Tag Archives: scientific method

Top 10 Ways Skeptics Debunk the Paranormal

30 Apr

the Amazing Randi-former magician/professional skeptic

Skeptics have been around long before Galileo insisted the earth revolves around the sun. They shouldn’t be confused with their newer cousins the Spin Doctors, who are of a slightly different breed. One is chronically in denial about strange new ideas; the other interprets current events within a self-serving context that has little to do with the truth. We could do without both as easily as we could do without mosquitoes, but I suppose they must serve some kind of ecological purpose in keeping the culture honest.

These days Skeptics love to muck around paranormal phenomena, digging their sharp sticks into all kinds of theories that don’t fit traditional beliefs. Spin Doctors ply their trade in today’s political arenas. One could make a good living being either one. Professional Skeptics have their own magazine, and the Spin M.D.’s operate on the news shows every day. Both bend or outright disregard the truth in order to prove their points.

Mind you I don’t object to folks being skeptical, which is having a healthy doubt about unknown things until proven otherwise. I don’t mind those who try and explain things to their own advantage either– that’s human nature. But the skeptics and spinners I’m referring to cross the line.

Let’s have a closer encounter with the first kind . . .

the Top Ten Ways Skeptics Debunk the Paranormal

Using their most common target, the paranormal, the worst Skeptics typically start their criticisms with a pre-conceived negative attitude toward their quarry. Then they proceed to use bad research techniques and a faulty version of the scientific method to “disprove” some aspect of paranormal phenomena.  Occupationally, these folks tend to be magicians, illusionists, therapists, scientists, teachers, priests, and other secretive explainers. Here’s how they tend to think:

1. If I can simulate the phenomenon, what you saw cannot be real. Skeptics delight in inventing ways of simulating what eyewitnesses claim to have seen in the wild, whether it’s Sasquatch or the Loch Ness Monster. An old MonsterQuest episode shows a friendly Skeptic building cardboard cutouts of Sasquatch and planting them along a roadside where numerous sightings had been reported. He then had observers drive slowly by and later estimate their size. The “observers,” who incidentally were not the original witnesses, generally gave observations in the 6 to 8 foot range. The cutouts were no more than 4 feet high. “Aha!” said the Skeptic. “See, the folks who claimed to have seen a Sasquatch had to be imagining a creature who was very tall.” Boy, he sure got them on that one, these people who never claimed to have seen a real one to begin with.

2. If I can think of a Plausible Rival Hypothesis, it automatically nullifies your hypothesis. The best example I can think of for this brand of Skeptic goes back to Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. A few days after the alleged crash of a UFO, the federal government came up with the rival hypothesis that the UFO was really a weather balloon. Plausible?- sure. Correct? Unlikely. It was proven no more than the existence of a UFO itself, but it was a nice and easy rational explanation for what people thought they saw. Since it was a normal thing in the sky, the Feds reasoned, it couldn’t be extraterrestrial.

3. I simply don’t believe in such things, so they cannot be true. Many skeptics just don’t believe in the thing they’re analyzing, and aren’t shy about saying it. For them, the phenomena must be (insert rational explanation). Perhaps the best example of this way of thinking comes from the likes of “the Amazing Randi” and his friends (one of his best was Alice Cooper, the 60’s rock star who got rich by putting on the grossest stage shows he could think of. Kind of tacky, but he was one of the best at simulating horror via rock music. When they performed as a team, the show would end by the Amazing Randi chopping off Alice’s head). But back to the old pro Randi. He is a former magician and virulent Skeptic who concluded after zero years of research and investigation that paranormal stuff just couldn’t be real. He had always relied on trickery and illusion in his successful stage career, believing that the paranormal is only what he and his buddies did best–stagecraft. If not that, he would fall back on the “natural causes” façade.

