Sunday, 8 July 2012


Ghosts n' stuff.

From Creationists attempting to re-brand themselves as ‘Intelligent Design Advocates’ to Cryptozoologists (the folks who go traipsing off attempting to find Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster), there has undoubtedly been a shift in which those who advocate theories outside of the norm attempt to describe or put forward their views in a way they feel to be scientific. Really, this is the essential tenets of pseudoscience; arbitrarily attempting to make something sound and look more feasible by jury-rigging scientific-sounding jargon to them.

Sharon Hill over at Doubtful has another way of describing the process of attempting to sound scientific and failing to do so; she calls it ‘scientifical’.[1] She’s also very kindly just released her entire thesis for free via the internet for all to look at and read. I found it via a link shared on /r/skeptic, and I thought it would be worth spreading the word about (though I will confess now that I’ve not yet had the opportunity to read through the thesis in its entirety; I am not that fast a reader).

Rather than attempting to describe it to you when I’ve not fully read the thesis myself, I’ll instead quote the Abstract and then give you a link; take it away Sharon:

“21st century television and the Internet are awash in content regarding amateur paranormal investigators and research groups. These groups proliferated after reality investigation programs appeared on television. Exactly how many groups are active in the U.S. at any time is not known. The Internet provides an ideal means for people with niche interests to find each other and organize activities. This study collected information from 1000 websites of amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) to determine their location, area of inquiry, methodology and, particularly, to determine if they state that they use science as part of their mission, methods or goals. 57.3% of the ARIGs examined specifically noted or suggested use of science as part of the groups’ approach to investigation and research.

Even when not explicit, ARIGs often used science-like language, symbols and methods to describe their groups’ views or activities. Yet, non-scientific and subjective methods were described as employed in conjunction with objective methods. Furthermore, what were considered scientific processes by ARIGs did not match with established methods and the ethos of the scientific research community or scientific processes of investigation. ARIGs failed to display fundamental understanding regarding objectivity, methodological naturalism, peer review, critical thought and theoretical plausibility. The processes of science appear to be mimicked to present a serious and credible reputation to the non-scientific public. These processes are also actively promoted in the media and directly to the local public as “scientific”.

These results highlight the gap between the scientific community and the lay public regarding the understanding of what it means to do science and what criteria are necessary to establish reliable knowledge about the world.”

And there you have it. You can find the thesis here, and I strongly recommend you check it out. These studies are extremely useful when discussing the paranormal and those who would seek to investigate it.