Scientific or Scientifical?

About half of all amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs – those self-forming groups that do ghost hunting, Bigfoot searches, cataloging of UFO sightings, and other paranormalia) on the Internet say they use scientific methods and equipment and/or their field is based in science. [1]

As one who actually did scientific work in a lab (geochemistry) and geologic investigations, I had a hard time with their claims about scientificity. To be scientific, in a strict sense, there is no substitute for academic training. Long ago, we exhausted all the relatively simple ways of learning about the world and science rocketed out of the reach of amateurs. Now, like it or not, science takes a big effort – careful planning, funding, collaboration and eventual publication so that results can be critically evaluated by the community. In Western society, science is a privileged method of inquiry. The public generally understands that the methods of science are rigorous and the results are authoritative. So, to say that one is “scientific” is to set a very high bar. I could not help but wonder just how close to the bar these ARIG participants could get. So, I looked at their websites and read their publications.

I found there was not much that was actually scientific about their stated methods and publically available results. It was actually worse than I thought. Not only were they not even close to scientific methodology, philosophy or established norms, but they grossly misunderstood what it means to be scientific. [2]

Everyone wants science on their side. In the cases where the scientific consensus is NOT on your side, advocates for a position readily cobble together what they can that appears to be science. Perhaps that’s good enough for the public to buy into their argument. Perhaps they even accept it as legitimate. With a population that is sadly illiterate in how science works, faking it is an easy thing to do.

ARIGs exhibit “scienceyness” by presenting an image of how they think science should look – serious, detailed, systematic, technological, and sophisticated. They do this not only by throwing the words “science” and “scientific” around a lot, but also by use of jargon (“scientese”) and lots of equipment.

Ask any non-paranormally oriented investigator how to come to the best conclusion. It’s not through whiz-bang gadgets but by careful examination, observation and logical thought. Sometimes only a notebook and a keen eye are necessary. There is no discrete “scientific method”. It’s more of a mindset than a formal technique. And, it’s a quest for the BEST answer, not the answer you want.

The point of being scientific is be logical, to find a framework that fits your hypothesis and test within that, always being prepared to discard the ideas that don’t cut it. Scientifically-gained knowledge reflects the laws of nature, fits in with what have already established to be true, makes sense and, therefore, is reliable. Being scientific in answering a question about nature is the most reliable method we humans have devised.

Television and fiction give us a simplified and optimistic representation of science. It ends up being about the symbolism, not the ethos, of a scientist. What we see are the test tubes, the fancy words, the suggestion of complexity – all stereotypes of science. Since ARIG participants are not trained scientists, their guide to being scientific is the same as that to which the public has access. [3]

When a person or group adopt what they think is a scientific method, but fail to adopt the established practices and ethos of the scientific community that makes it so strong, they are not being scientific, but scientifical. Scientifical is a slang term I found that I thought described what most ARIGs do really well: they mimic. They produce a scientifical image. The public buys it. Go to a presentation by some local ghost hunters or even look at the comments on postboards for their fan sites. The public believes ARIGs are serious, credible researchers. Amateur groups have done a fine job of marketing themselves as authorities and experts on ghosts, UFOs and cryptids. One reason why they have succeeded is because the orthodox scientists eschew any involvement with such topics. The public has a great need to look to experts to answer questions. So, they gravitate to these socially-derived “experts” because they tell a good story. It sounds believable, it sounds scientific, it sounds legitimate.

By examining ARIGs publicly available presentations, reports and results, one can find a plethora of examples demonstrating scientific confusion, haphazard and subjective data collection, shoddy reporting, lack of critical analysis and unsubstantiated conclusions. ARIG data collection looks scientific because it’s often methodical and sometimes rigorous. [4] Of course there is all the technology. What the data from equipment truly represents is not clearly established. Instead, data sets are scoured for anomalies, which are extracted and categorized as paranormal.

Investigation writeups do not include the absolute BASICS of a scientific report: identification of a problem (unless a paranormal experience is assumed to have occurred), references to existing knowledge, and careful explanation of procedures to answer specific questions. The research questions OUGHT to be did anything happen here and, if so, what’s the most logical explanation. Instead, they seek to validate their paranormal beliefs. They presuppose a paranormal event. They are advocates for a pro-paranormal world view. That’s not science. It’s actually the opposite of science. When the desired answer is assumed and the rest is just decorative, it’s sham inquiry.

