The ghostly token
Posted February 17, 2011on:
Here’s a thing that really annoys me.
At skeptical orientated events, ghost research is seen as quirky, funny, possibly outdated, a waste of time.
At paranormal events skepticism is seen as the enemy, closed minded, untrustworthy, odd.
I slot in between those two somewhere and it’s starting to grate. I have just read this blog post* by Andy Russell regarding the QED conference in which he says:
Of the 12 1 hour sessions in the main hall, 2 were about ghosts (maybe 2.25 if you count the bits in Bruce Hood’s talk). I guess ghosts are quite fun and there are some serious issues related to them (e.g. exploitation of vulnerable people) but it felt like a bit too much. Surely there are other issues we should be thinking about?
2 out of 12 panels is nothing. Absolutely nothing. Skepticism in ghost belief and ghost research is as relevant as any of ‘type’ of skepticism out there, not to mention the fact that skepticism in general DOES think about other issues way more than ghosts. Alt med for example, gets HUGE coverage, as does creationism, anti-vaccination, the list is endless…
I find opinions like “ghost don’t exist. move on” quite tedious. Five years ago I was a believer in all sorts of ghost related “woo”, an afterlife, stone tape theory, demons, evil entities, exorcism… However, I managed to see sense and become a much more rational investigator. To be told that the lessons I learnt aren’t worth the time and effort, that I should move on, is a slap in the face. I have seen the misinformation that is spread between believers in ghosts, I have heard the lies you get told to make you buy a certain gadget or protective amulet, I’ve seen the nonsense through the eyes of a believer and I know for certain that there is a huge need for people countering such nonsense.
The sort of attitude I encounter from people who refer to themselves as skeptics is the reason that skeptics are met with a frosty reception at paranormal conferences they are asked to speak at. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, delivered skeptical talks to a theatre full of believers and been cornered by the spiritualists…
Dismissing ghost research is rather lazy, in my opinion, because it shows a complete lack of understanding of how skepticism can (and does) play a role in paranormal research.
I am confident enough to say that skepticism (and related events) are not ghostly enough. I actually commented at QED that it was nice to see belief in ghosts getting more coverage. You only have to look at levels of belief in ghosts to see how relevant ghosts are.
You only have to think about how beliefs in something as harmless as a ghost can lead to beliefs in things that are harmful – like families being told that the EMF in their home can cause cancer (ghost hunters love their EMF meters, and misinterpret the readings), how epilepsy is actually a demonic possession, how poltergeist are the devil, how your house is cursed, or haunted by a ghost that will rape you in your sleep, how paranormal researchers can ‘clear’ the spirits away but you’ve got to pay them first…
When it comes to a belief in ghosts there is a very thin line between harmless and harmful.
I “get” that some skeptics may not be interested in ghosts, but please don’t dismiss the work that rational ghost researchers do because, well, to be honest, it’s a horrible thing to do.
Paranormal research should be relevent to people of a skeptical mindset, and if you are a skeptic who thinks otherwise, or doesn’t understand why, I urge you to do a little bit of digging before making closed-minded remarks, undermining a lot of research that is done by a lot of people.
However, do feel free to go and tell Joe Nickell, James Randi or Ben Radford that skeptical analysis of ghosts is a waste of time. I’m sure they’ll have something to say about that.