is a term applied to a body of alleged knowledge, methodology, belief,
or practice that is portrayed as scientific but diverges substantially
from the required standards for scientific work or is unsupported by sufficient
scientific research. Unfortunately, ghost hunting and paranormal research
is often immersed with it.
purpose of this article is to define and identify what pseudoscience is
and how it affects paranormal research and ghost hunting. By developing
a understanding of this, it may become possible to avoid the pitfalls
and move towards a more scientific approach and methodology.
Anecdotal evidence is not useful.
All an anecdote tells you is what happened in one case. It tells you nothing
about the general population and you cannot draw any general conclusions
from it. You must have well-designed and controlled experiments to get
enough data to reach real conclusions. In ghost hunting, anecdotal evidence
initially surfaces as "witness reports", the reported phenomena
that is experienced by individuals at a particular location. it is important
to understand that "witness reports" cannot be used as evidence
by themselves. Direct connections must be made between reported incidents
and measurable scientific data. This also includes "experiences"
that occur to the ghost hunters' themselves.
You need more than scientific language.
Words and phrases must have precise operational definitions. Simply put,
a ghost hunter or paranormal researcher must have a hypotheses that defines
what he or she is looking for and why they are looking for it. If one
hypothesizes that ghosts are composed of (or radiate) electromagnetic
energy, then the hypothesis must define this. Why? What is its origin?
What is it composed of?
Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence.
Extravagant claims require a lot of evidence. The boldness of a claim
does not make it true. A extravagant claim will not be accepted until
it has been successfully tested many times. The bulk of evidence must
support it. So what makes a claim extraordinary? The major culprit is
the violation of known laws and or applying those laws in ways which are
not constant with the theory that formed them.
Radical (heretical) claims can be wrong.
Surely the Wright brothers got laughs concerning their attempt to fly.
Alfred Wegener was scorned when he proposed that Earth's continents actually
move around. These ideas survive because they stood the test. The Wright
brothers' airplane actually flew, and a mass of evidence has shown that
Wegener was right. But - there is a large number of other radical claims
that did not withstand the tests and have been forgotten.
ghost hunting this assumes many forms. The popular belief that spirits
are more active from midnight to 3:00am because it is the "witching
hour". This belief is based on folklore and superstition and has
no true validity. Other superstitious injections include the belief that
ghosts can harm people, cannot cross running water and that mirrors are
"gateways" to the "other side". All of these have
a initial basis in folklore. Attempting to differentiate between ghosts
and spirits is yet another flaw because neither has been proven yet.
Where is the burden of proof?
Who must prove what? The person making an extravagant claim must prove,
via experiments and evidence, that the new claim is actually more valid
than current ideas. The new hypotheses must make better predictions and
successfully explain more phenomena better than current theory. The current
experts and not obligated to prove that their idea is better.
Rumors are not necessarily real.
You have almost certainly heard some wonderful story and later wondered
if could really be true. Large numbers of such stories fall into the category
of "urban legends," meaning that they never really happened.
It is wise to take these stories as amusing fiction until you can find
some confirmation of them. Generally speaking, if it seems to good to
be true, then it generally is false.
Unexplained does NOT mean not explainable.
The fact that you have never seen or cannot explain some phenomenon does
NOT mean that it must be some unexplained supernatural thing. It would
be quite arrogant to assume that you know everything. You can only investigate
something to the limits of your ability.
is a major component in ghost hunting. Unexplainable noises and smells
are often not analyzed to a sufficient degree to locate their source.
The rationale of "its not explainable, therefore it is a ghost"
is then utilized without realizing that nothing has been proven at all.
Watch for rationalization of failures.
Pseudoscience cannot tolerate failures; they will be rationalized or explained
away in some manner. True science must accept negative results as part
of the search for the truth.
Look out for "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" reasoning.
If event B follows event A, that does NOT prove that A caused B. Event
B could follow A purely by chance. You must have well-designed and controlled
experiments to show that B always follows A. A single occurrence is not
Beware of coincidence.
Truly random behavior can produce some interesting coincidences. Causal
relationships do not always exist. Some interesting combination of events
may be nothing more than chance. The fact that you have never heard of
it before may mean simply that the probability of it is very low and you
don't expect to see it often.
often have ghost hunter taken a unusual photograph when a EM field was
present? What was the frequency of the EM field?
Check the misses as well as the hits.
Is the thing you are looking at really representative of its population?
If one prediction of a "psychic" appears to be correct, how
many others were not correct? We tend to remember the hits and forget
the situation listed above, how many times has a ghost hunter taken a
unusual photograph and no EM fields were present?
of this is intended to say that there are no problems in real scientific
Theory influences observations.
What you see is often influenced by what you expect to see. Observations
will be interpreted according to current knowledge, which can obscure
important implications of the observations.
Observations change the observed quantity.
The classic example of this is found in the measurement of the motion
or position of a subatomic particle. The process of measuring perturbs
Instrumentation influences results.
The basic idea here is this: that which your instruments cannot detect
does not exist. Spectacular advances in knowledge often occur when detection
capabilities improve so that previously unseen things or phenomena can
|The primary goal of science is to
achieve a more complete and more unified understanding of the physical
|| Pseudosciences are more likely to be driven
by ideological, cultural, or commercial goals.
|| Some examples:UFO-ology
(popular culture and mistrust of government), Creation
Science (attempt to justify Biblical interpretation)
|Most scientific fields are the subjects of
intense research which result in the continual expansion of knowledge
in the discipline.
||The field has evolved very little since it
was first established. The small amount of research and experimentation
that is carried out is generally done more to justify the belief than
to extend it.
||The search for new knowledge is the driving
force behind the evolution of any scientific field. Nearly every new
finding raises new questions that beg exploration. There is little
evidence of this in the pseudosciences.
|Workers in the field commonly seek out counterexamples
or findings that appear to be inconsistent with accepted theories.
||In the pseudosciences, a challenge to accepted
dogma is often considered a hostile act if not heresy, and leads to
bitter disputes or even schisms.
In science, the person who shows that a generally
accepted belief is wrong or incomplete is more likely to be considered
a hero than a heretic.
|Observations or data that are not consistent
with current scientific understanding, once shown to be credible,
generate intense interest among scientists and stimulate additional
||Observations or data that are not consistent
with established beliefs tend to be ignored or actively suppressed.
||Have you noticed
how self-styled psychics always seem eager to announce their predictions
for the new year, but never like to talk about how many of last years'
predictions were correct?
|Science is a process in which each principle
must be tested in the crucible of experience and remains subject to
being questioned or rejected at any time.
||The major tenets and principles of the field are
often not falsifiable, and are unlikely ever to be altered or shown
to be wrong.
incorrectly take the logical impossibility of disproving a pseudoscientific
principle as evidence of its validity.
|Scientific ideas and concepts must stand or
fall on their own merits, based on existing knowledge and on evidence.
||Pseudoscientific concepts tend to be shaped
by individual egos and personalities, almost always by individuals
who are not in contact with mainstream science. They often invoke
authority (a famous name, for example) for support.
||Have you ever noticed how proponents of pseudoscientific
ideas are more likely to list all of the degrees they have?
explanations must be stated in clear, unambiguous terms.
||Pseudoscientific explanations tend to be vague
and ambiguous, often invoking scientific terms in dubious contexts.
||Phrases such as "energy vibrations"
or "subtle energy fields" may sound impressive, but they
are essentially meaningless.