On his blog Marcel Cairo does his best to make himself some new enemies by questioning the bona fides of celebrity medium Allison DuBois, the real-life inspiration behind the fictional TV series Medium. It's an interesting piece, well worth a look.
Among the articles Marcel links to is a long investigative piece that just appeared in the Phoenix New Times. An excerpt from that article shows how difficult it can be to nail down the truth in controversies like this:
In [DuBois'] first book, Don't Kiss Them Goodbye, she writes about a childhood friend, Domini Sitts, whose death she claims to have predicted when she was 19, when she told Sitts to quit smoking.
Sitts is the friend she lived with after she moved out of her mom's house and into an apartment. DuBois recalls watching Beaches together and promising to care for Sitts' kids if she died young.
Her younger sister, Karen Sitts, remembers their friendship differently.
"She's pretended this relationship with my sister, but they were anything but best friends," she says. "They were friends, but the kind that got into fights all the time. She and my sister had a falling out and didn't talk until she was dying and got back in touch."
Quite different from the romantic way DuBois writes about their friendship in her book: "We cried together, we laughed together, and, when it was time, we said goodbye together."
Domini Sitts has appeared in all of DuBois' books and she talks about her in interviews as well. During a 2005 radio interview, she expanded upon the Sitts storyline.
"The thing that was nice was, I was able to take her fear away," she says. "And when she was getting ready to pass she was, like, 'You're right. I can see my grandfather, and I know that they're there.' It was very important to me that she knew that before she died."
Karen says it's all a lie. Her sister died of malignant melanoma, and her death, as she describes it, was gruesome. Domini saw no one but family in the months before she died and, two weeks before her death, entered a drug-induced coma that she never came out of. There was no wide-eyed deathbed vision.
"I want to clarify: The last time Ali saw Domini she was still walking around," Sitts says. "She was cognizant and was nowhere near dying."
Sounds convincing, of course. But then we read this:
Domini's ex-husband, Domenic Skala, who took care of Domini through much of her illness (she moved into his apartment), corroborates DuBois' story and says she's also gone out of her way to care for [Domini's daughter] Marissa in the years since the death of her mother.
This paragraph is added to the story as an afterthought. It is not given nearly the weight of the debunking paragraphs. Yet the ex-husband's account is surely worth considering.
Much of the New Times article is taken up with the question of whether DuBois, billed as a crime-solving medium, has actually helped police crack any cases. Apparently the police either have denied she was helpful or have refused to comment. DuBois explains this as typical behavior by bureaucracies reluctant to admit using psychics on the side. The article implies that DuBois' claims are invented or exaggerated, and perhaps inspired by a youthful fantasy of becoming a D.A.
One point in DuBois' favor is the extensive testing she has undergone at Gary Schwartz's laboratory in Tucson. The New Times article brusquely dismisses the tests, saying, "Schwartz's experimental designs are criticized by the scientific community." Which is certainly true, but only because any and all research into the paranormal is criticized by at least some members of the "scientific community." While Schwartz's early experiments are certainly open to some criticism, his more recent work - which involves triple-blind studies - is harder to debunk.
The whole controversy only illustrates the theme of George Hansen's influential book The Trickster and the Paranormal. We might like psi-related phenomena (and the people who produce them) to be straightforward and uncomplicated, but the universe seems to have other ideas.