LEAVE the ghost and UFO hunters alone! say paranormalists. Your thoughts?

Standard

I was recently a guest on a paranormal-themed podcast. To set the context, I was the FIRST skeptic on this long-running show, Binnall of America. I was so very pleased for the opportunity and, if you listen, you will see that it was respectful and fun discussion. I loved it and thought it was truly worthwhile. But not everyone did.

I’m currently looking into the relationship between “skeptics” and “paranormalists” (is there a better word?) and will be writing about it in depth in the future but I would REALLY love feedback on the episode.

It’s here.

But since 2 hours is a big commitment of time, I would also appreciate comments on this one description that accompanied the show, from The Anomalist.

How can one bridge the gap between paranormal researchers of all stripes with skeptics? By hearing out the other side. Tim Binnall has a long interview with skeptic Sharon Hill. The common ground covered here is going after homeopaths and antivaxxers who ultimately hurt people. We question the invective directed towards ghost hunters and company, comparing them to juggalos for instance, whose greatest crime is trespassing in a place regular people don’t care about. The application and advancement of science would be better spent pursuing curing cancer, developing renewable energy, and cleaning the environment than taunting sexagenarians with MUFON as their homepage. Whether you agree or not, this episode is provocative to say the least.

Just to note, Tim compared them to “juggalos”, not me. He is not a fan. Frankly, I’m not either, generally, but I find it socially fascinating and there are many who really TRY to do a good job and want to help people. But that’s not my concern. My focus is what appears to be a confused idea about applying skepticism just to “curing cancer, developing renewable energy, and cleaning the environment”. I don’t know ANYONE who is “taunting sexagenarians with MUFON as their homepage.” Straw man. And woman.

This opinion was also echoed in a twitter discussion between @whoforted and @dailygrail. So, it’s a typical sentiment – to keep skepticism/science only to the places where it apparently REALLY harms people and let the paranormalists just have fun.

I have my opinions on this but I would greatly appreciate hearing yours.

About these ads

46 thoughts on “LEAVE the ghost and UFO hunters alone! say paranormalists. Your thoughts?

  1. Where does the line between harm and no harm exist? I think that falsely claiming knowledge where there is no knowledge or evidence to the contrary IS harm, necessarily.

    Additionally, people who don’t agree with that should check out this wonderful site that highlights the harm from pseudo-scientific beliefs:

    http://www.whatstheharm.net

  2. I think that there needs to be less flat out dismissal of the paranormal by skeptics and a renewed effort on the paranormal investigators side to bring some critical thinking skills to the game. Truth in advertising, do not claim to be a scientific group and then simply repeat what you saw on TV. If you are in it for the fun, just say so. If you are trying to find viable evidence, educate yourself and learn how the scientific method works.
    As a paranormal investigator I believe that the burden of proof falls to the investigators, as do the burdens of credibility and professionalism.

  3. I really do think that people take paranormal investigation, ufology, cryptozoology, etc. far too seriously. By that, I mean everyone–myself included–should be able to laugh at themselves and the absurdity and insanity that comes with the field, but mostly the craziness that comes from what I call the “staunch believer camp” who simply know things as “fact” whether they might conflict with reality or not.

    Having said that, though, skepticism is mandatory in these fields. It’s fine to maintain an objective viewpoint and observe without criticism, but when you’re announcing that every light in the sky is a UFO; every crackle on an audio tape is a dead guy trying to avenge his murder; every howl in the woods is some half-man, half beast… you’re not really being honestly “scientific”.

    And pointing out these things (along with providing rational possibilities) is probably why people don’t invite me out to ghost hunt anymore.

    I guess I’d consider myself a skeptical optimist. By that I mean I search for any and all possible explanations for anomalous phenomena, yet–as that famous Mulder poster stated–“I want to believe”. Yes, I want to believe that strange, unknown creatures might exist. I want to believe that the phenomena we call ghosts isn’t just a psychological trick, but some explainable bizarre phenomena. And as doubtful as things might be, it’s impossible to say definitively that something doesn’t exist, only that it’s extremely unlikely. At the same time, i do love good stories and historical folklore. Sometimes, the most absurd story can lead you down a path to some really weird truth behind the legend. That’s the thing that fascinates me the most: evolution of truth to legend.

    But like most people, I want to see some proof. Not what the Bible says about something or superstitions people have relayed for decades reported to be known facts. Poet Ralph Hodges once said, “Some things have to be believed to be seen.” Well, in my case things need to be seen to be believed, and even then I don’t always trust my eyes. But if I see a Sasquatch stroll by in front of me, witness household objects flying through the air without the aid of strings or wires, or have a close encounter of the third kind, you can bet I’ll be giving those strange events some serious thought.

      • spookyparadigm

        This is a comment to your bit on Puma Punku below. Probably the first step would be to stop calling it that, as it is referred to in the literature as Tiwanaku. While the name of the particular pyramid is Puma Punku, calling it that is pretty much a linguistic trace that one has heard primarily about it from the ancient aliens side of things. Tiwanaku and its larger state/phenomenon (its nature is not entirely understood, nor its “rivalry” with the Wari state/phenomenon, though this is coming from someone who only somewhat knows Andean archaeology, and not an actual expert) could of course use some more study, but I don’t think it is quite as mysterious as the History Channel would lead one to believe.

