Monday, 14 December 2015

Lexscien: An Opportunity Lost


Lexscien, or to give it its full title Lexscien: Library of Exploratory Science, is best known as the online home of the Society for Psychical Research’s publications – its Proceedings, Journal, and magazine Paranormal Review (plus Paranormal Review’s earlier incarnation The Psi Researcher).  It also carries a number of other publications: the Journal of Parapsychology (which is available free to members of the Parapsychological Association); Research in Parapsychology; the Journal of Scientific Exploration (all issues older than two years are free on the Society for Scientific Exploration’s website); and the European Journal of Parapsychology (which ceased publication in 2010 and for which all issues from 2004 to 2010 are free on its website, with the long-term aim of adding the rest back to its foundation in 1975). Despite being listed as ‘coming soon’, the Institut Métapsychique International’s La Revue Métapsychique seems to be there already.

Also ‘coming soon’ (though ‘soon’ in Lexscien’s world appears to be a somewhat flexible concept because their status has been so designated for rather a long time) are the Journal of Exceptional Human Experience and Parapsychology Abstracts International.  As the list of journals suggests, Lexscien works with a range of partners apart from the SPR: the Rhine Research Center; the Parapsychological Association; the Society for Scientific Exploration, and the ex-editors of the European Journal of Parapsychology.  When (or perhaps if) the forthcoming publications appear on Lexscien, the Exceptional Human Experiences Network will join the list (founded by the late Rhea White, it is now run by the Parapsychology Foundation and said to publish the Journal of Exceptional Human Experience and Parapsychology Abstracts International, though the EHEN website looks dormant).  Enquiries to the Parapsychology Foundation to learn more of the timescale for the publications’ inclusion failed to elicit a response.  There are also some books on the site: Frederic Myers’ Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (1903), Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers and Frank Podmore’s Phantasms of the Living (1886), and Eugene Osty’s Supernormal Faculties in Man (1923).

On the face of it this is quite an impressive roster, albeit duplicating some items freely available elsewhere, but there are drawbacks to the Lexscien site.  The SPR publications constitute by far the most significant element of Lexscien, to the extent that it may be assumed that Lexscien is an arm of the Society.  However, it is a privately-owned service, the owners operating as C-FAR, The Centre for Fundamental and Anomalies Research.  This is essentially David and Julie Rousseau: David Rousseau is listed on the C-FAR website as ‘Projects Director’ and Julie ‘Development Director’, with the rest of the ‘research team’ being Dr Zofia Weaver, Dr Richard Broughton, Dr Ed May, Adrian Ryan and Mary Rose Barrington.

Strangely Julie and David Rousseau (at the moment – these things have a habit of changing when flagged up) list themselves on the Lexscien page devoted to C-FAR as financial supporters of C-FAR, along with a number of others, as if C-FAR were an entity independent of them.  The organisation is registered at Companies House (Company number 04352039) with Dr David Rousseau as Secretary and Director, and Julie Rousseau as Director.  The company accounts are available to view online but are singularly uninformative and look to the untutored eye more like a tax reduction vehicle than the statements of an organisation actively engaged in anomalies research.  Lexscien is not included as a separate income stream on C-FAR’s annual statements even though appearing on C-FAR’s website as one of its projects.  Nor does income from C-FAR appear in the SPR’s Annual Report and Accounts, at least not as a separate item.  Despite this reciprocal opacity, the SPR’s 2013-14 Annual Report noted that £11,600 had been given to C-FAR to update and upgrade Lexscien.  Perhaps it would have been wise to insist on some kind of open accounting of any monies owed first before handing over such a large sum.  C-FAR may be not-for-profit, as the Lexscien overview states, but that declaration does not seem to have been tested.

SPR members are entitled to free use of Lexscien as part of their Society membership, but generally it is a subscription site, and is not particularly cheap.  There are two types of subscription, affiliate and standard, costing £18 and £85 per annum respectively.  The affiliate rate is available to members of partner organisations who wish to use the rest of the Lexscien site.  This is certainly cheaper than individual subscriptions to those publications it carries that have to be paid for but is still quite expensive.  The Lexscien ‘pricing’ page states that: ‘At least 65% of proceeds are distributed to the participating organisations, and the rest is (sic) used to expand and improve the library.’  However, the FAQ answer to the question ‘Can I choose which organisation benefits from my subscription?’ is more complicated:

 ‘Not directly. C-FAR takes no more than 35% of gross proceeds to cover the cost of running and expanding the library. Half of the remaining 65% is then divided between the organisations in proportion to the number of pages of literature they have put into the library. The other half is divided in proportion to the pages viewed by users. The net proceeds from downloads are passed directly to the organisation that supplied the downloaded material. This means that the supplier of the literature that is used most, benefits most, although everyone gets a share.’

