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Commentary on Fabricated NDEs

John Audette says:

As we all know, a certain number of reported NDEs and STEs are contrived or exaggerated. But what is the prevalence of this? I suspect it is a small percentage of cases, some of which may be among the more high profile and greatly celebrated. I would be grateful for your thoughts about this, and any information you might have about this matter. I do not think a scholarly article has been written about this, and if one has not, then one certainly should be.

The link pasted below leads to a recent case in point which is now making headlines on the internet. It is about Alex Malarkey and a book he co-wrote with his Christian therapist father, "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven." Interesting last name for someone who now says he made up his NDE story to get attention. The last name alone should have given pause to this account.

Those of us working in this field of study should address the issue of fabricated or exaggerated NDEs and STEs head on lest the baby be thrown out with the bath water. Many critics are looking to be dismissive of NDEs and this is more justification. Truly, how do scientists "e; know "e; that their research subjects are telling the truth and giving an accurate account of what actually happened to them. How do we know people are being honest about their NDE or STE?

Many of us have encountered cases that are suspicious and that seem to lack credibility, but the general tendency among those of us working in this field has been to accept as true that which is reported to us, to assume its accuracy and veracity at face value. Yet, there have been instances where we wonder. I know I have encountered cases which have cast great doubts in my mind. I wonder about the extent to which others studying these accounts have encountered the same challenge.

Perhaps thought should be given to developing some kind of verifying psychometric evaluation tool and to do personality screening tests as a routine procedure in NDE/STE studies. In my own experience, I have found that contrived and embellished cases are often associated with the sociopathic and narcissistic personality type. I have only encountered a few such incidents in the last 40 years I have worked in this area, but nevertheless, it only takes a few bad apples to spoil the whole barrel. It is a real problem and the recent account now making headlines makes it an even greater problem for an area of research that characteristically struggles to earn and maintain scientific credibility.

I believe the vast majority of reported NDEs/STEs are legitimate and truthful, but some are not. To separate wheat from chaff, I have often used the logic "by their fruits ye shall know them" rule of thumb. If one is coming from ego and service to self above and beyond service to others, or if one routinely behaves outside of integrity, it casts doubt in my mind whether in fact they really had a true NDE/STE. Once touched by the light in that divine realm, it most often is a profoundly transformative life-changing catalyst, wherein the subject undergoes a genuine metamorphosis that is subsequently revealed in how they treat others and in the life choices they make.

There are those who use their NDE as a means of getting attention, enrich ego, reinvent themselves and profit financially. Often, there is a sort of spiritual arrogance about them. Those who behave in this manner cast doubt on the legitimacy of their experience and could be fabricating their account for these purposes. As NDEs and STEs grow in popular acceptance and profile, it will be more tempting or alluring for some to jump on the bandwagon to serve their own self-centered purposes. Those of us doing serious work in this area should become more vigilant about this, and we should address in a serious way what measures can be taken to identity, prevent or certainly minimize fabricated and/or embellished cases.

Ken Ring says:

 Sure, there will be occasional fraudulent cases or ones where there are fish-tale exaggerations. So what? Does the occasional memoir that turns out to be fiction discredit the whole genre? Of course not. Does the fact that some journalists have made up their stories mean that journalism itself is suspect? Nonsense. (In case, you haven’t noticed, I am quoting the gospel according to Henry Higgins.) So why should you get up in arms about this case, which as you pointed out (and as Bill G. surmised), was just a bit too full of malarkey? Besides, a metaphor is a dangerous thing. Have you ever put a few rotten apples into a barrel to see if the rest were spoiled? I thought not. But then neither have I, but I doubt they would be, especially if they are Granny Smiths.

 I think the primary difficulty comes from cases that aren’t or can’t be directly investigated by researchers — those that are reported on the Internet for example. One clearly has to be cautious there and use one’s judgment. But any seasoned researcher, as Bill G. indicates, should be able to smell a rat when in the presence of rodents.

 Besides, John, can you really imagine how it would feel to an NDEr (or an STEr) to be subjected to a “screening test,” assuming that such things were reliable? Your rapport would go down the toilet. NDErs have to face enough skepticism as it is. To be subjected to something like you advocate would do more harm than good, and would be impractical, anyway.

 Besides #2, the best rebuttal to any skeptics or debunkers who might question the authenticity of NDEs in general would be: “Surely, Mr. Feynman, they can’t all be lying!”

Jeffry Long Says:

The Malarkey “NDE” became widely known largely because the content of the purported experience was consistent with certain religious beliefs. I have great respect for this boy to finally tell the truth.

NDE and STE research always has, and always will, rely on the integrity of those who share their experiences. In NDE and STE research, I doubt that more than several percent of experiences investigated are falsified, or embellished to the point that they are blatantly false. If these falsified experiences contain content that is consistent with the content of valid experiences, then the falsified experiences will not lead researchers to erroneous conclusions. On the other hand, if falsified experiences contain content that is not consistent with the content of valid experiences, then such content is recognized as outside of the norm of the total study group of experiences. Perhaps the most important concept in researching NDE/STE is that what is real is consistently observed. Researchers should look for what is consistently described in their study group. That is what is real. Scholars of NDE/STE research also need to be aware of consistency and inconsistency among NDE/STE investigations by different researchers. This is true of all scientific investigations. If a finding by a particular researcher cannot be replicated by other researchers, the finding is generally considered to not be real.

I think every NDE/STE researcher should carefully consider how to minimize the risk of fraudulent accounts in their research data pool. At NDERF we have been very cautious about this for many years. Here are our thoughts on this:

  1. The NDERF survey is very long with over 80 questions that require a response before the survey can be submitted. The survey length is a substantial disincentive to filling it out falsely as a ‘joke’.
  2. Those who take the NDERF survey receive no payment of any kind.
  3. Experiences are posted anonymously. There is no personal recognition to incentivize sharing false accounts.
  4. In the 16 year history of NDERF, we have never had anyone contact us to let us know that they shared a falsified account, and that we posted it.
  5. The fact that the NDERF website has 60,000-70,000 unique visitors a month from all around the world greatly reduces the risk that any accounts posted are plagiarized. With so many readers, any plagiarized account would likely be recognized by NDERF readers and we would be notified. This happened once in the history of NDERF. The plagiarized NDE was not shared on the NDERF survey but by an interview (which we no longer do).
  6. My background as a physician helps me to identify NDEs that describe medical events that seem implausible.
  7. It is rare that experiences are submitted as a ‘joke’ on the NDERF survey, and they can be easily identified. Years ago there were two NDEs shared sequentially that described, among other fanciful things, encountering Pamela Anderson in their “experiences”. These are recognized as ‘joke’ accounts when submitted to NDERF as quickly as they would be recognized as ‘joke’ accounts that are shared personally. Such “joke” submissions to NDERF average about one every few years.
  8. My experience in reviewing nearly 4000 NDEs and about 10,000 experiences of all types helps me to recognize which experiences may be falsified. In my experience, the experiences at higher risk of being falsified are those where the contributors have a financial incentive in their experience. This includes those who have written books about their experiences. It also includes those whose vocation, such as channelers or alternative medical healers, may benefit in gaining credibility in the view of their clients if they had a particular experience (especially an NDE).