Mediumship- the alleged ability of individuals to receive communications from the deceased - has been reported in virtually every culture since recorded history began. And it is probably far older than this.

However it is only very recently that any scientific investigations into mediumship have been conducted. Dr. Gary Schwartz at the University of Arizona in Tucson has conducted one of the most recent, and certainly the most thorough. This began in 1997 and involved some of America’s most famous mediums including John Edward, Suzane Northrup, Lori Campbell and George Anderson. Schwartz has also investigated the medium and ‘psychic detective’ Alison Dubois whose real life abilities have been fictionalized in the hugely popular TV series: Medium.





Schwartz, who is a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, psychiatry and surgery at the University of Arizona and who received his doctorate at Harvard, one of America’s most prestigious universities, is undoubtedly the most credentialed academic to study the subject of mediumship. The fact that Schwartz has concluded that the most likely explanation for the abilities of the mediums he studied was that they were indeed receiving communications from the dead has caused enormous controversy and his work has been the subject of vigorous attacks from skeptics. An account of the experiments he conducted can be found in his book: The Afterlife Experiments.

Schwartz first became involved with the area of afterlife research when he met Dr. Linda Russek in 1993. Russek had just lost her father and was on a quest to see if there was anyway to determine if he had survived death. He later married Russek. “ You could say that I was pushed there by science,” states Schwartz referring to his initial motivation for studying mediumship. “ But I was also pulled there by love. By Linda’s love of her father.”

The fact that Schwartz and only a handful of other scientists, have dared to investigate mediumship, comes as no great surprise since science adopts a fundamentally materialistic outlook and is therefore dismissive of any possibility that consciousness could survive death. 





The general scientific consensus is that consciousness is produced by the brain and therefore ends with death. But this is merely an assumption as science has yet to prove that the brain is the source of consciousness. It is therefore not to be mistaken as a scientific fact. Moreover there is plenty of scientific evidence to contradict this view. The body of scientific research that strongly supports the possibility that consciousness survives death, is known as  - survival research – and includes: out of body experience, near death experience, reincarnation and mediumship.


The gift of mediumship can express itself in a variety of ways. On one end of the scale is purely mental mediumship in which the medium can supposedly consciously convey messages from the dead to the living. On the other is physical mediumship, in which the medium, usually in deep trance, is said to supply a form of subtle energy that can allegedly be used by the spirits to produce psychokinetic effects. These might include rapping, table tilting, levitation, apports – where objects are teleported into the séance room - and even the full materialization of spirit forms. 





Physical mediumship has the advantage over mental mediumship in terms of scientific scrutiny because it can supposedly produce tangible effects that are experienced by everyone and so can be recorded and studied objectively. Probably the best example of this was the Scole Experiment which took place in Britain in the 1990s and which is widely believed to be some of the best evidence ever for survival.

Mental mediumship is a far more difficult area since the claim that mediums are actually communicating with the dead is notoriously difficult to prove and can be challenged in a number of different ways: For example the mediums when providing information to the sitter - the subject they are doing the reading for - may be making generalizations that are so vague they could equally apply to the sitter or to anyone else. For example they could say ‘ I have your mother here and she loves you.’ Or ‘she is telling me that when alive she had some pains in her chest.’ Naturally none of this establishes anything. 



Skeptics also dismiss mental mediums by accusing them of using a technique called cold reading. This technique frequently used by professional manipulators such as people in the sales world involves the use of leading questions and skillful prompting to extract information. For example fraudulent mediums knows that for every claim they makes about the sitter and that the sitter rejects as inaccurate, they will also make one that meets with your approval. The fraud also knows that the sitter is far more likely to remember hits than misses. A great deal of information can be extracted from sitters using this technique. 



The last recourse of the skeptic is to invoke the so-called Super-Psi hypothesis, which asserts that information mediums acquire, is obtained through extrasensory channels such as telepathy.  Thus if the medium provides information about the sitter that is accurate and can be independently verified, skeptics can then claim it was done unconsciously by reading the sitter’s mind or people close to them and then mistakenly attributing this information to the spirit world. On closer examination, however, the Super Psi hypothesis is a theoretical dead end. Since it is impossible to prove or disprove and therefore establishes nothing. Fraud and cold reading are easer to deal with experimentally since it is possible to design experiments that attempt to eliminate or at least minimize them. And it is exactly this that Schwartz set out to do in his initial series of experiments.