As I had anticipated, ARIGs use the culturally established authority of “science” as a stamp of legitimacy. They view sciencey-ness as a way to exhibit their seriousness and commitment to truth; it is used to project competence, professionalism, accuracy and honesty. Yet, they have only borrowed the authority of science instead of undertaking a rigorous process that would be much more difficult and perhaps a lot less fun. [5]

The media creates our image, however distorted, about how all of science works. The public sees more fake science portrayals than real in everyday life. Since the public is so easily accepting of the scientifical as a substitute for the genuinely scientific, we might be in some trouble.

—————
1. Based on my research thesis data. If you really want a copy of this, I can provide it.

2. ARIGs, defined as amateur groups, are not run by scientists nor do they even suggest that members should have any scientific background. According to member profiles on the sites, almost none do.

3. This is a good argument for getting more real scientists into the spotlight and out to the public, but that’s a separate issue.

4. Many ARIG sites will state outright that they don’t want thrill seekers or those not willing to commit to their codes of conduct and long hours.

5. I feel quite positive about the fact that ARIGs ARE trying their best to do science. It shows they want to be taken seriously and know using science is a best practice. But, you can’t learn a skill like that by winging it. You need training and guidance from professionals. I don’t mean “paranormal professionals,” either. In my opinion, any pro-paranormal group or individual who teach classes about the “science of ghost hunting” ought to be laughed out of town. Sadly, they aren’t.

NOTE: This website can be accessed via scientifical.info

About these ads

Published by

idoubtit

Http://SharonAHill.com

16 thoughts on “Scientific or Scientifical?”

  1. As I mentioned on Twitter, I think that the “paranormal” research groups are hiding behind words like paranormal and supernatural because they cannot bring any scientific credentials to support their work.

    I’m not saying that I think ghosts are not real. What I am saying is that if ghosts exist — other types of spirits, including God and demons — then they are not “outside the normal” or “beyond the natural”. Such beings should be viewed as completely normal and natural parts of our universe, even if we cannot understand them enough to explain what they are through the natural laws we have documented scientifically.

    What drew me to your article was your critical view of the ARIGs’ (Amateur Research Interest Groups) methods. They lack the guidance of the scientific community because, in part, the scientific community doesn’t take these ideas very seriously. You pointed out on Twitter that some scientists do — and I accept that, but I don’t see much evidence for it.

    Let’s take the topic of possible alien visitations, for example. NASA representatives have said — when asked by curious amateurs why NASA isn’t looking for proof that UFOs are aliens (or not) — that if there are really aliens visiting Earth, they should be landing on the White House lawn (Cf. the Fermi Paradox).

    The problem with arguments like the Fermi Paradox is that these are faulty questions designed only to deflect any scientific responsibility for asking WHAT and WHY. Without numerous legitimate scientific investigations of these phenomena we have no body of science on which to base these quick dismissals of claims of strange creature sightings, contact with non-corporeal entities, and visitations from space aliens.

    The scientific community’s reticence in investigating these matters throws non-scientists upon their own resources. Take the appearance of sea monsters on maps for hundreds of years. It’s only in the last 100 years that science has learned to accept the existence of things like the Colossal Squid (and stranger creatures from the deep). Fortuitous circumstance brought some of these creatures to light but it wasn’t until scientists stopped dismissing the rumors and actually set out to examine the claims scientifically that Coelecanths and Colossal Squid and other animals stepped out of myth and fossildom to be included in our documented ecosystem.

    So while I am disappointed in the paranormal investigative community’s reliance upon figurative speech as a psychological deflection against scientific criticism, I am also disappointed in the scientific community for not saying, “Enough! Let’s figure out what it would take to investigate and evaluate these claims and do however much work needs to be done to resolve the questions.”

    I had a Skype discussion with my friend Doctor Atlantis a month or two ago where I asked him about those K-2 meters and other electronic devices that paranormal investigators use. They seem both credible and nonsensical. At least one physicist says they are measuring natural random electromagnetic phenomena — but he hasn’t joined any of these investigative teams to test his assertions or evaluate their claims.

    And those ghost box thingees make for pretty convincing and entertaining television, but they aren’t even addressed by scientists. It seems that kind of technology could be easily evaluated for accuracy and reliability. But even if someone were willing to fund the research, who in the scientific community would be willing to apply for the grants? There is too great a stigma attached to the study of these types of claims.

    That’s a failing of science that only the scientists can be blamed for.

