The War Against TAPS

Debunkers come out of the closet for just about every claim and accomplishment. I don’t really have an opinion on all the television shows about psychics, ghost hunters, hauntings, and such except that they are entertainment productions.

Paranormal investigations have always puzzled me. Who came up with that word anyway? The etymology for paranormal suggests that any so-called “paranormal investigation” is a “(not) normal investigation”. So a paranormal investigator is someone who investigates things beyond the norm, I suppose.

Only, if spirits and ghosts are real, if UFOs are something other than swamp gas, they really are as normal as every undiscovered insect and lizard species on Earth; they are as normal as all the as-yet uncatalogued stellar phenomena. If people truly have psychic abilities, then these abilities are natural and should not be treated by their advocates as unnatural, supernatural, extranatural, paranormal things.

That’s like saying an entomologist is not a normal scientist because he studies insects. Insects don’t float in space or inspire mathematicians to devise new branches of mathematics. Insects are just bugs, creepy crawly things. We study them when we’re bored and watching them go about their business on cloudy days.

If ghosts and bigfoot are real then eventually science will figure out ways to find them and study them. That is what science is all about. The problem is that amateur investigators are impatient and tired of waiting for science to prove that the Chupacabra really exists.

So cable television has brought us a flurry of shows that attempt to demonstrate there really is something out there — that the truth can be captured on videotape, evaluated on computer, and transformed into revenue-generating entertainment. All we lack is an interview with Dr. Michio Kaku saying, “Ghosts are real phenomena that have been studied by professionals for years”.

In the 1980s nothing was considered to be scientifically valid if Carl Sagan didn’t at least mention it in passing on his Cosmos series. “Mars belongs to the Martians, even if they are only microbes” he said in one episode. Sagan never saw any credible evidence that there was life on Mars, or that there might have been life on Mars. But he at least held out the possibility that science might one day figure out a way to determine whether there is or was life on Mars.

That unflinching faith in man’s ability to look at purely speculative ideas and develop a science capable of testing and exploring those ideas seems to be restricted only for sexy, formally vetted disciplines. Hence, we are left with parascientific paranormal investigations that bring no real science to the questions asking, “Does the human spirit exist beyond the life of the physiological body? Are there other entities out there which have existed for long periods of time?”

The television shows, Ghost Hunters (which stars the founders of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS)) in particular, have been challenged by amateur and anonymous debunkers on YouTube, blogs, and various other Web sites. I watched some of the so-called debunkers’ videos (including some by FearsTurtles, MovieDan, and ParanormalFraud). I can only shake my head and ask, “Where’s the science?”

ParanormalFraud seems to really have it in for Grant Wilson, who seems rather personable and disarming. But the videos claiming to debunk the Ghost Hunter incidents don’t debunk anything. At best they may show that something could have happened in one explainable way. I could just as easily upload videos arguing that Barack Obama won the Presidential election by stuffing ballot boxes. All I would have to do — to achieve the same level of credible debunkery — is to film a ballot box being stuffed.

Just because you can pull a sheet up your leg with a string doesn’t mean Grant Wilson did that. You know, the moving sheet could have been done with stop-action animation techniques, too. Or it could have been a computer generated image (you’d be surprised to learn what kind of sophisticated software you can buy at a science fiction convention these days).

I can’t prove that Grant’s video wasn’t faked any more than anyone can prove that it was. You’d need the original recordings and equipment, affidavits from several industry professionals with impeccable credentials, and maybe a forensic report from the FBI crime lab to show that TAPS is lying. Maybe some of their claims are misinterpretation based on ignorance — it’s not like any of these television investigators have degrees in Paranormal Studies.

There is a real science of parapsychology that seeks to disassociate itself from ghost hunting, UFO chasing, and Bigfoot biology. People contemplating careers in Paranormal Studies are warned to expect a lack of respect from fellow scientists and virtually no university support for the field. You can take classes, workshops, and seminars but there is no actual degree program that focuses solely on Paranormal Studies.

Academic-level paranormal research usually falls under religious studies, anthropology, or psychology. You have to study something else (something “normal”) in order to learn about Paranormal stuff, and the experts warn you that most people teaching the topic may NOT be experts.

So the very lack of credible resources that Skip, Grant, and Jason all suffer from afflicts their detractors, too. You cannot credibly debunk faux science with faux science. Just because you can sit in front of a video camera doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing when you claim someone else is lying, faking, or otherwise misleading the viewing audiences.

There is no sound, rational basis for claiming that these shows are all faking it somehow. Why? Because there is no science for ghost hunting, demonology, or orb-analysis — except, possibly, as developed within the halls of the Vatican and its teaching and research institutions around the world.

Science, Philosophy, and Theology all went their separate ways about four hundred years ago, give or take a decade. Scientists turned their faith to empirical and observational details that can be replicated in predictable experimental form, or which can be verified through successive observation. They still rely heavily on speculation, interpretation, and intuitive guesswork but they have adopted the rigorous discipline of mathematics to check their analyses.

Even humble entomologists have to make statistical records and analyze their data in meticulous detail. But how do you measure the height and width of a ghost? How do you show that when someone sees a spirit dog running across the landscape they are not participating in a mass hallucination?

There is no scientific basis for the concept of the mass or shared hallucination.

Any skeptic who wants to dismiss a group experience as a “mass hallucination” is putting his faith in faux science — which is not the most credible way to disprove anything. Only True Disbelievers accept the findings of faux scientific debunkings. It’s more a religious practice than anything else.

So where does that leave us, the viewing audience, in this growing war between TAPS skeptics and supporters? Outside of the shared experience of hatred and disrespect. I don’t know if Jason and Grant are lying, being fooled by their producers, or really getting their shirts tugged on by ghosts. I’ve watched some amazing footage on the show without being convinced that they have proven or disproven the existence of ghosts.

It’s just a neat show and you don’t have to turn your life upside down trying to prove that it’s real, fake, or something in-between. Science needs to reconcile with theology and spiritualism before we can really begin to address the important questions.

As for Bigfoot, until someone brings in his carcass for real (and not some stupid rubber suit in a freezer), we’ll all just have to wait and see if there is anything out there. Of course, the recent torrid debate over whether Homo Floresiensis was really a sub-species of primitive human or just a relic of a poor, unfortunate Homo Sapiens has shown us that even when you do find anthropological evidence the scientific community can divide over interpreting the evidence.

Current opinion seems to weigh in favor of the little people of the Island of Flores having been a different branch of humanity. But that may change, perhaps even in the near future. And with so much uncertainty in the self-hallowed halls of science, we don’t need to be fussing so much over the credibility of a mere television show.

I think people can find more important things to do with their time and obvious talents.

SF-Fandom is a fan-run moderated Web discussion community devoted to science fiction, fantasy, history, and mythology. Founded in 2001, SF-Fandom is part of the Xenite.Org Network of science fiction and fantasy Web sites.


Comments are closed.