Ben Radford - Paranormal Investigation
Posted: 05 July 2008 12:02 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Ben Radford is is one of the world’s few science-based paranormal investigators, and has done first-hand research into psychics, ghosts and haunted houses, exorcisms, Bigfoot, lake monsters, UFO sightings, crop circles, and other topics. He is managing editors of Skeptical Inquirer magazine, and editor-in-chief of the Spanish-language magazine Pensar, published in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The author of many books, including Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us, and Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World’s Most Elusive Creatures (with Joe Nickell), he also writes online at LiveScience.com and MediaMythmakers.com.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Radford recounts some of his experiences as a paranormal investigator, drawing a contrast between his work and that of the “ghost hunters.” He talks about his attempts at “steath skepticism” and also about his new board-game, Playing Gods.

Also in this episode, philosopher and Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz shares a special message for rationalists on Independence Day, about the Influence of the Enlightenment on America.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org

[ Edited: 21 September 2008 09:50 AM by Thomas Donnelly ]
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Posted: 10 July 2008 06:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Thanks, that was a good one.

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Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it’s a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe.    - Lex Luthor

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Posted: 13 July 2008 11:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Thomas Donnelly - 05 July 2008 12:02 PM

Also in this episode, philosopher and Center for Inquiry founder Paul Kurtz shares a special message for rationalists on Independence Day, about the Influence of the Enlightenment on America.

My jaw almost dropped to the floor when Paul Kurtz mentioned the various marital infidelities of the founding fathers while only mentioning the fact that several of them owned human slaves in passing (and even there only one was mentioned, in the context of Jefferson’s relationship with his slaves, which is sort of like mentioning that someone is “guilty of shoplifting a candybar, while perpetrating a violent armed robbery”). What kind of “humanism” overlooks the terrible ethical tragedy that these men allowed—and even actively participated in—only to criticize their rather ordinary failings as human beings? “All too human”, indeed. But most humans don’t own other human beings. (I won’t go on about how women were treated. Let’s just say I also consider it far more important than their various personal affairs with women and I can’t imagine any rational, modern humanist philosophy that wouldn’t.)

Thanks for such a good show, everyone, and thanks for the otherwise excellent comments for July 4th. I’m a long time listener and I’m still a big fan of both Kurtz and the show!

[ Edited: 13 July 2008 11:14 PM by ganzfeld ]
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Posted: 19 September 2008 09:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Oh dear – once again we have another debunker who applies no critical thinking to his investigations and does not understand scientific methodology.

Ben Radford claims to have investigated a haunted house in Montego Bay in Jamaica, supposedly haunted by Annie Palmer - “The White Witch of Rose Hall”. I listened carefully to discover what he actually did. What investigative techniques did the man undertake? Apparently he read books on the subject and came to the conclusion that because there was never a historical figure called Annie Palmer then the haunting was not real. “I have conclusively proven that Annie Palmer did not haunt Rose Hall”. Excuse me? Does it really have to be pointed out that any purported anomalous phenomena occurring in Rose Hall might have nothing to do with Annie Palmer at all (indeed obviously does not) but could nevertheless be a real phenomenon? This shows the man has a very tenuous grasp indeed on what it means to apply critical thinking to a problem. Besides, what actual investigation did he do? Apparently none at all. Did he investigate anomalous occurrences and critically analyse them and explain them in rational terminology? Apparently not. Later in the podcast Mr Radford even has the gall to deride other supposed paranormal investigators for doing no actual investigation except to read books on the subject.

There is even the implication that Mr Radford believes that science can “conclusively prove” something to be true or false. This shows his complete lack of understanding of the methodology of science and what it can or cannot provide us in the way of knowledge. I suggest before Mr Radford makes a further nonsense of science and true critical thinking he at least acquaint himself with the history, philosophy and methodology of science. Until he does, true scientist will always consider him to be part of the lunatic fringe.

