Research Investigations

Research Investigations

The ASSAP NRPI handle all inquiries regarding anomalous phenomena reports. If a report is regarded as suitable for further investigation then the committee will refer the matter to one of ASSAP’s Approved Investigators. These investigators follow scientific methods and a strict code of ethics governed by ASSAP’s National Register of Paranormal Investigators (NRPI). If you have a case that you would like advice about or would like investigated please visit our report a case page.

Become an Investigator

The best way to start the process of becoming an approved investigator through ASSAP’s NRPI is to attend an ASSAP Training Weekend or our online training course. Once you have completed training and we have verified your integrity you will be allocated cases from the NIC. As an NRPI UK member you will have access to our public liability insurance when conducting investigations on behalf of ASSAP. Our training provides you with tools to complete any anomalous phenomena investigation and whether you are doing it on behalf of ASSAP, yourself or your local group, you will benefit from the training about methodology and recording and securing evidence. If you are interested in signing up for some training contact

Science needed for paranormal investigators

You can find many articles on the web which approach the paranormal from a scientific view. The technical detail may be enough to put most researchers off the scientific approach altogether. You will find detailed descriptions of the science (not always accurate) behind such things as EMF meters and infrasound. You can also find a lot about such arcane matters as quantum theory. There are articles explaining electromagnetism that vary from simple to university level and beyond.

This is fine except that the material often goes into far too much detail for paranormal researchers. There are technical articles here, of course, though the aim has always been to keep them simple and relevant to paranormal research. The most important point about science that paranormal field researchers need to know is how to gather good evidence. Until there is persuasive evidence that ghosts exist outside people’s heads then plasma theory and is irrelevant.

The science you need to know

There really isn’t any need to go into exotic science to do paranormal research. It is much more important to obtain rigorous scientific evidence.

The things to concentrate on are:

  • understanding the limitations of witness testimony
  • understanding psychological and physiological factors that can resemble the paranormal
  • understanding the limitations of your instruments and what they measure
  • understanding how to design research protocols

Leave the complicated science alone until you have persuasive evidence. Good evidence is the bedrock of good science. You don’t necessarily need to understand how everything works to measure it properly.

Evidence is everything!

Testing evidence

Imagine you are walking along a street when a young man in front of you stops, leans down and casually picks up an object from the ground. Having caught your attention you stare at the object he is holding and recognise it as a wallet. The young man casually pockets the wallet and walks off. What do you do?

Obviously this depends on what you think you just witnessed. Did the youth find the wallet on the street? If so, is he going to hand it in or keep it? Is it his own wallet, which he had just dropped?

Unfortunately, you don’t know and any action you take will rely on assumptions rather than evidence. The crucial evidence that you don’t have is, what happened before the youth picked up the wallet? You didn’t see what happened because you hadn’t noticed the youth until that moment.

Evidence is crucial in science but it must be good evidence. To determine if evidence is good, we need to test it.

So if someone reports seeing a ghost, do you just simply conclude that they saw one and that ghosts must exist? No, because there are many possible alternative reasons why someone might ‘see a ghost’. You need to test their observation by considering those alternatives and testing the evidence against them. You could, for instance, question the witness in detail to gain extra information and examine the site where they made their observation for clues. You could set up a vigil to see if you could see the ghost for yourself.

If you come up with a theory that explains the observation, you then need to demonstrate that it is the correct one. This means gathering more evidence - evidence that can differentiate between your theory and other possibilities. In paranormal research, as in science, evidence is everything.

Explanations can be wrong!

When people investigate paranormal phenomena, often they stop as soon as they come up with evidence that appears to support a natural explanation. This may seem a sensible thing to do but, scientifically, it is wrong! (link to follow)

The explanation that the investigator has found might be right but it could be wrong! There could be other possibilities, that our investigator hasn’t yet looked at, which are a better fit to the evidence. The crucial point is that science is not concerned with ANY old explanation but only the CORRECT one. If an explanation is to be scientifically useful, it should be exhaustively tested against the evidence. You should strive not just for AN explanation but the RIGHT one.

Nature is cruel

Science is the study of nature. It is the study of things as they are, not what we imagine they are, not what we’d like them to be and not just part of a good story!

Evidence makes and breaks scientific theories. That’s because theories are just our attempts to explain what we observe. Evidence is always the final arbiter of what is correct and what isn’t.

Science is, of course, a human activity. Scientists try to be logical, impartial and critical but it isn’t easy. It’s not the way humans behave most of the time. Luckily, it turns out that being a little illogical, partial and uncritical can be a good thing in science. It gives scientists imagination and insight that can produce theoretical breakthroughs that might never occur to a coldly dispassionate machine.

In the end, though, any new theory, however it appears, must be tested against the evidence. This is the final court of appeal in science. Nature doesn’t care about science (indeed it doesn’t ‘care’ at all). Science has a cruel taskmaster indeed in nature.

Luckily, nature, more than compensates for this cold indifference but provides us with extraordinary and beautiful wonders. Who hasn’t marvelled at the beauty of a mountain, a flower or a nebula? And who could have guessed at the weird counter-intuitive ways that particles behave at the quantum level of existence?

Paranormal words

Language is an unfairly neglected aspect of paranormal research. Surprisingly, it can be crucial to the way paranormal research is carried out.

