Anybody can be a paranormal researcher – it isn’t a protected job title and anyone can apply their own definition to it and claim expertise in the field of paranormal research. However, a decent researcher is someone who asks question not just about the subject they are studying, but about themselves and the way in which they study and behave.
Should you investigate the case?
Question 1: Are there any testable claims?
This is the question that really separates those researchers who are genuinely curious about what is going on, from those who seek to just find ghosts and strengthen their already decided conclusions.
Not every case of reported paranormal phenomena is testable or worth investigation. For example, if a woman is seen walking along a hallway and disappearing into a wall, there isn’t much that you can do to investigate that claim. However the claim that a pair of curtains in a room are drawn every time the owner goes into the room despite them not leaving them that way is something that you could investigate.
A researcher who doesn’t have a biased approach to their research has to be ruthless and strict about what they investigate and what they don’t. Many paranormal investigation teams investigate every single case they come across, and this is a sign of a sloppy selection process.
Question 2: Is it ethical?
Many paranormal researchers rely on their own sense of morality to decide whether or not they should go ahead with an investigation. However a sense of morality is easily led and isn’t always strict enough to ensure that the correct decisions are being made. Any researcher or research organisation – whether professional or amateur – should have a good code of ethics by which they operate.
A code of ethics considers most possible outcomes of research and prepares the researcher on how they would deal with these outcomes. When it comes to paranormal research there is a great deal of opportunity for unethical behaviour on the part of the researcher to cause damage to those they come into contact with. Quite often the researcher will not have thought through the consequences, and sometimes wont even be aware of the consequences of what they have done.
By working out a code of conduct and an ethical code to work by, such outcomes are taken into account and can be avoided or worked around.
You don’t have to spend loads of money to become a paranormal researcher because all of the gadgets you often see other researchers using don’t really do much good. Things such as Electronic Voice Phenomena (the alleged recording of the voices of the dead) is widely disputed, things such as table tipping, ouija boards, glass divination and dowsing are not as reliable as we’d like to think they are, and there aren’t really any facts behind the idea that ghosts can cause fluctuations in ElectroMagnetic Fields – or that high levels of EMF can cause people to hallucinate – in fact, the research into such a link is often considered as contoversial (read more here from Dr Jason Braithwaite).
Also, expensive thermal imaging cameras and software aren’t really much use in the search for ghosts because the oddities spotted on the screens are often just illusions caused by the shapes and colours. See, a thermal imaging camera measures surface temperatures by displaying a variety of colours. There are numerous reasons as to why these surface temperatures may fluctuate. There’s a great demonstration of their unreliability here from the lovely Joe Nickell.
Visit the Talk About Strange resource site today for an indepth exploration of different ghost hunting techniques and claims!
Magnetic fields, hallucinations & anomalous experiences: a sceptical critique of the current evidence
A comprehensive review of the literature on magnetic fields and anomalous haunt-type experiences by Dr Jason Braithwaite
The waking nightmare of Sleep Paralysis
An article by Prof Chris French
The Hallucinations of Widowhood
[PDF] W. Dewi Ree in the British Medical Journal 1971
Sleeping with the entity; a quantitive magnetic investigation of an English Castles reputedly haunted castle Part 2
Jason Braitwaite & Maurice Townsend
The Orb Zone
Are Orbs Paranormal?
Belief in ghosts in post-war England
Paul Cowdell, 2011
On Hoaxing the Hoaxers – Token Skeptic podcast
An interview with Dr Karen Stollznow, Matthew Baxter & Bryan Bonner