    • spookyparadigm

      That’s the dirty little secret of skepticism, isn’t it? Most of the “bigfoot skeptics” a term used by others in the secular community to attack those they don’t like as doing irrelevant things (again, glass houses for some of these people who are just defending other parts of science, though others really are doing serious consumer protection stuff but that’s usually not the people yelling said epithet), ARE interested in these topics. And if they get angry, it is often because the only “work” on said topic is either poorly constructed pseudoscience, “true believers,” people just having fun telling stories, or folks actively promoting stories they don’t necessarily believe but can sell regardless if they’re true.

      Carl Sagan once entertained the ancient astronaut hypothesis, both in general, and even with specifics (the Oannes story). And then with time he learned more about it, and decided that while he’d be happy to see someone find evidence, the stuff that was out there was pretty clearly not evidence of ancient extraterrestrial contact. Houdini started the whole “magicians becoming skeptics” thing when he was interested in contacting the dead, and find only charlatans.

      And so on, so many skeptics have a similar “origin story” if you will. But they also quickly realize, as you note, that this form of self-reflexivity will quickly get one ejected from “the paranormal community.” And while the “mainstream science ignores these claims” argument has held water in the past, and still does to some degree, that tide has turned. You name the “mystery” and increasingly, there is scientific literature that addresses it. Its just that the answers they suggest aren’t the desired ones.

      • Houdini played a hugely important role in debunking Spiritualism. And I think people like him still hold a very important position today in being the “voice of reason” in the paranormal community. I can understand Sagan’s curiosity with ancient astronaut theory, though for me the only puzzling thing left is Puma Pumku… that’s one archaeological site that seriously needs a lot more study.

        I think there is this huge polarity between “skeptics” and “believers”, and I think the warring between both extreme sides is more Hatfields vs. McCoys than productive discourse. But “skeptical people” are not quite the same, and they are very important, even if they’re often shut out of the “mainstream paranormal community” and its fanatical followers.

        I do think, though, that not enough cases or phenomena have been approached in a way where scientific literature would even consider publishing the findings. People get hung up on fiddling with parlor tricks and not forming a testable hypothesis. That’s why we have people running around proclaiming ghosts are made of electromagnetic energy and such. And so much of it all has to do with this entanglement between the paranormal and religion, which really needs to go. But that’s one battle that no sane person who values their life wants to take on. lol

  4. RDW

    An individuals flawed belief system is sort of like a series of thin patinas of “Mistaken-ness”. If you can manage to convince a person to step away from a belief in, say Flying Saucers or Bigfoots, you might very well have enabled them to move clear of every flawed idea that they’ve acquired in their life. Real knowledge hasn’t come quickly or easily to our species. Fear of the unknown and delusion have more or less ruled us. But enlightenment might arrive quickly if we have enough good sensible people serving up good sense. To state that it’s a waste of time and effort to assemble simple facts and lay them out where they can be scrutinized and mulled over, is a bit patronizing, to say the least. You can’t insult somebody, generally speaking, and expect them to come over to your way of thinking. You can’t “Demand” that an individual drop something that they might hold very dear, such as a religion, for instance. One might only hope that they might make the journey on their own. And to make that happen, you need to have a pretty diverse grouping of factoids laid out. That is precisely what Ms. Hill set out to do, and has done quite well, for a long, long, time. Her critics are lacking in tactical foresight, in my opinion. She is doing (Her allies,too) an excellent job.

  5. First, as you noted, this whole sentence is a straw man: “The application and advancement of science would be better spent pursuing curing cancer, developing renewable energy, and cleaning the environment than taunting sexagenarians with MUFON as their homepage. I, for one example, do not have the necessary knowledge to find a way to cure cancer. I do, however, possess SOME of the knowledge necessary to point out when ghost/UFO hunters are peddling their particular brand of nonsense.

    Moving on from that, the theme of the comment seems to be that we should ignore a lesser evil in favor of a greater one. Belief in ghost/UFO hunting is NOT necessarily harmless. There are those who truly believe their home is haunted and it is causing them great psychological harm. These people may need true medical attention to address the real cause of their situation, but the ghost hunting TV shows have permeated our collective consciousness to such a degree that it may seem like more of a truth to believe the house is haunted than to believe that psychiatric help is needed.

    Of course, there are also the cases (admittedly and thankfully few) where ghost/UFO hunting has actually hurt or even killed somebody, because sometimes those old “haunted” houses may not be the safest places to be. And UFO belief led to belief in alien abductions and regression therapy to “recover” memories that never existed — seriously disturbing numerous lives in the process.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ghost/UFO hunting may be seen as just a symptom of an overall situation where people are not thinking critically/skeptically/scientifically. If they believe in ghosts, what’s to stop them from believing the ghost can cure their cancer? It may seem like a leap, but to many of those who believe, it might not be.

    All in all, is it worth skeptics speaking out on such topics? Unequivocally YES.

  6. spookyparadigm

    The anti-science approach by all of the people mentioned here is unsurprising, because it hurts their business model (be it publishing books, or making videos for the lulz). My response, and I just did briefly respond on twitter, is that at least I am doing my job. As an archaeologist, it is my job to help people understand the past, both through researching it, and communicating the broader body of research to the public when I can, be that in the classroom or elsewhere. Given how commonly the “fairy tales” (funny how people dedicated to the paranormal think so little of what they spend their time on) are peddled as real especially in the popular media, and how often I am asked about them, if I don’t address these claims, I argue that I’m not doing my job.

