Entertainment VS Science


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The existence of paranormal entities such as ghosts has remained a highly debated and controversial topic. While reputable scientific investigation has yet to prove, disprove, or even show interest in proving the existence of ghosts, paranormal "experts" on television shows such as and Paranormal State on A&E and Ghost Hunters on the Syfy network have claimed that they use scientific methods to observe and contact the supernatural. Rather than conducting actual science, these shows are exploiting sensationalism to gain audiences. Though ghost shows are entertaining and it is easy to get caught on in the hype, especially around Halloween, they should not be considered concrete evidence of the existence of the paranormal. Ghosts may be real, but you won't find the proof on primetime television.

parnormal state.jpeg

(Paranormal Research Society)

While most televised ghost-hunting groups claim that they are practicing a form of "pseudoscience," their work is riddled with poor data collection and bad use of equipment. While the Paranormal Research Society, subject of the show Paranormal State, claims to use forensics and genuine investigative research on their website, the team frequently consulted with psychics on the show. It is pretty difficult to say that you are conducting "science," when you are using an unproven method to collect data. According paranormal critic Benjamin Radford, the show Ghost Hunters misuses actual equipment, including recording devices and electromagnetic field readers. Despite the high possibility of natural deviations in the readings of the devices, the show often portrays any findings of the equipment as proof of the supernatural. Even when using the "proper" equipment, ghost hunting shows lack any use of scientific methodology.

Ghost-Hunters.jpeg

Instead of being scientists, these paranormal experts are entertainers simply putting on a good show.  In a review of Ghost Hunters in the New York Times staff writer, Virginia Heffernan, notes that rather than focusing on the investigative portion of paranormal studies, the show emphasizes the gruesome histories and stories that surround the area where the hunters are investigating. This use of story telling perks the interest of the audience but lacks any science. More critical and possibly jealous of television ghost hunters, paranormal investigator, Benjamin Radford, criticizes ghost hunters for investigating in the dark. Radford claims that such a choice serves no investigative purpose and rather serves to increase the level of creepiness experienced by the audience. Ghost hunting shows are far from the documentaries that they claim to be; they share more in common with television dramas.

It is no wonder that the existence of paranormal entities remains a mystery. The public's main source of information on ghosts comes from shows meant to entertain rather than inform. Will a genuine method of paranormal investigation ever develop or will science end with ghost-hunting shows? If a genuine method does develop, will anyone care or will the more entertaining ghost-hunting shows always be preferred?

Sources: 

http://www.csicop.org/si/show/ghost-  hunting_mistakes_science_and_pseudoscience_in_ghost_investigations/

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/20/arts/television/20heff.html?_r=0

http://www.livescience.com/4261-shady-science-ghost-hunting.html

http://paranormalresearchsociety.org/field-investigation-research-department/

2 Comments

I think a lot of the time entertainment takes precedent over credibility. This is definitely highlighted in an article i found from 2006 in the Los Angeles Times. It highlights a few studies, but most notably a study done over 100 years ago attempting to contact dead people: "In one instance they made a request to an American medium while she was in a trance. The request was in Latin, a language the medium did not speak. The instructions included a proposal that she "send" a symbol to a British medium. During her next trance session, the American began asking about whether an "arrow" had been received. Later, comparing notes, the researchers discovered that during the American's first trance, the English psychic had suddenly begun scribbling arrows. It was only after a series of similar, equally unexpected results that the researchers published their findings."
Honestly, this creeps me out. But I also feel like I've heard stories like it so many times. Perhaps its poor science or poor reporting but right now entertainment is definitely winning the battle of the supernatural. People care more about tv shows than forgotten studies that are poorly publicized like the one the article described.
I personally feel like I am unable to believe any of it because of lack of evidence and over used plot lines like the ones your blog described. It is all predictable, but not proven.

I totally agreed with Vikki when she said that entertainment takes precedence over credibility. When it comes to science, I find that the most accurate information is found in credible science journals like Scientific American, Nature, and Popular Science. As you mentioned in your blog, TV shows can't be counted on for realistic scientific information. Producers tailor the information to sound exciting and rake in viewers- not accuratley educate the audience.
I think one of the best things that we can do as scientists and students of science is to take the time to read these credible journals. While the wording of some of the articles may be more sophisticated than we're used to- the subjects are usually groundbreaking and pretty fascinating. An example of this is an article I found in Scientific American that discusses whether or not flu vaccines are effective for the elderly or young people. Scientific American may not be my "go-to-website", but after looking around for a while I admit that I found it to be quite interesting. Next time I'm looking for real scientific information- I know this is where I will go.

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