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Society for Psychical Research

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Society for Psychical Research
Legal statusNon-profit organisation
Location49 Marloes Road, Kensington, London W8 6LA
Region servedWorldwide
MembershipPsi researchers
PresidentRichard Broughton
Main organSPR Council
AffiliationsSFRP, ASRP
The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is a non-profit organisation in the United Kingdom. Its stated purpose is to understand "events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and supporting important research in this area" and to "examine allegedly paranormal phenomena in a scientific and unbiased way."[1] It does not however, since its inception in 1882, hold any corporate opinions: SPR members have a variety of beliefs or lack thereof about the reality and nature of the phenomena studied, and some skeptics have been active members of the Society.[2][3]


Henry Sidgwick, a founding member of the SPR
Frank Podmore, a notable skeptical member
The SPR was founded in 1882 in London by a group of eminent thinkers including Edmund Gurney, Frederic William Henry Myers, William Fletcher Barrett, Henry Sidgwick, and Edmund Dawson Rogers.[4] The SPR was the first organisation of its kind in the world, its stated purpose being "to approach these varied problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated."[5]
Initially six committees were established: on Thought-Transference, Mesmerism and similar phenomena, Mediumship, Reichenbach Phenomena (Odic Force), Apparitions and Haunted Houses, physical phenomena associated with séances, and the Literary Committee which studied the history of these phenomena.[6] One significant undertaking was the Census of Hallucinations, in which 15,000 people were asked to report on hallucinatory experiences while awake and in good health. Some 10% of those reported such experiences, and a small number of 'veridical hallucinations' were reported - that is, hallucinations which appeared to convey information not known to the person hallucinating at the time, which was believed by the authors to be suggestive of telepathy.[7]
Critical SPR investigations into purported mediums and the exposure of fake mediums led to a number of resignations in the 1880s by Spiritualist members,[6] but the Society continued to investigate mediums, studying Gladys Osborne Leonard, Eusapia Palladino, Leonora Piper, Rudi Schneider among others.[8]
In 1885 Richard Hodgson's report on Theosophical Phenomena expressed the opinion that the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrova Blavatsky, was "neither the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor... a mere vulgar adventuress; we think she has achieved title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious and interesting imposters in history".[9] This report, which had a marked effect on Theosophy, remains as with all SPR reports the opinion of the member concerned; the SPR holds no corporate opinions.[10] In 1886 and 1887 in a series of publications the SPR exposed the tricks of the medium William Eglinton. Because of this, some spiritualist members such as William Stainton Moses resigned from the SPR.[11] Due to the exposure of William Hope and other fraudulent spiritualists, Arthur Conan Doyle led a mass resignation of eighty-four members of the Society for Psychical Research, as they believed the Society was opposed to spiritualism.[12]
According to D. Scott Rogo "For years a feud existed between the Spiritualists who saw the SPR as unnecessarily skeptical and the SPR which saw Spiritualists as credulous or simplistic."[13] As the SPR progressed many of the members came to interpret mediumship and spiritualist phenomena in terms of psychokinesis and telepathy opposed to the spiritualist hypothesis.[14][15] This explanation for spiritualistic phenomena prevailed in the SPR, and is still supported by parapsychological researchers to this day. On this subject Terence Hines wrote "The split came about not because of doubt on the part of the scientists who belonged to the SPR, but because of a fundamental difference with spiritualists over the correct interpretation of the phenomena that took place at séances."[16] The parapsychological claim that mediumship can be explained by psychokinesis or telepathy is not accepted by the scientific community.[16]
In 1966 the SPR member Simeon Edmunds published Spiritualism: A Critical Study which concluded the majority of mediums that had been investigated were fraudulent.[17] The psychical researcher Alfred Douglas reviewed the outcome of tests over 100 years into ESP experiments and mediums by the SPR and concluded a verdict of nonproven.[18] Eric Dodds a past president of the SPR wrote a paper claiming there is no evidence for an afterlife, however, David Fontana who was at one time president of the SPR, from 1995 to 1998 has claimed there is evidence supportive of an afterlife based on the Scole experiment.[19][20] Fontana has been criticized by other SPR member for holding this view. Tony Cornell, Alan Gauld and Donald West have written the Scole experiment is not evidence for an afterlife. Gauld wrote there was "quite a lot of indirect evidence" for fraud in the experiment, Cornell wrote normal explanations could be given for the séance phenomena and West wrote the Scole report was "sadly unconvincing" due to lack of scientific controls.[21][22][23]
The SPR member Tony Cornell spent over 50 years investigating the paranormal and came to the conclusion that most paranormal cases turn out to have natural explanations such as the result of fraud, pranks and misidentification. He believed that many sightings of ghosts, hauntings and poltergeists are products of the human mind.[24] Cornell estimated that of the 800 cases that he investigated, only twenty percent were difficult to explain and only a handful were paranormal.[25] Some skeptical members have resigned from the SPR. Eric Dingwall resigned and wrote "After sixty years' experience and personal acquaintance with most of the leading parapsychologists of that period I do not think I could name half a dozen whom I could call objective students who honestly wished to discover the truth."[26]
The SPR is frequently referred to in Victorian and Edwardian literature as the "Psychical Research Society". The term psychical was adopted to distinguish the purported phenomena from those classified as psychic, (that is simply mental processes such as thought, memory, etc.) and the SPR were to introduce a number of other neologisms which have entered the English language, such as 'telepathy', which was coined by Frederic Myers.[27]
