By Sharon Hill via James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF)
Yesterday, a study was announced with a headline that didn’t fit the results. That’s very common. But what was strange was that a few proponents of the study seemed to hang their hats on the headline. I wonder if they actually read the same study I did?
Here was the piece in The Telegraph (U.K.): First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study
The largest ever medical study into near-death and out-of-body experiences has discovered that some awareness may continue even after the brain has shut down completely.
It is a controversial subject which has, until recently, been treated with widespread scepticism.
But scientists at the University of Southampton have spent four years examining more than 2,000 people who suffered cardiac arrests at 15 hospitals in the UK, US and Austria.
And they found that nearly 40 per cent of people who survived described some kind of ‘awareness’ during the time when they were clinically dead before their hearts were restarted.
From reading just this pop media piece, I saw no indication of “life after death” mentioned. I saw a claim that people appear to be mentally aware (to some degree) when there is no recorded brain activity occurring. That would be an important new finding, there was no need to jump to a more overarching, unwarranted claim about evidence for “life after death”.Other media outlets followed suit with misleading headlines:
- “Life after death? Largest-ever study provides evidence that ‘out of body’ and ‘near-death’ experiences may be real”
- Scientific Breakthrough Suggests There Is Life After Death
- Scientific research finds that life after death is possible
- Life after death is real, British scientists confirm (Whoa! That one takes the prize!)
Unconventional theorist Graham Hancock seemed mighty smug about it:
The first inkling I saw (also on Twitter) that there was something a bit off with this headline was from Dr. Caroline Watt, Senior Researcher at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh. (Yes, an actual parapsychologist. She wrote the book.) She seemed less than impressed with the study. I contacted her and, as is good advice, she said I should read the paper. So I did. I was also unimpressed. In a nutshell, the study attempted to objectively measure “out of body” and “near death experience” claims. The researchers concluded that it was not as successful as planned, but they discovered a small percentage of people report awareness in what medical standards considers a nonfunctioning brain.Dr. Sam Parnia, who headed this study, has done such prospective studies before. He suggests that the brain may “live” on minutes or hours after “death”. That is interesting, but not paranormal. Let’s see what the study showed.