Dodgy science at the BA festival?

Continuing on from Vaughan’s discussion of Psi research at the BA Festival – I wonder if the likes of Prof. Lord Robert Winston ought to have been more concerned about some of the content in one of the mainstream BA Psychology Section seminars.

Prof. Geoffrey Beattie of Big Brother fame was this year’s Psychology Section President so it was perhaps no surprise that he organised a seminar on body language and invited along his fellow Big Brother psychologist Dr. Peter Collett.

However, Collett’s talk was really just a collection of highlights from his channel 4 show, in which he identifies ‘tells’ that give away what a politician is really thinking. For example he said that compared with his cabinet colleagues, Gordon Brown exhibited about 5 times as many discomfort gestures (e.g. looking down, chewing his lip) when Tony Blair was giving a conference speech. This prompted a journalist next to me to ask – “wouldn’t it have been more logical to have compared how many discomfort gestures Brown made during Blair’s speech with how many he made during a speech by someone else?”.

“Yes, you’re right” Collett admitted, “but you’re talking about an actual experiment, this is just something I put together for a TV programme”.

Hmm. Well at least he was honest about that – but wasn’t this supposed to be the BA Science Festival?

Another audience member suggested that Brown might have been displaying these discomfort gestures because of other events in his life – the conference may have been near in time to when he lost his new-born baby, for example.

“Yes, the interpretation of these gestures is up for grabs” Collett answered. “It’s all about taking into account the context…but with individuals this IS NOT A SCIENCE“.

At least a lot of parapsychology research uses sound scientific methodology whereas this was, as Collett pretty much admitted, just a load of speculation put together for a TV programme.

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