FAO: Don Philips, the ghost hunter.

After my blog post yesterday about how some ghost hunters were behaving irrationally over the recent discovery of a buried cottage at Pendle Hill I thought it only right to let those I mentioned by name know I had done so. I think it’s good blogging etiquette to do so. In response, Don Philip has posted on his Facebook wall that I am ‘A young lady trying to make a name for herself’.

I would like to point out that if there is anything I have made a name for myself through, it is being open-minded in my approach to paranormal research. I am willing to point out when I am wrong, and I learn new things all the time and change my beliefs and opinions as new facts become available. My main aim with my paranormal research is, and always has been, to learn more about the reality behind these experiences. This is something I have continued to achieve year after year. 

I am simply curious, and this curiosity has led me to experience the strange world of paranormal research through the eyes of a naïve believer who grew and evolved into a fact seeking, lesson learning skeptical researcher. That’s why I am invited to speak at events all over the place. That could seem like an appeal to authority but it isn’t. Me speaking at events isn’t what makes me a good researcher – my constant research, fact checking and self questioning is what makes me a good researcher.

It’s also why I’m asked to contribute to research by others.

For example, I was once asked by Professor Chris French to review some footage that he’d been asked onto a UK television show to give a skeptical best place to buy ultram online opinion on. He asked for my opinion because he isn’t a field based ex-ghost hunter. The footage was from an investigation conducted by a paranormal team called G.S.I – their founder, Don Philip.

The footage in question, as shown below, shows Don taking temperature readings in a room and asking a ghost to make the reading change. Over time it does. This is attributed to a spirit/ghost.

Watch from the 3 minute mark.


I was able to explain to Chris that the reason the temperature was changing is not because a ghost is present, but because Don was using the equipment incorrectly, or without knowing what the readings the thermometer takes mean. The model he uses is a laser thermometer that measures surface temperature. Don is waving it all around the room meaning that the device cannot measure on specific point as it is designed to do so.

I am able to offer such advice and spot such mistakes because I am open minded and I have learnt – and continue to learn, from those around me who conduct rational research into paranormal phenomena. It’s easy and lazy to apply a paranormal cause to something that looks a bit odd, especially when it only looks a bit odd because you simply haven’t bothered to work out how to use the device in question.

Dons accusation that I am trying to make a name by criticising him is wrong, it smacks of a diversion tactic because he doesn’t have an answer regarding the things I spoke of in the original blog post about illogical ghost chasing based on nothing but folklore stories. Prove me wrong though, Don. Defend your decisions and your methods… if you can.

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Hayley Stevens

Hayley is a ghost geek and started to blog in 2007. She uses scientific scepticism to investigate weird stuff and writes about it here while also speaking publicly about how to hunt ghosts as a skeptic.

9 thoughts on “FAO: Don Philips, the ghost hunter.”

  1. The thing that baffles me with these groups (after looking at the GSI website for a couple of minutes) is that if you wish to present your group as professional and scientific I can’t take you seriously if you can’t even be bothered to proofread your own copy. What does that tell me about your approach to anything?
    I’m not a grammar Nazi but if you can’t use an apostrophe or question that you might be using it incorrectly or spellcheck anything where exactly does your thoroughness begin?

    “Is there anyone there? Bagpuss? Is there a ‘U’ in haunting? Do brackets actually mean anything or do I just put them around anything I fancy to destroy sentences? Is there a child there who can help me?”

  2. Hayley, you are absolutely correct in your comments about the use (that should be misuse) of a non-contact infra-red thermometer. These instruments are designed to measure surface temperature; and, watching the video, I saw something being waved around presumably in the assumption that it was capable of taking instant measurement of air temperature! The reason these gadgets are fitted with a laser is that you are meant to target the surface you wish to measure.

    It’s possibly because people have seen expensive infra-red imaging cameras being used to give television type images of an area (with differing temperatures indicated by a colour scale) that they assume a cheap infra-red thermometer will be a useful tool. They forget, or more likely never knew, that the heat cameras, too, only show the heat radiated by objects and not the ambient air temperature.

    The response time of a cheap infra-red thermometer is likely to be at least 1 second. When taking surface readings the emissivity should also be taken into account but in a room environment this can possibly be ignored, perhaps, except for polished metals or similar materials.

    By the way; does anyone know what the emissivity of a ‘ghost’ is likely to be?

