Ghost Hunt Gadgets That Insult Your Intelligence

My personal collection of silly ghost gadgets.

Owning a collection of gadgets that you claim detect ghosts in one way or another is a staple part of belonging to a ghost hunting team. By explaining to the layman just how Electromagnetic fields can cause a minority of people to experience sensations of being watched while you wave around a plastic box that has coloured bulbs that light up randomly is all that you need to make it seem as though you’re an expert in your field, despite the fact that you’re spouting pseudo-scientific bullshit.

As long as you’ve got the gadgets in your hand it doesn’t matter if you completely make nonsense up on the spot – people will believe that you know what you’re on about because using scientific looking devices makes you seem like a legit person.

My personal collection of silly ghost gadgets.
My personal collection of silly ghost gadgets.

In my own personal arsenal I have a KII meter, a laser thermometer, a GhostBox, a Mr Ghost EMF iPhone antennae and a Ghost Laser Grid (as well as torches, dictaphones and other similar bits). This little collection set me back well over £300 over the years and the gadgets do not do what it is claimed they do. I knew this when buying them, though, and bought them as demonstration items.

Yet, as useless as the gadgets I bought are when it comes to detecting other-wordly presences, ghost gadget continue to develop, change and “progress”  with new items being released into the market on a regular basis. I thought I’d share some of the more spectacularly bad pieces of crap marketed as ghost hunters.

Behold…

The Teddy-bear K2 Meter. It is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a K2 meter (a basic sort of Electro-Magnetic Field meter) built into a teddy-bear that the creators suggest will make K2 sessions “more successful” because ghosts are more likely to interact with something they recognise instead of a bog standard K2 meter which ye olde spirit might not recognise. It also lights up, which is always a bonus for ghost hunters what with working in the dark for no good reason and all…

These meters were originally used by Ghost Hunters to detect changes in naturally occurring Electro-Magnetic Fields which were believed (incorrectly) to be caused by ghosts manifesting themselves and giving off energy discharges that caused the EMF in a location to fluctuate. Get a fluctuation on your meter and you’ve probably got a ghost manifesting around you…

but these days teams are too lazy to take baseline readings and compare other readings to these every 30 minutes or so. Instead they use EMF meters as a sort of hands free planchette and ask ghosts to light the bulbs on a meter up to indicate yes  or no in response to questions.

See the Teddy-bear KII Meter it in action:

Then there is the V Pod which emits its own EM Field which interacts with other fields around it, apparently. Any disturbances (i.e ghosts) will make the pod light up the closer it (the ghost) gets. The GhostHunter store sells this item with a useful reminder in the copy that states ‘Please keep in mind that EM Fields can and will be affected by materials and or objects that conduct electricity’. No shit, Sherlock!

V Pod and REM Pod
V Pod and REM Pod

The REM Pod is similar to The V Pod. It does exactly the same as the V Pod but happens to have the antennae and light-bulbs positioned differently. These devices are basically designed for detecting ghosts and ignore even the faintest scientific link that there might be between Electromagnetic Fields and Anomalous Phenomena.

spring board

The Spring Ouija Board is one of the more ridiculous things I have seen offered and used by ghost hunters. It takes the nonsense associated with the traditional ouija board to a whole new level by offering ghosts different options.

They can either spin the base or use the planchette attached, for some reason, to a spring to select different letters. This utterly baffling bullshit appears on more and more ghost hunting team websites and makes me want to weep.

I haven’t seen one of these in person but I’d imagine that a spring loaded planchette would be much, much easier to influence than a traditional planchette which is dragged across the surface of the board. I also think the design of this board is hideous. Give me a good old-fashioned Parker Brother’s board any day of the week over this monstrosity…

ovilusThe Ovilus comes in many different forms with different numbers to indicate how advanced the device is. The picture here shows the Ovilus III which allegedly ‘takes reading from the environment using several sensors including one for electromagnetic readings and uses a mathematical formula to convert these readings to a number that responds to a certain word that is stored in the word database of more than 2000 words.’

Guys, it uses a mathematical formula so why am I even incluing it on this list? Oh yes, it’s here because it’s laughably bullshit. It is claimed that The Ovilus will “speak” the corresponding word through its built in speaker or, on the latest models, show words on a text display. I’ve used an Ovilus device and it emits random words that ghost hunters make fit their situation by ignoring words they don’t expect to hear and only focussing on those that they expect to hear. Ridiculous… and if you don’t believe that ghost hunters use this on their ghost hunters here is a video of it in action

There are plenty more devices on the scene than just those I’ve shared above. What are the most ridiculous devices that you’ve seen marketed at budding ghost hunters?