That sounds like quite a lot of money should be heading the SPR’s way as it is by far the largest ‘partner’.  How much remains to be seen.  In the meantime funds are going the other way.  The £11,600 the SPR gave was a useful boost for Lexscien because there had been complaints about its ease of use with newer browsers, and until that point SPR publications only went up to 2008.  However, there is no acknowledgement of the SPR’s grant on the Lexscien home page, nor any reference to grants/donations that might have come from other partners (and if none did the question arises, why only the SPR when improvements to Lexscien benefited all partners?), nor any indication of how far behind other publications are.  Also, the quality of many of the pages is still poor and little, or more likely no, effort has been made to clean up defective scans that introduced noise and which hamper searches of the database.

Bearing in mind how long the SPR update took, and how long the coming soon’ publications have been forthcoming with no appearance yet in sight, it seems that there is little incentive for the owners of Lexscien to expand the content further.  I have suggested to Lexscien’s owners a couple of times that the SPR’s Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lectures, which were produced as booklets (see appendix below), be added to the online library but did not receive a reply.  Which I suppose is fair enough – in Boston Matrix terms Lexscien is a cash cow and ticks along nicely, and if market growth is low why bother to make the investment?  It is a matter of perspective – by contrast The International Association for the Preservation of Spiritualist and Occult Periodicals sees its digitisation programme as a mission, and works on a shoestring; I suspect its board would love to be given £11,600, considering the huge amount they do on much less; and Lexscien isn’t expanding, that money was just to stand still.

Looking at the way Lexscien is run, it is a shame the SPR went down this route, effectively ceding control of its own property, but it was a canny move by the C-FAR directors, especially as the source material, for the SPR element at least, was donated by SPR members.  The problem is that even a ring-fenced online library is seen as an asset for the SPR (though unquantifiable) as it acts as an incentive for membership.  It looks like the SPR is locked into an unfavourable deal unless it decides to start again, and given the size of the job, and as David and Julie Rousseau are both SPR Council members, that is an unlikely proposition.  In the meantime other SPR publications such as the Myers Memorial Lectures, the newsletter that preceded The Psi Researcher, and many ad-hoc booklets, languish in limbo.  C-Far may be doing well out of the arrangement with its partners, but can the same be said for the constituency it is supposed to serve?


Appendix

The following SPR publications would be valuable additions to a properly-conducted online library, but none of which is at present, as far as I am aware, available electronically.  I doubt if this is a comprehensive list but it gives an idea of some of the publications issued by the SPR that exist in limited quantities, largely unavailable to serious researchers interested in the Society’s history and the evolution of the subject.  They are worth preserving in an online SPR archive even where they have been superseded by later research:

The Society for Psychical Research: Its Rise & Progress & a Sketch of its Work, by Edward T. Benett (R. Brimley Johnson, 1903).

Telepathy and Allied Phenomena, by Rosalind Heywood, with a section on quantitative experiments by S. G. Soal (1948).

Tests for Extrasensory Perception, by D. J. West (1953, revised edition 1954).

Trance Mediumship: An Introductory Study of Mrs Piper and Mrs Leonard, by W. H. Salter, revised by Margaret Eastman (1950, revised edition 1962).*

The Society for Psychical Research: An Outline of its History, by W. H. Salter, edited with a new section and a bibliography by Renée Haynes (1970; first published 1948).  The 1948 edition replaced The Society for Psychical Research: What it is, what it has accomplished, why its work is so important, no author, 1945.

SPR Newsletter (36 issues, 1981-91, edited for most of that time by Susan Blackmore).

Tests for Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis: An Introductory Guide, by John L. Randall (n.d.)

Hints on Sitting with Mediums, by E.O, D.P and W.H. S. [Edward Osborn, Denys Parsons and W. H. Salter] (1950; this replaced an earlier leaflet, and was further revised in 1965 by D.P, R.H.T and A.G [Denys Parsons, Robert Thouless and Alan Gauld]).

Notes for Investigators of Spontaneous Cases, by G. W. L. [Guy Lambert] (1955).

‘Spirit’ Photography, by Simeon Edmunds (1965). [The complete text of ‘Spirit’ Photography (1965) was reprinted as part of an issue of the Journal of the London Institute of ’Pataphysics, number 12, February 2016.  It is accompanied by illustrations of photographs taken by some of those Edmunds mentions.]

Notes for Investigators of Spontaneous Cases, by A.D.C and A.G [A. D. Cornell and Alan Gauld] (1968).

