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Amateur Paranormal Research and Investigation Groups Doing 'Sciencey' Things


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A study of 1,000 websites shows how amateur groups use technical jargon and equipment as symbols of what is " scientific " while actually promoting the paranormal and not adhering to any real scientific principles of investigation. In the early 2000s, a new kind of paranormal-themed show appeared on television. This " reality-based " genre of programs featured individuals or teams of nonscientists who undertook investigations of alleged paranormal phenomena. The Syfy network's Ghost Hunters, the most popular of these shows in the United States, boasts over two million viewers per episode (Seidman 2009) and has launched two spinoff shows. The show's group, The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS), directly influenced the formation of other similar groups (Brown 2008). Within a few years, multiple cable television networks hosted shows that portrayed people directing and participating in self-styled investigations into UFOs, monster reports, and strange, spooky activity around the world. Also in the first decade of the twenty-first century, amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) sprang up in communities across the United States. Many represented their activities as scientific. Interested in seeing how ARIG ideas about being scientific compared to those of the scientific community, I conducted a review of 1,000 websites representing ARIGs in the United States (Hill 2010). How many are there and in what manner do these groups use science to promote themselves and fulfill their mission?
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Amateur Paranormal Research and Investigation Groups
Doing ‘Sciencey’ Things
by Sharon Hill
A study of 1,000 websites shows how amateur groups use technical jargon and
equipment as symbols of what is “scientific” while actually promoting the
paranormal and not adhering to any real scientific principles of investigation.
In the early 2000s, a new kind of paranormal-themed show appeared on
television. This “reality-based” genre of programs featured individuals or teams
of nonscientists who undertook investigations of alleged paranormal phenomena.
The Syfy network’s Ghost Hunters, the most popular of these shows in the
United States, boasts over two million viewers per episode (Seidman 2009) and
has launched two spinoff shows. The show’s group, The Atlantic Paranormal
Society (TAPS), directly influenced the formation of other similar groups (Brown
2008). Within a few years, multiple cable television networks hosted shows that
portrayed people directing and participating in self-styled investigations into
UFOs, monster reports, and strange, spooky activity around the world.
Also in the first decade of the twenty-first century, amateur research and
investigation groups (ARIGs) sprang up in communities across the United States.
Many represented their activities as scientific. Interested in seeing how ARIG
ideas about being scientific compared to those of the scientific community, I
conducted a review of 1,000 websites representing ARIGs in the United States
(Hill 2010). How many are there and in what manner do these groups use
science to promote themselves and fulfill their mission?
Defining ARIGs
ARIGs are unique in that they examine areas on which no organized academic
research or inquiry is focused—perceived paranormal events. They are led by
and composed of people who have little or no scientific training. In these two
ways, they significantly differ from other amateur science programs for which
nonscientists gather specific material data for established science-based research
programs.1 ARIGs are typically hobbyist groups held together by their interest in
the subject. Members are serious about their research activities, but jobs limit
their participation. Involvement in these groups is an example of a “serious
leisure” activity (Stebbins 1992): like-minded individuals diligently pursue an
activity to fulfill certain social and personal aspects of their lives.
I limited my study to groups who use the Internet. The Internet provides an
efficient way for ARIGs to recruit new members, exchange information, and
solicit cases from the public to investigate. ARIG websites reveal their mission,
goals, methods, philosophy, and typical results. While these groups are also
marketed through local word of mouth or media appearances, a web presence
often provides the first point of contact for those who may be seeking help to
explain a suspected paranormal experience.
Considering the above observations, I define ARIGs by the following
Not under the auspices of an academic institution or headed by working
Focused on investigation of unexplained or paranormal events such as reports
of hauntings, mystery animals, unidentified aerial objects, natural anomalies,
and parapsychological phenomena
Undertaking activities that do not provide a primary form of income for
Self-forming and independent (but may hold affiliation with a larger
Promoted via the Internet
Characterizing ARIGs in the United States
Prior to my research, word of mouth in the paranormal and skeptical
communities suggested that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of ghost
hunter, UFO seeker, and monster tracker groups across the country, but no one
had attempted to formally count them all. Counting these groups is difficult
because they are ephemeral—as easy to let die as to set up.