GSOW: ‘we have a private forum & we’re fine with that’

FACEPALM

‘Nothing shady goes on in our secret forum, honest. You’ll have to take my word for it though, ‘cos it’s private. We’d let you join, but we can’t. Not even our friends get to join.’

The above is my personal summary of a rebuttal written by the team leader of the Dutch language group of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia project to recent criticism. Before I am accused of creating a straw-man argument I will point out that my summary is not a direct quote, but it comes pretty close

Rebecca O’Neill recently wrote criticism of the Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSOW) project from the point of view of someone who is studying ‘how curation has moved from being the pursuit of a singular expert within an institution such a museum, gallery or archive, to a collective endeavour in which many “citizen curators” (a term that I am developing) work together to curate content both off and online.’

In my own latest criticism of the GSOW project I mentioned her in passing. I wrote at the time:

… an audience member who is studying the way information is shared on Wikipedia questioned why the Guerilla Skepticism on Wikipedia group have a private (described as “secret”) forum away from Wikipedia if what they do isn’t agenda driven. This went unanswered with just “my editors only put out good stuff” given in response.

Leon Korteweg wrote the rebuttal on the GWOS blog after seeing a link to Rebecca’s article on my Facebook wall. His response was everything I expected it to be and nothing more.

In her criticism Rebecca points out that there are problems around the fact that GSOW use a private member-only forum in which they discuss the work their project does. She writes that she has ‘no knowledge of the nature of the discussions on the forum as I have not approached the group to become a member.’

Simple solution, says Leon in his rebuttal, ‘you can always apply to join if you want to help improve Wikipedia, value the scientific method and the evidence it produces, use critical thinking and want to get instructions on how to write about it in an encyclopedic fashion …’ 

…only one problem though, he goes on to explain, ‘we can’t demand that of you, and we don’t give access to people who are simply interested in ‘keeping track of what GSoW does.’ Not even close friends get access, Leon says, so why would critics, right? It’s okay though because he continues ‘we have a fine blog and Facebook group page for that, both of which are public, which should suffice

Trying to get people involved with GSOW to understand that the private forum is creating suspicion and confusion about their tactics and possible agenda is like trying to get blood from a stone. It seems that they hear what people are saying but want people to just take their word that the criticism is unjust and that nothing bad happens in the private forum.

The response always seems to be the same: if you’re Rupert Sheldrake or Craig Weiler you’re labelled a crank and your criticism is ignored, if you’re a skeptic you’re told ‘we do only good stuff in our secret forum, trust us’ with no evidence provided. Leon ends his piece with ‘Yes, we have a private forum, and we’re fine with that’ and that speak volumes.

I recently wrote a piece about why I am done with the skeptic movement, and I’m glad that projects like GSOW are things I am leaving behind.

Further Reading:

On Guerilla Skepticism & Skeptic Outreach | Hayley is a Ghost blog
Further Thoughts for the day | Hayley is a Ghost blog
Taking out the garbage | Hayley is a Ghost blog

UFO eyewitnesses are all totally drunk

roger

According to the info-graphic below the peak in US UFO sightings happens between 5pm and 11pm, or “during drinking hours” if you go by the wording on the graphic itself as well as the Economist article based on the reported stats.

American UFO sightings

 … the National UFO Reporting Centre, a non-profit, has catalogued almost 90,000 reported sightings of UFOs, mostly in America, since 1974. It turns out that aliens are considerate. They seldom disturb earthlings during working or sleeping hours. Rather, they tend to arrive in the evening, especially on Fridays, when folks are sitting on the front porch nursing their fourth beer…

I can’t help but think that it’s pretty disingenuous to suggest that UFO sightings peak when people are drunk and I was pretty disappointed to see people like Michael Shermer share the graphic without picking up on the holes in the logic.

Here a few reasons this chart doesn’t sit well with me:

1) there is no evidence provided to support the idea that UFO eyewitnesses that contribute to the data had been drinking
2) naming 5pm – 11pm ‘drinking hours’ instead of ‘evening hours’ is a biased reporting method
3) not all UFO sightings are reported, so the data isn’t complete and doesn’t represent all eyewitnesses
4) it isn’t at all surprising that there is an increase of UFO sightings reported when the sky is most likely to be dark.

Satellites, planets, familiar and unfamiliar aircraft, drones, flares, Chinese lanterns and other causes of UFO sightings are all more difficult to identify (and easier to spot) in the night sky. I’d suggest this is why there is an increase of UFO reports during those hours and, although alcohol probably does contribute to some UFO sightings, I think it is very unlikely it contributes to all of them. For the Economist to suggest so is a crappy move, and for people to use this to discredit eyewitnesses is equally crappy.