I listened carefully to the rest of the podcast to try and understand Mr Radford’s investigative methodology – essentially to understand if he truly applies critical thinking and rational methodology to his alleged investigations - he provides none. One can only conclude that the man is an untrained, pseudoscientific dogmatist who, like Mazur, Nickell and Randi, will never actually apply the critical and scientific techniques that they talk about endlessly to any actual investigation. All we seem to get from these people is a lot of hot air about garden variety hoaxes and frauds that any grade school student would - and should - be skeptical about.

The God Complex these people have is finally revealed in the fact that he (we are informed) has invented a board game called “Playing God” and it turns out that he believes he can “kill off” believers” in the course of the game “just like in real life”. Oh please, save the megalomania for your psychiatrists. Real people want to understand how they can apply critical thinking and rational investigative techniques to the anomalous phenomena that we observe around us in the real world. Slick operators such as Mr Radford do the cause of rational thought and critical thinking a great deal of harm in the public eye. Blind, faith based dogmatism we do not need from these people – but that is all we ever seem to get.

[ Edited: 19 September 2008 10:07 AM by Rramjet ]
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Posted: 19 September 2008 09:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Rramjet - 19 September 2008 09:12 AM

Oh dear – once again we have another debunker who applies no critical thinking to his investigations and does not understand scientific methodology.

Ben Radford claims to have investigated a haunted house in Montego Bay in Jamaica, supposedly haunted by Annie Palmer - “The White Witch of Rose Hall”. I listened carefully to discover what he actually did. What investigative techniques did the man undertake? Apparently he read books on the subject and came to the conclusion that because there was never a historical figure called Annie Palmer then the haunting was not real. “I have conclusively proven that Annie Palmer did not haunt Rose Hall”. Excuse me? Does it really have to be pointed out that any purported anomalous phenomena occurring in Rose Hall might have nothing to do with Annie Palmer at all (indeed obviously does not) but could nevertheless be a real phenomenon? This shows the man has a very tenuous grasp indeed on what it means to apply critical thinking to a problem. Besides, what actual investigation did he do? Apparently none at all. Did he investigate anomalous occurrences and critically analyse them and explain them in rational terminology? Apparently not. Later in the podcast Mr Radford even has the gall to deride other supposed paranormal investigators for doing no actual investigation except to read books on the subject. What a pompous ass.

There is even the implication that Mr Radford believes that science can “conclusively prove” something to be true or false. This shows his complete lack of understanding of the methodology of science and what it can or cannot provide us in the way of knowledge. I suggest before Mr Radford makes a further nonsense of science and true critical thinking he at least acquaint himself with the history, philosophy and methodology of science. Until he does, true scientist will always consider him to be part of the lunatic fringe.

I listened carefully to the rest of the podcast to try and understand Mr Radford’s investigative methodology – essentially to understand if he truly applies critical thinking and rational methodology to his alleged investigations - he provides none. One can only conclude that the man is an untrained, pseudoscientific dogmatist who, like Mazur, Nickell and Randi, will never actually apply the critical and scientific techniques that they talk about endlessly to any actual investigation. All we seem to get from these people is a lot of hot air about garden variety hoaxes and frauds that any grade school student would - and should - be skeptical about.

The God Complex these people have is finally revealed in the fact that he (we are informed) has invented a board game called “Playing God” and it turns out that he believes he can “kill off” believers” in the course of the game “just like in real life”. Oh please, save the megalomania for your psychiatrists. Real people want to understand how they can apply critical thinking and rational investigative techniques to the anomalous phenomena that we observe around us in the real world. Slick operators such as Mr Radford do the cause of rational thought and critical thinking a great deal of harm in the public eye. Blind, faith based dogmatism we do not need from these people – but that is all we ever seem to get.

Rramjet, abusive personal attacks are against the rules of this forum. Ben Radford is a member here, so this rule applies. Members engaged in such behavior are subject to banning. If you want to make your case, you would be advised to present your arguments and evidence without recourse to abusive language.

