Rebuke to sceptical challenges for mediums to ‘prove’ their ability.

Late last year I watched the This Morning programme featuring sceptic campaigner Mark Tillbrook, who made headlines in some newspapers after he handed out leaflets ‘How to spot a genuine psychic’ outside a venue where Sally Morgan was performing, to much of the annoyance of Sally’s husband and son.

Spiritualist medium Rev Colin Fry was also present as the token Spiritualist to answer the sadly obvious rebukes from Mark, who admitted that he’d never attended one of Sally Morgan’s performances. But nevertheless felt he was adequately informed to be able to provide advice to the members of the public attending the show and question Colin Fry on his abilities.

The discussion followed the usual predictable lines of questioning and rebukes during which Mark challenged Colin to undergo testing of his abilities by Professor Chris French, a psychology professor at Goldsmiths University, London, to which Colin responded that he would like to discuss it further.

My response would have been totally different because I believe there is a flaw in the rationale of testing a single medium to provide proof of their ability to communicate with the deceased.

To understand what If feel is the problem we first have to understand a fundamental principle in the methodology of scientific inquiry. Of which many in the sceptical field ‘conveniently' forget each and every time they challenge a medium to prove their ability to communicate with deceased loved-ones.

Firstly, scientific knowledge is always growing and as such our understanding of the nature and the world around is only based upon what we know today. ‘Scientific proof' is a misconception there is no such thing as proof in science; proof only exists in closed systems of propositions such as logic and mathematics. Rather scientific knowledge is only ever at best a theory based upon probability, and one that awaits further discoveries to either substantiate or question the premise of that theory.

But for a particular scientific discovery to become a theory it requires an experimental design that may be repeated many, many times providing the same results and conclusions (e.g. replication). And here lies the problem.

Selected mediums all around the world have undergone testing for more than 150 years, with researchers publishing their findings in respected, peer reviewed journals. Therefore, you may ask, why hasn’t progress been made in this field? Actually progress has been made although not in the form of providing a conclusive, definitive statement that the afterlife is a fact. Instead progress has been made in the refining of the design and the way experiments are being conducted. Because with each published experiment follows a period of critique from fellow researchers that review the methodology of the design and point out flaws in the methodology and where improvements can be made. Perhaps where conclusions may have been incorrectly drawn from the results or where a variables within the design had not be properly controlled or accounted for.

This is quite normal and scientific progress functions as a series of continual improvements upon an experiment to a conclusion of a perfect experimental design. Which of course never happens because as discussed before our knowledge is only based upon what we know today.

Therefore without a perfect experiment all challenges from the sceptic fraternity given to an individual medium or a small group of selected mediums ‘to prove their ability’ will always be inconclusive. The limited sample of participants and a single imperfect experiment means the conclusion of the results will never be deemed anything more in the scientific community other than ‘interesting’. Flipping this a little it’s often forgotten, perhaps conveniently by the sceptics, that due to an ‘imperfect experiment’ we can also never conclusively say that results that fail to support the hypothesis of an afterlife are any more correct than those that do.

This perhaps leaves us in an uncomfortable limbo, but it does provide us with a fully justified response to those calling for mediums to prove their abilities. For I would equally challenge those individuals to provide a single experiment which all of the scientific community around the world would be willing to accept as being the sole and only experiment that would ever be needed to provide conclusive results to prove or disprove life after death.

But the fact is, these individuals can no more provide this perfect, holy grail of an experiment methodology as we can assume the ability of a single medium can be taken as to sole example of the ability of every medium around world, past and present.

Chris Connelly 2017