Using The Scientific Method

Ghost Hunting And The Scientific Method

The ghost hunter is preceived by both the public and the scientific community as anti-scientific and a pseudo-science. We are seen as scientist wanna-be's. Admittedly, looking at other organizations, I can say that reputation is well earned, even if not well liked. As a result, it becomes extremely difficult for ghost hunters to be taken seriously, especially when I believe they are working on the edge of important science.

In an attempt to bring paranormal investigation into a more respectable light so real science can be done, we must first stop jumping at everything as ghostly and then take the mentality of a scientist, skeptical but open minded. Then we MUST follow the scientific method wherever possible.

What is the scientific method then? And more importantly, how does it relate to the ghost hunting community.

Below are the steps of the scientific method and how us ghost hunters must use each step.

1. The Question Based On Observation

Usually this question is a "Why". Why does this happen? Why does that happen? What causes this? In sicence, this goes more detailed then just a wondering. Due to observing a certain behavior or incident, the scientist may begin to see connections to what causes that behavior or action. It's to that connection that this question relates.

An example for a ghost hunter would be observing that the temperature changes dramatically before the manifestation of a ghost. There appears to be a connection between temperature and ghostly phenomenon. What is that connection? Why does this happen? This is our basic question that a scientist will try to answer.

2. Research and the Collection of Information on The Question

Once you have your question, you must first determine if the question has already been posed by someone else and what type of study and information is out there on the subject. This involves much research. You may find that during this research that idea isn't a new one and has been thoroughly studied elsewhere. In this case, you must determine if the question is still worth persuing by analyzing the data obtained by others and determining if the question has essentially has already been answered or is there more that can be uncovered.

3. Hypothesis

Once you've done a thorough study of others' research on the subject and determined that further study is required, one must develop a hypothesis. This is important to bring focus to your further research. Until this step, your question has really been little more than a wondering. A hyposthesis is an educated guess or untested theory.

In our example of temperature changes, a hypothesis could be created that states that any paranormal entity would be required, by the laws of physics, to draw energy from somewhere to manifest themselves. This energy would likely come from the air, causing changes in temperature.

4. Testing the Hypothesis

Usually through experimentation and/or collection of statistical data.

Once you have your hypothesis (do not confuse this with a theory), you have to test it. This is done through experimentation under controlled conditions. In sciences like sociology or psychology, this testing phase if more collecting data through polling a source group. Either way, the test needs to remain impartial and include a control subject that can be compared with source results.

For ghost hunters, this is the hardest part of the scientific method. Ghosts do not act on cue and are actually quite rare. Certainly, ghosts are much less likely to act under controlled conditions like a lab. Most ghost hunters are testing these theories not by labwork type experiments but by collecting data through detailed investigations at locations believed to have a ghostly past. There are breakthrough technologies being developed by ghost hunters today that will add controls to this type of environment. Until we understand this phenomenon more closely, this is the best ghost hunters can do. We continue to ask help from those trained in the scientific community to guide us to better experimentation techniques.

5. Predictions Based on Hypothesis

During the course of testing the hypothesis, the scientist should have determined if the hypothesis holds merit. If it does, then one goes to the next step. That's predicting, based on what has been learned in the testing phase, what will happen in similar situations in the future. If future cases show these predictions to be true, then one can say the hypothesis still seems to hold up. However, if the predictions fail, then the hypothesis likely doesn't hold merit after all.

Now, these aren't "psychic predictions" where one if believed to have tapped into some celestral power to give the future. These are predictions based on the probability that something will occur again and how it will take place taken from what has been learned so far in the process, not through some special power.

6. Test and/or Observation of Said Predictions

The predictions mentioned above must then be observed and tested. In many cases, scientists will design lab experiments so they can perform the prediction stage rather than wait for it happen in the natural world where it is under less controlled conditions. Once again, if the predictions are shown accurate, then the hypothesis has passed another test in the scientific method.

This is another area that ghost hunters have difficulty fulfilling. Ghosts are so unpredictable and tend not to show themselves when we want them to that it becomes are extremely difficult to test any predictions we have developed.

7. Declaring Hypothesis a Scientific Theory or Model

Via publication in a respected journal.

Once the hypothesis has passed the testing phase and the prediction phase, one may want to decide it is a scientific theory and declare it so. That means publishing the results of your research along side the techniques used to determine it as a theory in a respectable journal that other scientists read and follow.

Ghost hunters today tend to us websites of their own creation (like this one) and/or books that they publish on their own to announce results, etc. This is fine if you are trying to talk to the general public but if we are looking to be seen as serious scientists then we MUST go through the process set forth by the scientific community. It for this reason that we are frowned upon even though we work on the edge of breakthrough knowledge.

This leads us into the next step in the scientific method

8. Peer Analysis and Repeatability

It is extremely important that fellow scientists read and attempt to repeat your experiments. That is why it is important to reveal your techniques in the most detail possible as well as your results. Other scientists will need to repeat your experiments using this very same scientific method. Without this repeatability, your theory will never be accepted by the scientific community.

Ghost hunters have a peer analysis amongst themselves in the form of these websites, message boards and magazines. But these are by far not very scientific and certainly nothing that the scientific community accepts as a "respected journal".

9. Rework Theory into New Question and Begin From Step One or Accept Theory as Fact

Once you are done all that, you think you're done right? Wrong. From there, a scientist must rework his theory into a new question that must be retested from the beginning of the scientific method. Especially, if there are indications that the theory may be flawed. If by chance (and this rarely happens), your theory survives untouched in it's current state than it may be accepted as a Fact. A fact is really a scientific theory that has stood the test of time.

Based on this, you probably have come to realize that the scientific method is not something that is followed over night. It takes years, many times several lifetimes, to go through the whole process before a theory becomes accepted as a scientific fact (or law). Most scientists will never see their theories become fact. That tends to happen after their lifetimes.

We as ghost hunters looking to be taken seriously by the scientific community MUST follow this method or scientists will never see the importance of what we do.

The Scientific Method Explained

Copyright 2005 - BWPI