What do Celine Dion, hots dogs and ghosts have in common?

evp

There’s a video that has been showing up on my Facebook news feed recently as more and more people share it that I wanted to share here. It’s a clip from a comedy set by British comedian Peter Kay. He plays a selection of songs that he has been mistaking the lyrics for, for years. It’s pretty funny:

It’s a great example of how all it takes is a suggestion for you to hear something you weren’t able to hear before. Professor Chris French provides a good example of apophenia in the talks that he often delivers about Anomalistic Psychology during which he will play Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven backwards to reveal a hidden message.

We see a similar effect in action within ghost hunting groups who provide audio recordings as evidence of a haunting because they think they contain the voices of ghosts. These recordings are referred to as Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) and although they sometimes sound spooky it is more likely that they’re caused by external and internal interference. This is something I’ve covered in more detail before on my website here.

Below are some examples of EVP recordings:







Listening to them on their own doesn’t reveal very much. You can hear things that might sound like speech but the words aren’t very recognisable… until I suggest to you what it is you should be hearing. Then you’ll probably be able to hear exactly what ghost hunters claim ghosts have said on these recordings, just as you can hear Celine Dion singing about hot dogs when Peter Kay suggests so.

If you’re interested you can highlight the sentences below to reveal what each recording allegedly says.

1) I know those people are here
2) KEEP OUT!
3) About time. Help me. Let me get out of here.

My journey into non-belief

paper boats

I recently wrote on my social media accounts that I no longer identified with the skeptic movement and followed this up with a blog post explaining what I meant. A small group of people from the skeptic movement claimed I was merely seeking attention and I took the blog post down because I didn’t want to be forced into a dialogue defending why I do or do not identify with certain groups of people.

The attitude I encountered from those particular people wasn’t at all surprising and is in fact one of the reasons I have slowly come to realise that the skeptic movement isn’t my thing – that these people aren’t my people. Now that some time has passed since the bizarre backlash on Twitter I decided to write on this subject a little more to explain that my divorce from the skeptic movement.

I realised a while ago that the skeptic movement wasn’t my scene when I investigated whether Will Storr had really quote-mined James Randi regarding what Randi had said about Social Darwinism. When I saw the accusations about Storr I decided to see if the allegations were evidence based and discovered that they weren’t. The reaction from some regarding what I did was appalling, with one particular high profile Australian skeptic telling her fans that I was a trouble maker simply for questioning the claims that were being made.

As questioning things is at the heart of my approach to rational inquiry I found this quite confusing. It felt as though I was expected to know my place and that by investigating whether Storr was lying or not I had stepped out of line. Nobody is off limits when it comes to being scrutinised, even as famous a skeptic as James Randi. It made me quite angry to think that others felt they could dictate what I should or shouldn’t be questioning.

My journey into skepticism started around 2007 when I came to realise that my belief in ghosts, an afterlife, psychics etc. was irrational. I started to scrutinise the claims I had accepted as true and soon found others who were like-minded who referred to this process as skepticism. In 2009 I was invited to co-host a skeptical podcast called Righteous Indignation and it soon established us in the skeptic movement and gained a lot of followers, subscribers and listeners. In fact, it was because of the popularity of the podcast that I began to receive speaking invitations from skeptic organisations, and as a result of this I started attending skeptic conferences and events.

I still use scientific scepticism and rational inquiry in my research, I value evidence, and I still look up to a number of skeptics and their work of course, there are just a number of factors that have led me to deciding that organised skepticism just isn’t my scene.

I often speak about how my involvement with ghost hunting came about because I was looking for something comforting to replace my belief in god and heaven with after I rejected religion in my late teens. I realise now that the skeptic movement acted as a similar crutch for me as I moved away from a belief in ghosts, and I have come to realise that it isn’t a movement that I belong to any more.

Becoming involved with the skeptic movement was part of a cycle of non-belief where an newly discovered atheist replaced her belief in god and heaven with ghosts and an afterlife, which was then replaced with a sense of belonging in a movement that valued reason. As part of the skeptic movement I have made good friends with people from around the world, I improved my critical thinking skills and understanding of biased and illogical reasoning, but in the process I discovered that although some people want to engage irrational claims and nonsense throughout society in a proactive and empowering manner, more often than not people who champion the skeptic movement don’t want to do that at all.

They want to silence those they do not agree with, to ridicule them, to isolate them without a second thought. Many people I encounter in the skeptic movement don’t consider the world around them from any other perspective than their own, and that isn’t a movement I can play any part in.

I’ve come to learn that it isn’t what I know but what I accept I do not know that empowers me. By admitting that I am fallible and that I have biases I can continue to develop my own critical thinking skills and encourage that very same change in those around me (just as they do with me), but in the skeptic movement the only lesson on offer is knowing my place, and it’s a lesson that I have no choice but to decline.