Thursday, 4 February 2010

Review of ESPTest software (1992)

This review is available in Lexscien, the online library which carries the Society for Psychical Research's publications, so normally I would not include it here. However, the author of the software has long included it on his website without permission, and has labelled it as his copyright, despite my occasional protest. More to the point, he must have transcribed it by hand, and while he deleted a paragraph which was printed twice in the original (proof reading of SPR publications is much better these days) he has introduced a number of spelling errors which look ugly. As more people are likely to see it on Mr Mosier's website than in the online library, I thought it worth making it easily available in its correct form. Apart from deleting the duplicated paragraph, the review here is the text as originally appeared in The Psi Researcher magazine No. 7, p.16, in 1992. To give an idea of its vintage, the program originally came on a 5.5" floppy. It is still available, now as a free download from Mr Mosier's site, so even better value than when it first appeared. His website also says that unless the user has a really old machine, the music won't play, which is a bonus!


ESP TEST Phil Mosier, 2728 Bridgeford Drive, Sacramento, California 95833, USA

This is a computer program designed to test clairvoyance and precognition. To run it, an IBM personal computer or compatible, with a CGA card, is required. The author claims that it is suitable for beginners and those more experienced in parapsychology alike, and indeed its operation is fairly straightforward. An extensive on-line manual is included with the package which includes instructions on how to load the software, how the program works, and how to analyse the results.

It runs in two modes, clairvoyance and precognition. In the first a target, designed to look like a back of a playing card, is presented onscreen and the subject attempts to guess which of five symbols is on the 'reverse'; in the latter, the subject guesses before the card is displayed. The targets are not the usual Zener symbols, but are a treble clef, heart, yin/yang symbol, four-leafed clover and a kind of gem design. The target position is changed on each trial, and trials are presented in groups of twenty-five.

Other parameters which can be altered are the colour of the screen (a choice of red, blue or black) and variety of feedback. A choice is offered of sound and visual reinforcement on all trials, just on hits or misses, or on no trials. All these conditions can be permutated to make it possible to see if a particular combination is conducive to scoring. These parameters are included in the record file, along with response latency, date and time (taken from the system clock) so that a variety of questions can be asked about those aspects which might be psi-enhancing or inhibiting.

The scores of different individuals or conditions can be saved in separate files for ease of analysis (the file name can be chosen at the opening menu). These can be concatenated if necessary. They can also be exported to other programs, such as a spread sheet or statistical package, for further analysis. The file name is saved in a field in each record so that a record can be linked to its parent file.

The programme automatically computes the binomial probability and Chi-square significance for the file. An overall analysis is provided, indicating how the subject has done. Further analyses are also carried out on hits vs misses according to the target, its location in the row and response time. The documentation does not mention that the Chi-square test is unreliable with small numbers, and that therefore too few trials could give misleading results.

ESP TEST is shareware, which means that users are granted a limited licence to use it on a trial basis. It can be copied freely, but it is expected by the author that those wishing to continue using it would seek registration. The cost of this is currently $35, for which the purchaser is entitled to a bound manual, annual newsletter and software updates.

Shareware has a poor reputation because of the possibly of viruses being inserted which would subsequently damage a hard disk. The review copy of this program came directly from the author, and as part of the review it was tested with 'F-Prot' anti-viral software, which gave it a clean bill of health.

The computerised part of the package is fairly straightforward, and does have advantages, such as providing security of targets and an endless deck. The program even includes the Pascal source code for those users who want to see how it works. I do, though, have several minor criticisms.

The main one is that the manual, despite the claim that it "is designed for the beginning users of a computer", does not make the necessary statistics as easy to understand as it could. There is a section which explains how the analysis is arrived at, but it is far too brief. Various scenarios of the results which might be obtained are given, with their implications, and this is more helpful. But the information provided on the screen, apart from the announcement that one is or is not exhibiting psi, could be made easier to digest.

Other quibbles are, firstly, that the files are compressed on the disk. This does save space, but having to expand them could be confusing for the novice. Secondly, the opening music is extremely irritating, despite the stated affection of its composer, although it can mercifully be turned off. Thirdly, proof reading of the manual could have been more thorough. Finally, it would have been more respectful towards Louisa Rhine to have referred to her as "Dr" rather than "Mrs" Rhine, as if she were an appendage to her husband rather than a major figure in parapsychology in her own right.

Of course because the choice of target is left to the computer it will not be truly random, raising the problem of bias. This might preclude publication of results in serious journals. As a screening device to identify individuals with potential, or for generating hypotheses for more formal testing, this software could be useful, and is certainly good value for money.

Tom Ruffles