The Anti-Science Bias Of Ghost Hunters

I wrote previously about a research team at Clarkson University headed up by Professor Shane Rogers that seek to establish whether there is a link between air quality and strange experiences people often associate with a haunting or with ghosts. Rogers said “experiences reported in many hauntings are similar to mental or neurological symptoms reported by individuals exposed to toxic moulds. Psychoactive effects of some fungi are well-known, whereas the effects of others such as indoor moulds are less researched.”

I have seen a frankly bizarre and at times bitter reaction from large swathes of ghost hunting communities to this news such as…

“Oh yeah? How do they explain EVP then?”

“Mould doesn’t explain all of MY experiences!”

“These guys are stupid. They just need to see to believe!”

It is completely bizarre for anyone- regardless of what they believe -to react with hostility towards people who are conducting scientific research in order to learn more about why people have strange experiences. Learning more about the world around us and establishing facts about our experiences as human beings who are greatly influenced by the environments we live and exist in is a good thing.

If you react with hostility to the news of this ongoing research then it says quite a lot about you as an individual. It says that you’re closed minded and that you do not want people providing alternative and rational explanations for the things that you are convinced are paranormal in origin.

I pointed out a few issues with the research myself in my original blog post, like the fact that people have been quick to use the ongoing research to dismiss a whole range of paranormal experiences a priori when actually if a link is established this will only indicate a new cause for a small number of experiences.  This doesn’t mean the research isn’t a good thing and I look forward to the conclusion when it is presented.

Those people who asked “how does this explain EVP and EMF fluctuations?” should know that it doesn’t. However we do already have explanations for those things that show, unequivocally that they are not paranormal in origin and yet such people ignore those too so I’m sure there’s no chance they’ll pay attention to this research once it is concluded too because they are simply psuedo-scienctific ghost hunters who are willing to believe anything other than the factual truth.

Establishing the cause for paranormal phenomena is what paranormal research is at its very core, and anyone involved in ghost research that doesn’t like that approach ought to pack up their EMF meters, Ghost-box and Dowsing rods and go home.

Further Reading

The Rational Causes Of Electronic Voice Phenomena
A Rational Look At The Ghost-Box
Why Personal Experiences Aren’t Evidence Of Ghosts


About Hayley Stevens 442 Articles
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.

6 Comments on The Anti-Science Bias Of Ghost Hunters

  1. There is certainly a rampant tendency of those curious about strange phenomena (particularly if they make a living at it) to aggressively react when deeply cherished beliefs are challenged, and humans tend to be rather mannerless to begin with, but I wonder if such behavior is as much “anti-science” as simple, common category errors on the order of, “Someone is arguing that indoor toxic mold can cause hallucinations, possibly explaining some ghost sightings, therefore they are invalidating all other possible explanations”. This makes some sense historically, as the learned scientific community, which is often just as curious about anomalies has traditionally manifested a willingness to “over-explain”. Swamp Gas and meteorological phenomena explain all UFO sightings. Everything odd that falls from the sky is Nostoc. Shared mass hallucination accounts for instances of multiple witnesses. Often the scientific explanations for strange phenomena are as convoluted, comprehensive, and dubious as the explanations of the true believers. Anomalies, by definition, are those strange outliers that wreak havoc in empirical testing – that’s why we smooth things out statistically, but it doesn’t hurt to ask the question of how much data “noise” is actually misunderstood “signal”. Skepticism is regardless a healthy stance, both the skepticism of scientists towards extraordinary claims, as well as skepticism towards overgeneralized scientific conclusions. The universe is a strange place and folks in a wide variety of historical, cultural, and ecological niches have been seeing ghosts, goblins, and ghoulies, and things that go bump in the night for millennia. I think we have to be careful in seeing an “anti-science” bias where perhaps there is only another flavor of skepticism. Still, I think I’ll go scrub away some mold.

    • Well said. This is my biggest criticism of modern skepticism. Proposed explanations do not equal causality. In fact the steps to establish causality in science are quite onerous. Much of what skeprics claim is scientific inquiry would get laughed out of any serious field.

      The common excuse, “but it’s more likely because we know this explanation can happen,” doesn’t cut it in actual science. You need more to prove the explanation fits the phenomenon. Until that happens, it is disengenous to claim certainty. Uncertainty does not imply something paranormal, nor does it imply a natural known explanation: It is simply uncertain.

      In a world where scientists freely admit we know far less than half of all possible knowledge, it is illogical to assume everything we encounter can be explained through existing knowledge. This is why withholding judgement and establishing a casual connection are so critical. Without these we are slaves to confirmation bias and may be throwing away the chance to learn something truly new.

    • Although it might be illogical to assume everything we encounter can be explained through existing knowledge that is more likely to be the case compared to paranormal explanations.

  2. I went through exactly one period in my life when I might have reacted that way to the study you mentioned: a 4-6 month bit when I was in my early twenties and going through a nasty bout of grief and death anxiety. I went to sleep listening to reruns of “The Odd Couple” because a silent room made me fixate on mortality. I was very careful about the media I consumed, and I was especially drawn to anything that seemed to prove the existence of an afterlife. To put it another way, I was kinda fragile and not particularly rational and very sensitive about what I desperately wanted to be my metaphysical beliefs. Death anxiety does that to a person.

    I outgrew it, and I’m so glad. I’m now approaching forty and I can’t even imagine what I would have been like if that was my usual state. That’s not to say that I’m a reductive materialistic atheist-skeptic who etc. etc. etc., but I can entertain the possibility that reductive materialistic atheist-skeptic etc. etc. etcs. may well be right without experiencing a fight-or-flight response, which is good because some of my very dearest friends are reductive materialistic atheist-skeptic etc. etc. etcs.

    But I think if I’d never outgrown that phase, or you caught me in the middle of it, I would have sounded (or at least thought) very much like one of the people you describe above. So I wonder if what we’re really witnessing here at least in some cases is not so much ideological *rigidity* as it is the general weakness and prickliness and clinginess and close-mindedness that comes with death anxiety

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