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Academia Vs Paranormal Researchers: Graduate Degrees Do Not Make Experts

While doing some research for a post about something completely different than this one, I read a few paragraphs online that set the wheels of my brain in motion, which admittedly, is no simple task. The paragraphs were essentially an opinion about credibility in paranormal research, and at its crux was the ongoing battle between academia and those without graduate-school abbreviations after their name who have spent years actively researching specific aspects of the field.

The text that inspired me was from Tom Butler’s Etheric Studies website, in a post called “Critiquing ITC Articles written by Imants Baruss.” In one of the introductory paragraphs it said:

Amateur researchers reporting work product under cover of a doctorate title is probably common, and some of histories more important naturalists worked well out of their field of expertise. However, in this frontier subject in which there are no academically trained specialists–only amateurs–people who are qualified to comment on the subject are ignored in favor of the more academically credentialed person. In effect, if three long-time ITC researchers asked to speak at a conference, a doctorate of dentistry, an electronics engineer and an electronics technician, the dentist will be invited every time.

Makes sense.


When I see guest speakers at conferences, participants in symposiums, or whatever, with a list of titles earned through degrees of education, I too automatically think that person probably knows what they are talking about. At the very least, I presume they know more about the subject than I do.

That’s not always the case.

The idea brought me back to a piece I wrote several months ago about the credentials needed to call oneself a cryptozoologist. I spoke with cryptozoologist Scott Marlowe, who has been trying to get an accredited cryptozoology program off the ground in a college or university somewhere to unify the field and lend some credibility to the research done by cryptozoologists.

The lack of formal education programs regarding elements of the paranormal means many of those who conduct funded studies of paranormal topics in an academic setting might not be as qualified to do so as the guy who has managed a blog called for the past 10 years.

The letters after a name lend credibility in academic circles because generally the only ones who really pay attention to their often hard-to-read research is other characters with a bowl of alphabet soup after their name as well. They are their own club, and they have their own newsletters called peer-reviewed academic journals. If it’s not in one of those academic journals then it’s usually not accepted as credible research.

By definition, the paranormal is not explainable with current scientific knowledge. Once science can explain the phenomena explored by paranormal researchers, it then ceases to be paranormal. At that point, it just becomes science.

There are those who straddle both worlds, like Marlowe who has an academic background in life sciences, but those folks seem to be small in number, and I’m presuming they don’t get the respect in the academic world that others with their credentials do.

It wasn’t that long ago that saying, “I’m a ghost hunter,” or, “I research UFO phenomenon,” used to get eye rolls, snickers, and responses like, “Huh, really? Well, I think I hear my phone ringing, I’ll see you later.” Now, at least in pop culture, you might just get an eye roll every now and then when you say things like that.

Ufologist Kyle Lovern, who I also interviewed for a post a few months ago, said he has had a much easier time in recent years finding people willing to tell their stories about seeing UFOs, in part due to the popularity of the subject on TV and other popular culture.

Society has seemingly embraced the idea there could be some legitimacy to the centuries of reports from people around the world about things like UFOs, ghosts, and other paranormal subjects, even though academia has not.


Academia is supposed to be about the pursuit of knowledge, yet when it comes to the paranormal, there is little being done by those academic field. Most of the grunt work is being done by amateurs, or by a handful of rogues operating on the fringes of the academic world.

It is important that those of us with interest in these subjects understand that a wall full of degrees from prestigious universities isn’t proof of expertise in a field that isn’t accepted in the world where those degrees were issued.

After my conversation with Marlowe, I concluded it is time cryptozoology get its own niche in the academic world, and I believe that goes for every other paranormal subject on the planet. Unless both sides work together and learn to respect the work done to this point by paranormal researchers, the mysteries of the universe will likely remain mysteries.

It’s just an opinion, but that’s what I think.

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  • Astrobuoy

    There is a good reason why researchers with credentials are much more respected than non-credentialed researchers.. training! A researcher has to be well trained in applying the scientific method, and even then his/her results have to be scrutinised by credentialed experts before results can be published. What is scrutinised are the methods used in gathering data, how that data was analysed and whether the conclusions drawn from the data is valid. the actual conclusions themselves are not scrutinised. that is left to open debate in academic journals.
    Non-credentialled researchers can also have all those skills and apply them in their research however who is going to review their research??? it will be left up to credentialed experts. Because everyone and their dog can claim to be a researcher the best way to tell legitimate researchers from toy microscope scientists is where they were educated.
    It is a shame because there are probably a handful of decent researchers in the paranormal field that would make a valuable contribution
    And the term ‘paranormal’ is a very non-technical, pop way of saying its a phenomenon we don’t understand. Every we know about our universe was at one stage not understood, that doesn’t mean it was paranormal.
    If ghosts, aliens, alternate dimensions exist they exist in our reality but in a way that we haven’t been able to explain.
    Dismissing academic rigour panders to the infotainment stigma this field seems to thrive in

  • Cynthia Verspaget

    I couldn’t agree more – a degree does not make someone an expert. A postgraduate degree makes someone an expert in their very specific field of study (rarely does this give anyone a general knowledge base on an entire field). Additionally, paranormal focused thesis from non parapsychologists are rare.

    However, what a graduate degree (post -and in any field) does give you is
    a very sound grasp of the research and analysis process. It also ingrains a sound procedure for the identification of the more reliable and credible sources of base research as opposed to the rubbish many people who embark on paranormal ‘research’ accept as fact.

    The letters do actually make a difference and I hope that this field of research will attract more people who are qualified to actually consider and potentially conduct more credible research and analysis to give non researchers the best possible information available.

    While qualifications in paranormal research are a long way off, we can rely on post graduate education to give people the best tools to research their field of interest, what ever that may be. It is up to the academic to be transparent about what their degree qualifies them for – and to reiterate that they are valued and qualified researchers rather than field specialists.

    Cynthia, a PhD Candidate in Cultural Theory and a paranormal researcher

  • TimMullins

    Excellent piece. In my experience, people who NEED to have that string of letters behind their name are not experts on the subject in question more often than they are. If an individual knows they are intelligent, as well as knowledgeable on a given topic, they feel no need to impress anybody. However, those who are not sure of themselves, desire to make a point of their level of education before they voice an opinion. And let’s be honest here. Usually they only have an opinion to voice, irregardless of how well thought out it might be.

    Another good one is “extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence”. Excuse me, but that statement is inherently false. An extraordinary claim simply requires what any other claim does. Adequate evidence to prove the point/statement. If your way of thinking does not make room for alternate views, then your concept of scientific methodology is fatally flawed. You are supposed to look for alternative ideas that are more correct than the current one.