The Society is run by a President and a Council of twenty members, and is open to interested members of the public to join. The organisation is based at 49 Marloes Road, Kensington, London, with a library and office open to members, and with large book and archival holdings in Cambridge University Library, Cambridgeshire, England.[28] It publishes the peer reviewed quarterly Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (JSPR), the irregular Proceedings and the magazine Paranormal Review. It holds an annual conference, regular lectures and two study days per year[1][29] and supports the LEXSCIEN on-line library project.[30]


Harry Price[edit]

Harry Price, a psychical researcher who had disputes with the SPR
The psychical researcher Harry Price joined the SPR in 1920 and due to his knowledge in conjuring had debunked fraudulent mediums but in direct contrast to skeptics such as Harry Houdini, Price endorsed some mediums that he believed were genuine.[31][32] Price formed an organization in 1926 called the National Laboratory of Psychical Research as a rival to the Society for Psychical Research.[33] Price had a number of disputes with the SPR, most notably over the mediumship of Rudi Schneider.[34] In the 1920s and early 1930's Price tested Rudi at his laboratory.[35]
In April 1932, Price discovered that members of his council had been conducting secret negotiations with Rudi to set up experiments with the SPR. The SPR member John L. Randall wrote "Since it was Price who had brought Rudi to England in the first instance, the attempt to set up further experiments behind his back was seen by him as an act of betrayal."[36] Rudi claimed he could levitate objects but according Price a photograph taken on April 28, 1932 showed that Rudi had managed to free his arm to move a handkerchief from the table. After this, many scientists considered Rudi to be exposed as a fraud.[37] Price wrote the findings of other experiments should be revised due to the evidence showing how Rudi could free himself from the control.[35]
After Price had exposed Rudi, various scientists such Karl Przibram and the magician Henry Evans wrote to Price telling him that they agreed that Rudi would evade control during his séances and congratulated Price on the success of unmasking the fraud.[38] In opposition, SPR members who were highly critical of Price, supported Rudi's mediumship and promoted a conspiracy theory that Price had hoaxed the photograph.[39] SPR member Anita Gregory claimed Price had deliberately faked the photograph to discredit SPR research and ruin Rudi's reputation.[40] However, a photographic expert testified that the photograph was genuine.[41]
According to John L. Randall there was direct evidence of "dirty tricks" played upon Price by members of the SPR.[36] On October 9, 1931, a past president of the SPR William Henry Salter visited the Borley Rectory in an attempt to persuade the Rector Lionel Foyster, to sever his links with Price and work with the SPR instead.[42] After Price's death in 1948 Eric Dingwall, Kathleen M. Goldney, and Trevor H. Hall, three members of the Society for Psychical Research, two of whom had been Price's most loyal associates, investigated his claims about Borley. Their findings were published in a 1956 book, The Haunting of Borley Rectory, which concluded Price had fraudulently produced some of the phenomena.[43] The "Borley Report", as the SPR study has become known, stated that many of the phenomena were either faked or due to natural causes such as rats and the strange acoustics attributed to the odd shape of the house. In their conclusion, Dingwall, Goldney, and Hall wrote "when analysed, the evidence for haunting and poltergeist activity for each and every period appears to diminish in force and finally to vanish away."[44] Robert Hastings was one of the few SPR researchers to defend Price.[45] Price's literary executor Paul Tabori and Peter Underwood have also defended Price against accusations of fraud. A similar approach was made by Ivan Banks in 1996.[46][47] Michael Coleman in an SPR report in 1997 wrote Price's defenders are unable to rebut the criticisms convincingly.[48]


Anna Eva Fay, a stage mentalist who fooled William Crookes into believing she had genuine psychic powers
The SPR's investigations into mediumship exposed many fraudulent mediums which contributed to the decline of interest in physical mediumship.[49]
At a séance in the house of the solicitor John Snaith Rymer in Ealing on July 1855, the SPR member Frederick Merrifield observed that a "spirit-hand" was a false limb attached on the end of Daniel Dunglas Home's arm. Merrifield also claimed to have observed Home use his foot in the séance room.[50]
Writing in the journal for the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Count Petrovsky Petrovo-Solovo described séances in which Home was caught using his feet to create supposed spirit effects. Home wore thin shoes, easy to take off and draw on, and also cut socks that left the toes free. "At the appropriate moment he takes off one of his shoes and with his foot pulls a dress here, a dress there, rings a bell, knocks one way and another, and, the thing done, quickly puts his shoe on again." Home held a séance for Eugénie de Montijo, and positioned himself between Montijo and Napoleon III. One of the séance sitters known as General Felury suspected Home was utilizing trickery and asked to leave but returned unobserved to watch from another door behind Home. He saw Home slip his foot from his shoe and touch the arm of the Empress, who believed it to be one of her dead children. The observer stepped forward and revealed the fraud, and Home was conducted out of the country. "The order was to keep the incident secret."[51]
In a series of experiments in London at the house of William Crookes in February 1875, Anna Eva Fay managed to fool Crookes into believing she had genuine psychic powers.[52] Fay confessed in 1913 to Eric Dingwall that she had duped Crookes and other scientists.[53] She was investigated by the magician Harry Houdini, to whom after her retirement in 1924 confessed fraud to and revealed the tricks she had used.[54]
Frank Herne a British medium who formed a partnership with the medium Charles Williams was repeatedly exposed in fraudulent materialization séances.[55] In 1875 he was caught by SPR members pretending to be a spirit during a séance in Liverpool and was found "clothed in about two yards of stiffened muslin, wound round his head and hanging down as far as his thigh."[56] Florence Cook a medium Crookes supported had been "trained in the arts of the séance" by Herne and was repeatedly exposed as a fraudulent medium.[57]
The British medium Francis Ward Monck was investigated by psychical researchers and discovered to be a fraud. On November 3, 1876 during the séance a sitter demanded that Monck be searched. Monck ran from the room, locked himself in another room and escaped out of a window. A pair of stuffed gloves was found in his room, as well as cheesecloth, reaching rods and other fraudulent devices in his luggage.[58] After a trial Monck was convicted for his fraudulent mediumship and was sentenced to three months in prison.[59]
