Removing Confirmation Bias

When investigating the paranormal, one of the most important and most difficult things to do is to remain unbiased.  These investigations can be easily misled by a number of factors; emotions, wishes and hopes, or even just moving too quickly through an experiment. 

For instance, someone who recently experienced the tragic loss of a loved one may interpret the same evidence much differently than someone else who might simply be easily spooked in the dark. 

What can be even more gray is a common resource relied upon in paranormal investigations – a medium.  A medium is someone who feels and senses things that others cannot.  How do they separate their own feelings from feelings coming externally…. I can’t even imagine how difficult that must be.

From my own perspective, I WANT to find evidence.   I WANT to know more about what happens after death, and it’s such a difficult thing to answer.  So, I need to be extra careful to not be led from the truth by my own desire to find actual evidence of the paranormal.

With all these potential sources of bias, how does an investigator remain truly objective?  How do you sift out the truth through all the other data?

Luckily, there is an abundance of ways.

For the rest of this article, I’ll focus on one of my own personal favourite tools.  The Spirit Box.

For those who don’t know, a Spirit Box is essentially a modified radio.  Most radios have a function that scans through frequencies and stops on the next available station.  The Spirit Box removes the ability for this feature to stop.  The scan then becomes continuous, cycling in through frequencies continuously.

There is a theory that once someone passes that all the energy that makes them the animated and unique person they are in life simply transforms.  Further, perhaps they can still communicate but in ways that we can’t hear with the human ear.  This is where the Spirit Box comes in; perhaps this form of communication can be picked up on FM/AM radio waves.

To use the Spirit Box, the scan cycle is started and it’s a simply question and answer series from there.

You can probably imagine some sources of bias in this type of experiment, so I’ll review a few things that we do to remove those biases.

The Estes Method
One of the issues with The Spirit Box is that phonetics can mislead a listener; many words or phrases sound extremely similar to each other.  There are even entire board games built on this fact.  If you’re like me, and you really want to find that evidence, the easy bias is to hear an intelligent response to your question rather than what may be an unrelated word or phrase that just sounds similar.

The Estes Method solves a big part of this bias. 

It takes two to Estes:  one person is only asking questions and one person is only listening for responses on The Spirit Box.  Even more strictly, the listener will be isolated from the questions asked.  They are both blindfolded and wearing noise cancelling headphones.   So, the responses are simply based on what the listener hears, and not have to worry about being influenced by questions asked.

It really makes it interesting when the two still correspond.

Listen for longer, more consistent responses
The average scan function will go through 4 or 5 frequencies in a second and will still include actual radio stations.  A lot can be said in a second; how many words per second does your local auctioneer go through?  And, unfortunately, we often see folks responding to a single syllable or quick succession of sounds as if it’s definitive and irrefutable evidence.  Did they really hear a word in response to a question, or a small portion of a commercial or song?

To work through this, you can look for two things. 

First, listen for longer words or phrases.  If you hear something short and fast, it’s likely a radio station.  However, if something comes through with one voice over many radio frequencies then you might have something else occurring.  One such example that will always stick out for me occurred during an investigation we conducted involving someone’s great-great-grandfather.  I was listening and caught the full phrase: “Tell me about your children”.  After ending the session and reviewing the questions and asked, there was a comment from the parent in the room that their children wanted to say hi.  You can imagine how emotional that was for the parent.

Second, is look for consistencies or patterns in the questions and answers.  Do you get the same response on multiple asks on the same question?  Does this start evolving like a conversation?

Record, record, record.
Write things down.  Set up as many cameras as you can.  Record as MUCH. AS. POSSIBLE.  After all, pics or it didn’t happen.

Things can happen quickly, and if it’s not captured in some legitimate way it’s as if it didn’t happen.  How many times have you seen a paranormal investigative show where something crazy happens, but it’s never ever captures on camera? 

With regards to The Spirit Box, capturing the questions asked and potential responses in order of occurrence can allow you to look at the information later, and more objectively.  It can help you identify important information you might have missed while caught up in the moment, or identify if the seemingly intelligent responses you are getting are merely coincidence or if there’s something more to it.

With the above methods, we’ve been able to collect (much to my delight) some compelling evidence from our various investigations.  To the point that we were able to identify family members unknown to us, the weather on a person’s date of passing, and much more.