4. If some or most reported cases of weird things have proven to be from natural causes, then all cases are from natural causes. This is one of those “neither logical nor true” assertions.  Example: studies have shown that most UFO observations are misidentified conventional objects or natural phenomena—aircraft, balloons, certain kinds of clouds, or celestial objects such as meteors or bright planets (a small percentage turn out to be hoaxes). But between 5% and 20% of reported sightings are unexplained. According to the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC), there were 5,555 sightings reported in 2016. That’s anywhere from 278 to 1,111 that could not be explained by natural causes! If these stats are right, that’s still a whole lot of folks who said they saw an unexplained UFO. So even though most sightings could be from explainable events, it is simply not true that all are.

5. If a phenomenon cannot be validated by replication in a controlled environment by other researchers, then the phenomenon does not exist. According to these Skeptics, no phenom can be the result of rare or transient events; they must be happening anywhere at any point in time so they could easily be captured and put into a cage or a test tube. Unfortunately, that’s not the way supernature works. Ghosts are transient events. UFO sightings are rare. That defies capturing their data, but does not disprove their existence.

6. I shall proceed to prove my hypothesis in order to support the theory I’m paid to believe in. The scientific method does not presuppose an outcome. Testing an hypothesis requires objective analysis, regardless of the investigator’s bias. Unfortunately too many “scientific studies” often require making the boss happy. He/she may be paying them to test a given hypothesis in order to get a pre-determined result. Legalized medical marijuana has of late been the target of the pharmaceutical industry. In its effort to keep home-grown weed from competing with their own for-profit medications, Big Pharma is suspected of producing “scientific” studies that negate the beneficial medical effects of a natural plant. Their attitude is “if ya can’t join ’em, beat ’em with bad science.”

7. My religion commands me to not believe in anything it does not sanction. Case-in-Point: the Catholic Church. One priest-member of the Vatican community has said that telepathic dreams with deceased loved ones communicating with survivors can only be the result of a) the Devil whispering in your ear; b) God whispering in your ear, or c) your own subconscious making up things. He quite emphatically said that the dead cannot talk to you in dreams or otherwise–a Church teaching.

8. I rely on my own way of investigating and analyzing the paranormal. That’s very nice, but many Skeptics fail to use some basic and necessary tools, including logic. Remember “if A is greater than B, and C is lesser than B, therefore C is lesser than A” kind of stuff? Basic logic comes in handy when doing field investigations or lab work. So does deductive reasoning, where a researcher starts with a general principal and deduces individual facts logically following from it. Inductive reasoning starts with a bunch of independent though related facts and builds a working principal. Most skeptical arguments can be attacked for failing to use these basic tools of investigation and analysis.

9. I rely only on settled science to explain nature. This person ignores or minimizes new information since traditional science has not yet proven its existence.  In spite of a plethora of evidence for the existence of ghosts, including that garnered from the over-the-top ghost “reality” shows, this Skeptic will never accept it. As if science has discovered all its going to discover, this one relies only on the proven and substantiated, leaving by the wayside legitimate phenomena waiting for the scientific community to validate. Unfortunately, there is only a handful of scientists doing any kind of field work in the paranormal realm, and they have to be careful to not be laughed off campus or out of their labs.

10. Witnesses of paranormal events have something wrong with them. This kind of debunker believes only in the drunken fisherman who thinks he sees a UFO flying over his boat, or the ignorant person who confuses a UFO with the bright planet Venus. To them, experiencers of spirit visitations are people who have recently lost a loved one, and are prone to hallucinating what they want to see. Everybody else is just plain nuts.

For this category of Skeptic, if you can’t disprove the phenomenon, attack the credibility of the observer. That being said, there is an opposing position from an otherwise prominent parapsychologist who says There is one thing I feel absolutely secure in saying after spending the last forty-four years of my life conducting parapsychological research; that the paranormal attracts more emotionally disturbed people than any other area of human interest or endeavor. This may be true in Dr. Barry Taff’s (Aliens Above, Ghosts Below) experience. But to paraphrase #4, above: if some reports of paranormal experiences come from nut jobs, not all experiencers are nuts.

By the way, true believers in the paranormal can be just as guilty of their own faulty thinking and practices. But that’s for another post.

 

Copyright 2017, Paul Hill
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