There is an overwhelming wave of dishonesty in the paranormal research community. It seems every other week there is someone new called out on fraudulent claims. Of course this isn’t anything new, but is it any surprise? For decades, the majority of proponents for paranormal research have blindly accepted whatever stories they’re told. Provided of course it aligns with their beliefs or comes from any one of the dozens of network generated heroes that fill the reality TV roster.
The lacking demand for facts and the unwillingness of many researchers to show their work has created a safe haven for frauds, liars and thieves. A world where anyone with social media skills and a little time can transform themselves into a pseudo-celebrity for fun and profit and shine in a world of people all hungry for the next big thing in paranormal research. Oh the drama! It’s a gloomy picture and of course, this doesn’t describe everyone. There are certainly reputable researchers out there, but this unsettling condition does make it difficult for those honest truth seekers to find reliable information. It is with that sentiment in mind that I have identified four red – flags which I use (and may help you) when reviewing the research and claims of others.
You should be cautious if…
1. Information is based on books, television or word of mouth.
The most reliable sources of information come from peer reviewed case studies. Independent verification of a concept from multiple independent people is your best chance at securing factual information to support your hypothesis. If a study that supports your hypothesis isn’t peer reviewed, try to replicate the results of the study yourself. Conduct experiments and document your findings for the review of others. After all this is supposed to be research right? Otherwise, be honest and divulge that your source has not yet been reviewed.
There is no shame in being honest. Books, television and word of mouth sources are often loaded with opinions and false perspectives from people who gathered their information in the same “non-reviewed” fashion. It’s a cozy place for liars to hide. If a book references a peer reviewed study as a source, locate the source and find your information there, not from the book. Some authors (not all) have a tendency to embellish, mistake or outright lie in summarizations in order to sell the agenda of the book and will often not mention other important details that can only be found in the case study that supplied the information. Those details just may change the direction of your original hypothesis.
2. The explanation of a claim or concept requires a leap in logic or should be taken on faith alone.
For many people the existence of the line drawn between the presentation of fact and the presentation of opinion is highly erratic. Be cautious of people who inject unsubstantiated conclusions or claims into what might otherwise be a factual recant of an event.
For example, several years ago, at a local lecture of a well-known researcher the lights in the aging (allegedly haunted) lecture hall started to flicker. The presenter then made a statement:
“Did you just see the lights flicker? Flickering lights can be a common occurrence at a haunted location. Sometimes the spirits like to mess with us just to let us know they’re here.”
This sentence requires not only a leap in logic but a jump to the conclusion that “spirits” factually exist and that they interact with the lights for the purpose of messing with us. When I pressed for an information source for this particular claim, I was asked to leave the lecture by the event facilitators. Apparently I was heckling.
The fact is there is no data or information (yet) that can support such a claim. Even if lights do flicker at alleged haunted locations, there is no research currently available to support the claim of a spirit existence let alone their intentions. These concepts are beliefs and a belief is simply an “acceptance” that a statement is true or that something exists. It requires no empirical evidence or data to support it. It serves no purpose in the search for demonstrable facts and any researcher that utilizes belief in their research is pseudo-scientific in their approach (no matter how much electronic technology they use). The injection of belief acts as a loose cannon in their claims and their findings are often no better than a simple opinion, so be careful.
3. Sources of information are not given freely or are not known.
If valid information was obtained to form a concept or a claim it should be made readily available for review with the presentation of that claim or concept. A good, honest researcher will show their work (and not just opinions) to anyone who asks for it and allow them to attempt to come to a similar conclusion. If information is withheld then there is cause for suspicion about the validity of the claim.
By pressing for a source you can often separate the real researchers from the posers. If the person presenting the claim becomes evasive or aggressive when asked for elaboration this could be a significant red flag they have something to hide (or nothing to tell). The purpose of lecture and publication is to educate and evaluate for the purpose of validation (all important in making any new discovery). Answering questions and supplying sources should be expected, unless of course there are other motives.
Reputable, planned lectures should come with a list of information sources that support the subject matter being presented. Additionally there should be a distinct declaration of fact as opposed to opinion in any presentation and if a question can’t be answered, a simple “I don’t know” is a valid, honest response. Similarly, written claims should also have sources cited. Those that don’t should be taken with healthy dose of skepticism.
4. Credentials are used to justify the validity findings
It’s been heard a hundred times: “I’ve been doing this for 40 years, I know what I’m talking about”. The problem is a 40 year history of doing things wrong is the negative equivalent of a 40 year history of doing things right. The duration of time in research is only valuable when progress is being made and/or contributions to the cause are verified through peer review.
Education is important, however learning from a friend or relative does NOT qualify as valid credentials, nor does an education from a television or a book series. The lack of an education (college or otherwise) will often become self-evident under scrutiny of the information presented. The more you dig the more you will know. A researcher who tries to justify their claims solely on their history of non-published/reviewed research and undocumented experiences should not be considered a reputable.
I guess the moral of the story here is simply let the research speak for itself. There are no heroes in paranormal research, nor are there legends. Demonstrable evidence has yet to be found or presented by those who have claimed to find it. So if you want the truth, follow the research, not the researcher and demand the facts before buying the claim. The overwhelming presence of liars, fakes and unsubstantiated claims in paranormal research is made possible by the failure of people to question what they are told. Let’s make a change…. Question everything.