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. -

3. Personnel in Parapsychology

In his Presidential Address to the Society for Psychical Research in 1900, Frederic W. H. Myers noted that the early work of the Society had only a "small company of labourers" that was not enough to accomplish the necessary work (Myers, 1900, p. 123). In 1955 J. Fraser Nicol said that there were less than ten full-time parapsychologists (Nicol, 1955). In the mid 1970s Lawrence LeShan (1976) estimated that there were less than 30 full-time workers in the field. More recently, Matthew Smith (1999) argued that the number of full-time parapsychologists in the field was less than the number of people employed in a medium-sized McDonald's fast food restaurant.

Historically speaking, the field of parapsychology has always depended on small groups of individuals. During the early years of the SPR most of the research work was conducted by Edmund Gurney and Frederic W. H. Myers, as well as by Eleanor Sidgwick and William Barrett. The magnitude and range of this early work was remarkable, as was its depth and quality. One only has to examine the two major nineteenth century works of the Society (Gurney, Myers & Podmore, 1886; Sidgwick et al., 1894) to realize how much attention was given by a small group of psychical researchers to studies that helped to shape the course of parapsychology.

The dependence of parapsychology on the work of a few individuals can be documented in other countries and organizations. In the United States there was a period when James H. Hyslop ran the American Society for Psychical Research. An analysis I conducted of authors of the journal of the society for the 1907-1920 period when Hyslop was active showed that out of 331 articles, 220 (67%) were authored by Hyslop. Similarly, in 1926 French researcher Eugène Osty mentioned that he was the only researcher at the Institut Métapsychique International at Paris, and he was only joined occasionally by other collaborators (Osty, 1926, p. 23).

Similarly, another small group at Duke University constructed a new parapsychology by carrying on an experimental research program of unprecedented magnitude. Like the SPR, the work conducted at J. B. Rhine's Parapsychology Laboratory centered around a small group: Betty Humphrey, J. G. Pratt, J. B. Rhine, L. E. Rhine (on occasion), and Charles Stuart (Mauskopf & McVaugh, 1980). Their work focused on methodological and psychological issues and paved the way for the development of modern experimental parapsychology.

Current research units and organizations around the world work with very small staffs. Examples include the Rhine Research Center, the Division of Personality Studies, and the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory in the United States, the Koestler Parapsychology Unit in Scotland, Inter Psi and the Centro Integrado de Parapsicologia Experimental in Brazil, and the Instituto de Psicología Paranormal in Argentina. Many modern examples of the relatively important influence of a few individuals on the course of our field may also be cited. There is no question, for example, that the systematic work of Gertrude Schmeidler on beliefs in ESP and ESP scoring (Schmeidler & McConnell, 1958), of Ian Stevenson (1974a) with reincarnation cases, of William Roll (1972) with poltergeist cases, and of Charles Honorton with experimental explorations (e.g., Honorton, 1997) and with discipline-building literature reviews of ESP and altered states of consciousness (e.g., Honorton, 1977), did much to develop the field and to build research specialties in modern times. This reliance on a few individuals encourages creativity from a few gifted researchers, but it also brings us problems. Whole lines of work may surfer greatly or even disappear with the death or retirement of a single individual. Such reliance on a few workers deprives us of the work force and community that more established disciplines have. This community is essential to produce basic research, to replicate research, to refine our techniques and instruments, and to provide the general correctives that other disciplines have but that are underdeveloped in ours.

Most of the parapsychologists who are PA members and who present papers at PA conventions are not full-time workers in the field. In a paper Tart presented in 1967 in which he surveyed PA members he found they spent only 10% of their time in parapsychology (Parapsychology in 1967, 1969, p. 7). More recently, Blackmore (1989) reported an average percent working time in parapsychology of 49%, out of a small sample of 18 parapsychologists. It seems that most of us only devote a fraction of our working time to parapsychology. This is not surprising considering the following well known facts. First, we have almost no institutions that can afford to employ someone full-time. Second, there are very few opportunities for financial support in parapsychological research. Third, those employed in academia are usually expected to do more than parapsychology, such as teaching other subject matters. Fourth, in many circles association with parapsychology is a social and an intellectual stigma. As we all know, the consequences of such a small work force are serious, and only a handful of research projects are conducted every year, something that hinders our progress. I believe that, under such conditions, we deserve to feel especially proud of what we have accomplished.

Next part: 4. The Variety of Members in Parapsychology


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


 Abstract and Introduction
 Parapsychologists and their Accomplishments
 Personnel in Parapsychology (current page)
 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
 Concluding Remarks

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