The Montague and Veronica Keen Foundation
Dedicated to love, truth and simplicity

A letter written for the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research in February 2003.

Dear Madam,

Academics who are left naked would be well advised to hide under the bedclothes until their embarrassment is forgotten.

Professor Miller deserves respect in having at least faced up to the impressive evidence for the paranormal which Professor Oldfield has preferred to avoid where he cannot misrepresent. Neither Oldfield nor I misinterpreted Miller’s tentative attempt to explain cases like that relating to Edgar Vandy. His hypothesis was that a few gifted mediums might use their telepathic abilities to reconstruct the personality of the deceased from the minds of his or her survivors, on the assumption that there was a short period after apparent death when the deceased brain continued to function. But he recognised that this idea would not survive a protracted life/death period, or decapitation or cremation. His fulsome mea culpa withdrawal in the correspondence columns of The Skeptical Inquirer of this insupportable notion gave no hint of any dispute with Oldfield’s summary of Miller’s views. He now makes no effort to deal with most of my points or (like Oldfield) give any valid reasons for rejecting the Vandy evidence en bloc. The unwillingness of The Skeptical Inquirer to publish or even acknowledge the receipt of criticism of Oldfield’s article left its readers with the false impression that Oldfield had demolished not only the Miller thesis but also the claims for paranormality in both the Vandy and the Runolfson cases. Nor could any reader have been aware that an earlier version of Oldfield’s attack on the Vandy case had been rejected by a leading peer-reviewed parapsychological journal. Whether the information derived from mediums does or does not display ESP ability has nothing to do with what Professor Broad or Professor Miller think, but with the strength and nature of the evidence. That evidence incontrovertibly showed that it did.

More substantial is Oldfield’s defence of his paper. He wisely makes no effort to sustain his original contention that all the evidence from mediums could be explained by cold reading, luck, preparatory research or common parlour tricks, since the facts are against him. By reiterating the argument that the mediums made a number of incorrect statements he seeks to blind readers to the more relevant fact that they made a very large number of highly accurate statements. It will not do to cite mere presentation of sources as evidence that Oldfield had no intention to mislead. Very few readers would be likely to have the time, incentive or background knowledge to check the raw data. They rely on the integrity, authority and reputation of the writer. In this instance their reliance was unwarranted.

Oldfield’s gratuitous dismissal of the Runolfson case as unworthy of meeting evidential standards of a peer reviewed journal is an insult not simply to the American SPR which published the account in 1975 but to two of the most distinguished scientists involved in psychical research, Professor Ian Stevenson and Professor Erlendur Haraldson who researched the case. It is not good enough to wave away an exposure of suppression and distortion of facts by making airy references to endless battles about the “supposed accuracy of reports”, as though we were discussing no more than faulty recollection of events by myopic and dim witted observers.

As for the naïve belief that the reality of psychic contacts should be determined by whether accounts appear in mainstream peer-reviewed journals, all the leading scientific journals, Nature foremost among them, have long displayed open hostility to the concept of the paranormal. Oldfield ignores the lessons of scientific history if he imagines that ideas which undermine current beliefs receive a warm welcome from the Establishment which upholds them. Nearly every major scientific advance of the past two centuries and more has been strongly resisted or simply ignored by the scientific establishment, from Harvey (blood circulation), Lister (antiseptics), Esdaile (hypnosis) and Young (light waves) to Edison’s phonograph, Bell’s telephone, Roentgen’s x-rays and Tesla’s alternating current, to say nothing of space travel and aeroplanes

If James Randi, who has contributed to this Journal in the past, is genuine in his desire to discover the truth about paranormal claims — and I have met no-one who believes he is — then perhaps he could explain Uri Geller’s bent spanner or the Lord Mayor’s medallion-shattering episode or, if they prove too challenging, examine and comment on the Jacqui Poole murder case, instead of ducking out of challenges which would pierce his armour of ridicule.

Yours sincerely,

Montague Keen


The Vandy Case and Profs Oldfield and Miller by Montague Keen
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