Scientific Methodology And Paranormal Investigation
Common Myths, Misconceptions, And Misapplications
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that scientific methodology can be properly applied to paranormal investigation and as a tool for other investigators and those whom are simply interested.
Our eternal gratitude goes out to Dr. Charles Leitzau Ph.D who's continued support, encouragement and excellent advice has allowed us not only a wonderful learning opportunity, but the ability to provide useful data to the continued study of paranormal topics.
We will begin this article by looking at vocabulary, which even hard scientists will on occasion misuse:
SPECULATION: Very preliminary or insufficient data - may later rise to a higher ranking of scientific authority
HYPOTHESES: Possible explanation - this must include a verifiable prediction.
THEORY: (Properly applied) Can only be used after verified experimentation - a hypothesis which has been verified
CONTROLLED EXPERIMENT: Must have a control group in which no changes are made. Must have an experimental group in which only one variable is allowed. There must be a large enough sample for statistical analysis.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"
This phrase has been attributed to Carl Sagan, but it was first coined by Marcello Truzzi a founder of CSICOP whom regretted it. The truth is that ALL claims simply require evidence that meets the criteria for scientific validity. This is a commonly held but invalid misinterpretation of a basic principle.
The burden of proof rests permanently upon the person who introduces a novel hypothesis
An invalid misinterpretation of a basic rule used primarily by sceptebunkers whom then proceed to offer spurious alternative hypotheses without the responsibility of producing evidence. In reality, each person who offers an explanation must assume the responsibility of providing proof of that explanation. A good example of where this rule has been properly applied would be the article written by GHRS director Matthew Didier in which statistical evidence has been provided that demonstrates the process in which photographic orbs are captured. www.torontoghosts.org/finalorb.htm
A scientist's hypothesis (usually incorrectly referred to as "theory") carries more authority than that of a non-scientist - only scientists can do valid science.
This presumption is INCORRECT! The authority of an explanation rests entirely on the quality of the data not it's source. This error was made by a radio announcer in Ontario whom wrongfully pronounced paranormal investigator Tamara Zyganiuk a non-scientist based solely on her credentials and failed to examine the data at hand.
Dismissal of another person's data or the demeaning of their reputation are signs of being more selective and therefore correct.
Again, incorrect. The use of personal attacks gives the impression that the offender lacks credible evidence that would support their own claims. Data can only be criticized by giving specific criterion which it fails to meet. If no criteria are presented then the criticism is invalid.
Naming a phenomena is the same as identifying it.
Let us take a look at Apparitions: Sceptebunkers will tout explanations such as sleep paralysis, hallucination etc whilst "true believers" will say it is the spirits of the dead. All of these named explanations cover up the fact that there is no valid experimental evidence yet available concerning their exact source or even some of their more important aspects.
Mistaking the image of a phenomena for it's source
An example would be Terry Boyle's use of a photograph taken at the Ghost Road location which implies that it is indeed an apparition of a deceased motorcyclist. Verifiable experiments at the location demonstrate the true causation as artificial lights from a specific spot on the West Quarter Line.
This consists of the mistaken belief that you can determine the cause of a phenomena by it's effect. Using Ghost Road as another example, many people assumed that the "ghostlights" could not be car headlights as they were viewed as one singular light and could be spotted in poor weather conditions. The actual source of the "lights" was then left uninvestigated as opposed to what would be required by the scientific method. Please see Ghost Road Port Perry for our investigation of the "ghostlights"
Correlation is not causation
An example would be a witness who claims to have seen a "sasquatch", based on the visual observation of a large dark coloured animal whilst hiking. While the description could fit with other known "sasquatch" reports it does not necessarily denote a "sasquatch" was in fact sighted.
The use of scientific equipment or methodology guarantees the results are scientific
Again this is inaccurate. Many investigators of the paranormal are now using devices such as cameras, EMF detectors, thermometers, motion detectors and thermal scanners. They will point to sporadic readings as evidence of paranormal activity. These devices can provide valid data, but strict and specific protocols must be adhered to. It is rare that the users of technical equipment take into account controls or calibration trials. At Fort York in Toronto, Matthew Didier of the TGHRS took mean EMF readings throughout a specific building before experiments designed to gather data in relation to a possible correlation between higher than norm EMF readings and possible EVP (electronic voice phenomena) was undertaken.
Insufficient Sample Size
No one would be foolish enough (at least we hope) to bet their life savings on the improbability of 10 heads in a row showing up in a legitimate coin toss. Yet, many investigators will develop a hypothesis then give it limited trials. Five, ten or even fifteen trials are usually insufficient to give a statistically valid determination. For a student's t-test a sample size of 31 is considered ideal. A handful of trials may constitute a belief or strong conviction, but does not qualify as scientific proof.
Constructive criticism is always welcome!