Bringing Bad Science to the Classroom

I recently held a workshop in my local library for children aged 10 years+ that was marketed as ‘How to be a Ghost Buster’. I taught the attendees how to spot faked ghost photos, misidentified ghost photos, and what a scientific approach to odd activity looked like. I taught them how dodgy human memory is, and we often see meaning where there is none. None of what I told them was personal opinion and was all based on research and studies. I answered their questions as objectively as I could and yet I was still terrified that I might say or do the wrong thing to a potentially vulnerable audience.

This is why alarm bells rang when I read about a Milwaukee paranormal researcher who tried to hold a Ghost Hunting 101 class at a school and was met with angry protest from Christians who felt that the only spirits that should be discussed were the Holy Spirit.

Greg Neukirk of WhoForted reports that ‘Arn Quakkelaar, a member of the Christian Emergency Network, told WTMJ News Radio that the Holy Ghost is the only ghost children should be seeking. “There could very well be ghosts. We’re not against believing that. We believe in the Holy Spirit, and that’s what we’re focused on.”’

The paranormal researcher in question, Noah Leigh, wanted to demonstrate some of the techniques used by people who investigate anomalous phenomena. “We’re not going in there with Ouija boards, dowsing rods, to conjure things up. This is not the point. We’re there to document what may have been reported,” Leigh told the local news.

Apparently the school weren’t happy to allow the religious to have the monopoly on what extra-curricular lessons the children could have and Leigh was allowed to proceed with the ghost research classes. However, there are a number of issues raised in this story that I wanted to explore in a bit more detail.

It turns out that Arn Quakkelaar hosts something called ‘Prayer Walks’ at schools. This extract taken from Arn’s ‘Brothers and Sisters in Christ Serving’ newsletter explains how this works.

A Prayer Walk is simply a group of “Prayer Warriors” walking  around, in and throughout a building . . stopping to pray at  specific locations or troubled areas in a school which the  teachers, staff and/or principals are concerned about. Past  testimonies by Principals and staff have declared how effective the power of prayer in their respective schools have changed the attitudes of students and staff.

This is a weird and inappropriate activity to be taking place in an educational facility, but then again I’m a dirty secularist and would say that. Yet, with that in mind, I also wonder if the Ghost Hunting 101 class is appropriate too. Noah Leigh belongs to a research team called Paranormal Investigators of Milwakee and their website suggests they are a scientific team but a quick look at their approach, methodology and equipment suggests otherwise. There is lots being used that probably leads to baseless speculation about activity being paranormal. Moon phases? Really?

Group photo Augustnowebsite

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs and if the Paranormal Investigators of Milwakee want to explore buildings in the dark with their Mel Meters and so on, then this is entirely up to them. It is an entirely different ball game though, when this is presented in schools as a scientific approach when it simply isn’t.

Using technological devices does not make you a scientific paranormal researcher, and the science associated with a lot of these pieces of ghost research equipment is often shaky, in need of replication and further testing, or still in progress. Ghost hunters often misunderstand the science and misrepresent it, unknowingly, during their research. Ghost hunters often use these devices in a ‘just in case’ style, yet still use any positive hits as evidence of something weird. This is bad science.

Bad science should not be presented in a school environment as anything other than an example of what bad science looks like. Some have argued that if the prayer group are allowed into the school then ghost hunters should be allowed in too, but this is a poor selection process for determining who should get to talk to children about what they believe to be true.

Noah Leigh said  “We’re not going in there with Ouija boards, dowsing rods, to conjure things up. This is not the point. We’re there to document what may have been reported,” but I would suggest that the techniques he would have been telling the children about are just as bad as dowsing rods and ouija boards – they may have no religious relevance, but they’re still nonsense.

Nonsense does not belong in the classroom and does not get a free pass just because someone else gets to bring a different flavour of nonsense into the classroom.

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.

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