Take the word ‘ghost’, for instance. A dictionary definition would say something like ‘an apparition of a person no longer living’. Some dictionaries might add ‘spirit’ to the definition. And what about ‘haunting’? This would typically be defined as ‘disturbances or activity attributed to a ghost’ (see above!).

While these definitions are commonly accepted, they are not at all useful in paranormal research. The problem is that they do not accord with witness reports. A typical ‘haunting’ report involves odd sounds, sights and smells from unknown causes. Sightings of actual apparitions are much rarer than general ‘haunting’ activity. There is often no direct evidence to connect these reported disturbances with ‘ghosts’ at all!

And yet, if you told someone you were investigating a haunting, many people would immediately think of ghosts and even ‘spirits’. This is because of the language used which, in turn, is dictated by ancient cultural traditions and beliefs.

What is more, the reaction you get from people who have never done any paranormal research tends to follow certain stereotypical routes. People who believe in spirits will typically either be envious or appalled that you are dealing with such a subject. People who don’t believe in spirits will regard you either as someone wasting your time or simply gullible.

Unfortunately, we are stuck with words like ghost and haunting even though they include an unwarranted baggage in their definitions. Serious researchers must be careful when they use such words as their audience may read far more into them than is meant. It is better to develop a neutral vocabulary based on what has actually been witnessed (right).

For an attempt at a better definition of haunting, see here.

Raising expectations

When words are used loosely or inappropriately it can raise expectations falsely. A typical example is where doors are reported to be mysteriously opening by themselves in a haunted house. The use of the word ‘haunted’ here immediately gives the impression that a ghost is opening the door. It also raises the image of a terrified witness watching a door handle being slowly turned followed by the door swinging open dramatically to reveal - nothing! It’s pure Hollywood! The truth is usually somewhat different. Someone might find a door open having been sure they closed it. It could just be a memory lapse.

Words reveal beliefs

There is no doubt that some paranormal researchers have specific beliefs concerning their chosen subject. Words like ‘spirit’ are often used interchangeably with ghost or apparition without obvious justification. It can be instructive to listen to the words fellow investigators use. It can reveal whether they are approaching the subject from a particular angle.

Words break down barriers

Most paranormal researchers spend much of their time investigating cases which turn out to have mundane causes. Until recently there was no word to describe what they were spending so much time on. Now that we have the word xenonormal. It makes us see paranormal research in a new way. The word allows us to see studying the xenonormal as a new way of getting to the paranormal. If we can understand the xenonormal, and strip it away, we will be left with the paranormal finally exposed. It also legitimises the idea of studying the xenonormal as an subject in its own right - a fascinating study of human encounters with the unknown.


The word ‘energy’ is one of the most abused in the English language, particularly in the field of the paranormal. It is used widely, freely and often inaccurately. It has a precise meaning in science though it is little used by scientists. That’s because, to talk about energy in a useful way, you need to say what form it is in.

To see how the word is abused in the paranormal context, consider the following example. It has frequently been speculated that ghosts use energy to manifest, hence producing cold spots.

First of all, the connection between ‘cold spots’ and ghosts is tenuous. It is highly likely that every building has its cold spots but that they’re only noticed in the case of haunted houses.

Secondly, the speculation makes obvious assumptions about the nature of ghosts. This probably arises from the common definition of the word which has the concept of spirits implicit within it. If you remove the assumption that ghosts are ‘spirits’, do they need to ‘manifest’ at all?

This brings us, finally, to energy. Energy is an abstract concept - it must always come in a specific form in the real world. Some common forms of energy are:

  • mechanical
  • chemical
  • electromagnetic
  • heat

In the case of the cold spot, our speculation assumes that heat is removed from the environment. However, heat energy is the least useful around. It is a profoundly inefficient energy source compared to the others.

The word ‘energy’ is used far too loosely in this, and similar, paranormal speculations. This detracts from any possible merit the idea may have. There are many other words that are similarly abused in our field. If we stopped misusing such words, more useful, testable ideas could emerge.

Neutral language

When reporting paranormal cases it is useful to stick to simple descriptions of phenomena witnessed, rather than use ‘charged’ vocabulary like ghost.

So if someone sees what they believe to be a ghost in their house, you could report it as a ‘possible human figure’. If this seems a bit vague, consider the possibilities. It could be:

  • a real person
  • a dummy
  • an object resembling a person
  • a ghost
  • a hallucination

Until you have investigated the sighting, you would be most unwise to label it as a ghost with all the connotations that brings.


Another verbal trap to avoid is over-interpreting what a witness has seen. The witness may do this but there is no excuse for experienced researchers to follow suit. For instance, if someone sees a circular patch of light moving around a darkened room, what words can be used to describe it? Some valid words would be:

  • size (apparent!)
  • colour
  • brightness
  • transparency

If you use inappropriate words, you will get spurious information that says more about your assumptions (or those of the witness) than about the phenomenon itself.

It may be possible to deduce extra information from the basic facts (science is good at this!) but the original facts must be accurate, complete and free from contaminating speculation.

If you approach the paranormal with a set of fixed beliefs already in place, you might miss vital facts. If you start off by thinking a floating light is a plasma, you might not even investigate whether it could be a reflection.

Words can trap your thoughts into following particular paths. You may ‘find what you expected to but it might not be reality’.

(c) Maurice Townsend

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