History of Research Demonstrations for the Media
Beginning in 1999, as featured in the HBO Documentary LIFE AFTERLIFE, I have made it possible for the public to witness examples of how controlled mediumship research can be conducted in the laboratory.
As of 2011 I have conducted more than a dozen of such demonstrations for local and national media (both television and radio). A subset of the more than dozen mediums who have voluntarily participated in these demonstrations over the years are listed chronologically below:
Mary Ann Morgan
Every medium I have invited to participate in such demonstrations were previously determined to be (1) genuine (i.e. not frauds), (2) skilled, and (3) brave.
The earliest demonstrations were conducted “single-blind” – meaning that the medium was not told who the sitter was, nor given any details about the deceased.
The medium was not allowed to see the sitter. However, the medium was allowed to ask the sitter questions, and the sitter was allowed to answer yes or no.
Later demonstrations were more tightly controlled, complex, and artificial – meaning, they were not like normal readings. They were “sitter-silent double-blind” experimental paradigms.
For these demonstration readings, the sitters were not allowed to speak with the medium. The medium could only speak with the experimenter. Hence the term “sitter-silent.”
Moreover, the experimenter was purposely blind to details regarding the sitter’s deceased loved ones. Since the experimenter was blind to this information, the experimenter could not provide unintentional cues to the medium.
And in some demonstrations, the experimenter was not told the identity of the sitter until she or he arrived at the laboratory (i.e. the sitter was selected by the media).
These controls, properly implimented, essentially eliminate all possibility of both “hot” and “cold” reading techniques as used by psychic entertainers and fraudulent mediums.
FYI, in 1998 I purposely learned how to become a fake medium. I read secret books about the tricks of the trade, and also took a course with a professional mental magician. It was essential that I know how to design experiments to rule out fraud.
The media demonstration titled “Inside the Mind of a Medium” provided in the INTERVIEWS AND MEDIA section of this website illustrates a recent sitter-silent double-blind experimental paradigm where the TV news reporter was the intended sitter.
It is important to understand that no one – at least in the physical – has control over who (i.e. from the “other side”) will show up. Genuine mediums can sometimes be overwhelmed by the number of hypothesized spirits that may show up – either in a private reading or in a media demonstration of mediumship research.
As shown in the “Inside the Mind of the Medium” demonstration, the medium will sometimes get accurate and detailed information about the camerman or othe crew.
Not surprisingly, using a “sitter-silent double-blind” paradigm, when the medium is simply asked to describe who she is seeing and what they are saying – without any guidance or feedback from the sitter – the information is often choppy and complex.
This artificial paradigm does not sound like a conversation or dialogue and can be confusing to everyone – including the medium, the sitter, the media people (e.g. producers and cameramen), and the experimenter.
Though the experimenter can ask general questions such as “what the deceased look like,” he does not have any idea if the information matches one or more persons who the sitter was hoping to hear from.
To assist the medium, the experimenter will typically ask the sitter to write down the name of a specific deceased person which he will tell the medium. This appears to help the medium focus in on a specific hypothesized spirit and receive information from her or him.
It is only after the information has been collected and then carefully reviewed with the sitter, item by item, is it possible to obtain a valid estimate of accuracy of a given reading for a specific deceased individual.
Many sitters, skeptics, and media professionals do not fully appreciate this experimental fact until they experience it firsthand. Sadly, many genuine mediums have been falsely accused of doing “cold readings” on television because the information was not carefully reviewed and analyzed.
A Recent Media Demonstration for Nightline
On August 11, 2011 I conducted two sitter-silent double blind demonstration readings for Nightline. I selected one of the sitters; a person I had met only once, and I knew virtually nothing about his deceased loved ones. ABC selected the second sitter; hence I was blind to both the identity of this person as well as any information about her deceased loved ones.
The first reading, which happened to be the sitter I had selected, was witnessed only by the cameraman; the producer’s connecting flight had been delayed and she was only able to witness the second reading.
As you can probably imagine, sitter-silent double-blind demonstration readings are typically stressful for everyone concerned – especially the mediums and the sitters. However, the second reading was even more stressful because the producer had less than an hour to set up her two extra cameras, record a brief reading, allow us to go through the specific information item by item, and then record quick debriefings with the sitter, medium, and experimenter.
It always amazes me when genuine mediums can obtain accurate information under these conditions. I will briefly highlight the primary pieces of information which the medium – Nancy Matz – received regarding a deceased person named Connie for the ABC selected sitter.
It was only as we reviewed the information, item by item, that the sitter realized that the profile strikingly fit her deceased loved one.
1. The medium saw a house with a large property which had many trees and greenery. This is not a typical home in the desert. The sitter later explained that Connie was not fond of the desert; Connie had a large backyard where she had planted many trees and other greenery.
2. The medium mentioned money was important right at the outset. We later learned that Connie’s family had been feuding over her estate and this had caused breaks in the family. Money is sometimes a problem in families after someone dies.
