I sat at a booth at a Midwest paranormal conference and listened to a UFO photography analyst speak (yes, there is such a thing as a UFO photography analyst). He presented some interesting ideas, and a myriad of good images ranging from black triangles to saucers as proof of otherworldly/otherdimensionly/governmently (governmently? Sorry, I have an “ly” theme going here) aircraft the mainstream knows little to nothing about.
The UFO photography analyst was followed by people who also claimed to have proof of their particular passion. A ghost hunter with garbled EVPs (which, when played, were followed by the obligatory “did you hear that?”), “spook light” experts with pictures, and a Bigfoot investigator with plaster foot casts. Then there was me.
I was at the conference, at a booth, because I was slated to speak. I am not a paranormal researcher, and have never claimed to be. I’m a journalist who’s a paranormal enthusiast. I cover paranormal events with the same methods and fervor I would if I were covering a natural disaster, or a city council meeting (which are quite often close to the same thing). During my presentation, I never once claimed to have proof of the entities I discussed, which included Bigfoot, shadow people, Black-Eyed Kids, and gnomes, because I don’t have proof; I have in-depth interviews, newspaper reports, and historical accounts as evidence. But evidence is not proof.
It’s the claim of “proof” that bothers me. When it comes to the paranormal, there is no proof.
I’m not naming the conference, nor am I naming the investigators for the simple fact that they’re good people who have worked hard, and more importantly, have worked sincerely on their investigations. I’m not making fun of anyone here. I believe that at least they believe what they have is genuine, and it very well could be. Who am I to judge? I’ve experienced things science can’t explain (and since I have friends who are scientists, I know that for sure). But the evidence they presented is not proof that something spooky’s going on. To truly prove something paranormal exists to the people who can give you official blessing (scientists), you have to follow the scientific method (the following description is quite simplified).
Come up with a question. For example, unconnected cultures from across the world have reported seeing spectral humans they call ghosts. What are these entities?
Come up with a hypothesis. Since some of these spectral humans are recognizable (Grandma, Dad, Abraham Lincoln), they are the spirits of the dead.
Test that hypothesis. This is done by comparing observations in the real world to what you think is the truth. Go to Mom’s house and wait for Lincoln to show up (although why the sixteenth president of the United States has been seen in Mom’s shower is beyond me).
Easy, right? Old Abe shows up every once in a while, so it’s cool.
No. There’s one more step, Analysis. This is done by comparing data carefully gathered through experiments to determine if your hypothesis is correct (and therefore a theory). However, testing the hypothesis is where paranormal investigation falls down. Sure, you might actually see Abe in Mom’s shower (waiting impatiently for Mom and her loofa), but what are you going to do about it? Take a picture? Sure, and those are proof (no one believes photographs anymore. I can put a pretty convincing UFO in my wedding pictures, and I’m rubbish at Photoshop). Take a video (and those can’t be convincingly faked either, can they)? Audio (uh, no)? How about an EMF reading (who the hell decided ghosts are magnetic)?
Let’s say you’ve collected some kind of evidence. Whatever evidence you’ve gathered has to be repeatable under the same circumstances. A one-time shot doesn’t count, folks. Remember the 1989 announcement by electrochemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons that they’d achieved cold fusion? It made quite a few headlines. What made even more headlines was that no one, not even Fleischmann and Pons, could replicate the claim. Being able to repeat an experiment is that important to science. Even if Fleischmann and Pons had created cold fusion, it didn’t matter because they only did it once (maybe). So, to prove our hypothesis that ghosts are the spirits of our dearly departed, we need to prove it again, and again, and again, under the same circumstances, preferably in a controlled environment (lab). Ghosts aren’t going to cooperate, they’re jerks like that.
So forget all paranormal proof except for one. In order to prove anything definitively to the world, we have to have physical evidence. With UFOs, we don’t need pictures; we need a craft and/or EBE. With Bigfoot, we need a body. It annoys me (no offense) when Bigfoot researchers scoff at the term Bigfoot hunter. “I’m not a hunter. I’d never kill a Bigfoot.” Sorry, but that means you’re just a hiker. If you want to research Bigfoot you need to take a gun and shoot that bastard in the face. If you don’t, you’re just going on a nice walk. And there’s nothing wrong with that.