The first medium Schwartz worked with was Lori Campbell. Schwartz had earlier met Campbell and had been impressed with her abilities. During their first encounter she spontaneously provided him with an accurate physical description of his deceased mother and then proceeded to give the stunned doctor a detailed message from her. “We conducted both single and double blind studies with Lori,” states Schwartz. “ Single blind meant that the medium didn’t know the identity of the sitter, nor any of the deceased people associated with the sitter. Double blind meant that not only did the medium not know the identity of the sitter, or those deceased people associated with the sitter, but the sitters were not present during the reading.” The results of these experiments were sufficiently encouraging for Schwartz to design more experiments this time with even stricter controls.



The next series of experiments were funded by HBO, America’s premiere cable TV company who shot a documentary about Schwartz’s work. Schwartz was now able to attract a further four mediums to participate in the experiments. These included household names like John Edward, who later went onto host his own hugely popular TV show: Crossing Over.



The two sitters chose for the experiments were specially selected. Each had had six significant bereavements in the last ten years. The sitters were also unknown to any of the mediums and great lengths were made to ensure that neither mediums nor sitters could find out anything about each other.  In an attempt to minimize or eliminate cold reading, an opaque sheet separated mediums and sitters. Additionally sitters were only allowed to answer the mediums questions by saying yes or no. Multi channel EEG readings were also recorded from the brains of both sitters and mediums during the experiment. Following each session the results were analyzed. When Schwartz finished the statistical analysis he was stunned by what he discovered. “ Each of the five mediums obtained accurate and detailed information including specific initials, names, causes of death, personal descriptions of the deceased’s personality”, he explains. “Much of this information was so specific it could not have been known unless you were a personal member of the family. Analysis of the readings revealed that on average 83% of the medium’s statements were rated correct by the sitter.”




But since the success of the mediums could also be due to clever guessing, Schwartz had to design an experiment that could estimate what percentage of the readings could have been obtained in this way. He and research partner, Dr. Julie Beischel, prepared a questionnaire based on 70 of the correct statements made by the mediums, which was reworded to act as questions. For example if the medium correctly gave the sitter’s deceased mother’s name, the question became: “What is the name of the sitter’s mother?’ This questionnaire was given to 68 non-sitters acting as controls who were asked to guess the correct answers. Results showed that their average success rate was 36%. “ What this means,” explains Schwartz,  “is that the difference between the 83% success rate of the statements made by the mediums and the 36% success rate of guesswork by the controls was significant at the ten million to one level against chance.”  

In terms of the veracity of the mediums these were extraordinary results. But since skeptics pointed out that even with simple yes/no answers some aspect of cold reading could play a part, Schwartz decided to have the next series of readings conducted in complete silence.  When questions were asked by the medium the sitter could only reply with a nod or shake of the head invisible to the medium but witnessed and recorded by the accompanying experimenter. When these results were analyzed the odds of the successes being obtained only by chance were 3 in 100. Still significant but far less spectacular than those obtained in the earlier experiments. 




Dr David Fontana, a British research psychologist, former head of the Society of Psychical Research and veteran paranormal researcher, believes that the lower levels of significance in this experiment may be partially due to the smaller sample taken i.e. only 15 transcripts analyzed. But more importantly he thinks the variable abilities of the mediums played a more significant role. In other words they may not have been that effective. He also thinks the conditions the mediums were asked to operate under was may have been a factor. ‘ We could argue that failure to see and hear the sitters removes the visual and verbal clues upon which the medium depends for ‘guessing’ her information.’ He writes in his book – Is there an afterlife? ‘But equally we could say that the medium requires some form of emotional rapport with the sitter and that a particular frame of mind in the sitter (objective rather than gullible or hostile) may be essential if successful results are to be obtained.’




Schwartz does not consider the HBO experiments to be definitive evidence for survival. “ We do, however, consider them to be strongly supportive of the survival hypothesis,” he states. “ What they did do was provide us with the opportunity to design more controlled experiments that would eliminate factors such as cold reading entirely.” Some of these experiments involved having the sitter and medium in separate parts of the US and linked only via the telephone. The sitters were only given the name of the medium and told that this might be one of the mediums involved. The sitter was then asked to ‘invite’ in a deceased person with whom they wished to make contact while the medium attempted to link mentally with the sitter via the telephone and give the names of these people or any others that came through. At no time were sitter or medium allowed to talk to each other. 

