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  • Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results

    Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results
    Ciaran O’Keeffe and Richard Wiseman

    Mediums claim to be able to communicate with the deceased. Such claims attract a considerable amount of public interest and, if valid, have important implications for many areas of psychology. For over 100 years, researchers have tested alleged mediums. This work has obtained mixed results and provoked a considerable amount of methodological debate. This paper reviews the key issues in this debate, describes how the authors devised a method of testing that aimed to prevent the many problems that have hindered past research, and how they then used this method to test several professional mediums. The results of this work did not support the existence of genuine mediumistic ability. Competing interpretations of these results are discussed, along with ways in which the methodology presented in the paper could be used to assess conceptually similar, but non-paranormal, claims made in clinical, occupational and forensic contexts.

    http://www.psy.herts.ac.uk/wiseman/papers/MediumBJP.pdf

    What does everyone think?

  • #2
    I've never heard of any studies that deals with seances, so this is intriguing. I would like to know what Dean Radin would say about it, and I would also like to know if the authors of the study were skeptics.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Psibeliever View Post
      I've never heard of any studies that deals with seances, so this is intriguing. I would like to know what Dean Radin would say about it, and I would also like to know if the authors of the study were skeptics.
      Wiseman is usually considered a skeptic. O'keefe, I think, believes but considers the evidence to fall short of scientific standards. Best form your own opinion on their positions by looking at their home pages.

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Miguel View Post
        What does everyone think?
        To answer my own question:
        I see 2 potential short-falls.
        1) It is often claimed that a skeptical sitter can "block the energy" or something equivalent. It would have been good to screen sitters to make sure that they believe in mediumship.
        2) It would have been desirable to have sitters who had a discarnate to contact. Maybe by making sure that they had a death in the family or among friends in the last 1-2 years. The way it was done: It could be said that the medium did contact an unknown relative or other spirit who was simply not recognized by the sitter.

        The controls against sensory leakage and other biases were exemplary.

        Comment


        • #5
          A critique of the Ciaran O’Keeffe and Richard Wiseman paper 'Testing alleged mediumship: Methods and results'

          The paper implies prior (successful) mediumship studies suffer from rater bias. However the Wiseman/O'Keeffe paper has added probable bias in the opposite direction.

          Error 1 - Skeptical Rater Bias
          'Investigator 2' (Richard Wiseman?) in this paper, finds the 'sitters' for the experiment who rated the mediums readings. The paper states ....

          Sitters
          The five sitters (all male, age range 25–30) were either students or staff from the university. They were selected from a pool of individuals who responded to a general e-mail, circulated within the university, asking for volunteers to be involved in a scientific test of mediumship.
          1.Males have been shown in surveys to be more skeptical of mediumship and psychic claims than females.
          2.Academics have been shown in surveys to be more skeptical than the general public and at least one (or more) of the sitters were 'staff' from the university
          3.It is likely 'students' sitters were psychology students, whose training involves skepticism towards psychic phenomena.
          4.Young adults tend to be more skeptical towards the claims of mediums than the older age groups, past generations.

          Therefore, the 5 sitters selected were likely to be of a highly skeptical disposition, likely to subconsciously (or consciously) rate statements in a manner less favourable to mediums .

          Although all 5 skeptical sitters were adequately blinded, it should be noted that the success or failure of the mediums was completely dependent on the rating by the skeptical sitters. Skeptical sitters may have subconsciously (or consciously) rated mediums poor fitting statements higher or good fitting statements lower . Whilst the authors point out rater bias amongst believers, their experimental protocol has failed to recognize that disbelievers are also likely to rate readings in an opposing biased manner.

          Suggested solution for future experimentation: As the sitters were blinded, the experiment should have chosen sitters who believe such phenomena is possible to optimize scoring of statements ... since the believers are blinded to which reading is their own, their bias cannot help the mediums to succeed ...this is not the case with biased skeptics who can prevent mediums by subconsciously rating inaccurately .... at least one can assume believers tried their very best to score the mediums statements.



          Error 2 - Questionable method of choosing mediums

          Investigator 1 (Ciaran O'Keeffe?) looked for the mediums.

