Critiquing ITC Articles written by Imants Barušs
by Tom Butler, 2010
The two articles discussed on this page are currently available via
the Southwest Ghost Hunter's Association (sgha.net)
Educated people are role models and what they say tends to be accepted as fact, often without examination because it is stated by a person who should know. In fact, people sometimes inappropriately apply the credibility earned by education in one subject to other subjects. This article examines two reports written by a psychologist about research he conducted on Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) and Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC). EVP/ITC are technology intensive and research into them requires a strong electronic, communications, and physical science background. While it is true that there is a large human factor in EVP/ITC, a degree in psychology alone does not qualify a person to evaluate the subject.
The articles misrepresent the nature of EVP/ITC as it is demonstrated by current art in research, yet it was published in a peer-reviewed journal specializing in frontier subjects. The perceived authority of the author's degree and the added authority of a prestigious peer-review journal gives the articles undue weight. Although the author may not have intend it to be, at least one article has been used by the skeptical community to debunk these phenomena. For this reason, it is important to address procedural and logical errors in the two reports.
It is common for people who have no intellectual interest or training in a subject to nevertheless pronounce opinions under authority of unrelated credentials. If subject matter specialists do not respond to correct the matter with evidence and fact, then the public record will continue to teach the public that falsehood. In the case of Imants Barušs, his credentials as a psychology professor may qualify him to conduct research based on a well-considered protocol and produce a well-reasoned paper, but the work should have been conducted by Barušs the layperson. Alternatively, Barušs should have made his qualifications and limits of experience clear in his reports. As it is, they are seen as the work product of a doctorate professor which have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Amateur researchers reporting work product under cover of a doctorate title is probably common, and some of histories more important naturalists worked well out of their field of expertise. However, in this frontier subject in which there are no academically trained specialists--only amateurs--people who are qualified to comment on the subject are ignored in favor of the more academically credentialed person. In effect, if three long-time ITC researchers asked to speak at a conference, a doctorate of dentistry, an electronics engineer and an electronics technician, the dentist will be invited every time.
So while both studies had many procedural problems probably due to Barušs' lack of experience, the real issue is that his word carries undue weight and better qualified opinions have been ignored because they are not expressed by academically trained people.
Imants Barušs is a professor of psychology, King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario. He conducted "research" on Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) leading to the first article discussed below being published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration in 2001. He later conducted "research" on Instrumental TransCommunication (ITC) and produced a second report which was published in the same journal in 2007
Failure to Replicate Electronic Voice Phenomenon
Written by Imants Barušs, Department of Psychology, King’s College, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada N6A 2M3. Published in Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 355–367, 2001, © 2001 Society for Scientific Exploration
See the article at: Failure to Replicate Electronic Voice Phenomenon
Abstract (from the article)
Electronic voice phenomenon (EVP) refers to the purported manifestation of voices of the dead and other discarnate entities through electronic means. This has typically involved tuning radios between stations and recording the output on audiotape, although more recently anomalous voices, visual images and text have purportedly been found using telephones, television sets and computers in a phenomenon known as instrumental transcommunication. Given the lack of documentation of EVP in mainstream scientific journals, a review of its history is given based on English language information found in psychical research and parapsychology periodicals and various trade publications and newsletters. An effort was made to replicate EVP by having research assistants simulate interaction with discarnate entities while taping the output from two radios tuned between stations onto audio cassettes. There were 81 sessions with an average of approximately 45 minutes per session for a total of about 60 hours and 11 minutes of recording. While there are some apparent voices and interesting noises upon playback, none of these is sufficiently distinctive to merit being considered anomalous. Some speculative reasons are given for the negative result although the possibility that there are no anomalous phenomena associated with EVP is offered as an explanation for consideration alongside the hypothesis that experimenters create EVP effects through anomalous human—machine interactions and an exosomatic theory of actual influence of electronic equipment by discarnate entities.
It should be noted that there was very little information about EVP available in 2001. Barušs reported an attempt to search the literature and enlist advice concerning protocol design from Mark Macy who was one of the better known people involved in the field at that time. Macy was then reporting on phenomena being experienced by Maggy and Jules Harsch-Fischbach, in Luxemburg. Those reports included real-time video, voice and data communications that were extraordinary by any standard of "normal" contact via EVP. Barušs reported that Macy did meet with him for a few hours. Realistically, Barušs may not have discovered the existence of Association TransCommunication (formally the AA-EVP) or Sarah Estep during his literature survey. At that time, Sarah was one of the more "expert" people in the field and dedicated to helping people such as Barušs learn to record the more commonly accessible transform EVP.
