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UA professor Gary E. Schwartz has put Allison Dubois' psychic abilities to the test. "There is no question this is not a fraud," he says.
Rich-Joseph Facun / Arizona Daily Star

News Elsewhere

Varied readings on Arizona psychic

By Carla McClain
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 01.17.2005
The real-life Phoenix woman who inspired the new TV drama "Medium" can indeed contact dead people, according to scientific - and controversial - tests performed on her at the University of Arizona.
The abilities of Allison Dubois - who claims she can see dead people, receive information from them, and even hear the thoughts of the living - are showcased in the new NBC Monday night show, with actress Patricia Arquette.
In real life, Dubois, 33 next week, has used her paranormal talents to help police in Phoenix and in other states solve crimes - the main plot of "Medium," along with her life as a wife and mother of three young children.
But what few may realize is Dubois' prime power - making contact with people after death - has been subjected to three years of UA research scientifically designed to determine if she is an authentic "medium" or a fraud.
Although the studies have stirred controversy nationwide and have been slammed by several skeptics, the Harvard-trained UA professor who ran them strongly defends their legitimacy, as does Dubois.
"There is no question this is not a fraud - some people really can do this, and Allison is one of them," said psychology professor Gary E. Schwartz, who directs the UA's Human Energy Systems Laboratory where the experiments with Dubois and other well-known mediums - including John Edward of TV's "Crossing Over" fame - have been conducted.
"Many people claim to do this, and there are clearly frauds out there. Allison was repeatedly tested and passed every test.
"As a scientist, I approach all this as an agnostic - I don't believe it; I don't disbelieve it. After testing her under conditions that ruled out the possibility of fraud, I came to the conclusion she's the real deal."
Dubois first called Schwartz four years ago, after seeing him on a "Dateline" NBC segment with John Edward on paranormal powers. She wanted to see how good her "gift" really was.
Schwartz first put Dubois through a direct, informal reading on himself. A beloved mentor of his had just died, but he told her nothing about that woman.
Among other things, Dubois told Schwartz "the deceased was telling me that I must share the following - I don't walk alone," a seemingly innocuous piece of information, but critical to him.
"My friend had been confined to a wheelchair in her last years - there is no way Allison could have known that," he said.
After that, the formal, scientific experiments began under controlled conditions - some of them completely "blinded," so Dubois could not see or talk to the person she was reading, or vice versa. They were not even told each other's full names.
In that situation, it is virtually impossible to use tricks fake mediums use - throwing out streams of general information and following up on those that get visible reactions - methods known as "cold reading."
In some cases, fake mediums also have been known to tap phones and hire detectives to get vital information on people they are going to read. That is impossible if the medium does not know who the person is.
In one of these experiments, Dubois was asked to contact a deceased person close to a woman in England she had never met. She was told only the woman's first name and that she wanted to hear from her deceased husband. During the actual reading, Dubois was at the UA lab, and the woman was in England.
A transcript of the information Dubois got during the reading - supposedly from the dead husband - was sent to his wife in England, who scored it as 73 percent accurate.
"That's extraordinarily high accuracy, and Allison always scored in the near-80 percent range," Schwartz said. "That clearly puts her among the best of the best."
No psychic medium is 100 percent accurate, he said.
Some of Dubois' best results were in one of her more famous UA experiments, when she read for celebrity physician-author-lecturer Dr. Deepak Chopra, just after the death of his father, a famous cardiologist in India.
During the reading, Chopra was in California, Dubois was in Arizona, and they were connected by phone. Dubois was not told who Chopra was. He could hear her, but he was not allowed to speak to her.
According to a summary of the reading done by Schwartz, she told him the deceased person was a man of great stature, extremely handsome, had beautiful women around him, was known to politicians and other well-known people, and was cremated - all accurate, according to Chopra's evaluation.
But she also told him his father was connected to the U.S. oil and steel industry, and there was a small dark terrier dog in his life - not true, Chopra said. Her accuracy score - 77 percent, according to Chopra's scoring, Schwartz said.
But Schwartz's careful design of these studies doesn't persuade skeptics, who say his work proves nothing.
"Professor Gary Schwartz makes revolutionary claims that he has provided competent scientific evidence for survival of consciousness and - even more extraordinary - that mediums can actually communicate with the dead. He is badly mistaken," wrote Ray Hyman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Oregon, in a 2003 issue of the magazine Skeptical Inquirer.
Hyman's research has included examination of alleged psychic readings and critiques of parapsychological experiments. He acknowledges that Schwartz has excellent academic credentials but blasts his medium research.
"Probably no other extended program in psychical research deviates so much from the accepted norms of scientific methodology as this one."
After reviewing Schwartz's book, "The Afterlife Experiments," he said readings by Schwartz's "star mediums," like Dubois, "strike me as no different in kind from those of any run-of-the-mill psychic readers and as completely consistent with cold (fake) readings."
He criticized Schwartz for other research errors, such as using only subjects "predisposed" to believe in this phenomenon and for "inappropriate statistical tests."
In response, Schwartz said Hyman ignored and omitted facts that do not support his biases. "This is like a skeptical sports reviewer focusing on Michael Jordan's few air balls and fouls, and drawing the conclusion that Jordan can't play basketball," he said.
Perhaps more entertaining is the ongoing public feud Schwartz has with the flamboyant magician and professional skeptic James Randi, who has offered $1 million to "anyone who can show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event."
Randi even wrote a letter to the University of Arizona Foundation in 2001, asking the university to submit Schwartz's research data to an independent panel for evaluation, to see if the UA might win the $1 million.
In one critique, Randi called Schwartz "an academic who has abandoned reason to accept everything and anything offered him by scammers from John Edward to the gypsy down the street."
Schwartz rejected Randi's million-dollar bait.
"I refused for the same reason all serious scientists in America and Europe have refused. The process of this prize lacks scientific credibility and integrity," he said. "This guy is not a scientist - he is a mediocre magician who loves the public eye."
Just how Allison Dubois could have faked what she told Phran Ginsberg about her teenage daughter Bailey - who died in a car crash two years ago - baffles Ginsberg.
"We were in separate states; we never met. I had no idea who was doing the reading. This was done by phone, and I was not allowed to speak," said Ginsberg, who lives in Lloyd Harbor, N.Y.
The first thing Dubois said was that she saw a photo of her daughter hugging her sister at a party. At that moment, Ginsberg was looking at a photo of the scene.
"Then she told me Bailey wished me 'Happy Valentine's Day.' And that didn't make sense, because it was October," she said. But later that day, she took the photo from its frame, and on the back Bailey had written "Valentine's Day Dance."
"Right then, I knew Allison was the real deal," Ginsberg said. Dubois also had described the accident and Bailey's fatal head injury.
"How could she know this? I just can't see any way she could fake that - she didn't know my name. She didn't know Bailey's name. I see absolutely no other way. This has to be real."
● Contact reporter Carla McClain at 806-7754 or cmcclain@azstarnet.com.