A letter written for the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research in February 2003.
Academics who are left naked would be well advised to hide under the bedclothes until their embarrassment is forgotten.
Professor Miller deserves respect in having at least faced up to the impressive evidence
for the paranormal which Professor Oldfield has preferred to avoid where he cannot
misrepresent. Neither Oldfield nor I misinterpreted Miller’s tentative attempt to
explain cases like that relating to Edgar Vandy. His hypothesis was that a few gifted
mediums might use their telepathic abilities to reconstruct the personality of the
deceased from the minds of his or her survivors, on the assumption that there was
a short period after apparent death when the deceased brain continued to function.
But he recognised that this idea would not survive a protracted life/death period,
or decapitation or cremation. His fulsome mea culpa withdrawal in the correspondence
columns of The Skeptical Inquirer of this insupportable notion gave no hint of any
dispute with Oldfield’s summary of Miller’s views. He now makes no effort to deal
with most of my points or (like Oldfield) give any valid reasons for rejecting the
Vandy evidence en bloc. The unwillingness of The Skeptical Inquirer to publish or
even acknowledge the receipt of criticism of Oldfield’s article left its readers
with the false impression that Oldfield had demolished not only the Miller thesis
but also the claims for paranormality in both the Vandy and the Runolfson cases.
Nor could any reader have been aware that an earlier version of Oldfield’s attack
on the Vandy case had been rejected by a leading peer-
More substantial is Oldfield’s defence of his paper. He wisely makes no effort to sustain his original contention that all the evidence from mediums could be explained by cold reading, luck, preparatory research or common parlour tricks, since the facts are against him. By reiterating the argument that the mediums made a number of incorrect statements he seeks to blind readers to the more relevant fact that they made a very large number of highly accurate statements. It will not do to cite mere presentation of sources as evidence that Oldfield had no intention to mislead. Very few readers would be likely to have the time, incentive or background knowledge to check the raw data. They rely on the integrity, authority and reputation of the writer. In this instance their reliance was unwarranted.
Oldfield’s gratuitous dismissal of the Runolfson case as unworthy of meeting evidential standards of a peer reviewed journal is an insult not simply to the American SPR which published the account in 1975 but to two of the most distinguished scientists involved in psychical research, Professor Ian Stevenson and Professor Erlendur Haraldson who researched the case. It is not good enough to wave away an exposure of suppression and distortion of facts by making airy references to endless battles about the “supposed accuracy of reports”, as though we were discussing no more than faulty recollection of events by myopic and dim witted observers.
As for the naïve belief that the reality of psychic contacts should be determined
by whether accounts appear in mainstream peer-
If James Randi, who has contributed to this Journal in the past, is genuine in his
desire to discover the truth about paranormal claims — and I have met no-