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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Does the New York Times Have the World's Worst Coverage of the Paranormal?

On August 25, 1984 there appeared in the New York Times a story entitled “Strange Sights Brighten the Night Skies Upstate.” The story actually did a fairly good job of reporting dramatic UFO sightings that were very common in the Hudson Valley of New York State around this time. The story noted, “Throughout northern Westchester County, Dutchess and Putnam Counties and western Connecticut this summer, thousands of residents have reported strange objects in the sky - each usually in a V-shape or a circle, about the size of a football field, absolutely noiseless and outlined in brilliant lights of white, red or green.”

But this isn't how the New York Times has been handling the paranormal during the past 30 years. During the past 30 years, the New York Times seems to have had the worst coverage of the paranormal given by any major newspaper. While it has outstanding coverage of politics, world affairs, sports, and entertainment, the paper will typically not cover important news about the paranormal. In the very rare cases when it does provide coverage of the paranormal, the New York Times almost always gives us coverage that is heavily biased, inaccurate, or uninformative.

Let's look at some paranormal stories of recent years, and how the New York Times covered them. One very dramatic case of UFO sightings was the March 13, 1997 UFO sightings in Phoenix, Arizona. According to an article on the National Geographic web site, “Thousands of people in Nevada and Arizona reportedly saw what many described as an immense, V-shaped object outlined by seven lights.”

Judging from the Google query below, the New York Times had no coverage at all of this dramatic story in 1997, the year it occurred.  The search returns only one result, which is not coverage of the Phoenix sightings.

Another very dramatic UFO news story was the spectacular UFO sightings that occurred in Stephenville, Texas in January 2008. The ABC News story here gives some of the astonishing details of the story: “More than 30 residents of Stephenville, Texas, claim to have seen a UFO, described as a mile-wide, silent object with bright lights, flying low and fast.” A witness named Allen said the object moved with amazing speed without making a sound. “It was so fast I couldn't track it with my binoculars,” said another witness. Another witness (an Air Force technician) said it was a UFO.

Now surely a sighting this spectacular deserved significant coverage in the New York Times – but it apparently did not get any real coverage. Because when I do the Google query below (limiting the search time between 1/1/2008 and 12/1/2008), it shows no signs of any coverage that appeared in the regular edition of the New York Times.

The query produces only one hit, and that is for some blog post that appeared in the online edition of the New York Times. The post is a dismissive one, with the title “F-16s at Site of UFO Sightings in Texas.” The idea seemed to be to make people think that the UFO's were just jets (which is pretty ridiculous considering the mile-wide length reported).

Let's look at some other types of paranormal stories, and the dismal or nonexistent coverage they received in the New York Times. One of the more dramatic scientific studies in recent years was the “Feeling the Future” study done by Cornell professor Daryl J. Bem. Published in a scientific journal in 2011, the study produced evidence of precognition, a paranormal human ability to have knowledge of the near future. Later Bem published a meta-analysis of 80 studies, showing that the effect had been well replicated by other researchers. 

Surely such research deserved coverage in the New York Times, but it apparently didn't get any real coverage. I tried the search below:

Other than an article on animal precognition, the only story or article I get on precognition is an utterly hostile opinion piece entitled “ESP and the Assault on Rationality,” which refers disparagingly to Bem's results (without giving any substantive critique), but does not describe them in any detail, nor contain a link to them. Similar queries using Bem's name fail to produce any coverage of Bem's results. Again, the New York Times failed to cover an important paranormal news story. 

In 2014 an important piece of paranormal news was the scientific paper presented at the annual Parapsychological Association conference by Dr. Diane Hennacy Powell. She reported ESP experiments with an autistic child that had spectacular levels of success, including 100% accuracy on two random numbers of 8 or 9 digits, and between 81 to 100% accuracy on sentences of between 18 and 35 letters, along with numerous similar results.. Did the New York Times ever give this important news to its readers? Apparently not. The following Google query returns no results.

"Diane Hennacy Powell" site:nytimes.com

I then found out that in the past six years the New York Times has had no coverage whatsoever of the research of the Parapsychological Association, currently the main organization for paranormal research (and an organization with annual conferences that present research). The query below gives only one result, which is merely a passing reference to a street fair.

Then there was the Lily Groesbeck story, one of the most dramatic paranormal stories in recent memory. About 10:30 PM on March 6, 2015, a car carrying Lynn Groesbeck and her 18-month-old daughter Lily flipped over and crashed into the bottom of a small river. Apparently the mother was killed by the impact, but her daughter survived. Strapped into her toddler car seat, the toddler hung upside down in the overturned car, only inches from icy water below her. About 14 hours later an angler noticed the car, and called the police. Three police officers and a fireman arrived, and tried to flip over the car. All four of them reported a voice coming from the car – a car containing no one but a long-dead woman and an unconscious baby. Their exact statements are recorded here. Somehow 4 men flipped over an upside-down car, and then extracted the baby, who astonishingly survived the incident without serious injury. Shortly thereafter a dramatic “chest cam” video of the incident was published on youtube.com. It corroborated the men's story, because in the video you can hear one of the men loudly and clearly yelling “we're helping, we're coming,” just the type of thing someone might say if a voice was coming from inside the car.

