Margaret Mead and the Parapsychological Association: How the PA Finally Joined the AAAS

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Sally Ann Drucker, Ph.D.  
Rhine Research Center 

Introduction: I am proposing a dramatic re-creation of anthropologist Margaret Mead, (1901-1978)  who in 1969 strongly endorsed the Parapsychology Association’s entry into the American Academy of Arts and Science (Mindfield, Vol. 8, Issue 2).  A first-person costumed presentation discusses her views on connections between parapsychology and anthropology 52 years ago, followed by an out-of -character discussion of related research today. 

I’ve done multiple living history Chautauqua performances in various US locations and a cameo appearance of parapsychologist Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick at the 1995 PA conference in Durham, NC.  Sally Rhine Feather still talks about it.  I’d be pleased to present Margaret Mead endorsing parapsychology at the 2021 PA/SSE online conference.   

The re-creation is about 15 minutes, followed by questions answered in character.  I then break character to answer questions as myself..  What follows is a synopsis of the relevance of Margaret Mead to the subject material of this conference, to be presented in dramatic format.     

In 1969, it was not at all certain that the PA would be accepted into the AAAS on its fourth attempt to do so, despite the unswerving efforts of PA past President Douglas Dean.  At a meeting where the vote would take place, upon hearing negative comments, Margaret Mead stood and said the following:   

“For the last ten years we have been arguing about what constitutes science and scientific method and what societies use it. We even changed the By-laws about it. The P. A. uses statistics and blinds, placebos, double blinds and other standard scientific devices. The whole history of scientific advance is full of scientists investigating phenomena that the establishment did not believe were there. I submit that we vote in favor of this Association’s work.”   

Her ringing recommendation helped to get the required number of votes.   This was not the first or last controversial statement ever made by Mead.  She was already credited with influencing the 1960s sexual revolution, and Dr. Benjamin Spock’s books included her child rearing beliefs.  Married three times, she also had romantic relationships with women.  Mead questioned traditional gender roles and any research that upheld white racial superiority.  In her sixties during the 1960s, she both preceded and was part of a counterculture world view.  Her support of parapsychology was part of her overall perspective.    

From 1946 to 1969, Mead was an American Museum of Natural History curator.  In 1948, she was elected to the AAAS, serving various roles.  Highly visible on campuses in her cape and walking stick, she taught at The New School, Columbia, Fordham, and University of Rhode Island.  In 1960, she was American Anthropological Association president.  

In the later 1960s, Mead’s gender research started influencing a growing feminist movement.  Her landmark book, Coming of Age in Samoa, discussed child rearing, personality, and culture.  Mead’s other influential book, Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies, questioned the universality of western gender roles. 

Mead thought research supporting racial superiority in intelligence was flawed.  In “The Methodology of Racial Testing: Its Significance for Sociology” she said that you could not prove that test scores correlated with race.  She argued the difficulty of measuring environmental effects  (family structure, socioeconomic status, language exposure) and felt that language barriers created major testing problems (American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 31, No. 5).  

In her anthropological work, Mead encountered shamanic practices and activities relating to PA research.   In 1974, five years after her 1969 speech supporting entrance of the PA into the AAAS, she was elected AAAS president.  It appears that her views on research in parapsychology did not prevent colleagues from seeing her as an innovative researcher in anthropology.     

In 1979, Mead posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom at an American Museum of Natural History program.  The citation read: “Margaret Mead was both a student of civilization and an exemplar of it. To a public of millions, she brought the central insight of cultural anthropology: that varying cultural patterns express an underlying human unity. She mastered her discipline, but she also transcended it. Intrepid, independent, plain spoken, fearless, she remains a model for the young and a teacher from whom all may learn.”  

Margaret Mead was a figure whose insights into human behavior influenced the thinking of the 1960s and remain part of that period’s cultural legacy today.  It might have taken a lot longer for the PA to gain AAAS membership if not for Margaret Mead. 

Presenter

Sally Ann Drucker
Sally Ann Drucker

I’m currently a PA Member, Rhine Research Center Board Member, and Interim Editor of the Journal of Parapsychology. Previously I was a Research Assistant at Maimonides Medical Center Division of Parapsychology and Psychophysics. Publications include Parapsychological Research with Children: An Annotated Bibliography (book written with Athena Drewes). My Ph.D. is from SUNY-Buffalo; I’m Prof. Emerita at SUNY-Nassau.

Margaret Mead and the Parapsychological Association: How the PA Finally Joined the AAAS

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