Across the Great Divide




“Parapsychology’s Database Debacle”

It’s well-known that paranormal research isn’t taken seriously by mainstream scientists- after all there is a big difference between measuring phenomenon like earthquakes and hurricanes, which affect and are witnessed by hundreds of thousands, as opposed to telekinesis and ghosts sightings, which are often the subjective experiences of an individual.

Not only is there a measurement issue, but there is a records issue.

Advancement in medical research and development, for example, hinges on one crucial component- the existence of a database of verified knowledge and investigative research that is shared, and contributed to, by doctors and laboratories around the world. Without that collaboration, medical research does not progress. A doctor can look up the symptoms of his patient and find that a physician on the other side of the world had a patient with similar symptoms; they compare notes and, at some point, not only is a condition defined, but also a course of action determined.

This is at the very core of the issues facing parapsychology that I have covered lately. Gone are many of the world’s leading, official, labs and academic programs- at least in North America; and the few remaining respected and professional names in the field are seldom heard or departed. Meanwhile, amateur and semi-professional ghost hunting groups are concerned more with competing for exposure and fame, and not with the advancement of science.

This leaves the field with few professional organizations, no official research guidelines, and no reliable, secure central database to pool information that is collected from investigations.

Even if there were such a system-, something that I’ve been an outspoken proponent of for years- there must be a safeguard to certify that the data shared is not falsified, misrepresented, or incompetently interpreted. There have to be similar safeguards for those who are contributing that data. If a chain of people experiment based on fraudulent information, it does a disservice to all and makes the findings worthless. That’s a heavy price for someone’s time wasted and further ridicule of the field.

There must be an independent group  of qualified researchers tasked with keeping contributors to strict submission guidelines and testing and reviewing data to verify the results put forth for others.

These are factors which ruined database initiatives in the past and why any Joe Schmo with a night vision camera and voice recorder can call himself a ghost hunter and get a television show to flaunt his “evidence”.

For that evidence to be proven or disproven, and be taken seriously, it must be willingly and freely shared. There are a number of groups out there that refuse to do this.

I contacted a famous restaurant in Detroit that has been reportedly haunted for decades about doing an investigation only to discover that they have an exclusive contract with another group. No other group or research team is permitted to investigate, collect data, or post evidence of phenomena experienced at the restaurant. This contracted group even holds for-profit “tours” on occasion for mutual benefit of the establishment and “credibility” of their own group. The restaurant bilks patrons on the haunting legends and the group gets street cred for it. It’s a perfect win-win situation. No one is allowed to verify or refute the group’s findings and no one can recreate the exact conditions present when the data was collected to rule out or confirm factors. Not only is this bad science, it’s damn insulting.

There are a few ostensible databases on the internet that claim to collect information for scientific integrity, but beware because many of these are hackneyed and trite websites that merely collect folklore and personal anecdotes from often-anonymous responders looking to merely have their stories heard. It’s more fan fiction than fact.

A quick search on Bing found a number of hits.

Paranormaldatabase.com, for instance, seems like a legitimate attempt at such a database but much of the language in their legal disclaimer is highly suspicious and many of the highlighted phenomena have nothing to do with parapsychology or related theories.

Likewise, if a ‘database” is nothing more than a Facebook page without links to an official external website, or uses gimmicky names or acronyms such as PANICd (Paranormal Database and Research Information), then odds are it’s run by amateurs.

A promising one called ParaDB, created by a Seattle ghost hunting group, is a web-based PHP/MySQL application designed for use by ghost hunting and paranormal research organizations. It’s format and design is akin to many mainstream academic and medical forums.

The most serious and legitimate organizations are the American Society for Psychical Research and the famous Rhine Research Center– considered the last bastions of authoritative and academic paranormal research in North America. They publish The Journal of the ASPR and the Journal of Parapsychology, respectively, and both are world-renowned for the quality of their scientific content including research reports, theoretical discussions, book reviews, correspondence, and abstracts of university and laboratory research papers. I have been a subscriber to both and they hold a special place in my office library.

Until such a time that a verifiable, comprehensive, and worldwide database exists, the ASPR and Parapsychology Association journals will have to carry the weight of scientific discovery, but at least it’s a start.



© 2014 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions