I was recently pointed to a conversation taking place in the Northern Iowan – a student newspaper of the University of Northern Iowa. The debate is about whether ghost-hunting is science or pseudoscience. The first salvo was apparently fired by Michael Dippold, who took the skeptical position. There is also a response by Peter Allen, defending the science of paranormal investigation. I hope these two students won't mind me jumping in and taking them to school a bit.
Michael does a decent job of spelling out the skeptical position, but I think he misses (or at least insufficiently emphasizes) a critical point, and not surprisingly Peter completely misses this vital point. If I had to point to one aspect of so-called ghost hunting that marks it as pseudoscience it is this – they don't carry out any actual hypothesis testing. Michael comes closest to this point with this statement:
Here is the problem with what they are doing: it's not science. There's not a single shred of evidence to suggest that ghosts exist, or that they can be identified by cold spots. Why are ghosts cold? Why do they never seem to show up in visible light, but infrared cameras always find them? Why can you never hear them speaking, but finding them in garbled audio (what they call electronic voice phenomenon or EVP) is absurdly common? The answer is that it's easier to find whatever you're looking for in distorted or unclear video and sound. This is a profession that thrives on false positives.