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“There’s nothing paranormal about near-death experiences.” So said the title of a journal article last year that got widespread, uncritical coverage (e.g. Sci-Am, Boing Boing). I mentioned a few criticisms of the article here on TDG at the time, and just a few weeks ago another academic article labeled it a “prejudicially skeptical review” of the research into the cause of NDEs. And now, some of the heavyweights of NDE research have also had their say.

In a letter that can be found in the latest issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences (the journal that published the original article), Dr Bruce Greyson, Dr Janice Miner Holden and Dr Pim van Lommel – three of the most respected names in the near-death experience research field – have taken the paper to task, most notably for the misleading nature of its title:

In a recent article in this journal entitled ‘There is nothing paranormal about near-death experiences’, Dean Mobbs and Caroline Watt concluded that ‘[t]aken together, the scientific evidence suggests that all aspects of the near-death experience have a neurophysiological or psychological basis’. We suggest that Mobbs and Watt explained ‘all aspects’ of near-death experiences (NDEs) by ignoring aspects they could not explain and by overlooking a substantial body of empirical research on NDEs. In a subsequent radio interview, Watt acknowledged that they had avoided looking at any evidence for veridical out-of-body perception, resulting in their being unable to evaluate whether or not there was empirical evidence of anything paranormal about NDEs (http://bit.ly/MITeGP). But if Mobbs and Watt did not consider the evidence for possible paranormal features, then their claim that there is nothing paranormal about NDEs is not evidence-based.

Ouch. The researchers suggest that scholars should respond to “all relevant data, not just data supporting the a priori assumption that NDEs must be reducible to known neurophysiology”, but also voice their belief that NDEs are “entirely lawful and natural phenomena that can and should be studied by scientific methods, rather than dismissed without investigation.”

In the same issue, one of the original authors (Dean Mobbs) has responded to the criticism, saying that while Greyson et al should be “congratulated for their highly respected research in documenting these experiences”, they (and others) “have not provided any compelling evidence concerning NDEs that contradicts what we already know about the brain.”