The accompanying letters from John Poynton and Montague Keen have pointed out the various factual errors in the correspondence from Michael Roll and Victor Zammit in your May issue. I would like to make some more general remarks concerning the controversy about the SPR which continues to feature in your pages.
One of my roles as SPR President is to look out for references to the Society in other publications and, where necessary, respond to them. I believe this is a worthwhile task because the image we present to the outside world - and especially to people with allied interests (such as your own readers) - is very important. Before taking on the job, I anticipated that most of my efforts would be spent rebutting criticisms from people who are sceptical about psychical phenomena. so I have been surprised to find that most of the attacks come from people with whom one might have thought we had a natural alliance.
Underlying much of the SPR-bashing appears to be the misapprehension that the upper echelons of the Society are dominated by sceptics who are completely opposed to survival research. This is evident not only in your own publication but also in a recent issue of the Quarterly Newsletter of the EVP and Transcommunication Society, where the editor Judith Chisholm suggested that the SPR "is there simply to prove that life after death doesn't exist". Nothing, of course, could he further from the truth because survival research has always been a crucial part of the SPR's research activities and it remains so today. As pointed out in the letters of John Poynton and Montague Keen, our Survival Committee is exceedingly energetic in its pursuit of evidence for survival and a large fraction of our lectures and published papers are on this topic.
I therefore find the vitriol of the attacks from people like Mr. Roll and Mr. Zammit perplexing. While I am sure they are not being intentionally malicious, their letters reveal an extraordinary number of misconceptions about the SPR. This is evident not only from the personal attacks on myself and John Poynton but also - more importantly - from the criticisms of the Society as a whole. In particular, Mr. Roll's accusation that we are accepting money under false pretenses is so erroneous as to border on the libelous.
Nevertheless, I accept that our critics are only voicing their honest opinions, so I'm anxious to understand how their misconceptions have come about and, if possible, clarify matters. One factor may be the increased emphasis on laboratory work in psychical research in recent years. The SPR's remit has always been much broader than survival research and the growing number of parapsychologists in university departments over the last decade has certainly diverted some attention from it. Another factor may be that our more sceptical members sometimes get a disproportionate amount of media attention. As John Poynton has pointed out, people who only hear one side of a case might easily conclude that there exists biased official policy. In reality the membership the SPR has always contained a mixture of people who believe in survival, those who don't and those who are undecided or simply uninterested in the issue. Such a diversity is inevitable in any scientific organisation and, from our perspective at least, entirely healthy. A third factor is that misinformation can easily propagate and that is why the sorts of misconceptions contained in the letters of Mr. Roll and Mr. Zammit need to be corrected.
Bernard Carr (President of SPR)