Ghost Hunters vs. Paranormal Investigators

Man Holding Flashlight

Confirmation bias, according to its Wikipedia entry, is ‘the tendency to search for, interpret, or recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses’ and we’re all prone to this bias even when we think we’re not. In fact I think it’s fair to say that we’re really good at thinking we’re not biased when we actually are. This is why scientists introduce controls to their studies and get their peers to review and replicate their research to ensure that their results are not biased or flawed.

Being aware of confirmation bias is what I believe separates paranormal investigators from ghost hunters. This isn’t to say that being aware of confirmation bias means that your outcomes won’t be influenced by it, but attempting to keep your personal biases in check is always a good start which is why ghost hunters doom themselves to a future of agreeing with themselves and patting themselves on the back for proving themselves right via the use of pseudo-scientific apparatus or outdated and debunked spiritualist methods. An investigator should ask their colleagues their opinions of their findings and should consider constructive criticism. A ghost hunter will often take constructive criticism personally and (in my experience) will lash out in retaliation.


Anyone can call themselves a paranormal investigator or a ghost hunter and apply their own definitions to the terms. I’ve been known to use this phrase “ghost hunter” to describe myself in the past despite not actively looking to find ghosts and identifying more as a paranormal investigator or paranormal researcher. However, these are just words – what really sets us all apart are our methodologies.

A ghost hunter is someone who literally hunts or searches for ghosts and doesn’t seem to realise (or care) that this means they are using a completely biased methodology because they use tools and methods that assist in their quest to prove that they are encountering a ghost. An investigator or researcher is someone who spends their time investigating and… you guessed it, researching the case a bit further to establish the bigger picture in the hope that this will reveal the cause for what is being experienced and reported.

In order to do this effectively an investigator/researcher may spend a lot of time visiting the location, comparing data to build a complete set (e.g. the normal temperature fluctuations over the course of time in a room) and to observe patterns as/if they emerge (e.g. activity seems to increase when a certain person is present and whipping people’s expectations up). This isn’t always true though, there have been cases that I’ve managed to solve by simply speaking to people other than those who insist a location is haunted, or by visiting the location unexpectedly. Sometimes a few hours spent online looking in the right places will give you a lead, or perhaps an afternoon in the local reference library.

A ghost hunter will typically spend a day (or less) at the location and presume their data is complete after only a few hours worth of readings to compare against. They’ll present the history of the location as relevant and they’ll probably use a medium or a psychic. You can often tell you’re dealing with a ghost hunter because they’ll conduct their “research” at night-time and in the dark even if the reported activity occurred during the daytime or with the lights on.

Something odd will happen and a paranormal investigator will ask “Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?” whereas a ghost hunter will say “that’s weird, and it’s probably a ghost or evidence of something supernatural.” Ghost hunters will often be vague with the claims they make because they’re somewhat aware that they can’t prove anything scientifically because they rely on gut feeling whereas a paranormal investigator will question themselves as much as you question them and will welcome alternative opinions about their conclusions.

Methodologies used usually reflect the reason somebody becomes involved in ghost research or ghost hunting in the first place, but one has to wonder how proving your biases to be correct over and over again is a beneficial use of time and resources. Not forgetting those paranormal event companies who pretend to be honest researchers but rely on positive results for their events to stay relevant. If the only people that were being fooled were themselves I wouldn’t take issue with such irrational approaches but as anyone who follows this blog or has seen me speak in public will know, sloppy methodologies harm more people than you could imagine and should always be questioned.

GhostArk: Same Old Pseudo-Science In A Different Box?


The GhostArk claims to be the world’s first ‘all in one’ piece of ghost hunting equipment. It’s a proud boast but it amounts to very little because all of the functions that it offers the user are mostly pseudo-scientific and don’t do very much at all. It’s the same old ghost hunting nonsense dressed up in a new box. As Engadget state ‘ghost detection is based on junk science’ and it’s not even clear if the product will make it to market at all. The website for the soon-to-be-released device lists the functions and gives a brief description of each.

The GhostArk offers:

Ghostbox Trial Frequency Sweet AM/FM/SW, Real-time Recording, Adjustable Speeds

What is it? A Ghostbox is a device that basically sweeps radio frequencies and skips through them in quick succession. This means that you hear a jumble of sound as the device picks up on transmissions on these frequencies and it is claimed by some that the spirits of the deceased can use this to communicate with people.

What’s really happening? You hear a mixture of sounds from radio transmissions and your brain- which is expecting to hear meaningful messages from spirits -finds meaning in the random noises. Is it so surprising that you’ll hear words while switching through radio transmissions? No, it is not. Us humans are susceptible to seeing meaning in randomness and these illusions are the result of a psychological phenomena known as Pareidolia. 

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.

