A Response To Bad Thinking Blog On ‘Paranormalists Don’t Like Science’ Claims

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.

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Hayley Stevens

Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

5 thoughts on “A Response To Bad Thinking Blog On ‘Paranormalists Don’t Like Science’ Claims”

  1. I couldn’t stomach my way thru reading the rest of that post over at Bad Thinking, how nauseating for that person to write such a narrow minded thing! It’s really annoying to be “labeled” and I know I’m not alone on that. Ugh! 🙂

  2. Hayley,

    I think you missed the point of the post, so let me see if I can clarify my position for you.
    I call my blog Bad Thinking because the promoters of, and believers in, the paranormal rely on various reasoning fallacies to support their beliefs. The example I focused on in this post was a contradiction that is hardly uncommon.

    Personally, I have no disagreement with people who are doing research into what they believe to be paranormal phenomena; if any of them can prove the existence of any aspect of their research, that’s fine by me because it would open up a whole new field of science. I’m all for that, and I wouldn’t begrudge any of them their Nobel Prize for discovering a hitherto unknown force of nature.

    In the meantime, they will have to produce evidence that stands up to scrutiny; claiming that they can’t get a foothold in mainstream science because science is dogmatic and unchanging, whilst also implying that science is wrong or doesn’t know much because it’s always changing, is not good reasoning. Actually, it is Bad Thinking.

    People who believe in ghosts and suchlike certainly don’t like science, at least when science rejects their unsubstantiated beliefs. I don’t think it’s patronising to point that out. But the believers are dogmatic, and their beliefs are strongly resistant to change; pointing that out is not an insult, it is a fact – even if some of them see it as an insult.

    You say that parapsychology is “only rejected by those who dismiss it a priori.” Talk about generalising! But you are wrong; I don’t reject parapsychology a priori, I reject it a posteriori. Parapsychology infers the existence of the paranormal simply on the basis that it can’t find a natural explanation for anomalistic phenomena. It certainly has no theory (in the scientific sense of the word), and researchers like Richard Wiseman and Chris French, that you mentioned, have been unable to replicate any of the claims made in that area. At best, parapsychologists have shown that there is maybe, perhaps, sometimes, possibly, at some level, if you want to go along with it, something anomalous going on, but they have not demonstrated the existence of anything like “psychic energy,” or whatever they want to call it. I recommend that you read Chris French’s book, Anomalistic Psychology – it’s very good (I know it’s good because I reviewed it for the Association for Skeptical Enquiry’s magazine, The Skeptical Intelligencer).

    When I said that science is not dogmatic but changes in response to new discoveries, I was referring to science as a whole, without reference to individual scientists. Some scientists and some sceptics have let the side down, but they don’t get any special concessions from me. In fact, I wrote a post here about fraud committed by a scientist and a well-known sceptic:

    https://badthinking.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/skepticism-science-and-ethics/

    But I have never said or implied that parapsychology is wrong because of a few examples of fraudulent research either; I think that parapsychology is just barking up the wrong tree. In any case, there is still not a single thing parapsychologists have produced that has become part of mainstream science and, yes, they still claim that’s because of scientific dogma. Or because science is always changing because it can’t make its mind up.

    Choose whichever excuse suits you.

    As you say, all that matters is that the science is good, open to replication and that personal biases are not able to influence it. I already know that, but I think you should be telling that to the paranormal researchers.

    You think I’m judgemental? What do you think you are, by the way?

    1. You’re correct when you state ‘the promoters of, and believers in, the paranormal rely on various reasoning fallacies to support their beliefs’ but as I pointed out belief is a complex thing and we’re all biased in some manner. Making statements like this, however true they may be (and I do not believe it to be an accurate statement of every individual believer) isn’t going to win people over to your way of thinking.

      Just because a person believes in something supernatural doesn’t mean they dislike science and, in fact, making such an accusation is suggesting that a lot of working scientists out there are bad at their job. I’m sure you aren’t making the suggestion that scientists who believe in god are bad scientists, are you? If so then we’ll never ever come to an agreement.

      Also, if you want to talk about contradictions I would start by looking at home. After all, a healthy approach to scepticism is to apply it to yourself as much as those around you.

      You state that you have ‘no disagreement with people who are doing research into what they believe to be paranormal phenomena; if any of them can prove the existence of any aspect of their research’ but then go on to dismiss parapsychology as a whole based on previous research. Make up your mind.

      I’m not defending parapsychology as somebody who believes in the paranormal so please don’t patronise me by asking me to choose an excuse and, again with the generalisations – not all paranormal researchers are believers out to prove the existence of paranormal ideas. If you stopped thinking of people as enemies of science for just a minute perhaps you’d see that it’s far more complex. Sure there are many “paranormalists” who do not respect the scientific process and yes it would be great to communicate it to them but they don’t have to listen to us. People don’t owe science respect and it’s tough luck if that annoys you or anybody else… and if you were trying to communicate why people who believe in paranormal ideas should respect science then I really do think you need to reconsider that way in which you communicate that because insulting people’s intelligence isn’t going to work.

      Also I tend to try and operate about “I know you are so what am I?” insults in these discussions, but each to their own.

  3. I can see where I should have been more specific, so I’ll try one more clarification: I have no disagreement with the FACT that some people research the paranormal; I do, however, disagree with their claims to have proven its existence. I’m not contradicting myself, but I can see why you have misunderstood my meaning.

    My trivial comment at the end wasn’t an insult; I don’t know why you would interpret it that way, but I think you are reading too much into what I wrote in my post.

  4. I wonder if Mr. Bad Thinking has the same distain for his fellow scientists who are church-goers, and regards them as quacks because of that.

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