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Posted: 19 September 2008 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Sorry Doug - I withdraw the “pompous ass” ( In fact I will return to edit that one out right now) and regret any other abusive language. I will try hard to play nice in the future.

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Posted: 19 September 2008 05:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Ben Radford has had some sort of glitch posting stuff here on the Forum ... it’s kind of a gas what this software is capable of. At any rate, here’s what he asked me to post in his stead:

———————————————-

It doesn’t surprise me that Rramjet misunderstands my investigation, if all his information comes from a few sentences in a podcast. If he’s interested in the complete, full onsite investigation I did into Rose Hall (and how I can conclusively prove that the ghost of Annie Palmer does not exist), he should buy a copy of Fortean Times (August, issue 239) and read the complete, six-page report including my investigation and reproduction of ghost photos. It’s always easier to criticize if you haven’t bothered to look at the facts.
If, after actually reading the investigation (the most thorough ever done on the topic), he still has questions about the investigation methodology or conclusions, I’ll be happy to address them.
Ben

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Posted: 20 September 2008 10:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Ben – I am willing to read your article and even post a retraction if warranted - but I do not have access to it. I have only your statements in the Point of Inquiry podcast to go on. That is all the “facts” I have – and I might add, all that many people have.

I can only reiterate that proof that Annie Palmer does (did) not exist is not proof against paranormal activity – and it is this and this alone you claimed for your investigation into Rose Hall on the podcast – and reiterate in your post here. I can only go by your own words.

I cannot supply you with my personal life experiences concerning matters paranormal and equally you cannot supply me with your own. All we have are words and rational method to judge the veracity of any comment or claim the other might make. For example I claim to be at least as educated as your good self and also claim to have investigated a number of so called “paranormal” manifestations and I have come to some very different conclusions about the topic than you. I believe that there are phenomena that manifest in the real world that we have no rational prosaic explanation for. You on the other hand believe that everything does have a rational prosaic explanation. But where then does that leave us?

I would suggest it leaves us arguing about the rigour of critical thinking each has applied to the subject. My only wish then is to ensure that others rigorously apply critical thinking methodology to their approach to such subjects as I try to – and I am willing to admit I often fail in the enterprise. I am also willing to concede that because yours was the last podcast in the Nickell, Mazur, Radford series I listened to that I might not have been as rigorous in my critique of your podcast as perhaps I should have been.

I must add however it is your prosthelitising I distrust. The peculiar dogmatic certainty you have that you are correct and that your stated mission is to convert future generations to your way of thinking. Frankly I find this line of thinking somewhat abhorrent. Throughout history too many people have led the human race down too many irrational and genocidal paths with this line of thinking for me to trust it – and wherever I come across it, I tend to have a negative reaction to the speaker of it. Anyone who truly understands critical thinking (including logic and epistemology) and the history, philosophy and methodology of science must surely understand the dangers of believing that their own peculiar set of “knowledge” constitutes the only correct way there can be of perceiving reality. Certainly science (and philosophy) is not that positive about the nature of reality - and history certainly has an uncanny knack of showing persons who hold to such a beliefs to be mistaken in them. I believe the only way we can ensure the rationality of future generations is to provide them with the investigative tools. We cannot talk about what WE believe to be true or false to them at all – indeed we should not. In short all we can do – all we should do - is teach future generations about the history, philosophy, and methodology of science while providing them with the mathematical, ethical and linguistic tools to understand it. We foist our own belief systems on them at our own, and their, peril.

Perhaps the only thing I am really certain about is that the world is not the way we perceive it to be…to quote the great bard: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” ...and in mine too.