Barušs reported, "He (Mark Macy) emphasized two things: the more successful experiments have been the result of spiritual purpose so that spiritual integrity is necessary on the part of ITC researchers, and the ability to obtain anomalous voices and images is dependent upon the establishment of a contact field through regular and persistent effort."
In our present view, the contacts Macy was reporting on were more likely the result of physical mediumship in the nature of what is currently produced by Marcello Bacci. During the Harsch-Fischbach contacts, "high-level entities" reportedly communicated and spoke of high spiritual ideals; however, EVP is more like mental mediumship and the communicating entities are more like loved ones, a local scoundrel or a helpful neighbor. The Harsch-Fischbach class of contacts are not being repeated today and it is demonstrably unrealistic to expect a person new to the subject to make such contact on demand.
Also, there are no widely known studies indicating that there is a correspondence between personality and success with EVP (a fine study for a parapsychologist), but experience has shown that a "spiritual" attitude does not correlate with success when working with EVP. Based on mental mediumship, it is more a latent ability developed via practice. There does appear to be some correlation between a strong personality and effective mediumship. A strong personality does not always come with a "spiritual" attitude.
A "contact field" can be thought of as a field of energy of the kind emanated by a living organism, which is sometimes referred to a auric energy. This energy has a range of characteristics from what appears to be a local phenomena to a global one as reported by the Global Consciousness Project. The energy is thought to accumulate in places because of human occupancy and especially during the expression of strong emotions. It is thought to be a necessary component for the transformation of the more subtle energy of the etheric communicator's message into the physical aspect of reality. Macy's concept is that the energy produced by high ideals and the expression of spirituality is most beneficial for communication with "high-level" entities. There is precedence for this; however, once an individual has established the ability to record EVP, they can do so almost anywhere. Consequently, ATransC recommends that researchers such as Barušs enlist the help of an experienced practitioner, rather than the students which he used in this study.
Finally, the digital voice recorders were just becoming available and the quality and quantity of EVP produced by the common cassette recorder was much less than is expected today. Radio noise is hardly used today as well. In fact, any "live voice" sound source--off-station or not--is discouraged for research.
The voice of EVP is most often found "in the noise" rather than in prominent waveforms as seen in the display of an audio management program. (See the figure.) Simply playing a sound track while listening to it for paranormal voices is not recommended if a person expects to determine whether or not an EVP is present in the file. It is possible to detect what are considered Class A examples, but those are considered relatively rare. The beginning practitioner should expect to mostly record the more common but difficult to hear and understand Class C examples. Using a cassette recorder, the beginner should expect a first EVP during the first week, rather than the first session as often experienced with digital voice recorders.
It requires around 30 minutes to carefully review three-to-five minutes of recording if one is looking for more than just Class A examples. As such the 60 hours of recording which Barušs reportedly made during his study should have required about 360 hours for proper examination. In our estimation, the research team did not know where or how to look for the phenomena they were studying
The article as a tool for debunking EVP
One of the quotes reported in this article by Barušs was something said by Alexander MacRae: “The ‘field’ seemed to proceed in the most unscientific manner, nothing was ever measured, although the words ‘research’ and ‘expert’ were bandied around like tokens in a game of ‘let’s play scientists’” (MacRae, 1984, p. 36). MacRae, A. (1984). Some findings relating to the electronic voice phenomenon, Psi Research, March, 36–46. MacRae did write this. The quote is also accurate today, but the reasons for this are not included, so that an inappropriate impression is given. Taking hauntings investigation groups as an example, EVP is widely used by these groups as an information gathering tool for their investigation. There are very well qualified EVP researchers amongst them, but the groups are also seen by many as an "entry-level" point for people new to things paranormal. Most members of these groups are relatively young, and as has been stated in the article, Peer Reviewed Online Journals, there is no formal education available in this field. The results is that a relatively large portion of the community is new to EVP and not trained in the scientific method. Even so, characterizing the entire community experienced in EVP recording as "let’s play scientists" is very much like saying that a high school science class is representative of the caliber of scientists in NASA. If the Barušs is unable to distinguish qualified sources from beginner, then perhaps he should not be a researcher.
Skeptic's Use of the Article
In the Daily Telegraph article, BS-promoting new movie, 1/9/2005, Robert Matthews noted:
"... Psychologists quickly recognized EVP - sometimes referred to as 'Rorschach audio', after the test in which subjects read their own interpretation of inkblot images - as just another example of the brain's penchant for making sense even of the patently senseless.
