Scientists Becoming Believers In
Spiritualists' Paranormal Powers
By Robert Matthews - Science Correspondent

A unique scientific experiment has produced startling evidence that some "spirit mediums" may indeed have paranormal talents.
Scientists involved in the study at the University of Arizona say that the findings are so extraordinary they raise fundamental questions about the survival of consciousness after death.
Until now, the whole issue of the "afterlife" has been dismissed by most mainstream scientists, with spiritual mediums being regarded as either self-deluded or charlatans. Now the first serious laboratory study of a group of mediums has found that they share an uncanny ability to state facts about the deceased relatives of people who come to them.
The experiments, details of which will be published this week, involved five mediums and two "sitters" unknown to the mediums, whose deceased relatives they were asked to contact.
In the first experiment, each medium spent an hour with one of the sitters in a laboratory, with a screen preventing visual contact. Under constant video surveillance, each began talking about aspects of the sitter's deceased relatives. The sitter was only allowed to respond to specific questions from the medium with the words "yes" or "no". At the end of each session, the information gleaned by the mediums was analysed for its accuracy.
The transcripts of each session showed that the mediums typically produced more than 80 pieces of information about the deceased relatives, ranging from their names and personal idiosyncrasies to the precise circumstances of their death. When analysed for factual accuracy, the mediums achieved a success rate of 83 per cent, with one achieving an accuracy of 93 per cent.
Similar success was achieved in experiments involving the second sitter, and even when the mediums were not allowed to communicate with the sitter in any way. Sceptics have long argued that the success of mediums is due to so-called "cold reading", in which mediums make educated guesses about deceased people - such as asking if a husband died of heart disease, which is a common cause of death.
The team claims to have dealt with this objection after a panel of more than 60 people was asked to supply the same information as the mediums about the sitter. The average score was only 36 per cent, with the most successful guesser achieving just 54 per cent.
Reporting their findings in the forthcoming issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, the researchers conclude: "Highly skilled mediums are able to obtain accurate and replicable information." Professor Gary Schwartz, who led the team, told The Telegraph: "The bottom line is that there is a class of highly skilled mediums who are doing something extraordinary."
The secret of their success is unclear: every precaution was taken to rule out unconscious cheating or outright fraud. In one experiment, a medium claimed to have been in communication with the sitter's deceased mother three days before the meeting - and supplied a prayer that the mother used to recite for the sitter as a child.
Prof Schwartz said such evidence is consistent with claims of mediums to deal directly with the dead, rather than merely with the minds of the sitters. He said: "All the data gathered so far is consistently in accord with survival of consciousness after death. Based on our data to date, the most parsimonious explanation is that the mediums are in direct communication with the deceased."
Sceptics said that while the results are intriguing, they leave many questions unanswered. Dr Chris French, a leading expert at Goldsmiths College, London, said: "Parapsychologists have become disillusioned with studies of mediums because the results are usually nothing more than you would expect by cold reading. This study has results that are so out of line that one would want to have a very close look at how it was done."
The implications of the study are to be discussed at an international meeting in Arizona this week. Prof Schwartz admitted that the findings were likely to disturb many people. He said: "Some of our colleagues would like us to do this research elsewhere."


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