Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Nancy L. Zingrone and I commented in a short communication about a recent editorial by Etzel Cardeña in the Journal of Parapsychology: Alvarado, C.S., & Zingrone, N.L. (2018). Forgetting the Past. Journal of Parapsychology, 82, 213-215.

Nancy Zingrone 2019

Nancy L. Zingrone

Cardeña wrote about the “ignorance or disregard [some show] . . . of earlier and very pertinent research and literature, as if somehow the topic had not been studied until the authors decided to focus their attention on it” (Cardeña, E. (2017). Editorial: On scientific amnesia. Journal of Parapsychology, 81, 104-105). We argued that the topic was important because such disregard “may produce incomplete views based on lack of historical continuity that, in turn, cause misconceptions, as well as rediscoveries or reformulations of previous findings and ideas.”

We argued that this problem suggests that some persons may have forgotten that literature reviews in science are helpful in “the exploration of relevant theoretical ideas . . . in the development of hypotheses and [in] the selection of research methodology.” But the situation may also indicate that “some persons in the field, particularly those coming from other areas, have a low level of basic literacy in the parapsychological literature.”

Some examples of this problem were briefly presented citing three examples from the literature. Furthermore, it was stated that instead of dismissing the issue by labelling it as trivial, or by stating that this is a common problem in science, we should instead accept we need to solve the problem.

One way to address the problem is the compilation of bibliographies (click here), the presentation of comprehensive literature reviews (click here and here), and the organization of educational lectures presented by workers in the field (click here). We end our brief comment saying:

“In addition to the constant growth of literature in all topics—a somewhat less daunting prospect in parapsychological literature than in mainstream science—a key problem here is the belief that trying to know as much as we can about the past literature relevant to our topics of concern is not important to our future success. Authors are the first ones who need to be concerned about this, but they can and need to be assisted by the critical eye of editors and referees . . . We are not arguing that every paper needs a long review going back to antiquity, drawing in historical sources for every aspect of the topic. In fact, some reviews are too general or unfocused, full of references not of direct relevance to the topic at hand. But a good review is important, as we have argued, because it provides context, builds consensus, and deepens the meaningfulness of our research.”