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How Now Brown

The Brown Daily Herald (BDH) is the Brown University student newspaper based out of Providence, Rhode Island. According to its Wikipedia entry, it is the second-oldest student newspaper among American college dailies. Brown University is an Ivy League school, the 7th oldest university in the United States. It is considered one of the finest universities in the nation.

This past Sunday BHD posted an article titled “From ghosts to ghostbusters, paranormal interest thrives in R.I.”

As you will read from the article, they talk about the bustling paranormal culture that is thick in Rhode Island. That is to say the ratio of paranormal organizations and practitioners to the overall population is high. Much of the credit for Rhode Island’s bustling ghost hunting community is given to SYFY Channel’s “Ghost Hunters”, for they hail from Warwick. The Ghost Hunters led an investigation at Brown University not too long ago, to the apparent delight of many people who are impressed by such undertakings.

In the middle of the article, author Gabrielle Dee offers this statement:

Understanding the paranormal consists not only of the creepy, otherworldly creatures that haunt the insides of closets, decrepit attics and corn fields that spaceships mistake as landing pads — it’s a new vision of reality.

A NEW vision of reality? No. Paranormal and pseudoscientific beliefs are as old as recorded history. They are very much culturally based. They adapt and morph in almost perfect synchronicity with societies and cultures through the ages.

As far as “reality” is concerned, I suppose you could argue that people’s inherent belief in the unproven is the reality of the human condition. But reality as measured by science has filtered thousands of years of paranormal claims, with the collective sum of scientific evidence totaling Zero. None. Nada. Zilch.

The article goes on to mention another paranormal investigation group named RISEUP, a Rhode Island and Connecticut conglomerate (first I’ve ever heard of it, but no matter.) This particular group had these pearls of wisdom to offer:

It is important to keep in mind that paranormal sightings include an interpretive element, and depends on what the viewer perceives as real, he (the group’s founder) said. Religious and cultural interpretations, which give rise to what people may perceive as paranormal, must be balanced with today’s science and technology in a very logical manner, he added.

An interpretative element? The entire exercise of “ghost hunting” is interpretive. Ghost hunters whip out their recorders and thermometers and other devices with “ON” buttons and they think this is the epitome of scientific investigation. They take readings and they interpret readings based on their preconceived notions. If there is an “anomaly” of any kind, then that’s a ghost in their book. This is exactly why ghost hunting is pseudoscience. They have all the trappings of science, and they claim they are being scientific.  By scientific standards, they the polar opposite of good scientific practices.

And the statement  about religion and culture being “balanced with today’s science and technology in a very logical manner” … this is a very oddly phrased description. I agree that religion and culture is the driving force behind many people’s “paranormal” experiences, but why it “must be balanced” with today’s science and technology makes little sense to me. Apparently, I lack a “very logical manner” for not being able to understand exactly what is being said here.

So in summary: this article is horribly unimpressive on so many levels. It is poorly written. It has failed to adequately describe the activity of ghost hunting. It offered no skeptical perspective. It assumes ghosts are real. Their subjects offer no extraordinary evidence for the extraordinary claims being made.

But perhaps worst of all is the disappointment in that one of our nation’s most impressive institutes of higher learning is catering to people’s enthrallment with pseudoscience, and simultaneously, taking advantage of people’s lack of understanding about how science REALLY works. And this is courtesy of an Ivy League university with its roots dating back to colonial times. King George III must be rolling over in his grave.

WAIT … I thought of one thing worse than my disappointment … I wish I could say I am surprised.

 

 

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