I once went to a presentation by the Paranormal Research Society, held at a local Pennsylvania State University campus. It was not sponsored (nor endorsed) by the university but by a student activities group. I chuckled softly to myself when Ryan Buell flubbed information about some very famous “ghost” photographs. His background on parapsychological history seemed thin. I was thoroughly unimpressed. (I’ve since watched the show and was even more unimpressed.) I’m sure he’s better now, being under the tutelage of Lorraine Warren, clairvoyant/demon enthusiast. PRS has announced that in response to tremendous public requests, they will be offering educational webinars.

“PRS will begin hosting and offering classes and lectures on paranormal research and various topics through the means of online webinars. PRS will offer both individual lectures and web courses, as well as invite outside experts/researchers to offer classes.”

Color me skeptical about the seriousness of such a venture…

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said PRS member Eilfie Music. “We’re very excited. We love to share what we’ve learned so far. It’s definitely not going to be a stuffy, old lecture. How can it when you’re talking about ghosts, poltergeists and demons?”

Hmm. Yes. Fun….what you’ve learned. Let’s teach more credulous people how to attribute every little sound and feeling to indefinable, unmeasureable, supernatural entities. Sorry, my sarcasm meter is stuck…

The PRS touts its parapsychology branch as

“the scientific backbone of PRS. Its mission is to expand our knowledge of the paranormal in a scientifically viable form. Only through repeated experimentation will the paranormal gain a foothold within the modern scientific community.”

WAIT a DEAD TIME MINUTE! Scientific backbone? Scientifically viable? There is not much more on this page. I’m unclear who the parapsychologists actually are. But, I do know that many parapsychology programs were discontinued a while ago and the field of study went on a downward spiral, proponents were no closer to the answers they sought. That’s a pretty tall claim made there. What is there to back it up? Nothing so far.

With the PRS’s overall emphasis on wholly non-scientific ideas such as the occult, demon possession, Wicca, psychics, and communication with the dead, it is laughable that they would use the word “scientific” on this website.

The most heinous thing ghost hunting groups do, in my opinion, is fool the non-scientific public into thinking they are legitimate researchers and investigators with any handle on what is knowledge or truth.

In the process of communicating their activities and findings to the public, pro-paranormal groups present their methods and “theories” as sound. The public does not have the tools to deconstruct the sciencey jargon or see through the symbols of technology. They have no knowledge of the rigor and skills involved in good science. In reading some of the articles that appear in local papers about paranormal investigators, I have seen clues that the audience buys what is sold to them – a paranormal viewpoint. The public is fed an inaccurate view of a scientific method and they buy this sham inquiry as genuine.

If I recall correctly, Penn State was none-too-happy to be affiliated with Buell’s ghost hunting club when it first came to light. But that hardly matters. People see you at an institution and assume a connection. Paranormal groups capitalize on credibility-by-association as a back door to legitimacy. In my research of amateur paranormal research and investigation groups, I found that they revel in the opportunity to provide classes, lectures and presentations for community groups and schools. They proudly announce such outreach events on their websites. It plays up their self-styled role as “expert,” even if they eschew that word when confronted.

What are their qualifications? Years of doing amateur investigations. That’s it. They have not contributed to any knowledge recognized as legitimate outside their circle of colleagues and admirers. Many paranormal researchers put a LOT of time into their activities and want to do things the right way. But what they do is not science. PRS can, however, do perfectly well teaching them how not to do science. I do not agree that amateur poking around in the dark is helpful to find answers about questionable human experiences. Not once has the PRS produced any evidence or documentation of any substance that a scientist could take seriously. Their research methods are shoddy; their bias for the supernatural explanation taints every investigation.

I admit I have been very negative about PRS here. I’ll be clear. They make a TV show and a living through the current fascination with the paranormal. I don’t begrudge them for being entertaining but I do get highly irritated when they claim to be something they are not, expertise they have not earned and a sophistication they do not have. They do not generate knowledge in the same way our scientific institutions generate shared, repeatable, verifiable knowledge. Ultimately, I’m negative because it’s disturbing and dangerous PRS and others like them find an audience for their act.

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