    1. Hi Michael. Good points you make. I’d like to address them:

      RE: “if ghosts exist — other types of spirits, including God and demons — then they are not “outside the normal” or “beyond the natural”. Such beings should be viewed as completely normal and natural parts of our universe…”

      This completely depends on your definition of ghosts (and God and demons but to a lesser extent). Ghosts have no definition. People experience what they interpret as ghosts or hauntings. Those experiences are real. The question is what caused those experiences. As a paranormal investigator, you can’t ever say we’ve exhausted all potential normal or natural explanations because you can never have ALL the information about everything. And, to follow, you can never jump to a paranormal conclusion. MANY ARIGs DO. All the time. Paranormal activity is their default conclusion. Logically, honestly, the best answer is “I don’t know”.

      But, yes, if you are looking the ghost experience, it may well be it comes out to be a natural, normal situation and they come under the umbrella of our scientific knowledge.

      RE: “[ARIGs] lack the guidance of the scientific community because, in part, the scientific community doesn’t take these ideas very seriously. You pointed out on Twitter that some scientists do — and I accept that, but I don’t see much evidence for it.”

      I do not agree with you here. I have scientific training and take paranormal investigation seriously – people experienced a frightening situation. Maybe the academics don’t have as much inclination, but I would be willing to work with paranormal groups to provide a more scientific perspective. My argument is that they don’t want that. They don’t want advice or critique because the methods they use now have gained them credibility with their clients, the public and the media. Why change? Science is hard. But look up the work of Richard Wiseman, Darren Naish and even Michael Persinger as examples of science of the paranormal or mysterious done via the scientific channels.

      RE: “Let’s take the topic of possible alien visitations, for example. NASA representatives have said…Without numerous legitimate scientific investigations of these phenomena we have no body of science on which to base these quick dismissals of claims of strange creature sighting….”
      RE: “I am also disappointed in the scientific community for not saying, “Enough! Let’s figure out what it would take to investigate and evaluate these claims and do however much work needs to be done to resolve the questions.”

      I’m going to dodge this whole NASA thing because I hesitate mightily to pull those scientists into the equation. They are not good examples. Government agencies are slow moving behemoths and there is more at play there than pure science. Hope you get my drift…
      Scientists have looked at myths like the Yeti, Bigfoot and Loch Ness. They have examine psi and even developed the entire field of parapsychology. They took UFOs serious for a while. Nothing panned out. Not even good leads to pursue. Time to change course! I like to think that they started to look at things a different way. Neurologically, physiologically, socially.

      Yes, they can do better but sometimes it takes an older generation to give way to a new one. My favorite examples are earthquake lights and ball lightning. These now have credibility that was originally denied because it was based on eyewitness accounts alone. All the anecdotes in the world weren’t going to help solve it anymore. It needed better evidence and that eventually came along. Maybe we have to wait for that better evidence to come along in these other fields to spur action.

      RE: “The scientific community’s reticence in investigating these matters throws non-scientists upon their own resources. Take the appearance of sea monsters on maps for hundreds of years. It’s only in the last 100 years that science has learned to accept the existence of things like the Colossal Squid (and stranger creatures from the deep). Fortuitous circumstance brought some of these creatures to light but it wasn’t until scientists stopped dismissing the rumors and actually set out to examine the claims scientifically that Coelecanths and Colossal Squid and other animals stepped out of myth and fossildom to be included in our documented ecosystem.”

      I agree that amateurs have filled in the space that science has rejected (for good reasons, see above). But I’m going to disagree with your examples. Those persons who recognized the coelacanth and the squid (squids – if two species?) were not amateurs (and, thus, these are not good example of cryptozoology in action or solving the mysterious.) This is a bit of a straw man argument, I think.

      I argue that ARIGs are not contributing to science in a meaningful way. I’m not saying they CAN’T, just not the way they are going about doing it right now.

      RE: “…K-2 meters and other electronic devices that paranormal investigators use. They seem both credible and nonsensical. At least one physicist says they are measuring natural random electromagnetic phenomena — but he hasn’t joined any of these investigative teams to test his assertions or evaluate their claims.”
      RE: “And those ghost box thingees make for pretty convincing and entertaining television, but they aren’t even addressed by scientists. It seems that kind of technology could be easily evaluated for accuracy and reliability.”

      What would that show if a physicist went on an investigation if the paranormal investigators already believe that the EM waves that K-2 meters translates to “ghost” energy? One can’t get over that presupposed notion of belief so easily.

      Why would ghost boxes be addressed by science? Even nonscientists can explain they are broken radios and recognize that not only is there no theoretical plausibility there but you are making a HUGE leap in logic and a ton of assumptions about what ghosts are, how they communicate, how to capture it, etc.

