The BBC “Guide To Ghost-Hunting” Is Anti-Science

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In the week that saw Ghostbusters 2016 launch on the bigscreen I’ve been contacted by many news outlets wanting to speak to me. As I have a proper job I haven’t been able to oblige but luckily for us all, BBC Three managed to get hold of ‘a range of the most experienced experts in the field’ to put together a guide called ‘How to be a real life ghost hunter’. I’d say that it was a useful piece of writing, only it isn’t. It’s terrible and made me laugh for all the wrong reasons.

According to them paranormal investigators are ‘focused primarily on collecting data and evidence of the paranormal’ which is utter nonsense. Ghost hunters use biased methodologies to do this, investigators actually investigate to discover the facts – two very different approaches. Only one of which is useful.

It all becomes clear when the article goes on the explain how they’ve been getting their advice from Tim Brown from the British ghost hunting team called PIGS. To begin with Brown sounds pretty rational and explains that ‘“99% of the time when we get called round to a house, it’s turns out to be something quite normal; a creaky home, changes in temperatures, etc.’ but then he lets himself down by presenting this photo as evidence.

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Brown adds ‘“Sometimes you hear from people that they’ve got a funny smell, or they’ve heard voices, or they’ve seen someone walking around their house. So at that point we try and record some evidence or data of what’s happening in their home. So we can either explain it away as normal, or prove that it’s not normal, and make sure it gets fixed.’

All of this, and the rest of the article prove that people who call themselves paranormal investigators are not always investigators and do not have any idea of how to apply the scientific method to their work. They’re out to prove that ghosts are real and to capture evidence of ghosts when this simply isn’t possible. Anything that they capture will have a real-world explanation.

Brown says that his team work to capture data of the odd things that have been reported to them to see if they can then work them out or not but this is just a clever way of explaining why they look as though they’re just ghost hunters. They’re not really ghost hunters, they just look like ghost hunters because they’re gathering data. Data is a scientific word, don’t you know?

Here are some facts though – you do not need to experience the oddity for yourself to be able to explain it. Do you know how long it would take for some cases to get solved if everyone used this method? It also adds a huge bias to the research being undertaken because it means that the investigators a) think there is something to be experienced, and b) are more likely to interpret ordinary things as significant because they’re looking for something significant.

But hey… it makes you sound rational, right?

Data, Surveillance, Analysis, Peer Review  – these are all buzz words used by ghost hunters to assure others (and themselves, I would argue) that they’re legit.

When ghost hunters employ these approaches they often ignore the negative hits (when something doesn’t occur) and only focus on the positive hits (when something occurs) which means that their conclusions are based upon cherry picked data.

Further down the article John from Spirit Knights Paranormal Investigators explains how it’s important to respect who you’re speaking to. ‘It’s when people go in to antagonise them that it all goes wrong. People get scratched and thrown down stairs, all through handling it wrong’ he says, and the article states: Spirits were once people and we shouldn’t forget that.

It’s clear that Spirit Knights are a whole different kind of ghost hunting team because they don’t hide the fact that they employ spiritualist methods of spirit communication on their ghost hunts. It does mean that their advice isn’t useful, but then at least BBC Three got their science-to-nonsense balance sorted which is highly important to them, but unfortunately for them the science they portrayed is anything but scientific. Awkward…

There is something wholly strange about humans who act as though they’re white knights riding in to save the tormented souls of the dead. I would suggest it says a lot about the self-worth of those who act in this way.

I have seen Ghostbusters 2016 and I thought it was a fun film. We talk about it in Episode 12 of The Spooktator podcast. The thing that stood out to me the most though was the fact that in this alternative universe the Ghostbusters are all scientists who have respect for rational inquiry. In their world it becomes apparent that ghosts really do exist but in this world that isn’t the reality. So-called experts like Tim Brown chase their shadows and make themselves feel important by sounding science-y., they host paranormal tourism events while claiming to be impartial, and they use equipment that does nothing useful.

