The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific at it Again: This Time They’re Selling an “ESP Lamp”

Posted by mattusmaximus on June 20, 2011

You may recall that I made a blog post in 2009 – titled Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific Sells “Ghost Detectors” & Other Woo – wherein I strongly criticized the science teaching outlet called Edmund Scientific for caving in to the “ghost hunter” fad. They started to sell all manner of goofy things: ghost detectors (which are actually just electromagnetic field meters) and even DVDs on remote viewing. And all of this from a science teaching catalog – you might as well turn to the biology section and see creationist materials for sale!

[**Addendum (6/28/11): to get a good look at why I view such claims about EMF meters “detecting ghosts” so skeptically, take a look at this post – Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review – which outlines that so-called ghost hunters, when pressed, basically admit they aren’t doing any serious science.  But they want to look like it]

Well, not to be outdone in their tumble down the rabbit hole, Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific now has for sale an “ESP Lamp”.  I kid you not – they claim this thing can actually read your thoughts… as in extra-sensory perception… as in psychic woo-woo… and it only costs about $200!  But don’t take my word for it.  Read their own description of the product:

Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific’s “ESP Lamp and Money Burner” 🙂

Lead your own experiments in the mind’s possible influence on machines, PSI testing, and more with this colorful LED lamp. Four different color LEDs are lighted dependent upon a random number generated from a miniature Geiger counter included on the back. You may even figure out how to use it to tell the future. And, when you need a break from the lab, it makes a very interesting lamp too.

I’ll agree that it makes an interesting lamp, but that’s about the only thing in the description that’s factual.  Everything else is pretty much pseudoscientific gobble-dee-gook because many decades of research has clearly shown that no such phenomenon as ESP exists.  And that part about “telling the future”?  I suggest just saving your money and buying a Magic 8-Ball, because it would cost a LOT less and give you just as accurate results! 😉

But, sadly, that won’t appear to stop Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific from catering to the lowest common denominator in their quest for a quick buck off the gullible.  Unfortunately for them, they don’t seem to have done the math on the other side of things: how do they think science teachers across the country are going to react when they see this sort of garbage for sale in their catalog?  I know that I’ve spoken to a large number of science teachers who are quite upset about this (and justifiably so) and who are boycotting Edmund.  I’m among them, and I encourage all of my skeptical colleagues (especially those teachers among us) to do likewise: until Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific pulls products like this “ESP Lamp” and their “ghost meter” from their shelves – or at least until they advertise them in an honest and scientifically-accurate fashion – we should refuse to give them any business.

6 Responses to “Edmund (Pseudo)Scientific at it Again: This Time They’re Selling an “ESP Lamp””

  1. UncaYimmy said

    What you see as a bitchable moment I see as teachable moment. Instead of imposing your moral beliefs about what they should and should not be selling as a for-profit business, why not write up how to design an ESP test using that lamp? Reference the product name several times so it shows up in searches (I’ll even link to your article to boost the ranking). Use it as an opportunity to teach people about proper test design and probability. The “problem” isn’t this company selling the product. The “problem” is the market for it.

    • mattusmaximus said

      I’ve already done that sort of thing with the “ghost meter”, where I’ve developed lessons on why “ghost meters” are bogus – I can do this with devices (like EMF meters) which I buy from responsible outlets. So why should we, as teachers, give money to outlets who irresponsibly market and sell stuff as pseudoscience? Would you have the same attitude with a “science” catalog which sells creationist materials in the biology section?

  2. Greetings:

    I am reproducing this from my posting in the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) where Matt had also posted.

    “As an evidently minority opinion, I see nothing wrong with their offering these items – is it not the true goal of Science to investigate ALL possibilities and sort out the truth from the dross? Wouldn’t a truly skeptical person want to TEST such devices (random particle detector as a “number generator”, etc.) to see if there were any truth to the claims of ESP influences on random processes? ISTR some prestigious university testing this very idea, using something called an “egg”, many scattered around the world, and applying statistical analysis to find patterns.

    Would it not be likely that students wishing to TEST for any truth in paranormal claims, so that the question could be put to rest, find it convenient to have ready-built devices, complete with descriptions of the CLAIMS made by the proponents?

    I think these CAN serve a valuable purpose in the educational process, and that students could learn life-changing lessons. EVEN if someone starts out believing the claims have merit, Science will advance if they are forced to change their minds, in light of the negative results, and that IS part of Science – expecting one result, and finding that the Universe does not agree.”

    I will add here, That I agree with UncaYimmy that this would be an excellent opportunity for teaching the principles of experimental design, which could then lead into statistical tests and data reduction and forming reasonable conclusions. I say use this device as an opportunity for exploration, rather than a horror to be shunned.

    Science in general has gotten a bad rap in recent years, being viewed as hidebound and intractable, unable to look beyond the “accepted standard doctrine”, due, I think in part, to the immediate dismissal of any idea outside the well-trod path, without bothering to explain why, and treating those who would DARE bring up the subject as though they should be ashamed for even thinking such. This behavior can give the impression that Science is closed-minded and even fearful of outside questions, sort of a secret society where only initiates are allowed in the sanctum.

    I think we can see this all around us – the Iron sun / plasma cosmology / cold fusion / Einstein-was-wrong / etc. websites and blogs are springing up like weeds, and don’t think they don’t attract followers.. Lots of them. Loud and out spoken about how Scientists and their associations and journals are actively suppressing all the best ideas because it would weaken their monopoly on funding. I think we would be better served by SHOWING why the ideas are faulty and explaining what was done to test them, rather than out-of-hand dismissing them.

    Dave C. (posting as CaveDave)

    • mattusmaximus said

      You make the mistake of assuming that I don’t actually show why it is that ghost meters detect nothing of the kind. I actually have lessons on why these things don’t detect ghosts, and I have, in fact, interacted with so called professional “ghost hunters” who – when I really put the hard questions to them – openly admit that there really isn’t any kind of scientific rigor behind their pseudoscience. In fact, you can read one of my detailed blog posts on the matter here – Convergence/Skepchicon Day 2: Ghost Hunting & Evidence Review

      Actually, now that you mention it, perhaps I’ll addend my recent post about Edmund with a reference to this earlier post I made.

      So I already do all the things you mentioned, AND I think people should boycott Edmund. That’s because there are responsible science catalogs out there who don’t give lip service to pseudoscience. Using your logic, we should be buying materials for biology class out of creationist catalogs because “it’ll show the students the creationists are wrong.” I’d rather show people the pseudoscientists/creationists are wrong AND not give them my money.

  3. I should add that, although the accusation was made of false advertizing, I saw claims worded “find out for yourself” and “the mind’s possible influence on machines”, not what I would call deceptive, more an invitation to practice REAL science by testing on your own.


    • mattusmaximus said

      There is another name for this kind of mushy language: weasel words. That’s because this kind of language gives the false impression that there is balance between the two sides, and it is the same kind of language that pseudoscientists (from creationists to global warming deniers) use to promote their nonsense. It is, from what I see, a variation of the “teach all views” argument.

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