Update: Since publishing this post, the Stellar University website has been removed entirely.
When it comes to paranormal research it is often difficult to tell the amateurs from the experts. Some people will claim their opinions are those of an expert when they’re not and others offer expert opinions that do not fit with our view of the world and we want to reject them as amateurs. Trying to differentiate between those whose thoughts we can trust and those we can’t can become quite confusing. Parapsychology hasn’t had enough of experts if you’re wondering about the question in the title. Yet I reckon it has had enough of people claiming to be experts when they don’t appear to be once you look beneath the surface.
With the majority of parapsychologists, the route to their current position is pretty clearly laid out but then there are those who complete courses from the backs of magazines and correspondence course websites and label themselves as parapsychologists.
Telling these two groups of people apart at face value isn’t always easily achieved.
Recently, Doubtful News (DN) ran a story about Steve Mera and a piece of research of his, the report for which was found to have been severely plagarised. (Hill, S. 2016)
This DN piece piqued my interest in Mera’s credentials and I began to research into his studies. I was a little confused at what I found.
I should clarify at this stage that I thought this was worth exploring because Mera presents himself as a Parapsychologist and expert in the many organisations and projects that he is a part of. For example, on the Phenomena Project website, his bio states ‘In 1998 Steve completed two parapsychology diploma courses and one parapsychology degree. He is an associate member of the Unifaculty of London Forensic Parapsychology Unit’ (Phenomena Project, n.d).
Yet, as far as I can tell, the ‘Unifaculty of London Forensic (ULF) Parapsychology Unit’ doesn’t exist and the ULF is another name for the ‘College of Management Science’ (CMS) which is not recognised as an authentic degree awarding body. I checked this with the Higher Education Degree Datacheck (HEDD) service which is the official service for candidate verification and university authentication.
The CMS website explains that ‘The College of Management Science, BCM Unifaculty … offers distance learning courses and certification in paranormal investigation, parapsychology, paranormal phenomenon, past-life regression, future-life progression psychic phenomena, electronic voice phenomenon’ (Unifaculty Foundation, n.d).
It then explains in a paragraph or two beneath this that ‘The course fee for a single course is £325 or just three monthly instalments of £120‘.
I sure wish that the sum total of my student debt was less than £1,000!
While conducting my research I also discovered something called ‘Stellar University’. This organisation, which seems to be run by Mera as the tutor, offers four courses that people can enrol on covering a whole range of paranormal research subjects.
The website boasts that ‘since 1995, over 26,000 eager students from all walks of life have joined our correspondence courses … Some of our graduates joined international lecturers circuits, have written numerous books and some went all the way to professional levels.’ (Stellar university, 2016)
The website also states that the courses offered by ‘Stellar University’ are accredited by Manchester’s ‘Association of Paranormal Investigation & Training’ (MAPIT) and ‘The Scientific Establishment of Parapsychology’ (SEP), which sounds impressive actually. Until you realise that Mera runs both of these organisations. He is literally claiming that his courses are accredited by his own organisations and accreditation doesn’t work like that.
I wasn’t sure what this meant so I contacted HEDD by email to see if I could establish the facts. A member of staff confirmed that ‘any degree awarded by this body [Stellar University] will not be regarded as a recognised UK degree.’
‘In addition to this the word ‘university’ is a sensitive word under business and company name regulations and requires permission from Government prior to its use in any business or company name’
They continued, ‘A company wanting to use ‘university’ in a title first needs to seek the approval of the Secretary of State by virtue of section 55 Companies Act 2006 and the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2009.’
‘As far as our records show, ‘Stellar University’ has not applied for any application.’
As I explored the ‘Stellar University’ website I also noticed a list of people who were contributors to the courses and among the names were some that surprised me. Dr Steven Novella was among them; a highly respected skeptic, podcaster and science communicator, he seemed somewhat out of place. (Update: the contributor list has now been removed. A screenshot of the page from 3 Nov 2016 is available to view here.)
