Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Nature of Skepticism

I enjoy the recent spate of shows on the paranormal – for the most part. Psychic crime investigation shows still bother me, as I did that work once upon a time, and got quite burnt out emotionally from the whole process. So, watching those shows is too much like being a cop and coming home to watch an evening of police shows – nope, not for me. But the other kinds, like Ghostly Encounters, Dead Famous, Creepy Canada, Rescue Mediums or Most Haunted are quite a thrill. To me, those shows are like in-service education, only I don’t have to put on my panty hose, nor plastered-on professional smile and sit in a dull meeting. Mercifully I can change into my pj’s, get under a blanket, and drool over both my popcorn and the new equipment available to paranormal researchers.

One of the interesting evolutions in these programs is the use of parapsychologists. These scholarly skeptics add a voice of balance to those prone to hysteria. I’ve witnessed myself the problems of mass-hysteria and competitive one-up-man-ship that creep into ghost investigations. I applaud the use of parapsychologists – when they are wrong in their analyses, it is clearly obvious where their academic biases lie. When a program doesn’t opt for an accredited parapsychologist, they get hammered in chat rooms that deride and lampoon the findings of the spirit investigators.

I am well aware of “Pathological skepticism” (or Pseudoskepticism), which is a class of pseudoscience masquerading as proper skepticism. A pseudoskeptic is an individual who claims to support "reason" and the "scientific worldview", but frequently uses logical fallacies, attempts to silence opponents, and employs various invalid strategies of persuasion. Gail Porter, the female host of Dead Famous is dangerously close to a pseudoskeptic. She claims to want valid proof, yet when irrefutable proof is handed to her, she waffles. Some skeptics will never accept any proof because they are so afraid of altering their personal paradigm – and what that means in the grand scheme – that they would rather appear foolish on camera than shift from their position.

Skeptics aside, I love these shows, and my very favourite is Most Haunted. While technically the savviest of the shows mentioned, it is very balanced, and I quite admire David Wells, their resident medium. By ‘very balanced’, I mean they switch between a parapsychologist and a paranormal investigator, they have a historian, various guest mediums and a tech-savvy crew who are on camera and directly involved in the shoots. Their humanness is evident, for they still scream like small children after over 5 years of investigating paranormal phenomena – I have screamed and run from a site a few times in my day. So I understand.

Enjoy these shows, for like any fad, I imagine they will not last long. Audiences are fickle, and like the glut of angel shows, or crime shows now past, the pendulum will swing away from our ghost shows soon enough.

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