Laurentian University Faculty Association Statement

November 30, 2007

On Friday 24, 2006, Michel Béchard, speaking for the university, denied a request from the Discovery Channel to film  a demonstration of Michael Persinger’s  past research on Laurentian University property.
 
The Discovery Channel is a well-known U.S. TV channel which broadcasts on scientific issues throughout North America.
 
It had approached Dr. Persinger to be part of its best Evidence series and had asked him to do an on-camera interview and demonstrate his past research on how to understand the complex relationships between behaviour, thought, and brain activity and how they can be affected by physiologically patterned magnetic fields.
 
The results of this research have been widely reported elsewhere, including on the CTV National News On July 4, 2001, when anchor Lloyd Robertson introduced the piece by commenting, “Can spiritual experiences be simulated through science? Michael Persinger, a university professor in Northern Ontario, is using an experiment to prove they can. Volunteers are fitted with a magnetized helmet which apparently arouses the brain and triggers a state of spiritual euphoria. The research is gaining international attention.”
 
On Thursday 30 November, President Judith Woodsworth explained on CBC radio that the media was welcome to interview Dr. Persinger but not to film the demonstration of his past research. She justified the decision not to permit the filming of this demonstration on the basis that the “experiment” had not been approved by the university’s research ethics board. “The problem really is with filming an experiment on human subjects, and we are held to much higher standards these days than we were in the past. There are rules that are applied to research that's conducted on human subjects. Every experiment has to be approved by a university research ethics board, and to our knowledge this research that Dr. Persinger is doing has not been approved by the board.,” she said.
 
By referring to the research demonstration as “an experiment on human subjects” that is part of ongoing research, the President has mis-represented the nature of the situation, LUFA alleges. In LUFA’s opinion, the Discovery Channel was not trying to film any actual research but simply profile past research results, already published in peer-reviewed journals and previously approved by the university Research Ethics Review Board.
 
Commenting on the University’s unprecedented decision to deny access to a film crew,   Jim Turk, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, noted in a letter to University President Judith Woodsworth that, “In the 50 year history of CAUT, we are unaware of any other university administration taking such a position when media requests interviews with faculty members.  Your administration’s action is a flagrant violation of academic freedom and the tradition of openness which characterizes universities.”
 
He added that, “Already CAUT has begun a preliminary investigation into what appears to be unacceptable university treatment of Dr. Persinger and his students—actions by the university that appear to violate norms of procedural fairness and natural justice.” He urged Dr. Woodsworth “not to compound the problems by persisting with the media ban.”  Turk also urged her to rescind the prohibition and to apologize to representatives of the Discovery Channel and to Dr. Persinger. In his words, “Your failure to do so would cause unfavorable light to be shone on Laurentian University, something we cannot imagine is in the university’s interests.”
  
Laurentian University Faculty Association
Association des professeurs de l'Université Laurentienne
Ramsey Lake Road/Chemin du lac Ramsey
Sudbury, Ontario  P3E 2C6
(705) 675-1151 ext./ poste 4290
www.lufapul.ca 
lufa@laurentian.ca
apul@laurentienne.ca

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