The study of anomalous phenomena investigates reports of items such as telepathy, telekinesis, and ghosts, other phenomena not widely accepted as real by mainstream scientists, some of whom go as far as calling the serious study of them pseudoscience. Of the various subjects that can fall under this loose rubric, probably parapsychology has the greatest claim to academic respectability, due to its use, or (according to critics) alleged use, of scientific methods. There are university programs devoted to parapsychology, the most famous probably being that of the University of Edinburgh.
Another word for "anomalous phenomena" is "paranormal phenomena." Paranormal phenomena can be divided into three main classes:
- Mental phenomena, unusual mental states or abilities, such as telepathy, near death experiences and clairvoyance.
- Physical phenomena, unusual physical occurrences that seem to be controlled by a conciousness, such as psychokinesis or poltergeists.
- Other phenomena, such as stigmata, unidentified flying objects and alien abductions.
Cryptozoology studies such "hidden", undiscovered and possibly non-existent creatures as the bigfoot (cf. Patterson-Gimlin film) and the Loch Ness Monster. Other subjects that could be considered under the heading of "anomalous phenomena" (though not parapsychology) are spontaneous combustion, doppelgangers, ouija boards, and numerology.
Properly speaking, anomalous phenomena are phenomena which are observed and for which there are no suitable explanations (in the context of a specific body of knowledge, e.g. astronomy or biology). As the body of knowledge available increases, some anomalies are incorporated into an explanatory framework and lose their standing as anomalies. Many bodies of knowledge exhibit "anomaly gaps" where theory does not explain (or seem to explain) one or more observations.
William R. Corliss' Science Frontiers has covered reports in the scientific literature regarding anomalies for years. He, through his Sourcebook Project, has published a large body of reports collected in many of the scientific disciplines.
Charles Fort, in his four works on anomalies, lambasted and ridiculed the scientists of his day for their short-sightedness. Some of the anomalies listed in his work have been explained and incorporated into modern science, while others continue to be unexplained.
The Fortean Times, a British monthly magazine, continues in the spirit of Fort's work by publishing reports of anomalous phenomena and longer investigative articles.
The Anomalist, edited by Patrick Huyghe and Dennis Stacy, is another magazine/journal devoted to the study of anomalies (which may be called anomalistics).