In 1876, William Eglinton was exposed as a fraud when the psychical researcher Thomas Colley seized a "spirit" materialization in his séance and cut off a portion of its cloak. It was discovered that the cut piece matched a cloth found in Eglinton's suitcase.[60] Colley also pulled the beard off the materialization and it was revealed to be a fake, the same as another one found in the suitcase of Eglinton.[61] In 1880 in a séance a spirit named "Yohlande" materialized, a sitter grabbed it and was revealed to be the medium Mme. d'Esperance herself.[62]
Johann Karl Friedrich Zöllner, Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leipzig conducted several controlled experiments, using the medium Henry Slade, to evaluate his claims of paranormal ability in 1877. Slade failed some of the tests carried out under controlled conditions but still succeeded in fooling Zöllner in several other attempts.[63] The SPR member Hereward Carrington in his book The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism (1907) revealed the fraudulent methods (with diagrams of the rope tricks) that Slade used in the Zöllner experiments.[64]
The Creery Sisters (Mary, Alice, Maud, Kathleen, and Emily) were tested in 1881 by the SPR members William Barrett, Frederic Myers, and Edmund Gurney who announced them to have genuine psychic ability. In 1888, the Creery sisters were caught utilizing signal codes and they confessed to fraud.[65][66]
The medium William Eglinton performed slate writing mediumship and his leading critics were the psychical researchers Eleanor Sidgwick and Richard Hodgson.[67] In 1886 and 1887 a series of publications by S. J. Davey, Hodgson and Sidgwick in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research exposed the slate writing tricks of Eglinton.[11]
The psychical researcher and SPR member Charles Richet with Oliver Lodge, Frederic William Henry Myers and Julian Ochorowicz investigated the medium Eusapia Palladino in the summer of 1894 at his house in the Ile Roubaud in the Mediterranean. Richet claimed furniture moved during the séance and that some of the phenomena was the result of a supernatural agency.[68] However, Richard Hodgson claimed there was inadequate control during the séances and the precautions described did not rule out trickery. Hodgson wrote all the phenomena "described could be account for on the assumption that Eusapia could get a hand or foot free." Lodge, Myers and Richet disagreed, but Hodgson was later proven correct in the Cambridge sittings as Palladino was observed to have used tricks exactly the way he had described them.[68]
In July 1895, Palladino was invited to England to Myers' house in Cambridge for a series of investigations into her mediumship. According to reports by the investigators Myers and Oliver Lodge, all the phenomena observed in the Cambridge sittings were the result of trickery. Her fraud was so clever, according to Myers, that it "must have needed long practice to bring it to its present level of skill."[69] In the Cambridge sittings the results proved disastrous for her mediumship. During the séances Palladino was caught cheating in order to free herself from the physical controls of the experiments.[68] Palladino was found liberating her hands by placing the hand of the controller on her left on top of the hand of the controller on her right. Instead of maintaining any contact with her, the observers on either side were found to be holding each other's hands and this made it possible for her to perform tricks.[70] Richard Hodgson had observed Palladino free a hand to move objects and use her feet to kick pieces of furniture in the room. Because of the discovery of fraud, the British SPR investigators such as Henry Sidgwick and Frank Podmore considered Palladino's mediumship to be permanently discredited and because of her fraud she was banned from any further experiments with the SPR in Britain.[70]
In the British Medical Journal on November 9, 1895 an article was published titled Exit Eusapia!. The article questioned the scientific legitimacy of the SPR for investigating Eusapia Palladino a medium who had a reputation of being a fraud and imposture.[71] Part of the article read "It would be comic if it were not deplorable to picture this sorry Egeria surrounded by men like Professor Sidgwick, Professor Lodge, Mr. F. H. Myers, Dr. Schiaparelli, and Professor Richet, solemnly receiving her pinches and kicks, her finger skiddings, her sleight of hand with various articles of furniture as phenomena calling for serious study."[71] This caused Henry Sidgwick to respond in a published letter to the British Medical Journal, November 16, 1895. According to Sidgwick SPR members had exposed the fraud of Palladino at the Cambridge sittings, Sidgwick wrote "Throughout this period we have continually combated and exposed the frauds of professional mediums, and have never yet published in our Proceedings, any report in favour of the performances of any of them."[72] The response from the Journal questioned why the SPR wastes time investigating phenomena that are the "result of jugglery and imposture" and not urgently concerning the welfare of mankind.[72]
In 1898, Myers was invited to a series of séances in Paris with Charles Richet. In contrast to the previous séances in which he had observed fraud he claimed to have observed convincing phenomena.[73] Sidgwick reminded Myers of Palladino's trickery in the previous investigations as "overwhelming" but Myers did not change his position. This enraged Richard Hodgson, then editor of SPR publications to ban Myers from publishing anything on his recent sittings with Palladino in the SPR journal. Hodgson was convinced Palladino was a fraud and supported Sidgwick in the "attempt to put that vulgar cheat Eusapia beyond the pale."[73] It wasn't until the 1908 sittings in Naples that the SPR reopened the Palladino file.[74]
In the late 19th century Douglas Blackburn and George Albert Smith were endorsed as genuine psychics by the Society for Psychical Research. Smith even became an SPR member himself and the private secretary to the Honorary Secretary Edmund Gurney from 1883 to 1888.[75][76] However, Blackburn later confessed to fraud:
For nearly thirty years the telepathic experiments conducted by Mr. G. A. Smith and myself have been accepted and cited as the basic evidence of the truth of thought transference... ...the whole of those alleged experiments were bogus, and originated in the honest desire of two youths to show how easily men of scientific mind and training could be deceived when seeking for evidence in support of a theory they were wishful to establish.[77]
