Bird, J(ames) Malcolm (1886–1964)
Author and research officer of the American Society for
Psychical Research (ASPR) from 1925 to 1931. His first conBioplasma
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186
tact 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.