Before social networking tools, it was difficult to connect with others who were
interested in fringe topics. Such groups historically recruited via bulletin boards
and advertisements; they were maintained through mailed newsletters, desktop
journals, and physical gatherings. The Internet lowered the barriers to group
I collected 1,600 ARIG web addresses through various Internet search methods
and index sites. At this point, I realized there were many more I had yet to
count. I accepted that 1,600 would serve as representative of the population,
and the list was randomized and numbered. Information was then collected on
the first 1,000 active sites. Data collected included the group name, home state,
subject category, and scientificity (whether or not they claimed to use science or
scientific methods), as well as several features observed that were common (use
of psychics) or unique (specialized in cases with children or animals, for
My results showed that almost all U.S. states had four or more groups active at
the time of the survey. There was at least one group in every state, with the
overall numbers roughly correlated to population density across the United
States. Ohio and Pennsylvania had the highest tallies at eighty-one and eighty,
respectively. Because many groups will travel to adjoining states, there are
overlapping “coverage” areas among ARIGs.
ARIG subject areas resolved into four categories: ghosts, cryptozoology, UFOs,
and general paranormal (including natural anomaly occurrences or cases of
alleged psi phenomena). Values are shown in Figure 1. Many groups stated they
would investigate all categories and were labeled “paranormal.” Out of 1,000
groups, 879 identified with the category of “ghosts.” An additional eighty-one
included ghosts within the broad “paranormal” category. These counts affirm that
ghost hunting is incredibly popular and trendy.
Figure 1
Only five specialized in UFOs or UFOs in combination with other anomalous
phenomena (but not ghosts). One of the five is the Mutual UFO Network
(MUFON), which claims thousands of members with a director plus investigators
in every state. (Several states are combined under “New England.”) Over the
past few decades, UFO research consolidated under MUFON, which provided
unified methods of investigation, training, state-to-state cooperation, and sharing
of results.
In contrast to the UFO research centralization, the ghost groups are smaller,
diffuse, and independent. There are a few preeminent groups with which
individual groups can be affiliated, such as TAPS or Ghost Adventures Crew
(GAC)2; however, they do not direct group functions but rather only provide a set
of standards to which groups must adhere to maintain affiliation.
Thirty-five groups specialize in cryptozoology, mostly focusing on Bigfoot reports.
Cryptozoology groups may be local or have members dispersed across the
country. There is no overarching organization.
I used the Internet browser’s search feature on each site’s main page to locate
the text string “scien” returning results for “science” and “scientific,” if it existed,
on the page. Use and context of these terms determined the group’s
“scientificity.” If the use of these words was not positive (i.e., was anti-science),
Figure 2
then the scientificity was counted as “no.” If positive or neutral, the scientificity
was “yes.” If the terms were not used at all, scientificity was labeled “not
A total of 526 ARIG websites (52.6 percent) displayed scientificity by explicitly
using “science” or “scientific” in reference to their mission, methods, or goals. An
additional twenty-seven sites used “scientific” to refer to their equipment only.
Twenty designated their group as “semi-” or “quasi-” scientific or strongly
suggested science by use of oblique references such as “not an exact science.
Only nineteen ARIGs were completely nonscientific or anti-science, advocating a
completely psychical or subjective approach. The remaining 40.8 percent of sites
did not specify. (See Figure 2.)
ARIGs’ ‘Scientific’ Methodology
Indicator surveys consistently show that “science” is held in high regard in our
society (National Science Foundation 2009). Every party with a claim wants
science to support its side. This, I suspect, is a main reason why the majority of
ARIGs attempt to cultivate a serious, science-like image. Manner, language, and
procedure of science are imitated in order to appear sophisticated and credible
(Degele 2005; Haack 2007).
