Want People to Believe in Your Paranormal Experience? Make it Sound “Science-y”

Picture: Harry Price (PD)

In this technological and mechanistic age that good old fashioned ghost stories don’t stand a chance of being accepted as plausible unless you sprinkle a little pseudoscience into the mix. This generation of  flim-flam artists may be just stumbling onto this fact, but fiction writers (as well as some of the earliest ghost-hunters) have known it for years. The protagonists of Bram Stoker’s Dracula bring modern technology to their fight against the eponymous vampire, as do the heroes (and villains) of several H.P. Lovecraft tales such as “The Shunned House”, “From Beyond”. Even Arthur Machen utilized scientific jargon in his classic story of the supernatural (or preternatural?) “The Great God Pan.”

An interesting study from LiveScience shows that a little techno-babble can go a long way in convincing people of the plausibility of supernatural experiences:

Fans of paranormal reality TV shows like “Ghost Hunters” and “Ghost Adventures” are treated to an array of technical jargon and references to fancy instruments — ion generators, electromagnetic field detectors and video goggles with built-in speech-synthesizers that allegedly can sense spirits.

This sprinkling of shady science can lend undue credibility to paranormal investigators, a researcher found.

For his study, Paul Brewer, a professor of communication at the University of Delaware, had a few hundred participants read one of three different versions of a newspaper article about a ghost hunter. (A fourth control group read an unrelated story.)

One version — the jargon-peppered “scientific” version — emphasized the investigator’s “meticulous approach” and mentioned his technological devices. A supernatural version highlighted the investigator’s strange childhood experiences and his “openness to nonscientific methods,” such as communicating with spirits through a medium. A third version looked identical to the scientific one, except for an extra paragraph that quoted a professor debunking the ghost hunter’s expertise and comparing his investigations to “old-time medicine shows.”

The participants then filled out a questionnaire. Compared with the other groups, those who read the first scientific-sounding version of the article were more likely to answer that they believed in the paranormal and haunted houses. They also were more likely to characterize the investigators’ work as scientific and credible, Brewer found.

Of course, ghost hunters may object to the study on the basis that just because technology lends credence to a spurious story it doesn’t mean that the technology itself is useless. It’s worth considering, I suppose, although I must admit that my own “ghost hunting” experiences (about which you can hear here) offered little to challenge my skepticism.

8 Comments on "Want People to Believe in Your Paranormal Experience? Make it Sound “Science-y”"

  1. emperorreagan | Oct 26, 2012 at 2:16 pm |

    Techno-babble is to today’s rhetoric what pointless references to religion were to the past few centuries worth.

    • Liam_McGonagle | Oct 26, 2012 at 3:27 pm |

      I don’t think that religious references were always pointless. It goes without saying that it is often used as a method of coercion, but used as allegory could provide a very colorful, immediately impactful* way of communicating a message. Problem being, the auidence really ought to be sophisticated enough to realise it really is just a metaphor. Metaphors are great, if we can accept that they’re just metaphors.

      *Yes, ‘impactful’ is a horrible, frankenstein-ish concoction that ironically invokes an air academic detachment whereas it is clearly intended to emphasise a more emotional, intimate response. Use of the Latinate register in the English language is a sure way to alienate your audience.

  2. dontknowshit | Oct 26, 2012 at 2:29 pm |

    just don’t say “ghosts” aliens” “UFOS” or “paranormal” and just go straight to perception and informational physics

  3. science + spirit = protoculture……………..(reference Terence McKenna and James Oroc )

  4. BuzzCoastin | Oct 26, 2012 at 7:21 pm |

    > Want People to Believe in Your Paranormal Experience?

    only if your selling your paranormal experience
    if you’re not selling it
    why would you care?

  5. bobbiethejean | Oct 27, 2012 at 6:23 am |

    I don’t care how science-y someone makes it sound- you still need proof, evidence, a testable hypothesis, falsifiability, and predictive models. If you can’t come up with those things, it’s not science. Maybe science cannot comment on the supernatural. However, that still doesn’t preclude the people making these claims from proving them in some way. Show me an exorcism that couldn’t possibly just be someone having a seizure or faking it. Show me someone’s amputated limb spontaneously regenerating. Show me a ghost that isn’t a trick of light or a prank.

    I don’t think it is unreasonable of me or anyone else to demand as much. It may also be that people like me are just incapable of seeing the supernatural. Maybe we just don’t have that ability. But you can prove colors exist to a color blind person, even if they can’t see the colors. Even if I couldn’t “see” the supernatural, find some way to make it real for me. Otherwise, I’m sorry, but I can’t believe such claims…. even if they do sound all nice and science-y.

    This article is also a fairly nice….. I dunno if I’d go so far as to say “rebuttal” of that ridiculous neuroscientist NDE article, but……..

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