EVP Recorder2 high Sensitivity Microphones, Live listening and Visual Waveform monitoring

What is it? EVP is short for Electronic Voice Phenomena. EVP are audio recordings produced by ghost hunters who use audio recording devices to capture the voices of the spirits of the deceased. Typically a ghost hunter will press record on a device and then start asking questions. They’ll leave some time between questions in the hope that any spirits present will speak back to them. For some reason it is believed that although humans cannot hear these responses the recording device can.

What’s really happening? There is no evidence that EVP recordings are the voices of the dead. This is a conclusion that is speculative and ignores a whole host of alternative causes, many of which I list here on my site. These recordings rely largely on the pareidolia effect to provide meaning to them.

EVP + SoundEVP recorder with white-noise frequency or custom audio-loop added in real-time

What is it? It’s the same as EVP recording just with ambient sound playing at the time of recording. Many believe that- as with the Ghostbox -spirits need some sort of sound to manipulate to help them record messages or answers. This is speculatory in nature and there is no supportive evidence.

What’s really happening? To be honest? Nothing much.

EMF MeterElectroMagnetic field measurement with Multi-Colored Led Lights and value on display

What is it? Ghost hunters often believe that fluctuations in the Electro Magnetic field can be indicative of the presence or manifestation of a ghost. They use EMF meters to monitor the EMF in a location and to detect any fluctuations which they then might attribute to a ghost. It is also thought that high levels of EM fields can cause some people to feel strange sensations but it is far more complex than that.

What’s really happening? EMF meters do what it is claimed however EM fields fluctuate all of the time and it has nothing to do with the paranormal. To get a really good idea of the normal “behaviour” of EM fields in a location you would need to study it constantly for months and months before being able to decide what is and isn’t normal. Even then it would be illogical to claim that any peak in the EM field was caused by ghosts. To make these claims in one night as many ghost hunters do is ludicrous and ignorant.

Temperature – Ambient temperature reading, +/- 5 degree Hot & Cold spot detection with LED indicators

What is it? Many ghost hunters believe that ghosts manipulate the temperature in a location when they are trying to manifest or communicate. They will take a base reading of a room and then compare subsequent readings to this base temperature. Any drop in temperature might be linked with a ghost.

What’s really happening? The temperature might drop or rise because that’s what temperatures do.

Nightvision High-brightness display, Neon Blue Light retroillumination for safe vision in the dark

This basically means that the device has a back light. If you needed further proof that this device is trying to pass itself off as a highly scientific device then surely this is it? Describing the fact that the display is lit up as ‘Neon Blue Light retroillumination for safe vision in the dark’? Oh, please…

The only useful function that this device will bring to the table is that it produces reports of all of the above recording functions. That could be useful for monitoring the temperature and EM fields of a location but not for much else – and you can already purchase data loggers that do this with a smaller price tag without the added EVP and Ghostbox nonsense. The rest is just a pretentious repackaging of things that are already on offer elsewhere. This doesn’t revolutionise ghost hunters, it patronises them.

The saddest thing is that ghost hunters will buy this device and will use it to prove that locations are haunted and they will buy the next ghost hunting gimmick that comes along and use it to prove that locations are haunted, and the next one, and the next…

Why the Mr Ghost iPhone gadget wont live up to its name

thumb mr emf
mr ghost unit
Mr Ghost device

The Mr Ghost EMF Detection device was crowd founded on Kickstarter in late 2012 with the title ‘Mr Ghost: iPhone EMF Detector – Fancy yourself a ghost hunter? Mr.Ghost plugs directly into your mic port to detect electromagnetic radiation sources.‘ The project, launched by Aaron Rasmussen, is basically an EMF detector that plugs directly into the headphone jack of your iPhone and once you’ve downloaded the associated Mr Ghost iPhone App it will allow you to start reading the Electromagnetic Fields around you.

What does this have to do with fancying yourself as a ghost hunter? There’s a wide-held belief within ghost hunting communities that ghosts either emit Electro Magnetic Fields of their own, or cause the Electro Magnetic Field around you to fluctuate when they manifest. With this in mind many ghost hunters will use Electro Magnetic Field Meters to read the Electro Magnetic Field in a location to try and detect any fluctuations that they can pin on a supernatural cause. This is something that Rasmussen touches on in his video for Kickstarter.

ghost hunting with mr ghost
A video still in which Rasmussen goes into ‘ghost hunter mode’

“Or maybe you know what an EMF detector is because you’re a ghost hunter, in which case you can go and check out your scary attic. Since we’re hunting unknown sources we’re going to be using the “gyro mode”. Oh whas’s that? There’s something under here. It’s just my alarm clock, but seriously though, that thing freaks me out.”

Typically the ghost hunter will take a base reading of the location when they arrive that they can compare later readings to throughout the time spent there. If the reading from the Electro Magnetic Field Meter is 8 milligauss(mg) at 9pm when at 4pm it was 5mg and it continues to rise or fall then this might be associated with a ghost being present.

Of course, the main problem with this lays with that base line reading that everything relies on. Unless you take your base line readings over a course of days, weeks or months then you’ll never truly know what a normal EMF reading in a certain room or area is going to be. The EMF in a room might naturally fluctuate from 5mg to 8mg over an afternoon and you wont know that unless you’ve taken a much more detailed reading of a location over a prolonged period of time. Even if you have though, there is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that an unaccounted fluctuation in the EMF is caused by ghosts.

Magnetic fields are physical fields produced by electrically charged objects. The electric field is produced by stationary charges and the magnetic field by moving charges – or currents. EMF is often described as being a static field that does not charge or fluctuate over time whereas, in fact, it does change over time – just very slowly. When fluctuations in the EMF are detected at locations that are reputed to be haunted it is more likely and probable that the fluctuation is caused by items in the building that are electronic or things that are electrically or magnetically charged – rather than the spirits of the deceased. There is no evidence that demonstrates how spirits could manipulate the EMF.

With this in mind, the Mr Ghost device for your iPhone will be useful to see what levels of EMF occur in different areas of your home, but it isn’t going to help you to detect ghosts any time soon. It’s probably also wise to state right now that EMF radiation does not cause cancer despite a casual link being thrown around by many. In fact, even in the Kickstarter video for Mr Ghost we see Aaron Rasmussen measuring high EMF around his alarm clock and moving it away from his bed as a result, as though realising his alarm clock is now dangerous. The Skeptics Dictionary says

Many people fear that EMFs cause cancer; however, a causal connection between EMFs and cancer has not been established. The National Research Council (NRC) spent more than three years reviewing more than 500 scientific studies that had been conducted over a 20-year period and found “no conclusive and consistent evidence” that electromagnetic fields harm humans. The chairman of the NRC panel, neurobiologist Dr. Charles F. Stevens, said that “Research has not shown in any convincing way that electromagnetic fields common in homes can cause health problems, and extensive laboratory tests have not shown that EMFs can damage the cell in a way that is harmful to human health.”*

So, although this product seems to be a bit of fun with a cheeky sales pitch thrown in, the misinformation hinted at in the video and elsewhere has real implications for those who believe it so I’m skeptical. I used to collect EMF meters when I believed they could detect ghostly energy, and this just seems like the latest fad in a long line of EMF detection fads… but hey, what do I know?

You can read an article by me on the use of iPhone Apps by ghost hunters in the latest issue of The Skeptic magazine. Subscribe now. 

My newest ghost gadget!

Today a Ghost Laser Grid pen arrived in the post and I have to admit it’s a pretty awesome little laser pen and quite fun to play with, however, as I’ve blogged before, this is really useless as a paranormal research gadget. Rather than turning the lights off and putting a ghost laser grid pen on in the room so that you might see some ghosts, just keep the lights on. It makes much more sense.

To see the video results click here.

Using lasers to hunt ghosts


Last week I wrote an article for the Wiltshire Phenomena Research website about the latest ghost hunting fad, Green laser grids. You can read the article by clicking here.

For those not in the know, Wiltshire Phenomena Research is the investigation team I helped to form back in 2005.

As I’m sure many of my readers are aware, there is a trend amongst ghost research teams to collect and use as many different gadgets as possible while on the search for ghosts. The use of these gadgets is inspired largely by paranormal television shows, as well as misinformation from other researchers.

The latest of these pieces of equipment to be causing excitment in the ghost hunting world is a laser grid that fills a room with small green laser dots that, apparently, will help you spot shadow figures and ghost moving around the room.

Yes, I know, turning the lights on would be easier, cheaper and safer.

Ever since the article was posted we have had a lot of hits to it, mainly from people who are searching for the following.

“laser grid paranormal equipment”

“ghost hunt laser grid”

“laser grid ghosthunters”

“laser grid for ghost hunters”

If you read the article on the WPR site, you will know that the use of laser grids on ghost hunts was first suggested to the masses on Ghost Hunters – a US paranormal television program.

I feel confident enough to say that the majority of people searching the above terms who end up on the WPR site are probably looking to buy a laser grid for their research team.

Isn’t it a sad state of affairs when the majority of people in the research field are taking their tips from television programs that have shown time and time again that they have no interest in rational investigation into paranormal phenomenon?

You only have to read this free PDF, ‘Top 5 ghost hunting mistakes’ by Ben Radford to see how the show Ghost Hunters are anything but scientific.

I think it also shows just how many researchers have double standards when it comes to their methodology. So many people will deny that they are influenced by dodgy paranormal television shows, yet they copy everything the television shows promote.

It’s very doubtful that Jason and Grant from the show Ghost Hunters will read this, but if they do I have one thing to ask them. In the next episode you film, will you please wear foil hats?

I cannot tell you how much I would love to see copy cat ghost hunters wandering around a graveyard with a green laser grid pointer, an K2 meter, a night vision camcorder, a dictaphone and a foil hat.

It would make my day.