Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Paranormal Toxicity: The Group Dynamic, Part 1

There's little argument that there's a lot of infighting within any paranormal based group. If you've been in a ghost hunting group or a UFO organization, then you've probably watched these groups end not from outside influence, but by implosion from within.

As I became more interested not only in the ghost phenomena (due to activity in my home - a condominium...a liminal home), but ghost groups and noted 'investigator' personalities, I contacted what I saw as one of the more predominant groups in my area, and inquired about joining. I made note of the names on the website of team members, and saw some interesting people I'd like to discuss things with. The facilitator or leader of the group was a kind and seemingly level headed person who was clearly passionate about investigating the phenomena. 

As time went on I got preoccupied with other things and never got to a meeting - and hence never really joined the group. I called that same group leader a month or so later, and inquired about coming to a meeting because I'd like to talk to several of the investigative members and mentioned them by name.

"Well...much of that old group is gone. But I've got some new people."  He seemed rather uneasy speaking about the bulk of his group no longer being involved and I didn't press further.

But in prior discussion the leader had said how the group was "like family" and a really good working team. Just over 30 days later - they were effectively gone. 

I've found that other groups, (I've been mainly involved in UFO study groups), are like revolving doors. Members come and go, and there's little time to really become familiar with anyone other than the group facilitator. If the facilitator goes, so does the group - and I've seen that happen too. 

These groups simply don't last long - because the members begin fierce competition with each other, develop arguments, infighting and back biting, deliberate sabotage of projects...you name it. Up to and including extramarital affairs, breakups, and actual fist fights if things get bad enough. People simply begin to act in completely illogical ways - and it's so prevalent and repeated in these fields that it really can't be put down to psychological explanations. 

When you examine MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) hierarchy you'll see that revolving door effect as well. Walt Andrus headed the organization for some 30 years, and since his retirement they've had 5 International Directors none serving more than 5 years since 2000, some only 1 year. People I've known over the years, some involved at high level state director positions and higher have told me in private that the organization is in a constant state of discord and disorganization - not to mention heavy 'drama'. 

MUFON touts it's mission statement on it's website's 'about' page:

"Our Goals...

I. Investigate UFO sightings and collect the data in the MUFON Database for use by researchers worldwide.

II. Promote research on UFOs to discover the true nature of the phenomenon, with an eye towards scientific breakthroughs, and improving life on our planet.

III. Educate the public on the UFO phenomenon and its potential impact on society."

The disturbing part is "with an eye towards scientific breakthroughs, and improving life on our planet." One only need visit the "Symposium 2017" to see how inherently the opposite of scientific MUFON is - speakers include such individuals as Andrew Basiago, who among other things claims to be a time traveler and Mars space explorer. Get your passports ready folks, he's running for POTUS in 2020. 

This is a group that has a page on it's website about scientific discourse. (I challenge anyone to read this without saying "oh you've GOT to be kiddin' me.")

Have a look at the Experiencer Research page - where you'll find the 'director' and many of her associates are big proponents of hypnosis as memory recovery - a 'tool' now widely known to be useless for memory retrieval by psychological professionals but excellent for concocting and hardening false memory among other serious problems.

Don't ask why. It's not a productive question.
You can go on and on with MUFON's issues. Yet this is the organization put forth by the UFO community as the largest and most respectable investigative body. But the facts are that MUFON has not pushed the study forward in any meaningful way. They don't share reports, don't publish academic papers, don't submit cases for independent review - nothing science does. You could argue that it's been detrimental to UFO study being taken seriously - if the largest research group sees fit to have speakers at it's annual symposium who make baseless claims about being time travel and teleportation pioneers. 

I'm trying not to belabor the point here. Its just that it's amazing how marginal (and anti-structural) this organization is. And it's exactly what we ought to expect from an organization such as this. 

Want an interesting comparison? When there's a UFO story in a newspaper, or television report - the viewers or web hits are off the charts. For example the O'Hare UFO story on the Chicago Tribune website boasted well over a million hits in a short amount of time - and well over 400 emails, making it the most popular story of the online media outlet to date. Look further at the Alien Autopsy special ratings for another example. Or the fervor over the Roswell Slides. There certainly seems to be a lot of interested people doesn't there?

By interest comparison, MUFON claims only 3,000 members worldwide - that means 3000 people get the MUFON Journal as members. CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) claims 35,000 subscribers to the Skeptical Inquirer.

This is interesting, but there's more. Look at popular culture - movies dealing with paranormal subjects are pervasive in society, Independence Day, The Fourth Kind, Ouija, Arrival, and so on, garner huge sums of money to the tune of millions and millions of dollars. Again, interest and intrigue with the subject runs high.

Yet looking at MUFON's 2014 tax returns shows it had total expenditures in the $300K range. This is around the budget of your average local church. 

