.

  11. Brody
    May 16, 2014 at 8:35 AM

    Let me say a few thing considering I was the person who wrote most of Targ’s Wikipedia article from 2014. If you check the history of the article from March – Targ was sock puppeting on an IP address and on an account called Torgownik. Now if you check his first edits (both on his account and his IP) – what did he do? He deliberately tried to delete sources from his article. Of course the sources he tried to remove were any that were critical of his psychic work. Note that his research into remote viewing contained flaws and has been heavily criticised by the scientific community – there are many scientific sources that criticise his work i.e. David Marks, Terence Hines and James Alcock etc. He tried to remove them all, he didn’t inform anyone of these mass edits but just blanked entire chunks of his article. Now he didn’t do this just once but he did this a number of times and he was temporarily blocked for it. When this failed and he was reverted he started adding in personal commentary to his article. Now this is no joke, he even wrote on his article telling other editors to leave it alone!

    After all this failed Targ started to spam long rants about skeptics “biased against ESP” allegedly “defaming” his biography with “personal opinion” on various Wikipedia boards. Of course there is no “personal opinion” on his Wikipedia biography, all the material is sourced. He continues to ignore this. He also complained repeatedly that remote viewing is not a pseudoscience but gave no references for this claim apart from his fellow parapsychologist friends (Jessica Utts and Robert Jahn).

    Whilst all this was going on he was recruiting his paranormal buddies on facebook and forums to come edit his article and remove any scientific sources he didn’t like – Targ also claimed he was banned from Wikipedia but this is false. Two IPs vandalised the article a number of times. Of course Targ does not report about this. He’s fine with that.

    Targ’s comments to recruit people were pasted onto the Society for Psychical Research facebook page by Tom Ruffles. I won’t paste links but you can easily find it. It is interesting to note that a psychic believer is all over it called Ben Steigmann (he is a banned Wikipedia user) who has been banned on over six sock puppets for being disruptive on Wikipedia and he is now telling Targ to take legal action!

    Now I check the history of the article since the beginning, it appears Targ has had other Wikipedia accounts.

    On the 04:47, 6 June 2013‎ on his account Russtarg he deleted any mention of David Marks from his article.

    BTW don’t be confused by “remote viewing” it is dressed up in scientific terminology but it isn’t. It is just another name for “travelling clairvoyance” the claim that people can leave their bodies or use a paranormal sense to see into distant locations. It’s nonsense. There no empirical data from any repeatable experiment for such a thing, and such a thing is completely at odds with the laws of physics.

    Useful sources:

    Victor Stenger. (1990). Physics and Psychics: The Search for a World Beyond the Senses.
    Thomas Gilovich. (1993). How We Know What isn’t So: Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life.

  12. May 16, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    Another fringe scientists who regularly tries to edit his Wikipedia articles using sockpuppets is Ruggero Santilli. The talk pages on that article are a nice read. On the site of one of his phoney foundations he has written a lengthy piece on the jewish conspiracy against his wikipedia article, as he likes to see it.

  13. Tribeca Mike
    May 16, 2014 at 10:26 AM

    He has a point, but not the one he’s trying to make. For something to be labeled as pseudoscience, there should at least a speck of science involved.

  14. Tribeca Mike
    May 16, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Correction: my second sentence should have read, “For something to be labeled as pseudoscience, there should at least be a speck of science involved.”

  15. CBV
    May 16, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    Interesting that two of the posters above have listed apparent incidents of fringe researchers (Russell Targ and Ruggero Santilli) sock-puppeting edits on their own Wikipedia pages. They may not be the only paranormalists to do so.

    If you look at the Wikipedia edits for Etzel Cardena, the Lund University Professor of Parapsychology & Hypnosis, an academic notable for sparking a protest letter in the Swedish national press from 9 of his fellow Lund professors after he claimed he’d proved the existence of telepathy, you will see a long line of ego-stroking edits from an ip address 130.235.159.48 which strange to say resolves to the Hostname: etzelc.psy.lu.se with the ISP =Lund University. Is Professor Cardena another parapsychologist using Wikipedia to promote a pseudoscientific viewpoint while all the while protesting the “unfair” edits of evil skeptics?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Etzel_Carde%C3%B1a&action=history

  16. Haldurson
    May 16, 2014 at 7:01 PM

    Yes, I agree that it is pseudoscience, but your comment misses the point that with homeopathy and accupuncture that the scientists ignore any research that has results that contradicts their own. If you want to dismiss research, at least dismiss it on its merits (well, lack of merits) rather than on its results.

