ARTICLES

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. -

4. The Variety of Members in the Parapsychological Community

There are other interesting aspects of the profession besides its low numbers of members. In what follows I focus on PA parapsychologists, but we should keep in mind that there are many individuals that are involved in parapsychological research that do not belong to our Association.

We may refer to some individuals in our community as public workers; that is, they dare to publicly defend the field or identify themselves with research. In comparison, there are those individuals who, while helpful privately on occasion, are not willing to take a stand in public due to such consequences as losing prestige, jobs, and funding. One wonders what would be the effect of having those silent allies speak up and more actively defend the field. Support from formerly silent groups has traditionally been valuable in fights for social causes and it should not be an exception here. If at least they were willing to argue for the importance of further research I believe they would make a difference and would provide a significant help to those of us who have dared (sometimes paying the price) to identify ourselves with parapsychology. While we can understand the reasons for a lack of public involvement, there is certainly little to admire in such individuals, considering the courage and sacrifices continuously shown by many more public parapsychologists.[2]

[2] In my experience this lack of involvement sometimes is accompanied by a tendency to offer liberal advice and criticism in private.

We may also talk about those few whose main intellectual identity is in parapsychology and those whose identity lies in other fields.[3] The former includes such figures as past PA presidents John Palmer and Richard Broughton and the latter such individuals as Daryl Bem and Etzel Cardena. As I see it, both types of workers are important to keep the field going. Research is not necessarily better because it comes from one group or the other. Important contributions may come from either group. Still, we need to recognize the strength of each group. To maintain a professional field we need the first group. These are the individuals who present research yearly at PA conventions, a smaller number of whom make the administration of the PA possible and who edit the journals of the field. The second group I refer to is usually in a good position to help us reach the wider scientific world because of their political connections and prestige. This was evident in the publication of the initial Bem and Honorton (1994) ganzfeld paper in the Psychological Bulletin and in the recent book Varieties of Anomalous Experience published by the American Psychological Association and edited by Cardena and others (Cardena, Lynn & Krippner, 2000).

[3] There is, of course, another group of individuals that have mixed identities. Half of their time they are psychologists, psychiatrists, physicists, or other professions, and the other half they are parapsychologists.

Another interesting and sometimes discussed distinction is made between professionally trained and amateur workers. J. B. Rhine (1953a) drew that distinction and argued for the importance of amateurs. Certainly we have to be careful to avoid the arrogant position that claims only those persons with specific formal university training can contribute to parapsychology. I would prefer the sagacity, talent and experience of some field investigators who research hauntings and mediumship claims (e.g., Cornell, 2001) over the opinion of many other workers who hold graduate degrees from universities but have no experience in the field. Having specific training and degrees are no guarantee of common sense or creativity, particularly in such a difficult discipline as our own. At the same time, we also need to use the best techniques and approaches of science in order to understand better our phenomena. In today's modern world it is difficult to make sense of something like ESP or PK without drawing on the accumulated knowledge of the sciences and their research techniques, efforts which require formal training. Sometimes this creates problems when some individuals argue that research is too technical, full of methods, techniques, and terms that are not understood by the uninitiated. Part of the problem here may be that, as Emilio Servadio (1966) once said, parapsychology attracts people who do not have scientific training and who may not care about the requirements of science. Servadio complained about amateurs performing "experiments" that in reality "have as much in common with science as a child's scrawl with an architect's carefully studied blueprint" (p. 68). Sometimes these issues arise in the context of understanding the importance of conducting research that teaches us something about a phenomenon as opposed to research done only to document dramatic performances or the mere existence of a phenomenon (Alvarado, 1996d). In any case, amateurs may still exist in our field more than they do in other such fields such as psychology and physics because these other fields have had the acceptance of society and, consequently, the possibility and the means of becoming a professional discipline. The lack of professsionalization in parapsychology sets us apart from those other disciplines. This leads us to the topic of the next section, the problem of education and training.

Next part: 5. Education and Training in Parapsychology

 

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

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2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.

 Abstract and Introduction
 Parapsychologists and their Accomplishments
 Personnel in Parapsychology
 The Variety of Members in the Parapsychological Community (current page)
 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
 References

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