A Bayes Factor Meta-Analysis of Bem's ESP Claim

Psychon Bull Rev. 2011 Aug;18(4):682-9. doi: 10.3758/s13423-011-0088-7.


In recent years, statisticians and psychologists have provided the critique that p-values do not capture the evidence afforded by data and are, consequently, ill suited for analysis in scientific endeavors. The issue is particular salient in the assessment of the recent evidence provided for ESP by Bem (2011) in the mainstream Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Wagenmakers, Wetzels, Borsboom, and van der Maas (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100, 426-432, 2011) have provided an alternative Bayes factor assessment of Bem's data, but their assessment was limited to examining each experiment in isolation. We show here that the variant of the Bayes factor employed by Wagenmakers et al. is inappropriate for making assessments across multiple experiments, and cannot be used to gain an accurate assessment of the total evidence in Bem's data. We develop a meta-analytic Bayes factor that describes how researchers should update their prior beliefs about the odds of hypotheses in light of data across several experiments. We find that the evidence that people can feel the future with neutral and erotic stimuli to be slight, with Bayes factors of 3.23 and 1.57, respectively. There is some evidence, however, for the hypothesis that people can feel the future with emotionally valenced nonerotic stimuli, with a Bayes factor of about 40. Although this value is certainly noteworthy, we believe it is orders of magnitude lower than what is required to overcome appropriate skepticism of ESP.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical
  • Parapsychology*