28 June 2012

Withering faster on the vine

After some years or decades of ‘withering on the vine’ it was announced first that state pensions would be means-tested, and then that the ‘basic’ state pension which remained would be increased each year in line with the CPI (Consumer Prices Index). This is less than if the increase were based on the RPI (Retail Prices Index) which includes the cost of housing, presumably because it is supposed that if you are poor enough you can apply for housing benefit, so your pension should not need to include your rent, mortgage, house repairs etc.

Not only that, but the CPI can be manipulated in various ways, one of them being to arrange for individual suppliers to operate means-testing. Electricity and water suppliers are to supply more cheaply to ‘poorer’ customers. Supermarkets are to keep down the cost of the cheapest and most basic foods so that price rises will be made only, and more steeply, on higher-quality or more nutritious foods.

Now the threatened increase in fuel tax is to be postponed from August to January. If it had started to apply in August, as was apparently planned, it would have affected the September CPI, on which the increases in next year’s pensions will be based.

In any case, it would have been a tax on motorists commuting to their jobs rather than on those who were excluded from academic careers and had to live as capitalists; or on pensioners, few of whom commute to jobs. Such a tax would be penalising the ‘working’ population more than the ‘independent’ population and that is presumably not what modern ideology favours. Independence is normally to be stamped out at any cost.

Those drawing pensions who will never apply for any means-tested benefit, such as myself, can derive little joy from observing the real value of their ‘pension’ shrinking year by year, ever further from a realistic cost of living, even leaving the cost of housing out of it.

Three or four decades ago I remember asking myself whether it was really good value to pay voluntary contributions towards the state pension when I had no salary. Might I not do better by putting aside an equivalent amount of money and investing it as favourably as possible? But, I thought, as probably many others did, there might be an unforeseeable Weimar-style inflation, and then the state would have to keep the pension at a realistic level, whereas one’s own investments might not keep pace with a very high level of inflation. So paying into the state pension was an insurance policy, protecting at least a small part of one’s money from erosion under all conceivable circumstances. So I thought, some decades ago.

27 June 2012

More on lucid dreams and the BBC

text of a recent letter to an academic

I have just sent you a link to our comments on the BBC’s omission of any mention of me from their history of lucid dreams. This omission is despite the fact that it has always been said that no one has denied my priority in the field of lucid dream research.

Moreover they give a link to Stephen LaBerge’s website, but not to mine. I have got far more information and ideas about what could be done to make real progress in research, and people should want to know about my need for funding to get started on it. Stephen LaBerge, having a salary, research assistants, laboratory facilities, access to college dining facilities, and so on, is in a position to be ‘doing something’ in their eyes, whereas I, who could be making much more progress than he does, with even half as much money as he uses, can only continue to work towards being in a position to get measurements made in a laboratory; so I do not count as ‘doing something’ in the eyes of the BBC or anyone else.

Stephen LaBerge is able to raise money to finance his ideas on ‘virtual reality’, whereas I can get no support at all.

When I met Stephen LaBerge at a conference, he expressed no sympathy with my disastrous situation. By that time he knew that my work on lucid dreams had been motivated by my need to get back into a suitable academic position. There was certainly no indication that this modified his rejoicing at the favourableness of his own position, in which he was well-placed to get money to do (nominal) research in this field which I had opened up, while I could get no money at all and hence could do nothing.

He has continued to publicise the possibilities of lucid dreams ever since, but he has never even had the decency to send me a small fraction of anything he received.

His name is on the list of people who have worked on lucid dreams in America, presumably all salaried, from whom I have requested a donation of £1000 a year each to support my work in my independent academic institution. None of these people have had the decency to send me a small fraction of their salaries, which would have appeared to me natural in the circumstances.

We will make some sort of protest to the BBC, although this is very difficult when our secretarial capacity is already so overloaded.

Another American research worker, Jayne Gackenbach, told me that she had put some money of her own into supporting an organisation of people having lucid dreams, so that they could compare notes and publish a journal. But although she had been prepared to put some of her money into that, she had not been prepared to put even an equivalent amount into supporting the person who had originated this field of research in which she was allegedly working.

I asked Jayne Gackenbach if she could suggest ways in which I could get financial support to carry on my own research. ‘Oh no’, she said, ‘Getting money for research is impossible. I have given up on trying to get any’. She conveniently avoided noticing the great difference between her position and mine, that she had all the advantages of a salaried academic career. Being deprived of this, I needed large-scale funding for research in a specific area, to start making good the lack of money to live on and the lack of an institutional environment to provide the minimum conditions necessary for a tolerable life.