"Known as pareidolia, it lies behind such bizarre claims as the decade-old toasted cheese sandwich said to bear an image of the Virgin Mary, which sold for $28,000 on eBay in November. In its search for order, the brain simply cajoles random patterns into making sense - sometimes at the price of rationality.
"Just how powerful the effect could be with sounds was made clear more than 60 years ago by BF Skinner, the Harvard psychologist who found that nonsensical sequences of syllables led people to hear 'words' bearing no relation at all to the original sounds.
"His findings were recently confirmed by Professor Imants Barušs,..."
The article went on to describe the "Failure to replicate" experiment. It appears that editors of the Skeptical News see the "Failure to replicate" article a reliable source discrediting EVP.
The EVP article in Wikipedia is currently heavily slanted toward the skeptical view. The "Failure to Replicate" article has been referenced in several places to support the skeptical view. For instance in the Modern era (1980s-present) section, "...EVP and ITC are seldom researched within the scientific community and, as ideas, are generally derided by scientists when asked." While the statement is true, it is clearly used to discredit EVP and it is using a quote from a scientist who has published research about EVP.
Barušs wrote, "While some of the characteristic features of EVP are found in this study, they can not be attributed to discarnate beings. Despite the negative result, this paper has been submitted for publication so as to avoid the file-drawer problem."
Barušs has a degree in psychology. If the subject of this report had been something like the personality profile of an EVP practitioner, or auditory hallucination as an explanation for EVP, we would probably gladly refer to it as a valued reference. As it is, saying that the academic world would think he has put an unfavorable report "in the file drawer" to avoid exposing bad news about the formation of EVP seems to be illogical justification to publish the article. In fact, a curious person conducted some EVP recording sessions, did not know what he was doing and did not find the experience evidential. Research was not conducted by a qualified person and the file drawer rule did not apply ... as a valid claim of science.
An Experimental Test of Instrumental Transcommunication
by Imantis Barušs, King's University College, Department of Psychology, 266 Epworth Avenue, London, Ontario N6A 2M3, Canada, e-mail: (withheld).
Published in Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 89-98, 2007, © 2007 Society for Scientific Exploration
See the article at: An Experimental Test of Instrumental Transcommunication
As a result of a previous study in which electronic voice phenomenon failed to be found, the author introduced two new elements in an experiment seeking to produce instrumental transcommunication: the creation of text using random text generators and the presence of a medium. There were 26 experimental sessions carried out from April 28,2003 to August 30,2003 in the Psychology Laboratory at King's University College. The random text generators were engaged a total of 715 times producing 23,281 discrete units of textual data. Only a yes/no generator produced anomalous results. Of the 49 times the yes/no generator was used, 11 of them were in response to questions for which the answers could be verified. Of those 11 responses, 9 were correct with a probability of occurrence by chance of .042. Such a result could be due to chance, anomalous human-machine interaction between the participants and the computer, or some other influences such as those arising from possibly existent unseen dimensions of reality. The use of text generators and the presence of a medium in instrumental transcommunication (ITC) research are discussed, including the potential provision of information by the medium regarding strategies that could facilitate ITC.
The protocol was fundamentally effective, but I think the execution, or more correctly, the data reduction was problematic as I understand it from his report. Here are my concerns:
ITC as meaningful arrangements of initially random text
There have been a few anecdotal reports of text appearing in word processing programs by apparent phenomenal means; however, there have been few reports of controlled condition or induced two-way communication via computer text. (That is, physical person’s thought communication to the etheric entity and communication back from the entity via changed text in a computer). The usual recommendation for people who are inexperienced with these phenomena is to begin with EVP, rather than spending time trying to communicate via a word processor. Such experimentation can come later, after the person has reason to believe there are entities with whom to communicate.
Psi Studies rather than Etheric Studies?
Experiments have been conducted in psi research apparently showing that a person can influence random processes, especially software generated processes such as found in the computer program Barušs used. The RetroPsychoKinesis Project operated by John Walker, for instance. While there may be an ITC aspect to these experiments, the greater likelihood is that the experimenter and interested observers will be the initiators of any unexpected changes in the text stream.
There is also a precedence for some EVP being initiated by the practitioner or an interested observer. For instance, Recording the Thoughts of the Living and French Sleep Experiment. The subtle energy influence thought to be required to initiate any form of ITC message cannot currently be shielded from the technology and the only known method of determining whether or not an EVP is from a discarnate person is to examine the content of the message.