      While rare, there are some good examples of paranormal research (broadly speaking) done by qualified individuals and done right. I’m adding to my list of things to do…. Compile a list of good references reflecting how “scientists have studied the paranormal”. That’ll take a while.

      Thanks for your comments.

  2. I think you’re dodging the issue on the matter of ghosts and spirits. The definition is clear enough: disembodied or non-corporeal intelligences. Either they exist or they don’t. If they exist they are as natural as you and I. If they don’t exist then the experiences people have are the product of other natural processes. Either way, there is something completely natural at work.

    Again, I’ll accept what you say about scientific approaches to investigating these claims. From my perspective, such people have been given little to no attention in the general public (I have never heard of Richard Wiseman and the others you name, for example). The skeptic community is probably less well-known than the paranormal community so I don’t have much knowledge of how the paranormal claims are challenged, except for the occasional media reference to some academic.

    “Scientists have looked at myths like the Yeti, Bigfoot and Loch Ness. They have examine psi and even developed the entire field of parapsychology. They took UFOs serious for a while. Nothing panned out. Not even good leads to pursue.”

    Yes, I’m aware of scientific studies of claims of sightings. However, such studies are not looking at or for the phenomena themselves but rather at the evidence people offer for the phenomena. It’s a way of dodging the real issue. The Arab mathematician Alhazen devoted more science to the study of light waves than our academic community has devoted to the study of possible alien visitations. How many scientific teams have been assembled to investigate phenomena directly during mass sightings of UFOs, for example? I’ve never heard of one. Why are they not mentioned in all the UFO shows that discusses these events?

    We’ve spent 50 years funding SETI but we haven’t devoted even one year of serious research to developing methods for identifying these flying things that people see. The 2011 UFO research is a joke.

    Even if the scientific studies of the 1960s had done something other than catalogue sightings and attempt to cross-reference them with known phenomena, that’s not a credible method for explaining what people saw — and our technologies are far more advanced now. As long as the scientific community doesn’t take the subject seriously, there is no reason to take the scientific community’s dismissal of the topic seriously.

    “I argue that ARIGs are not contributing to science in a meaningful way. I’m not saying they CAN’T, just not the way they are going about doing it right now.”

    So what’s to stop you and other skeptics from forming ARIGs that take the approach you advocate?

    “What would that show if a physicist went on an investigation if the paranormal investigators already believe that the EM waves that K-2 meters translates to ‘ghost’ energy? One can’t get over that presupposed notion of belief so easily.”

    We can listen to 1 stream of evidence coming from the field or we can compare 2 streams of evidence. In order to truly evaluate these claims we would have to have an abundance of scientific experiments that attempt to reproduce and identify the causes of these phenomena in such a way that the assumptions are challenged (allowing for the possibility that they might be verified).

    “Why would ghost boxes be addressed by science? Even nonscientists can explain they are broken radios and recognize that not only is there no theoretical plausibility there but you are making a HUGE leap in logic and a ton of assumptions about what ghosts are, how they communicate, how to capture it, etc.”

    But THAT is the essence of science. You make an assumption (a hypothesis) and you challenge (test) it. Science cannot function without assumptions. Neither can it dismiss them. That’s completely unscientific.

    It’s not enough to say that someone is making an assumption. Einstein made some assumptions. When he set out to produce the math to show his assumptions were correct, he got the math wrong. And yet, after years of persistence his math eventually worked out and he produced the theory of relativity — which was not accepted until it was subjected to several years’ worth of rigorous scientific investigation involving expensive world-spanning expeditions to track solar eclipses.

    We cannot afford the luxury of dismissing claims simply because they are not put forth by postal clerks and amateur astronomers. But neither can we afford to simply live with those claims because they are popular with the media and the public. We should be making legitimate efforts to find out what is really going on.

    As far as I can see, more scientific investigation is devoted to the parting of the red sea than to the possibility that something unearthly may be occasionally doing a random flyby.

    1. First, let me start off by saying it appears you need to do some homework and become more acquainted with the various scientific exploration into the paranormal. Long history there. Since you haven’t heard of those I mentioned, we aren’t starting from the same place. It will be long and difficult to discuss it. I’d suggest, for start:

      Richard Wiseman‘s page
      Tetrapod Zoology: Cryptozoology
      Bob Carroll’s A short history of Parapsychology
      and the book UFO’s: A Scientific Debate edited by Carl Sagan, et al

      But I found these quotes that summarize at least the UFO angle (taken from Skeptic Dictionary):

      Edward U. Condon was the head of a scientific research team which was contracted to the University of Colorado to examine the UFO issue. His report concluded that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge…further extensive study of UFOs probably cannot be justified in the expectation that science will be advanced thereby.”

