OK, Ian Stevenson. This case is taken from Old Souls
, by Thomas Shroder. Old Souls is a journalistic account of several field trips Shroder took with Stevenson in the 90's to Lebanon and India where he observed some of the interviews and recorded his experiences.
To recap, Stevenson held a privately-funded chair at the University of Virginia in the 'Department of Perceptual Studies', a unit mainly concerned with studies of what are commonly known as 'paranormal phenomena'. Stevenson researched children who remembered their previous lives and in the course of his career, investigated over 3,000 cases over 35 years. His modus operandi was to interview the children and their families and try and corroborate their stories. He was meticulous in his methodology and skeptical in his own way, with a file he kept in his office of 'extravagent claims', with many cases who claimed to have been Jefferson or Naploean or Mary Magdalene and the like (1). He was said to have discarded far more cases than he finished on the grounds they were either fraudulent or couldn't be documented.
According to his obituary 'His magnum opus [was] a 2-volume, 2268-page monograph reporting over 200 cases in which highly unusual birthmarks or birth defects of the child corresponded with marks, usually fatal wounds, on the previous person.
Dr. Stevenson saw this research as indicating a possible third factor, in addition to genetics and environment, in the development of human personality. His emphasis, however, was always on the evidence, and his greatest frustration was not that other scientists dismissed his interpretations of the evidence, but that most of them did so without even bothering to read the evidence that he had so painstakingly assembled.' (2)
He retired in around 2004 and died in 2007.
Now extracting cases from the Old Souls book is quite time consuming as it is written as a narrative rather than case studies. However, one was that of Daniel Jirdi, a Lebanese boy who, from the time he could speak, claimed to remember his previous life as one Rashid Kardegge, a mechanic who had died in a car accident outside Beirut, 18 months before Jirdi's birth. He was first interviewed at age 9 during which interview he gave details of who was in the car, where they were travelling to, and the circumstances of the accident. Prior to this, from the age of 2-3, he remembered the name Rashid Kardegge, that he had lived in a town called Kfarmatta, which he had not visited, but could pronounce. He remembered details of the previous life, such as his occupation, and so on. His family were Druze, and the Druze accept re-incarnation; however the father had claimed to be skeptical. One weakness in this case was that the families had met before Stevenson did the first interview; in this meeting, the child appeared to know Rashid's sister and called out her name as soon as he saw her.
Subsequently a newspaper clipping of the accident was located, with great difficulty, on microfilm, by Stevenson's researchers, which neither family had seen. It confirmed some details of the accident which were unknown to any of the family, but which Daniel had been able to give an account of.
There are a number of other cases in Shroder's book. The pattern is always the same; child, usually from when they can speak, claims to be in the 'wrong family' or says 'you are not my mother', etc. Many of the cases in India involved a lot of travel on very poor roads to remote villages. Stevenson was meticulous in cross-checking, interviewing, digging up press stories, and the like. As mentioned above, he found a number of cases where children had birthmarks corresponding to the site of fatal injuries in the previous existence. These were always sort of 'trophy cases'. There are also a number of cases which were closed due to lack of corroboration or the possibility of fraud, and so on. But the most solid of the cases are very difficult or impossible to explain by other means, as I note below.
Reactions - as observed previously, most scientists ignore Stevenson. A skeptical researcher, Paul Edwards, wrote a book called Reincarnation: A Critical Examination
, highly critical of the concept of reincarnation. He was obliged to acknowledge, however, that Stevenson's responses, correspondence, documentation and general demeanour were always extremely thorough and professional, which left him with no choice but to claim that all the children interviewed, and their parents, the witnesses, and so on, were lying, consciously or otherwise. In itself, this is interesting, because it shows that the best the most skeptical and diligent of researchers could come up with about Stevenson's data was that it was all a massive conspiracy of some kind; the implications of the evidence itself could not be disputed. (There have been suggestions that they were a result of some kind of 'telepathic transfer of information' however this is obviously no less outlandish than the re-incarnation you are trying to disprove.)
My take - I didn't finish the Old Soul's book. Once you get over the fact that re-birth might actually happen, it is not that exciting (I hate to admit). But I encourage anyone interested to look into Stevenson's work and form their own view; I certainly don't want to persuade anyone reading this post that 'reincarnation occurs' but I would take exception to any suggestion that Stevenson was fraudulent, sloppy, mislead, or deluded, simply because what his data suggested 'could not possibly be the case'. He always conducted himself with a considerable degree of professional diligence and went to a lot of trouble to ensure that the evidence he collected would stand up to critical scrutiny, and I for one would like to honour that.
1. indeed one of the compelling, and somewhat poignant, facts about Stevenson's cases is the extremely ordinary nature of the remembered lives; far from being celebrities or princesses, most of the remembered lives were exceedingly ordinary and often ended in tragic or futile circumstances.