Ghost story

Posted on January 10, 2012


Dateline: 22November 2011 // Posted by: Bitofaheel

Source: Daily Mail

Story: “Terror of family who claim their five-year old son is haunted by the ‘man with grey skin'”

Summary: This story takes place in Bridlington, Yorkshire,in the United Kingdom. Dave Gerrity claims his son is being pestered by a ghost. He claims an image of this ‘grey-faced’ ghost appears on a wall in the dining room in the family home where Dave lives with his wife Emma and son Dagan in between visits to the five-year old.

Dagan talks about “a man with grey skin (that) comes and sits on his bed and keeps him awake talking to him”. The couple has often found their son crying in his bedroom at night, frightened of the phantom.

As well as this, Dave says since the whole thing began, strange things have started happening; unexplainable shuffling of furniture and strange “banging” noises coming from the attic of the neighboring house. Dave believes the recent construction to the two houses (the Gerrity house and the neighboring one) has disturbed a spirit.

The whole situation has disrupted the family so much so that Mother Emma wants to move; “she doesn’t want to stay in the house anymore.”

Why is this PseudoNews? Pseudoscience is a practice, claim or belief which claims to be scientific but does not adhere to the standardized methods that govern scientific research. Some of these standardized methods include: (a) The use of empirical evidence and rather than reliance on anecdotal evidence; (b) A hypothesis which can be falsified; (c) The use of controls such as placebo or double blind testing; (d) A use of operational definitions which can be independently measured outside the context of the hypothesis; (e) Use of the principle of reductionism rather than holism.

The above scenario raises questions about the genuineness of the claim as it does not seem to adhere to any of the scientific standards. There is no use of operational definitions to define the supposed ghost and the only passable experiment has numerous variables making an overall valid conclusion unattainable (testing if the blue chair moves in the middle of the night). The principle of holism can be seen in Dagan’s parents’ reaction to their child’s fear; his claim is simply accepted and no other underlying causes are really explored. Ultimately, at the root of the theory, the claims cannot be truly falsified. How does one prove Dagan is not haunted by a ghost when the child believes (bar the image on the wall) he is the only one who can see it?.

What features of pseudoscience are on show? Anecdotal evidence. The theory is based on the experience of a five-year old. Everything else sparks from this. It seems that Dagan has told his parents about this ghost, they have entertained the idea so the notion hasn’t left the child’s mind. If anything is going to hold a fear rigid in a person’s mind, it’s hullabaloo. As a result of this, Dagan is not budging which only makes his case appear more genuine.

Confirmation bias. Since Dagan told his parents what’s been happening, they have noticed other strange things; the movement of furniture in Dagan’s bedroom and noise coming from the neighboring house. Before the talk of the “grey-faced man”, these things (according to the family) weren’t happening. Is it more likely that such things were happening regardless? And that the occurrences were just coincidences? After Dagan’s story, the family may have started to notice ‘spooky’ things around the house that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. This is known as confirmation bias; a phenomenon that keeps fantastic and ‘out of this world’ beliefs alive.

Lack of parsimony. The family are choosing to believe the explanation with the fewest untested assumptions; the presence of a spirit. A parsimonious approach would be to consider Dagan; is he making the story up for some reason? Could there be some psychological issues causing him to see such things? Could he be basing his assumptions on a movie or story? The same can be done for the other happenings; is the noise and the movement of furniture paranormal or could there be another explanation?

Holism. As I’ve mentioned above, the theory has not considered Dagan and assumed that he is truthful, unbiased and uninfluenced. This is taking a holistic view of Dagan’s claim, ignoring his age and maturity not to mention other possible underlying causes and influences; for example, the possibility of attention-seeking behavior or illness.

Lack of falsifiability. A hypothesis which cannot be falsified is typical of pseudoscience. Here we have an example: “There is no such thing as ghosts” >> “Can you prove that there is no such thing as ghosts?” >> “It’s near impossible test the nonexistence of something which has no matter or scale of measurement” >> “You can’t prove ghosts don’t exist so it could be true.” Dagan’s ghost cannot be falsified no more than it can be verified.

The moral of the story: Dagan’s word alone is not appropriate evidence and the fact that his parents unwaveringly accept this only worsens the child’s fear. The strange, ‘paranormal’ activity can be explained as a bad case of confirmation bias (“There is a ghost in the house. Aagghh! That chair moved!”). The simplest explanation is usually the most suitable. Just because a belief cannot be falsified does not verify it.