This paper is almost hot of the presses, having been published only this year.
Emily Kelly and Dianne Arcangel are firm believers in mediumship. Their stated goal is to find a medium that can perform under laboratory conditions, like existed back in the old days.
To do this they administer a test to volunteer mediums. A skeptic would see this as simply a test of mediumship or someone’s paranormal ability. For them it is only a test if mediums can do something paranormal under certain conditions. The possibility that just perhaps one or the other medium may not be able to do anything paranormal at all never enters the article.
I wonder why that is. Are they somehow convinced of the abilities of their research mediums? Do they want to spare their feelings? Are they afraid of the hostile reaction of the paranormal scene that skepticism invariable provokes?
Despite being firmly in the believer camp, they find the same problems in previous modern research on mediumship (IE by Schwartz, Beischel and Robertson&Roy) as yours truly. Naturally I find this quite endearing. Indeed, making allowances for the authors’ convictions, there is nothing about the paper that I could call wrong. Sure, it’s not evidence for mediumship but neither is it claimed to be.
Their first experiment involved 4 mediums and 12 sitters (that is people who receive a reading). Each medium read 3 sitters for a total of 12 readings. The readings were held over telephone, with Emily Kelly standing in for the actual sitter. She only knew the first name and birthday (but not year) of the deceased person that was to be contacted. Care was taken that only Dianne Arcangel had contact with the sitters before the reading.
That way it was ensured that no information was leaked to the mediums.
The sitters were given their own reading as well as 3 randomly selected others. Mentions of names and birthdays had been deleted. They then rated the readings for accuracy and had to pick their own.
The results were completely and unambiguously negative.
Therefore they decided to make a few changes in their next experiment. Mediums would now receive a photograph of the deceased on top of the other information. Also the experiment would be conducted in a sloppier manner. In the previous experiment it was made sure that the stand-in for the sitter knew nothing besides name and birthday. This good practice was abandoned.
This introduces the possibility that the medium received clues before or during the reading. It also makes one wonder if any other corners were cut.
This second experiment involved 40 sitters and 9 mediums. 14 of the 40 chose their reading as the most applicable which is significantly more than you would expect if they had been guessing. The question, of course, is why.
The failure of the first experiment is in itself interesting. The mediums, we are told, had thought that they could perform under the conditions. This tells us that they overestimated their abilities.
It also seem inconsistent with a study by Gary Schwartz and Julie Beischel that is widely touted as evidence for mediumship (discussed here, under Triple Blind!). That study found significant results under very similar conditions.
Why the difference? There’s a number of possibilities. For one, it could have been a fluke. But it must also be said that while similar, the task in this experiment was actually more difficult. Eventually, there is too little data to engage in fruitful speculation.
The success of the second experiment in contrast with the first may seem to imply that either the loosened protocol or the photograph played a key role but one shouldn’t forget that the mediums were different, too. There is ample room for a normal, rather than paranormal explanation, and indeed the differences between the outcomes of the various experiments can be seen as pointed to such a one.
Some believers have argued that some of the “hits”, quoted in the paper, are too specific to be explicable. They forget that some of those who picked the wrong reading also found specific information, just for them. Illusory correlation goes a long way to explain this.
If Kelly and Arcangel have found one or more real mediums then they should be able to present results from well designed experiments within the next few years. Of course, this has never happened in any similar situation in the past, so don’t hold your breath.
Nevertheless that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t expect more research. For one, they express the believe that it may be necessary to “prime the pump” by feeding information to mediums. Then the mediums can supposedly come up with even more information. This is effectively what they have done in this study and I’d expect them to do more of the same in the future. What I don’t expect is for them or anyone else to address the contradiction between this claim and the claims of other’s that mediums don’t need any previous information at all, not even to contact the deceased (see EG Julie Beischel).