    To be fair, I somewhat get their point. I think that there isn’t much point in attacking the claims of those who are “just out on the weekend.” One, because there just isn’t the time to do so. But that’s not what skeptics usually focus on. One focus is on the claims, explaining them because people do have questions about them. I get asked questions all the time about archaeological “mysteries.” I answer them. I have found it is easier to answer them by actually knowing a little about them, rather than just dismissing them. That’s pretty much it. But of course, by doing so, that’s getting rid of the fairy tales, as whoforted laments. It’s funny they put it that way, since globally fairies or similar mid-level supernatural entities are commonly involved in stories about archaeological ruins and artifacts (fairies in Europe, djinn in the Middle East, Aluxob in the Maya region, and so on, concluding now with aliens which everyone except maybe Stanton Friedman recognizes are either a form of fairy, angel, or demon, in one way or another). That’s how we should interpret the physical remains of humanity’s past, rather than boring science, eh?

    I’d also address the “groupies” comment made by the daily grail, a fairly nasty little remark especially aimed at a woman (he said it generally, but the reaction was to your Binnall interview). Yes, a fair number of skeptics are not scientists, though a number are scientists or scholars, but trained in one field and approaching another to some degree. That makes some of them amateurs. As are virtually all paranormal “researchers.” There is nothing wrong, and everything right, with non-professionals interested in science and scholarship. They can be more knowledgeable and have spent more time, on very specific topics (this is referring to archaeology, history, etc., and probably not applicable to say, physics) that interest them (a particular kind of artifact, a local site, a pet issue), than most professionals they meet. That’s because professionals, in addition to their non-research responsibilities (teaching, reports, etc., depending on what sort of environment they work in), often won’t focus on such topics that may be interesting, but not right now very important from a theoretical perspective that advances the understanding of the science, something that doesn’t matter to the interested amateur.

    If those amateurs are honest, then awesome. I’m more than happy to have help on topics, to turn to people who know more than I about something, who is the expert (even if it is a very narrow expertise, and one that doesn’t cover all issues I’d like it to from an interpretive or theoretical perspective). The problem is when they’re not honest as in some cases of woo-peddling, or in other cases, are so non-reflexive they can’t examine what it is they do and why it might not be the best approach (funny how scientists are so often taken to task for being “know-it-alls,” and yet that attitude is often present in spades when you get an aggrieved “alternative researcher” who is just “asking questions” that if your answers to those questions aren’t theirs, woe be unto you).

    And as for curing cancer, people shouldn’t hunt for bigfoot for the lulz, from inside glass houses.

    • “I’d also address the “groupies” comment made by the daily grail, a fairly nasty little remark especially aimed at a woman (he said it generally, but the reaction was to your Binnall interview).”

      Please do point out where I said anything about “groupies”.

      • spookyparadigm

        You are absolutely correct. It was in a conversation you were having with whoever was tweeting for WhoForted, and they said it.

        “right there with you. Difference between DOING science, and being a groupie. Are you going to blow the musician, or make music?”

        It wasn’t you, I mis-attributed, and I apologize for that.

  7. I would say, my daughter the MIT PhD does skeptic education about the age of the Earth and how we KNOW it’s truly as old as science says it is. She does good work, so that Creationists do not get their NON science into schools. They are trying to teach their “belief” which is really a “Faith” meaning belief without any proof, in schools. She does important other work with her PhD, but she considers her other work very important.

    Now she also considers my work with our local Bigfoot group very important. Because they also have a “faith” a belief in something without real “proof” (or rather very weak proof, I’ve yet to see anyone at MIT claim a footprint from a Bigfoot is truly unknown, and we still await the Bigfoot DNA). There is an feeling of “fun” about going on a Bigfoot hunt, and our weekly meeting I use as a chance to educate the group.

    Why is it important for me to be there? Why am I bugging them? Well, we now follow No Trespassing rules, we follow methodology (which I have them figure out after researching online how REAL biologists look for and study animals) which gives a chance for real proof to be found. Also, the old “shoot to kill” (which is HUGE in the amateur field) has been toned down to “shoot to kill if you are 100% sure it’s a Bigfoot” (the group was trigger happy, as 2 deer could attest to if they were alive).

    So, my other work is with alien abductees. They are seen as money machines by “therapists” that don’t have degrees and simply reinforce their delusion (which I have found is often caused by a drug side effect, often OTC drug, or a serious illness which needs real medical treatment). You could just laugh at someone claiming to be abducted by an alien, but they need real skeptic help and direction to real medical treatment.. (Most aren’t crazy also, and it’s truly sad when people just sit back and laugh at them. Skeptics I know don’t, we help and are truly rewarded by the thanks we get)

    And why am I a skeptic? My friend committed suicide after a psychic (a well known one) took over $40,000 of her savings and then told her he could no longer connect her with her dead son as he had to be paid. She was never able to truly mourn her son, as he was still alive to her as long as she paid this shyster. And yet psychics (that charge for their readings from the “dead” which I find very odd. Charging is OK with dead children, wishing to speak to their mothers. Why fight this? Because these people get TV shows and continue to flourish and use people. I often get “what is the problem it just makes people accept a death more easily, it’s a good thing they do even if it’s not real”. Skeptics educate people this is not real.

