This is part II of a guest post by Sharon Hill.
With just a modicum of science experience, one can pick apart the amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) activities. ARIG participants do not generally show an understanding of the concepts of validity, controls, objectivity, bias, interference, statistical analysis, skepticism and peer review – or what we might refer to as the ethos of science . That’s no surprise; neither does the average non-scientist citizen. Yet, as part of their promotion, ARIGs will co-opt use of the culturally established image of science as a stamp of legitimacy, a means to exhibit their seriousness and commitment to truth, to project competence, qualifications, professionalism, accuracy and honesty.
This is common. We find the same associations to science-like concepts used to promote health and beauty claims, political and religious-based ideologies and many products in the marketplace.
Considering where most of the non-scientists get their ideas about science – from the media –people see more fake science than real. The average paranormal investigator is following what they have seen from others on TV and attempting to follow what they think is a scientific method. They have no shortage of clients. People with problems will readily attribute paranormal causes to them, often by default. The ARIGs will go where scientists will not – they make house calls. They will confidently give answers to questions and make conclusions where a trained researcher or investigator would not dare.
For participants and as clients, this activity fill a social need for people to feel validated in their experiences and belief.
ARIGs often have as one of their missions or goals education of the public. Every week, across the U.S., you can find lectures and presentations by ghost hunting groups. You might even be able to take a class at your local community college.
I urge you to sit in on one like I did. The audience has no difficulty in accepting the researchers personal experiences, awful photographs and garbled sound recordings as evidence that the paranormal realm exists. In communicating their work to the public, ARIG leaders will often promote a matter-of-fact paranormal explanation (“This was caused by a spirit entity” or “There is no known animal that could have done this”) while presenting their methods and conclusions as sound (and frequently “scientific”). The public is delivered inaccurate information and a distorted view of reality.
After becoming familiar with ARIGs goals and missions, I became a little sad. It was not so much because they were wildly off base with their information and methods, but because the paranormal community is FULL of curious, passionate and dedicated people who want to find out answers to serious questions and share their activities with others. I was sad because they were misguided in their attempts to obtain that knowledge. Our current education system fails to provide individuals with the tools to know how to identify real science (in the true sense of the word) from a hollow, and sometimes farcical, imitation.
3. Merton, R.K. (1942). The Normative Structure of Science. In R.K. Merton (ed.), The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations: 267-278. Chicago, IL: Univ of Chicago Press.
Sharon Hill is a geologist with a Masters Degree in education focusing on science and the public. She is active in the skeptical community where she focuses on “sciencey” sounding claims and exposing sham inquiry. Her website is http://idoubtit.wordpress.com Twitter: @idoubtit