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Comment--Reducing Conflict and Enhancing Quality of Life in Israel

Cultic Studies Journal, 1986, Volume 3, Number 1, pages 103-106

Reducing Conflict and Enhancing Quality of Life in Israel Using the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Program: Explanation of a Social Research Project

Charles N. Alexander

David W. Orme-Johnson

The following letter provides a pint by point response to “The Use of Transcendental Meditation to Promote Social Progress in Israel,” by Dr. Mordecai Kaffman, which begins on page 135 of this issue of the Cultic Studies Journal.

Thank you for this opportunity to reply to Dr. Kaffman. We never received the letter to which he refers. We do know, however, that he sent a similar critical letter to certain members of our review boards. We address Dr. Kaffman’s points in order.

  1. Dr. Kaffman implies that unbeknownst to others, we began the project in early August, 1983. An initial general proposal was sent to Dr. Kaffman in March, 1983. In April and early May, we sent a further proposal to over thirty Israeli scientists for their review. On the basis of feedback from the U.S. and Israel, we then removed approximately one-third of the potential measures for the revised July proposal. We did not begin the project without others being informed. In fact, the final July proposal explicitly states (page 10), “The initial phase of the intervention is planned to begin on August 1, 1983.” During the first weeks of our stay in Israel, we did meet with as many of these scientists as possible to further discuss the project and finalize selection of a smaller subset of measures.  As we anticipated, this selection process was constrained by the lack of readily “available” daily time series. We used all nonredundant daily time series available to us prior to departure. The seven final indicators represented all three major categories – peace and national security, quality of life, and the economy – and included the measures most frequently used in past research. Measures were finalized in advance of any data analysis.
  1. The square root of 1% effect is said to be produced through “group dynamics of consciousness.” It is proposed that a minimum “critical mass” of coherently interacting people is required before this amplification effect can be reliably observed. In a community of 100, both 1% and the square root of 1% would equal one person. Clearly, this would not even constitute a group! None of the over twenty square root of 1% studies accepted for publication in Scientific Research on the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi Program, vol. 4, was on a population smaller than a million because it was decided that small groups of less than approximately 100 may not reliably produce such amplification effects.
  1. We do not doubt the sincerity of Dr. Kaffman’s motivation, yet he implies that we intentionally misled or manipulated those with whom we interacted on this project. The July proposal (p. 10) states, “While the experimenters cannot fully randomize the dates of the initial intervention and subsequent increases, they are viewed as being essentially arbitrarily assigned …” Due to pragmatic constraints in implementing this naturalistic study, it simply did not prove possible to specify precisely in advance the daily number of participants or to systematically step up participation level according to a predefined schedule. The numbers of participants for each session were recorded on a daily basis, and it was found that the distribution of the fifteen largest group size days of the 61 series essentially followed a random pattern. The starting date of the research and its location was specified in advance in the July proposal. As stated above, we employed the daily time series variables listed in our proposal, or as close as possible depending on availability during our stay. The following general predictions in the proposal were in fact tested: large scale effects when the group size approached 200; holistic change on broad composite indices; and city, national, and then larger regional effects based on corresponding increases in group size. The daily number of participants in the program was sent to the two review boards after the end of August, after the end of September, and at the close of the study, specifying the last date in Jerusalem. A written progress report midway through the study was sent to the U.S. review board. We met personally with each member of the Israeli review board at least twice during our stay (with the exception of one researcher who, due to a family emergency, could not meet with us prior to our departure). After returning to the U.S., we sent both review boards a 12 page summary of results and 36 pages of figures displaying findings via different methods of analysis.

We were the ones to make a proposal to Dr. Guttman’s institute. The institute decided on administrative grounds (which were certainly understandable) not to collaborate on the project. Dr. Guttman was still willing to consult, but we could not afford the fee which he felt was minimally necessary. We invited Dr. Guttman to be on our review board, but his time did not permit. Several potential collaborators responded favorably to our project, but were not quite ready to participate. In retrospect, this is not surprising. Our hypotheses were highly novel and in most cases new to these established “independent” researchers. In other words, we did actively seek outside collaboration, but it was difficult to procure. Dr. Neumann did generously agree to collaborate, but found he did not have the time, etc., to fill that role. Therefore, we agreed that he should instead serve as head of the Israeli review board, and he was listed as such after that point. Dr. Neumann did suggest that we send data to outside statisticians. Dr. Larimore, Senior Research Engineer, Scientific Systems, Inc., Cambridge, MA, a leading mathematical statistician in time series analysis, agreed to shift from a research advisor to a collaborator on the project and is a co-author of the final study.

The decision to explain our results to the media was a difficult one. An initial phases of the study had been completed and funding was exhausted before we could undertake a critical second phase. Our study showed a strong statistical association between daily variation in group size and degree of fighting in Lebanon. Dr. Orme-Johnson had to return at short notice to the U.S. We felt a moral obligation to at least make these initial results known before our departure. We also felt obligated, however, to discuss our reasoning with review board members and to receive their feedback before the meeting. At great expense and effort we held a conference call with all members of the U.S. review board (and one Israeli review board member in the U.S.) and explained why we wanted to discuss the results publicly. We then held a luncheon meeting with the Israeli review board; though two of the three members thought they could come, only Dr. Neumann was able to attend. We went over in detail with Dr. Neumann what we intended to say. In fact, Dr. Neumann attended the media conference and provided his own constructive input. After the meeting, we encouraged Dr. Neumann to contact members of the review boards to share his reaction. Finally, we had no prior knowledge of the ad placed in Psychology Today by the Transcendental Meditation organization which, in any event, did not mention the Israel study.

