Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, it seems from a new study that the credibility of paranormal investigators is largely influenced by how 'scientific' the media portrays them.
The author of the study, Paul Brewer, is a professor of communications at the University of Delaware and an expert on how science is portrayed by the media and about public opinion on science. He became curious about the number of paranormal investigation 'reality' shows on television and decided to do some investigation of his own.
He gathered a study group and had the members read one of three versions of the same newspaper article about paranormal investigators, after which the participants were given a questionnaire to fill in.
"It wasn't just any story about paranormal investigators that made people believe in ghosts and haunted houses," said Brewer, "it was a story about how they were scientific."
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The first article used what he called "the trappings of science", describing how the investigator used technology — such as an electromagnetic field (EMF) detector — and specific 'scientific' jargon. The second article told the story from a more traditional 'supernatural' point of view, leaving out the science. The third version was identical to the first, but had an added section at the end quoting a professor as he debunked the story.
Those in the participant group that read the first article had the highest likelihood of saying that the investigators were scientific and credible, and they were more likely to believe in the paranormal.
According to the UDaily article, Brewer said that this might be troubling to skeptics of paranormal phenomena. "They might look at this and say, well, all it takes is to sprinkle some acronyms in there and wave around cool looking things that beep and suddenly people believe in ghosts and haunted houses."
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However, despite the scientific approach shown in the third article, the debunking at the end of it had a bigger influence. Participants who read this version ranked the investigators with lower credibility than the first group, so this may be of some comfort to the skeptics.
"What the media can do, the media can take away," said Brewer.
Brewer's results are published in last month's issue of Science Communication, titled The Trappings of Science: Media Messages, Scientific Authority, and Beliefs About Paranormal Investigators.
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