In 1905, Eva Carrière held a series of séances at Villa Carmen and sitters were invited. In these séances she claimed to materialize a spirit called Bien Boa a 300 year old Brahmin Hindu, however, photographs taken of Boa looked like the figure was made from a large cardboard cutout.[78] In other sittings Charles Richet reported that Boa was breathing, had moved around the room and had touched him, a photograph taken revealed Boa to be a man dressed up in a cloak, helmet and beard.[79] A newspaper article in 1906 had revealed that an Arab coachman known as Areski who had previously worked at the villa had been hired to play the part of Bien Boa and that the entire thing was a hoax. Areski wrote that he made his appearance into the room by a trapdoor. Carrière had also admitted to being involved with the hoax.[80]
In 1906, William Hope tricked William Crookes (a past president of the SPR) with a fake spirit photograph of his wife. Oliver Lodge revealed there had been obvious signs of double exposure, the picture of Lady Crookes had been copied from a wedding anniversary photograph, however, Crookes was a convinced spiritualist and claimed it was genuine evidence for spirit photography.[81] Lodge who served as president of the London-based Society for Psychical Research from 1901 to 1903 was also a spiritualist.[82] Charles Arthur Mercier a specialist in insanity wrote in his book Spiritualism and Sir Oliver Lodge (1917) that Lodge had been duped into believing mediumship by trickery and his Spiritualist views were based on assumptions and not scientific evidence.[83]
Sketch showing the layout of a séance in the 1908 Naples investigation
In 1908, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) appointed a committee of three to examine Eusapia Palladino in Naples. The committee comprised Mr. Hereward Carrington, investigator for the American Society for Psychical Research and an amateur conjurer; Mr. W. W. Baggally, also an investigator and amateur conjurer of much experience; and the Hon. Everard Feilding, who had had an extensive training as investigator and "a fairly complete education at the hands of fraudulent mediums."[84] Three adjoining rooms on the fifth floor of the Hotel Victoria were rented. The middle room where Feilding slept was used in the evening for the séances.[85] In the corner of the room was a séance cabinet created by a pair of black curtains to form an enclosed area that contained a small round table with several musical instruments. In front of the curtains was placed a wooden table. During the séances, Palladino would sit at this table with her back to the curtains. The investigators sat on either side of her, holding her hand and placing a foot on her foot.[86] Guest visitors also attended some of the séances, the Feilding report mentions Professor Bottazzi and Professor Galeotti were present in the forth séance sitting and a Mr. Ryan was present during the eighth séance.[86]
Although the investigators caught Palladino cheating, they were convinced Palladino produced genuine supernatural phenomena such as levitations of the table, movement of the curtains, movement of objects from behind the curtain and touches from hands.[87][88] SPR member Frank Podmore in his book The Newer Spiritualism (1910) wrote a comprehensive critique of the Feilding report. According to Podmore the report provided insufficient information at crucial moments and the witness accounts from the investigators contained contradictions and inconsistences on who was holding Palladino's feet and hands.[86] Podmore discovered various statements by the investigators conflicted with each other on what they claimed to have observed. Some of the statements were also written days after the events took place. Podmore wrote the report "at almost every point leaves obvious loopholes for trickery."[86] During the séances the long black curtains were often intermixed with Palladino's long black dress. Palladino told Professor Bottazzi the black curtains were "indispensable." Researchers have suspected Palladino used the curtain to conceal her feet.[89]
Eusapia Palladino, a medium the SPR has extensively studied
In 1910 the SPR member Everard Feilding returned to Naples, without Hereward Carrington and W. W. Baggally. Instead, he was accompanied by his friend, William S. Marriott, a magician of some distinction who had exposed psychic fraud in Pearson's Magazine.[90] His plan was to repeat the famous earlier 1908 Naple sittings with Palladino.[91] Other members of the Society for Psychical Research had called attention to the failings of Feilding's 1908 notes. Unlike the 1908 sittings which had baffled the investigators, this time Feilding and Marriott detected her cheating, just as she had done in the US. Her deceptions were obvious. Palladino evaded control and was caught moving objects with her foot, shaking the curtain with her hands, moving the cabinet table with her elbow and touching the séance sitters. Marriott stated "When one knows how a feat can be accomplished and what to look for, only the most skillful performer can maintain the illusion in the face of such informed scrutiny." Feilding was convinced all of the phenomena was fraudulent and saw the second visit as totally worthless.[91][92]
Eric Dingwall observed the medium Bert Reese in New York and claimed to have discovered his billet reading tricks.[93] Richard Hodgson held six sittings with the medium Rosina Thompson and came to the conclusion she was a fraud as he discovered Thompson had access to documents and information about her séance sitters.[94] The SPR member Edmund Fournier d'Albe investigated the medium Kathleen Goligher. On 22 July 1921 he observed Goligher moving the séance table with her foot.[95] He also discovered her "ectoplasm" was made from muslin. During a séance d'Albe had observed white muslin between Goligher's feet.[96]
In 1922, Eric Dingwall and Harry Price re-published an anonymous work written by a former medium entitled Revelations of a Spirit Medium which exposed the tricks of mediumship and the fraudulent methods of producing "spirit hands".[97] Originally all the copies of the book were bought up by spiritualists and deliberately destroyed.[98] In the same year Price, James Seymour, Dingwall and William Marriott exposed the fraud of the spirit photographer William Hope. Price wrote in his SPR report "William Hope has been found guilty of deliberately substituting his own plates for those of a sitter... It implies that the medium brings to the sitting a duplicate slide and faked plates for fraudulent purposes."[99]
In 1925, SPR member Samuel Soal claimed to have taken part in a series of séances with the medium Blanche Cooper who contacted the spirit of a soldier Gordon Davis and revealed the house that he had lived in. Researchers later discovered fraud as the séances had taken place in 1922, not 1925. The magician and paranormal investigator Bob Couttie revealed that Davis was alive, Soal lived close to him and had altered the records of the sittings after checking out the house. Soal's co-workers knew that he had fiddled the results but were kept quiet with threats of libel suits.[100]
