Bird, J(ames) Malcolm (1886-1964)

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Bird, J(ames) Malcolm (1886-1964)

Author and research officer of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) from 1925 to 1931. His first contact with psychic research occurred in 1922. He was then secretary of a committee investigating physical phenomena of Spiritualism, which was sponsored by the Scientific American on which Bird was an associate editor. The committee administered the $2,000 reward offered by the magazine to anyone who could produce satisfactory paranormal physical phenomena. On Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 's recommendation, Bird was sent to Europe to collect observations for a supplement to the report. He sat with John C. Sloan, Gladys Osborne Leonard, William Hope, Ada Emma Deane, Evan Powell, and Maria Vollhardt. In My Psychic Adventures (1924), he concluded that the phenomena were truly objective, that is, they were neither due to hallucination nor collective hypnosis, and that a good degree of probability existed for the genuineness of some of the psychic phenomena he witnessed. In "Margery," The Medium (1925) Bird traced the development of Mina Crandon 's powers from the incipient stage and gave an account of the investigation of her mediumship to the Scientific American.

Though Bird was convinced that Margery's work was genuine, the committee could not reach a verdict. When his articles in the Scientific American created undue anticipation for a verdict in Margery's favor, he resigned his position on the committee and soon after severed his connections with the magazine. The American Society for Psychical Research appointed Bird as research officer alongside Walter F. Prince, which brought to a head the disagreement within the leadership of the ASPR over Margery. Prince, who believed her a fraud, resigned from the ASPR and with others founded the Boston Society for Psychical Research.

Bird's continuing fascination with the Margery phenomena, and his public endorsement of it as genuine, led to accusations of investigative incompetence and even to confederacy in fraud. At the time Bird strenuously denied the accusations, but many years later, a confidential report that Bird made to the ASPR trustees came to light. In it Bird claimed that he strongly doubted the paranormal character of much of the phenomena and on one occasion proposed that Margery engaged in fraud, this being the time when Harry Houdini was to investigate her mediumship. Apparently Bird's doubts on the phenomena caused consternation in the ASPR, which had been placed in the position of competent investigation and support for the phenomena. Publication of Bird's doubts and criticisms would have had an unfavorable influence on the credibility of the society, particularly in light of the scandal surrounding Bird himself.

In December 1930 Bird resigned from the society, after which a lengthy issue of the ASPR Proceedings that Bird had compiled was never published and apparently vanished from the archives. Bird himself disappeared from the scene of psychic research and there appeared to be no record of his subsequent career.

Sources:

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Bird, J. Malcolm. "Margery," The Medium. Boston: Small, Maynard, 1925.

. My Psychic Adventure. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1923.

Tiertze, Thomas R. Margery. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.