I was bemused to see an article in the last issue of Skeptical Inquirer titled “NDE Experiment: Ethical Concerns“, by Sebastian Dieguez, a PhD student in Neuroscience. The article criticises the AWARE study (which we’ve covered here on TDG previously in the past), where researchers will study whether people who have an NDE can see ‘hidden targets’ during the OBE component of their experience. The author claims that because the targets are there during the crisis situation (even though hidden from ‘normal’ vision), they represent an experiment being done without the consent of the subject.
In short though, Dieguez’s real issue with the AWARE study is that *he* thinks it is nonsense – therefore involving critically ill patients in the research is disrespectful to them and their families. This is most obvious when he acknowledges that, despite his own concerns, the AWARE study must have done what was necessary to jump through the hoops of ethical review boards and the like (which are very strict in patrolling these matters):
My point in this article is not to charge anyone with not having done the appropriate paperwork; I take issue with the very approval of such a study: I simply deplore the use in parapsychological studies of patients with acute cardiac arrest who cannot give their consent.
Remember though, the ‘consent’ part is just the hidden target – the patient is given the option afterwards whether to participate ‘further’. It amazes me that Skeptical Inquirer would even print this sort of thing as a valid argument – it just goes to show how unscientific SI and CSICOP often are when confronted with research moving outside the materialist paradigm. But all is not lost in modern skepticisim – prominent skeptics Susan Blackmore and Chris French both responded to the article, taking issue with its stance on parapsychological research. Blackmore explained that “anecdotal reports of veridical NDEs may be ‘unconvincing’ to Dieguez, but they convince many people…if experiments can show that paranormal claims are unverifiable (which I expect they will) and can also explain why people have these experiences even if nothing leaves the body, then this would greatly improve people’s understanding of death and dying.” Chris French pointed out that Dieguz’s argument “rests on the assumption that the outcome is already known…While it is clear from my own writings on this topic that I think this is almost certainly true, I think it is important for skeptics to acknowledge that they just might be wrong.”
I spoke to NDE research authority Dr Bruce Greyson about the article, but he had little to say other than being surprised that SI printed it – he thought that Blackmore and French both covered the arguments against Dieguz’s criticism fairly comprehensively and so had little else to add.
Speaking of Dr Greyson, I’m currently reading The Handbook of Near Death Experiences (available from Amazon US. It presents a number of scholarly articles by authorities in the field (Greyson, Carlos Alvarado, Jan Holden, Peter Fenwick, Ken Ring etc) summarising various elements of NDE research over recent decades. Quite dry, with plenty of statistical analysis of various aspects, but I think essential reading for anyone genuinely interested in the phenomenon as it brings you ‘up to date’ with what has been discovered thus far.
For those that missed it when I posted it earlier this year, here’s Dr Greyson with a short summary of mind-brain anomalies deserving of further scientific research: