Arrogance of Scientific Authority

In this essay, I express my concerns about how one of our own has been treated by supposed scientists. The essay borders on a rant about the arrogance of scientific authority and is certainly a personal opinion that may not be shared by the editors. Please read with discernment.


Background

Fall of the House of Felix by Peter Mulacz (PhD psychology) is the leading article in the latest Society for Psychical Research Paranormal Review magazine.1 The issue also includes articles about Stefan Braude (PhD philosophy) and one by Michael Nahm (PhD biology). The issue in general is negative toward the Felix Experimental Group’s (FEG) medium.

With an invitation from the FEG circle leader, Braude assembled a team to study the phenomena demonstrated by the FEG medium. The team included Nahm and Mulacz. After the multi-year study, it is my understanding that Braude was about to publish a generally positive report confirming the mediumship phenomena, but then Nahm indicated he would submit his own report detailing his suspicions of fraud. As I understand, Braude rewrote his report to agree with Nahm’s and both were published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, issue 28-2, Summer 2014.2, 3 The article The Felix Study: Personal Attack Under Cover of Science 4 includes links and where to find the two articles that began what I think of as an unethical attack on a test subject.

The suspicions expressed by Nahm involve his belief that, in the early years of his work, the medium used several tricks to fake phenomena. I stress here that Nahm based his suspicions on a number of sources, which from my experience in sitting with the medium, depend on circumstantial evidence that could as easily be interpreted in other ways. For his part, Braude took the mediums reticence to respond to direct questions about the accusations as an implicit admission of guilt.

Apparently, there were no indications of trickery in any of the séances on which the research team based their study. The medium did produce phenomena; it was witnessed under at least some level of investigator control (for instance an invasive cavity search for cheese cloth). I asked Braude why he had not included tests for Nahm’s suspicions in the protocol, to which he replied something to the effect that “Things come up.” So in effect, the team has ignored their findings and focused on Nahm’s suspicions. Very scientific indeed!

Since the publication of the original report, both Braude and Nahm have been repeating their accusations in every speaking forum they can find.

Here, I will say that I have sat with the medium on a number of occasions. We (ATransC) hosted him for demonstrations on two occasions. For the five or so sessions we hosted, I had complete control of the room. Sitters were searched and I inspected the medium’s near-naked body before each séance. After those strip inspections, I escorted him to the séance room. There, he was constantly under the control of two experienced sitters. They held his hands and arms, sometimes making contact with one another to assure everyone was doing their job. I inspected the room after each session. In each séance I witnessed, phenomena were displayed which could not be explained in mundane terms; some in pretty good red light elimination.

As an engineer, I am trained to look for how things work. Braude is trained in philosophy, Nahm in biology and Mulacz in psychology. Trickery of the kind claimed by Nahm requires devices and sleight of hand. The training best suited for detecting fraud is more in how things work than how people think. As such, I will argue that, skill for skill, my training is more to the point for judging the authenticity of the phenomena.

My objective here is not to say that I am a better observer or more knowledgeable about how the phenomena are formed. After more than fifteen years examining thousands of examples of photographic and audio evidence of the paranormal, I have come to understand how even expert witnesses can be confused by photographs in poor light. Our mind is not trained to process some of the phenomena of darkroom séances such as impossible lights and unexpected faces in ectoplasm. I have written here before about the perceptual process. For many, the only valid perspective is suspended judgement. Certainly, deciding there is fraud based on very unusual witness conditions and then acting on that decision to ruin a person’s reputation is not the best approach to understanding.

No rational observer would think of such behavior as scientific.

Science in the Paranormalist Community

It took me a long time to figure out why I have been so indignant about how the three parapsychologists have treated the FEG medium. The common factor of our community is our interested in paranormal phenomena. As is true of society in general, either directly or via our opinion setters, we all look to our scientists for guidance. It is that guidance that is becoming a problem for the community.