          Mediums
          The five mediums (3 female, 2 male; age range 42–55) were recruited via a list of certified mediums provided by the Spiritualists Nationalist Union (SNU). The SNU stated that all of the mediums on this list had undergone a rigorous selection procedure and were subject to continual assessment.
          However ... the Spiritualists National Union method of certifying medium's ability seems more subjective than objective, much more concerned with following their rules and guidelines. The assessors may rate mediums higher who give non-evidential but pleasant philosophy talks and present their religion well from a platform.

          Although good mediums are acknowledged to be low in numbers, hundreds of SNU churches require mediums to perform several days a week, week in / week out at hundreds of public services, so the majority of names on their list could be keen mediums with a rather borderline psychic ability.

          Future medium research, should require preliminary research to look for better mediums, rather than assume all have similar levels of ability. Prior research has indicated the importance of carefully selecting mediums.

          In this context, the term 'Professional Mediums' term used throughout this paper seems an attempt to portray largely amateur mediums as the best mediums around. Also the term implies these mediums make a sole living from giving readings, yet most SNU platform mediums seem to charge mainly travel expenses and receive a percentage of low cost SNU church private readings. Such loaded terms in a scientific paper should have been avoided. For example if the paper referred to Wiseman/O'Keeffe as 'Professional Skeptics' it would bias the reader as to the intepretation, although Wiseman in particular has performed such a role many times on TV programmes in the UK...



          Error 3 - Failure to properly test a mediumship or even telepathy hypothesis

          The paper states ....
          These rooms were acoustically isolated from one another, such that the sitter could not hear the medium and vice versa.............. The sitter was supplied with a portable stereo system and headphones so that they could listen to music throughout
          Why? The rooms were already soundproof, having sitters listening to music while the medium is giving a reading wrecks testing a telepathy hypothesis.

          (a) A medium claims to be the link between a discarnate communicator and the sitter ... why is the sitter not trying to help the medium succeed, as in Ganzfeld telepathy experiments?

          (b) A mediumship claim is much more a claim of telepathy (with discarnate) than an ability to remote read someone disinterested while they listen to music.

          (c) A 'medium' (unlike 'psychic') claims discarnates contact the medium, not that the mediums can call up discarnates for anyone.

          To test the claim seriously and fairly, the correct order should have been .... Keen sitter asking telepathically for close discarnate relatives or discarnate friends to make contact with medium. ... then willing discarnates attracted by sitter's intention gives coherent information to medium who then gives reading.

          In conclusion, there are too many flaws for this paper to be viewed as more authoriative than many prior (often successful) trials of mediums in the long history of psychical research.
          Last edited by Open Mind; January 21st, 2009, 09:42 PM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
            Error 1 - Skeptical Rater Bias
            I agree: This is a potential problem.
            I'm a bit surprised at your labelling this an error, though. What evidence do you have that this is a 'probable' issue?
            In our previous discussion I called something a potential problem and you objected on the grounds that there was no evidence that it would be a real problem. Surely you have such evidence when you use such strong language here?

            Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
            Error 2 - Questionable method of choosing mediums
            This is not an error.
            You may believe that the SNU's medium certification is bogus: Many will disagree. There is no established procedure for testing mediums therefor one cannot complain that it was not used.
            Worse: What the argument boils down to is that only positive results should be published.
            We should work to avoid publication bias not to produce it.

            Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
            Error 3 - Failure to properly test a mediumship or even telepathy hypothesis
            This is not an error.
            The complaint here seems to be that the experiment did not test your private theory of mediumship. However, neither O'Keefe and Wiseman nor anyone else is obligated to do so.
            It is true that one cannot draw conclusions about mediumship in general but only about the 5 mediums in question under these specific circumstances. If the paper contained such conclusions then it would be correct to point these out as unwarranted but it does not.

            Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
            In conclusion, there are too many flaws for this paper to be viewed as more authoriative than many prior (often successful) trials of mediums in the long history of psychical research.
            Out of curiosity: Do you believe in physical mediumship?
            Ectoplasm, apports and the like...

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by Miguel View Post
              The complaint here seems to be that the experiment did not test your private theory of mediumship.
              No .... I was stating the claim of most 'mediums'

              If you don't believe me here is the Spiritualist National Union (the place O'Keeffe/Wiseman chose their mediums from)

              '.....Spiritualists have learned that the right conditions are necessary for communication to take place and that there must be a spirit person there willing to communicate. Spiritualists do not 'call up' the dead, they cannot summon spirits to come and communicate, it is the other way round , spirits come first and make their presence known...'