  1. On the basis of his own analysis of the data, Dr. Kaffman reaches the “clear    cut conslusion” of no evidence “whatever” of positive change, and attributes our contradictory results solely to subjective  bias. Though we do not doubt that Dr. Kaffman did such research, we have not been provided with data, analytic procedures, specific results, etc. by which to evaluate his findings. We have sent to the Editor [of the CSJ] our own paper documenting our final results based on publicly available data sources such as the Israel Police Department. Apparently, Dr. Kaffman’s analyses were based on aggregated data comparing two 2-week periods. In his earlier letter to the review board, he says that the latter period was two weeks in September-October. In the letter submitted to this journal [to the CSJ] he says that this latter period was the last two weeks in September. The first week in October was not even included in our analysis because it was after the group left Jerusalem. Our analyses were based on individual daily data points (with the series’ autocorrelation structure removed) over a 61-day period. Hence, our series was over twice as long and overlapped with his by only one-third, if his last week was in October. Therefore, he lacked over half the information and, as well, the statistical power to detect effects. Further, while participation was consistently high from August 15-27, the actual peak numbers occurred in early September, with another high peak in later September (which would have been in his control period). His series were too short for application of time-series analytic procedures. The aggregation procedures which these techniques involve are inappropriate to time-series data because they assume that daily data points are independent (uncorrelated). The violation of this statistical assumption can lead to gross distortion in the estimation process. All of our final results are based on the far more appropriate method of Box-Jenkins impact assessment time series analysis (ARIMA). In comparing two summer weeks relatively near the beginning of the series to the last two weeks, his analyses could not help but be confounded by change in seasonal or weekly trends. Whereas our continuous series and application of ARIMA methods mitigate against the influence of linear and cyclic trends within the data. Further, we statistically controlled for the potential influence of holidays and daily maximum temperature in Jerusalem through ARIMA transfer function methodology.

While Dr. Kaffman says that there were no positive changes, apparently he did not even assess the two conflict variables (war deaths and the intensity of fighting in Lebanon) which were the most important measures in our peace study, nor number of fires (as another indicator of accidents). In all likelihood, the four remaining variables which he used were operationalized differently. Finally, and most importantly, he did not create any holistic indices of change, which we predicted in the proposal (p. 6) would provide the most powerful and revealing indication of societal change, nor did he assess the general prediction of spread of effect as the group increased in size. In fact, we found that the effect size associated with the overall composite index was twice that associated with the raw variables taken separately, and that three stochastically independent indices for quality of life in Jerusalem, Israel, and the war in Lebanon tended to be sequentially influenced as the size of the group grew, with the Lebanon war only appearing to be affected when the group was largest.

  1. The reverse of the problem to which Dr. Kaffman alludes is that when a respected scientist summarily dismisses a highly novel research program and implicitly labels it as cult activity (by sending his letter to a scholarly journal devoted to that subject), it will create doubt or fear in others so that they will not evaluate the research with an open mind. This would be especially unfortunate when that research is directed toward assessing a new and potentially viable approach to the apparently unresolvable problems of conflict and war.  Whereas Dr. Kaffman invokes the negative example of N-rays, one could also cite instances where the resistance of the scientific community to novel hypotheses actually obstructed the advancement of science and its positive application to human life. For example, the resistance of the medical community to the germ theory of disease and antisepsis prevented the saving of countless lives in the nineteenth century. Regarding Dr. Kaffman’s earlier remarks on Mesmer, whereas Mesmer’s “cosmic fluid” lacked foundation in the laws of physics, the positing of a unified quantum field at the foundation of all animate and inanimate objects (all force and matter fields) represents the dominant viewpoint in current theoretical physics and has become its primary focus of research. Indeed, the recent demonstration of inherently non-local effects associated with such a field by S. Hawking of Cambridge University makes the unified field a plausible physical candidate for mediating extended field effects of consciousness.
  1. This project was planned and executed while Dr. Alexander held an appointment as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University during 1982-83 and 1983-84 under a tenured professor. Dr. Alexander also received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Harvard. Of course, Harvard as an entity did not “officially endorse” this project – what would that even mean? As a precaution, however, we added a note (proposal, p. 15) explicitly stating that neither the department with which Dr. Alexander was affiliated nor the university as such “officially endorses any particular programs under investigation by their researchers.” Results of another study on the positive effects of TM conducted by Dr. Alexander and colleagues at Harvard during this time are described in the October, 1986 issue of the American Psychological Association Monitor. Dr. Alexander was also awarded a visiting faculty position at Maharishi International University (MIU) later during this period. He subsequently became a full-time faculty member at MIU during 1984-85.
  1. We deeply appreciate this opportunity to address these issues in detail.

Charles N. Alexander, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Psychology at Maharishi International University, Fairfield, IA. David W. Orme-Johnson, Ph.D., is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychology, and Director of the Doctoral Program in Psychology at Maharishi International University.