    Ghosts, Bigfoot, Psychics and UFOs, belief in these subjects is high now. Polls show the numbers are bigger than they should be. TV has a huge influence. However, these are all good cases for teaching critical thinking. Critical thinking, something we should all apply to our lives, be it politics, medicine, or raising children, we can often best teach via Bigfoot or UFOs or ghosts. There are real lessons to be learned, and skeptics should be there to teach those lessons. Sadly America, and the world, aren’t as “smart” as we would like to think. Most of us may “laugh” at the Bigfoot and ghost shows out there. Too many watch and don’t laugh, and these are people that vote, support homeopathic medicine, and want to teach creationism in our schools.

    We have to be involved, with respect and without “making fun”, in all areas of the paranormal.

  8. There is often an argument in different activist groups that there’s something more important, therefore leave other things alone. But you can usually take that a step further and say that those more important things are still not as important as these more harmful things.

    In the end, if it’s wrong, causing harm, and scamming people, it should be exposed and debunked. And, while one could possibly argue that antivaxxers are more harmful to society overall than ghost and UFO hunters, the ghost/UFO stuff could be affecting certain people’s lives more and causing their lives more harm and they could benefit from the work of the skeptics.

    I think about it from their shoes. If I falsely believed in something and later realized it was wrong, I would wonder why there weren’t skeptics trying to help me.

  9. The Prof

    Well, reading that response above, tens of thousands are looking into those important issues, (cancer, renewable energy etc). However the number of youngsters going into science has not risen recently. I am a physics lecturer, by the way. When discussing science with 16-20 year olds at enrollment, they do not really understand the importance of science. It is some fault of the media who promote ridiculous shows, such as ‘Ghost hunters’ which are not even pseudo science. They are anti-science, as are the ghost hunters themselves. There has never been, throughout human history, any evidence whatsoever, of ghosts ore the paranormal. Open any encyclopedia (such as Britannica) and ghosts are not listed. If they were real they would be in there. They’re not. End of any speculation. What is the reason that some people are so enamored with spirits? Maybe they want the afterlife to exist, which it probably doesn’t, because if ghosts are the evidence, then there definitely is no afterlife.

    • I don’t think that “no evidence of ghosts” would be the best way to phrase that. I think “no evidence of a soul/spirit existing beyond the body” would be better wording. And to that end, saying that is the “end of any speculation” isn’t really a fair statement, in my eyes. It would be similar in scope to saying “lightning isn’t caused by the gods; end of story”.

      It’s not the end of the story. (And science has gone past that point with lightning and found its cause.) There’s still the continuation of science in the form of “then what is the cause?”This same principle applies to phenomena labeled as “a ghost/haunting”. Yes, there are many people out there who want to believe merely to find proof of an afterlife. But to ask the question “what is the cause of this phenomena someone is experiencing which they call a haunting” is still valid. Just because you rule out what something isn’t doesn’t mean you know what it is. Isn’t it fair to say that pursuing an answer to the cause of a phenomena is what science does? It’s not enough to say, “Well, it’s not some floating dead guy. That’s it!”

      • I agree that no evidence of a thing does not imply that a thing does not exist. Look at germs and the atom. We were not at a high enough level of technology to prove their existence until recently (on a cosmic scale). But we now believe them to be “scientifically proven”.
        There are too many stories about paranormal activity in this world for it all to be works of fiction. I think that there are things happening that we do not understand and that we cannot explain. These so called paranormal events could be explainable in scientific terms, and might not be anything close to what we think they are. Read “Behind teh Cosmic Veil” by Thomas Fusco and look at some of the different theories that re trying to use what we (as a collective) know about science to explain these occurances that we title as paranormal.
        I agree also with the sentiment that paranormal investigators can be harmful. There is a rising trend for these groups to label things as demonic when there is no real evidence of paranormal activity. There is a problem when some uneducated schlub working a minimum wage job goes out and starts a group based on a favorite TV show instead of educating oneself in the 120+ year history of this hobby. We know from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that starting a group like this based on the “training” recieved from 5 seasons of watching two plumbers from RI stumble around in the dark is an easy way to fulfill the social, esteem and self-actualizing needs without having to work at anything. Then they take their personal beliefs and merge them with the disinformation the media spews and create their own “code of ethics” that includes telling a family that their house is haunted by an evil spirit of possesed by a demon based on a few drafty windows and a noisy furnace. This spreads fear and the belief in these findings will cause future perceptions of everyday occurances to be labelled as “paranormal”.

  10. There’s nothing wrong with “ghost hunting.” There is something wrong with pretending you’re doing science and presenting your “evidence” as “proof of an afterlife.” I think that’s where the harm lies.

    A paranormal group devoted to ghost hunting through the scientific method would get bored pretty quickly.

    So, leave the paranormal groups alone so long as they’re not lying, embellishing, or misrepresenting or misinterpreting what they’re seeing. In my experience, there are few groups that aren’t doing one of those things.

    (I’m hosting an event in a “haunted” house in May. Struggling with how to address that issue.)

    • The hardest part about hosting a paranormal-themed event is presenting a rational, skeptical side as well. People desperately want to believe their “orb photo” is real. When you tell them otherwise, they’ll look to someone who will support their belief instead of accepting your word on it. I’ve had that experience more than once, especially when someone there claims psychic abilities.