      Finally, it should be noted that UFOs are usually observed by untrained sky watchers and almost never by professional or amateur astronomers, people who spend inordinate amounts of time observing the heavens above. These untrained observers have been aided by the availability of inexpensive video cameras, yet despite the enormous increase in volume of such cameras, there has been a drop in the number of UFO observations. Anyway, one would think that astronomers would have spotted some of these alien craft by now. Perhaps the crafty aliens know that good scientists are skeptical and inquisitive. Such beings might pose a threat to the security of a story well told.

      The definition of a ghost is not at all clear. Listen to What is a Ghost podcast here. There are hypothesis that some ghosts are residual energy that replays itself. They may be psychic projections. Are they soul remnants? What if they are non-living like trains or boats? Some recent hauntings are attributed to demons. If it’s so muddled, how to begin? How do we measure something we must define by resorting to suspension of established physical laws? We’ve not been able to define it because the experience of a ghost/haunting is STRONGLY culturally based. If you are going to test it in a scientific way, as you describe, you can use “disembodied or non-corporeal intelligences” as your operational definition. But it won’t be everyone’s preferred definition and people will dispute the findings. You have to start on grounds of agreement. That’s VERY hard to find in the paranormal field since we haven’t established the answer to the most basic question — Did anything even happen? Do these supposed agents even exist?

      In regards to your allegations that scientists study “the evidence people offer,” are you saying that they don’t gather evidence themselves? That’s not true. Parapsychologists have a huge body of experimental data. One can’t observe ghosts, UFOs or cryptids all that easily. I’d be fascinated to hear how we could gather a team of scientists for a mass sighting! How would we know when one is coming? How would you study it?

      There’s a reason why UFO research is now a joke: because there’s nothing to go on. All these decades later, there is STILL nothing to go on. What would you suggest as a research plan for UFO sightings that exist today? Consider that evidence we have is almost exclusively eyewitness accounts. What are the new technologies that would be used? What would be the research questions? Where would the data come from?

      Your statement: “As long as the scientific community doesn’t take the subject seriously, there is no reason to take the scientific community’s dismissal of the topic seriously,” makes no sense. One does not follow logically from the other. I strongly advise NOT to assume credible information comes from TV shows, you have to dig in the literature — OF BOTH (or multiple) SIDES.

      The quest for scientific knowledge is based in that which we have already established as true or likely true. In other words, science builds upon itself. It does not arise from nothing. Mystery claim “A” is not a new idea; the evidence for “A” is NO BETTER QUALITY after all these years. It’s no more plausible, there has been no progress. It’s no wonder serious scientists abandoned the study of “A”. However, IF there ever was a credible lead, there would be a rush of interested professionals to examine it. Until that time, they focus on research that gets them to some real world answers about nature.

  3. I have one question for Michael. You want scientists to take a more active part in researching ghost phenomena. Just how do you propose to can go about it in a purely scientific way?

    The method the ARIGs do their research is obviously not scientific. Recording sound, video and measuring electronomical fields sounds tech savy enough, but there can be many faults with it. Mics, cables, wires, hardware, software (most of these gadgets are digital equipment) can all be faulty and thereby feed you false data. These are not good ways to research ghosts. I think the fact that ARIGs have used this method for decades now and still no solid data confirms that.

  4. @Torkel: “You wants scientists to take a more active part in researching ghost phenomena. Just how do you propose to can go about it in a pure scientific way?…Mics, cables, wires, hardware, software…can all be faulty.”

    One method would be to repeat their investigations (as documented) and evaluate the results directly. For example, if a scientific study of 100 paranormal investigations could not replicate any sights or sounds, that would say something about the evidence being collected.

    But let’s assume that out of that 100 replications *some* of the results were apparently duplicated. Then the results themselves could be investigated more thoroughly. If they cannot be *disproven* in a peer-reviewed methodology, we have a collection of phenomena that deserve further analysis.

    Knowing that equipment can do flaky things doesn’t mean that is what these ARIGs are experiencing. Knowing that people can misinterpret what they see doesn’t mean they ARE misinterpreting. We don’t trust what we’re hearing because it isn’t being subjected to rigid scientific investigation.

    Maybe the scientific investigation happens as Sharon points out and it’s just missing from my (and other people’s) radar because it’s not as entertaining. I’d love to see the “Science” channel and NatGeo bring some of that science forward without sensationalizing it.

    1. ARIGs could do the repetition you say, but they don’t. It’s not fun, it’s a lot of work. Controls would be needed. They are too eager to get on to the next site or investigation.

