Not too long ago, I wrote a piece on this blog called Has Parapsychology Had Enough of Experts? which was about Steve Mera and the so-called Stellar University through which it was claimed people could study accredited courses which instructed them on how to become good paranormal investigators. Many of the claims being made by Mera were questionable and if you’re not familiar with the case I’d recommend you read that article before continuing. You may or may not be surprised to learn that following my blog post several other people reached out to indicate that they- like Dr Novella -had not given permission or their names to be used on the website as ‘contributors’ to the course materials.
After several passive-aggressive emails to me from people claiming to represent Mera and Stellar University, the entire website was deleted. The course is still available via the “phenomena magazine” website which Mera produces. Interestingly, I was also never provided evidence that Mera holds legitimate degrees or a PhD as it is claimed so I’m still quite skeptical about that. I would urge people to use extreme caution when dealing with claims made by Mera and his colleagues.
Paranormal researchers want to be taken serious regardless of what their methodologies or personal belief systems may be. Who wouldn’t want to be taken seriously, right? Yet, despite there being many avenues through which people can train to be ghost investigators it’s often time wasted. A decent paranormal investigator can be good at what they do regardless of any formal training or education. Many (if not all) of the courses offered to ghost hunters are unaccredited and seem to teach biased investigation methods that assume paranormal forces are the cause of the phenomena being investigated (e.g. electronic voice phenomena, EMF hypersensitivity, trigger object use.) These so-called qualifications just add false authority to pseudo-scientific methodologies and this is a logical fallacy knows as an Argument from Authority or an Appeal to Authority.
But even the courses which teach proper scientific methodologies don’t really help overall. The Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) offer training to members which it is said helps them to be good investigators and, as a result, the trained members become ‘ASSAP Approved Investigators’ known as AAIs.
Yet, the only people who know what an AAI is are ASSAP members or people who are familiar was ASSAP.
So sure, you might have ghost investigators who know how to apply scientific methodologies to paranormal cases, but the public are rather unlikely to be able to tell a ghost hunter with a bad methodology apart from a ghost hunter with a good methodology, so does it really help? And knowing how to be a good researcher doesn’t mean you will be a good researcher. I cannot help but question just how reliable the training is when I see so-called AAIs working as part of a ghost hunting team or researching in a manner that suggests they weren’t really paying attention or, deep down at heart, they want to find a ghost while having a fancy title which makes them sound legit.
In 2013, ASSAP launched an accredited foundation course. As one of the pilot students, I think we got as far as Unit One which was called ‘Doing Science’ before the course got cancelled in 2014 because it had been launched before all of the prep work had been done. In the email that was sent out announcing this, we were told ‘When we [ASSAP] launched the course it was because I [the tutor] was instructed we needed to launch for October 31st. It was not really realistic, but I did my best to comply, and it has been a pleasure getting to know many of you. Fortunately, you will now get the course you all deserve. ‘
Launching on Halloween. How gimmicky.
A statement from ASSAP chairman, Sarah Spellman, reported that ‘The process has been educational for us as well as for you, and we have found that we need to make a number of changes to the course to ensure that we offer a better experience to our fantastic students. As a result, we are pausing the course effective 21 May. We plan to relaunch the course in its improved form in March 2015.’
As far as I am aware, this has yet to happen.
You might read this and think that I’m being a hypocrite. I went on one of these courses, after all, but I welcome skepticism of my own research. If I am doing something wrong I welcome (evidence based) criticism and I am willing to change my mind if new information is presented to me – in fact, I’m excited to learn more about the causes of paranormal experiences and embrace new information. You don’t have to go on a course to gain an open mind.
We should treat those with ghost hunting qualifications with as much skepticism as we treat those without. In fact, it could be argued that we should treat them with more skepticism because, like Mera, all may not be what it seems and the claims of qualification could be presented as an appeal to authority. There are academics and academic fields which play an important role in paranormal research such as neurology, psychology, parapsychology, ecology, physics and more… but these are scientists who can offer a scientific perspective on the nature of ghost experiences and existence in the wider context of the human experience whereas so-called AAIs and qualified ghost researchers often seem to do something that closely resembles… well… ghost hunting. And we all know how scientific that can be.