Ghost hunting teams often want to distance themselves from the Most Haunted-esque type of ghost hunting which seemed to boom in the early part of this century, but in truth they’re not completely divorced from those methodologies at all because they rely on them too much. If you totally disregard pseudo-science how are you going to show the world that you’re right even when you’re spectacularly wrong?

 

Who Do Gettysburg Ghost Gals Think They’re Kidding?

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“Every team back in the 90s was male-dominated. You didn’t find any teams that were female-run” claims Brigid Goode, a member of the Gettysburg Ghost Gals in an interview with Irish Central.

In the article it is claimed she has ‘been doing paranormal investigations for decades and founded the Gettysburg Ghost Gals in 2012.’ In an MTV article Goode also claimed that “during investigations we get better results than the men do.”

Hmm.

Ugly gender stereotyping aside, we always knew there’d be people who’d ride of the coattails of the new Ghostbusters movie this year and it appears that the Gettysberg Ghost Gals (GGG) are those people. Members of this US based team have cropped up on various media outlets basking in the limelight of the movie by claiming to be the first all-female ghost-hunting team in the US. This, is seems, somehow makes them relatable to the new Ghostbusters who also happen to be women.

The Ghostbusters were a team of (mostly) parapsychologists who had their funding withdrawn by their university and struck it out on their own but the Ghostbusters are nothing like real-life Parapsychologists. I’d even go as far as to say that they’re bad and unethical researchers. Look no further that the Zener card experiment near the beginning of the film for evidence of this!

In her book  ‘Parapsychology: a beginners guide‘, Dr Caroline Watt writes that ‘Parapsychologists do not run around in boiler suits, hunting down marauding ghosts with proton packs. Instead, like other scientists, parapsychologists often carry out well-controlled studies and publish their findings in both mainstream and specialist academic journals.’

Running around chasing ghosts with weird equipment? Sounds familiar!

Further into the MTV article mentioned above Goode tells aspiring ghost hunters to ‘“Know your equipment, and know what you’re talking about. If they use modern equipment, pieces of ghost hunting equipment that we actually use, it would add legitimacy.’

This is not true because there is no equipment that has been proven to detect ghosts. Nobody has ever established the qualities of ghosts so how on earth would you go about detecting them?

A browse of the GGG website reveals nothing much about the methodologies they use, but there is a page dedicated to the paranormal equipment companies that sponsor them, and their event management company, and all of their public appearances… it’s all rather unimpressive.

I was prompted to write this post after noticing that someone called Chris Goode (who I presume is related to Brigid) recently tweeted that the Gettysburg team should have been included in a list of influential American ghost hunters produced by Planet Weird.

Awkward…

It seems to me that this attention-seeking ghost hunting team aren’t very good at researching ghosts which leaves them only one claim to fame – that they’re Americas first all-female ghost hunting team. There’s no way of establishing this as an accurate claim (and I’m pretty sure it could be disputed) but who really cares?

There are so many women who made waves and shaped paranormal research (and many who continue to do so today) despite their gender so if your only claim to fame is your gender then you’re not really that special.

Ghost Hunters Are Freaking Out Over The Conjuring 2

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I’m guilty of freaking out about The Conjuring 2 on several episodes of The Spooktator podcast. Not because it’s super scary but because of the way in which The Enfield Poltergeist Case is shown in the film.

Ed and Lorraine Warren are portrayed as the main investigators of the poltergeist case when in all reality it was investigators from the Society for Psychical Research who played this role – namely Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair.  Playfair doesn’t even feature in the film which seems, quite frankly, ridiculous considering it is his book on the case that launched the Enfield case into something other than a case that just becomes forgotten.

But… what if we’re overreacting?

Fiction has always been inspired by reality – should we really be shocked that the cases we investigate go on to become horror films? Horror as a genre reflects what we, as society, fear. It turns out that there’s a strong crossover between what is feared most and what paranormal researcher investigate.