Two primary means ARIGs use to portray a scientific image are jargon and use of
technology. Use of science jargon, or “scientese” (Haard et al. 2004), was
common to ARIGs that exhibited scientificity. Several sites have specific sections
pertaining to the “science” of their activities. Commonly used terms include
words such as frequency, resonance, energy, quantum, magnetic, environmental,
and electricity. Yet the sites lack operational (or even common) definitions for
these terms. Vague and confusing language is ubiquitous: ghosts “use energy,
are made up of “magnetic fields,” or are associated with a “quantum state.
Scholarly references to scientific works are nonexistent, but Einstein and Edison
are frequently and explicitly connected to current ideas about communication
with paranormal entities as if credibility can be bolstered by naming people
popularly associated with science and technology.
The word scientific is also used liberally. Certain groups will proclaim their
“scientific methods” citing a “scientific approach” and “scientific research” to
obtain a “scientific solution” with “scientific proof.
ARIGs that claimed to use “a scientific method” equated the process most often
with a systematic protocol of observation and collection of empirical data. ARIG
methodology, as outlined on their websites, includes the following: eyewitness
interviews, site visit(s) with equipment setup, collection of data in usually one
but possibly multiple days and/or nights, analysis of the data, presentation of the
results to the client (if there is one), and a write-up or record of the
For ghost investigations, “scientific” collection of data consists of gathering
temperature readings, electromagnetic field anomalies, photographs, sound
recordings, and other “energy” readings. This process often includes highly
subjective methods such as psychics, dowsing rods, and Ouija boards to help
guide investigators in equipment setup. The most common evidence cited by
ARIGs for hauntings was electronic voice phenomena (EVP), where indistinct
sounds recorded during the investigation are presumed to be communication
with entities. I was hard pressed to find any data tables, graphs, maps, or
documentation of the results, which one would expect to find in a typical
scientific report.
To establish a body of knowledge as “scientific” and to maintain science as a
unique and respected endeavor, the scientific community subscribes to an ethos
defined by ideals or norms (Ziman 2000). Merton (1942) established these norms
as communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism.
The first of Merton’s norms, communalism, encompasses sharing knowledge and
data, allowing others to reproduce the work. While ARIGs post their investigation
reports online; these reports do not at all resemble scientific reports. Typically,
they are not detailed enough for others to duplicate the process, are
unreferenced, do not build on the work of others or any established scientific
knowledge, and are not valuable beyond perhaps being a record of the
investigators’ impressions on that occasion. Many investigation results are
confidential on the request of the client, therefore no findings are released.
The use of psychics or sensitives violates Merton’s norm of universalism since
only certain gifted individuals can “sense” the sprit present or communicate with
the entity. The nongifted cannot confirm or deny such an observation. In
haunting cases, the investigator is encouraged to be his or her own instrument,
recording psychic or sensory impressions. This constitutes a full-on invitation to
engage in biased, subjective, and unverifiable reporting.
The most egregious error made by ARIGs is their bias, which not only violates
the norm of disinterestedness but also negates the entire investigation and its
conclusions. While claiming open-mindedness, ARIGs are composed of those who
hold a preconceived view of a phenomenon and set out to support it (Potts
2004). In stark contrast to scientific writing, ARIG websites will frequently state
certainty in their goals or conclusions. Their mission is to “prove” a phenomenon
they believe exists or to provide “irrefutable” evidence of same. Even more
pretentious are those who wish to “adapt existing scientific laws to reports of the
paranormal” or create a “bridge between the science and the paranormal.” That
language is a signal of how far removed ARIG participants really are from the
established scientific community.
Skepticism is often given token lip service. Several ARIGs say they welcome
skeptics. However, what open-minded skepticism really means to them is that
one is open to the paranormal conclusion as the correct conclusion. The ARIG
explanation too frequently defaults to the paranormal after an incomplete
examination of alternative natural causes (Baker and Nickell 1992, 101–105;
Radford 2010, 11–32). They express resentment of the scientific community for
not seeing what they, as paranormalists, view as obvious—that their evidence is
convincing. While there are some explicitly nonparanormalist (skeptical)
investigation groups, they are few.
