Rumours had been circulating for months among the UK’s paranormal research groups. ASSAP -- the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena -- had let it be known they had a major announcement to make, and there was much speculation as to what it would be.
The secret was finally revealed on Saturday, 10 September 2011, at ASSAP’s 30th anniversary conference. The Association -- an education and research charity interested in all manner of strange goings-on -- announced that it had been recognised as a professional body for investigators of anomalous phenomena. Officially recognised, that is, and by no less an entity than the UK Government!
This took many members of the assembled crowd by surprise, and one of the first issues that needed clarifying was, “What exactly is a professional body?"
The Association’s website explains that such a body “exists to further the interests of a particular profession, its clients, [and] the public at large”, adding that professional bodies often set standards for their members. In the UK, for example, the British Psychological Society represents psychologists, the Institute of Civil Engineers represents civil engineers, and so on.
(Note that the word “professional” as it is being used here does not imply that ASSAP is to undertake commercial activities. Rather, it simply refers to taking a responsible and serious approach towards investigating the weird.)
The unexpected nature of the announcement blindsided many and led to some consternation as folk grappled to understand the implication, often getting hold of the wrong end of the metaphorical stick as they did so.
Contrary to some conclusions, and perhaps unfortunately, ASSAP is not about to receive government funding. Nor is it going to be put “in charge” of other paranormal research groups, lord it over them, or start policing their activities. In fact, any changes that do result from the Association’s new status will apply only to ASSAP members, and even then only to those who voluntarily opt in to the professional aspects of membership.
What the recognition does mean (and here I’m quoting from ASSAP’s website) is that investigations of anomalous phenomena are now “seen as being capable of being a professional activity [and] that is good for everyone.” It's hard to disagree with that!
In a way, nothing has actually changed. After all, ASSAP was already operating in a manner that a professional body would be expected to, and so all that’s really happened is that the Association’s name has been added to one of Her Majesty’s many official lists. Yet, in a field so often derided by outsiders, merely being recognised by the UK Government feels like a significant development.
The Association is undertaking a consultation process, gathering opinions on important matters such as what scientific and ethical standards should be recognised by investigators of anomalous phenomena.
Input from as many people as possible is being encouraged and you don’t need to be an ASSAP member to take part. If you would like to contribute your views you can find out how at the Association’s website.
Who knows? This may just be your opportunity to help shape the future of serious paranormal research.
("Notes From A Weird World" will return in two weeks, as James is now heading off on vacation - something he forgot to do during the summer.)