Sunday, 12 August 2007

Ghostbusters at Universities???

In the Guardian, Caroline Watt, of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit partly defending against the ghostbusters label circulating last week, writes that
the teaching of parapsychology in higher education is generally met with raised eyebrows, but it is a great subject for stimulating critical thinking.
To expand:

Now, to teaching parapsychology. It is here that I, personally, see the greatest value for our higher education institutions. Parapsychology is an inherently attractive and interesting subject to students. I have found that, almost without students realising, they learn a huge amount about scientific methodology while studying parapsychology - in particular, how to identify and minimise possible sources of bias, artefact or contamination in a research study; the strengths and weaknesses of tools for examining controversial claims (such as meta-analysis); and strategies for resolving scientific controversy (such as having sceptics and proponents collaborate in designing and conducting studies). In short, it is a great subject for stimulating critical thinking.

Well it might be but, surely for teaching purposes, is it not better to teach a topic, some of whose claims can be scientifically demonstrated in the positive? Just teaching this topic leaves it unbalanced. Further the fact that it is popular and a way to teach critical thinking, is not a justification for teaching such a course or is it? If we are going to pander to popularity then all college psychology courses should have modules on things like Big Brother and Pop Idol (although those would not be parapsychology courses... more like pop psychology!).