ARIGs overwhelmingly display neither understanding of nor adherence to
scientific norms. Another dramatic contrast to conventional scientific attitudes is
the number of ghost investigation groups that are Christian-based, openly
declaring their belief in angels, life after death, and demon infestations directly
alongside their descriptions for collecting empirical data.
Use of technology is pervasive for ARIGs. It is de rigueur to include a page on
the website dedicated to equipment used. High-end, expensive, or unique
instruments seem to be considered status symbols, with some groups advertising
the largest or newest array of devices.
Ghost hunter groups rely on their equipment to record spiritual evidence. Several
groups express the notion that new technology is the key to a breakthrough in
paranormal research. Yet at no site and in no ghost investigation reference book
did I encounter a coherent, referenced explanation for the various equipment
used and data gathered. ARIGs matter-of-factly state that the equipment records
environmental disturbances related to paranormal activity without considering
normal variance or calibration.
Reliance on equipment mimics the current television portrayal of paranormal
investigation. Television shows give us a simplified and optimistic representation
of science (Collins 1987). Science, viewed by laypersons, is about the symbols
(such as paraphernalia and certain personal characteristics of scientists) and end
products (Toumey 1996). Use of equipment suggests objectivity—others can see
the obtained numerical data from which the results are concluded.
Public Acceptance of “Sciencey” Things
Science has considered but provisionally rejected claims of ghosts, cryptids, and
alien spacecraft. Yet the public has a high interest in such ideas. To them,
seemingly paranormal phenomena are unknown and deserve serious attention.
When most respectable scientists eschew paranormal topics, self-styled experts
outside of science step in to provide support and legitimacy for public interest
(Westrum 1977). We can say with certainty that there are presently well over
1,000 of these groups active in the United States to serve these interests.
Specialized skills and high standards characterize scientific work. However, hardly
any ARIG lists formal scientific training as a desired qualification of its members.
ARIG members generally do what appear to be respectable, convincing, and
“sciencey” things. The public mostly relies on heuristics, looking for cues that
suggest a source of information is knowledgeable and sophisticated. Because
much of the public has little understanding of the rigor and practices of science,
it is easy for nonscientists to adopt a hollow likeness of science that
misrepresents it. The average observer would not have the background
knowledge to determine that ARIG portrayal of a “high-tech” paranormal
investigation is ineffectual and without a sound foundation in scientific principals.
ARIGs deliver sham inquiry—a process that gives the impression of scientific
inquiry but lacks substance and rigor.
Those who are anxious about the current state of science education, especially
informal science education, may have a justifiable concern about how “reality”
popular television portrays the scientific endeavor and who gain public credibility
as investigators or scientific researchers. ARIGs often promote their
paranormalist viewpoint as scientifically based, especially in community
presentations or lectures at educational facilities. While scientifically minded
observers can readily spot the anemic and shoddy scholarship of popular
paranormal investigation, the public, unaware of the fundamental errors ARIGs
make, can be persuaded by jargon and “sciencey” symbols.
1. Such as Galaxy Zoo or the Audubon bird count surveys.
2. Ghost Adventures Crew claims over 600 members (
5y3t6VBdK). Neither TAPS nor GAC require any scientific training for affiliated
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UFOs, Psychics, & Other Mysteries. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books.
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Collins, H.M. 1987. Certainty and the public understanding of science: Science on
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Shaman to Scientist: Essays on Humanities Search for Spirits. Lanham, Maryland:
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Citation: Skeptical Inquirer Volume 36.2, March/April 2012
... Another aspect of this research has targeted the relationships between the type and quantity of media use and people's paranormal beliefs. Many sceptics express concern that the media may help to foster belief in the paranormal and perceptions of paranormal research as scientific, particularly in the light of uncritical coverage of paranormal research (Brewer and Ley 2013;Brewer, 2012;Hill, 2012;Nisbet, 2006). explored cultivation theory to argue that exposure to television programing could influence viewers' beliefs concerning the paranormal. ...
