Magazine and Date:

Psychic World, April 2001

Response to the Critics

 - Prof. Bernard Carr -

Dear Editor,

In his contribution to the March issue Victor Zammit describes me as "unfair, unacademic and managerially irresponsible" and as "adopting a closed minded negatively prejudicial approach to research". This attack seems to have been prompted by a letter from John Samson in the February issue. Unfortunately Mr Samson's letter completely misrepresents both me personally and the SPR as a whole. He published an identical letter in the "Psychic News" last January and I responded to that in detail. This stimulated further correspondence, which hopefully helped to clarify matters. There is no point in reproducing all the exchanges here but I should perhaps summarise the main points.

Firstly, Mr. Samson gives the impression that my reference to "the strong survivalist element in the SPR being a source of concern to some people" reflects my personal opinion on the matter and even official SPR policy. A careful reading of my remarks makes it clear that this interpretation is unwarranted, since the reference was deliberately balanced by other pro-survivalist remarks. I felt it appropriate to express both sides of the issue because the Society has no collective opinion. In the follow up correspondence I emphasised that I have no personal antagonism towards survival research. After spending so many years battling against the "closed minded negatively prejudicial" attitudes of some of my scientific colleagues, it is strange to be attacked on the same grounds.

Secondly, Mr. Samson states that I branded Ronald Pearson a maverick and suggests that I blocked publication of his ideas in the SPR journal. On the contrary, I have never made any public pronouncement on his theories. Nor have I refereed or tried to suppress any article he has submitted for publication. Mr Pearson himself recalls that the "maverick" remark was made during a private conversation at the 1996 SPR Conference. I was Chairman of the Programme Committee that year and, far from being blocked, Mr. Pearson was invited to give a talk.

For an accurate record of my views on these and other matters related to psychical research, I suggest Mr. Zammit refer to my original article [in Issue 16 of "The Paranormal Review" last October]. I'm quite prepared to face criticism for anything which I have actually said but not for somebody else's garbled version of what I have said.

Regarding Mr Zammit's attack on the Scole critics, I would entirely sympathise if this was indeed aimed at armchair die-hard sceptics. However, the critics whose comments feature in the Scole Proceedings are most definitely not in this category. They are all internationally acclaimed experts on psychical research, who have extensive experience of working with mediums and have done more than anybody to make such studies scientifically respectable. Despite the impression given by Mr Zammit, all but one of them attended a Scole sitting and they have all studied the entire report meticulously. None of this is an argument for fraud but then the critics have not accused the Scole group of fraud anyway. Nor do they claim to have detected fraud during any of the sittings. They've merely emphasised that the conditions for excluding this possibility could have been improved.

The SPR is a scientific and not a religious organisation. The views of its members on any issue span a huge range - from outright scepticism to committed beliefs. Like any scientific organisation we encourage open-minded discussion and this requires that we sometimes provide a platform for opposing views. There is certainly a difference of opinion on the Scole case but we believe the way to resolve this is through calm debate (such as that provided by the Scole study day) and not veiled threats of legal action, which can serve nobody's interests but the lawyers. Finally, since Mr. Zammit seems to think that the SPR is controlled entirely by sceptics, I should point out that the Scole investigators are themselves prominent SPR members. Those involved on both sides of the debate have a high reputation in the field and both sides deserve respect.

Bernard Carr, President of SPR, London


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