Deviations

The Normal, the Paranormal, and Edgar Cayce

Jtt^ ne of the most overused one-liners in the statistical business is ■ ■ Disraeli's classification (and Mark Twain's clarification) of lies ^dr into the three taxa "lies, damn lies, and statistics." Of course, the problem really lies in the misuse of statistics and, more generally, in the misunderstanding of statistics and probabilities that most of us have in dealing with the real world. When it comes to estimating the likelihood of something happening, most of us overestimate or underestimate probabilities in a way that can make normal events seem like paranormal phenomena. I saw a classic example of this at in a visit to Edgar Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.), located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. One day when I was in town, Clay Drees, a professor at nearby Virginia Wesleyan College, and I decided to pay them a visit. We were fortunate to arrive on a relatively busy day during which the A.R.E. staff were conducting an ESP "experiment" in extrasensory perception (ESP). Since they were claiming that one's ESP could be proved scientifically, we considered A.R.E. fair game for skeptics.

According to their own literature, A.R.E. was "founded in 1931 to preserve, research, and make available the readings of Edgar Cayce," one of the most prominent "psychics" of the twentieth century. Like many such organizations, A.R.E. has many of the trappings of science: a building whose size and facade suggest modernity and authority; an extensive

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