In the book I am working on, I begin the section on science by stating: “Hands down the most disruptive influence for the paranormalist community is science.” Consider these points:

  • Three professional/academic organizations we have all come to trust are the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), the Parapsychological Association (PA) and the Society for Scientific Investigation (SSE). They are ostensibly seeking to understand all paranormal phenomena … and presumably report their findings to the community so that we might better understand and work with these phenomena. That is how science is supposed to work.
  • In fact, all three organizations focus on understanding psi phenomena and/or understanding why people believe in it (aka: delusional). With the exception of mental mediumship, survival related phenomena are seldom studied. Yes, reincarnation, Near-death and out-of-body experiences are studied but those groups are pretty insular and play only a small part in the paranormalist community.
  • Parapsychologists are obsessive about proof, and have seemingly turned inward to battle skeptics rather than reaching out to the paranormalist community. Even without bad behavior such as the subject of this essay, we have determined that there is no sense in looking to parapsychology for our science.
  • The SSE has been especially hard on transcommunication by publishing failure to replicate types of research reports written by a clearly unqualified doctorate in psychology.5 Braude is the chief editor for the peer-reviewed SSE journal. Peer review is in secret, and Braude has been … unfriendly toward comments about articles from the non-doctorate community.
  • The slanderous articles about the FEG medium were poorly considered, and in most communities, such treatment of the research subject would be considered unethical.6 Nahm’s article is a study in pure what if, could be and might be. There is no way it could be construed as a research report. Neither article should have passed peer review unless Braude abused his authority to demand that they be accepted.
  • Now the SPR has allowed Braude and Nahm’s unchallenged comments in their Paranormal Review, which is intended for a more general audience. In fact the SPR has recently given Braude the Myers Memorial Medal.
  • The researchers obtained grants money to conduct the research from the Parapsychological Association (PA). Also, the PA cooperates with the SPR, making all three of our more important organizations solidly on the wrong side of our best interest.

Human Research Subject

Take a little time to look over the Research Ethics guidelines published by the University of Washington School of Medicine.6 It is loosely based on what appears to be the golden standard: Belmont Report published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.7 Major points from the Belmont Report that apply to this essay:

Respect for persons: “To show lack of respect for an autonomous agent is to repudiate that person’s considered judgments, to deny an individual the freedom to act on those considered judgments, or to withhold information necessary to make a considered judgment, when there are no compelling reasons to do so.”

It is clear from conversations with the medium prior, during and immediately after the study that there was expectation of fair reporting of the data. The medium was excited! There was no expectation that possible information outside of the protocol would be used. In research, the protocol is all there is. Part of the funding process for research is review of ethics-related portions of the research protocol. This does not appear to be the case for parapsychology.

Beneficence: “Persons are treated in an ethical manner not only by respecting their decisions and protecting them from harm, but also by making efforts to secure their well-being.”

The research team operated under the cloak of scientific authority. This is at least one point psychologist Mulacz should have understood. While the medium is clearly more knowledgeable about the phenomena, he and his circle members have been culturally trained to respect perceived scientific authority. The medium and his circle opened their home to the investigators with the expectation of fair treatment. As such, the investigators had a moral obligation to protect their research subject.

Justice: “Who ought to receive the benefits of research and bear its burdens? This is a question of justice, in the sense of ‘fairness in distribution’ or ‘what is deserved.’ An injustice occurs when some benefit to which a person is entitled is denied without good reason or when some burden is imposed unduly.”