      The point here is that scientists know and understand their instruments and what they measure. (Ever try to design a survey “instrument”? It’s extremely difficult to measure exactly what you wish to measure and not something complelely different.)

      Some science has appeared on TV, it’s very rare. But, there are examples of skeptically minded shows rejected by networks because, they say, viewers don’t want to see a mystery solved. Huh? Well, maybe they don’t but I do.

  5. I agree that in order to discuss the subject more knowledgeably there is plenty of research that I would need to do to bring myself up to date. Nonetheless, it’s the lack of visibility from the scientific community that is making it hard for people like me (who don’t spend much time on this topic) see what science has brought forth. (And I’ll grant I can’t blame the scientific community for not being at the top of the cable TV industry’s list of people to do shows about.)

    Decades ago I read plenty of UFO debunking articles and books that offered virtually no science other than “scientists haven’t seen any of this stuff”. That doesn’t really debunk anything. Scientists haven’t actually seen extra-solar planets but after many years of trying they’re more comfortable talking about such things.

    Where UFOs are concerned, unless someone comes forward with claims of being able to summon them, we’ll have to ask that the various pictures and videos be studied (as they have been). Not all have been debunked (and some professional and amateur astronomers HAVE shared accounts of UFO encounters but they claim to have been ignored…I am in no position to verify their statements). So there is certainly room for further study even if nothing new has come out on the side of the “evidence”. We do, as I noted above, still have advances in technology to consider. Maybe the technologies aren’t ready for new examination of the evidence but one day they should be.

    As for ghosts — well, based on the TV shows I see they seem to be bigger than Bigfoot or Nessie at the moment in the public’s eye. :)

    Listening to the podcast now.

    I think I should leave it here. I don’t want to repeat myself endlessly and wear out my welcome. I appreciate your responses. You’ve given me some things to look at.

    1. There is always the chance that a new technology will allow us to observe something we have never been able to observe before. Actually, the ghost hunters count on that. But, it’s sort of a lame thing to count on considering the evidence so far can’t even establish that something is happening.

      Thanks for visiting.

  6. Don’t these groups do a lot of testing? They go to a haunted place, do their thing, then go on to the next haunted place and do the same thing. Yet, we have no conclusive evidence or data to collect at all. And some of the more active groups do this often.

    So I don’t necessarily think it’s a lack of repeated tests that’s the most difficult thing in regards to go about this scientifically. The most difficult thing is to figure out just what are we looking for. What are ghosts? What is a spirit or a demon or God? These are purely philosophical questions. Saying we’re looking for invisible people who makes noises just seem like an easy way out of the question. And not very scientific way to go about the question either.

    And of course you have the question, how do we know that what these ARIGs do is the best way to go about looking for the existence of ghosts/spirits/demons?

    1. More like “collect data” and I use that term loosely because their methods are lax and they do nothing systematic with it. It’s pretty worthless. But, like I said, it doesn’t have to be. Better protocol would yield better data. But then you can’t assume that any anomalies that come up in the data are “ghosts” or “paranormal”. We’ll always have stuff where you just have to conclude “I don’t know”.

      If these things ARE presumed to be supernatural – outside nature – then we can’t test them. So, yeah, science drops out at that point. We know what they do is not the best way, they haven’t found the buggers yet :-P

  7. Certainly, some pseudoscientists try to sound scientific to give themselves the impression of legitimacy. I agree that this is in part because scientists aren’t being active enough in denouncing pseudoscience and challenging it in public.

    However, I would also add that a great deal of pseudoscience is extremely aggressive against science. In particular, “alternative knowledge” people, like Lloyd Pye, David Icke and so on, accuse science of being unreliable, conspiratorial, arrogant, and unquestioning of received dogmas. See here, for example: http://www.lloydpye.com/essay_sciencewrong.pdf (pdf file)

    I have observed that hostility to science is roughly proportional to the number of completely unrelated nonsense claims that a pseudoscientist – or crank – makes.

    I have a blog post about such cranks (termed “magnetic cranks” for their ability to attract multiple nonsense). See here: http://lukesci.wordpress.com/2011/07/03/on-crank-magnetism-towards-a-quantified-model/

    Finally, I would add that one way pseudoscience can be hostile to proper science is by portraying it as an aggressor against other points of view. So the idea here is that science needs “proof” and “studies,” to show, e.g. that medical treatments work, which – the cranks imply – is inhumane, since it neglects people’s personal experiences (e.g. with homeopathy or faith healing). Same for astrology, ghosts, etc. Science is portrayed as hostile to the sensitivity of individuals who prefer to claim “it works for me.” Such people are easy pickings for cranks because they tend to have little appreciation of scientific rigour and what it means for assessing if something is true. This lays the foundation for the crank to fill their minds with garbage.