      But I’m not so sure everyone would get bored actually doing things scientifically. Or maybe it’s just me who finds audio clips of foxes crying and gets excited because it matches the sounds reported at a location of a woman screaming bloody murder. :)

      • spookyparadigm

        See, I actually think there should be MORE scientific work on these topics. Take for example, the work on the crystal skulls that showed

        – Mitchell-Hedges bought the thing at auction. The whole thing only appeared decades later. That’s not evidence of a boring hoax, it’s actually an interesting look at how our own stories and information are made.
        – Based on tooling marks and other evidence, the skulls and other artifacts were made in Europe and sold as antiquities with some tie to art styles in Mexico (especially the British Museum one, not so much the Mitchell-Hedges). That’s really interesting in terms of the development of how we see the past, appropriation of symbols and concepts, and the origins of what will become simulation culture that starts to emerge in the late Victorian era (while hoaxes are a long-term thing, they usually had a more specific target in mind: pilgrims wanting to buy a bit of the True Cross at a pilgrimage site, etc.. This feels almost more like the beginning of Disney-style selling of a mood or flavor, without a specific target, and not directly aping something real, but the general idea of something sort of real).

        That’s not an alien or Atlantean-made skull. But it’s interesting, more interesting than just “debunking” would suggest.

  11. First, having listened to the interview to have picked out this small section and not quote but paraphrase it is a bit odd. It smacks of a cherry picked part of the entire interview to gin up some controversy.

    It always bothers me when the issue of skeptical priorities comes up. I think there is room for more than just ‘the important’ items (which for some are) medical and environment, and room for more ‘traditional’ skeptical activities. I think the implied choice between the alleged two different realms is a false one. One can use the same set of tools to educate the public on UFOs and science based medicine. Folks who might be receptive to skepticism with UFOs may not be so receptive initially to having some beloved shame medical practice questioned. I am sure sometimes it could go the other way as well. I see no problem with covering both.

  12. I don’t anyone should feel they have to tackle only certain topics as a Skeptic. Everyone has their own interests, its not up to other people, not believers, not skeptics to tell you where to apply your skepticism.

    By its very definition, being a Skeptic, involves applying skepticism to everything.

    In a more general sense I think it is important to tackle the “less harmful” pseudoscience. UFOs and Ghost Hunting in my opinion are some of the sillier things we talk about, but this gives us a good opportunity to introduce skepticism to a topic believers are less invested in and hopefully they will apply it to other areas of their lives.

    I think picking and choosing what subjects we tackle will introduce a demarkation problem. Yeah, ghost hunting is mostly just fun, and probably doesnt do any harm, neither do most psychics, do we leave psychics alone too? Some of them do cause harm.

    Bottom line, I think if your are a Skeptic you should apply skepticism to everything and call out anything where psuesoscience is used no matter how silly or seemingly “un harmful”.

  13. skepticality

    It is always harmful to let any claim or activity which has zero evidence, or little possible chance of being true to pass without some form of hard refute.

    I’ll never understand the position where allowing people to keep believing in things which have almost no chance of being true, or have no credible evidence of being possible is just ‘okay’.

    • Could ou expound on the statement “I’ll never understand the position where allowing people to keep believing in things which have almost no chance of being true, or have no credible evidence of being possible is just ‘okay’.”?
      Is there a Committee for Forcing People To Think Like I do meeting this evening?
      People believed that germs were not real untl a few generations ago. An Earth-centric universe was the popular theory in cosmology until someone proved it otherwise. The Heliocentric model is the currently accepted version because of the work of Aristarchus of Samos, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei.
      Look at the advancements in Physics that Albert Einstien and Stephen Hawkings made over the past 8 decades.
      “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it” – Max Planck

      • Has nothing to do with ‘Forcing People To Think Like I Do’.

        It has been proven, over and over again that allowing false or magical thinking to lead to some pretty tragic and dire consequences. Just look at how many people in political power here in the USA who have been sucked into craptastic thinking who actually have the ability to real harm to a large swath of society. To ‘leave ufo/ghost hunters alone’ just because they might feel personally hurt, is bad idea.

        As a skeptic I lump these folks in the same, exact, category as psychic hucksters, or even those who ‘believe’ that they have such powers. It is not something, as a skeptic, I can just let pass by without being critical of, or demanding solid evidence for.

      • >It has been proven, over and over again that allowing false or magical thinking to lead to some pretty tragic and dire consequences.

        One could probably make a similar argument with other types of mentality. Like say, the materialistic view that there’s no such thing as an afterlife, this is the only shot we get, so we might as well amass as much wealth as we can without any regards to the rest of society.

        The economic meltdown in 2008 looked pretty dire to me. Just sayin’ ;)

        Bottomline is that a-holes & idiots will keep on doing stupid or unfair acts, regardless of their BS –belief system.

      • Personally, I do not want to be left alone. I want the evidence that I collect to be scrutinized an I want to have my procedures reviewed. This is how we as amateur paranormal investigators will become educated and either find the proof that we seek or determine that there is nothing out there. BTW, for the paranormalists following along, this IS a hobby and we ARE all amateur investigators, unless you are a shyster that charges for investigation and then you are a professional criminal.
        I agree that there is a potential for harm in the paranormal. People that claim to be experts because the have every episode of GAC on DVD and go into people’s homes and claim that they have “dark history” and a demonic presence are damaging to the hobby and to the homeowner’s who are being lied to. People that charge for investigations and add additional fees for entity removal are stealing from consumers that believe that they are buying a real service.
        But you are going to have con-artists and grifters that take advantage of people in all aspects of life. Most of it happens at a corporate level.
        I guess I want to know where the line is between someone that is having fun and someone who is hurting people. Some paranormalists are more skeptical than the skeptics are.
        I guess the whole thing is a question of semantics. When people say things like “…allowing people to keep believing in things…” has a fascist ring to it. A skeptic’s faith in science is that same as faith in religion. Science is based in theory and the theories that we have are not the final answers, they are just the best possible answers up to now.

