In my previous post Does the New York Times Have the World's Worst Paranormal Coverage? I discussed the dismal record of the New York Times in covering the paranormal. I stated the following:
During the past 30 years, the New York Times seems to have had the worst coverage of the paranormal given by any major newspaper. While it has outstanding coverage of politics, world affairs, sports, and entertainment, the paper will typically not cover important news about the paranormal. In the very rare cases when it does provide coverage of the paranormal, the New York Times almost always gives us coverage that is heavily biased, inaccurate, or uninformative.
But maybe there is a little hope that the New York Times is trying to improve its previously atrocious record in regard to covering the paranormal. Recently the New York Times had two decent stories on the topic.
The first story, a very important one, revealed that the US government had a secret program to investigate UFO sightings, one that was funded with 22 million dollars from 2007 to 2012. For years mainstream pundits have been scoffing at people claiming that the government was doing secret research on UFO's. People making such claims have been dismissed as “conspiracy theorists.” Apparently these “conspiracy theorists” were actually correct about secret government activity.
Besides this story, the New York Times also published on the same day a detailed account of a UFO sighting. They interviewed Navy pilot David Fravor, who was asked to use his Navy jet fighter to investigate an unidentified object in the sky. Fravor reported that the vehicle “accelerated like nothing I've ever seen.”
More details on the secret government program are given in this interesting Politico story on the program, which notes, “The revelation of the program could give a credibility boost to UFO theorists, who have long pointed to public accounts by military pilots and others describing phenomena that defy obvious explanation.”
The Politico story states the following:
The “unidentified aerial phenomena” claimed to have been seen by pilots and other military personnel appeared vastly more advanced than those in American or foreign arsenals. In some cases they maneuvered so unusually and so fast that they seemed to defy the laws of physics, according to multiple sources directly involved in or briefed on the effort and a review of unclassified Defense Department and congressional documents.
But if the New York Times gives us a glimmer of hope that it may be improving its previously appalling record of covering the paranormal, we get no such glimmer of hope from the British Broadcast Company. The BBC recently gave us an appalling example of gaslighting witnesses of the paranormal.
The term “gaslighting” has recently been used in connection with all the discussion about workplace sexual harassment and sexual abuse. A wikipedia page defines gaslighting as “a form of manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.” The term is derived from the Ingrid Bergman movie Gaslight, in which a wife detects signs that her husband may be a murderer. The husband tries to deal with these inconvenient observations by convincing his wife that she is going mad.
We can understand how gaslighting might work for a woman who witnessed sexual harassment or sexual abuse. The woman might be told that this may have occurred while she was drunk, or that she may be “fantasy prone,” or that memories from ten years ago are not reliable, or that she committed “confused perception,” or that she may be just remembering some vivid dream she had, or that she may be just engaging in “confabulation.” And if 10 persons witnessed some person in high power groping them or suddenly exposing his genitals to them, all ten of the witnesses may be gaslighted. Once the gaslighting has finished, we may just think of all these witnesses as crazies or unreliable observers who cannot be trusted.
Just as witnesses of sexual harassment and sexual abuse can be gaslighted, witnesses of paranormal phenomena may be gaslighted. Such gaslighting is going on in this BBC video entitled “The Psychology Behind Paranormal Beliefs.” The video makes the misleading assertion that “Some paranormal experiences are caused by brain damage.” This is not correct in any substantial sense. Putting aside psychotic hallucinations, which no paranormal investigator regards as a paranormal experience, there is no common form of paranormal experience that is caused by brain damage.
The rest of the video attempts to suggest that there may be perceptual problems in those reporting paranormal experiences. There is no reliable evidence that this is correct. The people who report paranormal experiences are not substantially different from those who do not. The BBC page refers to an earlier BBC story also engaging in outrageous gaslighting of paranormal witnesses, trying to suggest they may have brain damage or perceptual problems. The evidence given to support these claims is extremely skimpy, and we have a case of trying to weave a fabric from a few scattered threads of evidence.
This gaslighting of witnesses of the paranormal is every bit as deplorable as a sexual abuser's gaslighting of the witnesses of his sexual abuse or sexual harassment. There is no substantive evidence that those who report ghosts, UFO's, ESP, Bigfoot sightings, or near-death experiences have brains, minds or perception tendencies any different than those who do not.