Think about that. This is the most prominent UFO research group in the world, but it operates on a minuscule budget. And that seems magnitudes different from the level of public interest in the subject of UFOs. You don't find this in other fields - for example there are films and TV shows about the medical field, but the budget for real medical science dwarfs the Hollywood budget by trillions. Police and law enforcement oriented TV and films? Again, the real counterpart dwarfs the entertainment budget.

And it's because MUFON is considered marginal (as is the UFO issue). And by it's actions, it's members, and it's leaders, it confirms that marginal title. It has a marginal position in society - and I have a feeling if we looked, we'd see that the CSICOP budget for investigations are bigger than MUFON's - how odd would it be if the budget to refute the UFO is bigger than the one to support it.

It's not just MUFON, but plenty of the parapsychological organizations suffer the same shoestring budgets and lack of funding. Despite being included in some college curricula, parapsychology has not gained wide acceptance in academe, and continues to be considered a marginal study (even after more than 100 years). 

And just like the ghost groups, MUFON groups are revolving door not only in the leadership - but even more so at the local level. Remember that while MUFON as a corporate entity has lasted for decades - it does not conduct investigations - the members do that in their respective states. So the overriding MUFON entity has lasted - but the part that deals with direct investigation of the phenomena has not, and remains a constantly changing group. Many times with a roster that I'd hedge a bet doesn't remain stable for more than a year in any given location. Again, we see that the paranormal is not good for relationships of any kind - small groups are especially at risk.

Let me be clear: none of this is a dig at MUFON. The organization is an attempt at serious research - but it's a failing attempt because of the phenomena (and it's effects) that it is trying to study. 

The more accomplished - the higher the fall.
In a book authored around 1930 called The Enchanted BoundaryWalter Prince made note that often people who've attained some measure of success, or respectability in a non-paranormal related field (whether in business, or academics, sciences, etc.) that when they enter the paranormal they seem to gradually lose all critical thought, often taking off the wall approaches that had they made in their former profession - they'd have been laughed out of the room. This effect happens a significant amount of times and to varying degrees. One that comes to mind for me is the late Dr. James Deardorff, a professor and accomplished senior scientist in atmospheric sciences. Deardorff was clearly an educated and brilliant mind.  Yet, upon entering the UFO field he gravitated to the Billy Meier case. A well known, and thoroughly exposed hoax, Deardorff aggressively defended the case, and wrote many pages of support on Meier's fake biblical discovery the "Talmud Jammanuel". James at one point during an online discussion with me laid out his "plausible deniability" theory, in which for example every obviously faked UFO photo or film is potentially real - the aliens just give a way out by making their craft look like it's a model suspended on a string.

I kid you not. Of course one immediately recognizes this as an ultimate defense for his pet case. But had Deardorff ever put forth anything resembling this kind of thinking in his professional life - I'm sure his academic and scientific associates would have backed away in horror. Deardorff is not unique by any means. I would even go so far as to say that the higher educated the person is, the more likely they are to lose their critical faculties within the paranormal fields. Again, this is not a dig at Dr. Deardorff (R.I.P.) - it's just what repeatedly happens, and he is far from the only one it's happened to.

There's no point to getting worked up over these things. The bottom line is this happens time after time, year after year in paranormal field(s). The key is to learn to expect it, and once you do - you can find ways to potentially work around it. This is not always a possibility.

So to recap and give you some things to watch: 

- Groups dealing with the paranormal don't tend to last very long. While the entity of the organization may endure, those doing the hands-on work within the 'field' will tend to fall apart regularly and often spectacularly.

- While the public seem highly interested in media related to paranormal themes, the actual fields of real research into them are considered marginal, and therefore do not attract many members, funding or respectability. These groups often marginalize themselves through association with less than credible individuals and events. These do not seem to be conscious acts.

- Often people who've attained some measure of success, or respectability in a non-paranormal field (whether a business, or academic field, etc.) upon entering the paranormal they seem to gradually lose all critical thought, often taking off the wall approaches that had they made in their former profession - they'd have been laughed out of the room. This seems to go against everything they've been indoctrinated to within their chosen discipline.🔻

(In part 2 we'll look closer at specific instances of these ideas in action - both in the group situation and in the individual.)


  1. This really nails it. Looking forward to part two.

  2. I am amazed at the turn over rate in this hobby. I have theories of my own, but lack the ability to test my hypotheses scientifically, so they remain anecdotal.
    One of the things that I find interesting is that MUFON operates on $300k a year, yet all of their investigators are volunteers and pay for their own equipment, supplies and travel while paying dues to the organization. I want to know what the $300K is paying for, or I would if I paid dues.

    1. I wouldn't pretend to know. Travel and expenses for investigations? Yet one never sees any publicly displayed results of anything. I remember one of the hosts from KGRA who's an upper echelon MUFON 'investigator' used to post all matter of photos of herself collecting samples and travelling to locations - but never posted any results of analysis. Ever. My bet is it was more photo op than investigation and that's probably not unusual for MUFON.