  14. The paranormal club here at Cuttlefish U. actively avoids skeptical speakers. They want to keep their minds open. Of course, a door that won’t close isn’t so much a door as a hole in the wall, but oh well.

    The local ghosthunters, though, *have* spoken to them. Far from being benign, these well-meaning, honest, and misguided individuals are contributing to the deliberate and willful ignorance of a group of intelligent students. These people are still carrying on about *orbs*, and listening for voices in static; they want their explanations paranormal, and close their eyes to the (far more interesting in my book) ways we fool ourselves.

    Ghost and UFO hunters contribute to a zeitgeist that actively looks for wrong answers that are sensational and mysterious, instead of simpler, evidence-based explanations that actually tell us something real about ourselves. They encourage lazy thinking–“paranormal” explanations are posited at first blush, rather than (as the name implies, and as logically must be the case) after an exhaustive elimination of “normal” possibilities. Ghost and UFO hunters are not, as a rule (and as evidenced in your thesis, Ms. Hill), experts in the areas of science they need to eliminate in order to conclude something is “paranormal” (indeed, we have a smaller but very real problem in that even some legitimate scientific experts are unable to see that a phenomenon is explained simply, but in a different research area).

    If, as they seem to want to claim, they are legitimately looking at ghosts or UFO’s, in either case a genuine sighting would be a bigger deal than pretty much anything in science so far. If they want to have fun tooling around with ghostometers and tape recorders, put a big stamp on their shows, books, and foreheads: “For Entertainment Purposes Only; do not confuse with reality”. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to stand up to skeptical investigation. And they very clearly do not.

  15. Reading the comments posted so far, I get the general thinking that the majority agrees that skeptics feel a sort of duty to be involved in things like ghost-hunting or UFOs, because at the core of such ‘beliefs’ there’s a detachment or disregards from critical thinking that, if left unchecked, might end up devolving into a dangerous Anti-Science mentality.

    A bit of like ghosts equals UFOs equals distrust in government equals the Dark Ages & the Inquisition.

    There’s also a constant mentioning to the ‘ghost-hunter’ TV shows proliferating in America –shows I myself don’t care to watch, and are the subject of constant quarrels with some members of The Daily Grail who insist they constitute ‘scientific evidence’ of paranormal phenomena– along with an annoyance with mediums & people who offer their (expensive) services to help folks channel the spirit of their dead grandma or whatever.

    The fact of the matter is that I share the sentiment: All those commercial ads where you see Astrologers or ‘psychics’ advertising cell pone messaging services –only $0.99!– piss me off too.

    I should also say I don’t share my friend Anomalist’s opinion that Skeptics should leave the paranormal playground and leave ghost hunters and UFO chasers play in the sand-pool unmolested.

    Yes, there’s a great deal of ‘para-tainment’ that is advertised as authentic investigation. And yes, there’s a lot of scammers & peddlers in the New Age market trying to get an easy buck or two. The field is infested by biased enthusiasts.

    But the fact of the matter is, scientists & governments are to blame!

    More than 30 years ago Jacques Vallee warned about this: he cautioned his scientific colleagues that if they didn’t bother to take a serious look into these phenomena, then the void they were going to leave would be filled by cult leaders & snake-oil salesmen, because those would be the only ones left to pay attention to those startled folks who –despite the unconvincing reassurances of government officials and academic spokespersons– kept watching weird S#!t in the sky & in their homes.

    Yes, the TV ghost hunters are a joke. But have any of you paid attention to the work of Dr. Barry Taff, who for several decades has scientifically studied paranormal phenomena, including the famous case on which the movie The Entity was based?

    Yes, there are celebrity psychics, but there are also researchers like Dean Radin & Dr. Richard Strassman, who despite the hurdle of devoting their careers in such unpopular fields of study, keep on creating lab experiments & amassing evidence which questions the current materialistic paradigm, and the notion that the brain is the sole generator of consciousness.

    For every 100 celebrities who are willing to follow the rules of the networks in order to appeal to the shock-hungry demographics –those rules include among other things putting on IR goggles & shout “did you hear that?!” every 10 minutes or so– there’s a quiet researcher doing valuable work away from the limelight. The Secret College, as Vallee called them all those years ago.

    So, if you’re disheartened by the sorry state of the so-called paranormal scene –a term I personally loathe– just keep in mind that your predecessors are partly to blame.

    Saludos,

    RPJ

    • spookyparadigm

      As I said above, I think scientists should be looking into these things more, precisely because they are questions people are asking. They cede the field. But one of the reasons I think most scientists aren’t interested, is that they are probably aware that if one does like seriously, and the answers aren’t sufficiently “interesting,” then they’ll just be ignored. And to be honest, researchers like Vallee that play around with consciousness, etc. as an explanation, they seem to be one step away from the answer (it’s culture and perception), but then back away for something that is like the human mind, but still “weird.” I know Vallee is more about his idea (at times) of a control system, deception, etc., but he is to some degree of the ultraterrestrial, partly consciousness partly not (depending if cameras are rolling) camp. I’m sorry, but that kind of thinking is exciting for a bit, until you realize it is basically Aliens of the Gaps, placing entities somewhere they can’t be falsified, since the falsifiable places (hollow earth, then Venus, then interstellar) have been taken in one form or another.