The two main concerns for me have always been that the general public will think that what’s portrayed in the film is a reflection of the reality of paranormal research. Maybe that will happen, but it’s not a new issue we’ve never faced before is it? It could be argued that Most Haunted and even Ghostbusters contribute to this issue too.

My second concern probably stems from ill-placed British pride – how dare such a prolific British case of phenomena be handled in such a manner? But really, this sort of phenomena happens the world over. It isn’t even the only poltergeist case that has happened in Britain, and yet there is a certain sense of admiration for what happened at Enfield… but why?

When we look back at the history of Paranormal research on this isle I wager that a lot of us have a romanticised vision of what has come before us. No doubt most paranormal researchers have ‘This House Is Haunted’ by Playfair on their bookshelves in which he paints an almost quaint vision of what paranormal research used to be.

Many Paranormal researchers lament the state of “ghost hunting today” because they compare it to what they think has come before them, but in reality paranormal research has always been a messy, diverse, competative thing to be involved in. Perhaps some of us are guilty of thinking that The Conjuring 2 is creating a bastardised view of the past that we wish we could be a part of without realising that it’s just an idea that we’ve been sold in countless books and talks.

The history of British Paranormal research is only as important as we allow it to be. True, what has come before us as researchers does have infleunce on what we do today – but it is our own actions that present to the world what modern Paranormal researchers are.

Glasgow Shopping Centre Calls In… Paranormal Experts?

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What happens when you ask a group of ghost hunters to visit a location at which people have reported seeing ghostly apparitions? Well, long-time visitors to this blog will know that the answer is that they usually find ghosts. Does that mean you’re haunted? No…

In the last few days a variety of news channels have reported that Glasgow Paranormal Investigators (GPI) have been called in by the managers of the Silverburn shopping centre after at least four sightings of a woman in black have been reported.

On social media the group have told their followers that they ‘can’t really comment on what’s going on just now’ but have told the media that “the most important thing is to ensure whoever it is finds a peaceful resting place.”

Wait… what? No. The most important thing is work out what’s causing the sightings, not to just assume it’s the spirit of a deceased person. Oh dear…

A quick look at the eye-witness reports (which I believe are all we have to go on at this point, but I’m happy to be corrected) indicates that the sightings of the “woman in black” have taken place when the shopping centre is open to the public.

Really doesn’t make a compelling case when you start to factor in the possibility that it could just be shoppers that are being seen and mistaken as ghosts. Or perhaps pranksters. How does one rule this out?

A quick look at the GPI website and you’re met with the claim ‘GPI are committed to obtaining as much evidence as we can of possible paranormal activity’ which doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence that an investigation is going to be rational and balanced in its approach.

‘It is not uncommon for a spirit to be attached to a site before the present building was constructed’ they told the press, ‘Possibly Silverburn or the construction of the new cinema disturbed it. This can be common in hauntings.’

Oh dear, Glasgow. It seems that you’re about to inherit a new haunted cinema that is probably anything but haunted.

A spokesperson from Silverburn told the press “we are aware that a shadowy woman has been spotted around the centre. We have reached out to local experts in the field of paranormal activity, who will hopefully be able to shed some light on the matter.”

No, no I don’t think you have…

Here’s The Deal With Paranormal Tourism

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Earlier this year I visited Woodchester Mansion for a midnight tour of the building and two things happened: I had a strange experience, and I realised I had pro-paranormal tourism leanings. This was a revelation that shocked a number of people and I promised that I would write about it in more details, so here I am.

Ghost Heritage: the good and the… not so good

When you visit somewhere like Woodchester Mansion the money from your pocket goes towards the upkeep of the building which, like many historical sites across the country, is owned and cared for by charitable trusts and/or people who volunteer their time.

