This essay explores how what motivates a paranormal investigator can inadvertedly cause a ghost investigator to become unscientific. I also explore what the scientific method looks like when applied to a paranormal case, and how you can accidentally bias your research.
There are many people who claim to investigate ghosts using a scientific approach but this is a claim that should not be taken at face value because a lot of people who make this claim are actually using pseudo-scientific methods without necessarily realising it. These are methods that can be misleading and can provide false conclusions which can be unethical.
In fact, the very reason a person investigates paranormal claims can influence the way in which they then decide to go about their investigations. The choice to use techniques that seem scientific but aren’t can often be the result of three things:
Reason 1 – A need for confirmation bias.
If somebody becomes involved in paranormal research simply because they want to prove that their belief in ghosts is correct then they’re probably going to use methods of investigation that provide them with such confirmation.
People who are trying to prove something to themselves or others will be more likely to use spiritual techniques such as table tipping or glass divination. These methods are easily influenced through people’s expectations. The ideomotor response, for example, is the reason that these spiritual methods are so successful at yielding positive results. The people involved in the glass divination or similar, unintentionally move the glass to meet their expectations – this is an effect that has been proven in numerous studies.
However, expectations and a desire to find a ghost or paranormal cause for phenomena reported can also influence seemingly scientific measurements too, but more on that later.
Reason 2 – The copy-cat effect
Many people who become involved in paranormal research do so because they have been inspired by other people – whether it is a paranormal television show or other paranormal investigators that they seen locally, in books or online.
The main problem with this is that people will conduct very little independent investigation into how they should go about their research. They will simply copy the people who have influenced them, using the same methods and pieces of equipment they use. The copy-cat effect even reaches as far as the locations the team chooses to visit!
Reason 3 – A general misunderstanding of science.
Many paranormal researchers claim that they use a scientific approach to their cases because they use an array of gadgets that can help to detect ghostly presences.
This claim is flawed in itself because claiming to use gadgets that detect ghosts on your investigations is introducing a bias to your investigation, i.e. that there is a ghost at the location to be detected. The gadgets that many paranormal investigators use that they claim are scientific are devices that have been designed to take measurements for other fields of research or monitoring.
Click on the links below for detailed explorations of the popular devices and the theories associated with them:
THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD
When people hear that you can use science to investigate ghosts they often picture people in lab coats. There are scientists who are conducting good research into how the environment around us can cause people to experience odd things they might think are caused by ghosts, and also how our minds can fool us into thinking we’ve experienced something ghostly, but you don’t have to be a scientist to use science in paranormal research – simply by using the correct behaviour you can ensure that your research is scientifically sound. It is easy to use science on an investigation simply by applying the scientific method to the case you are dealing with.
The scientific method can be broken down into a number of basic steps as follows:
- Ask a Question
- Do research
- Construct a hypothesis
- Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
- Analyse your data and draw a Conclusion
- Communicate Your Results
The scientific method is something that repeats itself by asking a question (step one) of the results being communicated (step six). The hypothesis being tested can be in relation to a case of paranormal phenomena that has been reported to an investigator to help find cause and effect relationships in nature.
BIASING GHOST RESEARCH
It is important that a researcher does not allow personal biases to effect the outcome of their research. A belief that ghosts exist is a bias. Unbiased ghost research is research into phenomena where the researcher doesn’t try to detect a ghost or prove that a ghost exists.
Unfortunately many ghost researchers do exactly that when at a location alleged to be haunted. Using devices to detect ghosts (as outlined at the top of this page) suggests that there is a ghost to be detected in the first place. The same is true of ghost researchers who use Spiritual Communication methods.
Introducing person biases into research will also effect the way in which a researcher analyses any data. Often unintentionally, ghost researchers will only take note of the positive hits (the times they get a response) and will ignore the negative hits (when they don’t get a response) which will result in a misleading conclusion that favours their biased position. The negatives should be counted too otherwise you are Cherry Picking your data so that it fits with the conclusion you already have in mind.