A post has recently been made over on the Bad Thinking blog that criticises “paranormalists” for generally not “liking science”. Although I have previously written about ‘the anti-science bias of ghost hunters‘ my criticisms were specific. There were several things said in the Bad Thinking piece that I want to address as I feel the accusations being made were actually quite unfair.
The blog post opens with the statement that ‘promoters of the paranormal, the supernatural, quack medicine and every other off-the-wall claim all seem to dislike science’ which is quite a generalisation. I’m not sure who qualifies as a “promoter of the paranormal” – mainly as the post goes on to lump together people who make paranormal claims with those who believe in paranormal ideas.
I agree that people who make paranormal claims with no evidence to support them are acting in a non-scientific manner, but that’s different than just believing in something strange. It’s important to establish that people who believe in the paranormal may believe in claims that have no data or evidence to back them up, but for them there are justifications for what they believe and to believe in ghosts or aliens or fairies does not automatically make you someone who dislikes science. After all, there are people who do scientific research in all sorts of fields who believe in strange ideas. Belief is a complex thing and to label people who believe in paranormal ideas as anti-science is inaccurate and, actually, pretty patronising. To then label “paranormalists” as dogmatic is just insulting.
Is it really that hard to see why skeptics are seen as bad guys when this is the kind of language used to describe people they disagree with?
The post goes on to say ‘on the whole, parapsychology has no theory that can be tested or exploited, and that is why science rejects it’ and I would like to kindly point out that parapsychology is only rejected by those who dismiss it a priori. Sure, parapsychology often seems like a fringe science and it has many cranks who churn out biased research but please feel free to tell people like Professor Richard Wiseman or Professor Chris French who both work with parapsychologists that they should actually be rejecting it. I would be delighted to see the conversation that happens.
In fact, I don’t even need to imagine it because the relationship between psychology, anomalistic psychology and parapsychology has been discussed at several conferences I’ve attended in the last few years.
The post over on the Bad Thinking blog states ‘Science is not dogmatic; science changes in response to new discoveries’ but this isn’t accurate of every individual scientist, yet it would be illogical to state that science is wrong based on the actions of a few. However many non-believers think it’s okay to say the same of research that examines the paranormal simply because they don’t hold a paranormal belief.
Get out of here…
There are legitimate routes of research that involve potentially paranormal or anomalistic phenomena, claims or experiences. At the root of these claims is an answer and why shouldn’t we be exploring what it could be? Especially if that could further our understanding of the human experience. All that matters is that the science is good, open to replication and that personal biases are not able to influence it… as they did the judgemental post that inspired this one.