Eva Carrière with cardboard cut-out figure of King Ferdinand of Bulgaria
In 1934, SPR members Oliver Gatty and Theodore Besterman examined the mediumship of Rudi Schneider and published a paper which concluded there is "no good evidence that Rudi Schneider possesses supernormal powers".[101] According to the magician John Booth the stage mentalist David Devant managed to fool a number of people into believing he had genuine psychic ability who did not realize that his feats were magic tricks. At St. George's Hall, London he performed a fake "clairvoyant" act where he would read a message sealed inside an envelope. Oliver Lodge who was present in the audience was duped by the trick and claimed that Devant had used psychic powers. In 1936 Devant in his book Secrets of My Magic revealed the trick method he had used.[102]
The Soal-Goldney experiment (1941-1943) on ESP was fraudulent as it was revealed Samuel Soal had altered and faked the data. Soal was originally accused of fraud by skeptics and scientists such as C. E. M. Hansel and George Price who proposed various ways that he could have cheated.[103][104] Direct evidence of fraud came from SPR member Betty Marwick who discovered that Soal had not used the method of random selection of numbers as he had claimed. Marwick showed that there had been manipulation of the score sheets "all the experiments reported by Soal had thereby been discredited."[105][106]
In 1954, the SPR member Rudolf Lambert published a report revealing details about a case of fraud that was covered up by many early members of the Institute Metapsychique International (IMI).[107] Lambert who had studied Gustav Geley's files on the medium Eva Carrière discovered photographs depicting fraudulent ectoplasm taken by her companion Juliette Bisson.[108] Various "materializations" were artificially attached to Eva's hair by wires. The discovery was never published by Geley. Eugene Osty (the director of the institute) and members Jean Meyer, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing and Charles Richet all knew about the fraudulent photographs but were firm believers in mediumship phenomena so demanded the scandal be kept secret.[108]
In 1992, Richard Wiseman analyzed the Everard Feilding report of Eusapia Palladino in 1908 and argued that she employed a secret accomplice that could enter the room by a fake door panel positioned near the séance cabinet.[109] Wiseman discovered this trick was already mentioned in a book from 1851, he also visited a carpenter and skilled magician who constructed a door within an hour with a false panel. The accomplice was suspected to be her second husband, who insisted on bringing Palladino to the hotel where the séances took place.[109] Wiseman's secret accomplice hypothesis was criticized by spiritualist SPR members such as Mary Barrington and David Fontana. Wiseman defended his hypothesis and published a rebuttal to the criticisms.[110][111][112][113] Massimo Polidoro and Gian Marco Rinaldi also analyzed the Feilding report but came to the conclusion no secret accomplice was needed as Palladino during the 1908 Naples séances could have produced the phenomena by using her foot.[114]


Edward Clodd, a critic of the SPR
Ivor Lloyd Tuckett wrote that even though the SPR have collected some valuable work, most of its active members have "no training in psychology fitting them for their task, and have been the victims of pronounced bias, as sometimes they themselves have admitted."[115] Trevor Hall an ex-member of the Society for Psychical Research criticized SPR members as "credulous and obsessive wish... to believe." Hall also claimed SPR members "lack knowledge of deceptive methods."[116]
Magicians and skeptics have criticized spiritualist SPR members such as William Crookes, Oliver Lodge and Cesare Lombroso for not educating themselves in conjurer tricks and being duped by fraudulent mediums.[117][118][119][120] On this subject, Ivor Lloyd Tuckett wrote:
The fact of the matter is that scientific men, who are accustomed to accurate laboratory conditions and instruments, which do not lie or give rise to error — at any rate consciously are no match for the subtle degrees of deception practiced by media like Home, Moses and Eusapia.[121]
Edward Clodd claimed the SPR members William Barrett and Oliver Lodge were incompetent researchers to detect fraud and wrote their spiritualist beliefs were based on magical thinking and primitive superstition.[122] Clodd analyzed the SPR and saw nothing more than "barbaric spiritual philosophy", he mocked the language of SPR members "subliminal consciousness" and "telepathic energy" as a disguise for "bastard supernaturalism."[123] The psychologist Millais Culpin wrote SPR members had not educated themselves about psychological factors.[124]
Frank Podmore gave rationalistic explanations for much of the psychical research that he studied and his books received good reviews in science journals.[125][126] His book Studies in Psychical Research received a positive review in the British Medical Journal which described his debunking of fraudulent mediums as scientific and came to the conclusion the "book is well worth reading, and it is agreeable reading, for the style is generally vigorous and not infrequently brilliant."[127]
In the early 1980s the SPR member Brian Inglis was involved in a dispute with the skeptic Ruth Brandon over the mediumship of Daniel Dunglas Home in the New Scientist magazine.[128][129][130] In 1988, the magician Bob Couttie criticized Inglis for deliberately ignoring evidence of fraud in mediumship. Couttie wrote Inglis had not familiarized himself with magician techniques.[131] The parapsychologist D. Scott Rogo complained that Inglis "had a bad habit in his writing of suppressing negative information about psychics and researchers he favored by failing to note cases of fraud that were uncovered."[132]
The psychologist David Marks has written that paranormal researchers such as those in the SPR have failed to produce a single repeatable demonstration of the paranormal in over 100 years and described psychical research as a pseudoscience an "incoherent collection of belief systems steeped in fantasy, illusion and error."[133] In 2003, James Alcock highlighted various problems with psychical research including failure to produce a single paranormal phenomenon that can be independently replicated by neutral researchers and lack of progress in over a century of formal research.[134]

Psychological study[edit]