    I think that’s a serious phenomenon.

  8. “As one who actually did scientific work in a lab (geochemistry) and geologic investigations, I had a hard time with their claims about scientifically. To be scientific, in a strict sense, there is no substitute for academic training. Long ago, we exhausted all the relatively simple ways of learning about the world and science rocketed out of the reach of amateurs. Now, like it or not, science takes a big effort – careful planning, funding, collaboration and eventual publication so that results can be critically evaluated by the community. In Western society, science is a privileged method of inquiry.”

    Oh puh-lease! Will you please come down from the ivory tower for a little bit? That is so far from the truth, it borders on the offensive.

    You’re focusing on some cranks and declaring that anyone who does not have a PhD, a number of published articles and multibillion dollar laboratory is incapable of contributing anything to science and that’s simply not true.

    Amateurs can and do contribute to science. People tinkering in their garage do occasionally upset the scientific consensus. No, it does not happen often, and of course, when it does happen, it’s entirely based on good evidence-based claims that go on to be verified by professional scientists. But, it does, on occasion, happen.

    I’m sorry I do not have the article and I can’t seem to find it, but a few years ago a guy in my area was tinkering with some chemicals in an attempt to make a new kind of plastic resin that was more to heat and flames. He found one that seemed to work. Some university professors and scientists reviewed it. it turned out he did indeed develop a new molecule that had flame-resistant properties. He came up with a method of modifying the chemical structure that nobody had ever discovered before. It had previously been believed that it would not be possible to make a plastic with these properties.

    Of course he’s not alone. Amateur radio enthusiasts are known for having developed some systems and technologies that went on to become highly developed mainstream products. Some of them are very very science-based. This includes things like methods of analyzing antenna phasing and speech coding. (I suppose in that case you might have to argue about the line between scientific discovery versus invention)

    Others have made scientific discoveries in areas that they were familiar with but which had not been examined by professional scientists. For example, fire fighters had observed certain burn patterns and flame propagation that had not been known to science. Since it effected their safety directly, some of them made an effort to scientifically document how certain types of flash over or flame vortexes can happen. The data turned out to be right and they helped advance the science of fire protection.

    You might also be surprised how damn good farmers can get at collecting extremely valuable scientific data, some of which has been published in scientific journals. Farmers keep close tabs on how their crops do and what the conditions are etc. They have documented how certain strans of crops have had unexpected tolerances to drought or are especially efficient at absorbing nitrogen. It can and does end up in the scientific literature.

    Astronomy is another area. There’s a lot of sky to cover and professional telescopes don’t have the time to sweep it all. Amateurs have discovered numerous asteroids and comets.

    Not just that. Hobbyists have build some downright amazing equipment. I mean things like particle accelerators built out of surplus diffusion pumps and x-ray transformers. They’re built professional quality laser holography systems, passive radar, test equipment. One that stands out in my mind was a college student who, for fun, built a small nuclear fusion reactor. He made a design that simplified existing designs and was easier to build. In the process he inadvertently created a much cheaper way of building a neutron generator than had ever been thought of before.

    and no, science does not require big expensive tools. Keeping good observations and just viewing with your own eyes can be sufficient. It could be something as simple as collecting samples from ponds for multiple years and measuring the algae content to see if it changes in relationship to vehicle traffic in the area. yes, such studies have been published, even when done by non-professionals as long as they conform to the proper standards.

    It doesn’t need to be complicated. If you understand the very basic standards of rigor and methodology, you too can go out and collect data that is as valid as anyone else’s.

    Science does not belong to anyone and is open to everyone. its the content, not the messenger. Great science makes great scientists. it’s not the other way around.

    it’s just an issue of not getting ahead of yourself and starting to go into areas you don’t understand and start presuming you’re smarter than everyone else or think that just because you bought an EMF meter or a thermal camera you are a true researcher. Know your limits and do your research and you can do real valuable science. Usually the science that is in the grasp of most people is simple and rather unexciting, like discovering an asteroid of no concentrate that won’t be seen again for 10,000 years or something, but who knows? You just might discover something actually new. It has happened, even if I would not bet on it.