      • >But one of the reasons I think most scientists aren’t interested, is that they are probably aware that if one does like seriously, and the answers aren’t sufficiently “interesting,” then they’ll just be ignored.

        Well, as you stated that is your opinion. Mine is that most scientists at the beginning of their career are too preoccupied trying to win grants & get tenure, so they’re not really that interested in spending their time in a field that is potentially academic suicide. Probably the reason why only a few untouchables like John Wheeler were allowed to think of really outré ideas by the end of their career.

        And re. the ‘uninteresting’ explanations, I have no problem with them –provided they adequately fit together ALL the elements of a given case, not just the easy few while disregarding the parts which won’t let our nice theoretical square peg fit into that pesky round hole.

      • spookyparadigm

        I can’t reply to a nested comment, so this is to Red Pill Junkie. Actual things get more complex, but also better known, the more they are looked at. Early anomalies do disappear with more research. Forteans (and this is exactly what Fort is famous for) deify the anomaly. Except that in the real world, there are always initially anomalies, for any number of reasons (mistaken reporting, dishonest reporting, coincidence, interpretive bias, and so on). This is basic reality, and I don’t begrudge people who recognize this, and when 99% of an issue is explained, don’t spend a diminishing returns effort to explain the other bit when most attempts at explaining the other bit leads nowhere, and not to something better. To put it another way, Kuhn is correct that anomalies can overturn previous paradigms. But only if those anomalies are successful, reasonably unraveling more and more, the more you look at those anomalies, and then find new ones.

        What anomaly driven topic/field has grown more robust, rather than diminished, over the last 50 years? I don’t mean in terms of accumulated lore. I mean in terms of solid information. The common model now is a fixation on “classic cases” (aka, those from a past before significant scrutiny was placed on a nascent phenomenon – newspaper reports of archaeological giants, 1950s UFO sightings, etc.), a frantic chasing after new cases that if given substantial scrutiny turn out hoax or explained, and a churning of various interpretations with a secular trend in all of these “fields” towards the spiritual and away from the purely scientific or even just the invocation of scientific symbols.

        Contrast that with, well, any other sort of field and historical science where we try to piece together interpretations from elusive bits of data. For example, interpretations get turned over all the time in sciences based on the fossil record. But with a general trend towards more information, better understanding, and smaller overturns on average, rather than throwing out the whole apple cart. I just got finished teaching the section on human evolution in an introductory anthropology class, and it struck me that just in the short time I’ve been teaching, the picture has gotten better (more complex, with new questions, but fuller) in just a few years. Chaotic, to be sure, but with a trend towards better understood, not static, not less understood.

        The Fortean approach will never be satisfied, can never be satisfied. Which is why it remains appealing, it allows one to stuff spirituality/magic into an ever smaller, but not fillable, gap.

    • spookyparadigm

      I would also say, I’m getting increasingly tired of the “use skepticism to teach critical thinking” meme from skeptics (as is evidenced here). I think it is sloppy. These claims fall into the realm of actual sciences. Ghost hunting falls into the fields of physics and engineering (if devices are being used), history and anthropology (how these beliefs change and how they tie into other aspects of society), and psychology (perception). Bigfoot obviously ties into biology, paleontology, history (again, most of these do, since they involve claims and beliefs) and other fields. Claims of Atlantis, ancient aliens, Welsh Templar Irish monks camping with Phoenicians and Shang explorers in Georgia, and so on fall squarely into archaeology and related fields. And so on.

      The critical thinking thing is the new “well-rounded.” I think it is legitimate to examine the claims because they are claims directly to the subjects of existing scientific fields, and there is public interest. The role of non-professional skeptics, IMO, is to do this when professionals won’t, for various reasons. I think more professionals should. This was the clear message that came for example to biologists after Kansas school board and Dover, that they couldn’t just ignore or ridicule, they needed to get their message out there if they were interested in doing their jobs as they should.

    • Problem is… science has already looked into all this stuff time and time again.

      The believes always move the goal posts. Or come up with another way to convince people that the strange ‘thing’ that causes their idea is somehow in the gaps of scientific understanding.

      • skepticality

        How do we ever move the goal posts. Every skeptic, or serious investigator of the ‘paranormal’ I’ve ever met, or talked to they never move the goalposts. They just ask for any form of evidence which can be taken seriously.

        And since there, as of yet, over the course of hundreds of years there has never been one ounce of. Any scientist who is out there making a living in the real world has zero time to even think about if your dog can tell the future.

  16. @spookyparadigm

    >What anomaly driven topic/field has grown more robust, rather than diminished, over the last 50 years?

    Well, since I don’t know your personal definition of ‘solid evidence’, which might let you discard the testimony of experienced military or airline pilots who observed anomalous phenomena (see Leslie Kean’s book) along with radar returns etc, I’ll move away from UFOs and answer to you this way: One anomaly that has grown more robust in the past 50 years is our understanding on when the 1st human beings started to inhabit the American continent.

