Jan 30 2009

Some End-Of-The-Week Stupidity

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Comments: 41

As far as I know the mortality rate due to ghosts is zero. There are no credibly documented cases of anyone being injured or killed by a ghost. Besides – they are supposed to be immaterial, so how could they harm you? They might make you a bit chilly, or give you a severe case of the willies, but that’s it. I suppose they could frighten a weak-hearted person to death, in which case all we have to fear is fear itself.

So why, then, are people so terrified of ghosts. I admit I have never seen one, so I cannot honestly brag about how I would react, but I think I would be more fascinated than anything else. My primary thought would probably be – where’s my camera?

Why, then, are staff at Derby’s new Royal Hospital so frightened? According to news reports:

There have been dozens of sightings over recent weeks and people are scared witless.

So scared, in fact, that the hospital administration is bringing in an exorcist to take care of the problem. Senior manager Debbie Butler said:

“I’m taking it seriously as the last thing I want is staff feeling uneasy at work.”

“I’ve spoken to the Trust’s chaplain and she is going to arrange for someone from the cathedral to exorcise the department.”

How about this as an alternative, Debbie – investigate the phenomenon scientifically. Consider the possibility that perhaps you are dealing with a psychological and not paranormal phenomenon. Chances are it is witless belief that is driving these sightings, not the sightings that are driving people witless. You can take your employees seriously, but address what is likely actually going on – a community scare.

Robert Bartholomew and others have described mass delusions and community hysteria. Belief and fear is contagious, and when the community is frightened we tend to feel anxious ourselves. This is like a herd running from a predator, even though only one or a few members actually saw it – it’s better to just run along with the herd to be on the safe side. So it is no surprise that we tend to respond to fear infecting our community.

So how about a bit of public counseling and reassurance. Despite the fact that this hospital is supposed to be the “most haunted place in the UK” I bet a small number of employees are making most of the sightings. I also bet that despite the numerous alleged opportunities to document the apparitions, there is in fact no compelling evidence. I couldn’t find any online, and none of the news reports I saw included one – just artists conceptions and pictures of Linda Blair from The Exorcist.

It is sad that a professional and scientific institution has the opportunity to deal with this situation as professionals and scientists or as gullible asses, and they have chosen the latter. Rather than calling in an exorcist and the local ghost-hunting boob, they should have called in a skeptic. Skeptics have actually thought about such phenomena from a reality-based perspective and have developed a relevant knowledge-base that can be useful.

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