Okay, I've had time to study and digest the two arguments this writer cites, to suggest that Dr. Stevenson's work is not truly scientific.* As I understand them, they are:
1) That Stevenson did not propose a mechanism to contrast his cases which indicate reincarnation, with cases which do not; and
2) that there is no way to separate out Stevenson's results from coincidence.
The first problem we have is that all people reincarnate. I know this from sources not acceptable to science; but they are sources I trust. So I know that it is not possible to find a single case in which a person has not reincarnated.
That, however, is not exactly the question here. What we want is to find cases in which memories, which appear to indicate a past life, actually do not indicate a past life.
This is easy enough to find in adults, and especially, in memories gained through hypnosis. There are cases readily found in the literature, in which adults seemingly remembered a past life under hypnosis, but then all of their memories were found in a novel which the subject had previously read, right down to the names, places and events.
It was precisely to avoid this complication, that Stevenson began studying young children who had spontaneous memories. Therefore, this kind of contrast is built into Stevenson's method, and it can be seen in what he is avoiding. I do not have formal training in the philosophy of science; but this is what logic tells me. If Stevenson didn't pursue the comparison statistically, it is easily-enough done, I think.
Another problem I see with this first requirement for Stevenson's work to be scientific, is that the sheer number of verifiable facts that these children remember, in the best cases, is simply not repeatable by any normal, experimental method for purposes of comparison. It has been attempted.** The comparison is absurd--a researcher may demonstrate that a subject can pick out three general past-life death scenarios at random, and be correct some percentage of the time. But no researcher can find any subject who randomly matches 25 names with their proper relationships. This is what Dr. Jim Tucker, Dr. Stevenson's successor, told me they had in one case, when I interviewed him for this website (I had earlier written "first and last names," but in recent correspondence Dr. Tucker corrected me.) The odds of duplicating this feat by randomly drawing cards are so astronomical that it's a moot point. Neither coincidence nor any mirage of selection can account for these results, as for example when a child takes her past-life husband into a private room and describes to him the details of their former sex life, which were unusual because she had particular health issues (as in the Shanti Devi case).
Comparisons are simply not necessary with evidence of this strength. I'm trying to think of an analogy. Suppose you were hunting bears, and you were trying to identify bear droppings and bear fur on the trees. It would be helpful to have dog droppings and dog fur for comparison. But what if the bear was standing right in front of you? Would you still insist there was no bear, because you had no dog droppings or dog fur for comparison? Your finding of a bear might or might not be officially scientific--but you'd better run like hell anyway!
When a child remembers 25 names from her past life correctly, along with the correct relationships between all those people, you have a bear standing right in front of you. If science questions the validity of this kind of evidence, science has gone berserko. There are only two explanations--something outside our accepted reality is going on, or, fraud. I've met Dr. Tucker--I can't think of anyone I've met in my life who is less likely to be committing fraud. He's the most quietly, unostentatiously objective man I've ever met.
As near as I can tell from my own studies (though Dr. Tucker doesn't agree that the evidence supports this conclusion), every child has past-life memories. Every child has reincarnated. If this is true, how, then, are you going to find a child who does not have past-life memories to compare against? There is no such thing--so you would have to compare with children who are fantasizing, as one researcher I saw in a documentary was doing. But just because you instruct a three-year-old to make up a story, how will you know what portion of her story is fantasy, and what is past-life memory? How will you know if the two are mixed? You can't know--and the more your results of supposedly fantacizing children look like Stevenson's cases, the more likely it is that they are actually remembering something. I don't think this kind of comparison is necessary in order for these studies to be classified as genuine science. Philosophy professor Robert Almeder, when I interviewed him, used the analogy of paleontology. He said that paleontologists cannot recreate dinosaurs in the laboratory, but no-one questions that it is a real science for all that. To extend his analogy, no-one needs to compare a T-Rex's bones to a dog's bones to know that it's a dinosaur. And no-one questions that it's science for lack of that comparison. The T-Rex is impressive enough on its own.
Again, I have not studied the philosophy of what constitutes science. So I may be missing something. But logic itself tells me this objection does not stand.
Then we have the objection about coincidence. First of all, we have a problem, in the writer's examples, that I have seen before. There are, actually, no coincidences. That there are coincidences is itself a philosophical statement, a philosophical assumption. Coincidence, according to my understanding, means that the causal factors are as yet unidentified. There can, however, be erroneous conclusions drawn about causation, which I think is what he's getting at. This is what Stevenson's work was carefully crafted to tease out, the causal relationships, by eliminating as much as possible every normal explanation.
Let's suppose that a man describes another man's yard in detail. Wouldn't the simplest explanation be ESP, rather than coincidence? How else would you explain it, if you don't abdigate the responsibility for finding causation by claiming "coincidence"? It's not a coincidence--it's impossible. It is wearying to me to see people cite an example which probably contains evidence of the paranormal, as though it were proof of coincidence. At the very least, it is an unscientific attitude to assume that this example is due to "coincidence." Right? Am I missing something?
But let us go back to the case with the 25 names. The case that the blog author cites is not actually the best case. It is most certainly not the only case. There were, according to Dr. Robert Almeder, at the time I interviewed him, approximately 250 cases of this kind of strength in Dr. Stevenson's files.
