2002 Called. It Wants Its Most Haunted Concept Back.

Past hunters

Night vision camcorders, Wide eyed team members staring off into the distance and gasping at noises and shadows, Derek Acorah… no, this isn’t Most Haunted that I’m describing. It’s Past Hunters.

You know, Past Hunters… those guys who are going to ‘change the paranormal for the better’ by… er, doing the same as everyone else. You may know of them because of the number of recent news articles about them capturing a ghost on film at Tutbury Castle… you know, that odd shadow they caught that looks like it’s wearing cargo pants and a hoodie? The shadow ghost that’s on the wall when most reported sightings of shadow ghosts suggests they move around independently? Yeah.

I’ve known of them since January when they started to claim they were going to change the world of the paranormal…

‘Out with the old’ and Derek Acorah are as incompatible as it comes, and I’m not 100% sure what they were referring to when they say ‘the paranormal’ because the only way that you can actually change something that is described as paranormal is by explaining it as either not paranormal (in which case it is changed from paranormal to not paranormal), or by proving that something paranormal exists (and we’re still waiting for that to happen.) I do know, however, that they’re probably coming to your television set soon which is original of them, don’t you think? Nobody has ever filmed themselves running around in buildings with night vision camcorders, lots of pseudo-scientific technology and Derek fucking Acorah before. The image below is a good indicator of how much ‘change’ Past Hunters will be bringing to the mix.

Taken from Past Hunters Facebook Page

 

No. Electro-Magnetic fields are produced by electrically charged objects. Often described as being static fields that does not change but they actually do – 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. Let’s not even get started on how holding an EMF meter isn’t a good methodology and a K2 meter is as basic as it comes and will not provide a decent and accurate reading.

The Most Haunted influence doesn’t just stop with the way in which they conduct themselves, either. It can also be seen in the numerous photo-shoots of theirs. Yvette Fielding must be feeling very flattered. Time and time again I see television producers claiming they’re going to make a revolutionary paranormal television show only to revert back to the tried and tested method of scared people in night-vision with spooky background music. That’s not progress. It’s not even dignified…

The sad fact is that if all you do is chase glory by hunting the past you’re never going to be part of the present or the future and that is where the real progress is happening. Researchers are routinely discovering more and more about the things that cause people to have strange experiences – whether that’s strange brain activity, toxic spores or issues with human memories. You’re either with those making progress or you’re with those playing Most Haunted just like the children who play Superheroes in the playground.

Sure you’ve got a television show, but so has Katie Hopkins…

You’re Probably Not The Scientific Ghost Researcher You Think You Are

Science, you're doing it wrong

Many people involved in paranormal research think that they are scientific when they’re actually using dodgy science instead. This makes them no better than those people who used biased methods of spirit communication, like ouija boards, psychics or dowsing rods even though they probably think quite the opposite.

Just over a month ago I wrote a piece exploring how methodologies set apart paranormal researchers from ghost hunters. I wrote that ‘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.’

I was amazed at how far this post was shared within different global paranormal communities and just how many people seemed to agree with what I was saying. Yet, when I looked closer at some of those sharing the post I discovered that those people who said that they agreed with what I was saying were actually the ghost hunters I had described and yet, for some reason, they thought that they were more like the paranormal researchers that I described. This is incredible and shows a lack of awareness within paranormal communities about what science actually is and how it applies to paranormal research.

If your first thought is that a scientific methodology in paranormal research involves Electronic Voice Phenomena and using EMF meters to detect fluctuations in the electro-magnetic fields in a location then you are wrong, and spectacularly so.

These are the two most common ghost hunting science myths, so let’s explore them a little further. It is no secret that the sounds heard on recordings that are called Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) are not paranormal in origin and that it takes a certain leap of logic to claim that this so as there is no evidence that supports the hypothesis that these so-called ghost voices are voices of the dead. There is no demonstrated mechanism through which the dead can talk or through which recording devices can detect them doing so. To claim you just know that this is the case is quite arrogant and presumes that you are personally able to rule out every possible other cause.

If it is your opinion that EVP is paranormal in nature then you are disagreeing with facts and although you are quite free to do so it doesn’t mean that you are right, and your personal experience with EVP does not afford you an authority on the subject. Personal anecdotes are not evidence.

Some ghost hunters claim that ghosts can manipulate the electro-magnetic fields in a location in their attempt to manifest or communicate with people. There is, again, no proven mechanism through which this is possible and there are many other reasons that the EMF might fluctuate.

It is often claimed that being exposed to certain levels of EMF can cause people to “feel haunted” and although this is true in a small number of cases it is a lot more complex than waving around a cheap K2 meter and saying that a high reading indicates that the EMF in a location is causing people to think there is a ghost. Most ghost hunters don’t know how to calibrate their EMF meters in the first place, don’t take decent base readings over a decent period of time (we’re talking months, not hours), and the meters they use (like the aforementioned K2 meter) won’t actually detect those sorts of experience producing fields anyway.