  17. James G
    May 16, 2014 at 7:49 PM

    “There are a number of reasons that editors at Wikipedia should not characterize remote viewing as pseudoscience, when it is not characterized that way by the informed scientific community.”

    “Pseudoscience is a claim, belief or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status”

    The second quote is Wikipedia’s definition, which Targ used on his Facebook complaint in which he asserts the label of pseudoscience as defined here does not fit his clairvoyance work. His work in remote viewing

    – has been disputed due to the methods used
    – lacks a significant amount of support from other reputable researchers
    – seems to lack a plausible mechanism
    – can not be reliably reproduced
    – I suppose it does have a scientific status in that it has been refuted by the bulk of the community

    This may be nit-picky, but the definition Targ chose to use here links those properties together with the word ‘or’, meaning only one of them needs to be satisfied for the label to be valid. His claims easily match four of the five, and hence, they are pseudoscience.

    Regarding his concerns that the label implies deceptive or dishonest practices, you only need to look at the first quote – “not characterized that way by the informed scientific community.” This is a lovely hand-wavy way to suggest that his claims are scientific, and any scientists the reader finds which don’t support him are sadly uninformed. On his Facebook page, he presents a long list of experiments which were successful, but he makes no mention of the many qualified people who have questioned the way those experiments were conducted and disputed their results. Deleting sources critical of your work is hardly honest, and is indeed very deceptive.

    I don’t know why we need to be polite or feel and sort of regret in applying the label here. Of course it is aimed to discredit remote viewing, and I think that’s perfectly fair, seeing as this realm of study has been largely discredited.

    We can never grant pseudoscience the slightest, tiniest bit of legitimacy. That only feeds its growth among those of us who are uninformed and without the resources, time, skills, or incentive to look it up. It is neither harmless nor benign, and when it spreads
    – kids stop learning about evolution
    – people plan their lives using astrology
    – cancer is treated with homeopathy and faith
    – exorcists kill people
    – witches are burnt
    – cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria.

  18. Artor
    May 17, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    It’s not even pseudoscience, as nobody’s been able to demonstrate there’s a phenomenon to study.

  19. Justin
    May 18, 2014 at 2:23 AM

    Love the references sir. You can always count on Wikipedia people. I’m not a believer in “remote viewing” and I agree this gentleman is making the case against him and this particular field of “study” 😉 worse than he already perceived it to be. Learn to leave well enough alone. The way I look at things such as this is that if you “know” something as fact and others don’t or wont believe you, getting emotional usually doesn’t help. If you are secure in your beliefs, it shouldn’t matter to you if people believe or not. Obviously there is a large fallowing out there. “Men who stare at goats” is an example. Religion is alot like this little dust up. Wrong or right, be secure in your convictions and learn to let go. Because getting emotional usually just makes the case against you and your belief that much stronger.

  20. Dan
    May 21, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    You should read Targ’s Wikipedia talk page which can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:Torgownik

    He has written to other Wikipedia editors regarding remote viewing “Within a decade modern physics will figure out how it works, and then you will all go away, back into your mother’s basement.” He has also called other Wikipedia editors “skeptic trolls”, and when he was sent some scientific references that debunked old remote viewing experiments he replied that he has no interest in reading “biased” skeptical literature and wrote “what alternate universe are they living in?” – I think that question applies to himself more accurately!

    According to Targ he still believes Uri Geller has genuine psychic powers. I thought he might have changed his view on this considering the amount of skeptical literature documenting Geller’s tricks out there, but Targ still believes he is a genuine psychic! Says it all. This is a case of true believer syndrome folks.

    Unfortunately Targ has now hooked up with another psychic believer called Wnt on Wikipedia, this user has admitted to believing in precognition and remote viewing and he is trying to remove criticism from the article. I don’t think he will get very far though.

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