At the same time, there is little or no evidence that wholly digital processes are changed by communicating entities. For instance, a problem frequently reported by early practitioners is that an utterance stored in analog magnetic media is sometimes "morphed" into different words. With the use of digital voice recorders and computer storage, such reports are seldom heard. Also, it can be reasonably established that EVP are formed in the analog stages of equipment and not in the digital stages. See The Formation EVP for a discussion of this.
Based on current research, the use of an all digital process for anomalous text formation depends on the presence of an analog process. Barušs reports that an all digital process was used for the random process. It is reasonable to attempt text ITC but it is not an endeavor a person new to ITC would be encouraged to try. Basically, it has not been effectively demonstrated in the past and it is probable that Barušs would have failed to produce phenomenal results.
Consequences: A form of debunking is to make what seems to be a reasonable attempt to replicate an experiment and report the consequent failure as if it should have been reasonable to expect success. Intentional or not, this is the net effect of this report.
ITC is considered a form of mediumship, but it is noteworthy that some people who function as a traditional mental medium are not inclined to work with ITC. The short messages or poorly formed images are not as informative as a message delivered via mental mediumship. Also, ITC is technology intensive and doing physical things such as initiating an EVPmaker experiment while trying to remain sensitive to mediumistic contact is counterproductive. Barušs indicated that his medium did seem to exhibit symptoms of a person in a trance-like state, but then he asked her to perform very physical processes and to report on what she heard in the resulting sound stream.
It is an excellent practice to seek cross-correspondence in data between mediumship and ITC. In one field scenario, a discarnate child had frequently been heard via EVP and had caused physical phenomena sometimes collaborated by EVP. A medium said that there was a (ghost) child in a closet. About the same time, the family cat named Frank wandered into the closet. It was later learned that an EVP was recorded at that time, in which the same child said, “Its Frank.” This is a good example of cross-correspondence between clairvoyance, physical observations and EVP.
Barušs wrote, "However, both the medium and myself were concerned that due caution be observed with ITC research, in that it could not only be dangerous for beings in other dimensions to try to influence electronic equipment, but also for any living participants engaged in such studies." He included the material more as an aside in his closing remarks, nevertheless, the idea is unsubstantiated by collaborating evidence and is not supported by prior evidence about ITC. Spoken by a scientist backed by a medium, the statement has the potential to create another urban myth.
Researchers are not discouraged from using a medium as a source of data if that data is collaborated by other means. However, even Spiritualist require that messages delivered via mediumship are evidential on their own. The content of the messages must be evidential, requiring that such messages be testable or independently collaborated. A statement from the medium about possible danger to entities trying to work with the equipment is meaningless without collaboration form another source. Reporting it is irresponsible considering the fact that people who may not have had the necessary training may be looking to the authority of a scientist to determine their view of the subject.
As is noted in The Formation EVP Formation, virtually all variations in technology for EVP formation are a form of audio frequency energy conditioning designed to improve ease of voice formation. EVPmaker is different in that it uses a random process to select segments of pre-recorded speech to produce a new sound file composed of concatenated sound fragments. When human speech is used for the input file and a sample interval is used long enough to include recognizable syllables, many nonsensical phrases can be produced in the output file. The result is that EVPmaker produces too many false positives (attributing meaning where none is intended). People new to EVP are strongly encouraged to learn how to record EVP using the transform method before venturing into the more exotic forms.
(New studies are showing that use pre-recorded allophones or even phonemes for the EVPmaker input file remains subject to false positives.)
Barušs' use of EVPmaker is problematic in that it seems to show a "shotgun" approach to experimentation. It is a personal choice, but its use did not enhance the experimenter's credibility of likelihood of producing meaningful results.
Analysis of sound tracks for EVP
Barušs reported making 36 hours, 19 minutes of audio recordings. That is an astounding 2,179 recorded minutes. Following the experimental practice recommended by the ATransC, that would take an average of 218 hours to properly review the recordings for EVP. The care with which the recordings were reviewed is not clear in the report, but it is reasonable to think that they were simply played and listened to for human voice-quality utterances only.
Imants Barušs has a degree in psychology. If the subject of this report had been something like the personality profile of an EVP practitioner, or auditory hallucination as an explanation for EVP, we would probably gladly refer to it as a valued reference. As it is, saying that the academic world would think he has put an unfavorable report "in the file drawer" to avoid exposing bad news about the formation of EVP seems to be illogical justification to publish the article. In fact, a curious person conducted some EVP recording sessions, did not know what he was doing and did not find the experience evidential. Research was not conducted by a qualified person and the file drawer rule did not apply ... as a valid claim of science.
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