Paranormal Research

Michael Kundu has an interesting article at the Witches’ Voice (sorry, a bit old) discussing the history of paranormal research and some of its contemporary problems.

With the continual application of such poor or sensationalised methodologies, institutional support and funding for legitimate or unique, evidence-based research studies may also be increasingly judged and rejected, as the growing umbrella of amateur and charlatan groups, and media-hungry investigation teams continue to impugn the integrity of the field of paranormal research overall.

It should be understood that televised productions involving paranormal investigations are produced for two primary purposes: 1) for their prime value as highly viewed, pop-culture entertainment, leading to… 2) for their ability to generate significant levels of revenue for their production companies. As such, these programs should never be considered as objective or documentary programming. Pop-culture television series (such as Paranormal World, Scariest Places on Earth, Ghost Hunters International [GHI], etc.) , while maintaining a degree of entertainment value, are, at best, only capable of perpetuating the myths associated with psychical research. In fact, one of the most popular amateur ghost hunting groups engaged in such ‘pulp parapsychology’, the Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) , has been substantively accused of faking broadcast ‘evidence’ [9.] It has also been widely reported that many of these television shows refuse to release raw, unedited stock footage from their investigations to researchers in order for them to examine the material for evidence of fraudulent activities. Despite such groups’ popularity with their audiences, controversies, such as what TAPS and some other groups generate, tend to set back, and diminish the overall integrity of the field.

The incorrect use of devices such as infrared (IR) thermometers and electro-magnetic field (EMF) detectors is also common on such shows. Conclusions are persuasively presented by investigation leaders, based on subjective assessments of recordings or videotapes and personal interpretations, and without legitimately established baseline data or the application of genuinely scientific methodologies; tools are used without any precise understanding of how, or even if, their application has been established to prove the existence of apparitions, or the paranormal in general (assumptions such as ‘increases in magnetic fields or drops in temperature are always associated with the manifestation of an entity’, etc.) , seemingly intentional misrepresentations or events added to the application of artificial and sensational drama are also commonplace. While these are certainly valid theatrical techniques for increasing viewership interest and publicity ratings, they do serve to, again, diminish the integrity of the field and, in the long run, weaken the public’s belief in, and support for, more rigourous and defined psychical research efforts.

A very thorough analysis and history, and he addresses one of the primary failings of contemporary paranormal research: adherence to proper methodology. It doesn’t matter how compelling your evidence is or how many people witnessed or experiences X event if a skeptic can dismiss everything because your methodology is crap.

Which brings me to what I regard as the most annoying aspect of most modern ghost-hunting groups:

thousands of individuals, hereby charmed, empowered, or inspired by pop-cultural recognition opportunities provided by this ‘neo-clairvoyant’ movement, now profess to know how to sense spirits, to conduct ‘clearings’, or how to ‘channel’ entities and communicate with the departed.

Yes, the requisite “local psychic” who comes along with the investigators to “confirm” their impressions, contact the spirits responsible for the haunting, and send them on their way into the light of the hereafter.

Because as soon as you bring in a psychic you are no longer doing science.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people consulting psychics of good reputation and of people being able to clear nasty things from there homes. I myself have had the occasion to push a particularly nasty thing out of a friends home, which enabled her toddler to sleep through the night. But this should not be the goal of paranormal research. The goal of paranormal research is, well, research, and it should be firmly rooted in scientific methodologies and procedures so that the research and evidence collected is worth the paper it is printed on.

Bring in the Lightworkers(TM) afterward, if you must, but the presence of a psychic at all in a paranormal investigation compromises the validity and worth or all data collected.

And  therein lies an underlying conceptual problem that I have observed in most paranormal research: audience. Who is this research for? Research of this magnitude should be aimed at the scientific community, and given that they don’t seem to regard it with much seriousness, it is essential that researchers adhere strictly to procedural norms. The problem is that most of this kind of research is aimed instead at newagers and other paranormal researchers, who don’t care about such rigors. And that lack of methodology invalidates all of the work that such researchers do.

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