In 1910 at a séance in Grenoble, France the apport medium Charles Bailey produced two live birds in the séance room. Bailey was unaware that the dealer he had bought the birds from was present in the séance and he was exposed as a fraud. The psychical researcher Eric Dingwall observed the medium Bert Reese in New York and claimed to have discovered his billet reading tricks. The most detailed account at exposing his tricks (with diagrams) was by the magician Theodore Annemann.
The exposures of fraudulent activity led to a rapid decline in ectoplasm and materialization séances. Investigator Joe Nickell has written that modern self-proclaimed mediums like John Edward, Sylvia Browne, Rosemary Altea and James Van Praagh are avoiding the Victorian tradition of dark rooms, spirit handwriting and flying tambourines as these methods risk exposure. They instead use "mental mediumship" tactics like cold reading or gleaning information from sitters before hand (hot reading). Group readings also improve hits by making general statements with conviction, which will fit at least one person in the audience. Shows are carefully edited before airing to show only what appears to be hits and removing anything that does not reflect well on the medium.
In 1954, the psychical researcher Rudolf Lambert published a report revealing details about a case of fraud that was covered up by many early members of the Institute Metapsychique International (IMI). Lambert who had studied Gustav Geley's files on the medium Eva Carrière discovered photographs depicting fraudulent ectoplasm taken by her companion Juliette Bisson. Various "materializations" were artificially attached to Eva's hair by wires. The discovery was never published by Geley. Eugéne Osty (the director of the institute) and members Jean Meyer, Albert von Schrenck-Notzing and Charles Richet all knew about the fraudulent photographs but were firm believers in mediumship phenomena so demanded the scandal be kept secret.
In 1988, the magician Bob Couttie criticized the paranormal author Brian Inglis for deliberately ignoring evidence of fraud in mediumship. Couttie wrote Inglis had not familiarized himself with magician techniques. In 1990 the researcher Gordon Stein discovered that the levitation photograph of the medium Carmine Mirabelli was fraudulent. The photograph was a trick as there were signs of chemical retouching under Mirabelli's feet. The retouching showed that Mirabelli was not levitating but was standing on a ladder which was erased from the photograph.
On 4 February 1922, Harry Price with James Seymour, Eric Dingwall and William S. Marriott had proven the spirit photographer William Hope was a fraud during tests at the British College of Psychic Science. Price wrote in his SPR report "William Hope has been found guilty of deliberately substituting his own plates for those of a sitter... It implies that the medium brings to the sitting a duplicate slide and faked plates for fraudulent purposes." The medium Kathleen Goligher was investigated by the physicist Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe. On July 22, 1921 in a séance he observed Goligher holding the table up with her foot. He also discovered that her ectoplasm was made of muslin. During a séance d'Albe observed white muslin between Goligher's feet.
In old-line Spiritualism, a portion of the services, generally toward the end, is given over to demonstrations of mediumship through contact with the spirits of the dead. A typical example of this way of describing a mediumistic church service is found in the 1958 autobiography of C. Dorreen Phillips. She writes of the worship services at the Spiritualist Camp Chesterfield in Chesterfield, Indiana: "Services are held each afternoon, consisting of hymns, a lecture on philosophy, and demonstrations of mediumship."
In 1876, William Eglinton was exposed as a fraud when the psychical researcher Thomas Colley seized a "spirit" materialization in his séance and cut off a portion of its cloak. It was discovered that the cut piece matched a cloth found in Eglinton's suitcase. Colley also pulled the beard off the materialization and it was revealed to be a fake, the same as another one found in the suitcase of Eglinton. In 1880 in a séance a spirit named "Yohlande" materialized, a sitter grabbed it and was revealed to be the medium Mme. d'Esperance herself.
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In a series of experiments holding fake séances, (Wiseman et al. 2003) paranormal believers and disbelievers were suggested by an actor that a table was levitating when, in fact, it remained stationary. After the seance, approximately one third of the participants incorrectly reported that the table had moved. The results showed a greater percentage of believers reporting that the table had moved. In another experiment the believers had also reported that a handbell had moved when it had remained stationary and expressed their belief that the fake séances contained genuine paranormal phenomena. The experiments strongly supported the notion that in the séance room, believers are more suggestible than disbelievers for suggestions that are consistent with their belief in paranormal phenomena.
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Senses used by mental mediums are sometimes defined differently from in other paranormal fields. A medium is said to have psychic abilities but not all psychics function as mediums. The term clairvoyance, for instance, may include seeing spirit and visions instilled by the spirit world. The Parapsychological Association defines "clairvoyance" as information derived directly from an external physical source.