Everyone reincarnates; what makes these cases special is the rare combination of events which makes them provable. It's an important, subtle point--the strength of these cases is not that they prove reincarnation, as though reincarnation only occurred 250 times. The strength of them is that they do not admit of any normal explanation. And skeptical science has set the bar very high because the new paradigm that results, if reincarnation is proven to exist, shakes the very foundation of materialism itself, with which science has unhappily become so thoroughly identified.
There's a related point that I'm not sure I can express properly. These 250 cases are the tip of the iceberg. One cannot get a clear picture of what's going on--of why coincidence is not a reasonable alternative explanation--unless one looks at the entire "iceberg". It is not just these 250 cases which are very close to air-tight. It is also the 2,500 cases which are not so strong; and under them in the "iceberg," are the adult cases, involving hypnosis or spontaneous flashbacks, that Stevenson didn't study (but were studied by people like Peter Ramster), which also do not admit of any normal explanation. Below them in the "iceberg" are thousands of cases which have some veridical element in them; and below those cases are all the experiences that ordinary people are having, as for example the ones in my "Personal Accounts" pages on this website. The accounts written here, on my website, are just scratching the surface of the hundreds of thousands of people who must be having similar experiences but not submitting them.
In short, you have a vast number of people having these experiences; but only under a very tight set of circumstances, do they offer solid proof so that they enter the 250 at the top.
So it is very misleading to imagine that we have billions and billions of people, and only 250 cases. We have billions and billions of cases, I would say, and 250 that can confound even the most skeptical scientist.
But I think William James was right--and it is surprising that a writer for "Psychology Today" ignores one of the founders of modern psychology--when he said that it only takes one white crow to prove that all crows are not black. Coincidence is irrelevant. This case of a child remembering 25 names shouldn't be there at all. Not if the materialistic paradigm is correct.
I don't see what's so difficult about this, except the effects of being in denial. It's the only explanation that makes sense to me, as to why this research is not admitted into the body of scientific literature as legitimate science.
I sent Dr. Tucker links to this article and my response to it, and he commented privately. I volunteered that I wouldn't quote him, but I think I'd like to pass on one comment he offered (if I understand his meaning correctly); that when a child spontaneously remembers, and states, who he was in a past life, what his name was, the village where he lived, and so-on, there is no selection process going on. All the other people on the planet are immediately eliminated from the pool of consideration. Try replicating that by normal methods--have a child guess out of a number equal to the entire population of the earth, and be right. Have him guess on 30 details (many of the children in Stevenson's studies get 30 or 40 details correct). You get one shot for him to give 30 correct details about the one and only person he chooses.
I understand the objection--if all the children on the planet were guessing at the same time, 250 of them would get lucky. So, this objection would say, Stevenson is just culling out the lucky guesses. But remember, each of these children would have only one shot at guessing about one hypothetical person, who must turn out to have lived exactly where he or she said they lived (you may already be checkmated with just this much). Each child must hit on as many matched points as Stevenson's best cases hit on, say, 30 details. Do you think 250 of them, by chance alone, would get that lucky? Here's where you have to be really objective, not just pretend to yourself you are being objective. If all the children on the planet were purely guessing, and none of them had help from past-life memories, not a single one of them would get that lucky, and you know it. It would be like saying that if you dig up all the dog's bones in the world, 250 of them would, by chance, be as large as T-Rex's. They won't be--not any of them. Some of them will be pretty large, but not that large.
One has to read the research for oneself, really get to know it thoroughly, and then continue to ask oneself whether these results could be obtained by chance--say, remember 10 names and 20 other details, plus have birthmarks corresponding to the past-life traumatic death, plus have personality traits, likes and dislikes in common, plus react emotionally to the people they were close to in their past life as you would expect them to, plus have skills and talents and knowledge (sometimes, even language) corresponding to the past-life personality, plus remember details like where the money was buried or that his name was carved on the back of the front door...it goes on and on. For 40 years Stevenson built his case like this, and it certainly looks like good science to me.
*I am beginning to understand that skeptics--intentionally or unconsciously--adopt a "party line" and continue to repeat it amongst themselves until they believe it. It becomes an irrational bulwark for them against the thing they are loathe to admit. In this case, there is an official party-line explanation among skeptical scientists which defends them against Stevenson's results, and that is that his work is not truly scientific and can never be more than "suggestive." This is because Stevenson himself only claimed his results were "suggestive". But Stevenson was, I think, using the term in a very different way. Stevenson said "suggestive" because it was his personal style to underplay his own results; and because there is, philosophically, no "proof" in science. It was a modest way of saying he had very strong results but as an objective scientist would never claim proof. This, however, was not an invitation to his colleagues to latch onto the phrase and use it against him. This is precisely why, when I interviewed philosophy professor Robert Almeder, he made a point of referencing Stevenson's use of the word "suggestive," then added, "But my reaction is stronger." Everyone's reaction should be stronger--not based on emotion or dogma, but based on objective logic.
**Note that if someone attempts to replicate Stevenson's results by experimental methods and fails to do so, failure is an experimental result. But if someone attempts to do so and claims success irrationally, by deliberately underplaying the strength of Stevenson's results, this is bad science.