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.
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