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'My Science is Bigger than your Science'

PSI’s Dave Wood takes a glance at the confusion between ‘paranormal equipment’ and ‘science’.

Most paranormal research groups today seem to be armed with a menagerie of ‘high tech ghost hunting equipment’. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, groups should be out there testing theories.

Problems arise, however, when people begin to confuse equipment with science, and when groups don’t really know how their equipment works.

I’m sure many of us have stumbled across websites which claim to be the ‘most scientific’ based on the sheer volume of equipment used. The argument goes something along the lines of: ‘ghost hunting equipment detects ghost activity’, ‘using equipment is the scientific way to detect ghosts’, ‘we have the most equipment, therefore we are the most scientific’. I hope I’m not the only one slightly nervous of this line of argument.

The first myth is that there is any such thing as ‘paranormal investigating equipment’; there is not. EMF meters are used to detect (typically) electrical fields; there’s a reason the popular brand is called ‘Cellsensor’. Environmental monitoring equipment is used to measure the environment by a range of industries. Camera and audio equipment is used by enthusiasts the world over. What makes one define this equipment as paranormal? Well, sometimes these pieces are made for another purpose are sold on by ‘paranormal shops’. Sometimes paranormal enthusiasts are skilled in other areas and produce more economical copies of other pieces of equipment to sell to the paranormal market.

None of this should be taken to the suggest that any of these pieces of equipment should be used for paranormal investigation. Sometimes they may even be sold specifically as the answer for ‘detecting ghosts’ but I think most of us know there is no scientific link between ghosts and EMF, the environment and anything else. There are (often unscientific) theories to link the two, but there is typically no evidence for it.

So do many of us not really know what we’re doing with our equipment? Anecdotally, the answer seems to be ‘yes’. Ask many people why they are using EMF meters and the answer is ‘because they are linked to manifestations’. Ask why someone is using a spot thermometer to measure a non-surface cold spot and they cannot see anything amiss.

No one can really blame anyone else for not knowing exactly how and why each piece of equipment works. No one person can be expected to carry that amount of information in his or her head. But without knowing the science it’s difficult to justify calling the use of such equipment ‘scientific’. The reality in some cases is that the more equipment that is used, the enquiry is it not more scientific it is less.