Montague Keen

Montague Keen

Journalist, agricultural administrator, magazine editor and farmer. A member of the Council of the Society for Psychical Research for 55 years, chairman of its Image and Publicity Committee and secretary of its Survival Research Committee, he was principal investigator of the Scole Group of physical mediums, and author of the Scole Report, published in the Proceedings of the SPR (Vol 54 Pt 220) in 1999 with his co-investigators Professors Arthur Ellison and David Fontana.

No Evidence of Fraud at Scole

 - Montague Keen -

From Psychic News, March 10th, 2001.

Dear Sir,

Before the correspondence prompted by John Samson's letter on the policy and posture of the Society for Psychical Research gets swamped by a dispute with Ronald Pearson, can I clarify one rather important matter about the SPR's Scole Report on the activities of the mediumistic group based at Scole, Norfolk?

As our Hon. Secretary, Professor John Poynton, says opinions about the genuineness of the physical phenomena, which my colleagues and I describe in our very lengthy Report differ, both within and outside the Council of the SPR. No doubt there may be people who think all or some of the evidence is fraudulent. If so, they have yet to publish or provide the authors of the Report with a shred of hard evidence to support that view. They have had more than a year (and every opportunity and incentive) to do so. The reservations of our three principal critics were printed alongside the Scole Report. None either produced such evidence or made the specific charge of fraud. They were concerned to point to the possibilities of fraud in relation to a number of specified events.

Along with virtually everyone who has corresponded with or talked to me about the Report, my colleagues and I consider our rejoiner to these reservations dealt pretty conclusively with those criticisms, both in the Report itself and subsequently in the Study Day held to debate it. Indeed, only one person who claims to have read the Report has written to me in the belief that it was obviously fraudulent, and he did not attend the Study Day when Professor David Fontana and I, as well as a number of members of the audience, gave examples to show the feebleness of the fraud hypothesis when matched against actual evidence. Virtually all my other correspondents have been profoundly impressed by the Report.

What is depressing about the critics is their willingness to construct an upturned pyramid of hypotheses and speculations, all balanced on one improbable assumption after another. What is so remarkable is their unwillingness to accept the oft-repeated challenge to take the scientifically warranted course of viewing all the evidence together, rather than attempting to pick theoretical holes in every individual item.

May I add a more general point to those of your readers who still believe that the SPR is somehow inherently hostile to evidence indicative of survival or consciousness? The most recent issue of our Journal contains Professor Gary Schwartz's not unimpressive account of blind experiments with five leading USA mediums in identifying and providing evidential details of deceased members of a sitter's family, when the sitter was unknown to them and screened from them.

From Psychic World, June 2001.

Dear Sir,

... As the principal author of the Scole Report, and the person who has borne the brunt of criticisms from colleagues, perhaps I could comment on Mr Zammit's attack on Professor Poynton's references, in an extempore radio interview, to magicians' claims. I have no doubt that some magicians, particularly those who have taken the trouble to remain in ignorance of the Report, will say that all claims of physical paranormal phenomena can be explained by clever deception. However, only two persons with professional qualifications and long experience in illusionism have offered public comments. One was Dr Richard Wiseman, a colleague who is a noted sceptic. He had no opportunity to attend any sittings of the group, but his observations were extremely circumspect. He pronounced the report as a whole to be "very impressive" and, at the Study Day meeting where the newly issued Report was discussed confined his remarks to explaining how undesirable it was to have anything happen in darkness, that the absence of infra-red cameras made it difficult to assess what really went on, etc. That view is difficult to dispute, but it does not amount to a claim that all we heard, felt, saw, and were able to a greater or lesser extent to control, could be replicated by skilled conjurors. Any careful reading of our analysis of just what assumptions would have been made to account normally for the evidence will show why Dr Wiseman has prudently remained silent.


The only other qualified magician, Mr Webster, attended three sittings, well before our entry onto the scene. He was and remains quite clear that what he experienced could not have been fake. Another critic, Mr Comell, went to much trouble to show how certain Polaroid pictures produced when I was experimenter in charge could have been faked, and how a so-called apport, in the form of an issue of the Daily Mail for April 1, 1944, carrying a report of Helen Duncan's prison sentence, was nothing but a readily purchasable replica. It is regrettable, but by no means rare, that when evidence was produced, as it has been in our response to critics, showing the faking hypothesis to be inconsistent with the physical conditions prevailing at the time; while the Daily Mail apport was proved to have been printed by letterpress on wartime newsprint, no admission of error has been forthcoming.


There is growing interest the Scole Report. Professor Gary Schwartz's valuable experiments are continuing. They are being further refined to meet criticisms. The SPR is just about to publish the results of another study, this time by Mrs Tricia Robertson and Professor Archie Roy. It will add significantly to the weight of existing evidence that mediumistic statements simply cannot be dismissed as a product of cold readings, secret briefings, body language and the other familiar but long-exposed pretexts for ridiculing mediums and mediumship. Current research promises to reveal even more striking evidence pointing to intelligent discarnate communication.


The SPR has a huge task, and responsibility. It is seriously short of funds to enable its work not only to progress but also to become more widely known. It depends more on benefactions from sympathetic supporters than on income from members. The continuation and extension of its work, as the world's oldest scientific body dedicated to exploding the paranormal, is in everyone's interest: of Spiritualists seeking scientific validation and hence respectability; of honest sceptics seeking to test fresh evidence objectively; of psychical researchers seeking to gain a clearer understanding of the mechanism, nature and limitations of mediumistic transmissions.


Yours sincerely,


Montague Keen



Related articles...

Reflections on 'The Scole Experiment': Alan and Diana Bennett

The Scole Investigation: A Study in Critical Analysis of Paranormal Physical Phenomena: Montague Keen

Unfounded Allegations of Fraud at Scole: David Fontana

Why is the Ark Review hostile to the Scole Report? Montague Keen

What the Scole Experiment Meant to Me: Robin Foy

What will the Critics Accept as Evidence? Montague Keen

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Some parts of this page The International Survivalist Society 2002