I reached out to Dr Novella by email to see what his involvement with the course had been. He replied ‘I have no idea who these people are and have no relationship with them.’
With all of this in mind, I decided to contact Steve Mera directly in an attempt to establish the facts behind his qualifications and ‘Stellar University’. I asked the following questions:
- I couldn’t find Stellar University among the ‘Recognised and Listed Bodies’ on the UK Government website. I also could not find you listed as an authentic degree awarding body on the HEDD website. I wondered if you could explain what you mean when you state that the courses are accredited?
- On your site, you state the courses are accredited by organisations that you also run but who else is the course accredited by?
- Have you obtained permission from the Secretary of State to use the term ‘university’ in your business name by virtue of section 55 Companies Act 2006 and the Company, Limited Liability Partnership and Business Names (Sensitive Words and Expressions) Regulations 2009?
- I have contacted people listed on your course website as contributors who do not recognise you, the course, or why they are listed. Could you elaborate on this?
- On your site, you state that 70 UK and 20 International organisations and establishments recognise the courses. Could you provide a list of these?
- Elsewhere, you say that you’re an associate member of the Unifaculty of London Forensic Parapsychology Unit. Could you tell me about your work with this unit and provide more information about the unit itself?
- Was your degree obtained via the College of Management Science?’
I waited six days for a response and then sent a follow-up email offering another chance to comment. In response, I received a reply from Mera stating that ‘our legal team and digital platform agency will respond‘. I then received a message from an email address linked to the website zoharstargate.com asking me to send my questions in written form by recorded post, explaining that I would need to allow 4-6 weeks for a response via post.
However, as I was simply attempting to clarify information I had already discovered I didn’t feel the need to do this. Everything I have written above is what I have found from exploring online. If anything I have written is incorrect I am more than happy to amend it. Indeed, this is why I contacted Mera in the first place (usually, an email back with the necessary information is sent in response but this did not happen!) With this in mind, I am confident that I supplied Steven Mera with enough opportunity to clarify any errors I may have made and to offer comment.
To conclude, Steve Mera’s research methodologies and the conclusions he reaches in his research are scientifically questionable. That he believes he is in an authoritative position from which to teach others how to research anomalous phenomena is alarming and, in my opinion, only serves to damage the field of paranormal research. It is unclear what his credentials actually are and he would not clarify this when given the opportunity.
To discover that he uses Dr Steven Novella’s name without his knowledge is concerning and could be viewed as misleading to potential students who visit the website.
Steve Mera, alongside Don Philips and the others involved in the ‘Phenomena Project’, are entering people’s homes and making all sorts of ludicrous claims about so-called evidence of the paranormal while using these credentials as an appeal to their authority on the subject which I don’t think is very fair.
The potential for harm here should be apparent to all. There is also potential for people who wish to study parapsychology to be misled into undertaking the courses offered by the so-called “Stellar University” because of the claims outlined above, resulting in them handing over money for something that is ultimately worthless training.
If you wish to study Parapsychology, the Parapsychological Association have a list of accredited organisations globally through which you can do so here. Oddly, the Stellar University, Unifaculty of London Forensic Parapsychology Unit, and the College of Management Science are not listed.
Hill, S. (2016) Doubtful News [Online]. Available at http://doubtfulnews.com/2016/09/facts-may-no-longer-matter-in-this-election-but-fact-checking-and-skeptical-activism-works/ (Accessed 3 November 2016).
Phenomena Project, The (n.d) [Online]. Available at http://www.phenomenaproject.tv/?page_id=161 (Accessed 3 November 2016).
Stellar University (c2016) [Online]. Available at http://stellaruniversity.com/ (Accessed 3 November 2016).
Unifaculty Foundation (n.d), College of Management Science [Online]. Available at http://www.unifaculty.com/html/paranormal_courses.html (Accessed 3 November 2016).
Featured image: Thinking Man – Yale Museum of Art, m01229, Flickr