    50 years ago the consensus was that the 1st humans came to America through the Bering straight around 12,000 years ago. Now the accumulated evidence has greatly challenged that notion. And I believe it will continue to do so, in ways we can’t even imagine.

    I’m sure that 50 years ago most anthropologists were pretty satisfied with the Bering explanation, and saw no use in trying to investigate this matter further. Some of them probably displayed the same level of arrogance than many of the commentators to this thread, who are *so* certain that paranormal activity has NEVER shown one single piece of evidence. EVER!

    >The Fortean approach will never be satisfied, can never be satisfied. Which is why it remains appealing, it allows one to stuff spirituality/magic into an ever smaller, but not fillable, gap.

    No. It remains appealing because it keeps challenging us, and forces us to move away from our comfort zone and our cherished preconceptions. It helps us to view things we thought we understood well in a whole new light.

    And I personally think that’s not incompatible with the Scientific endeavor. I have read many times in this thread how, since “Science has already looked into these matters” in the past, then it’s not obliged to go back and take a new look, just in case it missed something the last time. With new tools arriving each year or decade, just how arrogant is it to say ANY matter is closed?

    “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement” – Lord Kelvin (1900)

    • spookyparadigm

      “In ways we can’t even imagine”

      Actually, the ways are fairly imaginable. I am a professional archaeologist. My specific expertise is not in early peopling of the Americas, but I do try to keep on it as best I can. And the destruction of the Clovis-first hypothesis was

      1.) Done by professionals, and with actual sites, not just “anomalous” finds

      The solid evidence for pre-Clovis has been carefully and painstakingly uncovered by actual archaeologists. The one exception I can think of by a serious archaeologist that does seem flawed, IMO, is the work of Dennis Stanford. I haven’t read the book he put out last year, but I’ve followed the argument as a bystander (and I saw him speak at the Society for American Archaeology meetings last year. I went away less impressed rather than more, which was not my expectation). I’m not going to go into specifics, as I’ve said I have some familiarity with the arguments, but from what I’ve seen, I think he’s drawing on connections that are not reasonable (tool types and techniques one would easily expect to arise in distinct populations with similar subsistence challenges based on environment and resources; lack of other Paleolithic materials; significant chronological and stylistic problems with connecting Solutrean points to Clovis points).

      Moreover, what has been found does not dramatically change the larger human picture. Occupation of the Americas has been reasonably pushed back to about 20,000 BP, from 13,000 BP. The genetic evidence still overwhelmingly points to an Asian source for Native Americans, but now that might include both a later Siberian population, as well as earlier people from a bit farther south in the Pacific Rim still likely taking a northerly route along the coast. I have looked at the Pedra Furada case in a limited sense, and while I think further research would be valid, I have a hard time considering it good evidence.

      2.) Lagged in part, I’d argue, because it got a bad name from ridiculous non-professionals who chased hoaxes, misinterpretations, or lies. And unlike what one might argue with the “anomaly” fields, this was not a continuum.

      3.) Does not give more credence to the favored theories of the fringe believers or anomalists.

      The new evidence points to a more interesting colonization in the Late Pleistocene. It does not, however, make any more likely any of the flavors of Moundbuilder Myths that continue to be passed around and have recently become more popular again (and here, I’m using Moundbuilder Myths as a general term for ‘let’s populate America with other folks, preferably Europeans or other imagined whiteish people, if possible’). It does not also support later “before the Vikings” arguments, and in fact makes them more ridiculous (we can successfully show sites with more than one isolated artifact for small bands of hunter gatherers ca. 17,000 BP, but all that remains of later colonizers who would have had much more material culture are random often iconic artifacts, more than a few inscribed with copies of writing published in the 19th century. Right). It’s the equivalent of the dodge and hustle that argues that because a zoologist identified a new species (often times through new observation of known animals that look similar or are genetically distinct), therefore North America is populated with giant ape-men who are seen every week but leave no physical trace except footprints.

      • >2.) Lagged in part, I’d argue, because it got a bad name from ridiculous non-professionals who chased hoaxes, misinterpretations, or lies. And unlike what one might argue with the “anomaly” fields, this was not a continuum.

        That is particularly important point you make, because it underscores the general attitude of academicians, who *do* worry about their reputation and what their peers might think of them. Hence, we have the so-called Street-light effect which has stifled our advancement for knowledge.

        You blame the ridiculous non-professionals. I blame the spineless professionals ;)

        >The new evidence points to a more interesting colonization in the Late Pleistocene. It does not, however, make any more likely any of the flavors of Moundbuilder Myths that continue to be passed around and have recently become more popular again (and here, I’m using Moundbuilder Myths as a general term for ‘let’s populate America with other folks, preferably Europeans or other imagined whiteish people, if possible’).

        What about Kennewick Man & the Valsequillo dam footprints?

        Oops! I forgot. Kennewick Man is Ainu & the Valsequillo evidence has been dismissed. My bad ;)

  17. Graham

    When I listened to the podcast I thought that Tim was calling Ghost Hunters ‘Knuckleheads’, while I didn’t agree with the description, I do think that often they do more harm than good. I was watching a Virtual Skeptics a few days ago and you said you had another interview lined up with another believer podcast, what happened to that one?

    • idoubtit

      It was Parascience Journal which was a live radio show. The MP3 has not come out yet. But it was friendly and productive as well. It resulted in me being asked to do my own radio show. But, I do not have the time to do that on my own and put the effort in to build a brand new audience, unfortunately.

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