Paranormal Investigation and the Scientific Method

By Gene Lafferty

How many times have you heard or seen on the internet some group claiming to be scientific?  Unfortunately television has taught many people to believe that a group is scientific just because they don’t use psychics, dowsing rods and the likes on their investigations.  I hate to be the one to break the news, but that does not make a group ‘scientific.’  I want to say upfront that our group does paranormal investigations as a hobby; we are not ‘professionals’ but we do conduct a scientific investigation.

The scientific method is impartial. The experiment can be performed by any researcher to determine whether the first researcher’s results are correct. By using the scientific method, the conclusions of the experiments will stand regardless of the researcher’s biases, belief systems, political affiliation, state of mind, etc.  The bottom line is that the results obtained using the scientific methods are repeatable, any time, any place and by anyone.  As a side note, any investigator that claims that a “demon is in the house” has exposed themselves.  The ‘belief’ in demons is a religious belief, thus their experiments are already flawed and they are not conducting a scientific investigation.

WARNING : If you are not at all interested in science, or hated your seventh grade science teacher, stop reading now. Don’t say I did not warn you. (ALL THE MORE REASON TO KEEP READING – Michigan’s Otherside)

Ab? ‘Al? al-?asan ibn al-?asan ibn al-Haytham a Persian (Arab) that lived between 965–1039 was one of the key figures in the development of scientific method.  Since the beginning the emphasis for the method has been on seeking truth.  He wrote in his text Critique of Ptolemy:

“Truth is sought for its own sake. And those who are engaged upon the quest for anything for its own sake are not interested in other things. Finding the truth is difficult, and the road to it is rough.”

Before we dive into the scientific theory there are a few definitions.

Hypothesis: an assumption or concession made for the sake of argument; insufficient evidence to provide more than a tentative explanation.

Theory: a hypothesis assumed for the sake of argument or investigation; a greater range of evidence and greater likelihood of truth.

Law: a statement of an order or relation of phenomena that so far as is known is invariable under the given conditions; a statement that has been found to be invariable under the same conditions like the Law of Gravity.

Scientific Method: a logical and rational order of steps by which scientists come to conclusions about the world around them.

ScientificMethod

The steps of the Scientific Method are:

  1. Observation/Research
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Prediction
  4. Experimentation
  5. Conclusion

Why is the scientific method compiled in this order? The observation is done first so that you know HOW you want to research. The hypothesis is the ANSWER you are assuming. The prediction is your specific BELIEF about the scientific end result: “If my hypothesis is accurate, then I predict to discover…..” The experiment is the TOOL that you use to answer the question, and the conclusion is the answer that the experiment gives.

OBSERVATION/RESEARCH

This step is also called research. It is the first step in understanding your chosen problem. After you decide on the specific question you want to ask, you will need to research everything that you can find on the problem. You can collect from your own experiences, books, internet, or even smaller experiments.

For this step it is important to use as much information as you can compile. The more information you collect, the better the design of the experiment. Also try to get information from “professionals” who know something about your topic. These people can help to guide you to create a solid experiment.

HYPOTHESIS

The next stage is the hypothesis. This word basically means “an educated guess based on knowledge and research.” The hypothesis is a simple statement that defines what you think the outcome of your experiment will be. It is important to note that a hypothesis must be falsifiable.

The observation stage of the scientific method is to help you express a problem in a single question and to propose an answer to the question. The experiment is done to test the hypothesis.

PREDICTION

The hypothesis was a general statement of how you think the phenomenon your studying works. Your prediction lets you get specific; how to demonstrate that you hypothesis is accurate. The experiment that you use is to test the prediction.

It is important that once you develop a hypothesis and a prediction you should not change it even if the results of the experiment show that you are wrong. An incorrect prediction is not a failure. It means that the experiment demonstrated new facts that were previously unknown.

EXPERIMENT

This is the part of the scientific method that tests your hypothesis. An experiment is a tool used to test the ideas; right or wrong. The experiment is the most important part of the scientific method. It is the logical process that lets us learn about the world.

CONCLUSION

The final step in the scientific method is the conclusion. This is a summary of the experiment’s results, and how those results compare to the hypothesis.

Based on your results you have two options for your conclusions. Either you can reject the hypothesis, or you can not reject the hypothesis. This is an important point. You can not prove the hypothesis with a single experiment. Why? There is a chance that you made an error along the way. What you should state is that your results support the original hypothesis.

If your original hypothesis doesn’t match up with the final results of your experiment, don’t change the hypothesis. Instead, explain what might have been wrong with your original hypothesis. What information did you not have in the beginning that caused the prediction to be in error? What are the reasons that the hypothesis and experimental results didn’t match up?

EXAMPLE

While watching your favorite ghost hunting show on television you are “tapped” with the observation that the K-II EMF meters seem to spike when no AC wiring is present.  However, there are two way radios in use.

Topic: Does two way radios cause an effect on the K-II emf sensor?

HYPOTHESIS: I believe that the K-II emf meter can be triggered by frequencies emitted by two way radios.

My hypothesis is based on:

(1) EMF meters measure electromagnetic fields

(2) Through informal, an observation of the K-II meter in use appears to be effected by the use of these devices.

PREDICTION: By activating a two way radio in the vicinity of a K-II meter, the meter will react, flash lights, in response to the frequencies being emitted by the radios.

EXPERIMENT: Test the meter and several different types of two way radios and document the effects the radio waves have on the meter.

CONCLUSION: The results of my experiment support my hypothesis.

Remember that an experiment isn’t a failure if it proves your hypothesis wrong or if it proves your prediction isn’t accurate. An experiment is only a failure if there is a flaw in the design.

A flawed experiment is one that:

(1) Doesn’t keep its variables under control

(2) Doesn’t sufficiently answer the question that you asked of it

HOMEWORK

Let’s say that while watching that same television show you also notice that the K-II meter goes off when they are investigating an outside location and this time they do not have two way radios.  Does that mean your earlier hypothesis is wrong?  No, not at all; after careful observation you notice the investigators all carry cell phones.  What if these phones were placed on silent and they received a call or text message; let’s say “one cue”.  Would the microwave signals used by the cell phones put out a field with the ability to trigger a timely K-II response?

Sounds like another use of the scientific method. Do the experiment and let me know the results for the next news letter. Moreover, by submitting your findings you are concluding a most important step- the peer review.

Do keep in mind that the peer review is not to help each other feel better! It is to help each other understand and improve the quality of our work. As a reviewer, your job is not to find nice things to say. Your job is to test arguments for their strength and identify problems that need corrected.During the peer review, consider specific correction required and encouragement optional- if at all.