Despite these strict controls, this experiment proved to be very successful. All four people ‘invited’ by the sitter were correctly named by the medium. Additionally the medium gave the correct Christian name of the sitter and the correct first letter of his deceased dog.






Allison Dubois has been described as a ‘Psychic Soccer Mom.’ This mother of three originally trained to become a prosecuting attorney before she decided she could use her mediumistic abilities professionally. Today she is one of America’s most sought after mediums and is regularly employed by law enforcement agencies to help solve crimes and locate missing persons.

On hearing about his research Dubois went to Schwartz’s Human Energy Systems Laboratory in Tucson and asked to be tested. Schwartz subjected her to a variety of different experiments and was soon satisfied that her mediumistic abilities were not only genuine, but also exceptional. “ I call things as I see them and I’m not afraid of pushing the boundaries of my abilities under university research conditions,” she states. “ I pride myself on accuracy, consistency and easing the pain of those who have lost loved ones.”





Like Schwartz’s other mediums, Dubois’ alleged abilities have brought her a huge amount of media attention. Her duel role as medium and ‘psychic detective’ proved irresistible for TV executives who used her real life activities as the basis for the NBC, TV series – Medium, where she is portrayed by movie star Patricia Arquette. Early episodes of Medium attracted a staggering 15 million viewers.





 In April 2004 Dubois took part in a special experiment that both aimed to test her abilities and possibly provide information about a deceased friend of Schwartz’s called Montague Keen. Keen was a veteran paranormal researcher, having been a member of the SPR since the 1940s, and was also an expert on both mental and physical mediumship. This experiment was filmed by Dan Drasin, and myself for a series on the evidence for life after death we are making for US television.




Montague Keen had died three months earlier of a heart attack, at a meeting in the Royal Society of Art in London. The event was a debate on telepathy. Keen was in the middle of addressing a comment by one of the skeptics when he collapsed and died shortly thereafter.

The sitter was Keen’s widow, Veronica who was in London during the experiment.  Dubois had no prior knowledge of the Keens. Initially she had to try and extract information about Keen without being told either one of their names. In the second part of the experiment she was given only the first name of the absent sitter- Veronica. 

In the first part of the experiment Dubois failed to provide any specific information that was relevant, but once she had been told Veronica’s name, things began to improve. She then accurately described the circumstances of Keen’s death saying: 

“He went down at a podium. He's showing a man falling at the podium, like that. (snaps her fingers) He falls and he goes down at the podium.” 

Keen was not standing at the podium when he collapsed but near to it. 

She then sated – “He's making me feel like either he had a heart attack or his breath was taken from him. But he's showing his knees buckling and going down.”

When asked to provide more detail Dubois said – “I see people jumping up, like everybody rising. He goes down and they go up.” This statement was also accurate and can be seen in the video of the event in which Keen’s death is recorded. When asked further about the scene Dubois describes the venue as having a “banner hanging off the wall.”  The Royal Society of Art’s auditorium is famously decorated on all four walls with exquisite paintings that join together like a banner.



Today Schwartz continues to investigate mediums in his laboratory. However despite attack from numerous skeptics he is convinced that the best and simplest explanation, for the experimental evidence he has gathered, is that consciousness does indeed survive death. 

He summarizes the radical consequences of his conclusions by saying that his belief in survival forces him to adopt a very different worldview from the majority of his fellow scientists. 

“ When I look at the research with mediumship and survival of consciousness after death, the conclusion I come to, which is consistent with what some physicists are saying and with what many spiritual teachings have been saying for a long time  - namely that is consciousness is in fact primary and that matter is actually an expression of consciousness.”

The fact that this conclusion would undoubtedly horrify many of his scientific colleagues does not worry Schwartz. “ If consciousness is primary, as I believe, then the basic assumptions upon which science is based will have to be re-evaluated. It is not surprising then that most scientists would have difficulty with this conclusion.”



Tim Coleman has been working as a professional journalist for over thirty years. He has been published in a huge range of magazines and newspapers around the world including: The Guardian, The Independent, FHM Magazine, The Face, Focus, Sky, Skin and Ink, Wienner, Tatowier (Germany) Enigmas (Spain), UFO Magazine (UK and US) X-Factor, Encounters, Kindred Spirit and many more.
"As well as earning a living from being a freelance journalist, I have always found journalism to be the perfect medium to explore subjects that I'm passionate about. This not only allows me to enter deeply into the subject through the research, but it also provides me the honor of meeting key players in that field ."
Tim Coleman
Here is a small selection of my work.