Did the New York Times cover this remarkable story? Yes they did. But no paranormal aspect of the story was mentioned, and no mention was made of the four reports that a voice came from inside the car. No further article in the New York Times mentioned any account of the paranormal voice coming from the car.  A Soviet censor might say, "Good work."

Another extremely interesting paranormal story is that of the Global Consciousness Project. Over the past 16 years the project has gathered evidence for a paranormal effect of human consciousness on random number generators. The cumulative evidence gets better every year, as the effect keeps showing up.

I searched for the New York Times coverage of the project by using this query:

"global consciousness project" site:nytimes.com

The query reveals that the last story the Times had on the project was in 2003. That was a dismissive “worse-than-censorship” type of story that inaccurately describes the effect as “small,” although by 2003 the effect documented by the Global Consciousness Project was already very dramatic indeed, having a p-value of less than .000001. The cumulative effect has increased every year, as the effect has continued. The effect now has a p-value of about 1 in 10 trillion, as discussed here, an effect billions of times greater than the p-value in countless other studies reported by the New York Times. But although the results have grown ever more dramatic since 2003, there hasn't been a New York Times story on this in 13 years, and there has been no New York Times story that accurately reported the results produced by this project.

Another important paranormal news item during recent years has been the phenomenon of orbs, unexplained balls of light which photographers all over the globe have been photographing in great abundance since about 1990. Photos often show them moving at extremely fast speeds, and in a variety of bright colors, in quite normal clean air, indoors and outdoors. Not only do mysterious orbs appear abundantly in photos and youtube.com videos, but they are often seen visually by people who report seeing them in the sky (there have been 12,000 such reports in the past 3 years, as discussed here). But the only coverage the New York Times seems to have given this topic in the past 11 years is a 2005 story of orbs at one particular person's house, with no mention of anyone else observing them (and the story made sure to trot out a completely unworkable explanation for the phenomena it described). Ironically, the orbs news story the Times has been completely ignoring for a decade is abundantly evident in its own backyard, because this link shows photos of hundreds of orbs (often fast-moving, colorful and bright) taken at Grand Central Terminal, a rather short distance from the New York Times building.

Another important paranormal news item was the release of the AWARE study, a study on near death experiences. The study (discussed here)  was authored by a large team of scientists and physicians. The study told the astonishing case of a 57-year old man who reported floating out of his body and witnessing his operation from the top of his hospital room. The man said that a woman appeared in a high corner of the room, beckoning him to come up to her. He said that despite thinking that was impossible, he found himself up in the high corner of the room, looking down on the medical team trying to revive him. The man described specific details of the revival efforts, including the presence of a bald fat man with a blue hat, a nurse saying, “Dial 444 cardiac arrest,” his blood pressure being taken, a nurse pumping on his chest, a doctor sticking something down his throat, and blood gases and blood sugar levels being taken.

Here is what the scientific paper said in regard to the accuracy of these recollections:

He accurately described people, sounds, and activities from his resuscitation...His medical records corroborated his accounts and specifically supported his descriptions and the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). Based on current AED algorithms, this likely corresponded with up to 3 minutes of conscious awareness during CA [cardiac arrest] and CPR.

This is a most newsworthy story of a near-death experience in which a person's “out-of-body” observations during surgery were verified. It's reported in a scientific paper. But did the New York Times cover this study this after the study was released? Apparently not. When I do a Google search using “AWARE study site:nytimes.com” and “Sam Parnia site:nytimes.com” (using the study's lead author) I get no results referring to the study. 

It is hard to resist the conclusion that for the past 30 years the New York Times has been following a policy of censoring the paranormal or describing it in an unfair, inaccurate or uninformative way, in the rare times the paper covers the paranormal. In this matter it rather seems the New York Times wants you to keep wearing horse blinders that keep you from seeing strange things on your left and your right. Apparently the New York Times wants its readers to believe they live in a bland James Randi/Richard Dawkins type of world in which big UFOs don't appear, people don't see ghosts, anomalous things don't appear in photos, no one has weird psychic experiences, and strange inexplicable things don't happen. The world we actually live in is a totally different type of place.

Let us imagine if extraterrestrial visitors were to arrive, and to start a gradual year-long program of gradually revealing their existence to humans. Imagine that in January they sent their vehicles over many cities in the US. Suppose that in March they caused gigantic crop circles to appear all over the Midwest US. Suppose that in June they burnt giant alien symbols in the sides of many mountains. Imagine that in September their ships were seen in the sky by 50,000 people. Imagine that in November giant moon-sized UFO's were seen in huge triangle formations over every large US city. Finally let us suppose that in December a giant UFO the size of a football stadium appeared hovering directly over the White House.

You would never read about any of this in the New York Times, except until December, when the New York Times would report (in small print in its back pages) that the giant UFO seen over the White House was just a cloud with an unusual shape.

new york times
It's pretty much like this at the New York Times