To be very clear, the medium is not making a fortune by causing himself, his wife and his circle to take their time for the séances the investigators requested. In fact, most people would not give so freely of their time. The medium also risked a lot by agreeing to be the test subject. It took him years of great personal cost to develop his ability. Each session demands that he pay a high penalty in physical effort. There are very few physical mediums able to demonstrate even the basic phenomena. For a scientist seeking to win the approval of his academic community, the FEG medium represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Lible and Slander

“Collectively known as defamation, libel and slander are civil wrongs that harm a reputation; decrease respect, regard, or confidence; or induce disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against an individual or entity. The injury to one’s good name or reputation is affected through written or spoken words or visual images.”8

From the abstract of Braude’s report: “…Regrettably, recent indications of fraud (explored also by Michael Nahm in this issue) have tarnished the case as a whole. …”3

From Nahm’s report Abstract: “…and explain why I finally arrived at the conclusion that considerable parts of the phenomena were produced by fraudulent means.”4

The last statement in of Mulacz’s article: “Where there is conscious and deliberate fraud it is absurd to speculate whether some of the ostensible phenomena might perhaps be genuinely paranormal (although the desire of some disappointed observers ‘to save what can be saved’ is psychologically understandable) and it is a waste of resources—time as well as money—to continue investigations of such pseudo-mediums. From my observations, I conclude that (the medium)’s ‘physical mediumship’ is a deliberate deception from beginning to end.”

These accusations of fraud are made under cover of academic authority. That gives their word considerably more weight than if they were spoken by a person hiding behind a screen name on a discussion board. So not only are the accusations of fraud hurtful and unnecessarily damaging to our community, they are spoken by people others are culturally conditioned to believe without question. That undue authority makes their words especially harmful.

Opinion About Arrogance of Scientific Authority

Here are my concerns:

  • As with many parapsychologists, it seems that the three investigators come to the subject more as a hobby than as qualified observers. Braude is a philosophy major and Nahm is a biologist. Both are clearly unfamiliar with the methodologies of science. In this context, they have no standing as doctorates.
  • Some of their comments are naive. Braude has a history of assuming authority that he does not have. For instance, he has written at length about how Rupert Sheldrake, a cellular biologist, is wrong about his theories concerning cellular morphogenesis.9 In that and his comments about séance phenomena, he clearly lacks understanding about the metaphysics.
  • One of Nahm’s accusations is that the medium purchased Halloween cobweb so as to fake ectoplasm. This is one of those circumstantial situations that all of us need to be aware of. Having been accused of regurgitating cheese cloth or the fake cobweb, it is natural that the medium experimented to see if those materials made convincing ectoplasm. In fact they do not, never did and any even halfway decent observer would see that the medium’s ectoplasm is not so contrived.
  • The parapsychological community is standing behind the three researchers by enabling the widest possible distribution of the articles. The academic-layperson partition problem is encountered in a lot of ways, but the most damning is the attitude doctorates—qualified parapsychologists and academic hobbyists alike—have toward the layperson practitioner. This is further illustrated in the next point.

In the “They eat their own, don’t they” department, the negative effect of the criticism is pretty well summed up by one post on the Spiritualismlink.com concerning the original articles: “Another one bites the dust…”

  • Mulacz conveys a sense of disdain for the medium, FEG and Braude in his comments ending with: “Attending such séances at home circles has but little value; scientific séances must occur under laboratory conditions where the investigators are in control.”1 This is an expression of academic arrogance, as he clearly thinks the medium should submit to every demand made by the investigators.

In the model I have been working with, collecting examples of trans-etheric phenomena involves a particular and extraordinary mindset and/or the presence of a contact field which can enable trans-etheric influences. Much of the activity in a physical; séance is a process of developing such a contact field to which the sitters must contribute. Too sharp focus on the process or the distraction of external controls are known to defeat this process.10 The medium expressed too me great relief that he was able to produce any phenomena at all for the researchers.

  • Like it or not, parapsychologists are related to layperson practitioners by virtue of what they study. But they seldom behave as if they are, choosing instead to treat those they depend on for practitioners as inconvenient lab rats. In fact most parapsychologists, and specifically the three researchers discussed here, behave as if they are not at all part of our community.
  • Having spent time as an editor in Wikipedia, I know it will be just a matter of time before these articles are used to justify negative comments in paranormal articles. Even as parapsychologists rail against skeptics, they give the skeptics ammunition to demonstrate the social danger of belief in the paranormal.