Science, you're doing it wrong

 

If you’re curious about some of the most popular dodgy-science myths in ghost hunting why not check out my Guide To Ghost Science here. If not, go and hunt ghosts but please stop claiming to be scientific when you’re not. It’s not cool.

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.

Ghost Hunters Disturb Robbery, Raise Questions

crime scene

A Paranormal Investigation team in Derby have disturbed and stopped a robbery happening in a location they were investigating over night. According to the Derby Telegraph ‘ghostbusters had been invited in to investigate spooky goings-on at the building, including odd noises. But, during their session at the business, the team from Derby Paranormal Group went downstairs after hearing noises and found two men raiding the premises. The thieves fled after being discovered but took several items with them.’

Wow.

I’ve not personally heard of this happening before, even though I often talk about how paranormal investigators need to consider their safety. Luckily things didn’t turn out differently and the people who raided the store were not armed which they easily could have been. (It was a replica gun shop so they clearly liked guns or knew about guns.)

This raises some interesting questions about ghost hunters in general and from my own experience of visiting locations I wonder how many paranormal investigators talk to the location owners about the security protocol in a location, including the intruder alarm, before an investigation? I don’t recall every having that conversation myself…

How many locations are made vulnerable because an alarm that would normally be on overnight is left off so that paranormal investigators can access the building? Does this make a ghost hunting team suspected accomplices? I’m not claiming the team in this instance were involved, but it does make you wonder what position we put ourselves in without thinking about it. Remember those US ghost hunters who were mistaken for thieves and held at gun point?

Would this sort of occurrence void the insurance a location has and would that therefore open  ghost hunters up to legal action? If this was a public ghost hunt and someone had been injured by the thieves who would have gone to court?

Does making your upcoming ghost hunts public knowledge help thieves target businesses because they know the alarm will be off and the premises not secured? Sure, people in the building might seem like a security measure but I’ve worked in businesses that have been robbed while people were present and I’ve watched the CCTV in horror as armed thieves are in one room while my colleague was in the room right next to them unaware.

The alarm in a location being turned off when it would normally be turned on is something I never considered during my years as an investigator who only went to places to hunt ghosts at night time and now I wonder just how often we put ourselves and others in danger by not thinking about this.

This should be a hot topic in paranormal investigation communities around the world and I suspect many people will be rethinking the way in which they do things. Well, I certainly hope they will.

Note: I’m not suggesting the Derby ghost group were involved or responsible for this crime.
h/t Alistair Coleman

Ghost Hunting Goes Wrong Because We’re Human

monsters

I used to believe that ghosts were real and that I communicated with them while on ghost investigations and I can remember how powerful that made me feel. As the founder of the paranormal team I would often be the one who led the seances or the glass divination or table tipping… I’d be the one who called out to see if I could encourage a reaction from the ghosts that we were convinced were present.  When the glass moved in response to questions or when something happened that we thought was significant it would make me feel a real buzz to have instigated that response.

When you truly believe that what you are experiencing is the work of ghosts it provides a huge surge of adrenaline, and when you have a group of like-minded people working with you it’s easy to whip yourself up into a frenzy of self justification where all you actually do is practice confirmation bias.

Over the years I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my experiences as a belief-led ghost hunter while observing the behaviour of other ghost hunters and I have come to conclude that if you’re not careful your approach to ghost research can become extremely self serving without you realising it, and in recent years I have noticed (perhaps anecdotally) a rise in the number of ghost research groups who, despite acting as though they are spiritual people and the humble discoverers of the truth who are just trying to help others, are doing more harm than good.

Over at the Rational Paranormal blog Robert Lea has documented a case where ghost hunters are doing just this to a person in a potentially vulnerable position and it fills me with such a feeling of despair and anger. It is such an egotistical thing for ghost hunters to presume they are acting in the best interests of a person who is in a difficult position when really all they’re doing is stoking their own sense of self importance by playing the hero and using the situation of another person to confirm their own biases and prove to themselves that they are right with the way in which they see the world.

Death, ghosts, spiritualism and the paranormal are legitimately interesting topics to explore. Indeed, my own exploration of these subjects turned me into the humanist that I am today… yet so many people who become involved in paranormal research fail to respect that death and all that may or may not come with it is human at its very core and if you don’t have any respect for that then you’re going to fail to conduct yourself in an ethical manner and if you put yourself before the human element that exists at the very core of these subjects and further your sense of being correct at the expense of another then you should feel deeply ashamed.

When someone behaves in this way it’s very unlikely that they will accept that their behaviour is wrong. It’s easy to listen only to those who encourage you or agree with you and to ignore those who suggest that you’re not correct. We are literally self sabotaging creatures and doesn’t it hurt?