There are still numerous rumours and allegations flying around following an article in a national newspaper in which I allegedly expose a well-known paranormal show as a con and sensationally debunk the show’s leading medium. Let me set the record straight.
I did not lose my job because of this interview. I was not paid to do it. I was approached by the newspaper journalist and agreed to do the interview on condition that my fee in full would be donated to a named music therapy charity. I informed my employers about this interview, but I was never pressured, coerced or asked to do it by anybody. I volunteered to do it, and here’s why.
I am an academic and one of my areas of expertise is the scientific study of paranormal phenomena. In January 2005, I was awarded a Ph.D. by the University of Hertfordshire for the scientific research I had conducted since 1999 with Prof. Richard Wiseman on assessing paranormal advice and special claimants (i.e. psychics, mediums and astrologers). Part of this research has been published in the British Journal of Psychology, after being reviewed by other experts in the field, thus attesting to the scientific standing of my research. I have also been a full-time lecturer on Parapsychology at Liverpool Hope University since September 2002.
With regards to paranormal phenomena, and mediumship in particular, I am a true skeptic. What that means is that I do not pretend to know the truth: though I continually question the veracity of mediums’ claims, I cannot tell you whether or not mediums have genuine abilities. In fact, to this day, unfortunately, nobody can tell you this for sure. I can only tell you of specific mediums involved in specific incidents that indicate the most probable explanation is a normal one, whether that be cold reading, Barnum Effect, or even fraud. Some people can try to convince you that true mediumship does not exist, because they genuinely believe it doesn’t or because they have a vested interest in convincing you it is all fake, or because they feel they have evidence to prove it doesn’t. Alternatively, they can try to convince you that true mediumship does exist, because they truly believe it does or because they have a lot to earn from you if you believe it does. I am in neither camp. My approach to scepticism has always been “education, not condemnation”.
So when I was approached by the newspaper to “give my professional opinion on mediums, psychics, psychic-phone lines in general, and the show’s leading medium in particular”, I agreed because I felt that an entire article examining the sceptical side to mediums and psychics would inform the public and raise questions. There is room for both sides of the argument, and I sincerely believe that the search for truth can only succeed if there is an open dialogue between each side.
The particular incidents surrounding the medium mentioned in the article did happen as described. In view of these incidents, it is tempting to conclude that we are not in the presence of genuine mediumship. But as I had also explicitly said during the original, unpublished, interview, there may be other explanations – the medium may genuinely believe he has an ability, and there are other instances where accurate information was forthcoming when one could argue that he possibly demonstrated paranormal communication. Of course, incidents such as those described in the article do weaken the possibility of genuine mediumship considerably but they do not prove, beyond all doubt, that we are dealing with a ‘fake’. By the same token, to this day, in my opinion, no definitive evidence has been presented that proves with absolute certainty that we are facing genuine mediumship ability. Regular viewers and parapsychology students are aware that, until I am presented with such definitive evidence, I will endeavour to offer a number of possible explanations that typically focus on the logical, natural, ones. I hope, as I did when I first agreed to be interviewed for the article, that this will raise enough doubt for people to continue to question mediumship, rather than take it for granted or be too quick to deny it. I hope that this will arm those attending theatres, platforms, one-to-one readings and watching paranormal shows with the power to make a critical, informed opinion about what they are seeing or experiencing.
At first, I was upset and angry that the article distorted my view and took such a narrow focus on the show and its medium. I am not retracting anything I said but the article evoked a picture of me as an antagonist unwilling to listen to any alternative arguments. That is not true. Many of my quotes, where it appears I’m providing definitive conclusions, are taken out of context. In hindsight, however, there is one thing I am extremely pleased at: the discussions this article has created. A true skeptic questions. The fact that people are now no longer accepting unconditionally what they are shown and are more questioning is a good thing. Though the balance of probability states otherwise, I will always attempt to provide a number of possible explanations and let the reader, or viewer, make up their own mind.
Ultimately, my intention coincides with my remit – exposing the facts...letting you decide.