Again, I need to stress that this is all my opinion. Obviously the doctorates who govern the parapsychological organizations think the articles they publish represent good science. If you agree with my assessment that the researchers effectively threw the FEG medium under the bus, then you should also be very cautious about possible dealings with the supposed scientists who might wish to study your work.

Establishing a research capability as part of the ASSMPI is probably the only way to assure that our phenomena are studied by people who actually understand the metaphysics. As it stands now, the academic-layperson partition assures that cooperation is a one-way street.

While I trust the FEG medium, I have not personally witnessed some of the séances Nahm referred to for possible cheating. The problem I have is that the three academics had the moral obligation in the researcher-test subject relationship and in the parapsychologist-paranormal community relationship, to stick to their protocol. As far as I can tell, every instance of possible fraud they have complained about falls into the category of maybe so, but no hard evidence.

Shadow Hand
A) Illustration of luminous plate with simulation of hand responding request to show an “OK” sign.
B) Same plate illustrating relative size of other simulated hands that we saw. (B).

2010, my wife Lisa and I attended a séance in the FEG medium’s home,11 I believe well before the supposed trickery Nahm complains about. There were a number of phenomena demonstrated that were beyond the reasonable scope of trickery. For instance, raps on the wall directly behind my head, almost instantly followed by others on the ceiling, all well away from the medium. In the  dark, with no one aware of my intention, I dared the communicators to place the rapidly moving spirit light in the palm of my hand. A moment later, the light hit the palm of my hand. At another time, I dared the communicators to make an OK sign with the spirit hand that was occluding a luminous plate on the floor. Moments later, I saw the hand momentarily form the universal OK sign.

The séance was amongst friends and there was little done to assure no trickery, but there was also good light from time to time that enabled reasonably careful observation. As an engineer, I was almost manically looking for alternative explanations for the astounding phenomena demonstrated that day. I cannot speak to all of his demonstrations, but then and in many subsequent séances in which I did have complete access for inspections, I have no rational reason to think the medium is other than genuine.

By the way, the spirit light, hand and raps were moving about far out of reach of the medium or any likely tricky device postulated Nahm. There was a lot of ectoplasm and a hand did form which rose up a little and seemed to wave about. Good red light, two observers holding the cabinet curtain open sat very close to him and the rest of us were trying to see … everything. As always, the ectoplasm came and went without residue, smell or even a hint of trickery, save the cloth-like appearance.

In later séances, the cameo-like faces that formed in the ectoplasm were much like historical examples I have seen. I clearly recognized Hans Bender as one face and a member of our local Spiritualist society recognized a loved one. The faces appeared to be formed more as a precipitated simulation than as a photograph. There is quite a lot of precedence in Instrumental TransCommunication for such features.

When the medium stood and circled the room in red light with a handful of ectoplasm, I could see that the substance was dripping water. When he came to me, he unceremoniously flopped the ectoplasm against my forehead. It made my head very wet. Yet, when I inspected the unpainted plywood panel we had placed under his chair to cover the rough brick floor, there was no hint of moisture residue from where the ectoplasm had been. By the way, at another time, the substance glowed bioluminescent green as it came out of his mouth!

I do not know if the medium has tried ways of cheating. He is constantly looking for ways to assure sitters that there is no fraud, so it is possible he has tried to cheat to learn how to guard against it. The glaring double standard here is that parapsychologists discount many examples of our phenomena because there were no scientific controls when the examples were collected. At the same time, I am sure no one actually trained in the use of the scientific method would propose a finding in science based on the level of evidence being used to smear the FEG medium. How was an article smearing the medium’s good name, based on lame theories, innuendo and magical thinking, published in what is supposed to be a peer-reviewed science journal? Perhaps the answer is that that part of our community is just a toy for retired professors.