    So how can a reasonably accurate measurement of air temperature be taken? Well for a fast response the sensor needs to be very small and a fine wire thermocouple probe would fit the bill. Having said that, there is still the response time to be taken into account which can be typically (in still air) a second or more depending on the size of the weld bead and thickness of wires. The response time will reduce if the air is moving but that would suggest there are drafts. If there are drafts then they will produce erroneous readings; so the sensor needs to suitably screened while not impeding the response time … not an easy task.

    So, as waving a fast response-time probe about is likely to cause misreadings due to drafts how could we go about mapping and recording temperature changes in a room? Well for a start you would need to place a grid of probes in the room. Perhaps a grid of 10 x 10 thermocouples spaced equally supported by a wooden framework. Ideally the leads, all 100 of them, would be run back, through electrically screened compensating cable to a temperature data logger placed outside the room under investigation.

    That would be a scientific approach …. but hey, not so much fun as rushing through a house, in the dark, waving a bit of ‘high-tech’ looking gear whilst making a video of yourself!

    1. Very good points! It’s also worth noting that there are reasons a surface temperature will change over time. Central heating, concealed pipes, air currents, if it’s an outside wall… all logical causes for temperature fluctuations.

    2. Also, re: the emissivity of a ghost… what a question!
      I believe (and may be incorrect) that some fire services use similar devices to measure the heat intensity of burning buildings, to see if it is safe to enter. I’ve been told that the laser devices are chosen as they cut through smoke easier. So if you imagine a ghost to be a transparent/translucent apparition… a laser thermometer isn’t going to detect its surface temperature.

    3. We have to be very careful when using the term ‘Laser Thermometer’. A true Laser Thermometer use the laser to send a pulse of energy at the target and, in evaluating what returns, calculates emissivity of the surface. The actual temperature will still be measured by collecting the infra-red waves emitted by the ‘hot body’ and compensating for the surface emissivity. I would imagine this type of temperature measuring equipment will be well beyond the pocket money of most ‘ghost hunters’ and would be a complete waste of money. However they do seem to buy lots of useless black boxes to impress people..

      Most IR thermometers that use a laser only use the laser beam as a ranging device to pinpoint the area to be measured. The measurement is still done by an IR sensor.These thermometers have a pre-set, or adjustable emissivity setting. For just checking for hot spots in applications like jet engines, fires in buildings etc, then the emissivity can be ignored.

      As for changes in surface temperature with time; yes everything in the environment will have an effect. Even heat from items in a room used during an investigation, video cameras etc, should be taken into account. And what about the magic beams these ‘investigators’ use …. something tells me they may well use an IR beam, but I don’t know if the wavelength would fall in the range of a cheap IR thermometer.

      As IR is on the electromagnetic spectrum, as is light, a shiny surface could well reflect a beam of heat that is emanating from another source in the room; perhaps one of the investigating team!

      As you say, for a ‘ghost’ to be detected using an IR thermometer it would have to be able to radiate or absorb heat in some way. The laws of thermodynamics come in here and that’s not my field of expertise.

  3. There is, IMHO, most definitely a hint of vanity in every passion. But we are not “Spock” -like creatures devoid of such things and we should not feel obliged to apologise for what is a very normal part of human behaviour and emotion. Hayley – I feel pretty confident that you do enjoy some of the attention your passion brings you just as Don Phillips enjoys the attention his passion brings him. So his point is moot and irrelevant and a distraction. I would think it better if you ignored such irrelevant personal comments, they take the focus off the facts and play into his hands.

  4. I have looked at the “Spirit Portal” video many times. Apart from the unscientific behaviour of them making an immediate assumption that it is such a thing, I would like to make the following observations.

    There is a mention of 2500 frames. So I must assume the pictures we see are from a video camera. And, for the purpose of my comments and in the absence of any other equipment information which in a true experiment should be itemised, I have to assume that the camera used was a video camera utilising magnetic tape.

    The camera moves. It is stated this is due to poltergeist activity. I would suggest that the camera was not secured sufficiently. In tape based video cameras, as in VCRs, to generate a wide enough bandwidth from the relatively slow moving magnetic tape, the record/read head has to rotate thereby writing diagonally across the tape a picture line at a time. It is my submission that, when the camera drops suddenly, a particle of dirt is dislodged within the tape cassette or camera and is swept by the rotating head onto the tape. As the head scans diagonally across the tape the particle is swept towards the middle. In the middle of the tape the particle will be more ‘secure’ hence the vertical line whilst at the edges the tape is more likely to vibrate hence the blurring.

