Ghost hunters as “really good researchers, I guess”

Story from The Onion: ‘Ghost Hunters’ Enjoys Surprising 100% Success Rate

“What can I say? We’re just really good researchers, I guess.” At press time, despite having repeatedly resolved the most central question of human existence, the program is somehow not on the cover of every major newspaper, magazine, and scientific journal in the world.

Sure, we can all laugh at how sharp and witty The Onion is. It’s a little strange to get such accurate news (through a satirical filter). Why are the Ghost Hunters convinced of their work? Why do they think that they are doing “research”? Well, wait…aren’t they doing research? If we define research as a systematic way to collect data and information in a sustained way, then, sure, I guess they are doing research.

But their research isn’t taken seriously. It’s not scientific. There are many reasons why paranormal investigators work falls way short of being “scientific”. I’ll just focus on the primary reason – paranormal bias.

It’s easy to have a 100% success rate for finding the paranormal if everything you observe you attribute to paranormal entities. It’s little different than attributing everything nice in the world to God’s goodness. You’ve made an arbitrary connection and seek out pieces of information to add to your worldview. Bring in someone who does not have preconceived ideas about cause and they will attribute events differently. I see the orbs as dust particles, not spirit energy, for example. I’m not impressed with recorded random word-like noise. It’s too big of a leap to say it’s “ghosts” when there are a myriad of other down-to-earth explanations.

Once you attribute something to “paranormal” causes, you’ve turned your back on science and gave it the finger. A scientific view of nature (the most reliable way of intepreting nature) is based on rules – physical rules, logic, and rules about gaining reliable knowledge. Ghost hunters never consider those rules. They throw them away and make new stuff up on the fly. They interpret observations in terms of their paranormal bias. So, to say they are “scientific” is out of the question and their credibility is lost. Creationsists looking to fit the story of life to the 6-day story of Genesis do the same.

Let me clarify one thing item. While the official “Ghost Hunters” on TV have previously said they were being “scientific”, they have backed off this stand quite a bit. The word does not come up in show and it’s harder to find it used explicitly. However, the TAPS webpage and MANY other paranormal investigation groups (about half [1]) do explicitly use science or scientific to describe themselves. Yet, they co-opt many images of science, such as jargon and equipment, to suggest to viewers that they are sophisticated and precise. It’s a ploy and it works. Many people do consider ghost hunters serious researchers[2] who come up with genuine evidence for the paranormal. Now, that’s scary.

It's obviously a ghost! What else can it be?

I call what ghost hunters do “sham inquiry” because their method of investigation is flawed due to this bias. They are going through the motions, attempting to gain credibility through sciencey words, fancy equipment and (what appears to be) a serious attitude. See more on sham inquiry on this special page. And don’t be fooled.

1. Hill, S. A. (2010) “Being Scientifical: Popularity, Purpose and Promotion of Amateur Research and Investigation Groups in the U.S.” [Thesis] Master of Education – Science and the Public, State University of New York at Buffalo.

2. Brown, A. (2008). Ghost Hunters of New England. Univ. Press of New England.

About idoubtit

Fluent in science, animals, paranormal culture. Expert in weird news.