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Paranormal beliefs and magical thinking exist in the public, and amongst university students. Researchers have found that media can influence such beliefs. A 2012 study suggested pseudoscientific rationales can influence acceptance of reported paranormal phenomena. Using a paranormal belief survey and controlled experiment this work explores the paranormal beliefs and test the effects of three versions of a supernatural news story on undergraduate professional students. One version of the story presented a simple news article, another the same with a pseudoscientific rationale, and another gave a discrediting scientific critique. Results confirmed that many students do hold magical beliefs but discriminated between scientific and pseudoscientific narratives. However, pre-existing paranormal beliefs were associated with an increased likelihood of students finding paranormal reports scientific, believable and credible.
... d) Détournement du vocabulaire scientifique. Un des procédés les plus utilisés par les défenseurs du paranormal pour assurer leur crédibilité est de truffer leurs discours de mots à saveur scientifique, tout en occultant le fait qu'ils se passent volontiers de la démarche scientifique (Hill, 2012). Pour les pseudoscientifiques, la physique quantique reste une source intarissable de justifications. ...
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Dans cet article, nous présentons les résultats d'une étude longitudinale concernant la proportion d'espace consacrée d'une part aux ouvrages de pseudosciences (paranormal, ésotérisme, nouvel âge, arts divinatoires, etc.) et de sciences pour adultes et, d'autre part, aux ouvrages de spiritualité et de sciences pour enfants dans les librairies du Québec. Deux mesures ont été prises, l'une en 2001 dans 55 librairies et l'autre, en 2011 dans 72 librairies. Des analyses statistiques ont été réalisées à partir des mesures prises uniquement dans les librairies visitées aux deux temps de mesure. Les résultats des analyses corrélationnelles montrent que les librairies qui consacrent davantage d'espaces aux ouvrages de pseudosciences destinés aux adultes (n = 40) et aux ouvrages de spiritualité destinés aux enfants (n = 38) sont les mêmes en 2001 et en 2011. Par ailleurs, une ANOVA à mesures répétées montre que la proportion d'espace dévolue aux ouvrages de pseudosciences destinés aux adultes a diminué au deuxième temps de mesure, ce qui n'est pas le cas des livres de spiritualité offerts aux enfants. Après un bref retour sur la méthode utilisée et les résultats, nous invoquons quatre raisons susceptibles d'expliquer la popularité des pseudosciences ainsi que quelques conséquences éthiques et sociales de leur vogue. En conclusion, nous proposons deux solutions pour valoriser la démarche scientifique aux yeux des adolescents et des enfants. Mots‑clés : librairies, pseudosciences, science, étude longitudinale. Abstract In this article, we present the results of a longitudinal study on the proportion of space devoted, on the one hand, to books of pseudosciences (paranormal, the occult, new age, methods of divination, etc.) and of sciences for adults; and on the other hand, on the proportion of space devoted to books of spirituality and sciences for children in the bookstores of Quebec. Two measures were taken, one in 2001 in 55 bookstores, and the other one in 2011 in 72 bookstores. Statistical analyses were conducted only on the measures taken in the bookstores that were visited at the two measurement times. Results from correlational analyses show that those bookstores that devote more space to books of pseudosciences for adults (n = 40) and to books of spirituality for children (n = 38) are the same in 2001 and 2011. Moreover, a repeated measures ANOVA indicate that the proportion of space devoted to books of pseudosciences for adults had decreased at the second measurement time, which is not the case for books of spirituality for children. After briefly revisiting the methodology and results, we put forward four reasons that may explain the popularity of pseudosciences, as well as a few ethical and social consequences from their fashion. In our concluding remarks, we suggest two solutions to promote scientific reasoning among adolescents and children.
... Un des procédés les plus utilisés par les pseudo-scientifiques pour assurer leur crédibilité est de dire qu'ils utilisent des principes scientifiques tout en occultant la démarche scientifique (Hill, 2012). Demande et reçois est à cet égard un petit bijou. ...