A psychological study involving 174 members of the Society for Psychical Research completed a delusional ideation questionnaire and a deductive reasoning task. As predicted, the study showed that "individuals who reported a strong belief in the paranormal made more errors and displayed more delusional ideation than skeptical individuals". There was also a reasoning bias which was limited to people who reported a belief in, rather than experience of, paranormal phenomena. The results suggested that reasoning abnormalities may have a causal role in the formation of paranormal belief.[135]


The following is a list of presidents:
Society for Psychical Research
1882-1884  Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900), Professor, Trinity College, Cambridge; Philosopher and Economist
1885-1887Balfour Stewart (1827-1887), Professor, Owenham College, Manchester; Physicist
1888-1892  Henry Sidgwick (→ 1882), Professor, Trinity College, Cambridge; Philosopher and Economist
1893Arthur Balfour KG, OM, PC, DL (1848-1930), later Prime Minister, known for the Balfour Declaration
1894-1895William James (1842-1910) Professor, Harvard University; American Psychologist, Philosopher and Physician
1896-1899Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), Physical Chemist, discovered the element Thallium, invented Crookes Tubes
1900Frederick William Henry Myers (1843-1901), Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge; Classicist and Philosopher
1901-1903Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940), Professor, University College, Liverpool; Physicist and Mathematician, developer of wireless telegraphy
1904Sir William Fletcher Barrett FRS (1845-1926), Professor, Royal College of Science, Dublin; Experimental Physicist
1905Charles Richet (1850-1935), Professor, Collège de France, Paris; French Physiologist, Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology 1913
1906-1907Gerald Balfour (1853-1945), Politician, brother of Arthur Balfour; Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge
1908-1909Eleanor Sidgwick (1845-1936), Principal, Newnham College, Cambridge; Physicist
1910Henry Arthur Smith (1848-1922), Barrister-at-Law, Middle Temple, London; Lawyer and author of legal treatises
1911Andrew Lang (1844-1912), Fellow, Merton College, Oxford; Classicist and writer on folklore, mythology, and religion
1912William Boyd Carpenter KCVO (1841-1918), Pastoral Lecturer, Theology, Cambridge; Bishop of Ripon
1913Henri Bergson (1859-1941) Professor, Collège de France, Paris; Chair of Modern Philosophy; Nobel Prize, Literature 1927
1914F. C. S. Schiller (1864-1937), Fellow, Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Philosopher
1915-1916Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Regius Professor of Greek, University of Oxford; Classicist
1917-1918Lawrence Pearsall Jacks (1860-1955), Professor, Manchester College, Oxford; Philosopher and Theologian
1919John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh OM, PRS (1842-1919), Cavendish Professor, Trinity College, Cambridge; Physicist, Nobel Prize, Physics 1904
1920-1921William McDougall FRS (1871-1938), Professor, Duke University; Psychologist, founder J B Rhine Parapsychology Lab
1922Thomas Walter Mitchell (1869-1944), Physician and Psychologist, Publisher of the British Journal of Medical Psychology 1920-1935
1923Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), founder and first president of the Société Astronomique de France, author of popular science and science fiction works
1924-1925John George Piddington (1869-1952), Businessman, John George Smith & Co., London
1926-1927Hans Driesch (1867-1941), Professor, Universitaet Leipzig; German Biologist and Natural Philosopher, performed first animal cloning 1885
1928-1929Sir Lawrence Evelyn Jones (1885-1955) Honorary Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford; Author
1930-1931Walter Franklin Prince (1863-1934), Clergyman
1932Eleanor Sidgwick (→ 1908) and Oliver Lodge (→ 1901)
1933-1934Edith Bulwer-Lytton (born as Edith Balfour; 1865-1948), Writer
1935-1936C. D. Broad (1887-1971), Philosopher
1937-1938Robert Strutt, 4th Baron Rayleigh (1875-1947), Physician
1939-1941Henri Haberley Price (1899-1984), Philosopher
1942-1944Robert Henry Thouless (1894-1984), Psychologist
1945-1946George N. M. Tyrrell (1879-1952), Mathematician
1947-1948William Henry Salter (1880-1969), Lawyer
1949Gardner Murphy (1895-1979), Director of Research, Menninger Foundation, Topeka, Kansas; Psychologist
1950-1951Samuel George Soal (1889-1975), Mathematician
1952Gilbert Murray (→ 1915)
1953-1955Frederick Stratton (1881-1960), Astrophysicist, Professor in Cambridge University
1956-1958Guy William Lambert (1889-1984), Diplomat
1958-1960C. D. Broad (→ 1935)
1960-1961Henri Haberley Price (→ 1939)
1960-1963Eric Robertson Dodds (1893-1979), Hellenist, Professor in Birmingham and Oxford
1963-1965Donald James West (* 1924), Psychiatrist and criminologist
1965-1969Sir Alister Hardy (1896-1985), Zoologist
1969-1971W. A. H. Rushton (1901-1980), Physiologist, Professor in Cambridge
1971-1974Clement William Kennedy Mundle (* 1920), Philosopher
1974-1976John Beloff (1920-2006), Psychologist at the University of Edinburgh
1976-1979Arthur J. Ellison (1920-2000), Engineer
1980Joseph Banks Rhine (1895-1980), Biologist and Parapsychologist
1980Louisa Ella Rhine (1891-1983), Parapsychologist, wife of Joseph Rhine
1981-1983Arthur J. Ellison (→ 1976)
1984-1988Donald James West (→ 1963)
1988-1989Ian Stevenson (1918-2007), Psychiatrist
1992-1993Alan Gauld, Psychologist
1993-1995Archie Roy, Professor of Astronomy in Glasgow, founded the Scottish SPR in 1987
1995-1998David Fontana, Professor of Psychologist in Cardiff
1998-1999Donald James West (→ 1963, → 1984)
2000-2004Bernard Carr, Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy in London
2004-2007John Poynton, Biologist
2007-2011Deborah Delanoy, Parapsychologist
2011-Richard S. Broughton, senior lecturer in psychology at The University of Northampton, UK

Notable members[edit]

Past and current notable members of the SPR include Henry Sidgwick, Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, Frederick Myers, Frank Podmore, Eric Dingwall, Richard Hodgson, Edmund Gurney, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Alfred Russel Wallace, Sigmund Freud, W. B. Yeats, C. G. Jung, William James, Arthur Balfour, Archie Roy, Rupert Sheldrake, Richard Wiseman, Susan Blackmore, Dean Radin, Alastair Sim, Peter Underwood and Charles Tart.[136]
In 1893, the year that Arthur Balfour was president of the SPR the author Arthur Conan Doyle joined the society, however Doyle later resigned.[12][137]
Investigators of spontaneous phenomena (hauntings, etc.) have included Guy Lyon Playfair and Maurice Grosse, who investigated reports of the Enfield Poltergeist.[138][139] and Tony Cornell who conducted extensive investigations over many decades.[140]

Other societies[edit]

A number of other psychical research organisations use the term 'Society for Psychical Research' in their name.