              Introduction to Spiritualism
              Note: I am not a spiritualist (or anything else), I am not religious, I am not keen on organized belief or organized disbelief.

              However, neither O'Keefe and Wiseman nor anyone else is obligated to do so.
              They are obliged to test the most common claim of mediums, since their paper was named 'Testing Alledged Mediumship' ... otherwise it becomes an alledged test of alledged mediumship

              Perhaps the Wiseman/O'Keeffe paper should have been named ' 'Can amateur mediums sense information about distracted skeptical sitters in a manner that the skeptics rater bias chooses the intended reading?'

              Comment


              • #8
                Hello again.

                While I agree that there should be more details regarding the selection of the sitters, I think that Open Mind is reading into the paper too much. We don't know if the sitters are skeptical or not, so we cannot make any judgement on the issue. Plus, Open Mind is right on the use of the phrase "professional mediums". That needed to be properly defined.

                Also, it seems like Wiseman and O'Keefe did their best when selecting the mediums, allowing a third party to make the choices. I can't think of any other method of selection that wouldn't fall foul of similar criticisms.

                As for distracting the sitter with music, this is a good idea since it removes telepathy from the equation. If the experiment is trying to measure after-life communication, it's a good idea to dampen other possible variables like ESP.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Ersby View Post
                  Hello again.
                  Greetings Ersby

                  I think that Open Mind is reading into the paper too much.
                  I am just doing what most debunkers do (Is that not what Wiseman/O'Keeffe did with the Gary Schwartz experiments in Skepical Inquirer magazine?)

                  We don't know if the sitters are skeptical or not, so we cannot make any judgement on the issue.
                  Surveys show men as the more sceptical sex, academia as the more skeptical viewpoint, the most skeptical age group is fairly easy to demonstrate by walking into any spiritualist church and you will find mostly older women, some younger women, some older men, and extremely few men in the 25-30 age group that Wiseman chose.

                  I find it hard to believe Wiseman isn't aware of the above tendencies. It seems to me Wiseman deliberately chose the most skeptical group, did he fear being tricked by believers or what? How do we know he didn't choose the most skeptical from that already skeptical group? At what point does skepticism become cynicism or opposition to a claim?

                  Also, it seems like Wiseman and O'Keefe did their best when selecting the mediums, allowing a third party to make the choices. I can't think of any other method of selection that wouldn't fall foul of similar criticisms.
                  I agree. (I made that point in earlier topic) ... however that still doesn't mean the SNU's criteria on choosing good mediums is anything more than subjective opinion.

                  Alex Tsakiris/Skeptiko/Open Source has started with 40+ mediums and is narrowing these down to those with better results. This is a much more objective method, whatever the outcome.

                  As for distracting the sitter with music, this is a good idea since it removes telepathy from the equation.
                  Andrew, mediumship is a claim of some sort of telepathy with a discarnate mind. If you remove telepathy you remove mediumship. There is no reason to assume discarnates can remote view, they don't have physical eyes ... perhaps they can only see the physical world by reading minds of incarnates?

                  If the experiment is trying to measure after-life communication, it's a good idea to dampen other possible variables like ESP.
                  I agree with Julie Beischel when he said on skeptiko interview ....

                  '... “I think people fail to understand that proper research design includes optimizing the possibility of achieving positive results. If you wanted to study plant growth, you don’t put a dry seed on the bench top in the lab and then say, ‘Plants can’t grow.’ You use soil, water, sunlight, and then you study the growth of the seed.” — Dr. Julie Beischel
                  Andrew, what if mediums are right and all ESP theorists are completely wrong? 80 years of parpsychology testing the weaker hypothesis? What if remote viewing/precogntiion are just forms of unconscious mediumship that involve discarnate telepathy? This would fit with the hypothesis that the brain interface evolved to filter out telepathic interference from the consciousness to model physical reality?

