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Ghosts, busted


A new book by an OCU professor challenges the supernatural through spooky skepticism.

Louis Fowler February 26th, 2014

Are those bumps in the night, creaky floors or demonic eyes staring through the windows random acts of coincidental nature, easily explained through logic and reason? Or could they be something more, something from, perhaps, beyond our realm of scientific knowledge?

Are those bumps in the night, creaky floors or demonic eyes staring through the windows random acts of coincidental nature, easily explained through logic and reason? Or could they be something more, something from, perhaps, beyond our realm of scientific knowledge?

Chances are the plumbing is just bad. But, still, Oklahoma is one of the best places in the lower 48 to not only hear about this stuff but live it. From the various tales of terror on Carey Place in Oklahoma City to the mischievous ghost-scamp of the Stone Lion Inn Bed & Breakfast in Guthrie, the supernatural continues to inspire, inflame and incite professionals on both sides of the argument.

The local debate, however, is starting to flare up again with the release of Oklahoma City University professor Bryan Farha’s latest book, Pseudoscience and Deception: The Smoke and Mirrors of Paranormal Claims.

“We’re living in an age of B.S. and deception,” Farha said. “We encounter charlatans and con artists on a regular basis. Learning how to think critically, logically and with reason is of vital importance to avoid being taken advantage of by people we encounter in everyday life. The greater we learn how to think critically, the better we’ll be able to function in society and make wise, informed decisions.”

Pseudoscience, for the uninitiated, is “a system of theories, assumptions and methods erroneously regarded as scientific.” Farha feels that pseudoscience and deception is at its most useful in training readers how to have a skeptical frame of mind when confronting these claims.

“To be skeptical is to question, not to disbelieve,” he said.

Farha said that sticking close to guidelines that require attention to detail and results that can be replicated under tightly controlled guidelines is a necessity.

“That’s just good science, not closed-mindedness,” he said.

Astrophysist Wayne Harris-Wyrick, planetarium director for Science Museum Oklahoma and case manager for local paranormal phenomenon research group INsight, disagreed.

He said there are undoubtedly some realms of science — like recreating the life and death of a star — that can’t be produced in a lab. That doesn’t make the study of them any less valid, either — and he includes the research of ghosts and other paranormal activity.

“It’s very difficult in my mind to say that it can’t happen, that there’ll never be or we’re never going to prove something, because it happens all the time in science,” Harris-Wyrick said.

INsight is affiliated with The Atlantic Paranormal Society, the research team behind the popular reality show Ghosthunters. It investigates supernatural claims for free. And, like Farha, anytime Harris-Wyrick begins a case, he goes in with a skeptical mind.

“You don’t go in saying, ‘I’m going to prove the greatest thing in the world.’ You go in trying to disprove, because in science, you can’t actually prove much of anything,” Harris- Wyrick said. “Our first thought is, ‘How can we explain to them that faucets do turn on, sometimes on their own, because plumbing could be faulty?’ Pipes can bang all the time due to water pressure. There are a lot of things that happen that can make people think they are being haunted when they’re not.”

Farha himself has investigated Oklahoma cases such as crop circles in Fargo and a ghost caught on a surveillance camera at Puckett’s Wrecker Service in OKC, all with an open, yet skeptical mind. He and peers say they found natural, almost obvious reasons behind the mysteries.

Farha hopes that Pseudoscience and Deception will help those interested in the paranormal to go into more situations looking for the honest answer, not the one they want to believe in.

“An understanding that the universe is the way it is, not the way we wish it to be,” Farha said. “It’s an appreciation for the truth, logical thinking and reasoning so that people will not blindly accept an extraordinary claim as true without investing in some critical examination.”

As skeptical as Harris-Wyrick is, he also hopes that, through science and research, he will be able to turn this socalled pseudoscience of paranormal phenomena into a real science.

“We live in a very big universe, and we’re always finding out new things about it. I think it’s very possible this stuff does exist.”

 
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