Enter your name and e-mail address to quickly register to comment and be notified of new articles.
Quick Reg!

one moment please...

Check out the Academy of Reason. Online Courses for the Free Thinking Community!
Blog Home Tags:
life after death

Yet Another Life After Death Study Media Frenzy

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consutlant
posted Friday Aug 08, 2014 12:00 AM

image loading...

Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consutlant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

You can read my full bio at http://www.BoBennett.com.

Once again, the Internet is abuzz with claims of yet another paranormal event—life after death.  This latest foray of the supernatural into the realm of science is the result of a new clinical study published by the respectable academic journal Resuscitation, titled "PaperAWARE—AWAreness during REsuscitation—A prospective study."  As usual, the media, and a vast majority of the public (as inferred by the comments on these articles), have seriously misconstrued the facts.  The goal of this article is to correct the blatant errors and poor assumptions made by the media and readers, not to attempt to disprove the supernatural. 

Let me make clear from the start that I did actually read the full published article.  If you do not have journal access, you can at least get the academic (not media-biased) summary here.

Fox News is Not Alone

Fox News takes a lot of heat from the liberal and skeptical community, and rightly so in my opinion (pun intended).  But like all other media outlets, without consumers, they will cease to exist.  While scientists report findings, journalists tell and sell stories, which sometimes includes making wild inferences.  The vast majority of scientific findings are underwhelming, but the media has become very good at massaging the message to "wow" their consumers.  This results in misleading consumers to unwarranted conclusions at the expense of increasing what is called the "shock value" of their story.  The following section should demonstrate this point nicely.

The Headlines

I cannot pretend that I am emotionally neutral here.  As a social scientist, this blatant bastardization of facts works against everything I work towards, including educating the public and critical thinking.  Here is just a sample of the article headlines on the first page of Google referencing this research (I wonder how many of these journalists actually read the paper?)

First hint of 'life after death' in biggest ever scientific study

This is perhaps the most tame of the headlines found.  The only "hint" of life after death is in the interpretation by those ignorant of the psychological processes that likely result in these post-death anecdotes.  And this certainly is not the first, and probably not the "biggest" considering that data was actually collected from just 140 participants.

People still conscious after death, study says

The study says no such thing.  The temporal position of a memory cannot be determined scientifically.  What may seem like a memory from moments ago could be from minutes, hours, or even years ago.  At best, an accurate headline might read, "During a 4-year study, a single person accurately described events during what the doctors considered brain death." The colloquial use of the phrase "study says" or "study suggests" refers to the general conclusions of the study, not a single participant within the study.

Have scientists proved there is life after death?

Spoiler Alert: No.

Life After Death Is Real — But Scary

Inferring such a claim from this article is like saying that the earth is flat because one guy interviewed said it was.

Life After Death: 'Near-Death Experience' Study Shows Awareness Continues After Brain Shutdown

No, it doesn't.  If anything, it "shows" the opposite by failing to provide a single positive result from the objective test.  The findings of this study show that people claim to have experiences.

German Scientists Prove There is Life After Death

No, they don't.

The Actual Study

This study is not about life after death.  The study investigates claims of awareness during resuscitation after cardiac arrest (CA) in the interest of a potential cause of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The only mention of any "life after death" or "near death experience" is the authors dismissal of these terms as "scientifically imprecise."  In the author's own words, "The primary aim of this study was to examine the incidence of awareness and the broad range of mental experiences during resuscitation. The secondary aim was to investigate the feasibility of establishing a novel methodology to test the accuracy of reports of visual and auditory perception and awareness during CA."  In fairness to the media, claims of outer body experiences (OBEs) were tested, and the results were quite conclusive.

The study uses both quantitative and qualitative methods.  To the layman, "quantitative" is often confused with "objective"—this is not the case in the social sciences.  Quantitative means that the results can be quantified, or measured numerically.  In this case, the quantitative data was gathered by surveys where participants rated their subjective experiences on a scale with each point represented by a number.  There was an objective test, however, designed to validate the claims of OBEs:

"To assess the accuracy of claims of visual awareness (VA) during CA, each hospital installed between 50 and 100 shelves in areas where CA resuscitation was deemed likely to occur (e.g. emergency department, acute medical wards). Each shelf contained one image only visible from above the shelf (these were different and included a combination of nationalistic and religious symbols, people, animals, and major newspaper headlines). These images were installed to permit evaluation of VA claims described in prior accounts. These include the perception of being able to observe their own CA resuscitation from a vantage point above. It was postulated that should a large proportion of patients describe VA combined with the perception of being able to observe events from a vantage point above, the shelves could be used to potentially test the validity of such claims (as the images were only visible if looking down from the ceiling)."

Out of the 2060 participants used in this study, or perhaps more accurately the 140 that actually were well enough to give data to the researchers post cardiac arrest, exactly ZERO passed this objective test. This is the newsworthy content that the media should have picked up: "Four Year Study Objectively Measuring Claims of Out of Body Experiences (OBEs) Provides Exactly Zero Objective Evidence for OBEs."

What is written about in this study is the qualitative report of one (1) participant who accurately described things that were happening when he was presumed clinically brain dead.  The statement from the one subject reads like a generic scene from any movie or television show, with the possible exception of some minor details that could have been collected post recovery, or just assumed based on probability (e.g., a chubby guy in scrubs).  All of the interviews were collected between 3 days and 4 weeks after the event, given the participants plenty of time to gather information and confabulate a narrative to describe the happenings during their traumatic event.

I Don't Want To Cease Existing, Either.

I am not one of those skeptics who will wax rhapsodic about the brevity of life.  I can't say I would want to live forever, but I know I would take virtually any opportunity to extend my life indefinitely.  What I won't do is allow my desire for immortality (or something like it) to allow me to misinterpret data or conflate fantasy with fact.  If such evidence does arise supporting life after death, I will certainly reevaluate my belief.  Until then, reasonably skeptical, I remain.

Private, Anonymous Comment On This Post (no login required)Your comment below will be anonymously sent to the post owner, it will not be posted, and you will not get a response. To make a public comment, post below (login required).

Send Comment sending comment...

Registered User Comments

Get the Book.

"A delightful combination of straight talk, friendly challenge and a singular absence of bitter ax-grinding... he shows in plain-spoken, engaging prose how his view (and mine!) just makes better common sense.  I just love the section on heaven!  This book is quite and achievement.  Read it!" - Dr. Robert M. Price, Professor of Theology and Scriptural Studies, Host of "The Bible Geek"

Get the book, The Concept by Bo Bennett, by selecting one of the following options:

Check Out Our Secular Online University: AcademyofReason.com

If you spent your life assuming "God" was the answer to all of life's biggest questions, but can no longer believe, you might have many questions that begin with the phrase, "If there is no God..." If there is no God, how did we get here? If there is no God, what's the point of life? If there is no God, where does our morality come from"? If there is no God, won't the world collapse in anarchy with murdering, coveting thy neighbor's wife, and eating shellfish? These are just some of the common questions to which there are good answers. These courses will help you build a strong foundational secular worldview based in science and reason.

Have a podcast or know someone who does? Putting on a conference? Dr. Bennett is available for interviews and public speaking events. Contact him directly here.

About Archieboy Holdings, LLC. Privacy Policy Other Books Written by Bo Contact
 Website Design and Software Copyright 2018, Archieboy Holdings, LLC. 

Component Viewer

A component is the HTML code for a section of a webpage that can be combined with other components to make a complete webpage. Click the component to insert the component code at the bottom of your current page, then customize it.