What Makes a Great Paranormal Investigator?
In my quest to become a competent investigator of the paranormal I’ve spent a lot of time trying to answer this question: What make’s a great paranormal investigator? The pyramid on the left represents the primary factors that determine the ability for an investigator to evaluate paranormal claims effectively and objectively.
Factors on the bottom are considered more important or more fundamental than factors higher up the pyramid. Skills higher up the pyramid should be built on a strong foundation. Having a great deal of experience investigating paranormal claims means little if you don’t have solid logic and critical thinking skills.
Logic and Reasoning Skills: This includes basic understanding of what logic is but more importantly is the ability to apply logic objectively. I have seen many examples of investigators succumbing to logical fallacies at an amazing rate. No one is perfect, but you should at least no what makes a logical argument, common logical fallacies, and be able to correctly generate logical conclusions the more often than not.
Critical Thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to identify faults, information gaps, and other explanations. Critical thinking is, well, critical to investigation of paranormal claims. An investigator needs to be able to see the holes in a narrative or be able to identify alternative explanations for a phenomenon.
Heuristic Evaluation Method: Heuristics are “rules of thumb” used to evaluate the validity of an explanation. A common heuristic is Occam’s Razor. These methods are used to weigh competing explanations, identify information gaps, and ultimately determine which explanations to pursue for scientific testing. A good investigator should have a reasonable heuristic evaluation method picked and be familiar with applying this method to paranormal claims.
Scientific Method: The Scientific method is the next level of testing. Scientific testing can be difficult, expensive and in some cases it may be impossible to design an adequate test. However scientific testing of a hypothesis is the ultimate goal. Investigators should have a solid understanding of the process and requirements of the scientific method.
Analysis and Collection Techniques: These are the techniques used to collect and analyze evidence to determine validity and value. All of these techniques should be based on the standard of the scientific standard, reproducability. This means investigators should establish guidelines for using equipment that includes the careful recording of data and use equipment in a way that avoid false positives. For example, waving a Trifield meter around can skew the results. Any movement can move the needle generating a false positive.
Experience and Instinct: While experience and instinct needs to be limited while analyzing evidence it is extremely important during the collection stage. Experience with investigations and intuition can lead an investigator to find evidence or draw out details from a witness that would have otherwise been missed.
Historical Knowledge: Knowledge of the history of paranormal research and various phenomena can be very useful in investigations. Often this knowledge can fuel intuition or provide insight into alternative explanations.
Interpersonal Skills: The ability to communicate effectively with others. This may be more important depending on what the investigation entails. An investigator who interviews witnesses should have strong interpersonal skills while an investigator who analyzes media and reports doesn’t require strong interpersonal skills. But being able to communicate effectively is always a plus.
Professionalism: The ability to carry yourself in a professional way. This is influenced by the way you dress, attitudes, habits, and the way you communicate with people. Professionalism is always a desirable attribute for investigators.
Community Awareness: Awareness of what is going on in the paranormal and skeptical communities is valuable. Being “plugged-in” can provide access to valuable resources that you would be otherwise unaware of.
Patience and Persistence: Investigations can be long and tedious. People love closure and investigators especially want to be able to say this was the cause. This is what I think is a driving factor behind a lot of the sloppy conclusions presented by believers and skeptics. You must be patient and persistent with investigations. Let the evidence guide conclusions, not impatience.
Area Expertise: Expertise in certain subject areas can be very important. If you are studying UFOs expertise in astronomy and meteorology would be very helpful. If you analyze media like pictures, video and audio, it is a good idea to start reading up on forensic analysis techniques. If you interview witnesses than an understanding of human psychology is important, specifically what conditions affect a person’s ability to make an accurate observation. Other areas include media forensics (photos, video, audio), statistics, astronomy, photography, videography, video and photo editing, meteorology, geology, biology and zoology.
If you are serious about becoming a paranormal investigator please spend some time developing your methods and yourself before grabbing the trifield meter. The field, more than ever needs objective investigators with a toolbox full of analysis techniques.