Thursday, 8 April 2010

Untitled Radio Review - Invasion of the Mindsnatchers

This short piece appeared in the SPR Newsletter, No. 28, January 1989. I had been in the Society for Psychical Research for less than two years and sent it in both because I felt strongly about the radio show, but no doubt because I also wanted to start to make a mark on the organisation.

Why the editor, Susan Blackmore, accepted it is more difficult to understand. She said at the time that she was pleased to encourage a new contributor, but it may be that I was favoured because I had word-processed my copy, which saved her time; in her editorial she notes the publication’s new appearance, occasioned by her purchase of “an IBM PC compatible computer with WORD4 word processor.” This replaced the BBC micro with which she had produced earlier, rather more functional, issues. I no longer have my original, and the text below is as printed. The somewhat abrupt ending suggests that part of it may have been lopped off to fit the page.

Thirty-six SPR newsletters were published before being replaced by the Psi Researcher (with a new editor) in April 1991. These newsletters are not available in the SPR’s online library, which is a shame as they were generally lively and interesting. Sue and I were on the SPR Council together for a while, and meetings lost some of their colour when she left. She later became a Fellow of CSICOP, and is no long active in psychical research.

Radio review

It is fashionable to accuse the BBC of bias. For once I have to agree. The programme “Invasion of the Mindsnatchers” was an extended advertisement for CSICOP, The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, with no right of reply for anyone with an alternative viewpoint.

The scene is set by the Radio Times blurb: “Peter Evans attended CSICOP’s annual Conference in Chicago last month to investigate this paradox: How can the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world also be duped by warmed-up frauds from the nineteenth century?”

To a certain extent I sympathise with CSICOP’s aims and its criticisms of creationism, astrology and New Age cults. However, I have major reservations about this programme. It was not stated what was meant by “paranormal”. A wide variety of activities were lumped together indiscriminately and there was no mention of psychokinesis, poltergeists, precognition, clairvoyance or telepathy, to name a few areas in which serious research is taking place. Yet it was implied that these were included by default; worse, that only the credulous or foolish were interested in them. Despite the claim that CSICOP is unbiased, participants, including the presenter, repeatedly equated scepticism with rationalism and the paranormal with irrationalism. Both equations are suspect: The former because some sceptics are determined to condemn, a priori, phenomena which they have no way of knowing the validity of; the latter because, after superstition, pseudo-science, gullibility, self-deception and fraud have been taken into account, there is still a bedrock of evidence to which our rational faculties can be brought to bear.