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Tuesday, July 04, 2017

It's Not ESP

Over the weekend, The Daily Beast published a story with the headline "How U.S. Marines Are Using ‘ESP’ to Weaponize Intuition." Below it was the sub-headline, "The Daily Beast has obtained, via the Freedom of Information Act, the Office of Naval Research’s sensemaking training manual -- a how-to guide for extra-sensory perception."

I call bullshit. The sentences TDB used to promote its piece are very misleading, for two reasons.

One is there's no such thing as extra-sensory perception -- no one has ever been proven to have that paranormal ability. The other is that the article, by David Axe and Matthew Gault, says exactly the opposite of the headline -- but you wouldn't know that unless you dug more than a dozen paragraphs in and read this:

To be clear, the sensemaking manual isn't asking Marines to somehow evolve psychic powers. Rather, it encourages them to be mindful of their surroundings, trust their instincts and construct narratives to explain other people's behavior.

Gary Klein, a research psychologist and consultant whose work inspired the Navy's sensemaking project, told The Daily Beast he prefers to call the process "naturalistic decisionmaking."

"I was worried about how this could be viewed in a sensational way with ‘spidey-sense’ or something that sounds like ESP or something paranormal," Klein said. "That’s not what the military’s interested in. They’re interested in developing expertise and the core part of expertise is tests, knowledge and the ability to make sense of situations."
So, what the manual actually trains Marines to do is make sense of the situations they find themselves in. There's nothing about reading people's minds or sending thoughts telepathically or anything extra-sensory. Rather, it trains Marines to use the five natural senses they do have, along with critical thinking skills.

That's very different than the nonsense promised in the headline. Unfortunately, many people browsing through The Daily Beast will come away with the wrong impression, a reinforcement of pseudoscience that the editors should have known better to avoid.