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Posted: 22 September 2008 02:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Ben’s access to posting is still being held up by some sort of software glitch. (Doubtless it’s those poltergeists and gremlins again ... LOL ) He has asked me to post this in his stead:

——————————————

Rramjet is quite correct that proving that Annie Palmer did not exist does not disprove paranormal activity. I never said it did. I have never, ever claimed that ghosts (or Bigfoot, or psychics, etc.) don’t exist. I have claimed that in the specific cases I examined, the “mysteries” vanished under close skeptical investigation, and Annie Palmer is an excellent example. I can (and did) prove that the ghost of Annie Palmer does not haunt Rose Hall, because that Annie Palmer is a FICTIONAL CHARACTER! Annie Palmer can no more have a ghost than can Superman or Indiana Jones.
Where, exactly, in the PoI podcast did I clam that I disproved the existence of paranormal activity at Rose Hall? Direct quote please.
I really don’t have any further response on this. If Rramjet or other anonymous critics are going to criticize my work without even bothering to read about the investigation or get all the facts, I’m under no obligation to answer uninformed critics.
I had to laugh at this: “your stated mission is to convert future generations to your way of thinking.” Really? When did I state anything like that as my personal or professional mission? I don’t know if Rramjet honestly and mistakenly thinks I said these things, or if he is just making this stuff up.
I’m happy to answer informed people who have questions or criticisms about my work and investigations, but I don’t have the time or inclination to correct his misunderstandings or defend things I never said.


Ben

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Posted: 22 September 2008 08:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I’ve long suspected Ben is actually a ghost. Dougsmith has channeled his energy much like DJ did previously because ghosts don’t have computers etc.., but no doubt PoI will sweep this evidence of the paranormal under the rug.
but I know the truth! you can’t brainwash me with your reason and skepticism!

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Posted: 23 September 2008 04:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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sate - 22 September 2008 08:29 PM

I’ve long suspected Ben is actually a ghost. Dougsmith has channeled his energy much like DJ did previously because ghosts don’t have computers etc.., but no doubt PoI will sweep this evidence of the paranormal under the rug.
but I know the truth! you can’t brainwash me with your reason and skepticism!

LOL

I’m beginning to wonder it myself ... these emails just appear out of the ether into my inbox!

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Posted: 23 September 2008 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I just listened to this weeks ‘A skeptic’s guide to the Universe’, they had James Randi and Ben Radford on the panel. It was taped from a scifi convention in Georgia. Loved it!

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Posted: 23 September 2008 02:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Okay. I will upfront apologise to Ben Radford. I have overstated my case. I listened to podcasts of Nickell, then Mazur and then Radford in that order and I became over sensitised to BS on the way. Listening again to Radford’s podcast I now realise my error and extend my apologies to Ben.

I maintain however I still do have a case so I cannot fully withdraw.

First, I concede Radford did not directly claim there was no “paranormal” activity at Rose Hall, rather it was the combination of statements by the interviewer and interviewee that left the impression.

R: “Basically I went down there and I um investigated the hauntings and the supposed hauntings and the things going on there…”

Now to many people that statement would be taken to imply Radford went to Rose Hall to generally investigate reports/claims of paranormal activity. Radford then claims to have proved that Annie Hall (read Palmer: aplogies Rr) did not haunt Rose hall because Annie Hall was a fictitious character. The interviewer follows with:

G: “So here you are conclusive there is no haunting…”

Critically, Radford does not deny this assertion by Grothe.

I should therefore have stated that together Grothe and Radford implied that because Annie Hall was fictitious, there was no paranormal activity at Rose Hall. But even here Radford’s assertion is on decidedly shaky ground – perhaps Rose Hall may still be haunted by Annie Hall - if we hypothesise that “hauntings” may be a manifestation of the human mind, in a very real sense, Rose Hall IS haunted by Annie Hall because people believe that to be the case.

