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Talking EMF Meters?!

Dave Wood takes a glance over the current trend of ‘digital dowsing’ and what is says about the direction of dubious paranormal research.

Technology is a wonderful thing: a great new gadget is brought out, perfected and then further advanced. Unfortunately what might be true for iPods and mobile phones is not true in paranormal research. “They gave us the EVP recorder, then the EMF meter, and then they gave us the EVP-recording EMF meter!”. This article explores why this ‘gadget’ is backwards step and - more importantly - why on earth people are ‘buying it’ (now, literally).

Psychical research has been advancing - in its own painfully slow and indomitable way - for decades. EVP was discredited by the 1980s, and the 1990s and beyond has seen advances in the knowledge of the role of factors such as low frequency fields and infrasound in the experience of paranormal events.

Unfortunately the 1990s and 2000s also saw a Victorian-style explosion of the popularity of nonsense: EMF meters, ghost photography, Ouija, dowsing, trigger objects, etc. The rational researcher would seek to find out where these tools and methods came from, assess whether they are capable of providing evidence, and assessing the ‘evidence’ produced.

Great progress was being made. EVP and ghost photographs were recognised as being the result of apophenia. EMF theories were recognised as being a misunderstood twisting of academic research. But rather than paranormal investigators moving on and getting to grips with what is really going on, there is a constant search for the ‘new great gadget’ to prove that ‘ghosts exist’.

And - not unsurprisingly - this new trend of ‘digital dowsing’ has been popularised by TV shows from across the Atlantic.

So, what is ‘digital dowsing’? Several ‘gadgets’ have been presented over the last year and carry different names. However the principle is the same. These home-made gadgets are variously: radios that sweep different frequencies and echo the effects; and temperature gauges and EMF meters programmed with phonetics, so that fluctuations cause random noises to be emitted.

These are extensions of the discredited paranormal theories of EMF, EVP and temperature. Most researchers know that - given a paranormal context - any random visual or auditory stimuli can be reconstructed by the brain to be ‘meaningful’. So most researchers seek to ‘cut out’ this nonsense stimuli that relies on fragile perception to interpret, especially where it has been shown that such ‘interpretations’ are purely an internal, psychological construct.

So these gadgets have no theoretical basis, no good evidence and they seem almost designed to produce the sort of misattributional rubbish we should be ‘designing out’ of our methods. So why are people wasting their time and - now - hundreds of units of their local currency on this?

There is a fairly obvious flaw in much of this field of research - a perceptible bias, and lack of objective investigation. The focus for many seems to be that of fishing for anecdotes. The pseudo-scientific approach that ‘evidence’ captured with a ‘scientific gadget’ is objective and somehow scientific, when not backed up with a rational methodology. Such individuals famously are shocked that rational people do not take them seriously, and even go to the extremes of conjuring up international conspiracies against themselves (which seems to show a want of modesty!)

However, taking a step back, these ‘advances’ smack of a broader desperation. We have seen it all before with these ‘amazing’ new gadgets that quickly lose credibility, as everyone either works out they have no basis in reality or simply gets bored with it. The trend this is showing is of the biased portion of the research community becoming increasingly dispirited, with all their tools and methods bearing no fruit. The rational researcher can, perhaps, hold out hope that once this current trend dies its inevitable death, a few more irrationalists will ‘give up the ghost’.