26 June 2012

Academia and the IPR: not mutually exclusive

There has always been a tendency to represent working in (or being associated in any way with) my incipient independent academic organisation, known as the Institute of Psychophysical Research, as if it were an alternative to an academic career, and that a career in the IPR and a university career were mutually exclusive. This has been used as a way of forcing those who became associated with me into an outcast position.

Consider, for example, the case of Dr Charles McCreery.

In his final year at New College, Charles had met me and become aware that my intellectual precocity had led to hostility which, since I was not free to make my own decisions, had ruined my education and career prospects. He recognised parallels to his own problems in those I had encountered, and saw that my position was, at least superficially, even more appalling than his own, on account of my low socioeconomic status, which in fact arose from the social displacement of two families with aristocratic antecedents.

Therefore he wanted to help me and thought that he could do so, as he saw no reason why my fund-raising, virtually aborted by the hostility of Somerville and senior academics associated with the SPR, could not immediately be put on an altogether different footing by invoking the aid of his parents and their numerous wealthy and statusful contacts.

Therefore, after his degree, he did not immediately embark on a career at the Tavistock Clinic in London or at Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, but put his energies into assisting with my fund-raising campaign. The future structure of the Institute and his possible relation to it, probably working for academic status on his own account while helping me to plan projects and organise research assistants, would depend on the scale of operation that was possible, and this could not be determined until it was seen how successful the fund-raising could be.

I was always keen on the idea of my associates working for DPhils and aiming at professorial status, so that their academic status could be used to support my own applications for Professorships.

Charles had been considering applying to work as a clinical psychologist at the Tavistock Clinic. I thought that I might prefer him to do a DPhil and proceed to an academic appointment in Oxford, but he was disenchanted with what went on at the Department and thought that he would probably prefer the Tavistock.

I deferred any discussion of the alternatives until it could be seen how successful the fund-raising could be, and what scale of operation it might permit. The more successful it was, the easier it would be to combine our research activities with Charles having a salaried job in London.

In any case, there was certainly no plan, either on his part or on mine, for his association with the Institute to involve any detraction from other career paths. It is perfectly possible for an academic – provided he is successful enough, whether in terms of peer approval, public success or fund-raising skills – to combine roles for a number of different institutions at the same time. This was certainly the idea when we started, even if in retrospect it was over-optimistic, since it underestimated the opposition we would encounter.

In fact the fund-raising was aborted by the hostility of Charles’s parents, who joined forces with those who were already hostile to us, in spite of having agreed to become Patrons, and hence ostensible supporters. General and Lady McCreery both made tiny covenants, ludicrously incommensurate with the benefits which they bestowed on Charles’s siblings.

Charles was driven into the breach with his family by their persistent and insulting hostility, in spite of the great efforts he made, over a period of at least a year, to comply with their demands. In putting so much pressure on him, one may suppose that his family were motivated to justify themselves in slandering and disinheriting him. His siblings, of course, had the additional motive of seeing the opportunity to enlarge their own shares of any inheritance from which he was excluded.

The idea has always been widely promoted that, in setting up the legal constitution of an independent academic organisation, I was setting up something in which people could work as an alternative to an academic career. My potential associates were, almost always, people with very high IQs who might normally have been regarded as good prospects for such careers. The image which tended to be foisted upon us – that of a group of ‘enthusiasts’ for some unusual area of research – was maintained by the repeated rejection of my associates for higher degrees, or for appointments.

This, of course, may have had something to do with the storms of slander which arose whenever there seemed to be a possibility of my gaining an advantage by acquiring a financial supporter or an advantageous associate.

Charles, with his family connections, was the most potentially advantageous associate I had ever had, or have had since. The fund-raising having been aborted, it was clear that his working at the Tavistock would be too demanding, in view of the costs of travel to London and accommodation when there, so that the option of taking a DPhil at the Department of Experimental Psychology now became the best possible one.

However, the pressure upon us continued to be so great that Charles did not attempt to take a DPhil until he was 44, and his then obtaining it led to nothing, as no allowance was made for the difficulties created by our anomalous position. Far from it, of course, he was stigmatised by the well-publicised awareness of his association with me, and could obtain only disadvantageous appointments, such as that of College Lecturer in Experimental Psychology at Magdalen College. For this he received only a pittance, but continued to hope that this sweated labour might lead to better opportunities.

Without going into detail about all the discriminations against him, and the rationalisations used to justify his exclusion, it became clear that he was, like me, to be kept out of any appointment worth having.

