Approaching the paranormal from a research perspective is often difficult because of the lack of acceptable physical evidence from most of the purported phenomena. By definition, the paranormal does not conform to conventional expectations of the natural. Therefore, a phenomenon cannot be confirmed as paranormal using the scientific method because, if it was, it would no longer fit the definition. Despite this contradiction, studies on the paranormal are periodically conducted by researchers from various disciplines. Some researchers simply study the beliefs in the paranormal regardless of whether the phenomena are considered to objectively exist. This section deals with various approaches to the paranormal: anecdotal, experimental, and participant-observer approaches and the skeptical investigation approach.
An anecdotal approach to the paranormal involves the collection of stories told about the paranormal.
Charles Fort (1874–1932) is perhaps the best known collector of paranormal anecdotes. Fort is said to have compiled as many as 40,000 notes on unexplained paranormal experiences, though there were no doubt many more than these. These notes came from what he called “the orthodox conventionality of Science”, which were odd events originally reported in magazines and newspapers such as The Times and scientific journals such as Scientific American, Nature and Science”. From this research Fort wrote seven books, though only four survive. These are: The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931) and Wild Talents (1932); one book was written between New Lands and Lo! but it was abandoned and absorbed into Lo!.
Reported events that he collected include teleportation (a term Fort is generally credited with coining); poltergeist events, falls of frogs, fishes, inorganic materials of an amazing range; crop circles; unaccountable noises and explosions; spontaneous fires; levitation; ball lightning (a term explicitly used by Fort); unidentified flying objects; mysterious appearances and disappearances; giant wheels of light in the oceans; and animals found outside their normal ranges (see phantom cat). He offered many reports of OOPArts, abbreviation for “out of place” artifacts: strange items found in unlikely locations. He also is perhaps the first person to explain strange human appearances and disappearances by the hypothesis of alien abduction, and was an early proponent of the extraterrestrial hypothesis.
Fort is considered by many as the father of modern paranormalism, which is the study of the paranormal.
The magazine Fortean Times continues Charles Fort’s approach, regularly reporting anecdotal accounts of the paranormal.
Such anecdotal collections, lacking the reproducibility of empirical evidence, are not amenable to scientific investigation. The anecdotal approach is not a scientific approach to the paranormal because it leaves verification dependent on the credibility of the party presenting the evidence. Nevertheless, it is a common approach to paranormal phenomena.