Places like Woodchester Mansion need to raise a certain amount of cash to keep the building open and in a good condition. Old buildings have a habit of breaking and bits fall off – Woodchester mansion, for example, have got to raise something like £2million to fix some pillars that are holding part of the chapel roof up. With this in mind I think that paying to go on a ghost event at such a location is a positive thing because it’s a way in which the heritage of the building can be protected. I see it as no different than booking to go on a ghost walk or a ghost tour – many of which I’ve been on and enjoyed.

My experiences at places with Woodchester Mansion, Preston Manor and Longleat House are those of volunteers or staff members presenting an overview of the alleged ghost heritage of the location in a way that doesn’t misrepresent anything. It’s essentially tourism with the lights off.

If you’re a ghost hunting group it’s your choice what you spend your cash on, but personally I am 100% behind anyone who books to visit a heritage site because I know that their money is going to a good cause and good use.

As long as the person running the event doesn’t promote nonsense “ghost hunting” techniques and spread misinformation then I do not see this as a problematic situation. In fact, I applaud locations like Preston Manor in Brighton who consulted with me a few years ago about how to make their ghost events ethical experiences for everybody.

On the flip side of this there is another sort of paranormal tourism where the money goes from your pocket and into someone else’s pocket and, in my opinion, this is where things start to get a bit murky. Take 30 East Drive as an example here – they charge a huge amount of money to essentially visit a house that had activity in the 70s and the profit goes… where, exactly? Well, I know from experience that it goes directly into someone’s bank account but after that there is no trail.

When The Good Becomes… Not So Good

There are, of course, those heritage venues that conduct ghost events in completely the wrong manner. Many will hire the venue out to third party events companies who conduct themselves in an unethical manner and promote both non-scientific methods as well as claims that are utterly nonsense and potentially harmful.

When there is a profit to be made you should always question to what extent you are being sold something.

Spreading bad and false information is bad enough, but doing so when you don’t really believe in it yourself is manipulative and inexcusable. People who believe in paranormal ideas are often seen as a means of profit by these companies and it is within the best interest of the companies to create positive experiences – in their case, paranormal occurrences.

Back in 2005 I was the lead investigator of a ghost hunting group and even though the members of the group hadn’t paid to visit the location I felt a certain pressure for them to be impressed. I now suspect this probably had an effect on the way in which I personally perceived things that happened during our time at a location.

Swap those team members for paying members of the public and that pressure increases. I’m not suggesting that every paranormal events company fakes activity to meet the expectations of their customers (though I know some of them do), but these events cannot be considered actual investigations because there is a certain level of bias involved in the way in which things are processed.

Odd things that have a rational explanation are more likely to be chalked up as paranormal in nature on these events to keep people happy. If you are paying to attend a ghost event overnight you are not paying to attend a ghost investigation with proper controls and methodologies in place.

Ghost Tourism vs. Ghost Investigation

Attending an event run by such a company is not at all like being involved in a paranormal investigation – yet more often than not ghost hunting events are marketed as just that.

In 2009 I ran a ghost hunting event at a Victorian theatre with the intention of showing the customers the good and bad investigative methodologies you can use when investigating paranormal claims. I wanted them to experience an actual paranormal investigation but it just didn’t work because it wasn’t exciting. Why? A paranormal investigation is more than just a couple of hours spent at the location – it starts with careful consideration and drawing up a list of your initial thoughts. Maybe pulling a few books off of your shelf and looking for that chapter you think will be helpful, it’s talking to your peers who have experienced similar cases for advice – all before you’ve even stepped through the door. To try to sell such an experience to the public is impossible.

Which is why it’s absurd that many people who conduct these ghost events claim to be paranormal investigators.

Paranormal Tourism clearly has its good, bad and ugly aspects but while there is scope for harm there is also the opportunity to support the trusts who look after the heritage sites of our country. If you’re thinking of going on a ghost hunt I suggest working our where your money ends up and if it isn’t going towards the upkeep of a heritage site why not consider an alternative ghost related event that does help?