Wallys of the weird

Most people will have seen the spooky shows on TV, Ghost Hunters, Most Haunted and so on to know that there’s a standard format.  People go into a spooky building, in the dark with eerie night vision cameras, jumping at every noise, temperature drop or imagined touches on the shoulder, then run out screaming. If they’re lucky, they’ve got a psychic with them to commune with the spirits, if not they resort to spiritual automatic writing or dabble with an ouija board.

Accounts of alleged paranormal incidents can feature shovelfulls of excited hyperbole and excruciating cliché.

Dare to criticise such practices, or have the temerity to ask for evidence, and you risk being labelled a rabid skeptic who doesn’t know anything, after all you weren’t there.  To self styled paranormal investigators, those with a skeptical approach are an enemy to their wisdom, a wisdom borne of front line paranormal investigation experience and the occasional spirit guide.

It’s refreshing then to read this article in the Salon which shows that skeptics aren’t alone in being the object of disdain of paranormal folk, they’re quite bitchy about each other too:

Nichols pointed out a laundry list of what he calls bad science in the series: Investigations always take place at night (Why would ghosts come out only then? How can you be a good observer in the dark?); investigators use unproven, “scientific seeming” instruments like magnetometers, which have ultimately failed to produce replicable results; they suggest that every odd sound, every “cold spot” and every “orb” (which have been explained away as side effects of digital cameras) are signs of ghosts. More generally, as Nichols put it, “they just run around like little girls.”

That about sums it up.  Yet people still watch the shows and read the books and newspapers full of unscientific unevidenced drivel.  Here in South Shields, our own local newspaper the Shields Gazette regularly features spooky articles with little more than anecdote and speculation fed on a diet of confirmation bias.

It shows that for the meantime at least, the public desire to believe in the supernatural and the extraordinary makes money, which makes the weird a lot more lucrative than scientific and rational explanations.

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One response to “Wallys of the weird”

  1. the skeptic says :

    The Salon article is pretty good and represents a trend I have seen lately. Even though there is no compelling evidence that the paranormal is anything other than wishful thinking, I don’t mind educated (qualified) researchers delving into it all. I don’t think there is much hope that they are going to find anything (if the known laws of physics are true), but I sympathise with their view that populist trash makes a mockery of what they are trying to do.

    Even locally, we have a couple of amateur paranormal investigators who do pretty much the same thing that the Salon article complains of. (I won’t embarrass them by naming names; the dynamic duo must be embarrassed enough by the fact that their last book has been panned by sceptics and believers alike, all over the internet)

    It’s just a pity that anyone, but anyone, can call themselves “professionals” or “experts” in paranormal investigation without having to demonstrate objectively to any kind of regulatory body that they know what they are talking about. When you consult a real professional – your family doctor, for example – you can be damned sure that the thing hanging on his wall is not his cycling proficiency certificate.

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