18 March 2010


Mark Rosney, Rob Bethell and Jebby Robinson, A Beginner's Guide to Paranormal Investigation. Amberley, 2010. 
Back in the day, every medium-sized town used to have its own UFO 'research' group. Magonia magazine grew, through a long process of evolution, from such a group in Liverpool. They held meetings in community halls, scout huts (and in one case the canteen of a plastic-coatings factory on the Guildford by-pass - a location with an almost archetypal ambience of suburban anonymity!)
These groups would host talks by various visiting speakers (been there, done that, no tee-shirt), discuss the latest books and magazines, and sometimes conduct investigations.

And this usually was where things started to go wrong. Very few of the original UFO groups were equipped for scientific observation, and many were simply advocate groups for the ETH. 'Research' often consisted of a desperate attempt to rule out conventional explanations for sightings in order to force an 'extraterrestrial' conclusion - as in some quarters it still is.

Of course, not all groups had such abysmal standards of investigation, SIUFOP was one notable exception, and despite its many faults BUFORA did produce some excellent investigation reports, but as with all such groups, they were usually a result of the efforts of a few individuals, often acting semi-autonomously from the group they nominally represented.

With the growth of the Internet, the decline of the duplicated 'zine, and the lifestyle changes which have meant the end of thousands of small social organisations from brass bands to ferret-fanciers, the local UFO group is very much an endangered species. But new media and publication outlets have developed as well - individual researchers are now linked by Internet newsgroups and discussion forums, and the inky duplicated 'zine is replaced by the blog.

But there is still room for the amateur investigator, and particularly, it seems, in the field of ghost-hunting. There have been a number of recent TV shows featuring all-night vigils in spooky locations, and as we've noted before, the ghost story and the haunted house are being re-invented as part of the heritage industry. The authors of this book are an investigation team based in the north-west of England, and are regular guests on TV and radio talking about the paranormal and explaining their investigation techniques.

The book looks at a range of paranormal phenomena, and the ways in which they can be investigated in a scientific manner. I think it's fair to say that the authors are of the opinion that the events they study probably represent real, and as yet unexplained phenomena, however this does not mean they have compromised the objectivity of their approach.

They look at the techniques for investigating reports of ghosts, photographic anomalies, cryptozoology, UFOs and, rather surprisingly the Raudive-style electronic voice phenomenon, which I thought had rather fallen of the edge of psychic research. They describe the types of equipment and techniques that a group would need to provide instrumented evidence of such phenomena; including infrared cameras, various kinds of recording instruments, how to plan an investigation in a logical way, as well as useful tips for dealing with interviewing witnesses, analysing eyewitness reports, etc. They warn of the pitfalls of inadequate investigation and the types of misinterpretations that can occur, particularly in analysing photographic and video evidence.

The UFO section takes particular care in describing investigations that have resulted in clear identifications for reports and gives a very fair account of the ambiguity inherent in eyewitness accounts.

I think it would have to be a very well financed group to be able to afford all the equipment which is described, but any group using this book as its basic guide would be able to compile a pretty good account of any events it investigated, and avoid some of the horrors that have passed for 'case reports' in the past. Highly recommended. -- John Rimmer

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