It has throughout been the case that we were motivated to do research work which would enhance our individual claims on academic careers aimed at Professorial status, but this was made impossible by the financial siege conditions. No money could reach us from any source, so research, and even the writing and publishing of books, became impossible. It remains the case that we are attempting to raise funds to enable us to establish our claim on starting our forty-year academic careers, however belatedly.

22 June 2012

Worthless ‘degrees’, pointless ‘research’

I wrote previously about how socialism had been a bad influence in my life until I got a very modest amount of support in setting up my independent research establishment from a newspaper tycoon, Cecil Harmsworth King. As I had been thrown out at the end of the state-funded ‘education’ with no usable qualification, I had seen no way ahead but to set up my own academic institution to provide me with the circumstances of a tolerable and intellectually productive life.

The temporary initial support from Cecil King was the only non-trivial support I have ever had. By trivial I mean donations and covenants which cost more in accountancy, bookkeeping work and letters of acknowledgement than they are adequate to pay for. Neither bookkeepers nor secretaries come cheap, or are reliable.

I am still in need of financial support now.

When the very modest amount of finance from Cecil King ended we were left with no support from any source. I would not get into debt, nor would I sell the house, so we lived from hand to mouth.

It has continued to be impossible to get financial support from any source. The modern world has become increasingly averse to ‘unsupervised’ research, in which a person might be free to find something out. The concept of supervised ‘research’, on the other hand, has expanded as ever larger populations acquire worthless doctorates, Masters’ degrees, and so on. Before a certain date I do not think that the concept of research included ‘supervision’; I am not sure what that date was. Certainly by the time I was an undergraduate there were ‘research students’ working under supervision for ‘higher degrees’.

People, especially of course academics, like to talk as if ‘degrees’ had some intrinsic value, and as if one should be grateful to the university for allowing one the opportunity to use one’s ability in this ‘interesting’ way, even if one has been receiving no salary and, on the contrary, paying fees to the university.

It is important to realise that none of the degrees, at whatever level, which have been obtained by people here were of the slightest use. This includes my own DPhil, which I obtained in 1996. In every case it was a matter of putting in a good deal of hard, boring and pointless work over a period of years, with the sole aim of obtaining a qualification, which one had to hope would lead to a salaried appointment, or its equivalent in the form of a grant adequate to support comparable work outside a university.

I always hoped that my colleagues Dr Charles McCreery and Dr Fabian Wadel would attain professorial status as quickly as possible, so as to be able to use their status in support of my applications for Professorships, etc. But their careers never progressed beyond the stage of sweated labour; doing useless but tiring work to obtain academic ‘recognition’.

19 June 2012

Lucid dreams

My colleague Dr Charles McCreery recently sent the following comment to the BBC in connection with a page about lucid dreaming on their online News Magazine.
I think any article which purports to include even a brief account of the history of scientific research into the phenomenon of lucid dreaming should mention the contribution of Celia Green, whose book Lucid Dreams was first published in 1968. Both Stephen LaBerge and Keith Hearne, whose later contributions are mentioned in the article, have acknowledged in their publications Dr Green’s priority in the field and their indebtedness to her work.
In fact, the subject of lucid dreaming did not exist even as a non-academic field of interest, prior to the publication of Lucid Dreams.

The definitive signal that our work had led to acceptance of two new fields of research as academic subjects was that Oxford University (I gathered) started to list both lucid dreams and out-of-the-body experiences as suitable topics for postgraduate theses, in both Psychology and Lit.Hum.

Professor Jayne Gackenbach, a lucid dream researcher in America, said some years later that Lucid Dreams was still the most referenced work in academic papers on the subject of lucid dreaming.

The relevant departments of my unfunded independent university are effectively censored and suppressed. They have been prevented for decades from publishing analyses of the complex issues involved, while misleading and tendentious representations of them have continued to flood out from socially recognised sources. I hereby apply for financial support on a scale at least adequate for one active and fully financed university research department, to all universities, and to corporations or individuals who consider themselves to be in a position to give support to socially recognised academic establishments.

07 June 2012

State pension: not enough to live on

The number of older people who will be forced to pay their own care bills will double over the next 20 years to more than a quarter of a million, a report said yesterday. It said spending constraints and growing demand for help will mean councils no longer provide any care apart from that which the law forces them to pay for. (Daily Mail, 30 May 2012)
A number of pensioners who are now struggling and suffering would not be, if the state pensions, for which they had qualified by paying the necessary contributions for up to 45 years, had not subsequently become means-tested.

