Carlos S. Alvarado Ph.D.

Carlos S. Alvarado Ph.D.

Past president (1995) and President-Elect (2002-2003) of the Parapsychological Association. Conducted research on the psychology and the features of OBE experiences (and other parapsychological phenomena) in Puerto Rico, Scotland and in the US. Alvarado is also known for his reviews of the historical literature of the field. He is currently working at the Parapsychology Foundation, where he is the Chairman of Domestic and International Programs, the series editor of the Foundation's Parapsychological Monographs and the Associate Editor of the International Journal of Parapsychology.

Reflections on Being a Parapsychologist

 - Carlos S. Alvarado Ph.D. -

10. When Parapsychologists Harm Their Cause

The conservatism some express about particular areas of parapsychology can be, in my opinion, harmful to the field. But parapsychologists exhibit many other behaviors that also hinder the field in a variety of ways. One such behavior encompasses statements about the existence of the phenomena we study. Let me give some examples from the old days. In 1913 Hyslop stated that survival was "proved and proved by better evidence than supports the doctrine of evolution ..." (Hyslop, 1913, p. 88). In 1921 Gustave Geley wrote: "Today we know well the genesis of materializations" (Geley, 1921, p. 174). In 1923 Camille Flammarion stated that "telepathy ... is as certain as the existence of London, Sirus and oxygen ..." (Flammarion, 1923, p. 22). These, and many more recent statements such as overenthusiastic evaluations of the value and role of meta-analysis in parapsychology (Broughton, 1991) and statements predicting the acceptance of parapsychology by science in a relatively short time period (e.g., Honegger, 1982, p. 21; Murphy & Kovach, 1972, p. 475; Stanford, 1974, p. 160) do not help our credibility.

Certainly we have a right to express our opinions and to evaluate our evidence as we see fit, and it is important to express what we believe. But we need to strike a balance between exaggerated claims and the need to present our claims in a convincing way. After all, if we do not project a positive feeling in our writings, how can we expect to convince others to engage in meaningful discussions of our findings? What worries me is that sometimes we present a too positive and rosy picture of the field, forgetting to acknowledge the difference between our personal hopes and the state of the field as a whole. A view of the field that does not acknowledge the social reality we surfer under does not help parapsychology among other scientists because we appear to be ignoring the obvious and exaggerating the replicability of our research.

But to promote our views, be they bold or conservative, we need to do something even more basic. We need to increase the frequency of formal publication of our research. Most of our research work stays in PA proceedings and does not get published in refereed journals, whether they are parapsychological journals or the journals of other disciplines. This creates serious problems in the diffusion of information. While journals are abstracted in a variety of databases, the privately printed PA proceedings are not. Consequently, if someone does not attend a PA convention, or if one does not buy a copy of the proceedings (sold almost exclusively to PA members), he or she will not have access to current research information. Do we really think it is in the best interests of parapsychology to allow only a very small group of individuals to have access to our research reports? We always complain that out work is not cited nor widely read, but to some extent this is out own fault.

The fact that some of this research can be found now in personal websites, or that it may appear in the future on the PA website is helpful, but it is no substitute for formal journal publication. Outsiders do not value websites as reliable publication outlets. If we allow our research to remain only in such private venues, no matter how many hits such a site would get, we will project the image that parapsychologists do not follow the standard publication practices of science, and like the occultists, provide out materials only to those few "in the know."

Another problem, and one that may be explained by the low number of research workers in our field, is the lack of replication and extension on promising leads and on specific theoretical models. There have been few attempts to follow Thouless and Wiesner's (1947) model of psi psychophysical interaction, Hans Eysenck's (1967) model of cortical arousal and ESP, Harvey Irwin's (1979, 1985) ESP information-processing model and his absorption-synesthesia OBE model, or Roll and colleagues' rotating beam model of poltergeists (Roll, Burdick & Joines, 1973). There is a general lack of follow-up in some of our most important areas. One wonders if the same will happen to other lines of research, such as attempts to replicate, extend, and understand the correlations between ESP and geomagnetism or local sidereal time. Of course, we have to acknowledge once again that some of this may be explained by the lack of human and financial resources in the field. But when one sees parapsychologists abandoning their own promising research areas and coming up with new projects when there is so much basic research to be done on the questions they previously asked, one wonders if our profession sometimes has an undisciplined tendency towards the pursuit of the novel.

In addition, as Rex Stanford (2003) has suggested, there is a need for research that goes beyond relationships between two variables. The great bulk of our experimental psychological studies have tried to relate ESP to belief in its occurrence, as well as to introversion-extroversion, altered states of consciousness, creativity, experimenter effects, and other variables. But there is much to do to understand why, for example, an altered state may induce ESP. It may be argued that an altered state affects ESP by producing psychophysiological changes, nonlinear thinking, or changes in a person's belief systems, or by reducing ownership resistance (Alvarado, 2000). Furthermore, one or more of the variables probably interacts with a variety of other mediating and moderating variables (Stanford, 2003).

Another important research-related issue is that of wasted opportunities. It is unfortunate to see that most recent free-response ESP researchers have done nothing with the rich imagery of participant's mentation other than use it for defining hits and misses statistically. While explorations of this sort have been conducted by Deborah Delanoy (1989), and more recently by James Carpenter (1995) and Adrian Parker (Parker, Persson & Haller, 2000), they are exceptions.[8] Almost all of our recent free-response ESP work has not been conducted with these interests in mind. In other words, as parapsychologists we limit what we can learn by the way we analyze our data.[9]

[8] See also Hastings's (2001) and White's (1964) analyses.
[9] This is further complicated by the practice of only using first-time participants. While it may be argued that this comes from the belief that first-timers are more spontaneous and that this may produce better results, such practice does not allow us to study possible recurrent patterns in our participant's mentations, such as symbols and distortions.

Similarly, other research areas are also affected by what we chose to emphasize in our research. Most of the questionnaire research of spontaneous experiences is generally limited to the experience's prevalence or frequency as the unit of analysis (e.g., Irwin, 1994). This may project a simplistic view of the phenomena because we can easily forget the different features of the experiences and ignore possible interactions between those features (Alvarado, 1996a, 1997).

Next part: 11. Concluding Remarks


Parts 1-12 of "Reflections on Being a Parapsychologist"


 Abstract and Introduction
 Parapsychologists and their Accomplishments
 Personnel in Parapsychology
 The Variety of Members in the Parapsychological Community
 Education and Training in Parapsychology
 How Does it Feel to be a Parapsychologist?
 Why are we in Parapsychology?
 Approaches to Parapsychology
 Legitimation Strategies of Parapsychologists
 When Parapsychologists Harm Their Cause (current page)
 Concluding Remarks

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