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Au cours de ce texte, je présente d'abord le contenu du livre de Pierre Morency et de Valérie Fontaine, Demande et reçois, chapitre par chapitre. À l'aide d'une série d'affirmations fallacieuses, l'auteur tente de convaincre les jeunes adolescents qu'ils peuvent obtenir tout ce qu'ils désirent. Comment? Il suffit de le demander en évitant de douter, et surtout de laisser de côté tout esprit critique. La deuxième partie comporte six réflexions supplémentaires sur le contenu de ce livre, dont certaines à connotation éthique. Mots-clés : adolescent, pensée magique, ésotérisme, éthique. Abstract In the following text, I begin by presenting the content of the book by Pierre Morency and Valérie Fontaine, Demande et reçois, chapter by chapter. Using a series of false claims, the author attempts to convince young teenagers that they can obtain anything they desire. How? One must simply ask while avoiding doubtful thoughts and critical thinking. The second portion of the text consists of six additional thoughts on the book, some of which are of ethical concern.
... Deux procédés sont particulièrement prisés par les promoteurs de fausses croyances. Le premier procédé consiste à recourir à un vocabulaire emprunté à la science pour vendre leur approche et à truffer leurs discours de termes spécialisés cités hors contexte qui donnent du brio à leurs propos tout en ayant rien à voir avec la démarche scientifique (Hill, 2012). Le deuxième procédé est encore plus pernicieux : le recours au scepticisme comme stratégie de communication. ...
... Un des procédés les plus utilisés par les pseudo-scientifiques pour assurer leur crédibilité est de dire qu'ils utilisent des principes scientifiques tout en occultant la démarche scientifique (Hill, 2012). Demande et reçois est à cet égard un petit bijou. ...
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Au cours de ce texte, je presente d’abord le contenu du livre de Pierre Morency et de Valerie Fontaine, Demande et recois, chapitre par chapitre. A l’aide d’une serie d’affirmations fallacieuses, l’auteur tente de convaincre les jeunes adolescents qu’ils peuvent obtenir tout ce qu’ils desirent. Comment? Il suffit de le demander en evitant de douter, et surtout de laisser de cote tout esprit critique. La deuxieme partie comporte six reflexions supplementaires sur le contenu de ce livre, dont certaines a connotation ethique.
... Le présent texte met en évidence diverses stratégies utilisés par des tenants de la synergologie pour convaincre et faire taire les critiques : l'appel à l'autorité, le raisonnement circulaire, le défaut de lien avec d'autres disciplines scientifiques, l'utilisation d'anecdotes et de témoignages informels, et l'absence d'évaluation par les pairs. La liste n'aurait pas été complète sans y ajouter le détournement du vocabulaire scientifique (Hill, 2012;Larivée, 2014). ...
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Denault, V., Larivée, S., Plouffe, D., & Plusquellec, P. (2015). La synergologie, une lecture pseudoscientifique du langage corporel [Synergology, a pseudoscientific reading of body language]. Revue de Psychoéducation, 43(2), 425-455. doi: 10.7202/1039262ar
"In this unsettling look at science in America's democratic culture, Christopher Toumey shows how readily the critics of elite science have hijacked scientific authority for their own purposes [and] lucidly illustrates the ways in which science has taken on multiple and contested meanings."--Ronald L. Numbers, William Coleman Professor of the History of Science and Medicine, University of Wisconsin Medical School "A fascinating and clearly written analysis of the gap between the science of scientists and its popular understandings in daily American life...Toumey's work is a major contribution to anthropological understandings of science, American culture, and their convergence in the quest for meaning."--Robbie E. Davis-Floyd, University of Texas "Essential to our interrogation of science is informed cultural critique, especially that which is as readable as Conjuring Science. Toumey should be read by all who shape the twenty-first century." --James Peacock, former Presidents, American Anthropological Association What are the implications for Americans when actors who play doctors on television endorse medical products, or when an entire town in the Midwest prepares for an earthquake based on the specious advice of a zoologist? These are just two of the many questions Christopher Toumey asks in his investigation of the role of science in American culture. Toumey focuses on the ways in which the symbols of science are employed to signify scientific authority in a variety of cases, from the selling of medical products to the making of public policy about AIDS/HIV--a practice he calls "conjuring" science. It is the "conjuring" of the images and symbols of scientific authority that troubles Toumey and leads him to reflect on the history of public understanding and the perceptions of science in the United States. He argues that while most Americans invest a great deal of authority in science, there is a vacuum of understanding about scientific knowledge. This gap between belief and understanding greatly influences