  9. Stephen (drbuzz0), you missed the point of the post (or I didn’t make it clear). The point is that these groups are saying they are scientific when they couldn’t even explain what it means to be so. They are attempting to “prove” the existence of life after death, of manlike monsters in the woods, of psi powers and of alien life visiting earth. Those are claims they are not only ill prepared to tackle but are woefully mistaken about their methods. To go around telling the public that their investigations are scientific is what is most offensive and is detrimental to the public.

    I admit that someone else (Reed) brought up on Twitter that he wishes there were some other term I’d use than “amateur”. Got any suggestions? These people qualify. But conscientious amateurs know they need to present their work up the chain to get it validated and recognized. Here are where ARIG participants drop the ball.

    I made a clear definition in my work for amateur groups – they are not operating under the auspices of an institution nor present their work through professional scientists. Most amateur work that you cite willingly give their data to scientists who can use it. When asked these ARIGs what they have to give to scientists, they say, “Eh, they wouldn’t want any of it.” Most amateur discoveries that you mention don’t exist outside the parameters of physical laws. They don’t come with preconceived belief in paranormal explanations. That’s a fundamental difference between real inquiry and sham versions we see TV ghost hunters doing.

  10. There are some “professionals” out there who do a very good job at investigating the paranormal, but it usually does not get them much attention because it generally results in them discovering that there is a very reasonably grounded explanation behind the claims.

    That just does not make for good television.

    Investigating these kind of claims is really a hybrid pursuit. It’s part being a formal scientist, part being a detective and part being a psychologist.

    It really depends on the circumstances, but simply having a background in an area of formal science does not necessarily make someone the best candidate for this. The reason this is the case can be seen in cases like Project Alpha or the frauds perpetrated by Uri Geller. The problem is that the scientists who investigated Geller’s claims were competent scientists, but their field really did not apply to the situation.

    The scientists who tested Geller were physicists. Most physicists deal primarily with theory and not so much with experimental science. Those who do don’t usually have human subjects and pretty much never need to worry about intentional trickery creeping in nor do they have any idea how to spot it.

    If you look at the videos of these experiments, they break the most simple rules. They’re so busy making sure that the equipment is not sensitive to an external magnetic field, they forget to consider that Geller could bump the table with his foot and create a reading and they fail to keep close observation on the most likely routes by which erroneous data could enter the experiment.

    I believe these investigations are a lot like detective work in that you can’t learn how to do them well entirely in the classroom or from books. Police detectives usually leave the academy and then work their way up as they gain experience working on different cases. They learn to recognize some the tricks and what things work and don’t. Of course, there’s hard science in it too.

    So who does a good job at investigating these claims?

    Joe Nickle is probably the single best example I can think of.

    If you want someone who has a more thorough academic scientific background, Richard Wiseman. Another might be Christopher French.

    I think something you might be getting at is the idea of having a group of amateurs who want to contribute to paranormal research but do it in a real scientific way. There are groups analogous to this that operate in other areas of science. For example, there are groups where lay persons can volunteer their time to help survey and study an archeological site. They get the satisfaction of contributing to science by doing a lot of the leg work, but it’s always under the guidance and supervision of trained professionals.

    There are also groups for amateur astronomers where they can coordinate asteroid and comment searches. When they think they found one, they can have other amateurs check to verify it and if it is verified, it is sent to a professional observatory for final confirmation. It’s something like “crowdsourcing” for the data.

    What these groups have in common are a few important things. First, they are working under the guidance and direction of well qualified people. Secondly, they know their limits and those involved know better than to declare that they’ve discovered an ancient culture or an earth-killing asteroid. They understand that they are primarily data collectors and that the final verification requires that their observations are confirmed and properly interpreted.

    I think that universities and other organizations that have such outreach programs are great, but this might not work so well with the paranormal. The reason is simple: Nobody wants to go out hunting for ghosts and not find any.

  11. while i cannot speak to the ghost phenomenon i do know a bit about the bigfoot thing, in the bigfoot research community there are an abundance of untrained(non-phd) investigators,but it should be noted there are also a number of phd’ed researchers. it would be a mistake i think to dismiss their findings and opinions. while geology may not be their forte” they do have credentials in pertinent feilds and do engage in field work eg krantz,meldrum,bindernagel,and more.► http://www.texasbigfoot.com/index.php/about-bigfoot/articles/90-anatomy-and-dermatoglyphics-of-three-sasquatch footprints i would draw your attention to the individuals,their credentials and conclusions in the adendum, it should be noted that these are not bigfooters ,but are quite clear about what they saw. i have read the csicop casting artifact counter to this report but have to wonder if these forensic profesionals would be fooled by such an obvious problem for any plaster casting

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s