In The Great Pensions Swindle, the author describes exchanges in Parliament from which one gathers that there was a strong emotional investment in the idea of paying ‘benefits’ only to those in ‘real need’, that is, those who would not have their freedom increased by the payment, as it would all be accounted for by outgoings necessary for staying alive.

At the time (about 1970) this did not suit the Government’s book, as they needed to justify raising the contributions made towards pensions, so as to have more money available for their favourite forms of expenditure, such as salaries paid to doctors, teachers, social workers etc. for their activities in reducing the freedom of others. Therefore it was necessary to talk as if a person’s contributions were paying for a certain level of pension, in a way that was comparable to previous commercial schemes.

By now, post-means-testing, few people remember what went on, or impressions that were created, around 1970.

People do not complain that they were given no warning that means-testing might come about. Certainly I was acutely aware of the difference between a benefit and a pension paid ‘as of right’ when I made the efforts necessary to pay voluntary contributions over 40 years, being usually unsalaried and unable to draw income support.

But, it may be objected, most people are not making a deliberate choice about paying or not. They pay automatically because they have a job which involves compulsory national insurance contributions, and so they cannot complain if the government subsequently changes its mind about what it will pay, or at what age it will pay it. However, while it is true that they may not think about the deductions from their pay packet, and may acquiesce in what is considered a sensible thing to do, they always might think about it, and do something else instead. And the consensus always might decide that salaried jobs with pension deductions were bad value, and it might become received wisdom that everyone should run a small business from home instead.
A fifth of workers are putting nothing into a personal pension, threatening poverty in old age. People are sacrificing saving for their retirement in favour of covering immediate bills such as mortgages, heating and food. The proportion of those who are saving the minimum needed into a personal pension to provide a comfortable old age has fallen to an all-time low of 46 per cent.

Pensions expert Scottish Widows ... said most people are hoping for a retirement income of £24,500 in order to provide a decent standard of living. (Daily Mail, 21 May 2012)
Various means-tested benefits are suggested, such as a few free stamps for Christmas cards, or going on a cheap ‘social’ tariff to be provided by energy suppliers. These would all involve an extra workload for salaried staff, who would need to interact with each applicant about the validity of his claim.

No one suggests that the pensions already paid for should be restored to a non-means-tested, and more realistic, basis. Discussing plans for a future non-means-tested pension, the Scottish Widows experts give £24,500 p.a. as the amount that most people hope for on retirement to provide a decent standard of living.

The present basic (non-means-tested) state pension is less than £5,500 p.a., so that the gap is considerable. If the present basic pension were raised to, say, £20,000 p.a., a considerable number of pensioners could be relieved of extreme pressure, conceivably at less cost to the taxpayer than relieving the same number by complicated schemes to provide marginal relief with specific expenses, such as bus fares, Council Tax, heating, meals on wheels, etc.

But the reason that people do not like this idea is that some pensioners, who have other pensions, or a certain amount of capital, might have some money (i.e. freedom) left after the most basic expenses. And we know that the ‘fair’ society is one in which there is no freedom at all for anyone. The average voter, I expect, is far more interested in absolute fairness, in this sense, than in the cheapest method of providing for certain types of distress.

04 June 2012

Social engineering and the Thought Police

The following is an extract from an article by Professor Max Hammerton* entitled ‘The Thought Police’ in a recent issue of the Oxford Magazine, which mildly endorses the idea that heritability of intelligence undermines demands that there should be more representation among university students from outside the middle class.
David Hume, the greatest philosopher of modern times, rightly pointed out that no ‘ought’ statement can validly be deduced from any ‘is’ statement. However, if you accept some ‘ought’, an ‘is’ may tell you how some action, or want of action, may help or hinder its achievement. Now I trust that you will agree with this ‘ought’: that ability to profit from a course of study should be the only criterion for a person’s being selected for that course. If it should appear that factors other than ability are influencing the outcome then there is a case for altering the selection procedures used. (Oxford Magazine, No.325, p.7)
I certainly do not agree with Hammerton that the ‘ability to profit from a course of study should be the only criterion for a person’s being selected for that course.’

This implies a context within which a ‘course of study’ is a necessary prerequisite for obtaining a qualification and is not devised and paid for by the person seeking the qualification, or by his representative (parents, etc.). The ‘course of study’ is an obstacle race devised by people who have been given their positions by other people, all the way back to a democratically elected government, the members of which are motivated to win approval from the population at large. The ‘course of study’ devised in this way cannot even be freely bought by anyone who has sufficient money to do so. It is bestowed upon those who are selected to receive it by agents of the collective who are empowered to do so.