Strictly speaking as a true scientist Radford should have stated “I concluded Annie Hall was a fictitious character so if you hypothesise is that hauntings are the incarnation of dead people’s souls, then that hypothesis is directly refuted.” This again highlights a certain pseudoscientific thinking in Radford’s investigative reporting (if not the actual investigation) and it is the same way with many so called “paranormal skeptics” - it is the non-disclosure of unstated assumptions underlying their conclusions that upset the true scientists.

On the second point – I concede again that I have overstated my case concerning Radford’s zeal for proselytisation. I have conflated his statements with those of Mazur. This was an error on my behalf. Again I apologise.

However, overall impressions do count – perhaps without Grothe’s loaded questions and complicity Radford might do better…

G: “If you had your way you WOULD have an army of sceptical paranormal investigators out there… as the alternative to the “ghost hunters” movement…” (emphasis in original; Rr)

R: “Yeah… “

(…)

R: “…the problem is anybody can call themselves a ghost hunter…”

G: “Yeah, former plumbers who can have those tools of the trade.”

R (disparagingly):  “…and “tools” is the right word…”

G: “Ha, ha, ha, ha…”

And then they went on to talk about the “Playing Gods” board-game, concerning which I have already misquoted Radford: To correct the record, he actually stated:

R: “…the goal is to kill off or convert other God followers …you know, just like in real life.”

(…)

R: “…it’s a satirical game …but it’s definitely got a little edge to it…”

[ Edited: 23 September 2008 07:40 PM by Rramjet ]
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Posted: 23 September 2008 03:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I should therefore have stated that together Grothe and Radford implied that because Annie Hall was fictitious, there was no paranormal activity at Rose Hall. But even here Radford’s assertion is on decidedly shaky ground – perhaps Rose Hall may still be haunted by Annie Hall - if we hypothesise that “hauntings” may be a manifestation of the human mind, in a very real sense, Rose Hall IS haunted by Annie Hall because people believe that to be the case.

1) Any investigator should address claims made by others. Here the claim has been made, Rose Hall is haunted by Annie Palmer, the “White Witch of Rose Hall” as defined as the ghost of a formerly living person. This is not Radford’s claim or definition. This claim he investigates. This is not a failure of anti-ghost bias but an essential element of investigatory protocol. Now had the claim been merely “there are apparently inexplicable events going on” I would expect different. It was not.

2) When all the “paranormal” stuff vanishes because a skeptic, camera or other documenting apparatus is present.. I do take it to mean it has been proven not to exist to a reasonable degree and in fact is the imagination of the reportees. Not manifestation, imagifestation.

3) You quote Radford’s er.. non-statements which you take to imply his bias but you didn’t mention this one, his anwser to DJ’s question about the resolution of the investigation:

...often times in a lot of these cases you won’t necessarily get an absolute definitive answer in terms of whether its haunted or not… its very difficult to disprove a negative (at about 12:20)

This is a point-blank admission all unusual possibilities can not be ruled out, most of the time. I do not know what more objectivity could be asked for in investigations as de facto silly as these are.
Moreover, at 16:35

... [we don’t] go into an investigation saying “this is rediculous, this can’t happen” uhm ghosts don’t exist whatever else because you don’t know unless you look. Its always important to me to go into these things with an open mind.

So, are you calling Radford a liar here or dishonest.. or what? In terms of outlook I’m not sure what else you could ask.

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Posted: 23 September 2008 07:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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You stated:
Any investigator should address claims made by others. Here the claim has been made, Rose Hall is haunted by Annie Palmer, the “White Witch of Rose Hall” as defined as the ghost of a formerly living person. This is not Radford’s claim or definition. This claim he investigates. This is not a failure of anti-ghost bias but an essential element of investigatory protocol. Now had the claim been merely “there are apparently inexplicable events going on” I would expect different. It was not.