                  The discarnates do not have physical eyes problem
                  How do they find the target sitter to read? Can they see the target sitter? Perhaps they telepathically know the sitter is someone listening to music, they wait until some person thinks about music and suddenly they are in a carpark with person reading a newspaper? No good. Next they try another person thinking about music who then starts thinking about what to have for lunch? They don't know yet, suddenly the person recalls Wiseman's joke and the discarnate thinks 'aha, this must be the target sitter' .... however the discarnate then realizes this person is just a colleague of Wiseman in the Cafeteria ..... eventually the discarnate find the correct target sitter and tries to influence them ' please think about a discarnate relative, I need some infromation about you' but the sitter is thinking 'wow, cool guitar solo'

                  The mediums reading might be 'I feel this person is a keen cook?' ... they play the guitar? The skeptic however rates both as misses because even though he remembers the guitar solo, he thinks 'wrong, I don't play guitar'

                  The reseachers on the US CIA/Military remote viewing project did thousands of experiments and reported 'telepathic overlay' ...... is telepathy more fundamental than remote viewing?

                  In otherwords, there is little logical justification for O'Keeffe/Wiseman to make telepathy harder for mediums.

                  Therefore I stand by my earlier comment in this topic .. 'To test the claim seriously and fairly, the correct order should have been .... a keen sitter mentally asking (telepathy) for close discarnate relatives or discarnate friends to make contact with medium. ... then willing discarnates attracted by sitter's intention gives information to medium

                  What alternative hypothesis were O'Keeffe/Wiseman actually testing in their 'mediumship' experiment?
                  Last edited by Open Mind; October 18th, 2009, 11:14 AM.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
                    I am just doing what most debunkers do
                    Why does it matter what they do? Shouldn't you be more concerned with what you do?

                    I agree. (I made that point in earlier topic) ... however that still doesn't mean the SNU's criteria on choosing good mediums is anything more than subjective opinion.
                    But that is your subjective opinion.

                    Andrew, mediumship is a claim of some sort of telepathy with a discarnate mind.
                    As long as the discarnate mind isn't listening to music, I don't see the problem.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
                      I am just doing what most debunkers do
                      Further to this:

                      As long as you tell yourself this is a flaw of skeptics, and not of yourself, then you're never going to take the opposing side seriously. You may even have to change your screen name to something more appropriate.

                      Chris Roe touches on this issue in a paper from a few years back. I only have the abstract, and here's the relevant extract...

                      Critical thinking and belief in the paranormal: A re-evaluation, Roe C. A., British Journal of Psychology, Volume 90, Number 1, February 1999 , pp. 85-98(14)
                      Altogether, 117 participants were characterized as believers, neutrals or disbelievers according to a pre-measure. Subsequently, each participant was asked to evaluate an abbreviated experimental report which was either sympathetic or unsympathetic to parapsychology. [...] There was a significant tendency for those participants who received a paper which was incongruent with their a priori beliefs to rate it as less competently conducted and analysed than those who rated the congruent paper, in keeping with the cognitive dissonance account.
                      So it's not a flaw of the skeptical side, but of human nature in general.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
                        Alex Tsakiris/Skeptiko/Open Source has started with 40+ mediums and is narrowing these down to those with better results. This is a much more objective method, whatever the outcome.
                        Starting with 40+ mediums is not more objective than starting with 5. It is just larger.

                        Andrew, mediumship is a claim of some sort of telepathy with a discarnate mind. If you remove telepathy you remove mediumship. There is no reason to assume discarnates can remote view, they don't have physical eyes ... perhaps they can only see the physical world by reading minds of incarnates?
                        Certainly the same complaint can be applied to the Robertson/Roy protocol or Beischel's triple blind protocol?
                        I take it that you believe phone readings to be a scam?

                        I agree with Julie Beischel when he said on skeptiko interview ....
                        Absolutely, hence my advice for screening sitters.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Open Mind
                          Andrew, mediumship is a claim of some sort of telepathy with a discarnate mind. If you remove telepathy you remove mediumship. There is no reason to assume discarnates can remote view, they don't have physical eyes ... perhaps they can only see the physical world by reading minds of incarnates?
                          Come on. We don't have any evidence for what dead people are like, let alone whether they have eyes, can see the physical world, can read minds, or whatever. This is like postulating the characteristics of the invisible pink hamster orbiting Neptune.

                          It is just as reasonable to assume that dead people live in another dimension of the physical world and can see us as it is to assume they can read our minds.

                          ~~ Paul

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Ersby View Post
                            Further to this:

                            As long as you tell yourself this is a flaw of skeptics, and not of yourself, then you're never going to take the opposing side seriously.
                            I am a sceptic..... I am just not into organized disbelief.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Open Mind View Post
                              I am a sceptic..... I am just not into organized disbelief.
                              Exactly!

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