Update

Instances in which the parapsychological team has publicly attacked the FEG medium:

Coast-To-Coast: February 22, 2016 – From the Coast-To-Coast AM website (coasttocoastam.com/show/2016/02/22) An example of continuing public accusation well beyond any research or scientific value:

Braude was able to investigate the German physical medium Kai Muegge of the Felix Circle under somewhat controlled conditions, and searched his body before the videotaped experiment. During the séance, there were some table levitations, and Kai produced large quantities of ectoplasm from his mouth, in a seemingly unexplained manner. Yet, Braude learned later that there was conclusive evidence that Kai had cheated at some other seances he hadn’t supervised. Even so, just because a medium uses deception on occasion, it doesn’t mean they don’t have genuine abilities, Braude pointed out, adding that these so-called “mixed mediums” sometime use trickery out of convenience or necessity when they make their living from producing spirit contacts.

Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 30, No. 1, pp. 5–9, 2016:

Follow-Up Investigation of the Felix Circle by Stephen Braude in which he essentially rehashes previous reports. Remembering that Braude is Chief Editor of the Journal, I note with much dismay the arrogant conclusion of his editorial in the same issue “For reasons I discuss, it seems unlikely that Kai will again submit himself to examination by me or any other careful researcher. It appears, instead, that he would prefer to continue shooting himself in the foot..”

Further Comments about Kai Mügge’s Alleged Mediumship and Recent Developments By Michael Nahm

References

  1. Paranormal Review, Society for Psychical Research, Spring 2015, spr.ac.uk
  2. Braude, Stephen, “Investigations of the Felix Experimental Group: 2010–2013,” Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2014, 28, 285–343, academia.edu/7593753/Investigations_of_the_Felix_Experimental_Group_2010-2013
  3. Nahm, Michael, “The Development and Phenomena of a Circle for Physical Mediumship,” Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2014, 28, 229-283, anomalistik.de/images/stories/pdf/sdm/sdm-2014-08-nahm.pdf
  4. Butler, Tom, The Felix Study: Personal Attack Under Cover of Science, Etheric Studies, ethericstudies.org/scientist-attack-medium/
  5. Butler, Tom, Critiquing ITC Articles written by Imants Barušs, Etheric Studies, 2010, ethericstudies.org/failure-to-replicate-itc/
  6. Lizbeth A. Adams, PhD, CIP (2013) with contributions by Timothy Callahan, PhD (1998), Research Ethics, University of Washington School of Medicine, depts.washington.edu/bioethx/topics/resrch.html
  7. The Belmont Report: Office of the Secretary, Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research, The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, 1979, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/belmont.html
  8. Libel and Slander, The Free Dictionary by Farlex, legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Libel+and+Slander
  9. Braude, Stephen, Provincialism in the Life Sciences: A Review of Rupert Sheldrake’s A New Science of Life, Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 77, January 1983, academia.edu/2643570/_Radical_Provincialism_in_the_Life_Sciences_A_Review_of_Rupert_Sheldrakes_A_New_Science_of_Life._
  10. Zahradnik, Walter von Lucadou & Frauke, Predictions of The Model of Pragmatic Information About RSPK, Parapsychological Association,2004, archived.parapsych.org/papers/09.pdf
  11. Butler, Tom and Lisa, A Visit to the Felix Experimental Group, Association TransCommunication, 2010, atransc.org/circle/felix_circle.htm

6 thoughts on “Arrogance of Scientific Authority

  1. Tom,

    I totally understand the frustration and I’d like to make a few comments based on my own experiences.

    I was no older than 11, perhaps 12 years old when I started reading our spiritualist church’s books, or watching medium’s “materialize” spirits–to let them speak–and other mediums describe what the materialized spirits looked like, etc, etc… so, this worldview is as natural to me as cars and trees.