But he DID state he was there to investigate “hauntings and the supposed hauntings and the things going on there…” – that is pretty general and I would suggest your “there are apparently inexplicable events going on” would be logically consistent with that – would you not agree? So he DID imply he was there for more than just to investigate Annie Palmer (oops I got the name wrong in my previous post… clearly I myself am not in my best critical thinking mood)

When all the “paranormal” stuff vanishes because a skeptic, camera or other documenting apparatus is present.. I do take it to mean it has been proven not to exist to a reasonable degree and in fact is the imagination of the reportees. Not manifestation, imagifestation

In other words if I refer you to an investigation where a skeptic, camera and other documenting equipment discovered an anomalous phenomena, you would take this to be proof positive that the “paranormal” exists?

Radford’s STATEMENTS include (as you transcribed) “its very difficult to disprove a negative” I agree, absence of evidence in individual cases at specific times does not constitute evidence of absence (ain’t science and logic a b**** smile. However – to label such investigations as “silly” I think Radford himself would take issue with…

[we don’t] go into an investigation saying “this is rediculous, this can’t happen” uhm ghosts don’t exist whatever else because you don’t know unless you look. Its always important to me to go into these things with an open mind.

So, are you calling Radford a liar here or dishonest.. or what? In terms of outlook I’m not sure what else you could ask.

I think if you read my statements carefully I have apologised to Ben for asserting that he directly stated that because Annie Palmer was fictitious the Rose Hall haunting was disproved. As I pointed out – now three times - that conclusion is only implied, not directly asserted in his and Grothe’s combined statements on the matter. I have also apologised to Ben for lumping him in directly with Randi, Nickell, Mazur et al, HOWEVER the fact that he attends conferences with Randi as a star turn should give us all pause for serious thought about whether he is in reality open-minded in his approach or just paying lip-service to the concept (al la Randi et al.) in an attempt to garner a degree of legitimacy in the mainstream scientific community that an association with Randi et al. would normally preclude.

(and yes I am aware there is a circularity here… I left it in to show I too am human smile

[ Edited: 23 September 2008 07:46 PM by Rramjet ]
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Posted: 24 September 2008 12:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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But he DID state he was there to investigate “hauntings and the supposed hauntings and the things going on there…” – that is pretty general and I would suggest your “there are apparently inexplicable events going on” would be logically consistent with that – would you not agree? So he DID imply he was there for more than just to investigate Annie Palmer (oops I got the name wrong in my previous post… clearly I myself am not in my best critical thinking mood)

This is debatable.. the supposed hauntings/hauntings he refers to is not one story but many varieties which fall under the umbrella of “white witch”. Maybe Ben could answer this one more specifically (I am not an investigator). My point was simply that the specific claim has to be addressed or why are you there? You made it sound like it was his idea.

In other words if I refer you to an investigation where a skeptic, camera and other documenting equipment discovered an anomalous phenomena, you would take this to be proof positive that the “paranormal” exists?

I would call it normal. I already believe that normal phenomena exist, so it wouldn’t be too big a deal.

However – to label such investigations as “silly” I think Radford himself would take issue with…

He probably would, but then I’m not Radford. I have the luxury of being flip about silly nonsense because I am not an investigator. Also, Radford’s a ghost and I don’t have to listen to what anyone without a pulse and car insurance has to say.

...the fact that he attends conferences with Randi as a star turn should give us all pause for serious thought about whether he is in reality open-minded in his approach…

Randi has a lifetime’s credit of integrity (which I’ve no reason now to doubt) and thus association with him carries plenty of weight with me. The issue of open-mindedness remains interesting to me. I know that people like Radford or Randi expect to find nothing.. there is just no way you can live on this planet and see claim after claim after claim put to rest and not have that perspective. It’s a bit like the police arresting a person for a crime for which there is incontrovertible evidence, 17 eyewitnesses and video tape evidence. That said, do the cops and courtroom staff have to proceed as if he or she is innocent? Yep. Is it possible for any of these people to internally hold to 100% objectivity? Not a damn chance. Isn’t the important part though proceeding through actions as if it were? Just thinkin’ out loud here.

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