When the Oppressive State was introduced in 1945, people, including those with above-average IQs, rejoiced that they would receive, under the names of ‘education’ and ‘medicine’, goods which corresponded to things for which they might previously have wished to pay.

However, ‘courses of study’ for which you have not paid directly cannot be presumed to be a positive factor in any sense. They are certainly likely to be less positive than those for which you might have paid, as indeed is generally supposed to be the case in comparing state-funded ‘education’ with private education (with the consequence that those who have not been exposed to state schools ‘should’ be discriminated against). Or the unpaid-for version may be so destructive in every respect that you would be far better off without it.

‘Caveat emptor’ does not apply, because you are not paying for what you get.

Those who run a person’s ‘free’ education may act on any combination of ideological rationalisation and personal malice. As Hammerton says, ‘it is now a generally adopted act of faith that group differences simply do not exist, and any hint that they may is to be suppressed by the Thought Police.’

It is not only an act of faith, but expert dogma, that differences between individuals are predominantly the result of environmental influences.

Therefore, we may plausibly assume, agents of the collective are strongly motivated to make their beliefs appear true, and will stop at nothing to ruin the lives of those with exceptional ability, who might otherwise give the naive observer grounds for wondering whether ability is not, in fact, largely innate.

A recent Daily Mail quotes someone as admitting that the middle classes (in other words, those with higher average IQs) are being discriminated against. Actually, in my experience, high IQs have been discriminated against throughout my lifetime (from the age of 10 onwards, when I was first exposed to state-funded education).
Mary Curnock Cook raised a series of concerns over the so-called social engineering of university admissions. Under the policy, universities are expected to make background checks on applicants and use the information to reduce entry grades for poorer students. But Mrs Curnock Cook, chief executive of UCAS, warned that ‘somebody has to lose out’ unless the total number of university places increases ...

The UCAS chief went on to admit she had ‘real concerns’ over the quality of official data on pupils’ backgrounds supplied to universities. The system could result in discrimination against deprived pupils who received bursaries to go to private schools while giving an advantage to wealthy pupils at under-achieving schools, she suggested ...

Her remarks to a conference came on the day Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg launched a major social mobility drive aimed at breaking the grip of middle-class families on top jobs and sought-after universities. (Daily Mail, 1 June 2012)
Of course somebody has to lose out, and it will obviously be offspring of the middle class, i.e. those statistically likely to have higher IQs.

Expressing concerns over whether the discrimination urged on universities may not work exactly in the directions intended merely diverts attention away from the more serious flaw in the whole programme of admissions engineering: that there is no reason why discriminating in favour of some relatively excluded social group is going to result in more, rather than less, weight being given to innate ability. The issue of heritability is simply ignored. One may well conclude that the programme is essentially an effective part of the strategy for discriminating against ability.

* Professor Emeritus in Psychology at Newcastle University. Head of Department 1973-92.

03 June 2012

Barking up the wrong tree

Nick Clegg vows to tackle Britain’s lack of social mobility
Nick Clegg said it was a ‘national scandal’ that some of the country’s brightest children were left behind because they came from poor backgrounds. (Guardian)
It should be a national scandal – but apparently is not – that some of the country’s brightest adults are forced out of academia because their IQs are too high.

The account of the situation, and of the supposedly competing views on it, contained in the article from which the above extract is taken is wildly fictitious, and the various unexamined assumptions which are implied in it cannot be analysed without writing at considerable length.

However, I may observe that in 1946 I went to an Ursuline High School with a grammar school scholarship (at the age of 10), and even at that time the egalitarian ideology that would deprive the most able of opportunity was clearly operative, although not yet so explicit as it subsequently became.

I developed an increasingly strong conviction that the real motivation underlying the state-funded educational system was to block the way of the really exceptional. This, after all, is much the easiest way of making space at the top for the mediocre – to knock out the most exceptional (with IQs over 160, say) who would otherwise occupy an ‘unfairly’ high proportion of the top positions in society, so that more spaces are left to be competed for by the much larger population of people with IQs of around 140, or even 130.

What is the IQ profile of the population currently holding salaried academic appointments? I dread to think. Sixty years ago I read that the average IQ of those doing scientific research at Cambridge was – well, I forget the exact figure – something in the region of 120.

Nick Clegg could start to tackle the real problems of stasis in social mobility by addressing the difficulties of those here who have been deprived of the academic or other careers to which they are well suited.