Discussion: Causation

The following passage is an extract from a report by Arizona Daily Wildcat (June 16, 1999) concerning a study to show that certain people can communicate with the dead. Using what you have learned about causation, correlation, and causal fallacies, consider the potential flaws with the experiment. Assume that the report is mostly correct. Summarize your evaluation of the flaws in the experiment, and share your thoughts on the discussion forum by clicking on the link above and creating a free account, if you have not already done so. Review and respond to at least one or two other students’ posts.


Gary Schwartz, psychology professor and co-founder of the University of Arizona Human Energy Systems Lab, speaks about his work at the University of Arizona. A team of scientists and students conducted a unique experiment this weekend, probing the possibility of an afterlife by studying how mediums commune with the dead.

Researchers invited a panel of mediums to meet with 10 people whose loved ones had recently died. While under observation, the mediums tried to receive information from the deceased without prior knowledge about the deceased. Schwartz invited four mediums to participate in the study, including famous "superstars" of the psychic world, such as author John Edwards, and unknowns, such as California housewife Laurie Campbell. The medium sat facing a wall while a researcher looked on. A "sitter," who had recently lost a relative or friend, would then enter the room and sit six feet behind the medium. Schwartz acknowledged that a few of the sitters were acquaintances of the mediums.

For up to 10 minutes, the medium and the sitter would sit in silence. The medium, who could not see the sitter, would concentrate on receiving psychic impressions. A question and answer session followed, in which the sitter was allowed only to answer "yes" or "no." Schwartz said the study was set up to minimize communication between the medium and the sitter, avoiding conscious or subconscious prompting between the two. While the final results have not been written up, Schwartz said he was impressed with the mediums’ performance. He said that on several occasions the mediums were able to pick out the names and personal information of the deceased.