    As such, I repeatedly found (and still find) myself speaking quite openly about all of this. A few times, I even got dumped by smoking-hot girls that I finally managed to date, just because inevitably I would start talking about, say, the after-life, or how we choose our parents before we are born, etc… and they would consistently run away. That kept happening to me over and over, but I wouldn’t stop. And I would never learn, not even as an adult. For example, once, my wife (who I meet in my church, of course!) and I where on a trip, and we were invited by a nice couple to join them for dinner, and, once again, there I was talking about the real teachings of Jesus, how God was not going to send anyone to hell, or make a final judgment for our miss-called sins, etc… that was the last time they spoke to us (and my wife, who was raised to be completely secretive about it, wasn’t happy at all)

    What you are describing here is what I’ve always seen, over and over. Being how I am (determined to talk about this every time I have a chance), it was not uncommon for me to end up debating in forums, from physics to religion, and is always the same, consistently.

    Now…

    I came to the conclusion that all this is the result of “Scientifisism”, which is a *desease*, and it targets Science much more than, for example, us.

    There is a part in our belief system that explores the, alleged, dynamics of a *permanent* interaction between the living and the dead through the basic mental faculty of intuitive mediumship that we all have. The folk picture of a “tiny devil on the left ear and a tiny angel on the right one” is pretty much real. I really don’t mean to go over this in any detail, but I do feel like is important, in the context of this blog entry, to say that it is Science itself the intended victim of scientifisim for is science the one that would eventually get to the bottom of our reality, and from the point of view of “the revel other side”, it is starting to get too close.

    I know well how this sounds way too “conspiracy theory” and beyond “mystic”, which is why I won’t elaborate. But I do need to stress how important it is to understand that the best response to this type of attack from (bad) scientists is to defend Science.

    Science is the dedicated, rigorous, patient methodology best applied to the understanding of reality. As such, it existed well before this world, and will exist for all eternity as we will always live in it, trying to figure out what we are, what are we meant to do, and how everyone else is a part of that.

    Best

    • I agree Fernando, and applaud your willingness to speak up about these phenomena. Complacency is as much a problem for paranormalists as it is for mainstream society. The world is not formed with complacency, it is formed by people doing the work.

      I agree that science needs to be protected, but for the subject of survival of consciousness, the people practicing science for us are not much help. I expect the essay I just posted will go against the grain a little for your wish to protect science. Just notice that I am complaining about how science is practiced and not science itself. The new post is “Open Letter to Paranormalists: Limits of science, trust and responsibility” at http://ethericstudies.org/open-letter-to-paranormalists-science/

  2. Tom, indeed I agree that scientists, currently, cannot do anything to help us on these subjects (with very few exceptions, such as http://www.windbridge.org/). And yes, you are complaining , as you should, about bad scientists, not Science itself. So my comments was meant for the community in what they may get from the story itself, not your words.
    In my experience, “our people”, so to speak, are used to grow weary of Science because of bad scientists.

  3. Indeed I just found the essay, and I’ll read it tonight. And I will also look at the other essay.

    As for Windbridge, well, indeed. I contacted them saying that I was also “sort-of working” on mediumship research, and I attempted to give them some advise from my experiences (and offer some ideas I have about what is the best way to scientifically study it), but of course I never get past their “hello and thank you for you interest, you can read what we do here”. We never had any actual conversation at all. And exact same thing happened to me each and every time I contacted a scientist when their work correlates with the spiritualist cosmology.

    Unfortunately, in my experience, the layperson is equally unhelpful, for they are usually open-minded and quite interested, but then lack the background to distinguish between coherent ideas and fairy tales.

    Perhaps the solution lies in the hand of us engineers?? (while I don’t have any proper engineering degree, I think of myself as an engineer above anything else)

    • The most important service any of us can provide for our community is education. In my opinion, paranormalists think differently than the rest of society. Teaching them is made difficult by their lifelong conditioning to believe mainstream teachers are not telling them the whole truth. I think that is why many paranormalists prefer to trust their inner senses over science.

      People interact with the world with a preferred temperament. Above all, it is the engineer mentality (not the degree) that makes a person want to open the machine to see what is inside, understand why one rock is yellow and another is gray, figure out how to make a stick hold up a tent. My best engineering teachers taught me not to use math to figure out the volume under a diagramed curve, but to just cut it out and weigh it.

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