    The audio track on such cassettes is along the edge and is recorded in a linear fashion. As with previous comments I have made about EVP on tapes it is vital that all previous magnetic recordings are completely erased. The only way to do this is by bulk erasure. One cannot rely on the erase signal of the camera the tape was previously recorded on or, for that matter, on any other recorder. The reason for this is due to head alignment. On one of Don’s videos they refer to an ‘EVP’ voice saying “Goodnight Don”. I would imagine this would be towards the end of the tape cassette and, in my mind, is nothing more than a highly amplified residual signal from someone actually saying “Goodnight Don” on a previous occasion that the particular tape cassette was used.

    All video and sound recordings should use new, previously unused, magnetic tape. These tapes should be used once only. Prior to use the tape should be bulk erased. After use they should screened from magnetic fields. Although not vital, it would also be advisable to only replay a tape on the specific equipment upon which it was recorded.

  5. I have now watched a video of Don Philip sitting in his car and ‘talking to ghosts’ via a digital voice recorder. I cringed as I watched Don ‘apparently’ contact the spirit of an 11 year old girl. He asked if she was one her own and then Don apparently made contact with the girl’s mother; also supposedly in spirit. Don is collecting spirit guides at a rate that puts Derek Acorah to shame! Are all these ‘spirits’ following Don around? Does the 11 girl spirit watch Don play with his toys in the bath … there should be a law against that!

    Sorry Don you are fooling yourself. But you are doing it so well, through technical ignorance, that you actual believe it. You are not a charlatan, just a bit ignorant and totally deluded

    Once again this technically and scientifically bereft individual is using equipment in a manner it was not designed to work and, because he is ignorant of how the equipment works, is deluding himself. He possibly thinks that by using a digital recorder he can escape any criticisms that would come his way if it were a tape based recorder.

    First of all Don is turning the volume (mike gain control) right up so the microphone amplifier is amplifying component noise. All resistors, transistors etc generate noise due to the passage of electricity. Turn up the volume on your hi-fi and you will hear white noise. Noise is a problem in all analogue systems that is why the detectors on telescopes are cooled very low using cryogenics otherwise the signals they are searching for would be lost in the background noise. It’s all to do with the ratio of signal to noise.

    In a tape based voice recorder the signal remains analogue and the a.c. component will be coupled from stage to stage via capacitors with the amplified signal eventually sent to the record head together with a small amount of high frequency bias derived from the erase signal. In a digital recorder the signal must be amplified in a similar manner, to reasonable level, but then has to be digitised by some form of analogue to digital conversion. This involves taking regular ‘snapshots’ of the voltage of the signal and converting them to a binary numbers. The measurements of audio waveform height can then be further mathematically modified to compress the data further. When the mic gain is at maximum, and in the absence of any normal sound signal the equipment will be sampling white noise (essentially a massive random ‘fuzzy’ signal). So the recorder will be storing random voltages. On playback these may or may not sound like a ‘voice’. If the mic gain were set at a suitable volume for normal speech recording then the noise level will be very low and so the signal-to-noise ratio will be high. You wouldn’t hear any ‘voices’ unless the ‘spirits’ talked a bit louder …. why don’t they shout?

    Notice that Don only switches his dictaphone back to ‘PLAY’ for very short bursts. I would imagine that if he left it to record for a long period at high mic gain and then played it ALL back there would be lots of strange sounds. I suggest they are artefacts of the system and the way it’s being used.

    If this is all too difficult to understand, then let me use the analogy of a digital camera. In a dim room the signal level at the camera will be low and hence you will get a poor quality, noisy, photograph. If that photo is saved at low resolution then you will see chunky pixels. Some of these may form a pattern that wasn’t actually there so you see the face of, say, mickey mouse on the wall. It’s an artefact of the process.

    If Don thinks otherwise, I suggest that, to prove his case he hires some time in a professional recording studio. I am sure one of his ‘spirits’ will find that just as comfortable as being in his car. He needs to then set up his dictaphone and microphone close together and get the studio to listen to their recording for any sign of ‘voices’ when they appear to be on his little machine. Let’s hear the evidence Don!

    Of course, Don may try to suggest that the voices aren’t so much a recorded sound signal more a ‘ghost in the machine’. Well it would take a pretty clever ghost to write multi-byte data to a chip; so if they are that clever, they should be able to manipulate bits and bytes in a computer.

    So here’s a challenge to Don Philip. Bring up Notepad on a PC, start talking to your ‘ghosts’ and ask them to write the answers on the screen. When we see that happening live: we’ll all believe!

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