  • Australia - In 1979 the Australian Society for Psychical Research was founded.[141]
  • Austria - Founded in 1927 as the Austrian Society for Psychical Research, today the Austrian Society for Parapsychology.[142]
  • Canada - From 1908 to 1916 the Canadian Society for Psychical Research existed in Toronto.[143]
  • Denmark - Selskabet for Psykisk Forskning (The Danish Society for Psychical Research) was founded in 1905.[144]
  • France - In 1885, a society called the Société de Psychologie Physiologique (Society for Physiological Psychology) was formed by Charles Richet, Théodule-Armand Ribot and Léon Marillier. It existed until 1890 when it was abandoned due to lack of interest.[145][146]
  • Netherlands - The Studievereniging voor Psychical Research (Dutch for Society for Psychical Research) was founded in 1917.[147]
  • Poland - The Polish Society for Psychical Research was very active before the second world war.[148]
  • Scotland - The Scottish Society for Psychical Research is active today.[149]
  • Sweden - Sällskapet för Parapsykologisk Forskning (the Swedish Society for Parapsychological Research) was founded in 1948.[150]
  • USA - An American branch of the Society was formed as the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) in 1885, which became independent in 1906.[151] A splinter group, the Boston Society for Psychical Research existed from May 1925 to 1941.[152]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b SPR website
  2. Jump up ^ Haynes, Renée. (1982). The Society for Psychical Research 1882-1982: A History. London: MacDonald & Co.
  3. Jump up ^ "Join the SPR!". Society for Psychical Research. "Membership does not imply acceptance of any particular opinion concerning the nature or reality of the phenomena examined, and the Society holds no corporate views." 
  4. Jump up ^ Grattan-Guinness (1982)
  5. Jump up ^ Grattan-Guinness. (1982). p. 19
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b Gauld,A. (1968) The Founders of Psychical Research
  7. Jump up ^ "Report of the Census of Hallucinations." Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 10 (1894): 25.
  8. Jump up ^ Jenny Hazelgrove. (2000). Spiritualism and British Society Between the Wars. Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0719055591
  9. Jump up ^ Report cited in Grattan-Guinness (1982) p. 23
  10. Jump up ^ Harrison, Vernon (1997) H. P. Blavatsky and the SPR. ISBN 1-55700-119-7
  11. ^ Jump up to: a b Janet Oppenheim. (1988). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. pp. 139-140. ISBN 978-0521347679
  12. ^ Jump up to: a b G. K. Nelson. (2013). Spiritualism and Society. Routledge. p. 159. ISBN 978-0415714624
  13. Jump up ^ D. Scott Rogo. (1975). Parapsychology: A Century of Inquiry. Taplinger Publishing Company. p. 56. ISBN 978-0800862367
  14. Jump up ^ Renee Haynes. (1982). The Society for Psychical Research 1882-1982: A History. London: MacDonald & Co. p. 168. ISBN 978-0356078755
  15. Jump up ^ John Cerullo . 1982. Secularization of the Soul: Psychical Research in Modern Britain. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues.
  16. ^ Jump up to: a b Terence Hines. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. pp. 44-48. ISBN 978-1573929790
  17. Jump up ^ Simeon Edmunds. (1966). Spiritualism: A Critical Study. London: Aquarian Press.
  18. Jump up ^ Alfred Douglas. (1982). Extra-Sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. Overlook Press.
  19. Jump up ^ Eric Dodds. (1934). Why I do not believe in survival. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume 42: 147-172.
  20. Jump up ^ Keen, M., Ellison, A, Fontana, D. (1999). The Scole Report. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume 58: 150-452.
  21. Jump up ^ Cornell, A. D. (1999). Some Comments on the Scole Report. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume 58: 397-403.
  22. Jump up ^ Gauld, A. (1999). Comments on the Scole Report. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume 58: 404-424.
  23. Jump up ^ West, D. J. (1999). The Scole investigation: Commentary on Strategy and Outcome. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume 58: 393-396.
  24. Jump up ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (2008). Ghosts and Haunted Places. Checkmark Books. p. 43. ISBN 978-1604133172
  25. Jump up ^ John Zupansic. (2003). Book review.Investigating the Paranormal. Ghostvillage.
  26. Jump up ^ Eric Dingwall. (1985). The Need for Responsibility in Parapsychology: My Sixty Years in Psychical Research in Paul Kurtz. (1985). A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. pp. 161-174. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-0879753009
  27. Jump up ^ "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 10 September 2011. 
  28. Jump up ^ Cambridge University Library
  29. Jump up ^ Edinburgh University Website
  30. Jump up ^ "LEXSCIEN Library of Exploratory Science". Retrieved 10 September 2011. 
  31. Jump up ^ Paul Tabori. (1966). Harry Price: The Biography of a Ghosthunter. Living Books.
  32. Jump up ^ Brian Righi. (2008). Ghosts, Apparitions and Poltergeists: An Exploration of the Supernatural through History. Llewellyn Publications. ISBN 978-0738713632
  33. Jump up ^ Rene Kollar. (2000). Searching for Raymond. Lexington Books. p. 79. ISBN 978-0739101612
  34. Jump up ^ James Houran. (2004). From Shaman to Scientist: Essays on Humanity's Search for Spirits. Scarecrow Press. p. 169. ISBN 978-0810850545
  35. ^ Jump up to: a b Lewis Spence. (2003). Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. Kessinger Reprint Edition. p. 806. ISBN 978-1161361827
  36. ^ Jump up to: a b John L. Randall. (2000). Harry Price: The Case for the Defence. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. 64.3, No. 860).
  37. Jump up ^ Harry Price. (2003). Fifty Years of Psychical Research. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-0766142428 (reprint)
  38. Jump up ^ Paul Tabori. (1966). Harry Price: The Biography of a Ghosthunter. Living Books. pp. 114-115
  39. Jump up ^ Hilary Evans. (1982). Intrusions: Society and the Paranormal. Routledge Kegan & Paul. p. 166. ISBN 978-0710009272
  40. Jump up ^ Gregory, A. (1977). Anatomy of a fraud: Harry Price and the medium Rudi Schneider. Annals of Science 34, 449-549.