public policy decisions and democratic processes. Toumey argues that instead of comprehending scientific knowledge, methods, or standards, most Americans know science only in terms of symbols that stand between people and scientific understanding. He breaks this paradox down into three questions. First, what are the historical conditions that have caused the culture of science to be so estranged from other parts of American culture? Second, how does science fit into American democratic culture today? And third, if the symbols of science are being used to endorse or legitimize certain values and meanings, but not the values and meanings of science, then to what do they refer? In witty, readable prose, Toumey investigates these questions by presenting five episodes in science in American life: the fluoridation controversies; the 1986 California referendum on AIDS/HIV policy; the cold fusion controversy; the anti-evolution of creationism; and the mad-scientist stories of fiction and film. Christopher P. Toumey is the author of God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World (Rutgers University Press). His essays on the cultural meanings of science have appeared in Natural History, Social Studies of Science, and many other journals.
This book explores the relationship between amateurs and professionals within the framework of serious leisure.
21st century television and the Internet are awash in content regarding amateur paranormal investigators and research groups. These groups proliferated after reality investigation programs appeared on television. Exactly how many groups are active in the U.S. at any time is not known. The Internet provides an ideal means for people with niche interests to find each other and organize activities. This study collected information from 1000 websites of amateur research and investigation groups (ARIGs) to determine their location, area of inquiry, methodology and, particularly, to determine if they state that they use science as part of their mission, methods or goals. 57.3% of the ARIGs examined specifically noted or suggested use of science as part of the groups' approach to investigation and research. Even when not explicit, ARIGs often used science-like language, symbols and methods to describe their groups' views or activities. Yet, non-scientific and subjective methods were described as employed in conjunction with objective methods. Furthermore, what were considered scientific processes by ARIGs did not match with established methods and the ethos of the scientific research community or scientific processes of investigation. ARIGs failed to display fundamental understanding regarding objectivity, methodological naturalism, peer review, critical thought and theoretical plausibility. The processes of science appear to be mimicked to present a serious and credible reputation to the non-scientific public. These processes are also actively promoted in the media and directly to the local public as "scientific". These results highlight the gap between the scientific community and the lay public regarding the understanding of what it means to do science and what criteria are necessary to establish reliable knowledge about the world.
The notion of `the public understanding of science' is ambiguous. It is not the findings of science that are crucial, but the public understanding of science as a knowledge-producing activity. Two television broadcasts on science are described and analyzed. Features typical of science broadcasting, with their implicit epistemological messages, are discussed. The public understanding of science is affected by the way such programmes portray science as a producer of certainty. The first programme deals with a controversy in an area of low status. While this allows an uncertain face of science to be glimpsed, it is with us only for a narrow slot in time — the present. We are shown only a small `window of uncertainty' set within walls of certainty that extend into the past and the future. The second programme confirms this analysis. The first programme puts us in a position to follow the window of uncertainty in real time. An experiment discussed in the programme — the carbon-dating test on the Shroud of Turin — is about to happen. It is predicted that the carbon-dating test will move into the `window of uncertainty' as we approach it.
Although it seems scientifically implausible, holistically oriented forms of alternative and complementary medicine (ACM) have become popular over the past few years. Homeopathy is considered to be one of the most widespread, heterogeneous, and controversial of these therapies. Science works as a generator of professional identity in such groups of medical outsiders. This article is based on extensive research on homeopathic communities conducted over several years. It will outline social conditions of homeopathic knowledge and treatment as opposed to scientific standards and will shed some light on homeopathy as affected by science on three levels: homeopathic research, education, and everyday work. Since the area of medical science and research affects homeopathic practice but not vice versa, this article will also highlight the challenge of "doing science" in a still marginalized field.