Bubbles Online Volume 12 No. 6 June 1999 - Page 10
How Not To Study Paranormal Phenomenon: Lessons from Erlendur Haraldsson
Book Review by Babu Gogineni
Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Iceland, parapsychologist Dr.Erlendur Haraldsson came to India several times (twice along with Karlish Osis,co-author of their book on near-death experiences: At the Hour of Death ) to investigate Satya Sai Baba's paranormal powers.The result of his efforts over ten years is the book "Miracles are My Visiting Cards; An Investigative Report on the Psychic Phenomena"associated with Satya Sai Baba,published in 1987.
Dr. Haraldsson's repeated requests for controlled experiments were firmly rejected by Satya Sai Baba and his team was asked "not to pester" Baba with more requests. Charmed by the charmed by the charisma of Baba and more predisposed to believe than to investigate, Dr. Haraldsson settles for his own inefficient and subjective personal - informal observation as well as hearsay accounts from devotees. Yet, in their article entitled as The Appearance and Disappearance of Objects in the Presence of Sri Satya Sai Baba in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research Vol. 71, January, 1977, Haraldsson and Karlis Osis express their gratitude to Sri Satya Sai Baba "for his kind cooperation in their investigation"!
Dr. Haraldsson's book does not indicate that he is aware of Satya Sai Baba's father's brother being a tantrik-conjuror. He could perhaps have been Satya Sai's teacher. Despite assuring us that he "tried his very best" to trace all "Critics" only Dr.H.Narasimhaiah is mentioned. No mention of Dr.Kovoor's whirlwind tours of Andhra,his challenges to Satya Sai Baba, his largely attended public meeting (30,000 people for instance) to the accompaniment of stupendous publicity! Contributors to the national debates in the then prestigious Illustrated Weekly of India, and the tabloids Blitz and Current Weekly are ignored. Interestingly, Dr. Haraldesson is unaware even of the Seiko watch controversy. Later, unconvincingly, he said that he was unwilling to take it up because of the various versions of it! One has not heard of an "investigative" researcher shy away on such dubious grounds.
Nor does Haraldsson mention Satya Sai Baba specialist B.Premanand,whose first book in English on Baba,Lure of Miracles, was published in 1976. Dr.Haraldsson's excuse on 6 April, 1988 to Dale Bayerstein, editor of the excellent 1994 book, Sai Baba's Miracles: An Overview is that no one in India mentioned Premanand to him. Then again, Dr. Haraldsson writes in his letter of 21 October, 1988 to Dale Bayerstein that Dr.H.Narasimhaiah did not think it worthwhile for him to visit Premanand. When informed of this Dr.Narasimhaiah issued a issued a written clarification that he respected Premanand's work and could never have said what Haraldsson reported. This is not the only complaint of misquoting about Haraldsson.Two chapters of the book Miracles are My Visiting Cards are devoted to M.Krishna and Varadu (in no way critics, looking at the contents of the book), former personal assistants to Satya Sai Baba in the earlier days; Krishna converted to Cristianity later. Now, Krishna's son, a good friend of mine, insists that I report this, and in the manner in which some statements were transformed to suit Dr.Haraldsson purposes. In an interview with me and Premanand, P.V.N.Nair, editor of Deccan chronicle, whom Haraldsson accused of misquoting him as saying that he was "disappointed with Satya Sai Baba", regretted that out of good faith he had not tape recorded the interview. Premanand has shown how different version and sequences of the same event (production of ring for Karlis Osis) have been written by Haraldsson.When Premanand asked for clarification and explanation in an undoubtedly long questionnaire,the very prolific Dr.Haraldsson suddenly has no time to write!
Haraldsson is aware that propaganda of the claimed resurrection from death of Walter Cowan and Radhakrishna had the support of Satya Sai Baba. He is also aware that Dr.Fanibunda, himself a medical doctor, testified to the resurrection of Cowan. Haraldsson's own conclusion is that the stories of resurrections are false. Yet, to our scientist-investigator the role of Satya Sai Baba is not suspect. Nor that of Dr.Fanibunda, whose testimony he approvingly uses in another case. It also does not occur to this impartial investigator, forever solicitous of being scientific and objective that since he himself has found some stories to be false, he has necessarily to work under controlled conditions. This is how professional credentials become suspect. Some of the stories Haraldsson reports are not even amenable to verification by us. For example, he mentions how a burglar prowling in the house of a Satya Sai Baba devotee was scared away by Satya Sai's bilocation. He does not mention the name of the Devotee, nor the name of the police station which later caught the burglar.
In the April 1995 issue of the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, Haraldsson and Richard Wiseman write an article Reactions To and An Assessment of a Videotape on Satya Sai Baba, where they make pathetic attempts to show that from the Deccan Chronicle Doordarshan tape, no evidence of fraud by Satya Sai Baba can be deduced. Haraldsson and co-author are invited to watch our copy of the tape, or watch one of the episodes of the British program, The Guru Busters, a television program on Rationalist work in India, which has quite clear visuals. They should also read the analysis of a Satya Sai Baba video tape by Dale Bayerstein, Leon Mandrake et al (a team of professional magicians) where among others, they detect Satya Sai Baba "thumb palming" a necklace, before "materialisation" published in Bayerstein's book. Perhaps, Haraldsson is also unaware of Premanand's video cassette of Satya Sai Baba producing a gold necklace at a wedding in Balakrishna Eradi's family (a former judge from Kerala).
While waiting to watch this, the authors should find time to read the account of the Dutch author Piet Vroon who wrote an expanded version of his article Sinterklass in India (Santa Claus in India), published in De Volkskrant of 5 December, 1992. Piet Vroon was at Puttaparthi to film Baba at "work", and he and his partner detected Baba remove rings, necklaces and watches from behind flower vases and from pillows of his chair. They also detected Sai Baba holding Vibhuti balls in one hand, transferring them to the other hand, pulverising them and distributing them. Vibhuti is also hidden in the mouth and removed while wiping the face, which Baba does very often. Piet Vroon's conclusion is unambiguous: "we just think that he is a trickster and a cheat".
It is easy to see these things, especially when one's work, and perhaps livelihood, does not depend on funding from parapsychology foundations! The only lesson one can learn from ERLENDUR HARALDSSON is how not to study the paranormal events.