Paranormal investigations have become stale.
With so many paranormal investigators and so many investigations of ghosts and haunted locations where is all the evidence?
Often the thought among paranormal investigators is that they will find the “smoking gun” or one piece of “evidence” that will prove that ghosts exist. Investigations seem to focus entirely on finding a single EVP, video, or picture that will provide conclusive evidence of the afterlife.
Take a moment and ponder these questions;
How many EVPs have you listened to on TV shows?
How many EVPs do you think exist on the internet?
How many pictures or videos of ghosts have you seen on the internet or on ghost hunting shows?
My guess is you’ve heard or seen hundreds of EVPs, pictures, and videos of reported ghosts or spirits. So, what happens after this amazing evidence is collected? It’s posted to websites, Facebook, or Twitter and then ... NOTHING. No follow-up, no attempts at replication, and no independent investigations. The "evidence" slowly fades away. Skeptics call the evidence faked or misinterpreted. Academia doesn’t care or even acknowledge the hundreds of EVPS, grainy pictures, or anomalies in videos. So, what do we do?
It is only through replication, patterns of data, and large sample sizes that skeptics and academia will take notice. Collecting EVPs, videos, and pictures is an important and needed part of an investigation and should not be omitted, but lets look at three additional ways to advance the paranormal field
1. Data Collection Methods
It is only through identifying patterns or similarities in data that progress or advancement can be made. There are paranormal teams that have investigated hundreds of locations and have little data to show for their efforts, aside from some EVPs or picture anomalies. These investigators need not necessarily change their methods for investigation, just refine their data collection. With that being said I believe the most important tools for an investigator is a solid questionnaire and access to data collection software (i.e. Excel).
There is a difference between data and documentation. Documentation is writing down what you are doing, seeing, or feeling. Documenting, whether it is through interviews (eye witness accounts) or observations (personal experiences) is subjective and is a form of qualitative research which should be used for in-depth review of individual cases (i.e., spontaneous cases).
Let’s look at a typical investigation of a haunted location. Imagine that you are part of a team that has investigated one hundred haunted locations. You and your team are called to investigate a haunted residence. You arrive and interview three witnesses in which you obtain their eye witness accounts and experiences. You then perform historical research on the house and its previous occupants. You then gather EMF levels, photographs, and some EVPs. You then look at all the data you’ve collected, which is pretty cool, and come to the conclusion as to whether this house is haunted or not. This is an example of qualitative research as you have completed an in-depth look at three eye witnesses’ experiences, as well as the history of their house. While you used objective measurement tools like EMF meters, digital recorders, and cameras all the information gathered is specific to this one case. The data gathered here is great with very detailed and specific information about this one location. However wouldn’t it be great to have gathered some other data from this case and the 99 other cases that was more objective and could be analyzed statistically?
Data collection through quantitative methods can be more concrete and can be statistically analyzed. Quantitative methods obtain data which can be analyzed through statistical analyses (polls, surveys, t-tests, correlations). The easiest way to think of this is that Quantitative has an “n” and uses “numbers” whereas qualitative does not, therefore does not use numbers, but rather opinions, subjective observations, and behaviors. When you take an online survey or poll your responses are calculated using some form of mathematical analyses, therefore this would be considered quantitative. If you gather information by interviewing people, taking some pictures, and looking into the history of a house this is considered qualitative as no statistical analysis has taken place.
Let’s use another example. Again, you are part of a team who has investigated over a hundred locations. You are called to investigation a haunted residence. You enter and interview three witnesses obtaining their eye witness accounts and experiences. You then obtain EMF levels in all the rooms at different times, use your digital recorders in all the rooms, and gather some video footage. This team, unlike the other, has developed a questionnaire which they have used in all of their 100 investigations. This questionnaire is given to the eye witnesses and gathers information such as; age, sex, eye color, education, marital status, and type of phenomena experienced in the house (i.e. sense of presence, auditory phenomena, witnessing an apparition). Let’s say you also gathered and logged some additional information like specific EMF readings in every room, weather outside, and other environmental data (humidity, barometric pressure, etc.) After the investigation, you take the data collected from the questionnaire and other logs and enter it into your data collection software (Excel) which has the data from the 99 other haunted investigations. Since your team has investigated 100 haunted locations and gathered eye witness accounts from three people at each location, you now have 300 completed questionnaires on individuals with ghostly experiences and 100 logs containing EMFs and other environmental information all neatly organized in one place (Excel)
That's all great but what do we do with 300 completed questionnaires?
2. Statistical Analysis
Using a statistical analysis software program like SPSS (or a free stats package) the above investigators could analyze the data they collected and look for similarities, patterns, and correlations among any type of data that they collected. For example, they could find that females with blue eyes have the most ghostly experiences. They could determine that ghostly encounters occur more frequently in 2nd floor bedrooms than any other room in the house. They could correlate barometric pressure, humidity, and EMF levels with ghostly encounters. They could determine what type of phenomena is most often reported in haunted locations. They could test the accuracy of psychics, mediums, or sensitives by correlating their reports of ghostly activity with witness reports. They could go deeper and find out if apparitions are more often reported when the EMF level is at a certain level. Depending on what questions and data they collect through their questionnaire and logs they could find out information on whatever they wanted.
Keeping reading if you want to know how to get academia's attention.
A paranormal team that has investigated 100 haunted locations and handed out their questionnaire to three eye witnesses per location have a sample size of 300, which is a large sample size. Most scientific research and experiments don’t have large sample sizes. It’s actually considered a huge limitation in most psychological journal articles and research. The research I completed while at the University of Edinburgh had a sample size of 250, which was the largest in my class. Needless to say, a sample size of 300 is pretty impressive. But let’s not stop at 300 my paranormal friends. What if there was a standardized questionnaire that all paranormal investigators and teams used? The sample size could be in the thousands or perhaps over a 100,000! Could you imagine? Trust me, if you had a standardized questionnaire which was distributed to a sample size of 100,000, academia would take notice. Professors and Academic institutions would be salivating to get their hands on the data for a 100,000 volunteers!
I know that there are some rivalries and egos in the paranormal field, however, overall paranormal investigators have the same purpose, which is to advance the field. If all teams would work together and share data, methods, and outcomes of their statistics this would bring the field closer to mainstream science. If these investigations, data, and conclusions were presented in a journal and distributed to fellow investigators this would constitute a form of peer-review, which again would only strengthen the field.
I hope that you can see that qualitative and quantitative research are both important individually, however if they are combined the advancement in the field would be significant. I would encourage those interested in paranormal investigations to better acquaint themselves with the wonders of Excel, obtain a statistical analysis software program (SPSS), develop a standardized questionnaire, and collaborate with other investigators. Through improved data collection, statistical analysis, and collaborations the field of paranormal research will evolve into a peer-reviewed and respectable field.