3. The medium said that Connie had died from a long standing illness. This turned out to be true. People can die from many causes, including accidents, murder, suicide, old age, and illnesses.
4. The medium said that she experienced a “smell” associated with the deceased. This initially meant nothing to the sitter; we presumed it was an error. However, later we discovered that this was a surprising and important piece of confirmatory evidence (described below).
5. The medium described what Connie looked like. The information generally matched Connie (e.g. it did not fit my mother or grandmothers, for example).
6. The medium described Connie’s personality as especially nice and caring. The sitter later confirmed this. Not everyone who dies fits this description.
7. The medium claimed that the deceased felt “cheated” in life. The sitter said this applied to Connie in potentially two ways: (1) financially and (2) personally (the sitter claimed that Connie was not ready to leave her family).
None of this information, by itself, is especially unique. However, it is the pattern or profile of this information, taken as a whole – what statistician’s term the “conditional probability” – which reveals the apparent accuracy of this brief reading.
As the medium was reporting this information, since I was blind to the details, and the sitter was silent, I had no idea which, if any, of this information fit Connie. Out of curiosity, I decided to do something novel. I invited the sitter to write a question she would like me to ask of the medium.
The question was, and I paraphrase slightly “Connie – have you been hanging around the house with us?”
I assumed, as it turned out mistakenly, that such a question would be non-evidential. In other words, if the medium said yes, how could we potentially verify this in the brief span of the reading?
However, when I asked the medium where in the house Connie was, the medium said, and again I paraphrase, “In the North-East, on the East side of the house.”
Since I had never asked such a question before, I asked the medium how she came to this conclusion. She pointed her hands and said she saw Connie over there (pointing toward the right), and said that was her East direction.
To everyone’s surprise, we later learned from the sitter that Connie spent most of her last days on the East side of the house, in her room and family room.
Of course, Nancy had a one in four chance of getting this right by guessing.
However, when I subsequently asked the sitter how she inferred that Connie’s spirit was still present in the house, she replied that sometimes she smelled her! When I reminded the sitter that this was something that Nancy had mentioned early in the reading, the sitter realized that she had not made this potentially important connection.
Of course, we cannot determine if this was simply the imagination of the sitter or a veritical perception of the presence of Connie’s spirit. What matters here is that the information fit and adds to the pattern / profile of information.
After this informal scoring was completed, the medium and the sitter had a chance to chat. The medium soon began speaking with the sitter about her three daughters, providing substantial details, all of which could have been wrong. According to the sitter, the medium had described each of her daughters surprisingly accurately.
Interestingly, probably because I have carefully selected genuine, skilled, and brave mediums for these kinds of media demonstrations, the demonstrations have almost always been successful in the sense of not only demonstrating how research on mediumship can be conducted, but also how at least some mediums are the real deal.
If you are interested in even more complex designs, I invite you to go to the SAMPLE PULBICATIONS section of the website and download our published paper using a Triple-Blind Design.
A Note about the Nightline Segment and its Misrepretation
For some reason, Nightline decided not to aire the actual demonstration readings. Instead, after briefly introducting the demonstration (with no explanation), they implied that the reading was a failure (they did not mention that two were performed).
Moreover, they only showed one incidental observation by the medium (the appearance of a dog) which did not fit the sitter but could have fit me. They did not mention that this occurred during the post-reading debriefing period, and that this was not a formal scoring session. They implied that the experimenter was naive, sloppy, or worse.
One wonders, why did ABC News chose to minimize (and misrepresent) the truth about these two demonstration readings?
Is this an instance of what I term “Truth Abuse”?
As the first sitter explained after seeing the segment, “I just can’t believe they would do that.”
The sitter of the first reading sent an unsolicited email to Nancy. He has given permission to share his full name and email below.
What do you think?
This is Eric Carr, who did the reading with you and Dr. Schwartz last week for the Nightline piece. I just watched it and am so disappointed that they only showed what seemed to be inaccuracies even after such a phenomenally accurate reading with me. Mine was so accurate I have been losing sleep over it, since it raises sooooooo many questions. I just can’t believe they would do that.
Anyway, if you want me to give you an endorsement or something to let people know that you were incredibly accurate with my reading on the same day and under the same conditions, let me know. I really feel like Nightline wasn’t fair and neglected to tell a huge part of the story.
Thank you again for what you did for me. I’ll never forget it.
Postscript:An Example of Truth Abuse?
Despite repeated requests, ABC News refused to provide the laboratory with the actual transcripts of the readings and the debriefings. Hence the scoring of the readings was limited to the sitters’ and experimenter’s written notes.
Also, despite repeated requests, ABC News refused to comment on their reasons for selectively editing the demonstration readings to make it look like the readings had failed and that the experimenter was sloppy in his analysis and interpretation of the data.
This kind of biased / deceptive editing practice was employed in other segments of the show. Sadly the general public is unaware of these facts.