In the September 2007 issue of the British Journal of Social Psychology, a paper reporting findings from a conversational analytic study of experimenter-participant interactions in parapsychology experiments was presented by Dr. Robin Wooffitt, a senior lecturer in the sociology department at the University of York. In the paper, Dr. Wooffitt discusses how the ways in which experimenters acknowledge participants utterances may be significant for the trajectory of an experimental session.
Dr. Wooffitt used recorded sessions from double-blind ganzfeld experiments conducted in the mid 1990's at the Koeslter Parapsychology Unit (University of Edinburgh) as the material for his analysis. Shortly after the study appeared in print, the BPS Research Digest released a summary at their blog, suggesting that Dr. Wooffitt had uncovered a flaw in the ganzfeld. This summary spread through the internet like wildfire. Soon the blogs Mind Hacks and Science and Consciousness Review were also reporting on the study, suggesting that Dr. Wooffitt had provided an analysis that had explained away the positive results of those ganzfeld experiments. Anybody who does a close reading of the paper (or even the abstract) can see that this is not the case.
Because Dr. Wooffitt's research had been severely misrepresented by these and other sites, I contacted him and invited to discuss his research and its goals here at Public Parapsychology. The following was his response:
The goal of the research is to identify the tacit communicative skills which participants - experimenters and subjects - use in the ganzfeld. The research is agnostic as to the existence of psi; but it may identify features of experimenter-subject interaction which could be of direct benefit for parapsychologists. So, this kind of linguistic analysis can add to our knowledge of the experimenter effect, in that it can provide technical analysis of the way the relationship between subject and experimenter develops over the course of a ganzfeld trial. It can identify different interactional styles in experimenters, which may in turn influence the way the experiment progresses. It may be possible, eventually, to see if particular interactional practices correlate with successful or unsuccessful ganzfeld trials.