Guide to the Investigation of Apparitions, Hauntings, Poltergeists and Kindred Phenomena, by Mary Rose Barrington (ed.) (1996).

The Importance of Psychical Research, by John Beloff (1988).

*The first edition of Trance Mediumship (1950) contains three appendices – ‘Personal Control in Trance Sittings’ by C. Drayton Thomas and ‘Telepathy from the Sitter’ by Mrs Kenneth Richmond [Zoë Richmond], plus a reading list.  The 1962 revision replaced all three appendices with a new one written by Margaret Eastman.  Probably between 1965 and 1968 Salter’s 1950 original was reissued and it entirely ignored Eastman’s revisions, reinstating the three original appendices.  Margaret Eastman’s short-lived version is now scarce.  The 1965-8 date for Trance Mediumship is suggested by the fact that the SPR republished its booklets in a uniform design with white gloss card covers during that period: ‘Spirit’ Photography and Hints on Sitting with Mediums in 1965 and Notes for Investigators of Spontaneous Cases in 1968.  Like Trance Mediumship, Tests for Extrasensory Perception was reissued without a date, but contained the text of the 1954 revision.


SPR Study Guides

These were originally issued in 1980 in plain white paper covers, and were later reissued in stiff coloured card covers.  Series editors were Francis Hitching and Hilary Evans.  An extensive list of guides was envisaged but the costs of the project proved controversial and only the first five seem to have been issued (and there is some doubt about the second as no copies at all are extant as far as I can tell):

1 PSI in the laboratory: 12 Crucial Findings, by Francis Hitching.

2 Glossary of Terms Used in Parapsychology, by Michael Thalbourne.**

3 Apparitions, by Andrew MacKenzie.

4 Books on the Paranormal: An Introductory Guide, by Nicholas Clark-Lowes.

5 Reincarnation, by David Christie-Murray.

**I have not seen a copy and it may have been dropped as the first edition of Michael A. Thalbourne’s A Glossary of Terms Used in Parapsychology was published by Heinemann as part of its SPR centenary series in 1982.  On the other hand so was Andrew MacKenzie’s Hauntings and Apparitions, and his study guide was definitely published.


The Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lectures

Conviction of Survival: Two Discourses in Memory of F. W. H. Myers (The First Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by Oliver Lodge (1929).

Beneath the Threshold (The Second Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by T. W. Mitchell (1931).

Supernormal Aspects of Energy and Matter (The Third Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by Eugène Osty (1933).

The Meaning of ‘Survival’ (The Fourth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by W. Whately Carington (1935).

Supernormal Faculty and the Structure of the Mind (The Fifth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by C. A. Mace (1937).

Psychical Research and Theology (The Sixth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by W. R. Matthews (1940).

Apparitions (The Seventh Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by G. N. M. Tyrrell (1942).

Psychical Research: Where Do We Stand? (The Eighth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by Mrs W. H. Salter [Helen Verrall] (1945).

The Experimental Situation in Psychical Research (The Ninth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by S. G. Soal (1947).

Telepathy and Human Personality (The Tenth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by J. B. Rhine (1950).

Psychical Research Past and Present (The Eleventh Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by Robert H. Thouless (1952).

The Influence of Psychic Phenomena on My Philosophy (The Twelfth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by Garbriel Marcel (1955).

Personal Identity and Survival (The Thirteenth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by C. D. Broad (1958).

The Neurophysiological Aspects of Hallucinations and Illusory Experience (The Fourteenth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by W. Grey Walter (1960).

Unconscious and Paranormal Factors in Healing and Recovery (The Fifteenth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by Emilio Servadio (1963).

Survival : A Reconsideration (The Sixteenth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by E. Garth Moore (1966).

Psychology and Psychical Research (The Seventeenth Frederic W. H. Myers Memorial Lecture), by Cyril Burt (1968).


The Psychical Experiences series published by G. Bell & Sons

In 1937-9, G. Bell published a series of books based on the files of the SPR.  These are out of print and would be worth having in an online library.  This may not be a complete list:

Hypnosis: Its Meaning and Practice, by Eric Cuddon (1938, revised 1957).

Some Cases of Prediction: A Study, by Edith Lyttelton (1937).

Evidence of Identity, by Kenneth Richmond (1939).

Evidence of Purpose, by Zoë Richmond (1938).

Ghosts and Apparitions, by W. H. Salter (1938).

Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross Correspondences, by H. F. Saltmarsh (1938).

Foreknowledge, by H. F. Saltmarsh (1938).



(Appendix revised and updated 19 May 2016.)