  41. Jump up ^ Harrison, V. (1979). Letter to the Editor. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. 50: 45-46.
  42. Jump up ^ Ivan Banks. (1996). The Enigma of Borley Rectory. London: Foulsham. p. 92. ISBN 978-0572021627
  43. Jump up ^ Terence Hines. (2003) Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 95. ISBN 978-1573929790
  44. Jump up ^ Dingwall, E. J.; Goldney, K. M.; Hall, T. H. (1956). The Haunting of Borley Rectory. Duckworth.
  45. Jump up ^ Hastings, R. J. (1969). An Examination of the Borley Report. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 55: 66-175.
  46. Jump up ^ Paul Tabori, Peter Underwood. (1973). Ghosts of Borley: Annals of the Haunted Rectory. David & Charles. ISBN 978-0715361184
  47. Jump up ^ Ivan Banks. (1996). The Enigma of Borley Rectory. Foulsham & Co Ltd. ISBN 978-0572021627
  48. Jump up ^ Michael Coleman. (1997). The Flying Bricks of Borley. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume. 61, No. 847.
  49. Jump up ^ Rosemary Guiley. (1994). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits. Guinness Publishing. p. 311. ISBN 978-0851127484
  50. Jump up ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Spiritualism: A Popular History from 1847. Dodd, Mead and Company. pp. 110-112. A Mr. Merrifield was present at one of the sittings. Home's usual phenomena were messages, the moving of objects (presumably at a distance), and the playing of an accordion which he held with one hand under the shadow of the table. But from an early date in America he had been accustomed occasionally to "materialise" hands (as it was afterwards called). The sitters would, in the darkness, faintly see a ghostly hand and arm, or they might feel the touch of an icy limb. Mr. Merrifield and the other sitters saw a "spirit-hand" stretch across the faintly lit space of the window. But Mr. Merrifield says that Home sat, or crouched, low in a low chair, and that the "spirit-hand" was a false limb on the end of Home's arm. At other times, he says, he saw that Home was using his foot."
  51. Jump up ^ Count Petrovsky-Petrovo-Solovo. (1930). Some Thoughts on D. D. Home. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Volume 114. Quoted in John Casey. (2009). After Lives: A Guide to Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Oxford. pp. 373-374. ISBN 978-0199975037 "He then saw the latter open the sole of his right shoe, leave his naked foot some time on the marble floor, then suddenly with a rapid and extraordinarily agile movement, touch with his toes the hand of the Empress, who started, crying "The hand of a dead child has touched me!" General Fleury came forward and described what he had seen. The following day Home was embarked at Calais conducted by two agents; the order was to keep the incident secret."
  52. Jump up ^ The Skeptical Inquirer. (2000). Volume 24. Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal. pp. 36-38
  53. Jump up ^ William Hodson Brock. (2008). William Crookes (1832-1919) and the Commercialization of Science. Ashgate. p. 199. ISBN 978-0754663225
  54. Jump up ^ Burton Gates Brown. (1972). Spiritualism in Nineteenth-century America. Boston University. p. 231
  55. Jump up ^ Georgess McHargue. (1972). Facts, Frauds, and Phantasms: A Survey of the Spiritualist Movement. Doubleday. p. 113. ISBN 978-0385053051
  56. Jump up ^ Janet Oppenheim. (1985). The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850-1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0521265058
  57. Jump up ^ Paul Kurtz. (1985). A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Prometheus Books. p. 29. ISBN 978-0879753009 "Florence Cook was caught cheating not only before her séances with Crookes but also afterward. Furthermore, she learned her trade from the mediums Frank Herne and Charles Williams, who were notorious for their cheating." Also see M. Lamar Keene. (1997). The Psychic Mafia. Prometheus Books. p. 64. ISBN 978-1573921619 "The most famous of materialization mediums, Florence Cook-- though she managed to convince a scientist, Sir William Crookes, that she was genuine-- was repeatedly exposed in fraud. Florence had been trained in the arts of the séance by Frank Herne, a well-known physical medium whose materializations were grabbed on more than one occasion and found to be the medium himself."
  58. Jump up ^ Lewis Spence. (1991). Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Gale Research Company. p. 1106
  59. Jump up ^ Adin Ballou. (2001). The Rise of Victorian Spiritualism. Routledge. p. 16
  60. Jump up ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism based on Fraud?: The Evidence Given by Sir A.C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London: Watts & Co. p. 115
  61. Jump up ^ Roy Stemman. (1976). The Supernatural. Danbury Press. p. 62
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  63. Jump up ^ Kaku, Michio (1994). Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the Tenth Dimension. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 49–53. ISBN 9780195085143. 
  64. Jump up ^ Hereward Carrington. (1907). The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. Herbert B. Turner & Co. pp. 19-47
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  66. Jump up ^ Gordon Stein. (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 688. ISBN 978-1573920216
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  75. Jump up ^ Trevor Hall. (1964). The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co.
  76. Jump up ^ Gray, Frank. "Smith, G.A. (1864-1959)". BFI Screenonlinee. Retrieved 2011-04-24. 
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  82. Jump up ^ Nevill Drury. (2002). The Dictionary of the Esoteric: Over 3000 Entries on the Mystical and Occult Traditions. Watkins Publishing. pp. 185-186. ISBN 978-1842930410
  83. Jump up ^ Charles Arthur Mercier. (1917). Spiritualism and Sir Oliver Lodge. London: Mental Culture Enterprise.
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  99. Jump up ^ Photos of Ghosts: The Burden of Believing the Unbelievable by Massimo Polidoro
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  102. Jump up ^ John Booth. (1986). Psychic Paradoxes. Prometheus Books. pp. 15-16. ISBN 978-0879753580
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  137. Jump up ^ Duncan, Alistair (2010) The Norwood Author - Arthur Conan Doyle & The Norwood Years (1891-1894)
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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